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Rivers of water run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.—Ver. 136.
USE 1. For reproof of two sorts of persons:—
1. Those that do not lay to heart their own sins. Usually men make their affections to prescribe to their judgment, and cavil at the fervorous exercises of religion, because unpleasant to flesh and blood; to humble ourselves before the Lord with a pressing sorrow, seriously and indeed to rend our hearts and not our garments. In this wanton and delicate age, men are apt to think I speak of a theme obsolete and out of date, as calculated for former times, when men were more tender hearted. If we could awaken some of the old godly professors out of their graves, as the prophet calleth up Rachel to weep in Raman for her children, Jer. xxxi. 15, then we might hope to prevail. Alas! to plead now for mourning over the sins of others, when men think it a crime to mourn for their own, this is like to be lost labour. Were this the humour only of ungodly wretches, it might be borne with silence and patience; but those that would be taken for Christians of the highest form are altogether prejudiced against such doctrines as this. Men would be honeyed and oiled with grace, and distaste the whole some discipline of repentance as too severe. They cry out, We are legal. How may the poor ministers of the gospel go to God, and say, as Moses did, Exod. vi. 12, ‘The children of Israel have not hearkened unto me, how then shall Pharaoh hear me?’ The professors of religion will not brook such doctrine, and how shall we hope to prevail with the poor, blind, carnal world? To scoff at doctrines of repentance and humiliation was once a badge of profaneness; many now adopt it into their religion. But be not deceived; the gospel doth not take 432away the conscience of sin. It may take away the fear of hell and damnation upon right terms. The heart of flesh is a promise, and the spirit of grace is a promise, or mourning apart is a promise. You that say that justified persons must no more mourn for sin, you may as well say they shall no longer have a heart of flesh or a spirit of grace and supplications, that they shall no longer have a tender conscience. Be not deceived; there must be some time to weep for your own sins, as Peter went out and wept bitterly. Sorrow must have its turn in the Christian life. I would press it upon you by this argument: You cannot be sorrowful for others’ sins unless you be first sorrowful for your own sins. Grief must begin at home, there where you have the advantage of conscience and inward remorse. It is hypocrisy to pitch upon other men’s sins and neglect your own; as some will zealously declaim against public disorders, yet neglect their own hearts; as the crafty lapwing will go up and down fluttering and crying to draw the fowler from her own nest. We have a nest of sin of our own, and we are loath it should be rifled and exposed to public view.
2. It reproveth them that in times of public defection never take care to mourn over God’s dishonour. We complain and murmur under our judgments, but do not weep over our sins, every person and family apart. Whether it be out of negligence and carnal security, or out of distaste and displeasure against the conduct of present affairs, we seem to have lost our public affections, and can only wonder at the children of God in former times, since they were so broken and tender. To many that would now go for professors, this doctrine seemeth a riddle, a mere strain of wit and fancy, like a precept wire-drawn, or elevated beyond its pitch and tenor. But in the fear of God consider what hath been spoken. There are many abuses in our reflections upon the sins of others. Wicked men are quite otherwise disposed: they do not only do evil themselves, but take pleasure in those that do so, Rom. i. 32; would be glad that sin were more common, that it might be less odious, and then there would be none to put them to the blush: Prov. ii. 14, it is said ‘they rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked.’ So the prophet speaks of some corrupt men in the priesthood: ‘They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity,’ Hosea iv. 8. God had appointed those that served at the altar should live of the altar, have a proportion of those offerings; now they flattered them in their sins, so they might have meat, and get a portion of the sacrifices. Many that would be accounted ministers care not for the sins of the people, but think the less serious men are in religion the better they can work them to their private advantages, and have more respect among them. Then there are some that scoff at the mourners in Zion; they count it melancholy and mopishness to be so often and seriously humbling themselves before the Lord. The world deals perversely with the people of God; they provoke their sorrow, and then upbraid them with it. You should bear them company, mourn with them, pine in consort with those doves of the valleys. Better be a mourner than a mocker and scoffer. Others there are that yet can make a shift to hold out some profession of religion, yet can delight in the company 433of profane, carnal persons. Would a man willingly put himself upon occasions of grief? Are you like Lot, whose soul was vexed day by day? Do but consider how much your temper differs from theirs. David saith, Ps. cxix. 115, ‘Depart from me, ye evil-doers.’ Others there are that by censures and bitter invectives seek to make the sinner, rather than the sin, more odious. This is to exercise malice and pride, not Christian affection. We should not censure, but mourn. Tears flow from charity, censures from pride; and by this means you lose a duty for a sin, which is a sad exchange. Others again are apt to laugh at them, and to make sport with the sins of others, but do not mourn. This is a vile abuse, and yet we are many times guilty of it. Men laugh at drunkenness, and make the slips of others matter of boasting and vain talk. This should rather set our hearts a-bleeding and mourning. He were a monster, rather than a man, that could see a man take a fall, even to the breaking of his back or neck, and turn it into a jest; or a man wound himself, and he make a sport of it. And shall we be more kind to the bodies than to the souls of men? Oh! consider the danger of these practices. As much as in him lieth he hath put himself into hell, and wilt thou laugh at it?
Use 2. Trial. Are we so tenderly affected? I know every one is not of a like tender constitution, and cannot weep rivers of tears; but tell me—or rather, tell God—I cite thy conscience to make answer to God when thou didst ever go aside into thy closet, or some secret place, to lay to heart the dishonour done to God, or the affronts put upon his grace? Do not tell me thou hast declaimed against the sin of the times, that thou hast not cried tip a confederacy with them that cry up a confederacy against God. There may be somewhat of faction and interest and obstinacy in those things; but when hast thou mourned, and wept sore in secret places? Do not tell me that thou hast joined in public fasts: hasty and transient sighs do not wound the heart. Hast thou ever done it in secret? or hast thou often done it? It may be thou hast resented injuries, and spread them before God; and so there is a spirit of self-love and revenge that breathes into thy prayers. Men will be hot in their own cause; but what hast thou done in this duty? It is a plain question, and therefore I hope it will have the more force upon the conscience. True zeal for injuries done to God would ease itself by tears rather than anger. True penitents will not satisfy themselves only with public humiliation, to which law, custom, and example may draw them; but will make conscience of this duty in their families, yea, in secret, where no eye seeth them but God’s; mourn apart, Zech. xii. 12-14, and bring home public provocations to their own doors, Jer. xi. 17.
Use 3. To exhort you to get this practice, and to get this disposition of the saints.
There is a great deal of need to practise it now, whether we look upon the sins or dangers of the nation; the sins, such horrid blasphemies and reproaches cast upon God’s servants, his ways, truths, doctrines according to godliness. I think, in the wisest judgment that a man can make, never was there such a dangerous κρίσις and temper of any nation as of ours at this time. Never were sins boiled up to such a height and consistency as now, such snarling at reformation, that was hopefully begun. Now sin walketh in the streets with a 434bold face, drunkenness, swearing, and profaneness seem to triumph; and with the more pretence, because the stricter sort have so much dishonoured God and religion. Church affairs are much out of order. And for our dangers, we hear again of wars and rumours of wars, and God knoweth what may be the issue and effect of them: Acts xiii. 41, ‘Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish; for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man should tell you of it.’ The danger of a nation doth not lie in out ward probabilities so much as in the threatenings of the word. He alludeth to the horrible devastation of Judea by the Chaldeans, and applieth it to the despising of the gospel. Would any believe that the temple and city should be destroyed, and the people of God carried captive, that not one should remain? yet this came. In the time of Noah, when they abounded in all things, who would have thought of a flood? Many would say, as that nobleman, If the windows of heaven were opened, how could this be? Who would have believed the horrible dissolution by the Romans? or thirty years agone that which is now fallen out in Germany? Never think that our armies and forces are so strong as to withstand the threatenings of the gospel; for our horrible contempt, God may blow upon all these props in an instant. Therefore weep and mourn for the pride and rebellion of the daughter of your people. So for our private place. What sins are there among us! Some have withstood the ways of God; though they have had convictions, yet held out against them. Some are profane, many defects in all orders. Paul was mightily troubled because the church of Corinth was so much out of order; he bewailed it with many tears: 2 Cor. ii. 4, ‘Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears.’ So may I speak, and you think of these things: It is time to mourn. By way of motive, consider—
1. This is the best way to enter our protestation and dissent against the iniquity of the times. When we cannot help a thing, it is good to retract it, and commit it by tears to God; for then it shall not be laid to our charge. When the Corinthians mourned for incest committed among them, and sorrowed with a godly sorrow, 2 Cor. vii. 13, ‘Ye are verily clear in this matter,’ many of them did not only not approve, but abhor that foul act before; but they were not clear till they mourned, and purged the church from the imputation. So you are not clear till you have done this duty.
2. God may take occasion to punish you from their sins. We are all fuel fit for the burning. God’s dispensation is not unrighteous as to you, but that may be the occasion: Zech. x. 3, ‘My anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats.’ So Prov. xxviii. 2, ‘For the transgression of a people; many are the rulers thereof.’ The people’s sins may make great changes and alterations of government.
3. You are one body with them. Nations are one political body, churches one political body. In God’s plea about Sodom with Abraham, ten righteous persons have an influence to save or ruin it. The sins of one generation may be the cause of another. It is said God turned not from the fierceness of his anger that was kindled against 435Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal. Manasseh was dead thirty or forty years before. Manasseh had repented, and Josiah was a great reformer, none like him. You see God may punish their sins many years after; nay, in the process of vengeance the whole lump is involved, as being one body. So all Israel were troubled for one Achan. Do not tax God’s dispensation of severity and rigour, for it is the condescension and art of divine mercy by this means to prevent public ruin; and you are involved in their portion, that every man in his place may study the prevention of sin and ruin. So churches are one lesser body; one root of bitterness defileth many, Heb. xii. 15; not only by the contagion of the sin, but also by imputation of guilt. So at Corinth: 1 Cor. v. 6, ‘A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.’ So also in households and families, which are one lesser body.
4. Many of their sins may be thine. It is a good prayer, though it be a harsh expression, to desire God to be delivered from other men’s sins: Ab alieno libera me Domine. They have sinned the more because thou hast been wanting as a magistrate, as a minister, as a neighbour, a fellow-member, as a private Christian. As a magistrate: a negligent prince all the sin is put upon him. Eli was a high priest, and was a judge in that case; and therefore, though he were innocent, God saith he would cut off his house for the iniquity of his sons: 1 Sam. iii. 17, ‘Because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.’ When magistrates suffer all things to run at random in religion, instead of God’s ministers, they prove the devil’s agents; though they be holy for their persons, yet there is a great guilt lieth upon them. So for ministers: we are to watch as those that must give an account, Heb. xiii. 17; ‘I will require him at thy hands,’ &c. He may be a good man, yet not a good minister, when he is not so diligent in inspection, so faithful to his trust, as he should be; so frequent in exhortation, prayer, mourning, care of the flock: much hurt cometh by our connivance. So for private Christians, they are bound to watch over one another. It may be you do not look after them, Heb. iii. 13. You suffer hardness to grow upon them, and would not warn them. Ye are witnesses from God to the people of Israel. You may be guilty of much evil example, and unwary carriage: Heb. xi. 7, ‘By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness that is by faith;’ and Ezek. xvi. 51, 52, ‘Thou hast justified thy sisters in all thine abominations which thou hast done. Thou also, which hast judged thy sisters, bear thine own shame, for thy sins that thou hast committed more abominable than they: they are more righteous than thou: yea, be thou confounded also, and bear thy shame, in that thou hast justified thy sisters.’ You either justify or condemn the world. So that in effect they may be your sins: you are sensual, vain. We easily catch a disease from one another, but do not get health. Nature is more susceptible of evil than of grace.
5. By seeing of their sins conscience may awaken, and thou mayest remember thy own; as Pharaoh’s butler said, ‘I remember my faults this day.’ Their lives are but a glass of the deformity of our natures. 436There are many Judases, many Cains in thy nature. I was in times past as bad as any, as bold with sin, and as notorious a sinner. Every sin therefore should be a fresh bleeding wound in our own souls. They are but the picture of thy natural face: Titus iii. 3, ‘We in times past were foolish, disobedient, deceiving, and being deceived.’ Thou seest them given up to vain pleasure; remember how it was with thee before conversion, and let this humble thee.
6. If all this do not work, consider the holy angels, that are no way interested, but as it conduceth to God’s glory; that do not communicate with us in nature and blood, how they rejoice at the welfare of man. As when the world was made: Job xxxviii. 7, ‘When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.’ So when Christ came, and assumed human nature at his birth: Luke ii. 14, ‘Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men.’ And when the creature repenteth: Luke xv. 7, ‘I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance.’ So should we mourn over them to God, who are our flesh, our neighbours, united in the bonds of duty and neighbourhood, it may be church relation.
7. I might tell of the fruits of mourning. The greater party of mourners, the more hope of preservation. We have complained of drought, we have dry bottles: judgments are kept off as long as there is a sighing party; you are preserved, Ezek. ix. 4, as Lot out of Sodom. But if the righteous God see not this fit, and a godly man may be swept away, as two dry sticks burn a green one, yet you shall laugh when others mourn. In heaven there will be joy enough; this is the valley of tears. Wicked men, though now they are dry wood, yet they are fit fuel for hell. Consider of these things. It is a difficult work to soften the heart, and you have need of all the help that may be.
[1.] Consider the compassion of Christ to thee. If he had not mourned and sighed in the garden, and sweat drops of blood, where had thy soul been? Thou wert in thy blood when free grace went a-sighing after thee in the ministry of the word: Ezek. xvi. 6, ‘I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.’ These are intending considerations: 1 Tim. i. 13, ‘Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy,’ ἠλεήθην. If I had not been all to1717Here all to signifies altogether, as in Judges ix. 53.—ED. be-bowelled, and all to1818Here all to signifies altogether, as in Judges ix. 53.—ED. be-mercied, I had been a brand fit for the burning.
[2.] Take heed of sensuality: Hosea iv. 12, ‘My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them; for the spirit of whoredoms hath caused them to err, and they have gone a-whoring from under their God.’ It taketh away the heart, the tenderness and softness; no one thing doth more brawn the spirit. To be given to uncleanness, past feeling: Eph. iv. 18, ‘Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.’
[3.] Beg the assistance of God’s Spirit; he can smite the rock and make waters gush out. That thou mayest not be discouraged, look upon precedents in scripture, the tender hearts of God’s people there. 437The Spirit of God wrought them to this frame: ‘Cry, O arm of the Lord; put on strength as in the ancient days.’ God hath promised it: Zech. xii. 10, ‘I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications; and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son,’ &c.; and then it follows, ‘And the land shall mourn, every family apart,’ &c.
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