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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, attends 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
Christ,) 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 in
ward witness 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, heartwounding 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. And
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 firstfruits 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 serpent 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,
without 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 shåll 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