CHAP.  8.

The Third Way of Curing the former Malady.
One thing to be considered to that purpose.

IN the third place, take notice of such considerations as these:‑

1. God, being a most free agent, doth not tie himself constantly and invariably to ordinary, expected, set, and the same forms, measures, times, proportions of his ways, and workings upon his children. For he is wise without limit and above measure; and therefore bath many secret and glorious ends and aims, which, according to his good pleasure, much diversify the means serviceable and subordinate thereunto. From whence may spring these three conclusions: —

(1.) He may for the most part create in the heart of the true convert terrors and troubles of conscience, amazements and mourning, answerable in some good measure to the variety, vanity, and villany of his former wicked ways and lewd life. As appears before in Manasseh, the sinful woman, idolatrous Israelites, hearers of Peter, and many in these days, if it were convenient to name them. “For the most part,” saith a great divine, “the violence of humiliation in the calling of a sinner, is according to the continuance and greatness of his actual transgressions. According to the same is the rent in the conscience and soul. Therefore, if there be any who bath been a great and grievous sinner, and hath not with violence been pulled from his sin, he may do well to suspect and search himself soundly.”

(2.) He may sometimes suffer a notorious sinner to pass something more easily and with less terror though the pangs of the new birth. But then such a one is wont to walk more humbly before God all his life after, for that he was not humbled with more remarkableness of penitent remorse and spiritual anguish in his conversion; and so extension and continuance of godly grief that he was not more grieved, makes up as it were that desired intensity and extremity of pangs which might justly have pained him in his passing from death to life. Every hearty and sensible complaint that the pangs of the new birth were not more painful and proportionable to the pollutions of his youth, is, as it were, and in the sense I have said, a pang of the new birth. Or else upon some occasion after, and in his Christian course he may be revisited and vexed afresh with more terror and trouble of conscience than in his first change; as in such cases as these: — 1st. If he should (which God forbid!) by some violent enticement and snaring opportunity be entangled again and reinfected with any former sensual pleasure of his unregenerate time; or by neglect of his care and watchfulness over his ways be suddenly surprised with some new scandalous sin. 2dly. Upon the assault of some extraordinary frighting temptation, or pressing of hideous thoughts upon his melancholic imagination. idly. When some heavy cross or sickness[1] after many prosperous days shall seize upon him, which may lie sore and long. 4thly. Upon his bed of death; especially if he fall upon it immediately after some relapse, backsliding, or new wound of conscience. There is a kind of natural power besides God's special hand in sickness, sorrow, darkness, melancholy, the night, extraordinary crosses, the bed of death, to represent the true number and [[316]] heinousness of sins with greater horror and more unto the life; whereas prosperity, health, and days of peace, do rather delude the eyes of the conscience; and like false and flattering glasses make those foul fiends seem fairer than they are indeed. And therefore the Christian, especially that I speak of, being outwardly distressed, cast upon his bed of death, or any ways extraordinarily visited by God's hand, seeing his sins upon the sudden marshalled and marching against him; more in number and more fiercely than heretofore, may for the while be surprised and exercised with unexpected terror, until by meditation upon God's former special mercy unto him in spiritual things, upon the marks and effects of his change, upon the uprightness of his heart towards God in the days of health, upon those testimonies and assurances which his Christian friends can give him of his being in a gracious state, with such like holy helps; and so in cool blood and above all resolving to stick for ever fast to the Lord Jesus, though he kill him, he be raised again from such dejections of spirit to the wonted confidence and comfort of his interest in Christ and salvation of his soul. Here, by the way, let none think it strange, that even the dearest servants of Christ may be revisited[2] with more horror of conscience afterward than at their first turning on God's side. As appears in Job, Hezekiah, David, in Mrs. Brettergh, Mr. Peacock, &c. Besides the proposed cases, this revisitation may befal them also —5thly. For [[317]] their own trial. This was the end, as it may seem, why Job was set up as a mark for the envenomed arrows of the Almighty to aim at, and whole armies of terrors to fight against. He approved himself to be steel to the back as they say, by that victorious ejaculation, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job xiii, 15); whereby God was mightily honoured, Satan utterly confounded, and that controversy, “whether Job feared God for nought or no!” gloriously ended on God's side. 6thly. That they may grow into greater conformity with their blessed Saviour in spiritual sufferings. 7thly. That, tasting again sometimes the bitterness of divine wrath for sin, they may be the more

frighted and flee further from it. 8thly. That thereby the incomprehensible love of Christ toward them may sink deeper into their hearts, who for their sakes and salvation drunk deep and large, and the very dregs of that cup, the least drop whereof is to them so bitter and intolerable. 9thly. That by sense of the contrary, their joy in the favour and light of God's countenance may be more joyful, their spiritual peace more pleasant, the pleasure of grace more precious, the comforts of godliness more comfortable, &c. 10thly. For admonition to others; to draw duller and drowsy Christians to more strictness, watchfulness, and zeal, by observing the spiritual troubles and terrors of those who are far more holy and righteous than themselves. To intimate unto formal professors that all is certainly nought with them, who ordinarily are mere strangers to all afflictions of soul and sorrow for sin. 11thly. For terror to many, who going on securely in their sensual courses, are wont to cry down all they can the power of preaching, by crying to their companions thus, or in the like manner — “Well, for all this, we hope hell is not so hot, nor sin so heavy, nor the devil so black, nor God so unmerciful, as these precise preachers would make them.” How may such as these be affrighted and terrified upon this occasion, with pondering upon that terrible place, 1 Pet. iv, 17, 18. “If judgment begin at the house of God, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved; ' if God's children have their consciences scorched, as it were, with the flames of hell; “where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear,” but even in the bottom of that fiery lake, and amidst the unquenchable rage of those endless flames? 12thly. For the just hardening of such as hate to be reformed, and are desperately resolved against the saving preciseness of the saints. It may be in tins manner: A godly man hath lived long amongst rebels, thorns, and scorpions, scorners, railers, [[318]] persecutors, who although he hath shined all the while “as a light in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,” yet they were ever so far from being heated with love of heavenly things by his holy life, or won unto good by his gracious example, that like so many bats and owls, impatient of all spiritual light, they did either fly from it as far as they could in affection and practice, if not in habitation, or fell upon it fiercely with their envenomed claws of spite and cruelty, to extinguish quite, if it were possible, such blessed beams of saving light; and to darken, with hellish mists of ignorance and ill life, the place where they live. They wilfully blinded themselves with a pestilent conceit, that his sincerity was nothing but hypocrisy; his holiness only humour; his forwardness fantasticalness, his sanctification singularity. And thereupon resolved and boisterously combined against him with all their policy, purses, and possibilities, like those ungodly ones mentioned in the book of Wisdom, “Let us lie in wait for the righteous; because he is not for our turn, and he is clean contrary to our doings; be upbraideth us with our offending the law, and objecteth to our infamy the transgressings of our education,” &c. say, God may suffer such a man upon his death-bed to fall into some more extraordinary observable discomfort and distress of conscience; of which those graceless wretches taking notice, may thereby be made desperately obstinate and hardened in their lewd and carnal courses. For seeing God's hand upon him in that fearful manner, and wanting the spirit of discerning, they conclude most peremptorily, that notwithstanding his great shows, he was most certainly but a counterfeit. And so themselves become many times upon that occasion most implacable enemies to grace and all good men. They are more strongly locked up in the arms of the devil, faster nailed to formality or good-fellowship; and, which is the perfection of their madness and misery, “bless themselves in their hearts,” saying merrily to their brethren in iniquity: “You see now what these men are, which make themselves so holy and are so hot in religion: these are the fellows which pretend to be so scrupulous and precise; and of that singular strain of sanctity that they think none shall be saved but themselves- You see in this man the desperate end of such hypocritical puritans.” Thus the glory of God's justice is justly magnified, by letting them grow stark blind who wilfully shut their eyes against the light of grace, by giving them over to a reprobate mind who so maliciously hated to be reformed; and so too often they walk on for ever after, with confidence and hardness of heart which cannot repent, in a perpetual [[319]] prejudice against purity and the power of godliness, unto the pit of hell. Whereas, by the mercy of God and inviolable constancy of his covenant, that blessed man, by these terrors and afflictions of conscience, besides glorifying God in hardening others, is the more thoroughly fitted and refined for that glory which is presently to be revealed.

(3.) Greatest humiliations do not ever argue and import the greatest sinners. For sins are not always the cause of our afflictions, particularly and directly, but sometimes some other motives. Abraham was put unto that heavy task of taking away his own only dear son's life, principally for the trial of his faith. Job was visited with, such a matchless variety and extremity of afflictions, for the purpose of ending that controversy between God and Satan, whether he feared God for nought or nol God's heavy hand was sometimes upon David especially for the manifestation of his innocency (Psalm xvir, 3); nay, our blessed Saviour, infinitely free from sin, was notwithstanding tempted and tried by Satan and the world, that his heavenly virtues and divine excellencies might appear and be made more illustrious; and himself tells us (John ix, 3) that the blind man was so born, neither for his own sin nor for the sin of his parents, “but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”

For the particular I have in hand,—to prevent some sin into which he sees his child inclinable and likely to fall, by reason of some violent occasion, natural propensity, strong temptation, or industrious malice of the devil to disgrace him and his profession scandalously, God in great mercy may give him a taste, nay a deep draught of the inexpressible terrors of a troubled mind again; that thereby he may be taught betime to take more heed, walk more warily, and stand upon his guard with extraordinary watchfulness against the very first assault and least insinuation of sin. There is preventing physic for preservation of health, as well as that when the disease is dangerously upon us, for recovery. There was given unto Paul a thorn in the flesh; which, if we will take the interpretation of some learned divines, was a wound in the spirit, the sting of conscience pressing him down to the nethermost hell in his present feeling, who had lately been taken up to the highest heaven, purposely lest he should swell with spiritual pride, be puffed up and “exalted above measure with the abundance of revelations.” If we well weigh the admirable story of that gracious and holy servant of Christ, Mrs. Brettergh, we may probably conceive that a principal end why those most grievous spiritual afflictions of soul upon her last bed [[320]] were laid upon her, was in God's just judgment to blind yet more those bloody papists about her; and because they wilfully shut their eyes against that glorious light of true religion which she so blessedly and fruitfully expressed in her godly life, to let them thereby sink yet deeper into strong delusion; that they might stick still more stiffly to popish lies, according to that prophecy concerning the anti-christians (2 Thes. ii, 10, 11, 12), “Because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved; for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believed not the truth,” &c. which we see at this day verified with a witness in popish doctors, even their greatest scholars, as Bellarmine, and other polemical writers. And therefore let us never marvel, that though they be laden with ninth learning, yet that they should lie egregiously, and defend with infinite obstinacy and clamour the doctrine of devils, that accursed hydra of heresies in their voluminous dunghills. Now God's judgment in hardening them hereby, as I have said, was the more just; because they were so far from being wrought upon and won by her heavenly conversation, that they were extraordinarily enraged against her goodness and profession of the gospel, as appears in that, besides their continual railing and roaring against her as an eminent light, like so many furious bedlams, they barbarously wreaked their malice and spite upon the dumb and innocent creatures, by killing at two several times her husband's horses and cattle in the night.

That her fiery trial, through which she passed as purest gold into Abraham's bosom, did thus harden them is manifest by the event: for as the reverend penman of that story reports: “Those of the Romish faction bragged, as though an oracle had come from heaven to prove them catholics and us heretics.” Prodigious folly! Damnable delusion!

It is so then, that God, in his inflicting of afflictions, doth not ever aim at sin as at the principal end. And yet do not mistake: though he punishes sometimes and not for sin, yet never without sin either inherent or imputed. There is ever matter enough in our sinful souls, and bodies, and lives, to afflict us infinitely. The best of us brought with us into this world that corruption which might bring upon us all the plagues of this and the other life. Every man bath in himself sufficient fuel for the fire of God's wrath to work upon still, if it pleased him in justice to set it on flame. As in the present point of spiritual terrors and troubles of mind, if God should out of his just and causeful indignation put the full sting but into the least sin, it [[321]] were able to put a man into the very mouth of hell. But I speak of God's more ordinary ways and dealings with the sons of men; and so I say, God may sometimes, for some hidden and holy ends seen and seeming good to his heavenly wisdom, bring a less heinous sinner through extraordinary horror out of his natural state into the good way.

[1] David, Psalm xxxviii, being put in mind by his sickness of Cod's wrath against sin, was full sorely afflicted in soul; so that he cries: “There is no soundness in my flesh, because of thine anger; neither is there ally rest in my bones, because of my sin. For mine iniquities are gone over mine head; as a heavy burthen they are too heavy for me. I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. I am feeble and sore broken; I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart. My sorrow is continually before me.”

[2] But how may this revisitation with as great, if not greater terrors than at first turning unto God, consist with that, Rom. viii, 15, “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear;” which seems to import thus much, that God's child receives the spirit of bondage no more after he bath once received the spirit of adoption, revealing and evidencing unto him that he is a son and that God is his father .? In answer: The sane Spirit produceth these contrary effects. By the law, fear and terror, by the gospel, peace and prayer. Now at the first taking a man in hand to turn hits to the Lord, the spirit of bondage, by the work of the law, cloth testify unto the soul that it is in a wretched and damnable state, bound over to the guilt of its own sin, and God's fiery wrath, to death, and hell, and damnation for ever; that so it may be driven to Jesus Christ for release and pardon. But after the plantation of faith and presence of the spirit of adoption it never testifies so again, because it would be an untruth. It may afterward work an apprehension that God is angry; but not that he is not a father. The hiding of God's face, which may often befal his child; the darkness of our own spirits thereupon, which slay revive all the old guilt again; and the devil's cruel pressing upon us upon such advantages, raise these hideous mists of horror I am speaking of, and such terrible after-tempests, of which our only-wise and all powerful God makes excellent use, both for ourselves and others, and attains thereby his own most glorious, secret, and sacred end, as appears in the following passage.