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Answers to the Objections of a wounded Conscience, drawn from the Grievousness of his Sins.
GIVE me leave now, sir, to personate and represent a wounded conscience, and to allege and enforce such principal objections wherewith generally they are grieved.
PHIL. With all my heart, and God bless my endeavours in answering them.
TIM. But first I would be satisfied how it comes to pass, that men in a wounded conscience have their parts so presently improved. The Jews did question concerning our Saviour, How knoweth this man letters, being never learned? [John vii. 15.] But here the doubt and difficulty is greater. How come simple people so subtle 330on a sudden, to oppose, with that advantage and vehemence, that it would puzzle a good and grave divine to answer them?
PHIL. Two reasons may be rendered thereof. 1. Because a man in a distemper is stronger than when he is in his perfect health. What Samsons are some in the fit of a fever? Then their spirits, being raised by the violence of their disease, push with all their power. So it is in the agony of a distressed soul, every string thereof is strained to the height, and a man becomes more than himself to object against himself in a fit of despair.
TIM. What is the other reason?
PHIL. Satan himself, that subtle sophister, assists them. He forms their arguments, frames their objections, fits their distinctions, shapes their evasions; and this discomforter (aping God’s Spirit, the Comforter, John xiv. 26) bringeth all things to their remembrance, which they have heard or read, to dishearten them. Need, therefore, have ministers, when they meddle with afflicted men, to call to Heaven aforehand to assist them, being sure they shall have hell itself to oppose them.
TIM. To come now to the objections which afflicted consciences commonly make; they may be reduced to three principal heads; either drawn from the greatness and grievousness 331of their sins, or from the slightness and lightness of their repentance, or from the faintness and feebleness of their faith; I begin with the objections of the first form.
PHIL. I approve your method; pray proceed.
TIM. First, sir, even since my conversion, I have been guilty of many grievous sins; and, which is worse, of the same sin many times committed. Happy Judah, [Gen. xxxviii. 26.] who, though once committing incest with Thamar, yet the text saith, that afterwards he knew her again no more. But I, vile wretch, have often re-fallen into the same offence.
PHIL. All this is answered in God’s promise in the prophet, Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them as snow. [Isaiah i. 18.] Consider how the Tyrian scarlet was dyed, not superficially dipped, but thoroughly drenched in the liquor that coloured it, as thy soul in custom of sinning. Then was it taken out for a time and dried, put in again, soaked and sodden the second time in the fat; called therefore δίβαφον, twice dyed; as thou complainest thou hast been by relapsing into the same sin. Yea, the colour so incorporated into the cloth, not drawn over, but diving into the very heart of the wool, that rub a scarlet rag on what is white, and it will bestow a reddish tincture upon it; as perchance thy sinful practice and precedent have also infected 332those which were formerly good, by thy badness. Yet such scarlet sins, so solemnly and substantially coloured, are easily washed white in the blood of our Saviour.
TIM. But, sir, I have sinned against most serious resolutions, yea, against most solemn vows, which I have made to the contrary.
PHIL. Vow-breaking, though a grievous sin, is pardonable on unfeigned repentance. If thou hast broken a vow, tie a knot on it to make it hold together again. It is spiritual thrift, and no misbecoming baseness, to piece and joint thy neglected promises with fresh ones. So shall thy vow in effect be not broken when new mended: and remain the same, though not by one entire continuation, yet by a constant successive renovation thereof. Thus Jacob renewed his neglected vow of going to Bethel;4949Compare Gen. xxviii. 20, with Gen. xxxv. 1. and this must thou do, reinforce thy broken vows, if of moment and material.
TIM. What mean you by the addition of that clause, if of moment and material?
PHIL. To deal plainly, I dislike many vows men make, as of reading just so much and praying so often every day, of confining themselves to such a strict proportion of meat, drink, sleep, recreation, &c. Many things may be well done, which are ill vowed. Such particular vows men must be very sparing how they make. 333First, because they savour somewhat of will-worship. Secondly, small glory accrues to God thereby. Thirdly, the dignity of vows is disgraced by descending to too trivial particulars. Fourthly, Satan hath ground given him to throw at us with a more steady aim. Lastly, such vows, instead of being cords to tie us faster to God, prove knots to entangle our consciences: hard to be kept, but oh! how heavy when broken! Wherefore, setting such vows aside, let us be careful, with David, to keep that grand and general vow: I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments. [Psalm cxix. 106.]
TIM. But, sir, I have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, which the Saviour of mankind pronounceth unpardonable, and therefore all your counsels and comforts unto me are in vain.
PHIL. The Devil, the father of lies, hath added this lie to those which he hath told before, in persuading thee thou hast committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. For that sin is ever attended with these two symptoms. First, the party guilty thereof never grieves for it, nor conceives the least sorrow in his heart for the sin he hath committed. The second, which followeth on the former, he never wishes or desires any pardon, but is delighted 334and pleased with his present condition. Now, if thou canst truly say that thy sins are a burden unto thee, that thou dost desire forgiveness, and wouldest give anything to compass and obtain it, be of good comfort, thou hast not as yet, and by God’s grace never shalt, commit that unpardonable offence. I will not define how near thou hast been unto it. As David said to Jonathan, there is not a hair’s breadth betwixt death and me; so it may be thou hast missed it very narrowly, but assure thyself thou art not as yet guilty thereof.
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