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9. The hindrances to mourning
What shall we do to get our heart into this mourning frame? Do two things. Take heed of those things which will stop these channels of mourning; put yourselves upon the use of all means that will help forward holy mourning. Take heed of those things which will stop the current of tears.
There are nine hindrances of mourning.
1 The love of sin. The love of sin is like a stone in the pipe which hinders the current of water. The love of sin makes sin taste sweet and this sweetness in sin bewitches the heart. Jerome says it is worse to love sin than to commit it. A man may be overtaken with sin (Galatians 6:1). He that has stumbled upon sin unawares will weep, but the love of sin hardens the heart and keeps the devil in possession. In true mourning there must be a grieving for sin. But how can a man grieve for that sin which his heart is in love with? Oh, take heed of this sweet poison. The love of sin freezes the soul in impenitence.
2 Despair. Despair affronts God, undervalues Christ’s blood and damns the soul. ‘They said there is no hope, but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart’ (Jeremiah 18:12). This is the language of despair. I had as good follow my sins still and be damned for something. Despair presents God to the soul as a judge clad in the garments of vengeance (Isaiah 59:17). The despair of Judas was in some sense worse than his treason. Despair destroys repentance, for the proper ground of repentance is mercy. ‘The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance’ (Romans 2:4), but despair hides mercy out of sight as the cloud covered the Ark. Oh, take heed of this. Despair is an irrational sin; there is no ground for it. The Lord shews mercy to thousands. Why may you not be one of a thousand? The wings of God’s mercy, like the wings of the Cherubim, are stretched out to every humble penitent. Though you have been a great sinner, yet if you are a weeping sinner, there is a golden sceptre of mercy held forth (Psalm 103:11). Despair locks up the soul in impenitence.
3 A conceit that this mourning will make us melancholy: we shall drown all our joy in our tears. But this is a mistake. Lose our joy? Tell me, what joy can there be in a natural condition? What joy does sin afford? Is not sin compared to a wound and bruise? (Isaiah 1:6). David had his broken bones (Psalm 51:8). Is there any comfort in having the bones out of joint? Does not sin breed a palpitation and trembling of heart? (Deuteronomy 28:65, 66). Is it any joy for a man to be a ‘magor-missabib’ (Jeremiah 20:4), a terror to himself? Surely of the sinner’s laughter it may be said, ‘It is mad’ (Ecclesiastes 2:2), whereas holy mourning is the breeder of joy. It does not eclipse but refines our joy and makes it better. The prodigal dated his joy from the time of his repentance. ‘Then they began to be merry’ (Luke 15:24).
4 Checking the motions of the Spirit. The Spirit sets us a-mourning. It causes all our spring-tides. ‘All my springs are in thee’ (Psalm 87:7). Oft we meet with gracious motions to prayer and repentance. Now when we stifle these motions, which is called a quenching the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19), then we do, as it were, hinder the tide from coming in. When the dew falls, then the ground is wet. When the Spirit of God falls as dew in its influences upon the soul, then it is moistened with sorrow. But if the Spirit withdraw, the soul is like Gideon’s dry fleece. A ship can as well sail without the wind, a bird can as well fly without wings, as we can mourn without the Spirit. Take heed of grieving the Spirit. Do not drive away this sweet Dove from the ark of your soul. The Spirit is ‘gentle and tender’. If he be grieved, he may say, ‘I will come no more’, and if he once withdraw we cannot mourn.
5 Presumption of mercy. Who will take pains with his heart or mourn for sin that thinks he may be saved at a cheaper rate? How many, spider-like, suck damnation out of the sweet flower of God’s mercy? Jesus Christ, who came into the world to save sinners, is the occasion of many a man’s perishing. Oh, says one, Christ died for me. He has done all. What need I pray or mourn? Many a bold sinner plucks death from the tree of life, and through presumption, goes to hell by that ladder of Christ’s blood, by which others go to heaven. It is sad when the goodness of God, which should ‘lead to repentance’ (Romans 2:4), leads to presumption. O sinner, do not hope thyself into hell. Take heed of being damned upon a mistake. You say God is merciful, and therefore you go on securely in sin. But whom is mercy for? The presuming sinner or the mourning sinner? ‘Let the wicked forsake his way, and return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, (Isaiah 55:7). No mercy without forsaking sin, and no forsaking sin without mourning! If a king should say to a company of rebels, ‘Whosoever comes in and submits shall have mercy’, such as stood out in rebellion could not claim the benefit of the pardon. God makes a proclamation of mercy to the mourner, but such as are not mourners have nothing to do with mercy. The mercy of God is like the ark, which none but the priests were to meddle with. None may touch this golden ark of mercy but such as are ‘priests unto God’ (Revelation 1:6), and have offered up the sacrifice of tears.
6 A conceit of the smallness of sin. ‘Is it not a little one?’ (Genesis 19:20). The devil holds the small end of the perspective-glass to sinners. To fancy sin less than it is, is very dangerous. An opinion of the littleness of sin keeps us from the use of means. Who will be earnest for a physician that thinks it is but a trivial disease? And who will seek to God with a penitent heart for mercy that thinks sin is but a slight thing? But to take off this wrong conceit about sin, and that we may look upon it with watery eyes, consider that sin cannot be little because it is against the Majesty of heaven. There is no treason small, it being against the king’s person. Every sin is sinful, therefore damnable. A penknife or stiletto makes but a little wound, but either of them may kill as well as a greater weapon. There is death and hell in every sin (Romans 6:23). What was it for Adam to pluck an apple? But that lost him his crown. It is not with sin as it is with diseases. Some are mortal, some not mortal. The least sin without repentance will be a lock and bolt to shut men out of heaven.
View sin in the red glass of Christ’s sufferings. The least sin cost ‘the price of blood’. Would you take a true prospect of sin? Go to Golgotha. Jesus Christ was fain to vail his glory and lose his joy, and pour out his soul an offering for the least sin. Read the greatness of your sin in the deepness of Christ’s wounds. Let not Satan cast such a mist before your eyes that you cannot see sin in its right colours. Remember, not only do great rivers fall into the sea, but little brooks. Not only do great sins carry men to hell, but lesser.
7 Procrastination; or an opinion that it is too soon as yet to tune the penitential string. When the lamp is almost out, the strength exhausted, and old age comes on, then mourning for sin will be in season, but it is too soon yet. That I may show how pernicious this opinion is, and that I may roll away this stone from the mouth of the well, that so the waters of repentance may be drawn forth, let me propose these four serious and weighty considerations:
First, do you know what it is to be in the state of nature? And will you say it is too soon to get out of it? You are under ‘the wrath of God’ (John 3:36), and is it too soon to get from under the dropping of this vial? You are under ‘the power of Satan’ (Acts 26:18), and is it too soon to get out of the enemy’s quarters?
Second, men do not argue thus in other cases. They do not say, Is it too soon to be rich? They will not put off getting the world till old age. No, here they take the first opportunity. It is not too soon to be rich, and is it too soon to be good? Is not repentance a matter of the greatest consequence? Is it not more needful for men to lament their sin, than augment their estate?
Third, God’s call to mourning looks for present entertainment. ‘Today, if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts’ (Hebrews 3:7, 8). A general besieging a garrison summons it to surrender upon such a day or he will storm it. Such are God’s summons to repentance. ‘Today if ye will hear his voice’. Sinners, when Satan has tempted you to any wickedness, you have not said, ‘It is too soon, Satan’, but have immediately embraced his temptation. You have not put the devil off, and will you put God off?
Fourth, it is a foolish thing to adjourn and put off mourning for sin, for the longer you put off holy mourning, the harder you will find the work when you come to it. A bone that is out of joint is easier to set at first than if you let it go longer. A disease taken in time is sooner cured than if it be let alone till it comes to a paroxysm. You may easily wade over the waters when they are low; if you stay till they are risen, then they will be beyond your depth. O sinner, the more treasons you commit, the more do you incense heaven against you, and the harder it will be to get your pardon. The longer you spin out the time of your sinning, the more work you make for repentance.
To adjourn, and put off mourning for sin is folly in respect of the uncertainty of life. How does the procrastinating sinner know that he shall live to be old? ‘What is your life? It is but a vapour’ (James 4:14). How soon may sickness arrest you, and death strike off your head? May not your sun set at noon? Oh then what impudence is it to put off mourning for sin, and to make a long work, when death is about to make a short work? Caesar, deferring to read the letter sent him, was stabbed in the senate house.
It is folly to put off all till the last in respect of the improbability of finding mercy. Though God has given you space to repent, he may deny you grace to repent. When God calls for mourning and you are deaf, when you call for mercy God may be dumb (Proverbs 1:24, 28). Think of it seriously. God may take the latter time to judge you in, because you did not take the former time to repent in.
To put off our solemn turning to God till old age, or sickness, is high imprudence, because these late acts of devotion are for the most part dissembled and spurious. Though true mourning for sin be never too late, yet late mourning is seldom true. That repentance is seldom true-hearted which is grey-headed. It is disputable whether these autumn-tears are not shed more out of fear of hell than love to God. The mariner in a storm throws his goods overboard, not but that he loves them, but he is afraid they will sink the ship. When men fall to weeping-work late and would cast their sins overboard, it is for the most part only for fear lest they should sink the ship and drown in hell. It is a great question whether the sickbed penitent does not mourn because he can keep his sins no longer. All which considered may make men take heed of running their souls upon such a desperate hazard as to put all their work for heaven upon the last hour.
8 Delay in the execution of justice. ‘Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil’ (Ecclesiastes 8:11). God forbears punishing, therefore men forbear repenting. He does not smite upon their back by correction, therefore they do not smite upon their thigh by humiliation (Jeremiah 31:19). The sinner thinks thus: God has spared me all this while; he has eked out patience into longsuffering; surely he will not punish. ‘He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten’ (Psalm 10:11). In infinite patience God sometimes adjourns his judgements and puts off the sessions a while longer. He is not willing to punish (2 Peter 3:9). The bee, naturally gives honey, but stings only when it is angered. The Lord would have men make their peace with him (Isaiah 27:5). God is not like an hasty creditor that requires the debt, and will give no time for the payment. He is not only gracious, but ‘waits to be gracious’ (Isaiah 30:18), but God by his patience would bribe sinners to repentance. But, alas, how is this patience abused! God’s longsuffering hardens. Because God stops the vial of his wrath, sinners stop the conduit of tears. That the patience of God may not (through our corruption) obstruct holy mourning, let sinners remember:
First, God’s patience has bounds set to it (Genesis 6:3). Though men will not set bounds to their sin, yet God sets bounds to his patience. There is a time when the sun of God’s patience will set, and, being once set, it never returns any degrees backwards. The lease of patience will soon be run out. There is a time when God says, ‘My Spirit shall no longer strive.’ The angel cried, ‘The hour of judgement is come’ (Revelation 14:7). Perhaps at the next sin you commit God may say, ‘Your hour is now come.’
Second, to be hardened under patience makes our condition far worse. Incensed justice will revenge abused patience. God was patient towards Sodom, but when they did not repent he made the fire and brimstone flame about their ears. Sodom, that was once the wonder of God’s patience, is now a standing monument of God’s severity. All the plants and fruits were destroyed, and, as Tertullian says, that place still smells of fire and brimstone. Long forbearance is no forgiveness. God may keep off the stroke awhile, but justice is not dead, but sleeps. God has leaden feet but iron hands. The longer God is taking his blow, the sorer it will be when it comes. The longer a stone is falling, the heavier it will be at last. The longer God is whetting his sword, the sharper it cuts. Sins against patience are of a deeper dye; they are worse than the sins of the devils. The lapsed angels never sinned against God’s patience. How dreadful will their condition be, who sin because God is patient. For every crumb of patience, God puts a drop of wrath into his vial. The longer God forbears a sinner, the more interest he is sure to pay in hell.
9 Mirth and music. ‘That chant to the sound of the viol, and drink wine in bowls’ (Amos 6:5, 6). Instead of the dirge, the anthem. Many sing away sorrow and drown their tears in wine. The sweet waters of pleasure destroy the bitter waters of mourning. How many go dancing to hell, like those fish which swim down pleasantly into the Dead Sea! Let us take heed of all these hindrances to holy tears. ‘Let our harp be turned into mourning and our organ into the voice of them that weep,’ (Job 30:31).
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