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Grounds of miscarriages when persons are convinced of sin and humbled — Resting in that state — Resting on it.
The soul is not to be left in the state before described. There is other work for it to apply itself unto, if it intend to come unto rest and peace. It hath obtained an eminent advantage for the discovery of forgiveness; but to rest in that state wherein it is, or to rest upon it, will not bring it into its harbour. Three things we discovered before in the soul’s first serious address unto God for deliverance, — sense of sin, acknowledgment of it, and self-condemnation. Two evils there are which attend men oftentimes when they are brought into that state. Some rest in it, and press no farther; some rest upon it, and suppose that it is all which is required of them. The psalmist avoids both these, and notwithstanding all his pressures reacheth out towards forgiveness, as we shall see in the next verse. I shall briefly unfold these two evils, and show the necessity of their avoidance:—
First, By resting or staying in it, I mean the soul’s desponding, through discouraging thoughts that deliverance is not to be obtained. Being made deeply sensible of sin, it is so overwhelmed with thoughts of its own vileness and unworthiness as to sink under the burden. Such a soul is “afflicted, and tossed with tempest, and not comforted,” Isa. liv. 11, until it is quite weary; — as a ship in a storm at sea, when all means of contending are gone, men give up themselves to be driven and tossed by the winds and seas at their pleasure. This brought Israel to that state wherein he cried out, “My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God,” chap. xl. 27; and Zion, “The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me,” chap. xlix. 14. The soul begins secretly to think there is no hope; God regardeth it not; it shall one day perish; relief is far away, and trouble nigh at hand. These thoughts do so oppress them, that though they forsake not God utterly to their destruction, yet they draw not nigh unto him effectually to their consolation.
This is the first evil that the soul in this condition is enabled to avoid. We know how God rebukes it in Zion: “Zion said, The 377Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me,” chap. xlix. 14. But how foolish is Zion, how froward, how unbelieving in this matter! What ground hath she for such sinful despondencies, such discouraging conclusions? “Can a woman,” saith the Lord, “forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” The like reproof he gives to Jacob upon the like complaint, chap. xl. 28–31. There is nothing that is more provoking to the Lord, nor more disadvantageous unto the soul, than such sinful despondency; for, —
1. It insensibly weaken, the soul, and disenables it both for present duties and future endeavour, Hence some poor creatures mourn, and even pine away in this condition, never getting one step beyond a perplexing sense of sin all their days. Some have dwelt so long upon it, and have so entangled themselves with a multitude of perplexed thoughts, that at length their natural faculties have been weakened and rendered utterly useless; so that they have lost Both sense of sin and every thing else. Against some, Satan hath taken advantage to cast in so many entangling objections into their minds, that their whole time hath been taken up in proposing doubts and objections against themselves; with these they have gone up and down to one and another, and being never able to come unto a consistency in their own thoughts, they have spent all their days in a fruitless, sapless, withering, comfortless condition. Some, with whom things come to a better issue, are yet for a season brought to that discomposure of spirit, or are so filled with their own apprehensions, that when the things which are most proper to their condition are spoken to them, they take no impression in the least upon them. Thus the soul is weakened by dwelling too long on these considerations; until some cry with those in Ezek. xxxiii. 10, “Our sins are upon us, we pine away in them, how should we then live?”
2. This frame, if it abides by itself, will insensibly give countenance unto hard thoughts of God, and so to repining and weariness in waiting on him. At first the soul neither apprehends nor fears any such issue It supposeth that it shall condemn and abhor itself and justify God, and that for ever. But when relief comes not in, this resolution begins to weaken. Secret thoughts arise in the heart that God is austere, inexorable, and not to be dealt withal. This sometimes casts forth such complaints as will bring the soul unto new complaints before it comes to have an issue of its trials. Here, in humiliation antecedaneous to conversion, many a convinced person perisheth. They cannot wait God’s season, and perish under their impatience. And what the saints of God themselves have been overtaken withal in their depths and trials, we have many examples and 378instances. Delight and expectations are the grounds of our abiding with God. Both these are weakened by a conquering, prevailing sense of sin, without some relief from the discovery of forgiveness, though at a distance. And, therefore, our perplexed soul stays not here, but presseth on towards that discovery.
Secondly, There is a resting on this frame that is noxious and hurtful also. Some finding this sense of sin, with those other things that attend it, wrought in them in some measure, begin to think that now all is well, this is all that is of them required. They will endeavour to make a life from such arguments of comfort as they can take from their trouble. They think this a ground of peace, that they have not peace. Here some take up before conversion, and it proves their ruin. Because they are convinced of sin, and troubled about it, and burdened with it, they think it shall be well with them. But were not Cain, Esau, Saul, Ahab, Judas, convinced of sin and burdened with it? Did this profit them? did it interest them in the promises? Did not the wrath of God overtake them notwithstanding? So is it with many daily; they think their conviction is conversion, and that their sins are pardoned because they have been troubled.
This, then, is that which we reject, which the soul in this condition doth carefully avoid, — so to satisfy itself with its humiliation, as to make that a ground of supportment and consolation, being thereby kept off from exercising faith for forgiveness; for this is, —
1. A fruit of self-righteousness. For a soul to place the spring of its peace or comfort in any thing of its own, is to fall short of Christ and to take up in self. We must not only be “justified,” but “glory” in him also, Isa. xlv. 25. Men may make use of the evidence of their graces, but only as mediums to a farther end; not as the rest of the soul in the least. And this deprives men’s very humiliations of all gospel humility. True humility consists more in believing than in being sensible of sin. That is the soul’s great self-emptying and abasing; this may consist with an obstinate resolution to scamble for something upon the account of self-endeavours.
2. Though evangelical sense of sin be a grace, yet it is not the uniting grace; it is not that which interests us in Christ, not that which peculiarly and in its own nature exalts him. There is in this sense of sin that which is natural and that which is spiritual; or the matter of it and its spirituality. The former consists in sorrow, trouble, self-abasement, dejection, and anxiety of mind, with the like passions. Of these I may say, as the apostle of afflictions, “They are not joyous, but grievous.” They are such as are accompanied with the aversation of the object which they are conversant about. In their own nature they are no more but the soul’s retreat into itself, 379with an abhorrency of the objects of its sorrow and grief. When these affections are spiritualized, their nature is not changed. The soul in and by them acts according to their nature; and doth by them, as such, but retreat into itself, with a dislike of that they are exercised about To take up here, then, must needs be to sit down short of Christ, whether it be for life or consolation.
Let there be no mistake. There can be no evangelical sense of sin and humiliation where there is not union with Christ, Zech. xii. 10. Only in itself and in its own nature it is not availing. Now, Christ is the only rest of our souls; in any thing, for any end or purpose, to take up short of him is to lose it. It is not enough that we be “prisoners of hope,” but we must “turn to our stronghold,” Zech. ix. 12; not enough that we are “weary and heavy laden,” but we must “come to him,” Matt. xi. 28–30. It will not suffice that we are weak, and know we are weak, but we must “take hold on the strength of God,” Isa. xxvii. 4, 5.
3. Indeed, pressing after forgiveness is the very life and power of evangelical humiliation. How shall a man know that his humiliation is evangelical, that his sorrow is according to God? Is it not from hence he may be resolved, that he doth not in it as Cain did, who cried his sins were greater than he could bear, and so departed from the presence of God; nor as Judas did, who repented and hanged himself; nor as Felix did, — tremble for a while, and then return to his lusts; nor as the Jews did in the prophet, pine away under their iniquities because of vexation of heart? Nor doth he divert his thoughts to other things, thereby to relieve his soul in his trouble; nor fix upon a righteousness of his own; nor slothfully lie down under his perplexity, but in the midst of it he plies himself to God in Christ for pardon and mercy. And it is the soul’s application unto God for forgiveness, and not its sense of sin, that gives unto God the glory of his grace.
Thus far, then, have we accompanied the soul in its depths. It is now looking out for forgiveness; which, what it is, and how we come to have an interest in it, the principal matter in this discourse intended, is nextly to be considered.
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