« PreviousContinue »
Answ. It is but very few in the world that have cause to fear excess of this kind of sorrow. The common case of men, is to be blockish, and worldly sorrow doth cast more into melancholy and distraction than godly sorrow; but for those few that are in danger of excess, I shall first tell you how to discern it, and then how to remedy it.
1. When your sorrow is greater than your brains can bear, without apparent danger of distraction, or a melancholy disturbance and diminution of your understanding, then it is certainly too much, and to be restrained. For if you overthrow your reason, you will be a reproach to religion, and you will be fit for nothing that is truly good, either to your own edification, or the service of God.
2. If you be in any grievous disease, which sorrow would increase to the hazard of your life, you have reason to restrain it: though you may not forbear repenting, or carefulness of your salvation, yet the passion of grief you must moderate and abate.
3. When sorrow is so great as to discompose your mind, or enfeeble your body, so as to unfit you for the service of God, and make you more unable to do good, or receive good, you have reason then to moderate and restrain it.
4. When the greatness of your sorrow doth overmatch the necessary measure of your love, or joy, or thanks, and keep out these, and takes up more of your spirit than its part, having no room for greater duties, then it is excessive and to be restrained. There are some that will strive and struggle with their hearts, to wring out a few tears, and increase their sorrow, that yet make little conscience of other affections, and will not strive half so much to increase their faith, and love, and joy.
5. When your sorrow by the greatness of it, doth draw you into temptation, either to despair, or think hardly of God and his service, or to undervalue his grace and the satisfaction of Christ, as if it were too scant, and insufficient for you, you have then cause to moderate and restrain it. 6. When your sorrow is unseasonable, and will needs thrust in at those times when you are called to thankfulness, and joy, you have then cause to moderate and restrain it at that season. Not that we should wholly lay by sorrow in any day of joy and thanksgiving, unless we could lay by all our sin in the duties of that day; nor should we wholly lay
by spiritual comfort and delight, in days of greatest humiliation. For as our state is here mixed of grace and sin, so must all our duties be mixed of joy and sorrow. It is only in heaven where we must have unmixed joys, and only in hell that there are unmixed sorrows; or at least, not in any state of grace. But yet for all that there are seasons now, when one of these must be more eminently exercised, and the other in a lower measure. As in times of calamity, and after a fall, we are called out so much to humiliation, that comfort should but moderate our sorrows, and the exercise of it be veiled for that time: so in times of special mercies from the Lord, we may be called out to exercise our thanks, and praise, and joy so eminently, that sorrow should but keep us humble, and be, as it were, serviceable to our joys. When grace and mercy are most eminent, then joy and praise should be predominant (which is through the most of a Christian's life, that walketh uprightly and carefully with God ;) and when sin and judgments are most eminent, sorrow must be then predominant, as being a necessary means to solid joy. And therefore, ordinarily, a sinner that is but in the work of conversion, and newly coming to God from a rebellious state, must entertain more sorrow, and let out himself more to groans and tears than afterwards when he is brought to reconciliation with God, and walketh in integrity. Quest. But when is it that my sorrow is too short, and I should labour to increase it?"
Answ. 1. When there is no apparent danger of the lastmentioned evils, that is, of destroying your bodies, distracting your brains, discomposing your minds, and drowning other graces and duties, and the rest; then you have little cause to be afraid of an excess.
2. When you have not smart enough to cause you to value the love of Christ, and highly prize his blood, and the effects of it, and hunger and thirst after him and his righteousness, and earnestly beg for the pardon of your sin; you have cause to desire then more sorrow. If you feel no great need of Christ, but pass by him as lightly as the full stomach by his food, as if you could do well enough without him you may be sure then you have need to be broken more. If you set not so much by the love of God that you would part with any thing in the world to enjoy it, and would think no terms too dear for heaven; you have need to lie under the
sense of your sin and misery a little longer, and to beseech the Lord to save you from that heart of stone. When you can hear of the love and sufferings of your Redeemer, without any warmth of love to him again, and can read or hear the promise of grace, and offers of Christ, and eternal life, without any considerable joy, or thankfulness, it is time for you then to beg of God a tender heart.
3. When you make many pauses in the work of your conversion, and are sometimes in a good mind and then again at a stand, as if you were yet unresolved whether to turn or no: when you stick at Christ's terms of denying yourselves, and crucifying the flesh, and forsaking all for the hopes of glory, and think these sayings somewhat hard, and are considering of the matter whether you should yield to them or not, or are secretly reserving somewhat to yourselves; this certainly shews that you are not yet sufficiently humbled, or else you would never stand trifling thus with God. He must yet set your sins in order before you, and hold you awhile over the fire of hell, and ring your consciences such a peal, as shall make you yield and resolve your doubts, and teach you not to dally with your Maker. If Pharaoh himself be off and on with God, and sometimes he will let Israel go, and then again he will not; God will follow him with plague after plague, till he make him yield, and glad to drive or hasten them away. And even where he deals in ways of grace, he maketh so much use of sorrows, as to make men yield the sooner to his terms, and glad to have mercy on such terms, if they were harder.
4. When you are heartless and dull under the ordinances of God, and Scripture hath little life or sweetness to you, and you are almost indifferent whether you call upon God in secret or no, and whether you go to the congregation, and hear the word, and join in God's praises and the communion of the saints, and you have no great relish in holy conference, or any ordinance, but do them almost merely for custom, or to please your consciences, and not for any great need you feel of them, or good you find by them; this shews for certain you want some more of the rod and spur; your hearts be not awakened and broken sufficiently, but God must take you in hand again.
5. When you can be mindless of God, and of the life to come, and forget both your sins and Saviour's blood, and
set out your thoughts almost continually upon worldly vanities or common things, as if you were overgrown the need of Christ; this shews that the stone is yet in your hearts, and that God must keep you to a harder diet to mend your appetites, and make you feel your sin and misery, till it call off your thoughts from things that less concern you, and teach you to mind your everlasting state. If you begin to forget yourselves and him, it is time for you to have a remembrancer.
6. When you begin to taste more sweetness in the creature, and be more tickled with applause and honour, and pleased more with a full estate, and more impatient with poverty, or wants, or wrongs from men, and crosses in the world; and when you are set upon a thriving course, and are eager to grow rich, and fall in love with money; when you drown yourselves in worldly cares and business, and are cumbered about many things, through your own choice; this shews indeed that you are dangerously unhumbled; and if God have mercy for you, he will bring you low, and make your riches gall and wormwood to you, and abate your appetite, and teach you to know that one thing is needful; and to be more eager after the food that perisheth not, and hereafter to choose the better part; Luke x. 41,42. John vi. 27.
7. When you can return to play with the occasions of sin, or look upon it with a reconcileable mind, as if you had yet some mind on it, and could almost find in your heart to be doing with it again; when you begin to have a mind of your old company and courses, or begin to draw as near it as you dare, and are gazing upon the bait, and tasting of the forbidden thing, and can scarce tell how to deny your fancies, your appetites, your senses, your desires; this shews that you want some wakening work: God must yet read you another lecture in the black book, and set you to spell those lines of blood which it seems you have forgotten; and kindle a little of that fire in your consciences, which else you would run into, till you feel and understand, whether it be good playing with sin, and the wrath of God, and the everlasting fire.
8. When you begin to be indifferent as to your communion with God, and think not much whether he accept you, and manifest his love to you or not, but can huddle up your prayers, and look no more after them, or what becomes of
them, and use ordinances, and seldom inquire of the success; when you can spare the spiritual consolations of the saints, and fetch little of your comforts from Christ or heaven; but from your friends, and health and prosperity, and accommodations; and perhaps can be as merry in carnal company, when you say and do as they, as if you were considering of the love of Christ, this shews that the threatenings went not deep enough. Sorrow hath yet another part to play: you must be taught better to know your home, and to take more pleasure in your Father, and your Husband, and your brethren, and your inheritance, than in strangers, or enemies to God and you.
9. When you begin to grow wanton with ordinances or other mercies, and instead of thankful receiving them, and feeding on them, you pick quarrels with them, and nothing will please you; either the minister is too weak, or he is too curious, or too formal; you must have it this way or that way; either you must have more of a form, or no form; in this gesture, or that order, and something or other is still amiss this shews that you want humbling, and that you are fitter for the rod, than for meat. If God do but open you a door into your hearts, and shew you the monsters and emptiness that are there, you will see, that the fault lay somewhere else than in the minister, or the ordinances if it were in them, it was more in you. The cause of your loathing, and quarrelling with the world, was the fulness of your own stomach; and God must give you a vomit or purge, that shall make your hearts ache before it hath done working, and then your appetites will be mended, and your wantonness will cease; and that will be sweet to you which before you slighted.
10. When you begin to be leavened with pride, and think highly of yourselves, and have good conceits of your own parts and performances, and would be noted, and taken for somebody among the godly, and you cannot endure to be overlooked or passed by: when you think meanly of other men's parts and duties in comparison of yours, and think yourselves as wise as your teachers, and begin to hear them as judges with a magisterial spirit, and think you could do as well as this yourselves; when you are finding fault with that which should nourish you, and in every sermon you are most noting the defects, and think that this you could have