Distress of Mind

Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
~ 1 Corinthians 8:7

Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.
~ Titus 1:15

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
~ Hebrews 11:6

And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.
~ Genesis 35:3

In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God: and he did hear my voice out of his temple, and my cry did enter into his ears.
~ 2 Samuel 22:7

Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith:
~ 1 Thessalonians 3:7

Touching the Distress of Mind; and Generally of All Distresses, and Their Remedies, by William Perkins. The following contains an excerpt from Sections One through Four of Chapter Seven of his work, “The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience, Distinguished into Three Bookes: The first whereof is revised and corrected in sundrie places, and the other two annexed. Taught and delivered by William Perkins in his Holy-day Lectures, carefully examined by his owne briefes, and now published together for the common good, by T. Pickering Batchelour of Diuinitie.” 1592.

Rom. 14. 23.
Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin.

Of the third main Question, touching distress of mind; and generally of all distresses, and their remedies.

III. Question.
How a man being in distress of minde, may be comforted and relieved?

Answ. Omitting all circumstances (considering that much might be spoken touching this Question) I will only set downe that which I take to be most material to the doubt in hand.

Sect. 1.

Distresse of minde (which Salomon calls a broken or troubled spirit) is, when a man is disquieted and distempered in conscience, and consequently in his affections, touching his estate before God. This distresse hath two degrees, the lesse, and the greater. The lesse is a single Feare, or griefe, when a man standeth in suspense and doubt of his owne salvation, and in feare that he shall be condemned. The greater distresse is, Despaire, when a man is without all hope of salvation, in his own sense and apprehension. I call Despaire a greater distresse, because it is not a distinct kinde of trouble of minde, (as some do thinke) but the highest degree, in every kinde of distresse. For every distresse in the minde, is a feare of condemnation, and comes at length to desperation, if it be not cured.

All distresse of minde, ariseth from temptation, either begun or continued. For these two do so necessarily follow, and so inseparably accompany each the other, that no distresse, of what kinde soever, can be severed from temptation. And therefore according to the divers sorts of temptations, that do befall men, must the distresses of the minde be distinguished.
Now Temptations be of two sorts; either of trial, or seducement. Temptations of trial, are such as do befall men, for the trial and proofe of the grace of God which is in them. The Temptations of trial are two-fold: the first, is a combate of the conscience directly and immediately with the wrath of God; which being the most grievous temptation that can be, it causeth the greatest and deepest distresse of conscience. The second is, the Trial of the Crosse, that is, of outward affliction, whereby God maketh proofe of the faith of his children; and not only that, but of their hope, patience, and affiance in his mercy for their deliverance.

Temptations of seducement be such, as wherein men are enticed, to fall from God and Christ, to any kinde of evil. And these are of three kinds. The first is immediately from the Devil; and it is called the temptation of Blasphemies, or the Blasphemous temptation. The second is, from a mans owne sins, original and actual; and this also hath sundry branches, as we shall see afterward. The third proceeds from Imagination corrupted and depraved. Now answerable to these several kinds of Temptations, are the several kinds of Distresses. And as all temptations may be reduced to those five, which have beene before named, so may all distresses be reduced to five heads arising of the former temptations.

Sect. 2.

Before I come to handle them in particular, we are to consider in the first place, what is the best and most sure General Remedy, which may serve for all these, or any other kinde of temptation, that is incident to man: and by this, the curing of any particular distresse, will be more easy and plaine.

This general Remedy, is the Applying of the promise of life everlasting, in and by the blood of Christ. For no physicy, no art or skill of man, can cure a wounded and distressed conscience, but only the blood of Christ. And that this is the sovereign remedy of all other, no man doubteth. The maine difficulty is, touching the manner of proceeding, in the application of the promise. Herein therefore, three things must be performed.

First of all, the party must disclose the cause of his particular distresse, that the remedy may the better be applied. For the truth is, that the very opening of the cause is a great case to the minde, before any remedy be applied. Yet by the way, this care must be had, that the thing to be revealed, be not hurtful to the party, to whom it is made knowne. For the distresse may haply arise of some confederacy in matters of Treason, by the concealing whereof, the party to whom they are revealed, may entangle himselfe in the same danger.

Secondly, if the cause may be knowne, (for sometime it is hid from the party distressed) then trial must be made, whether the said party, be fit for comfort yea or no? For if he be found to be unfit, the word of God shall be misapplied, and consequently abused. His fitnesse for comfort, may be found out, by searching whether he be humbled for his sins, or not: for men may be in great distresse, and yet not touched at all for their sins. This humiliation stands in sorrow for sin, with confession of the same unto God, and in earnest prayer for the pardon thereof, with an hearty desire of amendment of life. But if on the other side, the party be unhumbled, then the first and principal care must be, to worke in him some beginning of humiliation. This may be done in a friendly, and Christian talke and conference, whereby he must first be brought to see, and well to consider his owne sins: secondly, to grieve, and to be sorry for them, at the least, for some of the principal.

And touching this Sorrow, two things must be remembered: first, that the nature of worldly sorrow must be altered, by being turned, and changed into sorrow according to God. If a man be in some danger of his life, by bleeding at the nose, experience teacheth, the counsel of the physician is, to open a veine, and let the party blood in the arme, that the course thereof may be turned an other way: The like order is to be taken with men, that are troubled with worldly sorrow in their distresse: and that is, to turn the course of their griefe, by causing them to grieve, not for worldly respects, or only in consideration of the punishment due unto them for their sins, but principally for the very offence of God, in, and by their sins committed.

This done, a second care must he had, that this sorrow for sin be not confused, but a distinct sorrow. The man that is in sorrow must not be grieved only, because he is as other men are, a sinner; but more especially for this, and that particular sin, by which it comes to passe, that he is such, or such a sinner; that so his sorrow in respect of sin, may be distinct, brought as it were to some particular head. And men in this case must deale with the party distressed, as Surgeons are woont to do with a tumor, or swelling in the body, whose manner is, first to apply drawing and ripening plaisters to the place affected, to bring the sore to an head, that the corruption may issue out at some one place: and then afterward healing plaisters, which are of great use to cure the same: Even so confused griefe, must be reduced to some particulars: and then, and not before, is a man fit for comfort, when his conscience is touched in special, in regard of some one or more distinct and several offences. And he that is grieved for one sin truly and unfainedly, from his heart; shall proportionally be grieved for all the sins, that he knoweth to be in himselfe.

The third thing required in applying this remedy is, the ministring and conveying of comfort to the mind of him, that hath confessed his sins, is truly humbled for them: and it is a point of the greatest moment of all. Where if the Question be, how this comfort should be ministred? The answer is, it may be done, by bringing the party troubled, within the compasse of the promise of life. And there be two ways of doing this: the one false, and the other true.

Sect. 3.

Some thinke, that men may be brought within the Covenant, by the doctrine of Universal grace and redemption. But this way of persuading a man that he hath title in the Covenant of grace, is both false, and unfit. False it is, because all the promises of the Gospel, are limited with the condition of Faith and Repentance, not being universal to all, but made only to such persons as repent and believe: therefore they are indefinite in regard of whole mankind, and to believers only they are universal.

It is objected, that God would have all men to be saved.

Ans. The Apostle is the best expounder of himselfe, and he saith in Acts to the same effect, The time of ignorance God regarded not, but now he admonisheth all men every where to repent. In which words, Paul adds this circumstance of time (now), to limit this good will of God, to the last age of the world, after the comming of Christ in the flesh, and not to in large the same to all the posterity of Adam. And so must he be understood in the place to Timothy, God would have all men to be saved, that is, now in this last age of the world. And thus the same Apostle, 2. Cor. 6. 2. expounds a certaine prophecy of Isay, concerning the acceptable time of grace. Now, saith he, is the acceptable time: behold, (Now) is the day of salvation: Meaning the time of the new Testament. And. Col. 1. 16. The mystery hid from the beginning, is now made manifest to the Saints. And Rom. 16. 26. The revelation of the secret mystery is now opened. All which, and many other places about the same matter, having this circumstance of time (Now,) must needs be limited to this last age of the world. As for the note of universality, All, it must not be understood of all particulars, but of all kinds, sorts, conditions, and states of men, as may be gathered out of the former words: I would that prayers be made for all men, not for every particular man: (for there be some that sin unto death, for whom we may not pray,) but for all states of men, as well Princes as subjects, poore as rich, base as noble, learned as unlearned, c.

But the saying of Paul is urged, 2. Corin. 5. 18. God was in Christ, reconciling the World unto himselfe: therefore the promise in Christ belongs to the whole World, and consequently to every one. Answer The same Apostle shall againe answer for himselfe, Rom. 11. 15. The casting away of the Jews, is the reconciling of the world, that is, of the Gentiles in the last age of the world: for so he said before more plainly, The falling away of the Jews is the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them, the riches of the Gentiles. And so must that place to the Corinths be understood, namely, not of all and every man, that lived in all ages and times; but of them that were (by the dispensation of the Gospel) to be called out of all kingdoms, and nations, after the death and ascension of Christ.

Thus then the promise of salvation is not universal, without exception, or restraint: and therefore application made by the universality of the promise, admits some falsehood.
Secondly, this way of applying is also Unfit. For the reason must be framed thus: Christ died for all men: but thou art a man: therefore Christ died for thee. The party distressed will grant all, and say, Christ indeede died for him, if he would have received Christ; but he by his sins
hath cut himselfe off from his owne Saviour, and hath forsaken him, so as the benefit of his death will do him no good.

Sect. 4.

The right way of ministring Comfort to a party distressed followeth. In the handling whereof, first, I will lay downe the Grounds, whereby any man that belongs to God, may be brought within the Covenant. And then, I will show the Right Way, how they must be used, and applied.
For the first, Recourse must not be had to all graces, or to all degrees and measure of grace; but only such, as a troubled Conscience may feele and reach unto. For those that be the true children of God, and have excellent measure of grace, when they are in distresse, feele little or no grace at all in themselves. The graces then, that serve for this purpose, are three: Faith, Repentance, and the true Love of God, which is the fruit of them both. And that we may the more easily and truly discerne of them, and not to be deceived, inquiry must be made, what he the seeds and beginnings of them all.

The first Ground of grace is this: A desire to repent, and believe, in a touched heart and conscience, is faith and repentance it selfe; though not in nature, yet in Gods acceptation. I prove it thus. It is a principle granted and confessed of all men; that in them which have grace, God accepteth the will for the deede. If there be a willing minde (saith the Apostle) it is accepted, not according to that a man hath not, but according to that he hath.

Againe, God hath annexed a promise of blessednesse, and life everlasting to the true and unfained desire of grace. Whence it is, that they are in Scripture pronounced blessed, which hunger and thirst after righteousnesse. And who are they but such as feele themselves to want all righteousnesse, and do truly and earnestly desire it in their hearts. For hunger and thirst argues both a want of some thing, and a feeling of the want. And to this purpose the holy Ghost saith, To him that is athirst will I give to drinke the water of life freely. Now this thirsty soule, is that man which feeles himselfe destitute of all grace and Gods favour in Christ, and withall doth thirst after the blood of Christ, and desires to be made partaker thereof. God is woont mercifully to accept of the desire of any good thing, when a man is in necessity, and stands in want thereof. The Lord (sayes David) hears the desire of the poore, that is, of them that are in distresse, either of body or minde, yea, he will fulfill the desire of them that feare him.

It will be said, that the desire of good things is natural: and therefore God will not regard mens desires.

I answer, Desires be of two sorts; Some be of such things, as men by the mere light of nature know to be good: for example, the desire of wisdom, of civil virtue, of honour, of happinesse, and such like: and all these nature can desire. Others be above nature, as the desire of remission of sins, reconciliation, and sanctification: and they which seriously desire these, have a promise of blessednesse and life everlasting. And hence it follows, that desire of mercy, in the want of mercy, is mercy it selfe, and desire of grace, in the want of grace, is grace it selfe.

A second Ground is this, A godly sorrow whereby a man is grieved for his sins, because they are sins, is the beginning of repentance, and indeed for substance is repentance it selfe. The Apostle Paul rejoiced that he had in the worke of his Ministery, wrought this godly sorrow in the hearts of the Corinthians, calling it sorrow that causeth repentance not to be repented of. This sorrow may be discerned in this sort: The heart of him in whom it is, is so affected, that though there were no conscience, nor devil to accuse, no hell for condemnation, yet it would be grieved in it selfe, because God by sin is displeased and offended.

If it be alleadged, that every one cannot reach to this beginning of repentance, thus to sorrow for his sin: then I add further: If the party be grieved for the hardnesse of his heart, whereby it comes to passe, that he cannot grieve, he hath undoubtedly received some portion of godly sorrow. For it is not nature, that makes us to grieve for hardnesse of heart, but grace.

The third ground is, that A setled purpose, and willing minde to forsake all sin, and to turne unto God, (though as yet no outward conversion appeare,) is a good beginning of true conversion, and repentance. I thought (saith David) I will confesse against my selfe my wickednesse unto the Lord, and thou for gavest the punishment of my sin. And to this is added (Selah,) which is not only a musical note, but, as some thinke, a note of observation, to move us to marke the things that are set downe, as being of special weight and moment. And surely this is a matter of great consequent, that upon the very unfained purpose of confession of sin, God should give a pardon thereof. Take a further proofe of this in the prodigal son, whome I take not for one that was never called, or turned to God, (though some do so; and seeme to have warrant for their opinion:) but rather for him that is the Child of God, and afterward falls away. Now this man being brought by some outward crosses and afflictions, to see his owne misery, purposeth with himselfe to returne to his father againe, and to humble himselfe, and confesse his iniquity: and upon this very purpose, when he had said, I will go to my father, and say unto him, Father, I have sinned, c. at his returne afar off, his father receives him as his childe againe, and after acceptation follows his confession. The like is to be seene in David, who being reproved by the Prophet Nathan, for his sins of adultery and murder, presently made confession of them, and at the very same time, received by the Prophet sentence of absolution, even from the Lord himselfe, wherein he could not err.

The fourth Ground, To love any man because he is a Christian, and a childe of God, is a sensible and certaine note of a man that is partaker of the true love of God in Christ. Hereby (saith S. John) we know that we are translated from death to life, because we love the brethren, 1. Joh. 3. 14. Love here is not a cause, but only a signe of Gods love to us. And our Saviour Christ saith, Matth. 10. 41. He that receiveth a Prophet in the name of a Prophet, shall receive a Prophets reward.

Now that we be not deceived in these grounds; it must be remembered, that these beginnings of grace (be they never so weake) must not be flittering and fleeting, but constant and setled, not stayed or stopped in the way, but such as daily grow and increase: and then they are indeed accepted of God. And he that can finde these beginnings, or any of them truly in himselfe, he may assure himselfe thereby, that he is the childe of God.