CHAP.  6.

Two other cases wherein Spiritual Physicians mast take heed of the Second Error.


3. WHEN complaint of sin is confusedly only and in general. “Many deal with God and his ministers in confession of their sins,” saith a good divine, “as Nebuchadnezzar with his enchanters about his dream that he had dreamed; lie told them and desired an interpretation; but what his dream was he could not tell.” So many confess themselves sinners, and cry out that they are grievous offenders, and desire pardon; but wherein they have sinned, and what their sins are, they cannot or will not tell. And how is it possible the physician should help him who only saith he is not well, but will not tell him where? 1 have sometimes visited those, who being pressed to a sight and sense of their sinfulness and cursedness, upon purpose to fit them for Christ, have acknowledged in general that they were sinners, but descending to the particulars of the law (which was horrible to hear) justified themselves throughout. Of which extreme spiritual misery and prodigious madness, ignorance [[144]] (though I know Satan manageth that and all other advantages with all the malice and cunning he can possibly, to the overthrow of souls) is the principal ground; the prime, but pestilent occasion: I say ignorance, which though it be not perhaps so much talked of, taxed, and taken to heart as others, yet is a loud crying sin of the kingdom. For it is a most incredible thing, and of infinite amazement, how universally it reigns in this glorious noontide of the gospel; and therefore must needs provoke God mightily, and hasten the “removing of our candlestick.” And in the mean-time, besides many more, and that dreadful doom at last (2 Thes. 7, 8) it brings upon most (more is the pity and shame, especially so glorious beams of a blessed ministry shining about us) these two special mischiefs; which at this time I only mention, because they serve fitliest for illustration of the point. First, ignorant people sticking fast in his clutches, stand all at the devil's mercy and devotion to do with them what he will; even as a poor helpless lamb in the paw of a lion, or a silly wren in the ravenous claw of a kite; to slash and mangle their woeful souls at his pleasure, with a cursed variety of innumerable sins; they, in the mean-time, which is the perfection of their misery, neither fearing nor feeling any hurt at all, by reason of the hellish mists and miserable lethargy of spiritual blindness, which makes them sightless and senseless. Secondly, when times of sorrow come upon them, when melancholy and old age grows on, and they say unto the world upon which they have doated all their life long, I have no pleasure in thee; when losses, crosses, and heavy accidents befall them; when hideous injections, temptations to self-murder, despair, &c. press them full sore, and they thereupon begin to cast about seriously, and to conceive with great terror and anxiety of spirit what is likely to become of them in the other world; then, in such extremity, and forced by necessity, they are wont to have recourse to ministers for ease and help; and, alas! then we are at our wits' end, and in much perplexity how to deal, and what to do with them. For upon the first entrance into a discovery of their spiritual state, we see evidently, with grief of heart, that their ignorance hash betrayed them to the devil, and now in the evil day exposed them to merciless cruelty and cunning; even as if a man should commit a ship without sails, rudder, pilot, &c. to the rage and roaring of the tempestuous devouring sea; or put a poor weak naked man into the field against an implacable mighty adversary, completely armed from top to toe. We tell them truly, that the true way to comfort is to repent and believe. But for the first, by reason of the [[145]] sottish dis-acquaintance with themselves, with their miserable sinful natural state, and their gross ignorance in the law and word of God, they only cry out in the general they are very grievous sinners; but to descend to any competent examination of the conscience, search of their souls by the sight of the law, particular survey of their sins, and so to special repentance, because of their spiritual blindness they are utterly unable. Nay, many in this case are so destitute of matter of humiliation for sin, that they can scarcely tell you what sin is. At the most they have not learned, or think that there is any other breach of the seventh commandment, but the gross acts of uncleanness; that there is any sin against the ninth, but giving in false witness against their neighbours in open court. They look no further into the sixth commandment, but unto actual murder by the hand; into the third, but to blasphemy and swearing; and so proportionably in the other commandments. For the other also, although they have heard much of Jesus Christ, and if he be talked of, pretend a very foolish and false presumption of having part in him; yet to the knowledge of his person, offices, excellency, sweetness, effectual ministry, and of his whole mystery, they are mere strangers. And so, when they should now upon this occasion of trouble. of mind, be brought by knowledge and application of the law and gospel, through the pangs of the new birth into the holy path, they are to begin to learn the very first principles of religion; in which they have not so much skill (I speak a reproachful thing) as I could teach a child of five or six years old in a few days. Now when the old red dragon hath drawn them into the lists, armed with all the power and policy of hell, and furnished with all his fiery darts, they are so far from ability to. put on and manage the whole spiritual armour with dexterity and wisdom, that they are stark idiots and infants in the very speculative knowledge of the nature and, use of every piece thereof. They have no skill at all at that excellent, invincible weapon, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” by which Jesus Christ foiled that foul fiend in the most hideous and horrible temptations that were ever suggested to the mind of man; and therefore lie doth bring them too often thus blindfolded and baffled to perish in a most desperate manner, both temporally and eternally.

The pharisees, papists, and our ordinary ignorants, are all foully faulty this way. They love and labour to inquire and look no further into God's law than to the gross acts and greatest transgressions only. If they find themselves free from these, they, out of a most absurd and [[146]] sottish self-conceitedness, justify and applaud themselves as no such enormous and dangerous delinquents. Hence it was, that Christ teaches and tells the pharisees, that not only the gross act of adultery was to be taken notice of, but also that even a lascivious and lustful look after a woman was a transgression of that law, and to be taken to heart as adultery before God. That not only killing a man in the literal sense, but also rash anger in the heart, railing, and reviling speeches; nay, even a frowning face, a contemptuous gesture, discovering inward rancour and rage, kill the soul, and cast into hell, &c. Hence it was that Bellarmine, as the grand impostor and poisoner, so the great pharisee of Christendom, upon his bed of death “could hardly find what to confess, or any matter of absolution.” Prodigious pharisaism! Of which hear some passages from the reporter of his death[1].

“Such was the innocency of this man (to wit, Bellarmine), that albeit he was in his perfect sense, yet could he hardly find what to confess; insomuch as his ghostly father was in some perplexity, as wanting matter of absolution, till by recourse to his life past he found some small defects, of which he absolved him.”

“Now nothing troubles my conscience. For God (his goodness be still thanked therefore) hath so preserved me hitherto, as I do not remember in the whole course of my life ever to have committed any scandalous action.' How holy was his life; not stained with mortal sin! How secure a conscience, that had at his death no scruple; but for the exchange of one good work for another, &c. This holy man began his prayers, said the Paternoster and.Ave Maria, and began again the Paternoster; which being ended he said distinctly the psalm Miserere to the end: and being warned to say also the Creed, &c. said it all through, and with the end of the Creed ended his speech. His last words were, vitam alernam. Amen.

Hence it is, that carnal men are well enough content to hear the commandments read, and perhaps will be angry if at any time they be omitted. Would you know the reason? They go along with the minister, and applaud themselves pharisaically all the while; saying secretly and securely to their own souls, We thank God we are no image worshippers, no murderers, no adulterers, &c.; and so depart home from time to time as highly conceited of themselves, and yet more horribly deceived, than that pharisee (Luke xviii, 11, 12), of whose outward religious, charitable, and [[147]] righteous performances they come far short. But they cannot possibly with any patience endure a particular unfolding and powerful application of God's law after Christ's manner ((Matt. v); a punctual survey of their sinful states and special search into their lives and hearts. This cutting, yet reasonable course, stirs up and raises in them the inspirits of murmuring, cavilling, reviling, and perhaps persecuting the faithful messengers of God as a generation of terrible teachers. To expositions, exercises, and considerations of this nature they are drawn with very ill will and much ado, even as a bankrupt to his accompt book, a foul face to the looking glass, and a traitor to the rack.

By reason of this affected ignorance in the law of God, and loathness to descend to particulars, it comes to pass that many in trouble of mind complain of sin only in general and confusedly; and thereupon, as though they were competently cast down, expect comfort, and perhaps many draw it from some daubers; whereas particularizing of our sins is a necessary precedent and preparative to a sound humiliation. And therefore in this case we must deal with such as surgeons are wont to do with a tumour or swelling in the body, who first apply to the affected place drawing and ripening plaisters to bring the sore to a head, that the corruption may have issue, and then heal. So a general complaint of sin and confused grief must be reduced to particulars. It is a principle in the mystery of Christ, resolved upon by the best divines rightly instructed to the kingdom of heaven, “that a confused acknowledgment and general repentance only for known sins is never sound and saving; but only common, formal, careless, and that of counterfeit converts, not truly touched with sense of their sins, nor heartily resolved to forsake their pleasures.” If they can be first brought to the sight, sense, and acknowledgment of someone special notorious sin which hath most reigned in their heart, life, or calling; and be in some good measure enlightened, convinced, and terrified about the heinousness and horrible guilt of it, it may be a good means by God's blessing to bring in the rest. For ordinarily true repentance is first occasioned by someone special sin laid to heart. The apostles ( Acts ii) do specially press the murder of Christ upon the Jews; Christ himself, adultery upon the woman of Samaria (John iv); Samuel, idolatry upon the Israelites (1 Sam. vii); the sin of asking a king (chap.xii); Ezra, taking strange wives (Ezra x); Nehemiah, usury (Neh. v).

To further the work of a more particular “setting their sins in order before their eyes,” it were much to be wished [[148]] and a very happy thing if all the wounded consciences and troubled in mind we meet with, were furnished beforehand with a competent speculative knowledge at the least of the particulars in God's law, exorbitant passages of their life, and gross corruptions of their hearts. We might so, by God's help, more easily bring them to particular remorse, and fit them sooner and more seasonably for comfort. We find it a most hard and heavy task to encounter the devil's devices, wiles, and depths in a poor distressed, tempted ignorant.

4. When the party is dejected for some notorious sin only. It is sometimes seen in mere civil men, that having a long time preserved their reputations entire and unstained in the eye of the world from gross and notable enormities, and yet after foully shaming themselves in the sight of men by some infamous fall, seem to grieve much, as though they were truly troubled with remorse; whereas, perhaps the present heart's-grief ariseth rather from loss of credit than wound of conscience, though to favour their credit they cunningly father it upon conscience. Or let them be indeed affrighted very grievously for a time with the horror of that one sin, yet stay the cry and abate the rage of that one with some superficial comfort, and they are healed and put into a happy case in their own conceit, and in the opinion also perhaps of their unskilful physician; though they search no further and dive no deeper into the loathsome dunghill of those many abominable lusts and corruptions in their heart and life, of which they are as full as the skin will hold.

Now it is a foul and fearful oversight in a minister, nay, it may prove an error stained with spiritual bloodshed, to promise pardon to such partial penitents.

Suppose a man sick of the pleurisy should send to a physician, and tell him he is sore troubled with a cough, and entreat his help, concealing other signs and symptoms which ordinarily accompany that disease; as his short and difficult breathing, the stinging stitch in his side, &c.; the physician may address himself to cure the cough, and yet the patient die of an inflammation seized upon the membrane girding the ribs and sides. It is proportionably so in the present point. A man may complain and cry out, howl and lament extremely for someone horrible heinous sin, and that may be well; but except he proceed to a further discovery, and sorrow proportionably for his other known sins, they will be the destruction and death of his soul. If a dozen thieves be entered into thy house, it is not enough for thee to lay hold on the captain thief only, and thrust him [[149]] out at doors; if thou suffer but one of them to lurk in any corner undiscovered and not turned out, he will suffice to cut thy throat and take away thy treasure. Crying out of one capital sin only is not sufficient, we must confess and forsake all, if we look to find mercy (Prov. xxviii, 13).

And yet here I would have no true penitent dejected or mistake; the bare omission of some particular sins in this case is not ever damnable. For we must know, that if a man deal truly with his own heart in a sincere acknowledgment, confession, and repentance for discovered and known sins (and he ought to labour by clearing the eye of natural conscience and industrious inspection into God's pure law, to know as Many as may be), and for all those that come into his mind, when he sets himself apart solemnly to humble and afflict it's soul before God (and lie ought to remember as many as he can possibly); 1 say, if so, then for secret and unknown sins, which are committed in weakness and ignorance, the Lord accepteth a general confession, as we see in David's practice, “Who can understand his errors 1 Cleanse thou me from secret faults” (Psalm xix, 12). Sins there are many, and that in the best men, which are not only un-noted of others and free from the world's observation, but even unknown to a man's own self, and invisible to the watchfullest eye of the most waking conscience; which notwithstanding are clearly subject to the search of God's all-seeing eye, and to the censure of his pure majesty. “For hell and destruction are before the Lord, how much more the most secret ways of the sons of men?” Sins there are also, which even in the zealous exercise and holy work of repentance may not come into the consideration and remembrance of one truly penitent, which if he could recover into his memory, he would heartily and with much indignation acknowledge, bewail, and detest: so unnumbered are the cursed bye-paths of men's crooked ways. But for both these sorts of sins I must say thus much for the comfort of the true convert; that both those unknown sins which he commits of ignorance, if he truly repent for all his known sins, and labour with sincerity and zeal for further illumination of conscience and fuller revelation of every corrupt passage both in heart and life, in judgment and practice; and those sins of knowledge also, which came not into his mind, if with diligence and without dissimulation, with hearty prayer and best intention of spirit, he endeavour to recover them into his memory, that he might also mourn for and mortify them with the rest, carrying ever in his heart this resolution, that as any sin shall be discovered to his conscience, or return into his mind, he will abominate [[150]] and abandon it; I say, both these kinds of sins (it is a pearl for the true penitent; let no stranger meddle with it) to such an one, upon such conditions, are most certainly washed away by Christ's blood, and God's free mercy, upon his general confession and repentance. David's petition, “O cleanse thou me from my secret faults,” did assuredly prevail with God for the forgiveness of all his unknown sins, and shall be powerful for that end to the world's end, to all those that so pray with David's spirit, and sincerely.

Besides these two cases; first, want of knowledge; and secondly, want of remembrance in the sense I have said there is also a third, and that is want of time, which if truly so, doth also sometimes excuse the omission of some particular sins. As we may see in the thief upon the cross. ',or want of leisure, he could not possibly punctually revise his vile abominable life, nor peruse with remorse all the particulars of his former wicked and abhorred courses; but he had infused into his soul by Jesus Christ an habitual grace of true repentance, which, if he had lived, would have carried him faithfully along over all the notorious passages of his lewd and loathsome life, with a truly contrite, broken, and bleeding soul. So that if he had had space, I doubt not but he would have proved a very eminent, extraordinary, and exemplary penitent; and therefore the Lord in mercy did graciously accept the desire and purpose, the inclination and preparation of his heart that way.

But to return to the point, and give my advice in the case proposed:—

Let the party who so grieves for some notorious sin only, and there takes up his rest, be told, that though he dwell with deepest sighs, heaviest heart, and saltest tears upon some of his greatest and most special sins, yet the rest must by no means be neglected. That which is most crying and crimson must serve as a crier, if I may so speak, to summon the rest into the court of conscience; and as a remembrancer to bring them to mind and remorse; as David's murder and adultery brought even his birth sin into his memory (Psalm li); and that sin of strange wives, many other sins to Ezra's mind (Ezra ix). When a father beats his child for someone special fault, he is wont to remember unto him and reckon with him for many former misdemeanours also. When a bankrupt is once shut up for one principal debt, the rest of his creditors ordinarily come thick and threefold upon him. When once thou beginnest to reckon with thy conscience for someone extraordinary rebellion, never cease until thou hast searched thoroughly, and ransacked it to the bottom, that it may smart soundly [[151]] before thou hast done, with penitent anguish and true remorse for all thy other sinful corruptions also. When horror for someone heinous sin hath seized upon thy heart, follow God's blessed hand leading thee to conversion, and through the pangs of the new birth to unspeakable and glorious joy, by giving way to all the rest to bring in their several indictments against thy soul. And be not afraid thus to arraign, cast, and condemn thyself as guilty of innumerable sins, and worthy ten thousand hells before God's just tribunal. For then shalt thou there most certainly find a gracious advocate at his right hand; to whom if thou make suit and seek in truth, he will by the plea and price of his own precious blood, sue out a pardon for thine everlasting peace. When the guilty rage of thy reigning corruption begins to press upon thy conscience, lay on more weight still by a penitent addition and painful apprehension of all thy other sins, that growing very sensible of thy spiritual slavery, weary of the dungeon of lewdness and lust, sensuality and death, wherein the devil bath kept thee long; and thine heart being happily broken and bruised to the bottom, and scorched as it were in some measure with hellish flames of guilty horror, thou mayest see and feel the greater necessity of Jesus Christ, set him at a higher price, with more eagerness and impatience thirst for his righteousness and blood; long for spiritual enlargement more than for worlds of pleasures, glory, or wealth; relish the hidden manna of the promises more eagerly, and cast thy wounded and bleeding soul with more delight and sweetness into his blessed arms of mercy and love. For, “O how acceptable is the fountain of living waters,” saith a worthy divine, “to the chased and panting hart! the blood of Christ to the weary and tired soul! to the thirsty conscience scorched with the sense of God's wrath! He that presents him with it, how welcome is he! Even as a special choice man; one of a thousand. The deeper the sense of misery, the sweeter is the sense of mercy. The traitor laid down upon the block is more sensible of his sovereign's mercy in pardoning, than he who is not yet seized. In our dead security before conversion, God is fain to let the law, sin, conscience, Satan, a deep sense of our abominable and cursed state, loose upon us, and to kindle the very fire of hell in our souls, that so we might be roused, and afterward more sweetly and soundly raised and refreshed. For after the most toilsome labour is the sweetest sleep; after the greatest tempests the stillest calms. Sanctified troubles and terrors establish the surest peace; and the shaking of these winds makes the trees of God's Eden take the deeper rooting.”

[[152]] I confess, that commonly true converts at the first touch and turning, and after too, cry out most of, and are extraordinarily troubled with, someone capital sin, and that which in their days of darkness and vanity wasted their conscience most, and detained then) with strongest enticements and holdfast in the devil's bondage. Hence it was that Zaccheus was so ready and willing to restore fourfold, that so he might be rid of the sting and horror of his former reigning sin (Luke xix, 8); that blessed Paul, as it seems, amongst other dreadful apprehensions of his former unregenerate courses, was so much vexed and wounded in heart for that he had been a persecutor (1 Tim. i, 13; 1 Cor xv, 9). But yet should they lament never so much, howl and roar for that one sin; if besides they did not by the conduct of the blessed Spirit, descend also to a more particular acknowledgment, confession, and repentance of all other known sins (and they ought by clearing the eye of natural conscience, industrious inspection into the pure crystal of God's law, discover as many as they can possibly), all were nothing. “He which is grieved,” say divines, “for one sin truly and unfeignedly from his heart, will proportionably be grieved for all the sins that he knoweth to be in himself.” If we favour any one sin in our heart, or life, or calling, we cannot enjoy God's favour. If there be any sensual lust, or secret corruption, which a man purposely labours to cover and conceal from God's pure eye, the search of his word, and mortifying grace, what hope can he have that it is covered with the blood of Christ from the wrath that is to come, or warranted by any promise of grace from the damnation of hell In a true penitent there ought to be an utter cessation from all gross abominable sins; and at least disallowance, disaffection, and all possible opposition even to unavoidable infirmities and inseparable frailties of the flesh.



· [1] Bellarmittes Death, by C. J. a Jesuit.