CHAP.  10.

The Third Error of applying comfort, which is indiscreet application. 
The first case wherein it happens, which is too sudden application; and the demonstration of that error.

WHEN the spiritual physician pours the balm of mercy and oil of comfort into a wounded conscience —

1. Too soon. The surgeon that heals up a dangerous sore, [[171]] and draws a skin over it before his corrosive have consumed the dead Beth, before he hath opened it with his tents, ransacked it to the root, and rent out the core, is so far from serving, that he procures a great deal of misery to his patient. For the rotten matter that remains behind will continue to rankle and fester underneath, and at length break out again perhaps, both with more extremity of anguish and difficulty of cure. They are but mountebanks, smatterers in physic and surgery, in short, but plain cheaters and cozeners, who are so ready and resolute for extemporary and palliative cures. Sudden recoveries from rooted and old distempers are rarely sound. Hit be thus in bodily cures, what a deal do you think of extraordinary discretion, heavenly wisdom, precise and punctual pondering of circumstances, well-advised and seasonable leisure, both speculative and experimental skill, heartiest ejaculations, wrestlings with God by prayer for a blessing, is very convenient and needful for a true and right method in healing a wounded conscience! Which doth pass immeasurably all other maladies, both in exquisiteness of pain, tenderness of touch, deceitfulness of depth, and in highest and greatest consequence, either for the everlasting health or endless horror of an immortal soul. Hence it was that that one of a thousand and learned doctor in this heavenly mystery[1], did so far differ from all daubers with untempered mortar and the ordinary undoing courses in this kind: —

“But now coming to the salving of this sore,” saith he, “I shall seem very strange in my cure, and so much the more be wondered at, by how much in manner of proceeding I differ from the most sort of men herein. I am not ignorant that many visiting afflicted consciences cry still, Oh, comfort them! Oh, speak joyful things unto them! Yea, there be some, and those of the most learned, who in such cases are full of these and such like speeches: Why are you so heavy, my brother? Why are you so cast down, my sister? Be of good cheer. Take it not so grievously. What is there that you should fear? God is merciful; Christ is a Saviour. These be speeches of love indeed but they often do the poor souls as much good herein, as if they should pour cold water into their bosoms; whenas without further searching of their sores they may as well minister a malady as a medicine. For as nutritive and cordial medicines are not good for every sick person, especially when the body needeth rather a strong purgative than a matter restorative; and as carminative medicines may for [[172]] a time allay the pain of the patient, but after the grief be-com eth more grievous: so the comfortable applying of God's promises are not so profitable for every one that is humbled, especially when their souls are rather further to be cast down than as yet to be raised up; so those sugared consolations may for a while overheal the conscience and abate some present grief; but so as afterwards the smart may be the sorer, and the grief may grow the greater. Hereof ensueth this effect, that comfort seemeth to cure for a while, but for want of wisdom in the right discerning of the cause, men minister one medicine for another; and so for want of skill the latter grindeth sorer than the former.”

Calvin, also, that great pillar and glory of the Christian world, for sincere and sound orthodox doctrine[2], concurs in judgment with this blessed man of God; and so, I doubt not, do all the faithful ministers of Jesus Christ. “Let this be the first degree of repentance, when men feel that they have been grievous offenders; and then the grief is not to be immediately cured, as impostors deal flatteringly and nicely with men's consciences, that they may favour themselves as much as may be, and be notably deceived with superficial daubing. The physician will not forthwith assuage the pain, but will consider what may be more expedient. Perhaps he will increase it, because a sharper medicine will be necessary. Even so the prophets of God, when they see trembling consciences, do not presently apply sweet consolations; but rather tell them, that they must not daily with God, and stir up those who are so forward of their own accord, that they would propose unto themselves the terrible judgment of God, that they may yet be more and more humbled.”

Another excellent and skilful workman in the great mystery of saving souls[3], tells us truly, “That the promise of salvation cloth not immediately belong to one terrified in conscience, but to one that is not only terrified for his punishment, but is contrite-hearted for sin, which is the work of the gospel. Let not these be weary of the yoke of God and the law, and make overmuch haste out of this state, for so they may undo themselves. For some withstanding their terror, have withstood their salvation, &c. Even as an impatient patient gets the surgeon to pull out the tent and corrosive, or pulls it off himself as soon as it begins to smart a little, and so thinks it is searched enough, and now lays on healing plaisters: but afterwards breaks off again worse than ever. Whereas if the corrosive bad been let lie on till [[173]] it had eaten out the corruption indeed, then it might have been whole long ago.”

If daubers in this kind did rightly understand and acknowledge, or had ever had any experimental feeling in their own souls of Christ's rule, and the Holy Ghost's method, which is first to convince of sin, to deject and humble in the sight of the Lord with apprehension and sense of a most abominable and cursed state, before there follow a conviction of the righteousness of Christ to raise up (see John xvi, 8), or of the necessity of the work of the spirit of bondage, to fit and prepare for Christ and comfort; I say, then, they would not deal so ignorantly in a matter of so dear and everlasting importance. They would not so hastily and rashly, without all warrant and wisdom, without any further search, discovery, or dejection, offer mercy, pardon, and all the promises to a man formerly wicked, only for some faint and enforced confession of sins, or because now being overtaken by the evil day, lie howls upon his bed, not for any true hatred of sin, but for present smart and expected horror, &c. But would labour to let the spirit of bondage have its full work, and lay him open more at large in the true colour of his scarlet sins; and not only cause a bare confession of them, but such a conviction as may stop his mouth, so that he hath not a word to speak, but trembles to see such a sink, Sodom, and hell of sin and abomination in himself, &c. Oh, how oft have I heard many a poor ignorant soul in the day of sorrow, being moved to humble himself in the sight of the Lord that he might lift him up, first to get his heart broken with the abhorred burthen of all his sins, and then to bring it thus bleeding to the throne of grace, that Christ might bind it up; I say, being thus entreated, to answer, Yes, yes, with all my heart; I am sorry for my sins with all my heart; I trust in Jesus Christ with all my heart; and thus, whatsoever you can counsel or advise, he doth it with all his heart; whereas, alas! poor heart, as yet his understanding is as dark as darkness itself, in respect of any, I say not only saving knowledge, but almost of any knowledge at all; and his heart in respect of any true remorse as hard as a rock of flint. Now those unskilful physicians of the soul, who in this and the like cases will needs without any more ado, without any further enlightening or labour, thrust mercy and comfort upon them, are like those “foolish shepherds,” as Marbury, in his Exposition upon Psalm xxxii, calls them, “who when they want skill In help their poor sheep out of the ditch, are driven to play the miserable comforters, and to take some other indirect course (as many use to do in such [[174]] cases), to cut the sheep's throat in time to make him man's meat, lest it should be said, he died in a ditch.” They are desoiatnrs not consultors, as Austin sometimes calls them; not sound comforters, but true cut-throats.

Besides that which I have said before of the precedency of the working of the law and of the spirit of bondage to make way for Christ, let me further tell you upon this occasion (that it may appear that much more is to be done herein than is ordinarily imagined before comfort may upon good ground and seasonably be applied to the conscience awaked) what an excellent divine, both for depth of learning and height of holiness, delivered somewhere in this point to this purpose.

“No man must think this strange, that God dealeth with men after this strange manner; as it were to kill them before he make them alive; to let them pass through, or by, as it were, the gates of hell to heaven • to suffer the spirit of bondage to put them into a fear, into a shaking and trembling, &c. For he suffers those that are his to be terrified with this fear, —

First. In respect of his own glory, for the magnifying both of his justice and of his mercy.

“(1.) He glorifies his justice when lessening, or altogether, for the time, abstracting all sight of mercy. He lets the law, sin, conscience, and Satan loose upon a man to have their course and several comminations, and sets the spirit of bondage on work, Thus as in the great work of redemption[4], he would have the glory of his justice appear; so would he have it also in the application of our redemption, that justice should not be swallowed up of [[175]] mercy; but even as the woman, 2 Kings iv, who had nothing to pay was threatened by creditors to take away her two sons, and put them in prison, so we having nothing to pay, the law is let loose upon us, to threaten imprisonment and damnation; to affright and terrify, and all this for the manifesting of his justice. Furthermore, the book of God is full of terrible threatenings against sinners. Now, shall all those be to no purpose? The wicked are insensible of them, to them therefore in that respect they are in vain. Some there must needs be upon whom they must work. Shall the lion roar,' saith the prophet, and no man be afraid 1 ' Since, then, they who should, will not; some there be who must tremble. This the prophet excellently setteth forth, Isa. lxvi, 2, where the Lord showeth whom he will regard. But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.' Neither is it without good cause that God dealeth thus with his own in this manner, though it be sharp in the experience. First, we must fear, tremble, and be humbled; and then we shall receive a spirit not to fear again.

“(2.) His mercy is also thereby mightily magnified; which would never be so sweet, nor relish so well, nor be so esteemed of us, if the awful terror of justice had not formerly made us smart. A king sometimes doth not only suffer the law to pass upon some grievous malefactor for high treason, but also causeth him to be brought to the place of execution, yea, and lay down his head upon the block ere lie pardon; and then mercy is mercy indeed, and melts the heart[5] abundantly with amazement and admiration of it. So God dealeth with us many times; lets the law loose against us, puts us in fear, casts us into prison, and threateneth condemnation in hell for ever; so that when mercy cometh to the soul, being now lost in itself and at the pit's brink, it appears to be a wonderful mercy, the riches of exceeding mercy, most seasonable, most sweet, most [[176]] ravishing. Why do so many find no savour in the gospel? Is it because there is no matter of sweetness or delight in it? No; it is because they have not tasted of, not been soundly touched and terrified by the law and the spirit of bondage. They have not smarted, nor as yet been afflicted with a sense of the bitterness of sin, nor of the just punishment due unto the same. God therefore sends into our hearts the spirit of fear and bondage to prepare us to relish mercy; and then the spirit of adoption not to fear again. And thus by this order the one is magnified and highly esteemed by the foregoing sense of the other.

“Secondly, for our good; and that two ways: I. In justification; and 2. In sanctification.

“(1.) We are such strangers unto God that we will never come unto him till we see no other remedy; being at the pit's brink, ready to starve, hopeless, &c. We see it in the prodigal son. He would never think of any return unto his father till all other helps failed him; money, friends, acquaintance, all sorts of food; nay, if he might have fed upon husks with the swine he would not have thought of returning anymore to his father. This being denied him, the text saith, ‘he came to himself:’ showing us, that when men run on in sinful courses they are madmen, out of themselves, even as we see those in Bedlam are beaten, kept under, denied comforts till they come to themselves. And what saith he then? ' I will arise and go to my father; and 1 will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against thee,' &c. So it is with us: until the Lord humble and bring us low in our own eyes, show us our own misery and spiritual poverty, and that in us there is no good thing; that we be stripped of all helps in and without ourselves, and see that we must perish unless we beg his mercy: I say, until then we will not seek his face and favour, nor have recourse to Jesus Christ, the rock of our salvation. It is with us in this case as it was with the woman whom Christ healed of the bloody issue (Luke viii, 43). How long was it ere she came to Christ I She had been sick twelve years; she had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could she be healed of any. Now this extremity brought her to Jesus Christ. This then is the means to bring to Christ, to bring us upon our knees, to drive us out of ourselves hopeless, as low as may be; to show us where help is only to be found, and make us run unto it. The hunted beast flies unto his den; the Israelites being stung by fiery serpents made haste to the brazen serpent, a type of Christ, for help; the man-killer under the law, chased by the avenger of blood, ran apace to the city [[177]] of refuge; Joab, being pursued for his life, fled to the tabernacle of the Lord, and laid fast hold upon the horns of the altar; a wounded man hies unto the surgeon: proportionably a poor soul, broken and bruised with the insupportable burthens of all his abominations, bleeding at heart's root under sense of Divine wrath by the cutting edge of the sword of the Spirit, managed aright by some masters of assemblies, chased furiously by the law, sin, conscience, and Satan; sometimes even to the brink of despair, will be willing in good earnest to cast itself into the sweet, compassionate, inviting arms and embracements of Jesus Christ, broken and bleeding upon the cross for our sins, and so be made his for ever.

“(2.) For our sanctification, also, it is good for us that the Comforter's first work be to work fear in us; for we are naturally so frozen in our dregs, that no fire will warm or thaw us. We wallow in our own blood; we stick fast in the mire of sin up to the chin, that we cannot stir; so that this fear is sent to pull us violently as it were from our corruptions, to make us holy, and look unto our ways for the time to come. Now to effect this, sharpest things are best, as are the law and threatenings of condemnation, the opening of hell, the racking of the conscience, and a sense of wrath present and to come. So hard-hearted are we by nature, being as the children of the bondwoman, to whom violence must be used, even as we see a man riding a young and wild horse to tame him. lie will run him against a wall that lie may make him afraid; ride him in deep and rough places; or, if this will not do, take him up to some high rock, and bringing him to the brink thereof, he threateneth to throw him down headlong; maketh him shake and quake, whereby at the last he is tamed. So deals the Lord with us: he gives us a sight of sin and of the punishment due thereunto, a sense of wrath, setteth the conscience on fire, as it were; filleth the heart with fears, horrors, and disquietness; openeth hell thus unto the soul, bringeth us to the gates thereof, and threateneth us to throw us in; and all this to make a man more holy, and hate sin the more.”

“The cure of the stone in the heart,” saith another[6], speaking to the same purpose, “is like that of the stone in the bladder. God must use a sharp incision, and come with his pulling and plucking instruments, and rend the heart in pieces, ere that sin can be got out of it.” “Even as in a lethargy it is needful the patient should be cast into a burning fever, because the senses are benumbed, and this [[178]] will wake them, and dry up the besotting humours; so in our dead security before our conversion, God is pleased to let the law, sin, conscience, and Satan loose upon us, and to kindle the fire of hell in our souls, that so we might be roused. Our sins stick close unto us as the prisoners' bolts, and we are shut up under them as in a strong prison; and therefore, unless as once in Paul and Silas's case an earthquake, so here there come a mighty heart-quake, violently breaking open the prison doors and shaking off our fetters, never shall we get our liberty,” &c.

Thus we see what a mighty work of the law and of the spirit of bondage there must be to prepare for Christ, and how requisite it is both for the glorifying of God's justice and mercy, and also for the furtherance of our justification and sanctification. For illustration of which point, besides all that bath been said before, 1 have more willingly in this last passage pressed at large the authority of so great a divine (in which I hope I have not swerved from his sense), because he is without exception, both for holiness and learning; and so his sincere and orthodox judgment more current and passable.

[1] Greenhorn, in his Treatise for an Afflicted Conscience.

[2] On Joel, chap. ii.

[3] Mr. Rogers of Dedham, Doctrine of Faith.

[4] As in the work of creation, so in the work of redemption, God would have the praise of all his attributes. He is much honoured when they are acknowledged to be in him in highest perfection, and their infiniteness and excellency admired and magnified. In the former there appeareth gloriously his infinite wisdom, goodness, power, justice, mercy, &c.; and yet in the work of redemption, which was the greater, they seem to shine with more sweetness, amiableness, and excellency; for in it appeared all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, &c. And in conveying it to the church — First, His wisdom there appeareth infinite wisdom, in finding out such a means for the redemption of mankind as no created understanding could possibly imagine or think of. Secondly, His mercy immeasurably sweet and admirable, in net sparing his own Son, the Son of his love, that he might awe us, who had so grievously transgressed against him. Thirdly, His justice in its highest excellency, in sparing us, not to spare his own only Son; laying, as it were, his head upon the block, and chopping it off; rending and tearing that blessed body, even as the veil of the temple was rent, and making his soot an offering for sin, &c. This was the perfection of justice.

[5] A man who otherwise would not cry nor shed a tear for anything, despiseth death, and would not fear to meet a host of men; I say, such a one now having at the last instant a pardon brought from the king, it worketh wonderfully upon him, and will cause softness of heart and tears to come many times where nothing else could. He is so struck with admiration of so great mercy, so sweet and seasonable in such an extremity, that he stands amazed and knows not what to say; but many times falls to weeping, partly for Joy of his deliverance, and partly also out of indignation against himself, for his barbarous behaviour towards so merciful a prince. This was to be seen is sonic great men, at the beginning of King James's reign, condemned for treason, and pardoned at the block.

[6] Dyke of Repentance, chap. ii.