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Means to be used by wounded Consciences for the recovering of Comfort.
ARE there any useful means to be prescribed, whereby wounded consciences may recover comfort the sooner?
PHIL. Yes, there are.348
TIM. But now in the present day, some condemn all using of means. Let grace alone (say they) fully and freely do its own work: and thereby man’s mind will in due time return to a good temper of its own accord: this is the most spiritual serving of God, whilst using of means makes but dunces and truants in Christ’s school.
PHIL. What they pretend spiritual will prove airy and empty, making lewd and lazy Christians: means may and must be used with these cautions. 1. That they be of God’s appointment in his word, and not of man’s mere invention. 2. That we still remember they are but means, and not the main. For to account of helps more than helps is the highway to make them hinderances. Lastly, that none rely barely on the deed done; which conceit will undo him that did it, especially if any opinion of merit be affixed therein.
TIM. What is the first means I must use; for I re-assume to personate a wounded conscience?
PHIL. Constantly pray to God, that in his due time he would speak peace unto thee.
TIM. My prayers are better omitted than performed; they are so weak they will but bring the greater punishment upon me, and involve me within the prophet’s curse, to 349those that do the work of the Lord negligently.
PHIL. Prayers negligently performed draw a curse, but not prayers weakly performed. The former is when one can do better, and will not; the latter is when one would do better, but, alas! he cannot: and such failings, as they are his sins, so they are his sorrows also: pray therefore faintly, that thou mayest pray fervently; pray weakly, that thou mayest pray strongly.
TIM. But in the law they were forbidden to offer to God any lame sacrifice, [Deut. xv. 21.] and such are my prayers.
PHIL. 1. Observe a great difference betwixt the material sacrifice under the law, and spiritual sacrifices (the calves of the lips) under the Gospel. The former were to be free from, all blemish, because they did typify and resemble Christ himself. The latter (not figuratively representing Christ, but heartily presented unto him) must be as good as may be gotten, though many imperfections will cleave to our best performances, which by God’s mercy are forgiven. 2. Know that that in Scripture is accounted lame which is counterfeit and dissembling, (in which sense hypocrites are properly called halters,) [1 Kings xviii. 21.] and therefore if thy prayer, though never so weak, be sound, and sincere, it is acceptable with God.350
TIM. What other counsel do you prescribe me?
PHIL. Be diligent in reading the word of God, wherein all comfort is contained; say not that thou art dumpish and indisposed to read, but remember how travellers must eat against their stomach; their journey will digest it; and though their palate find no pleasure for the present, their whole body will feel strength for the future. Thou hast a great journey to go, a wounded conscience has far to travel to find comfort, (and though weary, shall be welcome at his journey’s end,) and therefore must feed on God’s word, even against his own dull disposition, and shall afterwards reap benefit thereby.
TIM. Proceed in your appointing of wholesome diet for my wounded conscience to observe.
PHIL. Avoid solitariness, and associate thyself with pious and godly company: O the blessed fruits thereof! Such as want skill or boldness to begin or set a psalm, may competently follow tune in concert with others: many houses in London have such weak walls, and are so slightly and slenderly built, that, were they set alone in the fields, probably they would not stand an hour; which now ranged in streets, receive support in themselves, and mutually return 351it to others; so mayest thou in good society, not only be reserved from much mischief, but also be strengthened and confirmed in many godly exercises, which solely thou couldst not perform.
TIM. What else must I do?
PHIL. Be industrious in thy calling: I press this the more, because some erroneously conceive that a wounded conscience cancels all indentures of service, and gives them (during their affliction) a dispensation to be idle. The inhabitants of the bishopric of Durham pleaded a privilege,5151Camd. Brit. in Durham. that King Edward the First had no power, although on necessary occasion, to press them to go out of the country, because, forsooth, they termed themselves holy-work-folk, only to be used in defending the holy shrine of St. Cuthbert. Let none in like manner pretend that (during the agony of a wounded conscience) they are to have no other employment than to sit moping to brood their melancholy, or else only to attend their devotion; whereas a good way to divert or assuage their pain within, is to take pains without in their vocation. I am confident, that happy minute which shall put a period to thy misery shall not find thee idle, but employed, as ever some secret good is accruing to such who are diligent in their calling.352
TIM. But though wounded consciences are not to be freed from all work, are they not to be favoured in their work?
PHIL. Yes, verily. Here let me be the advocate to such parents and masters, who have sons, servants, or others, under their authority, afflicted with wounded consciences. O, do not, with the Egyptian taskmasters, exact of them the full tale of their brick! O, spare a little till they have recovered some strength! Unreasonable that maimed men should pass on equal duty with such soldiers as are sound.
TIM. How must I dispose myself on the Lord’s day?
PHIL. Avoid all servile work, and expend it only in such actions as tend to the sanctifying thereof. God, the great landlord of all time, hath let out six days in the week to man to farm them; the seventh day he reserves as a demesne in his own hand: if therefore we would have quiet possession, and comfortable use of what God hath leased out to us, let us not encroach on his demesne. Some Popish people5252If it rains on Sunday before mess, it will rain all the week more or less. A Popish old rhyme. make a superstitious almanac of the Sunday, by the fairness or foulness thereof, guessing of the weather all the week after. But I dare boldly say, that, from our well or 353ill spending of the Lord’s day, a probable conjecture may be made how the following week will be employed. Yea, I conceive we are bound (as matters now stand in England) to a stricter observation of the Lord’s day than ever before. That a time was due to God’s service, no Christian in our kingdom ever did deny: that the same was weekly dispersed in the Lord’s day, holy days, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, some have earnestly maintained: seeing therefore all the last are generally neglected, the former must be more strictly observed; it being otherwise impious, that our devotion, having a narrower channel, should also carry a shallower stream.
TIM. What other means must I use for expedition of comfort to my wounded conscience?
TIM. This confession is but a device of divines, thereby to screw themselves into other men’s secrets, so to mould and manage them with more ease to their own profit.
PHIL. God forbid they should have any other design but your safety, and therefore choose your confessor, where you please, to your own contentment; so that you may find ease, fetch 354it where you may; it is not our credit, but your cure, we stand upon.
TIM. But such confession hath been counted rather a rack for sound, than a remedy for wounded consciences.
PHIL. It proves so, as abused in the Romish Church, requiring an enumeration of all mortal sins, therein supposing an error, that some sins are not mortal, and imposing an impossibility, that all can be reckoned up. Thus the conscience is tortured, because it can never tread firmly, feeling no bottom, being still uncertain of confession, (and so of absolution,) whether or no he hath acknowledged all his sins. But where this ordinance is commended as convenient, not commanded as necessary, left free, not forced, in cases of extremity sovereign use may be made, and hath been found thereof, neither magistrate nor minister carrying the sword or the keys in vain.
TIM. But, sir, I expected some rare inventions from you for curing wounded consciences: whereas all your receipts hitherto are old, stale, usual, common, and ordinary; there is nothing new in any of them.
PHIL. I answer first, if a wounded conscience had been a new disease, never heard of in God’s word before this time, then perchance we must have been forced to find out 355new remedies. But it is an old malady, and therefore old physic is best applied unto it. Secondly, the receipts indeed are old, because prescribed by him who is the Ancient of Days. [Dan. vii. 9.] But the older the better, because warranted by experience to be effectual. God’s ordinances are like the clothes of the children of Israel, during our wandering in the wilderness of this world, they never wax old, so as to have their virtue in operation abated or decayed. [Deut. xxix. 5.] Thirdly, whereas you call them common, would to God they were so, and as generally practised as they are usually prescribed. Lastly, know we meddle not with curious heads, which are pleased with new-fangled rarities, but with wounded consciences, who love solid comfort. Suppose our receipts ordinary and obvious; if Naaman counts the cure too cheap and easy, [2 Kinsgs v. 12.] none will pity him if still he be pained with his leprosy.
TIM. But your receipts are too loose and large, not fitted and appropriated to my malady alone. For all these (pray, read, keep good company, be diligent in thy calling, observe the Sabbath, confess thy sins, &c.) may as well be prescribed to one guilty of presumption, as to me, ready to despair.
PHIL. It doth not follow that our physic is not proper for one, because it may be profitable for both.356
TIM. But despair and presumption, being contrary diseases, flowing from contrary causes, must have contrary cures.
PHIL. Though they flow immediately from contrary causes, yet originally from the common fountain of natural corruption: and therefore such means as I have propounded, tending towards the mortifying of our corrupt nature, may generally, though not equally, be useful to humble the presuming, and comfort the despairing; but to cut off” cavils, in the next dialogue we will come closely to peculiar counsels unto thee.
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