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The great Torment of a wounded Conscience, proved by Reasons and Examples.
IS the pain of a wounded conscience so great as is pretended?
PHIL. God saith it, [Prov. xviii. 14.] we have seen it, and others have felt it, whose complaints savour as little of dissimulation, as their cries in a fit of the colic do of counterfeiting.
TIM. Whence comes this wound to be so great and grievous?
PHIL. Six reasons may be assigned thereof. The first drawn from the heaviness of the hand which makes the wound; namely, God himself, conceived under the notion of an infinite angry judge. In all other afflictions, man encounters only with man, and in the worst temptations, only with Satan; but in a wounded conscience, he enters the lists immediately with God himself.312
TIM. Whence is the second reason brought?
PHIL. From the sharpness of the sword [Heb. iv. 12.] wherewith the wound is made, being the word of God, and the keen threatenings of the law therein contained. There is mention, Gen. iii. 24, of a sword turning every way: parallel whereto is the word of God in a wounded conscience. Man’s heart is full of windings, turnings, and doublings, to shift and shun the stroke thereof if possible; but this sword meets them wheresoever they move,—it fetches and finds them out,—it haunts and hunts them, forbidding them, during their agony, any entrance into the paradise of one comfortable thought?
TIM. Whence is the third reason derived?
PHIL. From the tenderness of the part itself which is wounded; the conscience being one of the eyes of the soul, sensible of the smallest hurt. And when that callum, schirrus, or incrustation, drawn over it by nature, and hardened by custom in sin, is once flayed off, the conscience becomes so pliant and supple, that the least imaginable touch is painful unto it.
TIM. What is the fourth reason?
PHIL. The folly of the patient; who being stung, hath not the wisdom to look up to Christ, the brazen serpent, but torments himself with his own activity. It was threatened to Pashur, 313I will make thee a terror to thyself: [Jer. xx.4.] so fares it with God’s best saint during the fit of his perplexed conscience; he hears his own voice, he thinks, this is that which so often hath sworn, lied, talked vainly, wantonly, wickedly; his voice is a terror to himself. He sees his own eyes in a glass,—he presently apprehends, these are those which shot forth so many envious, covetous, amorous glances; his eyes are a terror to himself. Sheep are observed to fly without cause, scared (as some say) with the sound of their own feet: their feet knack because they fly, and they fly because their feet knack: an emblem of God’s children in a wounded conscience, self-fearing, self-frightened.
TIM. What is the fifth reason which makes the pain so great?
PHIL. Because Satan rakes his claws in the reeking blood of a wounded conscience. Beelzebub, the Devil’s name, signifies in Hebrew the Lord of flies, which excellently intimates his nature and employment; flies take their felicity about sores and galled backs, to infest and inflame them: so Satan no sooner discovers (and that bird of prey hath quick sight) a soul terror-struck, but thither he hastes, and is busy to keep the wound raw,—there he is in his throne to do mischief.
TIM. What is the sixth and last reason why a wounded conscience is so great a torment?314
PHIL. Because of the impotency and invalidity of all earthly receipts to give ease thereunto. For there is such a gulf of disproportion betwixt a mind-malady and body-medicines, that no carnal, corporal comforts can effectually work thereupon.
TIM. Yet wine in this case is prescribed in Scripture; Give wine to the heavy-hearted, [Prov. xxxi. 6.] that they may remember their misery no more.
PHIL. Indeed, if the wound be in the spirits, those cursitors betwixt soul and body, to recover their decay or consumption, wine may usefully be applied: but if the wound be in the spirit, in Scripture phrase, all carnal, corporal comforts are utterly in vain.
TIM. Methinks merry company should do much to refresh him.
PHIL. Alas! a man shall no longer be welcome in merry company than he is able to sing his part in their jovial concert. When a hunted deer runs for safeguard amongst the rest of the herd, they will not admit him into their company, but beat him off with their horns, out of principles of self-preservation, for fear the hounds, in pursuit of him, fall on them also. So hard it is for man or beast in misery, to find a faithful friend. In like manner, when a set of bad-good-fellows perceive one of their society dogged with God’s terrors at his heels, they will 315forsake him as soon as they can, preferring his room, and declining his company, lest his sadness prove infectious to themselves. And now, if all six reasons be put together, so heavy a hand, smiting with so sharp a sword on so tender a part of so foolish a patient, whilst Satan seeks to widen, and no worldly plaster can cure the wound, it sufficiently proves a wounded conscience to be an exquisite torture.
TIM. Give me, I pray, an example thereof.
PHIL. When Adam had eaten the forbidden fruit, he tarried a time in paradise, but took no contentment therein. The sun did shine as bright, the rivers as clear, as ever before, birds sang as sweetly, beasts played as pleasantly, flowers smelt as fragrant, herbs grew as fresh, fruits flourished as fair, no punctilio of pleasure was either altered or abated. The objects were the same, but Adam’s eyes were otherwise; his nakedness stood in his light; a thorn of guiltiness grew in his heart before any thistles sprang out of the ground; which made him not to seek for the fairest fruits to fill his hunger, but the biggest leaves to cover his nakedness. Thus a wounded conscience is able to unparadise paradise itself.
TIM. Give me another instance.
PHIL. Christ Jesus, our Saviour, he was blinded, buffeted, scourged, scoffed at, had his 316hands and feet nailed to the cross, and all this while said nothing. But no sooner apprehended he his Father deserting him, groaning under the burden of the sins of mankind imputed unto him, but presently the Lamb (who hitherto was dumb before his shearer, and opened not his mouth) for pain began to bleat, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
TIM. Why is a wounded conscience by David resembled to arrows, Thine arrows stick fast in me? [Psalm xxxviii. 2.]
PHIL. Because an arrow, especially if barbed, rakes and rends the flesh the more, the more metal the wounded party hath to strive and struggle with it: and a guilty conscience pierces the deeper, whilst a stout stomach with might and main seeks to outwrestle it.
TIM. May not a wounded conscience also work on the body to hasten and heighten the sickness thereof?
PHIL. Yes, verily, so that there may be employment for Luke, the beloved physician, [Col. iv. 14.] (if the same person with the Evangelist,) to exercise both his professions: but we meddle only with the malady of the mind, abstracted from any bodily indisposition.317
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