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Meditations against Despair, or doubting of God’s Mercy.
It is found by continual experience, that near the time of death, when the children of God are weakest, 291then Satan makes the greatest nourish of his strength, and assails them with his strongest temptations. For he knows that either he must now or never prevail; for if their souls once go to heaven, he shall never vex nor trouble them any more. And therefore he will now bestir himself as much as he can, and labour to set before their eyes all the gross sins which ever they committed, and the judgments of God which are due unto them; thereby to drive them, if he can, into despair, which is a more grievous sin than all the sins that they committed, or he can accuse them of.
2. Make satisfaction to those men whom thou hast wronged, if thou be able. And if thou dost injuriously or fraudulently detain or keep in thy possession any lands or goods, that of right belong to any widow or fatherless child, presume not, as thou tenderest thy soul’s health, to look the righteous Judge in the face, unless thou dost first make restitution thereof to the right owners; for the law of God, under the penalty of his curse, requires thee to “restore whatsoever was given thee to keep, or which was committed to thy trust, or whatsoever by robbery or violent oppression thou tookest from thy neighbour, with a fifth part for amends added to the principal.” (Lev. vi. 2, 3, 4, &c.; Numb. v. 6, 7, 8.)113113Non remittitur peccatum, nisi restituatur ablatum. And unless that, like Zaccheus, thou dost make restitution of such goods and lands, according to God’s law (Luke xix. 8, 9; Micah vi. 10, 11), thou canst never truly repent; and without true repentance thou canst never be saved. But though by the temptation of the devil, thou hast done wrong and injury, yet if thou dost truly repent and make restitution according to thy power (Ezek. xviii. 7; Acts ii. 38; viii. 22), the Lord 292has promised to be merciful unto thee, to hear the prayers of his faithful ministers for thee, to forgive thee thy trespass and sin, and to receive thy soul in the merits of Christ’s blood, as a Lamb without blemish (Gen. xx. 7; James v. 14, 15, 16; Lev. vi. 6, 7.)
4. Ask of God, for Christ’s sake, pardon and forgiveness. And then these troubles of mind are no discouragements, but rather comforts; exercises, not punishments. They are assurances to thee, that thou art in the right way: for the way to heaven is by the gates of hell; that is, by suffering pains in the body, and such doubtings in the mind, that thy state in this life being every way made bitter, the joys of eternal life may relish to thee better and more sweet.
1. That the truest faith hath oftentimes the least feeling and greatest doubts; but so long as thou hatest such doubtings they shall not be laid to thy charge, for they belong to the flesh, from which thou art divorced (Mark ix. 24; Matt. xiv. 31.) When thy flesh shall perish, thy weak inward man, which hates them, and loves the Lord Jesus, shall be saved.
2. That it is a better faith to believe without feeling than with feeling (Job xiii. 15;) the least faith, so much as a grain of mustard-seed (Matt. xvii. 20), so much as is in an infant baptized, is enough to save the soul which loveth Christ and believeth in him.
3. That the child of God which desireth to feel the assurance of God’s favour, shall have his desire when God shall see it to be for his good; for God has promised to give them the water of life who thirst for it (Rev. xxi. 6; Isa. lv. 1.) We have an example in Master Glover, the holy martyr, who could have no comfortable feeling till he came to the sight of the stake; and then cried out, and clapped his hands for joy to his 293friends, saying, “O Austin, he is come, he is come!” meaning the feeling joy of faith and the Holy Ghost.115115Fox’s Acts and Monuments. Tarry, therefore, the Lord’s leisure; be strong, and he shall comfort thine heart (Psal. xxvii. 14.)
1. That upon true repentance it is as easy with God to forgive the greatest sin as the least, and he is as willing to forgive many, as to pardon one (1 Tim. i. 15;) and his mercy shineth more in pardoning great sinners, than small offenders; as appears in the examples of Manasses, Magdalene, Peter, Paul, &c.; and where sin most abounded, there doth his grace rejoice to abound much more (Rom. v. 20.)
2. That God did never forsake any man, till a man did first forsake God; as appears in the examples of Cain, Saul, Achitophel, Ahaziah, Judas, &c.
3. That God calleth all, even those sinners who are heavy laden with sin (Matt. xi. 28;) and that he did never deny his mercy to any sinner that asked his mercy with a penitent heart. This the history of the gospel witnesses: there came unto Christ all sorts of sick sinners; the blind, lame, halt, lepers, such as were sick of palsies, dropsies, bloody-fluxes, such as were lunatic, and possessed with unclean spirits and devils; yet of all these not one that came and asked his mercy and help, went away without his errand;—if mercy he asked, mercy he found, were his sin never so great, were his disease never so grievous; nay, he offered and gave his mercy to many that never asked it, being moved only with the bowels of his own compassion, and the sight of their misery; as to the woman of Samaria, the widow of Nain, and to the sick man that lay at the pool of Bethesda, who had been thirty-eight years sick. If he thus willingly gave his mercy to them that did not ask 294it, and was found of them, as the prophet saith, that sought him not (Isa. lxv. 1; Rom. x. 20;) will he deny mercy unto thee, who dost so earnestly pray for it with tears; and dost, like the poor publican, so heartily knock for it with penitent fists upon a bruised and broken heart; especially when thou prayest to thy Father, in the name and mediation of Christ, for whose sake he hath promised to grant whatsoever we shall ask of him (John xiv. 14;) as sure as God is true, he will not. Though Nineveh’s sins had provoked the Lord to send out his sentence against them, yet upon their repentance, he recalled it again, and spared the city; how much more, if thou likewise repentest, will he spare thee, seeing his sentence is not yet gone forth against thee?117117Novit Dominus mutare sententiam, si tu noveris emendare vitam.—Aug. in Psal. 50. If he deferred the judgments all Ahab’s days for the external shew only which he made of humiliation, how much more will he clean turn away his vengeance, if thou wilt unfeignedly repent of thy sin, and return unto him for grace and mercy?
He offered his mercy unto Cain, who murdered his innocent brother: “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” as if he should have said, If thou wilt leave thy envy and malice, and offer unto me from a faithful and contrite heart, both thou and thine oblation also shall be acceptable unto me. And to Judas, that so treacherously betrayed him, in calling him friend (Matt. xxvi. 50), a sweet appellation of love; and when Judas offered, he willingly consented with that mouth wherein never was found guile (1 Pet. ii. 22), to kiss those dissembling lips, under which lurked the poison of asps (Psal. cxl. 3.) Had Judas apprehended this word friend out of the mouth of Christ, as Benhadad did the word brother from the mouth of Ahab, doubtless Judas should have found the God of Israel more merciful than Benhadad found the King of Israel (1 Kings xx. 32, 33, 34.) But God was more displeased with Cain for despairing 295of his mercy, than for murdering his brother;118118Judam non tam scelus quam desperatio facit penitus interire.—Aug. lib. de Util. Pœnit. and with Judas for hanging himself, than for betraying his master:119119Sceleratior omnibus, O Juda, extitisti, quem non pœnitentia duxit ad Dominum, sed desperatio traxit ad laqueum.—Leo. in that they would make the sins of mortal men greater than the infinite mercy of the eternal God; or as if they could be more sinful, than God was merciful: whereas the least drop of Christ’s blood is of more merit to procure God’s mercy for thy salvation, than all the sins that thou hast committed can be of force to provoke his wrath to thy damnation.
If Satan shall suggest, that all this is true of God’s mercy, but that it doth not belong to thee, because thy sins are greater than other men’s, as being sins of knowledge and of many years continuance, and such as whereby others have been undone, and all, for the most part, committed wilfully and presumptuously against God and thy conscience; and, therefore, though he will be merciful unto others, yet he will not be merciful unto thee,120120Satan’s fourth assault. meditate—
1. That many, who are now in heaven most blessed and glorious saints, committed in the same kind, when they lived on earth, as great and greater sins than ever thou hast committed, and continued, before they repented, in those sins as long as ever thou hast done. As, therefore, all their sins and the continuance in them could not hinder God’s mercy, upon their repentance, from forgiving their sins, and receiving them into favour,; no more shall thy sins, and thy continuance in them, hinder him from being merciful unto thee, if thou dost repent as they did: yea, upon thy repentance, every one of their examples is a pledge that he will do the same unto thee that he did unto them (1 Tim. i. 16:) for as the least sin, in God’s justice, without repentance is damnable; so the greatest sin, upon repentance, is in 296his mercy pardonable. Thy greatest and most inveterate sins are but the sins of a man; but the least of his mercies is the mercy of God. Because thou knowest thine own sins, thou doubtest whether they shall be pardoned; mark how this doubtful case is resolved by God himself: Many in Isaiah’s days thought as thou dost, that they had continued so long in sin, that it, was too late for them now to seek to return unto God for grace and mercy; but God answereth them, “Seek ye the Lord whilst he may be found; call ye upon him whilst he is near” (Isa. lv. 6, 7, 8, 9.) As if he had said, whilst life lasteth, and my word is preached, I am near to be found of all that seek me and pray unto me. The people reply, But we, O Lord, are grievous sinners, and therefore dare not presume to call upon thy name, or to come near thine holiness; to this the Lord answereth, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the man of iniquity his thoughts, and let him return unto me and I will have mercy upon him, and to his God, and I will pardon him abundantly.” But we would think, say the people, that if our sins were but ordinary sins, this promise of mercy might belong to us; but because our sins are so great, and of such long continuance, therefore we fear lest when we appear before God he will reject us. To this God answereth again, “My thoughts (of mercy) are not your thoughts, neither are your ways (of pardoning) my ways: for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” If, therefore, every sinner in the world were a world of such sinners as thou art, do thou but yet what God bids thee, repent and believe, and the blood of Jesus Christ, being the blood of God, will cleanse both thee and them from all your sins (Acts xx. 28; 1 John i. 7.)
2. That as God did foresee all the sins which the world should commit, and yet all those could not hinder him from loving the world, so that he gave his only-begotten Son to death, to save as many of the world as would believe 297and repent (John iii. 16;) much less shall thy sins, being the sins of the least member of the world, be able to hinder God from loving thy soul, and forgiving thy sins, if thou dost repent and believe.
3. That if he loved thee so dearly when thou wast his enemy (Rom. v. 8, 9), that he paid for thee so dear a price as the spilling of his heart blood; how can he now but be gracious unto thee, when to save thee will cost him but the casting of a gracious look upon thee? Look not thou therefore to the greatness of thy sins, but to the infiniteness of his mercy, which is so surpassing great, that if thou puttest all thy own grievous sins together, and addest unto those the sins of Cain and Judas, and puttest unto them all the sins of the reprobates in the world, doubtless it would be a huge heap; yet compare this huge heap with the infinite mercy of God, and there will be no more comparison between them, than between the least mole-hill and the greatest mountain in a country. The cry of the most grievous sins that ever we read of, could never reach up higher than unto heaven, as the cry of the sins of Sodom; but the mercy of God, saith David, reacheth up higher than the heavens, and so overtoppeth all our sins. And if his mercy be greater than all his works (Psal. cxlv. 9), it must needs be greater than all thy sins. And so long as his mercy is greater than the sins of the whole world, do thou but repent, there is no doubt of pardon.
If Satan shall object that thou hast many times vowed to repent, and hast made a show of repentance for the time, and yet didst fall into the same sins again and again; and that all thy repentance was but feigned, and a mocking of God; and that seeing thou hast so often broken thy vow, therefore God hath withdrawn his mercy, and hath changed his love, &c.,121121Satan’s fifth assault. meditate—
1. That though this were true, which indeed is heinous, yet it is no sufficient cause why thou shouldst despair; 298seeing that this is the common case of all the children of God in this life, who vow so oft to forbear some sin, till perceiving their weakness not able to perform it, they vow that they will vow no more.122122I remember, saith Luther, that Staupitius was wont to tell me, “Ego plus quam millies Deo vovi,” &c. “I have more than a thousand times vowed unto God that I would mend my life, but I could never perform my vow. Henceforth I will make no such vow, because I verily know that I cannot keep it. Unless, therefore, God will be merciful unto me for Christ’s sake, and grant me a blessed departure out of this wretched life, all my vows and good works will stand me in no stead.” This is the state of the dearest children of God in this life. Read Luther on the Galatians, c. i. p. 5. Their vows show the desires of their spiritual man; their breaking, the weakness of their corrupt flesh. And our oft slips into the same sins Christ foresaw, when he taught us to pray daily, O Father, forgive us our trespasses. And why doth Christ enjoin thee, who art but sinful man, to forgive thy brother seven times in a day, if he shall return seven times in a day, and say, it repenteth me (Luke xvii. 3, 4), but to assure thee, that he, being the God of mercy and goodness itself, will forgive to thee thy seventy times seven fold sins a day (Matt. xviii. 21, 22), which thou hast committed against him, if than return unto him by true repentance? The Israelites were cured by looking, though with weak eyes, on the brazen serpent, as oft as they were stung by the fiery serpent in the wilderness; to assure thee that upon thy tears of repentance, thou shalt be recovered by faith in Christ, as often as thou art wounded to death by sin.123123Post lachrymas, gemitusque graves, clementia Christi confestim est oculos ante locanda tuos. (Num. xxi. 9.)
2. That thy salvation is grounded, not upon the constancy of thine obedience, but upon the firmness of God’s covenant. Though thou variest with God, and the covenant be broken on thy behalf, yet it is firm on God’s part, and therefore all is safe enough if thou wilt return; for there is no variableness with him, neither shadow of change; he hath locked up thy salvation, and 299made it sure in his own unchangeable purpose (James i. 17; Rom. viii. 28; ix. 11;) and hath delivered to thy keeping the keys,124124By these keys Peter opened heaven to himself, and afterwards, with the rest of the apostles, unto others (Luke xxii. 62; xxiv. 47; John xx. 21; xiii. 1; Rom. xi. 29; viii. 30.) which are faith and repentance; and whilst thou hast them, thou mayest persuade thyself that thy salvation is sure and safe; for whom God loveth, he loveth to the end, and never repenteth of bestowing his love on them who repent and believe.
Lastly, If Satan shall persuade thee that thou hast been doubting a long time, and that it is best for thee now to despair, seeing thy sins increase, and thy judgment draweth near,125125Satan’s sixth assault. meditate—
1. That no sin, though never so great, should be a cause to move any Christian to despair, so long as God’s mercy by so many millions of degrees is greater; and that every penitent and believing sinner hath the pardon of all his sins confirmed by the word and oath of God, “two immutable things, wherein it is impossible that God should lie” (Heb. vi. 18.) His word is, that at what time soever a sinner, whosoever, doth repent of his sins, whatsoever (for both time, and sins, and sinners are indefinite) from the bottom of his heart, God will blot forth all his sins out of his remembrance, that they shall be mentioned unto him no more. If we will not take his word (which God forbid we should doubt of) he hath given us his oath.126126Dr. King of London—Lectures on Jonah. As I live, I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live (Ezek. xxxiii. 11.) As if he had said, Will ye not believe my word? I swear by my life, that I delight not to damn any sinner for his sins, but rather to save him upon his conversion and repentance. The meditation of which moved Tertullian to exclaim, “O how happy are we, when God sweareth that he wills not our damnation! O what miserable wretches are we, if we will not believe 300 God when he sweareth this truth unto us!” Listen, O drooping spirit, whose soul is assailed with waves of faithless despair, how happy were it to see many like thee and Hezekiah! who mourn like doves for the sense of sin, and chatter like cranes and swallows for the fear of God’s anger (Isa. xxxviii. 14), rather than to behold many who die like beasts without any feeling of their own state, or any fear of God’s wrath, or tribunal-seat, before which they are to appear! Comfort thyself, O languishing soul, for if this earth hath any for whom Christ spilt his blood on the cross, thou assuredly art one. Cheer up therefore thyself in the all-sufficient atonement of the blood of the Lamb, which speaketh better things than that of Abel (Heb. xii 24;) and pray for those who never yet obtained the grace to have such a sense and detestation of sin. Thou art one, indeed, for whom Christ died; and from whom a wounded spirit, judging rather according to his feeling than his faith, hath wrung that doleful voice of Christ, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And doubt not, but ere long thou shalt as truly reign with him, as now thou dost suffer with him; for Yea and Amen hath spoken it (2 Tim. ii. 11; 2 Cor. i. 20; Rev. iii. 14.) No sin bars a man from salvation, but only incredulity and impenitency (Heb. vi. 6); nothing makes the sin against the Holy Ghost unpardonable, but want of repentance. Thy unfeigned desire to repent is as acceptable to God, as the most perfect repentance that thou couldst wish to perform unto him.
Meditate upon these evangelical comforts, and thou shalt see that in the very agony of death, God will so assist thee with his Spirit, that when Satan looks for the greatest victory, he shall receive the foulest foil; yea, when thy eye-strings are broken, that thou canst not see the light, Jesus Christ will appear to thee to comfort thy soul, and his holy angels will carry thee into his heavenly kingdom (Luke xvi. 22.) Then shall thy friends behold thee, like Manoah’s angel, doing wonders indeed (Judges xiii. 19;) 301when they shall see a frail man in his greatest weakness, by the mere assistance of God’s Spirit, overcoming the strength of sin, the bitterness of death, and all the power of Satan; and in the fire of faith, and perfume of prayer, ascend up with angels victoriously into heaven.
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