« AnteriorContinuar »
ters not to be so great and permanent, as their pleasure and satisfaction are in the things of the world.
Now to such as have made religion the great business of their lives, who have endeavoured to cure those distracted thoughts they complain of, and to inflame their souls with divine love, it may be offered, that the different degrees of affection with which men serve God, do very often depend upon the difference of their tem. pers and constitutions; since some are naturally so dull and heavy, as to be little affected with any thing ; whilst others are of such a tender make, as to be affected almost with every thing, so as to be soon exalted with joy, or depressed with sorrow: that sickness, losses, and all afflictious, and even religion itself, in its long and continual exercise of self-denial and thoughtfulness, do naturally produce such a tenderness of spirit, that the best of men have never been able at all times to keep their affections at an equal height: that the zeal and warmth with which some are affected, is not always an argument of their goodness: that a sensible pleasure in religious exercises, wherein the passions are affected, is not so acceptable to God as a reasonable service: that distraction of thought in the service of God is owing, for the most part, to bodily weakness; and therefore, if we do not give way to it, but do all we can to suppress those wandering thoughts, we may be assured we shall never be blamed for being subject to that which, by reason of the weakness of our nature, we cannot help: that the first motions of our mind, as it is impossible to hinder them, are reckoned by all divines not to be sinful, provided we do not encourage them.
2. Some are extremely dejected, because, upon strict examination of themselves, they find, as they think, all their religion to be owing to their fears; and fear being a slavish and sordid passion, they are apt to conclude, that all those services which are not the result of a more noble principle, will be rejected by God, since, as he is all love, and goodness, and perfection, he will not be pleased, they think, with any sacrifice, but what is offered by love.
And to this sad purpose, some have interpreted Rev.
xxi. 8. to belong to them, where the fearful are joined together with the most abominable, who shall bave their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.
To cure the depraved and unhappy notions of such as these, it may be argued; that it is plain from Scrip ture, that the first beginnings of, or movement towards, a holy life, are usually owing to the passion of fear: that to this, both our Saviour and his apostles do all along address themselves in their earnest entreaties of mankind to turn from the ways of sin to God." Fear him," saith our Saviour,“ who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell,” Matt. x. 28.; SO vi. 15.; Mark xvi. 16. And to this purpose the apostle says, “ Work out your salvation with fear and trembling," Phil. ii. 12.; and 2 Cor. v. 11. “ Knowing the terrors of the Lord,” saith he, “we persuade men.” And in most of the Scripture proofs, we shall find the chief argument of religion to be urged from a fear of punishment for the neglect thereof: so that to be dejected, and render our lives comfortless on this account, were the most unreasonable extravagance; since this were to suppose, that God hath implanted the passion of fear in us in vain; or, what is worse, only to vex and tor. ment us: and that our Saviour and his apostles, persuading us to be religious from the terrors of the Lord, had deceived and misled us.
And as for that text, Rev. xxi. 8.-" The fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which buraeth with fire and brimstone,” &c.; it is plain, that by the fearful in this place is meant, either such as refuse to embrace the Christian religion, or who, having em. braced it, are afraid to continue steadfastto the end, on account of the cross; and therefore cannot be supposed to have any reference to those who are “ working out their salvation with fear and trembling," according to the direction of the gospel. Not but that we are to intermix with this fear an entire love and affection to God, to the utmost of our powers.
3. Some very pious but unhappy persons, are griev
ously tormented with wicked and blasphemous thoughts, so as to fall under the greatest agonies of mind; and often to be so near distraction, as to choose death rather than life.
For the relief and comfort of these, the minister should suggest to them, that such horrid and frightful thoughts are either occasioned through melancholy prevailing over their spirits, and disordering the frame of their minds; or else from the malice of the devil, and the spirits of darkness, who do all they can to shake our faith, and to imbitter the Christian life.
If to the former we ascribe such horrid thoughts, they may be comforted upon assurance, that they will not be imputed to them as their sin, any more than a fever or any bodily distemper will, which they did not willingly procure, and which they have tried all means to remove.
If to the latter, they may be encouraged rather to rejoice; as nothing is a greater sign of their being high in the favour of God, than when they are under the most violent temptations of the devil. My brethren, count it all joy,” saith Saint James, “when ye fall into divers temptations:” (i. 2.) To that effect, they may be taught to consider, that the way to heaven is justly said to be by the gates of hell; that the “ same afflictions are accomplished in their brethren which are in the world," who in various kinds are tempted of the tempter ; 1 Pet. v. 9.: that Satan “ desired to have Saint Peter to sift him as wheat;” (Luke xxii. 31.) that our Saviour himself was tempted by him, and the best of men have always been most obnoxious to his malice; and that to live in carnal security, without any molestations from him, is the most dangerous state : that the being so much concerned and afflicted at such evil thoughts, is a certain argument of a good disposition, since the wicked and profane are rather pleased than tormented with them.
Arguments of this kind are the most proper to be offered to such unhappy persons : but in case their faith and hope be totally overcome by the devil, and they fall into direct despair, it will be necessary then to en
deavour the cure of so great an evil and temptation, by the addition of the following exercise,
An exercise against despair. Let the minister suggest to them, that God is 'not willing that any should perish, but desirous that all should come to his glory: that for this end we were created : that he is so far from being “ extreme to mark what is done amiss,” that he will not refuse the returning prodigal, nor reject the worst of criminals, upon their sincere repentance: that the thief upon the cross is a demonstrable proof of this, and a standing example to prevent the greatest sinner from despair: that if God is so merciful and condescending to the vilest transgressors, much rather may we hope to be pardoned for our weakness and infirmities; for, he “ knoweth whereof we are made, he remembereth that we are bat dust;” nay, he hath assured us, that he “ will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax:" that all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, except one, which is the sin against the Holy Ghost; “the sin unto death,” as Saint John calls it.
But that no man commits a sin against the Holy Ghost, if he be afraid he hath, or desires that he may not; for, such penitential passions are against the very nature and definition of that sin: that although forgiveness of sins is consigned to us in baptism, and baptism is but once; yet forgiveness of sins being the special grace of the gospel, it is secured to us for our life, and ebbs and flows according as we discompose or renew the performance of our baptismal vow: therefore it is certain, that no man ought to despair of pardon, but he who hath voluntarily renounced his baptism, or willingly estranged himself from that covenant; that if it were not so, then all preaching and prayers were in vain, and all the conditions of the gospel invalid, and there could be no such thing as repentance, nor indeed scarce a possibility of any one's being saved, if all were to be concluded in a state of damnation, who had committed sin after baptism.
To have any fears, therefore, on this account, were the most extravagant madness; for Christ“ died for
," and "God hath comprehended all under sin, that” through him " he might have mercy upon all," Rom. xi. 32. And it was concerning baptized Christians that Saint John said, “ If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, and he is the propiwation for our sins :" and concerning lapsed Christians, Saint Paul gave instruction, that“ if any man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such a man in the spirit of meekness, considering lest ye also be tempted.” The Corinthian Christian committed incest, and was pardoned; and Simon Magus, after he was baptized, offered to commit the sin we call simony, and yet Peter bade him pray for pardon: and Saint James tells us, that, " if the sick man send for the elders of the church, and they pray over him, and he confess his sins, they shall be forgiven him ;" v. 14.
That even in the case of very great sins, and great judgments inflicted upon sinners, wise and good men have declared their sense to be, that God vindicated his justice in that temporal punishment; and so it was supposed to have been done in the case of Ananias, &c. : that nothing can be more absurd than to think that so great and good a God, who is so desirous of saving all, as appears by his word, by his sending his Son, by his oaths and promises, by his very nature and daily overtures of mercy, should condemn any, without the greatest provocations of his majesty, and perseverance io them,
Upon the strength of these arguments, the despairing person may be farther taught to argue thus with himself :
I consider that the ground of my trouble is my sin ; and were it not for that, I should have no reason to be troubled : but since the “whole world lieth in wickedạess," and since there cannot be a greater demonstration of a man's abhorrence of sin, than to be so deeply affected with sorrow for it; I therefore will erect my head with a holy hope, and think that God will also be merciful to me a sinner, as he is to the rest of manķind. I know that the mercies of God are infinite ; that he sent his Son into the world on purpose to re