CHAP.  11.

Objection against the former Doctrine. Differences between legal Terrors in the Elect and others.


Object. But hence, it may be, some troubled soul may take up a complaint and say: Alas l if it be thus, what shall I think of myself? 1 do not remember that ever I tasted so deeply of such terrors and legal troubles as you seem to require. I have not been so humbled and terrified, nor had such experience of that state under the “spirit of bondage” as you talk of, &c.; and therefore you have cast scruples into my conscience about the truth and soundness of my conversion.

Answer. I answer: in this work of the “spirit of bondage;” in this case of legal terrors, humiliations, and other preparative dispositions, we do not prescribe precisely just such a measure and quantity: we do not determine peremptorily upon such or such a degree or height; we leave that to the wisdom of our great Master in heaven, the “only wise God,” who is a most free agent; but sure we are a man must have so much, and in that measure, as to bring him to Christ. It must make him weary of all his sins, and of Satan's bondage wholly; willing “to pluck out his right [[179]] eye, and cut off his right hand,” I mean, to part with his best beloved bosom lusts, to sell all, and not to leave so much as a hoof behind. It must be so much as to make him see his danger, and so haste to the city of refuge; to be sensible of his spiritual misery, that he may heartily thirst for mercy; to find himself lost and cast away in himself, that Christ may be all in all unto him; and after must follow a hatred of all false and evil ways for the time to come; a thorough change of former courses, company, conversation; and setting himself in the way and practice of sobriety, honesty, and holiness. If thou hast had experience of these affections and effects in thine own soul, whatsoever the measure of the work of the “spirit of bondage” bath been in thee, less or more, thou art safe enough, and mayest go on comfortably in the holy path, without any discouragement either from such pretended scruples in thyself, or any of Satan's cruel cavils and oppositions to the contrary. Upon this occasion it will not be here unseasonable to tell you how that legal terror, which God appoints to be a preparative in his elect for the spirit of adoption, and a true change, differs from that which is found in aliens, and not attended with any such saving consequents; that everyone who hath bad trouble of conscience for sin, may clearly discern whether it hath brought him to Christ, or left him unconverted.

1. That happy soul, which is under the terrifying hand of God preparing by the work of the spirit of bondage for the entertainment of Christ and a sound conversion, upon that fearful apprehension of God's wrath and strict visitation of his conscience for sin, casts about for ease and reconcilement only by the blood of the Lord Jesus, and those soul-healing promises in the book of life, with a resolute contempt of all other means and offers for pacification; feeling now, and finding by experience, that no other way, no earthly thing, not this whole world, were it all dissolved into the most curious and exquisite pleasures that ever any carnal heart conceived, can any way assuage the least pang of his grieved spirit. Glad therefore is he to take counsel and to advise with any that is able or likely to lead him by a wise and discreet hand to a well-grounded comfort and refreshment; and resolveth greedily, whatever the prescription and direction be, to give way unto it most willingly in his performance and practice. “And the people asked him, saying, `•What shall we do then? Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do?” Thus were John's [[180]] hearers affected (Luke iii, 10, 12, 14), being afflicted with the piercing passages of John's thundering sermon. “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” say the penitent Jews, pricked in their hearts (Acts ii, 37). The jailor (Acts xvi, 29, 30) “came trembling and fell down before Paul and Silas, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” As if they had said, Prescribe and enjoin what you will, be it never so harsh and distasteful to flesh and blood, never so cross and contrary to carnal reason, profit, pleasure, preferment, acceptation with the world, ease, liberty, life, &c. having warrant out of the word, we are resolved and ready to do it. Only inform us first how to partake and be assured of the person and passion of Christ Jesus; how to have the angry face of our blessed God, to whom we have continued rebels so long, turned into calmness and favour unto us. But now a cast-away and alien thus legally terrified and under wrath for sin, is never wont to come to this earnestness of care, eagerness of resolution, steadfastness of endeavour, willingness upon any terms, to abandon utterly all his old ways, and to embrace new, strict, and holy courses. These things appear unto him terrible, puritanical, and intolerable. He commonly in such cases hath recourse for ease and remedy to worldly comforts and the arm of flesh. Ile labours to relieve his heavy heart by a strong and serious casting his mind and nestling his conceit upon his riches, gold, greatness, great friends, credit amongst men, and such other transitory delights and fading flowers of his fool's paradise. For he is at a point, and resolute with a sensual impenitent obstinacy, not to pass forward through the pangs of the new-birth by repentance and sanctification into the holy life of new obedience; lest he should (as out of a foolish and frantic baseness he is apt to fear) be engaged and enchained, as it were, to too much strictness, preciseness, holiness of life, communion with God's people, and opposition to good fellowship.

2. He that is savingly wounded with legal terror, is wont in cool blood, and being something come to himself, to entertain the very same thought (or rather mingled with a great deal more reverence, affectionateness, and love, as far as the life of an immortal soul doth surpass in dearness and excellency the cure of a frail and earthly body) of that man of God, who by a right managing the edge of his spiritual sword hath pierced his heart, scorched his conscience, and bruised his spirits; 1 say, the same in proportion, which a wise and thankful patient would have of that faithful surgeon who hath seasonably and thoroughly lanced some deep and dangerous sore, which otherwise would have been [[181]] his death. Upon the search and discovery he clearly sees and acknowledges, that had not that holy incision been made into his rotten and ulcerous heart, it had cost him the eternal life of his soul. But now the alien, put out of his sensual humour with horror of conscience, is ordinarily transported with much rageful discontentment against the powerful ministry of God's earnest messengers, who put him to such torture by troubling him for sin and frighting him with hell; and thereupon cries out against them, at least with secret indignation and fretting, as the devils did against Christ, “Why by do you thus torment us before the time?”

3. Aliens in such cases entertain no other thought, and cast about for no other comfort at all, but only how they may recover their former quietness of mind, carnal ease, and freedom from present terror. But he that is fitting by the spirit of bondage for faith and the fellowship of the saints, will never by any means, whatsoever come of him, relapse to his wonted sensual security. Nay, of the two, he will rather lie still upon the rack, waiting for the Lord Jesus all the days of his life, than “return any more unto foolishness,” or hunt again after any contentment in the miserable pleasures of good-fellowship.

4. That messenger, an interpreter, one among a thousand, who in such a case can seasonably and soundly declare unto a savingly wounded soul his righteousness; assure him it was Christ Jesus' only business in coming from heaven to disburthen “all that labour and are heavy laden,” and ease such trembling hearts, &c.; I say such a blessed man of God to such a broken heart is for ever after most dear and welcome; “ his feet are beautiful” in Isis eye every time lie comes near him. Comfort of so high a nature in extremity of such horrible consequence doth infinitely and endlessly endear the delivered soul to such an heavenly doctor. But aliens commonly make no great account of godly ministers any longer than they have present need of them, and trouble of mind makes them melancholic and out with mirth. They seem to reverence them, while from their general discourses of mercy and God's free grace, of merciful invitations to Christ and certainty of acceptation (if they will come in), they suck into their false hearts before the time and truth of humiliation some superficial glimmerings and flashes of comfort and cooling; but if once the heat of their guilty rage begin to assuage, and they find again some ease from their former terrors and wonted relish in earthly delights, they turn such holy men [[182]] out of their hearts, cast them out of their consciences, and hold no higher or further estimation of them, than of other and ordinary men, if they forbear to persecute them with thoughts of disdain and contempt.

5. The true penitent having smarted under the sense of Divine wrath, and frighted with the flames of horror for sin, doth grow fearful for ever after to offend, and with much gracious care dreads that “consuming fire.” But the alien, while he is upon the rack indeed, and bath the heinousness of his sins and hell freshly in his eye, will easily make many glorious protestations and promises what a rare and resolute convert he will become upon his recovery. But if once the storm be overblown, God's hand withdrawn, and his painful conscience cast again into a dead sleep by the power, or rather poison of some sensual receipt, he performs just nothing; but like a filthy swine wallows again in the mire and mud of earthliness and carnality, and again with the beastly dog returns unto and resumes his vomit.

6. He that hath savingly passed through the pangs of such spiritual afflictions, is wont to be very kindly affected, most compassionate and tender-hearted to others afflicted with the same woeful terrors and troubles of conscience. A woman, who bath herself with extraordinary pain experienced the exquisite torture of childbirth, is wont to be more tenderly and mercifully disposed towards another in the like torment, than she that never knew what that misery meant; and is more ready, willing, and skilful to relieve in such distresses. It is proportionably so in the present case; but the alien being tainted in some measure with the devil's hateful disposition, is by the heat of his slavish horror rather enraged wilph malice than resolved into mercy; he is rather tickled with a secret content, than touched with true commiseration, to see and hear of others plunged into the same gulf of misery and plagued like himself. He is much troubled with soleness in suffering, and the singularity of any sorrowful accident. Companionship in crosses Both something allay the discomforts of carnal men; so that sometimes they secretly but very sinfully rejoice (such is their dogged devilish disposition) even to see the hand of God upon their neighbours. Neither can he in such extremities minister any means of help or true comfort at all, either by prayer, counsel, or any experimental skill, because the “evil spirit” of his vexed conscience was not driven away by any well-grounded application of God's mercies and Christ's blood; but as Saul’s was by music, worldly [[183]] mirth, carnal advice, soul-slaying flatteries of men-pleasing ministers, plunging desperately into variety of sensual pleasures, &c.

7. He who after the boisterous tempest of legal terrors, bath happily arrived at the port of peace, 1 mean that blessed peace “which passeth all understanding,” made with God himself in the blood of his Son, enters presently thereupon into the good way, takes upon him the yoke of Christ, and serves him afterwards “in holiness and righteousness all the days of his life,” and ordinarily his deeper humiliation is an occasion of his more humble, precise, holy, and strict walking, and of more watchfulness over his heart and tenderness of conscience about lesser sins also, all occasions of scandal, appearances of evil, even aberrations in his best actions and holiest duties. But aliens, when once they be taken off the rack, and their torture determine, either become just the same men they were before, or else reform only someone or other gross sin which stuck most upon their consciences, but remain unamended and unmortified in the rest; or else, which often comes to pass, grow a great deal worse: for they are, as it were, angry with God that he should give them a taste of hell-fire before their time; and therefore knowing their time but short, fall upon earthly delights more furiously, and engross and grasp the pleasures of the world with more greediness and importunity.