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—But a wounded spirit who can bear?
THE corruption of man’s nature is, by sad experience, found to be so great, that few are kept from sin, but merely by the check of their fears, representing to them the endless, insupportable torments of another world, as the certain consequent and terrible reward of it. Which fears, if men arrive to such a pitch of atheism as to be able to shake off, (a perfection nowadays attained to by many, and aspired to by more,) there seems to be nothing left further to work upon such persons, in the way of fear, nor consequently to control, and put a stop to the full career and fury of their lusts.
Upon which account it will (I conceive) be no ill service to religion, to let such profligate wretches know, that their infidelity cannot set them so far out of the reach of vengeance, but that, while they endeavour to cast off all dread of future damnation, God can antedate the torments they disbelieve, and convince them of the possibility of such miseries hereafter, by an actual foretaste of the same here; that he can kindle one hell within them, before they enter into another; and by what he can make them feel, teach them the certainty of what they refuse to fear.
It is indeed none of the least of God’s titles and 107prerogatives, that he is the God of the spirits of all flesh; and that, as he first made the soul, so he retains an immediate, irresistible power over it, so as to be able to turn the inclinations, and to dispose of the comfort and the sorrows of it, as he pleases; and all this independently upon any of those objects, which by the ordinary course of nature it converses with. The usual materials, of which the soul makes up its comforts and satisfactions here on earth, are the felicities of this world; and the ordinary cause of its sorrows are the adverse and cross accidents of the same: nevertheless, God can infuse comfort into the soul, in spite of the sharpest earthly calamities, and on the other hand, smite it with the severest anguish and bitterness, in the midst of the highest affluence and prosperity.
The text presents us here with a short but full comparison between the grief that afflicts the out ward man, and that which preys upon the inward; together with the transcendent greatness of the latter above the former, as shall be made out presently in the grand instance of both these sorts of sufferings, even our blessed Saviour himself. For let this outside, or shell of nature, the body, be under never so much pain and agony, yet a well-settled and resolved mind will be able to buoy it up, and keep it from sinking: the spirits will bear, and by bearing will at length master all these infirmities. But when the spirit itself is wounded, and struck through, the grief presently becomes victorious, and intolerable. The soul in this case being like a bird wounded in the wing, the proper instrument and natural engine of its support, this immediately puts 108an end to its flight, and makes all striving vain; for fall it must to the ground.
In the words there are two things to be explained.
I. What is meant by spirit.
II. What is imported by its being wounded.
1st. For the first of these, we are to observe, that both scripture and philosophy hold forth to us in the soul of man an upper and a lower part; not indeed in respect of its substance, for that is indivisible, but in respect of its faculties. And as this lower, or inferior part, consists of those sensitive faculties and appetites, whose operations being wholly tied to the organs of the body, do accordingly converse only with bodily and gross objects; so there is an higher and more noble portion of the soul, purely intellectual; and in operation, as well as in substance, perfectly spiritual. Which is called by philosophers τὸ ἡγεμονικὸν, that is, the leading, ruling, and directing part of the soul; and by the scripture, the spirit of the mind; that is, the most exalted, refined, and quintessential part of it, in Ephes. iv. 23, Be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind. For that the soul is a spirit, that is to say, a substance void of matter and dimensions, I suppose none will deny, but those who (with your oracle, Hobbes, in the head of them) admit of no substance, but body; and having fully subdued faith to senses, and so (like Thomas) resolving to believe no further than your eyes and hands can reach, will perhaps in religion, as well as natural objects, make the tube, the still, and the telescope, the sole measure of their creed. In defiance of which atheistical 109notions, I affirm, that there is a certain noble and refined part of the soul expressed to us in the text by spirit, and here said to be wounded. Which is the
Second thing to be explained by us; and, I suppose, is so far and fully explained by us already, from the very nature of the subject to which it is here ascribed, that every one presently apprehends it to be an expression purely figurative; and that the soul being wounded, signifies nothing else, but its being deeply and intimately possessed with a lively sense of God’s wrath for sin, dividing, entering, and forcing its way into the most vital parts of it, as a sword or rapier does into the body. I say possessed with a sense of God’s wrath for sin; forasmuch as there is no grief, but meritoriously presupposes sin as the cause of it: not that I deny, but God by his absolute prerogative, without any violation of his other attribute, could and might grieve and afflict an innocent person, if he so pleased; but that by the stated rule of his transactings with men, he has resolved the contrary, and never afflicts or torments any rational creature that is not a sinner, either by actual commission, or at least by imputation.
Now this brief explication of the words being premised, the sense of them lies full and clear in this one proposition; viz.
That the trouble and anguish of a soul labouring under a sense of God’s displeasure for sin, is inexpressibly greater than any other grief or trouble whatsoever.
The prosecution of which I shall manage under these following particulars.110
I. I shall shew what kind of persons are the proper subjects of this trouble.
II. I shall shew wherein the excessive greatness of this trouble doth appear.
III. I shall shew by what ways and means it is brought upon the soul.
IV. What is God’s end and design in casting men into such a perplexed condition: and,
V. and lastly, I shall draw some useful inferences from the whole.
Of each of which in their order.
1st. And first for the persons who are the proper objects of this trouble. These I affirm to be indifferently both the righteous and the wicked, both such as God loves, and such as he hates; but with a very different issue in one and in the other. The reason of which assertion is, because these troubles and spiritual terrors are not, as such, either acts or figures of grace, by which alone persons truly pious and regenerate are distinguished from the wicked and degenerate; but they are properly effects of God’s anger, striking and afflicting the soul for sin, and consequently are alike incident to both sorts, forasmuch as both are sinners; and even the most pious person in the world has fuel enough in his guilty soul for the wrath of God to flame out upon in all these terrible rebukes. Nay, where there is no inherent guilt, these effects of wrath may take place: as in the case of our Saviour, who, without the least personal inherent guilt, suffered the utmost that an angry God could inflict upon him in this world. And therefore nothing certain can be concluded of any man’s spiritual estate, 111in reference to his future happiness or misery, from the present terrors and amazements that his conscience labours under: for as Cain and Judas, and many more reprobates, have suffered, so David and many other excellent saints of God have felt their shares of the same; though the issue, I confess, has not been the same in both; but that alters not the nature of the thing itself.
Nay, I shall add further, that according to the present economy of God’s dealing with the souls of men, persons truly good and holy do more frequently taste of this bitter cup than the wicked and the reprobate; who are seldom alarumed out of their sins by such severe interruptions; but, for the most part, remain seated up in ease and security, to the fearful day of retribution. And therefore I should be so far from passing any harsh or doubtful sentence upon the condition of a person struggling under the apprehensions of God’s wrath, that I should, on the contrary, account such an one a much fitter subject for evangelical comfort, than those sons of assurance, that, having been bred up in a constant confidence of the divine favour to them, never yet felt the least doubt or question arising in their secure hearts about it: and consequently should think the balsam of pardoning mercy the only proper infusion for such wounded spirits, while the gall and vinegar of the curse, the caustics and corrosives of the law, were the fittest applications to be made to such brawny, unrelenting hearts, as never yet smarted under any remorse, nor experimentally knew what it was to be troubled for sin. And thus having shewn upon what kind of persons this trouble of mind may fall, I come now to the112
Second particular; which is to shew, wherein the strange, excessive, and sometimes supernatural greatness of it does appear. In which though I may seem to contradict that in the prosecution, which I had asserted in the doctrine; namely, that this trouble was beyond expression; it being of the nature and number of those things that are rather to be felt than described; yet, so far as the dimensions of it can be taken, we may collect the surpassing greatness of it from these following discoveries.
1. First, from the behaviour of our Saviour himself in this condition. It was indeed a sense of God’s wrath for sin that he was under; but for sin never committed by him, for guilt that was none of his, but only by imputation, and account of law, founded upon his own free act, in the voluntary assuming of the person of a surety, undertaking to discharge that vast debt of mankind to the divine justice, in his own body upon the cross. Upon which account alone, the wrath of God for sin could have any thing to do with him, who in his own person and actions was absolutely, perfectly, and entirely innocent, or rather even innocence itself.
Now I think I may with great truth affirm this; in all the sufferings that sin can possibly bring upon the sinner, there is, without all peradventure, some thing more grievous and corroding to the mind of man, from his being conscious that he has actually committed the sin he suffers for, than in all the sharpest and most afflicting impressions of pain, of which that suffering, as to the matter of it, does consist. Otherwise surely the voice of reason, in the bare discourses of nature, could never have risen so high, as to affirm that a wise or dexterous man 113could not be miserable; that be was unconcerned in all bodily pain, and might sing in Phalaris’s bull. But scripture, which is the best, and experience, which is the next philosophy, have put the matter past all doubt; the first telling us, that it is sin only is the sting of death; and the other perpetually ringing this sad peal in every suffering sinner’s conscience, Perditio tua ex te; that his misery is but the due and just consequent of his own actions, the genuine fruit of his own free, unconstrained choice. And this is that, that envenoms the cup of God’s fury, and adds poison to the bitterness of that fatal draught.
But now this part of suffering for sin, or rather from sin, Christ neither did nor could undergo; it being a contradiction, that he, who never committed sin, should feel in his conscience those stings and remorses that can spring only from a sense of having committed it. No; these are the natural, essential results of a sinful act, and so rest wholly within the person of the agent; the primitive rewards of sin, which consist properly in those pains which by positive sanction of law are adjudged to every sinful action, and to which alone Christ did or could subject himself.
And yet we see the sense of the divine wrath exerting itself upon Christ only in these latter, and stripped of the poison of all personal guilt, was so direful and intolerable, that it made him, who was God as well as man; him, to whom all power in heaven and earth was given; him, by and for whom God made the world, and in whom the very fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily; even this in finite, mighty person, this man of God’s right hand, 114(as the prophet David calls him,) did it make to crouch and languish, to roar and to despond, and at length to sink and die under the overpowering, confounding pressures of it.
And surely a greater argument of the force and fury of this sense of God’s wrath for sin could not be, than that it should have such dismal effect upon one, who personally was no sinner; but only lay under a borrowed guilt; one who had all the advantages of strength, and the supports of innocence, to keep his mind firm, serene, and impenetrable. But all this availed him little, when the deadly in fusion had once got into his soul, seized the main arsenal and strong hold of his humanity; and, in a word, cut the nerve of its great and last supporter, the spirit. And in this case, human nature, though advanced to a personal union and conjunction with the divine, yet was but human nature still; that is, a poor feeble thing, forced to confess its native weakness, and after a short conflict with the divine wrath, to break, and fall under its own ruins. So that it may justly put that high and doleful exclamation into the mouths of all who shall consider Christ upon the cross; Lord, who knoweth the power of thine anger? God only can know it; and he only, who was much more than man, could endure it.
2dly, The strength and greatness of this trouble of mind for sin appears from those most raised and passionate expressions, that have been uttered from time to time by persons eminent in the ways of God, while they were labouring under it. For a notable instance of which, instead of many, let us hear David, a person frequently in these deep plunges, 115roaring out his spiritual grievances in most of his Psalms. And I single him out before all others, because he was certainly and signally a type of Christ, both in respect of many things belonging to his person, and many passages relating to his life; and particularly that dolorous part of it that contained his sufferings, and immediately before his death. Which sufferings we have him with great life and clearness representing, in several of his divine hymns; which, howsoever uttered by him, in the first person, as if he were still speaking of himself; yet, without all question, in the principal design and purport of them, pointed at the Messiah, as their most proper subject. The 22d Psalm is very full, as to his bodily sufferings; but in none of all the Psalms is the spiritual part of his passion set forth to that height that it is in the 77th Psalm, from the first verse to the l0th: in which it will be well worth our while distinctly to consider some of the most remarkable expressions.
As in the third verse. I complained, says he, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Which is the language of a sorrow much different from that of a common worldly grief; a grief that would have expressed itself far otherwise; as, I complained. I vented a few sighs and a few tears, and the cloud was presently over; when the shower was fallen, all was clear: sorrow perhaps lasted for a night, but it broke with the day, and the return of joy came quickly in the morning. But the spiritual sorrow here mentioned was still making a progress, still upon the advance, from the tongue to the spirit, from outward expressions to more inward apprehensions. Every sigh and groan rebounded back to the 116heart, from whence it came. The penitent eye, like the widow’s cruse, the more it pours forth, the fuller it is; finding a supply (as it were) in every effusion.
But this sorrow stops not here; it does not only alarm his complaints, but also break his natural rest. In the fourth verse, Thou holdest mine eyes waking. Just as in that black night before our Saviour’s crucifixion; in which it is said of him, that he began to be sorrowful, and very heavy; nay, exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; we find that he continued watching, from the beginning to the end of it, without any sleep, when yet the disciples were not able to hold their eyes open. Now this is an undoubted argument of an overpowering grief: for when Darius was excessively troubled for Daniel, it is said of him, in Daniel vi. 18, that he passed the night fasting, and his sleep went from him. And then for Job, in Job vii. 13, 14, When I say, My bed shall comfort me, and my couch shall ease my complaint; then thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me with visions. When a man’s sleep is his torment, what can be his rest? The time of sleep is the only season in which an afflicted person does (as it were) seal some little reprieve from his cares, and for a while deceives his sorrows. But in this case, the workings of the soul become too potent for the inclinations of nature. For though sleep be designed by nature to repair and make up the expense of a man’s spirits; and withal, nothing spends the spirits comparable to sorrow; yet here we see the anguish of this spiritual sorrow joins two contrary effects, and at the same time both exhausts the spirits and hinders all repose; 117forcibly holding up the eyelids, and by a continual flow of tears keeping them still open. A watchful eye and a mournful heart are usually companions.
But neither is this the utmost effect of this sorrow; it comes at length to swell to that excess, as to be even too big for utterance; as appears from the following words in the same verse; I am so troubled, that I cannot speak. Words, to none more applicable than to him, who, when he was led as a sheep to the slaughter, was, like a sheep also, dumb before his shearer, and opened not his mouth, Acts viii. 32. Which is yet an higher declaration of an overpressing grief, than the loudest outcries. For nature has not only given a man a voice, but also silence, whereby to manifest the inward passions and affections of his mind. And such a silence speaks the heart so full of sorrow, that, like a vessel, its very fulness sometimes hinders all vent. It is a known saying, that ordinary, slight griefs complain, but great sorrows strike the heart with an astonished silence. Thorns make a crackling blaze, and are quickly gone; but great wood lies a long time, and consumes with a silent fire. A still grief is a devouring grief; such an one as preys upon the vitals, sinks into the bones, and dries up the marrow. That wound is of all others the most deadly, that causes the heart to bleed inwardly.
Thus we have seen this sorrow, both in its greatness and variety; sometimes sallying forth in rest less clamours and complaints, and sometimes again retreating into a silence, and (if you will admit the expression) even proclaiming itself in dumbness and 118stupefaction: though, whether rising in one or falling in the other, like a man whether standing up right or lying down, it loses nothing of its proportion and greatness; as the sea when it ebbs, no less than when it flows, has still the fulness of an ocean.
But neither does it continue long under this amazed silence; but we have it presently again rising up, and boiling over in complaints much more vehement and passionate than the former; as appears from the seventh to the tenth verses: Will the Lord cast off for ever, and will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever; and doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious, and hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? And what was all this, but a prophetic paraphrase upon those words of our Saviour upon the cross; My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Certainly there is some thing in them more than ordinary. For could a common grief have indited such expressions? Every word is a strain above nature; every sentence is the copy of such a sorrow, as rather would express itself, than either does or can. And surely he that shall duly ponder the weight, relish the paths, and consider that spiritual vigour that sparkles in every period of them, will find them greater and higher than any expressions that the sense of an external calamity could suggest. They are the very breathings of despair, and the words of a soul scorched with the direful apprehensions of God’s wrath, and a total eclipse of his favour. The truth is, they sound like words spoken at a rate or pitch above a 119mere man, and I doubt not were dictated by the Holy Ghost, to set forth the sufferings of him who was so.
3dly, The excessive greatness of this trouble of mind appears from the uninterrupted, incessant continuance of it. It does not come and go by fits, or paroxysms: it has no pauses, or vicissitudes; for then the respite of one hour might lay in strength to endure the troubles of the next. From the very first minute of our Saviour’s passion, from the first arrest and seizure of his righteous soul, the anguish of this sorrow never left it, till it had forced that to leave his body. Nothing could make the powers of darkness quit their hold of so great a prize. As David again has it, (and still, no doubt, prophetically of Christ, in this his last and great scene of misery,) in Psalm xxii. 2, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not, and in the night season, and am not silent. he seems here to describe this man of sorrow at his night-agonies and devotions in the garden, as well as groaning out the inward pangs of his soul on the day of his crucifixion. There was no distinction of night and day, during his sufferings; but, without any lucid intervals of comfort, he was under one continued darkness of desertion. Hence we have the like pathetical outcry again in Psalm xxxix. 13, O spare me a little, that I may recover my strength. He begged of God but to grant him so much as a little breathing-time, and for a while to intermit the strokes of his fury. For when there is no release to be had from wrath, the next mitigation is to have some respite under it: the nature of man being so very impotent and feeble, that it is not able to bear a continual pleasure, and 120much less a continual sorrow. This it was that made Job’s affliction hardly to be paralleled or expressed, that so many killing mischiefs and disasters came thronging (as it were) one in the neck of another. No sooner was one sad story ended, but another presently began. So that his heart was so employed and taken up in admitting and drinking in the sorrow that still came flowing into it, that it had no truce or relaxation to utter or discharge it: like a man receiving money faster than he can tell it; his incomes nonplus his accounts. In which and the like cases, God’s hand does not only strike, but, as it is emphatically in Psalm xxxviii. 2, it also presseth the soul. And what is pressure, but the continuation of a blow? nay, what is hell itself, but sorrow without intermission?
4thly, The height and greatness of this spiritual trouble appears from its violent and more than ordinary manifestation of itself on outward signs and effects. A strange and supernatural instance of which we have in our Saviour, in the sad preliminaries of his passion. The inward chafings and agitations of his struggling soul forcing a way through his body, by a sweat even of blood, and opening all his veins, by an inward sense of something sharper than the impression of any lance or spear from without. And generally, in the very course of nature, when a thing, lodged or enclosed any where, breaks forth, it is because it finds no room for an abode within. Outward eruptions are the undoubted arguments of an inward fulness. Nor does this at all contradict what I had said before of such a vehement sorrow’s manifesting itself in silence and astonishment; for that is only at sometimes, and at 121some certain degrees, from which it often varies: as even our Saviour himself, while upon the cross, was not yet always crying out. But, besides, even in the midst of this silence, there are other ways by which such a trouble will sufficiently declare itself to the discernment of an ordinary eye. For while the tongue is silent, the countenance and conversation may speak aloud; and when we cannot hear sorrow speak, yet we may hear it groan; and when it is not to be known by its voice, it may be traced by its tears. Shame and sorrow, those twin children of sin, are seldom deep in the heart, but they are apparent in the face. It is hard to stifle or suppress any natural affection. But this trouble of conscience, as it is above a man’s strength to conquer, so it is beyond his art to conceal it. It is scarce possible for a man to lie under the torments of the gout or the stone, without roaring out his sense of them; but the torments of conscience are as much sharper and more affecting than these, as the perceptions of the soul are quicker than those of the body. It is the load upon the heart that gives vociferation to its grief, like the weights of a clock, that cause it to be heard.
Add to this the drooping paleness and dejection of the looks, the mournful cloud upon the brow, the damp and melancholy covering the whole face; all of them the infallible signs of such a grief as will be sure to discover its abode by its effects; and such as made Christ himself so doleful a spectacle of misery, as to draw that compassionate exclamation, even from Pilate, John xix. 5, Behold the man! My moisture, says David, who (as we have observed already) spoke most of these things typically of our 122Saviour, is turned into the drought of summer, Psalm xxxii. 4. His grief had sucked up all his radical juices, and reduced him even to a skeleton. So that he might well say, in Psalm xxii. 17, I may tell all my bones; while one might not only stand staring and looking upon him, but through him also. Such impressions will trouble of conscience make sometimes even upon the body; all which out ward symptoms will be found undeniable arguments of the surpassing greatness of it, even upon this account, that they are sure indications of the excess of any worldly trouble. For how easily may the loss of a friend or an estate be read in the countenance! When we are bereaved of our earthly contents, prorumpunt lacrymae; and it is not in our power to stop those floodgates of sorrow.
Now, though I must confess that the spiritual sorrow that we have been discoursing of does not always work over in such sensible, passionate signs as worldly grief uses to do, and consequently is not certainly and universally to be measured by them; yet sometimes it has them all, and, if genuine and true, can never be wholly without some of them. And that man who has tears to spend at the memorial of a lost friend, but none to shed at the thoughts of a lost innocence, a wasted conscience, and a provoked God, has but too much cause to suspect the truth of his sorrow and the goodness of his heart.
5thly and lastly, The transcendent greatness of this spiritual trouble may be gathered from those horrid effects it has had upon persons not upheld under it by divine grace. This indeed could not be the case of our Saviour; no, not in the greatest height of his passion; God (as I may so speak) supporting 123him with one arm, while he was smiting him with the other. But the force and activity of every cause is to be discerned and measured only by its utmost effect. And this trouble of mind actually does its utmost only upon such persons as are abandoned of the forementioned supports of grace. For in others, whom Heaven deals with upon different terms, as soon as it has worked itself almost up to its fatal crisis, mercy steps in, stanches the bleeding wound, and will not suffer it to destroy, where God intends it only to prove.
Now both history and experience testify what tragical ends men deserted by God, under the troubles of a wounded spirit, have been brought into. One man, after he has been grappling with these terrors for some time, has at length drowned himself. An other has been so pursued and wearied with the tormenting thoughts of his sin, that he has sought for an antidote in poison, and even chose to end his grief with his days. Which, surely, are proofs clear enough to evince the insufferable torments of a guilty, inflamed conscience in persons finally forsook by God. Nor are those troubles at all less in persons truly pious, during a state of desertion: as may appear from those near approaches that even such persons, in such a condition, have made to these dismal out rages upon themselves. For some have been so far left to themselves, as even to intend and resolve upon self-murder; and nothing has been wanting but the last execution. Though they have not actually drowned themselves, yet they have stood pausing upon the brink of destruction; and though they have not used the fatal knife, yet they have prepared it. From whence it is evident, that, for the 124time, they suffer the same troubles of mind that the wicked do: and that one do not perish under them, as well as the other, it is not because some lie under a greater measure of these terrors, and some a less; but because, under the same equal proportion, God powerfully upholds some, and lets others fall.
And thus I have done with the second thing proposed; which was to shew, wherein the excessive greatness of the trouble of a wounded spirit manifests itself; I proceed now to the
Third; which is to shew, by what ways and means this trouble is brought upon the soul.
I shall instance in four.
1st, The first is by dreadful reflections upon the divine justice, as provoked. As soon as ever the soul has eaten of the forbidden fruit of sin, the flaming sword of vengeance presently appears; for sin being, properly, a breach of the law, and the law being under the defence and tuition of God’s justice, the soul cannot reflect upon its sin, but it must also cast its eye upon that which it does essentially relate to, the law; and in a violated law it cannot but see an affronted lawgiver. And in this case the divine justice does as naturally catch hold of and prey upon sin, as a devouring flame does upon flax or stubble. If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquity, says David, Psalm cxxx. 3, O Lord, who could stand? Justice is a plentiful argument of terror, considered by any one that has guilt and understanding too: for all the calamities in the world, which so afflict and pester mankind, are but the products of justice. Justice, meeting with sin, is a word comprising all the evils that God can afflict or man endure. For when we view prisons, dungeons, hospitals, those habitations 125of misery, the general motto and superscription upon them all ought to be, Justice. It goes about the world, like God’s destroying angel, with a sword in its hand. Read over all that long, black catalogue of curses in Deut. xxviii. and they are all but a short essay, or specimen, of that vengeance that divine justice has in reserve for sin, and but a slight foretaste of those pains that this life, indeed, may begin, but extremity and perpetuity must complete.
But neither can the miseries of this world or the next, or both together, represent the justice of God half so terrible to any apprehensive minds, as the sufferings of our Saviour upon the cross. For if, when justice called for satisfaction, God spared not his only Son, the Son whom he infinitely loved, Matt. iii. 17; the Son who pleased him in all things, John iv. 34; but gave him up to the most barbarous treatment that rage and malice could invent, and, after that, to a cruel, ignominious death: what can the conscience of a sinful man find out to skreen itself by from the same justice appearing against it in vindication of a transgressed law, calling for nothing less in recompence than the soul of the transgressor? Not only conscience, but common sense, must and will make this dreadful inference; If these things were done in a green tree, what shall be done in a dry? The flame that could but scorch that, must inevitably consume this.
2dly, Those wounds are inflicted upon the spirit or conscience by fearful apprehensions of the divine mercy, as abused. God’s justice, we have seen, is of itself sufficiently terrible; but when mercy, the only thing that should interpose, and ward off the fiery blows of it, is gone, it must needs be intolerable: it 126must break in upon the soul like a mighty, over bearing torrent when the bank is down; nothing can oppose or hinder the fury of its progress. Of fended justice ministers abundant reason of fear; but abused mercy seems to cut off all ground of hope. For a man to affront him who is to be witness in a cause against him, justly renders the success of it dubious; but to injure his advocate, who alone is to stand between him and his accuser, must, of doubtful, make it desperate and deplorable. To sin against mercy is to sin against our last remedy. For is there any third attribute in the divine nature, that can save him, who has God’s justice for his enemy, and his mercy not for his friend? Is there any thing that can restore that person who stands lost and bankrupt, both upon the score of law and gospel too? If mercy condemns, what can pardon? But, above all, if the mercies and tenderness of a Saviour, bleeding, suffering, and at length giving up his very life a sacrifice for sin, and a ransom for sinners, cannot speak comfort to a wounded spirit, must not the wound prove deadly and incurable? And yet, since the benefit of all those sufferings is dealt forth only upon certain conditions, may not the remembrance of some sins justly render the conscience very doubtful, whether a man may plead any interest in them, or not? For what is Christ upon the cross to one that will not be crucified with him? or what is a Saviour dying for sins, to a man that delights in them? Can he claim any benefit by that blood which his conscience is charging him with the guilt of?
These are such considerations as cannot but wound and terrify a thoughtful conscience: next 127to which, in the present case, came in also the stings and remorses of natural ingenuity; a principle that men scarce ever wholly shake off, as long as they carry any thing of human nature about them. And when this shall appear as a second to conscience in God’s quarrel, and upbraid a man for all his backslidings and apostasies, telling him, with the greatest bitterness of taunting reproach, These are- the compassions thou hast abused, these are the bowels thou hast kicked against, these the wounds thou hast renewed upon thy Saviour, and this the blood that thou hast trampled upon; reminding him also of the most signal and eminent deliverances vouchsafed him throughout his life by the same hand of mercy: how that at such a time, under such a distress, when his sin mocked him, and the world despised him, when his heart failed him, and his friends forsook him, yet the goodness of God still stood by him to comfort and support him: how that it delivered him from such a danger and such an enemy, such a sickness and such a plunge, from which all his own act and reason could never have contrived his escape: how, I say, when the Spirit of God shall enliven and stir up those remainders of natural ingenuity in the sinner’s breast, thus to expostulate and debate the case with him in the behalf of abused mercy, every such word will pierce like a dagger to his heart, and strike like a dart into his entrails. Common humanity will be his judge, and conscience his executioner.
3dly, The spirit comes to be wounded and brought under this extreme anguish, by God’s withdrawing his presence and the sense of his love from it, as he does sometimes for a season even from the best of 128men; hiding himself from those whom it is impossible for him to forsake; which was the very case and condition of our Saviour, making that vehement outcry under a present apprehension that God had forsook him, and cast off all the tenderness of a father, while he was inflicting upon him such exquisite torments as one would think it too much for a father but to look upon. Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled, says David, Psalm xxx. 7: for all the joy of created beings streams by natural and immediate efflux from the divine presence, as that vital heat and warmth, that animates all things here be low, comes by direct emanation from that plentiful fountain of it, the sun. And consequently, when a cloud shall interpose between us and the presence of God, the terrors of the law, and the fears of provoked justice and affronted mercy cannot but rush in upon the conscience with a much greater force than at other times. As malignant vapours that infect the air have, after the sun is set, and the light withdrawn, a much more powerful influence upon it, than they can have in the day, God’s suspending the light and beams of his countenance will cause such a darkness as may be felt: and even the strictest livers and most improved Christians are forced to feel the heavy, dispiriting damps of it, when God deserts them. The ways by which God discovers himself to, and hides himself from the souls of men, are strange and unconceivable; but whensoever he does either, the soul is so nearly and sensibly affected with it, that it presently and certainly understands its condition: indeed, as certainly as a man finds and feels in himself, when he sickens and when he recovers.129
God sometimes writes bitter things against a man, shews him his old sins in all their terrifying, crimson circumstances, leaves him in the sad deeps of despair to himself, and his own pitiful strengths, to encounter the threats of the law, the assaults of his implacable enemy: in which forlorn estate is not such a one much like a poor traveller losing his way at midnight, and surprised with a violent storm besides? He has darkness round about him, hears nothing but storms and thunder above him, and knows not one step of his way. Such an one is a man deserted by God, whether he looks inwards or upwards; nothing but horror and darkness, confusion and mistake, at tends his condition.
It is reported to be the custom in some countries, that when a judge sits upon the condemnation of a malefactor, there is a curtain drawn before him, so that the condemned person cannot see his judge. And thus it is often between God and a wounded spirit: it hears indeed from him a condemning voice, but cannot see his face; and this is horror upon horror; it heightens the condemnation, and makes the sentence of death sharper than the infliction.
4thly and lastly, These wounding perplexities are brought upon the soul by God’s giving commission to the tempter more than usually to trouble and disquiet it; for Satan is truly and properly the great troubler of Israel. He was so even to him who knew no sin: for as in our Saviour’s very entrance into his ministry he tempted him, Matth. iv. so, towards the close, both of that and his life too, he troubled him: for all that was done by the cruel instruments of his bitter passion, was done by his direct instigation, in Luke xxii. 53, This is your hour, (says 130Christ,) and the power of darkness. There is a certain hour, or critical time, in which God suffers the powers of darkness to afflict and vex those that are dearest to him. And if it could be so with one perfectly innocent, how much worse must it needs be, when this mortal enemy of mankind has to deal with sinners? whom it is as natural for him to trouble for sin, as to tempt to it: and as it is common with him, before sin is committed, to make it appear less in the sinner’s eye than really it is, so, after the commission, if it be possible, he will represent it greater. When God shall leave the computing of our sins to him, where the law writes our debts but fifty, this unjust steward will set down fourscore. If the malice of hell, the wit, industry, and importunity of the tempter, having such a theme as the guilt of sin, and the curse of the law, to enlarge upon, can do any thing, then shall the sinner find, by woful experience, that he could not with more art and earnestness allure to presumption, than he can now terrify into despair. He that so fawningly enticed the soul to sin, will now as bitterly upbraid it for having sinned. The same hand that laid the bait and the corn to draw the silly fowl into the net, when it is once in, will have its life for coming thither.
Satan never so cruelly insults and plays the tyrant as in this case. If God casts down the soul, he will trample upon it. He will set a new stamp and name upon every sin. Every backsliding shall be total apostasy. Every sin against light and knowledge shall be heightened into the sin against the Holy Ghost. The conscience shall not be able to produce one argument for itself but he will retort it. If it shall plead former assurance of God’s favour, from the inward 131witness of his Spirit, Satan will persuade the soul that it was but a spirit of delusion. If it shall argue an interest in God’s promises from former obedience, as a fruit of that faith that never fails, Satan will tell the soul, that it cannot prove its former obedience to have proceeded from such a faith, since even an hypocrite may go very far. And lastly, if it would draw comfort from that abundant redemption that the death of Christ offers to all that are truly sensible of their sins, Satan will reply, that to such as, by relapsing into sin, have trampled under foot the blood of the covenant, there remains no further propitiation for sin. Now with these and the like rejoinders will he endeavour to baffle and invalidate all a sinner’s pretences to pardon. And when God shall not only permit, but, what is more, judicially bid him use his diabolical skill in troubling and vexing a wounded spirit, those arguments, that of themselves were able to amaze the heart, being urged home by such a sophister, will ever break and confound it.
And thus I have shewn four several ways by which the spirit comes to be thus wounded and afflicted; which was the third thing proposed to be handled. Pass we now to the
Fourth, which is to shew, what is God’s end and design in casting men into such a perplexed condition.
Concerning which, as we are to remember that I shew at first that the subject of these excessive, heart-wounding troubles were both the elect and the reprobate, both the godly and the wicked; so we are to know further, that God has a very different design in bringing these terrors upon each of them. And132
1st, For the wicked or reprobate. It is evident, that whensoever God brings these into such a condition of horror, it is to them but the beginnings of sorrow, and an entrance into those torments which shall abide upon them for ever. It is but the first-fruits of hell, and the earnest of their damnation. But then,
2dly, For the pious and sincere. God sometimes brings this anguish upon their spirit for a twofold end, very different from the former. As,
1st, To embitter sin to them. Nothing does or can leave a more abiding impression upon the mind than misery escaped. He surely cannot but remember the battle, who is always looking upon his scars. A man, by revoking and recollecting within himself former passages, will be still apt to inculcate these sad memoirs to his conscience. This is that sin that cost me so many doubtful, distracting thoughts about my eternal condition: this is that sin that nailed my Saviour to the cross, that forced the thorns into his head, and thrust the spear into his heart; and shall I now, after all this, cast a pleasing eye upon a mortal, known, experimented mischief? Shall I take that fire into my bosom that was so likely to have consumed me? Shall I again parley with that ser pent that has so often beguiled me?
If the sight of other men’s calamities will add a caution where it finds consideration, should not the remembrance of our own do it much more? Propriety in misery notes it with a lasting character. And this let every one, who wears the name of a Christian, know, that he does but usurp that name, that can look upon Christ’s sufferings otherwise than as his own, or pretend to any benefit from them, 133without first owning a propriety in them. And then, if all those sufferings were but the final consequents of sin, with what heart can that man, who accounts himself really a sharer in them, fall afresh to the commission of those sins, of the direful effects of which he stands convinced by so terrible a demonstration? Certainly such an one (unless deserted by humanity, as well as religion) cannot but continually carry about him arguments enough lying close at his heart wherewith to answer and repel either the most furious or most plausible temptation. he would baffle and cast off the tempter from the very topic of his own malicious methods, and stab and fling back the base proposal in his own face; from this very consideration, that he himself would be the first and fiercest to accuse him for that very sin which he was now enticing him to.
For if God has implanted such a principle of caution in the very brutes, from a mere suggestion of nature, that the net or the snare, once escaped and got out of, will not easily be entered into again, certainly these mere animals must not be presumed to act more warily from a bare natural instinct, than a regenerate person shah 1 from a principle infused from above. Though the truth is, one would think, bare nature might be enough to preserve a man in this case: for he who has but a memory cannot possibly want arguments against his sin. To consider and reflect will secure him from a relapse.
2dly, God’s other end in wounding the spirit of a truly pious and sincere person, is to endear and enhance the value of returning mercy: for nothing can give the soul so high a taste of mercy as the consideration of past mercy. When a man stands safely 134landed upon the desired haven, it cannot but be an unspeakable delight to him to reflect upon what he has escaped; they are the dangers of the sea which commend and set off the pleasures and securities of the shore. The passage out of one contrary estate into another gives us a quicker and more lively sense of that into which we pass; for as when the wicked perish, the remembrance of their former pleasures and enjoyments mightily heightens the apprehensions of their present torments; so when the righteous are readmitted into fresh assurances of God’s favour, all the former sad conflicts they had with the dreadful sense of his wrath serve highly to put a lustre upon present grace. A reconcilement after a falling out, a refreshing spring after a sharp winter, a glorious and triumphant ascension after a bitter and a bloody passion, are things not only commended by their own native goodness, but also by the extreme malignity of their contraries; things that raise enjoyment into rapture, and common pleasure into transport and ecstasy. As that which put a peculiar honour and circle of glory about the head of Christ, was not so much God’s exalting and giving him a name, at which all things in heaven and earth should bow, as that he should rise to such a stupendous height of royalty by a wretched, infamous, and accursed death; that from being the scorn of men, he should command the adoration of angels; and from suffering amongst felons and malefactors, ascend far above principalities and powers. Such are the astonishing methods of divine mercy, where God afflicts with the mind of a father, and kills for no other purpose but that he may raise again.
In Psalm cxxvi. 1, 2, When the Lord turned the 135 captivity of Sion, (says the Psalmist,) then were we like to them that dream. So here in this spiritual deliverance, when a man passes from the agonies and distresses of a wounded spirit into a condition of joy and sereneness of mind, grounded upon a rational hope of God’s reconcilement with him, he is so over come and ravished with delight, that he doubts al most of the reality of what he sees and feels, and even questions the truth of actual fruition.
And thus much for the fourth particular proposed from the words, which was to shew what God’s ends and designs are in casting men into such a perplexed condition. Pass we now to the
Fifth and last, which was to draw some useful inferences from the whole. And for this, to prevent both the mistakes of the weak, and the misconstructions of the reverse, we shall, from the foregoing discourse, infer these three things by way of caution.
1st, Let no man presume to pronounce any thing scoffingly of the present, or severely of the final estate of such as he finds exercised with the distracting troubles of a wounded spirit. Let not all this seem to thee but an effect of thy brother’s weakness or melancholy: for he who was the great and the holy One, he whom God is said to have made strong for himself, he who was the Lord mighty to save, and he who must be thy Saviour if ever thou art saved; even he passed under all these agonies, endured all these horrors and consternations; and to that extremity, that wrath, and death, and hell itself seemed all with one united force to have poured in upon, and took absolute possession of his amazed faculties.
We live in an age of blaspheming all that is sacred, and scoffing at all that is serious: God forgive 136us for it, and revenge not upon us those uncontrolled blasphemies and lewdnesses, which, in the sense of all wise and good men, proclaim us ripe for judgment. But surely, to scoff in this case, over and above the impiety of it, is cruel, barbarous, and in human; indeed, more cruel by far than to jeer a man upon the rack, or under the last executions of the most remorseless justice: it is indeed to act over the execrable malice of the Jews, mocking and flouting at our Saviour upon the very cross. Besides that, it may chance to prove a dangerous piece of raillery, to be passing jests where God is so much in earnest, especially since there is no man breathing but carries about him a sleeping lion in his bosom, which God can, and may, when he pleases, rouse up and let loose upon him, so as to tear and worry him to that degree, that in the very anguish of his soul he shall choose death rather than life, and be glad to take sanctuary in a quiet grave. But then, further, as this dismal estate of spiritual darkness is a condition by no means to be scoffed at, so neither ought it to represent the person under it to any one as a reprobate or castaway. For he who is in this case is under the immediate hand of God, who alone knows what will be the issue of these his dealings with him. We have seen and shewn that God may carry on very different designs in the same dispensation; and consequently that no man, from the bare feeling of God’s hand, can certainly understand his mind.
2dly, In the next place, let no secure sinner applaud or soothe up himself in the presumed safety of his spiritual estate, because he finds no such trouble or anguish upon his spirit for sin. For as the best and most beloved of God’s saints have lain under 137this doleful and desponding condition, so, for the most part, the vilest persons breathing have passed their lives freely and jocundly, without the least misgiving or suspicion about their eternal concerns, who yet at length have met with a full payment of wrath and vengeance in the other world for all their confidence and jollity in this.
It is a common saying and observation in divinity, That where despair has slain its thousands, presumption has destroyed its ten thousands. The agonies of the former are indeed more terrible, but the securities of the latter not at all less fatal. And he who is carried off by a lethargy or an apoplex, though he dies more easily, yet he dies as surely as he, whose soul is forced and fired out of his body by the ragings of a burning fever.
The most confident sinner living knows not how soon God may deal with him in this manner; and then the sins that lie still and quiet in his mind for the present, when the tire of God’s wrath comes to be applied to them, will be found to be quite other things. It is the very same water that cools and refreshes at one time, and that is made to scald and kill at another.
All which considered, if any one can be secure in his vice, let him be secure still; only let him know, that if ever God thinks fit to wound his spirit, and to set the sense of sin home to his conscience, it will, of the most profane, daring, and resolved debauchee, make him the most pitiful, abject, broken-minded creature under heaven; and take too fast an hold of his stout heart, to be either hectored, or drunk, or drolled away.
3dly and lastly, Let no person on the contrary exclude 138himself from the number of such as are sincere and truly regenerate, only because he never yet felt any of these amazing pangs of conscience for sin. For though God, out of his unsearchable counsel, is sometimes pleased to bring these terrors upon his saints, yet in themselves they are not things necessary to make men such. God knows the properest ways of bringing every soul to himself; and what he finds necessary for one, he does not always judge fit for another. No more trouble for sin is necessary to salvation, than so much as is sufficient to take a man off from sin. And if that be once done, he who is troubled for this, that he is not, as he thinks, troubled enough for his sins, gives an infallible proof that he is not in love with them.
And therefore let such persons rather acknowledge the goodness of God towards them, and not quarrel with the great physician of souls for having cured them by easy and gentle methods. It is the same God who speaks in thunders and earthquakes to the hearts of some sinners, and in a soft still voice to others. But whether in a storm or in a calm, in a cloud or in a sunshine, he is still that God who will in the end abundantly speak peace to all those, who with humility and fear depend upon him for it.
To whom, therefore, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.139
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