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DIALOGUE III.

Three solemn Seasons when Men are surprised with wounded Consciences.

TIMOTHEUS.

WHAT are those times wherein men most commonly are assaulted with wounded consciences?

PHIL. So bad a guest may visit a man at any hour of his life; for no season is unseasonable for God to be just, Satan to be mischievous, and sinful man to be miserable; yet it happens especially at three principal times.

TIM. Of these, which is the first?

PHIL. In the twilight of a man’s conversion, in the very conflict and combat betwixt nature and initial grace. For then he that formerly slept in carnal security is awakened with his 308fearful condition: God, as he saith, Psalm l. 21, setteth his sins in order before his eyes. Imprimis, the sin of his conception. Item, the sins of his childhood. Item, of his youth. Item, of his man’s estate, &c. Or, Imprimis, sins against the first table. Item, sins against the second; so many of ignorance, so many of knowledge, so many of presumption, severally sorted by themselves. He committed sins confusedly, huddling them up in heaps; but God sets them in order, and methodizes them to his hand.

TIM. Sins thus set in order must needs be a terrible sight.

PHIL. Yes, surely, the rather because the metaphor may seem taken from setting an army in battle array. At this conflict, in his first conversion, behold a troop of sins cometh, and when God himself shall marshal them in rank and file, what guilty conscience is able to endure the furious charge of so great and well-ordered an army?

TIM. Suppose the party dies before he be completely converted in this twilight condition, as you term it, what then becomes of his soul, which may seem too good to dwell in outer darkness with devils, and too bad to go to the God of light?

PHIL. Your supposition is impossible. Remember 309our discourse only concerns the godly. Now God never is father to abortive children, but to such who, according to his appointment, shall come to perfection.

TIM. Can they not therefore die in this interim, before the work of grace be wrought in them?

PHIL. No, verily. Christ’s bones were in themselves breakable, but could not actually be broken by all the violence in the world, because God hath fore-decreed, A bone of him shall not be broken. So we confess God’s children mortal; but all the power of Devil or man may not, must not, shall not, cannot, kill them before their conversion, according to God’s election of them to life, which must be fully accomplished.

TIM. What is the second solemn time wherein wounded consciences assault men?

PHIL. After their conversion completed, and this either upon the committing of a conscience-wasting sin, such as Tertullian calls peccatum devoratorium salutis, or upon the undergoing of some heavy affliction of a bigger standard and proportion, blacker hue and complexion, than what befalls ordinary men, as in the case of Job.

TIM. Which is the third and last time when wounded consciences commonly walk abroad?

310

PHIL. When men lie on their death-beds, Satan must now roar, or else forever hold his peace; roar he may afterwards with very anger to vex himself, not with any hope to hurt us. There is mention in Scripture of an evil day, which is most applicable to the time of our death. We read also of an hour of temptation; [Rev. iii. 10.] and the prophet [Isa. liv. 7.] tells us there is a moment, wherein God may seem to forsake us. Now Satan being no less cunning to find out, than careful to make use of, his time of advantage, in that moment of that hour of that day, will put hard for our souls, and we must expect a shrewd parting blow from him.

TIM. Your doleful prediction disheartens me, for fear I may be foiled in my last encounter.

PHIL. Be of good comfort: through Christ we shall be victorious, both in dying and in death itself. Remember God’s former favours bestowed upon thee. Indeed, wicked men, from the premises of God’s power, collect a conclusion of his weakness, Psalm lxxviii. 20: Behold he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed: can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people? But God’s children, [1 Sam. xvii. 36; 2 Cor. i. 10.] by better logic, from the prepositions of God’s former preservations, infer his power and pleasure to protect them for the future. Be assured, that God, 311which hath been the God of the mountains, and made our mountains strong in time of our prosperity, will also be the God of the valleys, and lead us safe through the valley of the shadow of death. [Psalm xxiii. 4.]

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