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The hypocrite’s hope shall perish.
I FORMERLY made an entrance upon these words, in which, after some brief explication of the terms, I shewed that they naturally cast themselves into these two propositions.
I. That even an hypocrite may proceed so far, as to entertain hopes and expectations of a future happiness.
II. That the hypocrite’s fairest and most promising expectation of a future blessedness would in the end vanish into miserable disappointment.
For the first of these, I cast the prosecution of it under these three heads.
1. To prove that an hypocrite may and does entertain such hopes.
2. To shew by what ways and means he comes first to obtain them.
3. And lastly, to shew how he continues and preserves them.
For the first, That an hypocrite may and does entertain such hopes: I proved it by two reasons, the first of which was taken from the nature of man’s mind, which was vehement and restless in its pursuit after a suitable good, and accordingly was put to seek out for a good that might bear proportion to both its conditions; that is, both a present and a future: 465and a present good it takes in by actual possession, and a future only by its hopes.
2. The second reason was taken from that peace and tranquillity of mind that even hypocrites enjoy; which are the certain effects, and therefore the infallible signs of some hope abiding in the mind.
As for the next thing, which was to shew by what ways and means the hypocrite comes first to obtain this hope:
I mentioned four.
1st, By his misunderstanding of God, especially in his two great attributes, his justice and his mercy. 2dly, His misapprehending of sin. 3dly, By his ignorance of the spiritual rigour and strictness of the gospel. And 4thly, By his mistakes about the nature of repentance, faith, and conversion.
These things I then insisted upon at large, and so far I have gone; and I shall not prevent myself in what remains by any further repetitions; but shall now proceed to the third and last thing proposed for the prosecution of the first proposition, which was to shew by what ways and means the hypocrite preserves and continues this false hope. And here we must observe, that those methods by which he first gets It have in them also a natural fitness to continue, cherish, and foment it: the same thing being usually the producing and the preserving cause; as the parent that begot the child will also foster and maintain it.
But I shall instance in three ways more especially, by which the hypocrite keeps up and continues those hopes, which upon the former false grounds he took up.
1. The first is, by keeping up a course of external 466obedience, and abstaining from gross, scandalous sins. Now the hypocrite’s confidence having no reality or ground in being, but only an imaginary foundation in his own apprehensions, it concerns him by all means to keep fair with conscience; forasmuch as that has the keeping of, and the power over all his contents. And it is withal of a lively, active nature, apt to discern sin, and apt to pursue and vex the soul for it; it will be flying in a man’s face, if not pacified, or at least deluded, by some seeming pursuit of religion. It is to the soul as the disease called the wolf to the body; if it be not continually fed, it will gnaw and prey upon the body itself, devour and consume the flesh. So if conscience be not gratified by some outward services, it will recoil upon the soul, and with much rage and bitterness torment and feed upon that.
Wherefore the hypocrite, that his conscience may not pass the condemning sentence upon him, will be often bribing it with some specious outward performances: and that he may pacify it, his chief work and business must be to possess it with this persuasion, that he is in a state of grace: which being that, which the scripture in other words calls spiritual life, it does by consequence imply in it two things; first, the principle and fountain of this life, which is faith: and this the hypocrite thinks himself endued with, from his fore mentioned mistakes about conversion. The second is the acting and exercise of this principle, which is called gospel obedience; and of this the hypocrite must endeavour to assure himself by his behaviour, in the continued tract and course of his life. Hereupon he is careful to conform himself to the exact letter of the law, and not to pursue 467those practices that carry in them an open, barefaced opposition to it. And so long as he does this, his conscience is silent, and his hope continues.
The young man in the gospel was a pregnant instance of this, who, reflecting upon his strict and unblameable conversation according to the several precepts of the law, vaunted himself in that confident reply to Christ in Matth. xix. 20, All these things have I kept from my youth. See St. Paul also before his conversion: questionless his hopes of heaven were as full and fair, as large and promising, as his heart could desire, and the foundation of them all (as we may collect from his own writings) was only his external conformity to the words of the law. Philipp. iii. 6, Touching the righteousness (says he) that is in the law, I was blameless. That is, according to the doctrine of the pharisees, of which sect he was, he placed a legal righteousness in abstaining from those external commissions of sin, that were prohibited in the letter of the law, and in the performance of those outward acts of duty that were there enjoined: whereupon, leading his conversation in an accurate observance of the outward letter, he pronounces himself blameless; and therefore, doubtless, while he thought himself thus blameless, he had all those hopes of happiness that it is natural for a person, that thinks himself blameless, to entertain. And that he gathered this opinion of himself and of his condition only from his fulfilling the outward letter, without insisting upon the inward, spiritual, stricter part of it, is clear and manifest from Rom. vii. 7, I had not known sin (says he) but by the taw: for I had not known Inst, unless the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. In which words he considers 468the law not barely according to the letter, but according to the spiritual scope and intention of it: and though the law taken in the former sense did acquit and absolve, yet in this latter sense it did condemn him. And the reason is, because the law considered in the letter did only regulate external actions: but, thus considered, it was a searcher into, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart; and consequently did arraign the very desires of sin, the first risings and movings of concupiscence.
Now that this external obedience to the law, and refraining from gross, notorious sins, is a singular preservative of the hypocrite’s hope, and a strong maintainer of his confidence, as it has been sufficiently proved by these scripture-instances; so the same is yet further manifest from that strange method that God has sometimes used for the conversion of formal hypocrites. He has let them fall into some gross, open, scandalous sin, the cry of which has exceedingly troubled and disquieted them, and beat them out of all those refuges of hope, which the former civility of their conversation had afforded them. Whereupon, being utterly bereaved of their confidence, God has took this occasion to let into their hearts a full sense of all their sins, even so far as to discover and rip open to them their sinful nature, their original corruption, and thereby to convert and cause them to repair to Christ, and by a lively faith cast all their hopes upon his satisfaction. And no doubt but it was upon this account that our Saviour said, that the publicans and harlots, persons of scandalous lives and prostitute reputations, yet went to heaven sooner than those glorious but rotten counterfeits, 469the scribes and pharisees. This therefore is the first way by which the hypocrite continues and preserves his false hope, viz. by the civility and outwardly blameless carriage of his conversation.
2. The second way by which the hypocrite keeps up his hopes, and maintains the good opinion he has conceived of his spiritual estate, is by comparing himself with others, who are openly vitious, and apparently worse than himself. There is no way more effectual for a man to argue himself into a delusion. It is an easy matter to enhance our apprehensions of the value of any thing, while there is a worse in our view, Clipt money may be accounted good, if compared to counterfeit. The hypocrite thinks himself religious, not from any goodness of his own, but from the badness of others. he raises a structure of reputed holiness upon the deplorable ruins of other men’s, and so entertains both hope and comfort not upon judgment, but comparison.
But as in other things comparisons are justly accounted odious, so here they are dangerous and pernicious. For it is this that makes him overrate his condition, and set that price upon it that God will never come up to. This makes him overvalue his own estate, and despise others; while he should pity and lament theirs, and amend his own.
This was the chief ground of the pharisee’s hope and confidence, that he was not as other men; an adulterer, covetous, swearer, or the like. When he sees the enormous intemperance of the drunkard, and compares it with his own strictness, he blesses himself with all the promises and assurances of heaven, because he sees the other directly posting to 470hell. When he sees the open profaneness of some, then he reflects upon his own religious duties and fastings, and so by a fallacious comparison concludes himself happy, because he sees another very miserable. He does not measure the holiness of his actions by their conformity to the law of God, but by their unconformity to the actions of others. In short, the hypocrite could never with any colour of confidence think himself holy, if others were not exceeding wicked.
But he that is apt to overvalue himself upon such deceiving grounds, and to owe his perfection not to any worth of his own, but to a foil, should consider, that sin admits of a large latitude of degrees, the least of which will ruin and condemn as surely, though not as deeply, as the greatest; and withal, that there are as many degrees of sinners as of sins. There are many paths in the broad way, some of which are more cleanly, some more foul; yet they all tend to the same end: and those shall in the issue as certainly arrive at hell, that tread the cleanlier paths of a refined hypocrisy, as those that trash through the mire and dirt of the grossest abominations. And therefore let not the hypocrite think himself in a good condition, because others are in a worse; let him not compare his life to theirs, but let him rather bring and compare it to the law and to the testimony, and there he shall read the vanity of his hopes, the deplorable defects of his most exact righteousness, and find that it is infinitely more below the perfect purity required in God’s commands, than it is above the foulest practices of the most scandalous, shameless transgressors.
3. The third way by which the hypocrite keeps 471up and maintains his hopes, is by forbearing to make a strict and impartial trial of his estate. That which first raised his hope, I shew, was ignorance; and that which continues and foments ignorance is want of self-trial. He that would thoroughly under stand himself must first thoroughly try himself. For it is this that dives into the retired depths of a deceitful heart, that does (as it were) sift and winnow the soul, and singles out the precious from the vile, that before lay in a confused heap, and placing them under a distinct view of the judgment, gives it a full and a clear prospect into them.
No wonder if the hypocrite discerns not his condition, when he never turns his eyes inwards by a thorough faithful examination. For as in a trade a man may go on and traffic, thinking himself to be rich, when indeed he is poor and near breaking, only because he does not examine his stock, nor take a survey of his accounts, so is it in the hypocrite’s profession of religion; he proceeds in it, and thinks himself in a thriving condition, while in the mean time he withers and decays, and is near to cursing: and all this befalls him because he considers not whether he has a sufficient stock of grace to carry him through his Christian profession. A man must descend into himself, and retreat into his own bosom by a severe inquiry, or live and die a stranger to his spiritual estate, and at as great a distance from his own heart as that is from a sure peace. We know how apt every man is to think his case good, and such as will abide the law, till the weakness of it be made manifest in the trial. The rich man (says Solomon) is wise in his own conceit; but he that has understanding searches him out. 472And so may it be said of the hypocrite, that he conceits himself holy and happy, and in a state of grace and favour with God, till such time as an awakened conscience searches him out, and discovers to him the vanity of his groundless imaginations.
The foulest soul may think itself fair and beautiful, till it comes to view its deformity in the glass of God’s word. No man can discover the depth and danger of his spiritual wounds but by searching them. But it is not to be wondered, that an hypocrite is so fearful to engage in this work; for he has a shrewd suspicion that it will overthrow and put an end to all his comforts: and every man is naturally averse from seeking after that, which he is unwilling to find. He that would fain seem holy, will hardly be brought to set about that duty, that will certainly convince him of his unholiness. But how irksome and unpleasing soever this work is, the hypocrite must know that it comes authorized both with God’s counsel and command; and I shall here add only this argument to enforce this duty upon him, that if his hopes and confidence will not abide the examination of his own conscience, he must not expect that they should ever endure the trial of God’s tribunal.
And thus much for the third way or means by which the hypocrite continues and preserves his false hope; which was the last thing proposed for the prosecution of the first proposition: I proceed now to the
Second, viz. That the hypocrite’s fairest and most promising expectation of a future happiness will in the end vanish into miserable disappointment.
For the prosecution of which, I shall,473
I. Prove the proposition, and shew that the hypocrite’s hope and expectation of a future happiness will perish and he disappointed.
II. I shall shew those critical seasons and turns, in which more especially the hypocrite’s hope will be sure to fail him.
III. And lastly, make some application of the whole.
I. For the first of these, I shall prove the proposition two ways.
1. From clear testimony of scripture. And here, though the text itself he sufficient to prove the doctrine drawn from it, this being only a variation of that into other words; yet, for the more clear and evident illustration of the truth in hand, we will take in also the suffrage of other scriptures. And first, in this very chapter we have seen the hypocrite’s hope compared to flags and rushes, which in their most flourishing condition are not far from lading; but while they have one part in the spring, have another usually in the fall. To-day they are fresh and verdant; to-morrow they wither and die, and are cast into the oven: you may spare the sickle, they will droop and fall of themselves. And in the 14th verse of this 8th chapter of Job, we have the hypocrite’s hope compared to a spider’s web; a similitude of great elegance and significance; and we may observe a great analogy between the spider’s web and that in a double respect. 1st, In respect of the curious subtilty and the fine artificial composure of it. The spider in every web shews itself an artist: so the hypocrite spins his hope with a great deal of art, in a thin, fine thread. This and that good duty, this good thought, this opposing of some 474gross sin, are all interwoven together to the making up a covering for his hypocrisy. And as the spider draws all out of its own bowels, so the hypocrite weaves all his confidence out of his own inventions and imaginations. 2dly, It resembles it in respect of its weakness; it is too fine spun to be strong. After the spider has used all its art and labour in framing a web, yet how easily is it broke, how quickly is it swept down! So after the hypocrite has wrought out an hope with much cost, art, and industry, it is yet but a weak, slender, pitiful thing. He does indeed by this get some name and room amongst professors; he does, as it were, hang his hopes upon the beams of God’s house. But when God shall come to cleanse, and, as it were, to sweep his sanctuary, such cobwebs are sure to be fetched down. Thus the hypocrite, like the spider, by all his artifice and labour only disfigures God’s house. An hypocrite in a church is like a cobweb in a palace; all that he is or does serving only to annoy and misbecome the place and station that he would adorn.
Sundry other scripture-expressions there are, that cast much light and evidence upon this truth; as in Job xx. 5, The triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment. The hypocrite takes a great deal of pains, and by much ado pieces up his broken evidences for heaven, bolsters up his decaying hopes, and by many shifts keeps up a contented heart for the time of a transitory life. But, alas! what is hope lengthened out for a few moments, to an eternity of despair! when he shall be swallowed up in that black abyss of darkness and despondency, from whence he 475shall never enjoy the least glimmering hope of an after-delivery. Could he prolong his hopes beyond the years of Methuselah, yet all these together put into the balance with perpetuity are but as a moment, as an instant, that vanishes as soon as present. Hence in Job xiii. 16, Job making mention of God says, that the hypocrite shall not come before him. Such an one indeed, while he jogs on in a formal, seemingly pious course, may think that every step sets him nearer and nearer to God; but it is with him here, as with a man out of his way, the further and faster he goes, the wider he is from his intended journey’s end. Again, in Job xxvii. 8, there is a pathetical interrogation made; What is the hope of the hypocrite, when God taketh away his soul? A sad exchange certainly! But that which begins in vanity must needs determine in vexation of spirit, horror of conscience, and eternal confusion. And, to shew yet further how contemptible and vain a thing it is, we have the wise man emphatically comparing it to a candle, in Prov. xxiv. 20, where he tells us, that the candle of the wicked shall be put out. And what is a lamp or candle, but a diminutive, dwindling, contracted light at best? made only to measure out a few moments, and to burn for a little time, both shining and spending itself at once: so that although it should not be blown out, or extinguished by any violent accident, yet it would at length go out of its own accord, and that with an offensive farewell too left behind. In like manner, though God should not, by any severe and boisterous dispensation of judgments, forcibly rend and tear the hypocrite’s hope out of his heart; yet through its own native weakness, having lasted its term, and. 476like a lamp or candle, having consumed its little stock, it must die, and sink, and drop away of itself. In short, we have Christ’s own word, assuring us that it cannot last, in Matth. xv. 13, Every plant (says he) that my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. But the hypocrite’s hope is a slip of his own planting, of his own watering and dressing; and therefore, when God shall come to purge his garden, such weeds and nuisances are sure to be cast out. Thus we see the whole current of the scriptures directly set against the hypocrite’s confidence; we may read its doom almost in every page and period of God’s word: so that if this be certain, that the word of God shall stand and abide, then this must be also as certain, that the hypocrite’s hope shall perish.
2. That the hypocrite’s hope of future happiness shall assuredly perish, may be proved from the weakness of the foundation upon which it is built. And we know, that in all buildings, if this be rotten, the superstructure cannot be lasting; if the supporters reel, that which is supported must needs shake. I have already shewn, that ignorance and misapprehension were the grounds upon which the hypocrite’s fairest confidences were raised, and the only pillars upon which they were borne up: and can we imagine, that errors and mistakes are such foundations, as to rear upon them an hope that must stand and last to eternity? I have made it appear, that all the hypocrite’s hopes are taken up from erroneous, mistaken conceptions of God, of sin, of the gospel, and of repentance, faith, and conversion. And are these, think we, likely to bear him out? Because the hypocrite builds an unreasonable, presumptuous confidence 477upon God’s mercy, do we think that this will secure him from the dreadful blow of his justice? Because the hypocrite never truly apprehended sin, will it therefore follow that he shall never smart for sin? Will shutting our eyes against a danger secure us from it? Because the gospel, through the deceit of his ignorant mind, seems to favour and release him from duty, will this warrant him in the neglect of it? Will ignorance of the spirituality and strictness of the gospel discharge him from the curse of the law? Or because he falsely thinks he has repented, will this entitle him to the privileges of the penitent? Because he mistakes the nature of faith, shall he therefore inherit the portion of believers? Thus we see how the whole fabric of his hope bears upon the false and treacherous bottom of ignorance and mistake, which support and hold together all the parts and parcels of it.
And as ignorance is one of its main foundations, so it equally rests upon another altogether as weak and as uncertain; which is self-love. For as wicked and as confident as such persons are, they are yet afraid to be damned; and therefore they are willing to believe that they shall not. And howsoever they live here, they are very desirous to be happy here after; and therefore they find their hearts very prone to be persuaded that they shall be so. For I challenge the most confident and improved hypocrite in the world to shew any other ground for his hope of ever coming to heaven, but only because he thinks so, and because he would have it so. But can bare thought or desire alter the reality and state of things? Well, therefore, may we conclude, that that which is founded only upon ignorance and self-love 478must needs end in disappointment and shame. And thus much for the first thing, which was the proof of the proposition: I proceed now to the
Second, which is to shew what are those critical seasons and turns, in which more especially the hypocrite’s hope will be sure to fail him. I shall mention two.
1. The first is in the time of some heart-breaking, discouraging judgment from God. And here we must know, that the hypocrite has two supports upon which jointly he casts the whole burden of his spiritual estate; namely, his hope in God, and his enjoyment of the creature. With the former he quiets his conscience, with the latter he comforts his heart. For whatsoever he pretends, and howsoever he seems to place all his expectations above; yet he draws all his content, his delight and satisfaction from the world. Like a tree, though he seems to flourish upwards and rise towards heaven, yet his root is in the ground, and he lives from beneath. He cannot place his joys entirely in God, but he must have something else besides. Ananias and Sapphira will cast in their estate into the common stock of the church; but the public faith will not satisfy them, unless they reserve a secret portion to themselves. The hypocrite cannot hope for another world any longer than he enjoys this. Wherefore when God strips him of all his temporals, then he is utterly cast down, his heart breaks, his hope fails, and his confidence of future happiness vanishes before his present afflictions. He can look up to heaven no longer than he stands firm upon the earth. Had Job been an hypocrite when he was brought so low, and utterly spoiled of all earthly comforts, no 479former hope he had in God could have kept him from following his wife’s advice; but he would have been ready to curse God, and spit the venom of his discontented heart in his face, though he died for it. No hypocrite is so far of Job’s temper as to be able at the same time to hold fast his hopes, and to embrace a dunghill, and (according to his phrase) to trust in God though he kills him. He cannot heartily call God father, while he whips and chastises him.
Hence Job clears himself of hypocrisy by this notable question, Job xxvii. 10, Will the hypocrite delight himself in the Almighty? God indeed is usually made the prop of his presumption, but never the object of his delight. he never attains to those well-tempered, durable, victorious hopes of the righteous, so excellently set forth in Habak. iii. 17, 18; Although the figtree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vine, and the labour of the olive shall fail; yet I will rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of my salvation. No, the hypocrite’s hope and joy is quite of another make and mould. he finds no taste or relish in celestial joys, abstracted from the plenties and jollities of the world. He finds no feast in a good conscience any longer than he sits down to a full table. Come to such an one while he is flushed in honour, strong in interest, and all things flow in full and fair to his ambition, and what devout discourses shall you hear from him, especially after a large meal; and what contempt of the world, and affiance in God, as if his heart were already lodged in Abraham’s bosom! But let God once put forth his hand and touch him in his beloved name or interest, toss him upon the tongues of 480 his enemies, and lay him low in contempt and disgrace; and then come to him, and see whether he can now live upon his former talk, and support his spirits with those glorious pretences he used to flourish his discourse with, in the midst of his former affluence. No; the case is quite altered, and you shall find him a pitiful, abject, dispirited lump of clay: pale and whining, and creeping into every company to tell doleful stories of himself and his sufferings. Or, as the prophet, Isaiah li. 20, much better expresses it, you will find him like a wild bull in a net; tumbling and tossing, hampered and impatient, and fit for nothing but to let the world see the strange and ugly difference between the way and postures of an hypocrite in a prosperous and in a calamitous condition. It is clear therefore, that in the time of such severe judgments the hypocrite’s confidence leaves him, deserts, and utterly fails him: for he cannot hold his hope in one hand, unless he grasps the world in the other.
2. The other season, in which the hypocrite’s hope will be sure to fail and to forsake him, is at the time of death. Although he has by many arts and shifts prolonged his confidence hitherto, yet this hour will put a period both to his life and his expectations at once: for the hypocrite’s hope is but an annuity at the best, he has it but for term of life at the longest. When a few days in the flesh shall be passed, he must be forced to lie down, and breathe out his soul and his hopes together. And though it might be said of him, that as long as there was life there was hope; as long as his body breathed, his soul hoped; yet at this time that saying of the Psalmist must pass upon him, Psalm cxlvi. 4, His 481breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth, and in that very day all his thoughts perish. All his fond expectations shall then upbraid him to his face: Satan, his greatest flatterer, shall then laugh him to scorn; death shall confute all his confidences, and hell convince him that his hopes of heaven were groundless and irrational. He now steps out of an old world, and finds that old things are passed away, and all things presented to him in a new state and dress: his old thoughts, his old reasonings, hopes, and confidences vanish; and he has new apprehensions of God, new conceptions of the nature of sin, and of his own state and condition.
For as soon as the soul is once dislodged from the body, it is also freed from many causes of ignorance and deception, that did encumber it in that estate; so that now its reason is quicker, and its discernment clearer, both to perceive other things, and throughly to reflect upon itself. It now spies out all the flaws and fallacies of its former fair, but deceiving hopes; it sees the non-concludency of those arguments that it rested upon before. Death, as it shuts our bodily eyes, so it opens and enlarges our spiritual. One moment after death shall discover the errors of many ages: for the time of this life is a time in which all things are, as it were, huddled up in a kind of mixture and confusion. The righteous own and profess Christ, and so do the hypocrites; the righteous have their hopes, and so have they: and both of them live and act, and are supported by their hopes; and as to any outward appearance, we cannot discriminate the unsound from the sincere. But when death comes, that divides them by an open and a manifest distinction, the 482hope of the righteous is crowned, and the hope of the wicked is confounded: a line of eternal separation is then drawn between them; the hypocrite must then let go his hold, bid an everlasting farewell to all his comforts, renounce his usurped confidence, and take up his portion in those mansions of endless despair, where he shall have abundant cause to wish, but no grounds to hope for the least redemption.
And thus much for the second thing proposed; which was, to shew those critical seasons and turns, in which more especially the hypocrite’s hope will be sure to fail him. I come now to the
Third and last thing, which is to make some use and improvement of the whole foregoing discourse. And it shall be to display and set before us the transcendent, surpassing misery of the final estate of all hypocrites; whose peculiar lot it is, not only to be damned, but, what is infinitely more, to hope themselves into damnation, and to perish with those circumstances that shall double and treble the weight of their destruction. Hope is the last refuge and retreat of an afflicted soul, the last support of a sinking mind. And in this life the heart of man is not capable of such absolute, entire misery, but that some glimmerings of hope will still dart in upon him, and buoy up his spirits from an utter despondency. But when it shall come to this, that a man must go one way, and his hopes another, so parting as never to meet again, human nature admits not of any further addition to its sorrow; for it is pure, perfect, unmixed misery, without any allay or mitigation. The strongest affections and the greatest hopes, if not answered, do of necessity leave behind them the quickest pain: for if, as the wise 483man says, in Prov. xiii. 12, hope only deferred be so grievous, what then must he hope utterly disappointed? If delay be so irksome, what then must he total frustration? Nothing is more contrary and tormenting to the nature of man than to be degraded; to be low is sad, but to be brought low is much worse. Poverty is troublesome, but poverty after riches is insupportable. Former happiness is the greatest ingredient of present misery: for look what comfort springs from past sorrows heretofore endured, the same degree of misery arises from past happiness heretofore enjoyed. In Lament, i. 7, it is represented as the height and sting of the calamity of Judah, that in the day of her affliction and of her misery she remembered all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old. It would be some relief to a condemned sinner, if with the loss of his hope he could lose his memory too: but, alas! when he shall lie down in sorrow and torment, this will recall to his mind all that peace, comfort, and tranquillity that his false hopes formerly fed him with, and then force him to write this emphatical character of misery upon all; Thus and thus I was; these things I did enjoy. No voice will be heard in hell so loud and frequent as this sad and doleful one; My hopes deceived me, my confidences deluded me. And (believe it) this will make it ten times more hell, than the wailing and gnashing of teeth, and all the other torments of it put together.
For take the case in a similitude: When a poor traveller, disheartened with bad ways and weather turmoiling him, and fear of thieves besetting him, shall yet comfort himself with this thought, that when he comes to his journey’s end he will refresh 484himself at his inn; and, as soon as ever he comes thither, he is set upon, stabbed, and cruelly murdered: does not such an one, think we, die with a strange horror and surprise? So the hypocrite can not pass the stage of this world, but he will meet with many crosses and discouragements, under which he is apt to think, through the flattery of his hopes, that he shall find an end of all these sorrows in another world. But then, alas! they chiefly begin; then he enters upon them in their height, fulness, and perfection. Hopes of heaven therefore, by those that either tender their own happiness, or dread the extremity of misery, are to be entertained warily; for if they are not genuine, and of the right stamp, they will only end in a greater load of sorrow and confusion. They may indeed for a little time support and keep us up in this world: just as a man’s clothes, when he falls into the water, will for a while hold him up from sinking; but when they are once thoroughly wet and heavy, then they drown and sink him so much the faster and deeper.
This we may observe, that those appetites and desires, the satisfaction of which brings the greatest delight; the defrauding or disappointment of them, according to the rule of contraries, brings the greatest and the sharpest misery. Now a strong hope, suitably and luckily answered, comes, as it were, rushing into the heart with a fulness of content; it bears in upon it like a favourable wished-for wind upon a spread sail. It is, according to Solomon’s expression, health to the navel, and mar row to the bones. Satisfaction added to a longing expectation, is like a refreshing shower upon a dry, gaping, thirsty ground. Nothing so comfortable 485as hope crowned with fruition; nothing so tormenting, as hope snapt off with disappointment and frustration. And were it lawful to wish an enemy completely miserable, I would wish that he might vehemently desire, and never enjoy; that he might strongly hope, and never obtain.
Now, from what has been delivered, I think we may truly conclude, that of the two, the despairing reprobate is happier than the hoping reprobate. They both indeed fall equally low: but then he that hopes has the greater fall, because he falls from the higher place. he that despairs goes to hell, but then he goes thither with expectation; though he is damned, yet he is not surprised: he has inured his heart to the flames, and has made those terrors familiar to him, by the continual horror of his meditation; so that when he dies, he passes but from one hell into another; and his actual damnation is not the beginning, but the carrying on of his former torment. In short, to express the wretchedness of the hypocrite’s hope, I shall only add this, that certainly that must needs be exceeding dismal, in comparison of which despair is desirable.
And now, O God, thou that requirest truth in the inward parts, cleanse us inwardly and thoroughly from the leaven of hypocrisy; sanctify us by thy truth; thy word is truth; and let our obedience to thee justify our hopes in thee, that so trusting in thee, we may never be confounded.
To whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.486
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