SECT. III, PART I.

CHAP.  1.

Three Principles of Comfort from without us, to be applied to Afflicted Consciences.


THUS much of the theory, I come now to the practical part, to a particular application of some special sovereign antidotes to the most grievous ordinary maladies incident to the souls of the saints.

But first give me leave to premise some general well-heads, out of which do spring abundance of comfort, and overflowing rivers of refreshing for all intents and effects in point of temptation and trouble of mind.

And first take a fruitful cluster and heavenly heap of them together; those twelve heads of extraordinary, immeasurable, comfortable matter for spiritual medicines, which I have heretofore erected as so many invincible bulwarks against all assaults of despair, oppositions of Satan, exceptions of distrust.

1. The infiniteness of God's, mercy, sweetly intimated in Isa. lv, 6, 7, 8. The mercy of God is like himself, infinite. All our sins are finite, both in number and nature. Now between finite and infinite there is no proportion, and so no possibility of resistance. And therefore be thy sins never so notorious and numberless, yet a truly broken heart, thirsting for and throwing itself upon Christ, unfeignedly resolving upon new obedience and his glorious service for the time to come, can no more withstand or stand before God's mercies, than a little spark can withstand the boundless and mighty ocean, thrown into the midst of it; nay, infinitely less. If all the sins that all the sons and daughters of Adam have committed since the creation to this time were all upon one soul, yet so affected as I have said, and put into such a new penitent gracious temper, it should be most certainly upon good ground and everlastingly safe. I speak not thus to make any secure; for any one sin, pleasing [[231]] and reigning, will ruin a soul for ever; but to assure of mercy enough, how great or many soever the sins have been, if the heart be now truly humbled for them all, and wholly turned heavenward.

2. The invaluableness of Christ's meritorious blood, which is called “the blood of God,” and therefore of inestimable price. Understand me aright: it was “the blood of God;” not of the Godhead, but of him who was both God and man. For the manhood of Christ was received into the union of the Second Person, and so it may be called “the blood of God,” for so speaks St.Paul (Acts xx, 28), “God purchased his church with his own blood;” that is, Christ, God incarnate. Our divines express it thus: “It was the Son of God and Lord of life that died for us upon the cross; but it was the nature of man, not of God, wherein he died; and it was the nature of God, and infinite excellency of the same, whence the price, value, and worth of his passion grew.” This blessed blood then is of infinite efficacy; and therefore, if thou be now turning to the Lord, assure thyself, whatsoever thy sins have been, they have not outgone the price that bath been paid for them. This blood, upon repentance, did take off the transcendent scarlet guilt from the souls even of those that shed it. (Acts ii, &c.)

3. The riches of the word, in affording precedents of the saints, and of the Son of God himself, who have surpassed thee, and that perhaps very far, in any kind of misery thou canst name.

(1.) Thou art perhaps consulting with the prodigal to come in, but there comes terribly into thy mind the extraordinary heinousness of thy former sins, and that hinders. Cast thine eye then upon Manasseh, a man of prodigious impiety and matchless villany. He “shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another. He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, like unto the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel. Ile caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom. Also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards. He wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger,” &c. (2 Kings xxi, 16; 2 Chron. xxxiii, 2 — 6.) And yet this great sinner, “humbling himself greatly before the God of his fathers,” was received to mercy (ver. 12, 13).

(2.) Suppose (which yet were a horrible thing) that after conversion, by extraordinary violence of temptation, strong ensnarement of some sudden sensual offer and opportunity, [[232]] treacherous insinuation of thy own false heart, and furious re-assault of thy former bosom sin, thou shouldst be overtaken grossly with some grievous sin and scandalous fall, and then upon illumination, remorse, and meditation of return, reason thus within thyself:— “Alas! what shall I do now? I have undone all. I have woefully again defiled my soul, so fairly washed in my Saviour's blood, with that disavowed sin of my unregenerate time. I have shamed my profession, disgraced religion for ever I have broke my vows, lost my peace, and my wonted blessed communion with God: and therefore what hope can I have of any acceptance again at the throne of grace!” — I say in this case, to keep thee from sinking, cast thine eye upon Aaron, David, Peter, who, returning with sound and hearty repentance, were mercifully received into as great favour as they were before. But God forbid that any professor of religion should ever fall so foully, especially in this glorious mid-day of evangelical light.

(3.) Art thou languishing under the heavy desolations of a spiritual desertion, and deprived of thy former comfortable feelings of God's favourable countenance? Look upon David: “I remembered God, and was troubled. I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. I am so troubled that I cannot speak. My soul refused to be comforted” (Psalm lxxvii). Nay, upon Jesus Christ himself, crying, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. xxvii, 46.)

(4.) Art thou haunted with some of Satan's most hateful and horrible injections, grisly to the eye even of corrupted nature; thoughts framed by himself immediately and put into thee, perhaps tending to atheism, or to the dishonour of God in the highest degree, or of his blessed word; to self-destruction, or the like?—thoughts which thou canst not remember without horror, and darest not reveal or name for their strange and prodigious monstrousness? if it be thus with thee, consider how this malicious fiend dealt with the Son of God himself. He offered to his most holy and unspotted imagination these propositions: First, murder and make away with thyself (Matt. iv, 6). Secondly, fall down and worship the devil (ver. 9); than which, a fouler thought I think was never injected;  that Jesus Christ, blessed for ever, in whom the Godhead dwelt bodily, should fall down and worship the devil, the vilest of creatures. And yet this was suggested to our blessed Saviour; to which his purest heart, infinitely incapable of sin, was as a brass wall to an arrow, beating it back presently with infinite contempt, and himself did utterly conquer and confound [[233]] the tempter, and that for thee and thy sake too. And therefore if thy humbled soul do abominate and abandon them from the heart-root to the pit of hell, they shall never be laid to thy charge, but set on Satan's score. Extremely then do those wrong themselves, and gratify the devil to the height, who suffer such injections, which they heartily hate and stand against with all their strength, to hold their hearts still upon the rack of extraordinary astonishment and distraction, whereby they are unnecessarily discouraged and disabled for a cheerful discharge of both their callings, which is the thing Satan especially aims at in vexing so many of God's dearest servants with this most fiery dart.

(5.) It may be that many years after thy new birth, when thou thinkest the worst is past, thou mayest be revisited and afflicted afresh with perhaps sorer spiritual pangs and more horror than at the first. And what then? Hear how David, a man after God's own heart, cries out: “My bones waxed old, through my roaring all the day long; for day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer” (Psal. xxxii, 3, 4). And Job, a God fearing man and most upright: “Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and boldest me for thine enemy? Wilt thou break a leaf driven to and fro; and wilt thou pursue the dry stubble? For thou writest bitter things against me, and makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth. The arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison thereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me” (Job xiii, 24, 25, 26; vi, 4). Hezekiah, that walked before God in truth and with a perfect heart “I reckoned till morning, that as a lion so will he break all my bones: from day even to night wilt thou make an end of me. Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter: I did mourn as a dove. Mine eyes fail with looking upward. O Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me” (Isa. xxxviii, 13, 14).

(6.) Dost thou day after day pour out thy soul in prayer before the throne of grace with all the earnestness thy poor, dead heart (as thou callest it) can possibly; and dost thou still rise up dull, heavy-hearted, and uncomfortable, without any sensible answer from God, or comfortable sense of his favour and love shed into thy heart? Be it so: yet for all this, pray still in obedience unto thy God against all discouragements and oppositions whatsoever. Still press hard unto and ply God's mercy-seat, if it be but with sighs and groanings. Assuredly at length and in the fittest time thou shalt be gloriously refreshed, and registered in the remembrance of God for a Christian of excellent faith. See [[234]] a pattern of rare and extraordinary patience this way in Matt. xv, 23. There that woman of Canaan, having received many grievous repulses and cutting discouragements; —the solicited was silent —the disciples grumble—she was not of the fold —she was a dog; —yet for all this, by her constancy in crying after Christ, her petition at last was not only granted, but herself also crowned with a singular and admirable eulogy from the Lord's own mouth: “O woman! great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” What an honour and comfort was this, to be thus commended by Jesus Christ! —and that with an admiration, “O woman!”

(7.) Hath thy faith lost its feeling. “Dost thou for the present feel nothing but “anger, wrath, and great indignation?” Is God's face and favour, wherein is life, turned away from thee, and quite hid from thy sight? Nay, “bath he broken thee asunder, taken thee by the neck, and shaken thee to pieces, and set thee up for his mark 1” Yet for all this, let thy truly humbled soul be so far from loosing or leaving its holdfast and sure repose upon the person, passion, and promises of Jesus Christ, that in such a case it cleave and cling faster to that blessed rock, and far more immovably. For therein especially is the strength and glory of faith improved and made illustrious. It is one of the most noble and heroical acts of faith to believe without feeling. “He who believeth most and feeleth least, is he who glorifieth God most. ft is nothing to swim in a warm bath: but to endure the surges and tumbling billows of the sea—that is the man.” To believe when God doth fairly and sensibly shine upon the soul with the love and light of his countenance, is no great matter; but to rest invincibly upon his mercy through Christ, when he grinds thee to powder, that is the faith. Thou hast before thee for this purpose a matchless precedent. Thus cries holy Job, vexed not only with an unparalleled variety and extremity of outward afflictions, but also with the venom of the Almighty's arrows, drinking up his spirit — “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Chap. xiii, 15). So Abraham, Rom. iv, 18.

(8.) Hast thou given thy name stoutly to religion, and dost thou stand on God's side with resolution? And art thou therefore villanously traduced with slanderous, odious nicknames of puritan, precisian, hypocrite, humourist, dissembler, &c.1 Consider then for thy comfort, that graceless wretches, when he was upon earth, called thy blessed Lord and Saviour devil (Matt. x, 25; John vii, 20), which passeth all, I am persuaded, that any drunken Belial ever [[235]] fastened upon thee. Contemn thou therefore for ever, and trample upon with a humble and triumphant patience, all their contumelies and contempts. Pass by nobly, without touch or trouble, without wound or passion, the utmost malice of the most scurrilous tongues, the basest taunts of the most impure drunkard.

(9.) Doth the world, carnal men, thine own friends, formal teachers, suppose and declare thee to be a dissembler in thy profession, and will needs concurrently and confidently, yet falsely, fasten upon thee the imputation of hypocrisy? A heavy charge! Yet for all this, let thy truly-humbled heart, conscious to itself of its own sincerity in holy services, like a strong pillar of brass, beat back all their poisoned arrows of malice and mistake,. without any dection or discouragement; only take occasion hereby to search more thoroughly, and walk more warily. Job may be a right noble pattern to thee in this point also. He had against him not only the devil, his enemy, pushing at him with his poisoned weapons; but even his own friends scourging him with their tongues; his own wife a thorn pricking him in the eye: yea, his own God “running upon him like a giant, and his terrors setting themselves in array against him;” powerful motives to make him suspect himself of former halting and hollow-heartedness in the ways of God; yet notwithstanding his good and honest heart having been long before aquainted with, and knit unto his God in truth, makes him break out boldly, and resolutely protest — “Till I die I will not remove my integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go. Behold, my witness is in heaven, and any record is on high” (Job xxvii, 5, 6; xvi, 19).

(10.) Art thou a loving and tender-hearted mother unto thy children, and halt thou lost the dearest? The greatest outward cross, 1 confess, that ever the sons and daughters of Adam tasted, and goeth nearest to the heart. Yet thy sorrow is not singular, but outgone in this also: for the blessed another of Christ stood by, and saw her own only, dear, innocent Son, the Lord of life, most cruelly and villanously murdered upon the cross before her eyes (John xix, 25). Hast thou lost thy goods or children? Doth thy wife that lies in thy bosom set herself against thee 1 Do thy nearest friends charge thee falsely? Art thou pained extremely from top to toe? Do the arrows of the Almighty stick fast in thy soul? Thy affliction is grievous enough, if thou taste any of these severally; but do they all in greatest extremity concur upon thee at once? Hast thou lost all thy children [[236]] and all thy goods? Doth thy wife afflict thy afflictions? If this be not thy case and rueful condition, thou comest yet short of Job, a most just man, and one of God's dearest jewels.