Distress in Sin

Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. They conceive mischief, and bring forth vanity, and their belly prepareth deceit. Behold, he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood.
~ James 1:15, Mark 7:20-23, Job 15:35, Psalm 7:14

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
~ Genesis 3:6

But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
~ Genesis 4:5-8

And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon. And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.
~ 2 Samuel 11:2, 2 Samuel 11:14-15

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

When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.
~ Proverbs 1:27

It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.
~ Psalm 119:71

Of the Fourth Speciall Distresse, Arising From a Man’s Owne Sinnes, by William Perkins. The following is from Chapter Eleven of his work, “The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience, Distinguished into Three Bookes”. 1592.

The Fourth Distresse of minde is that, which ariseth from a mans owne sinnes, or rather, from some one speciall sinne committed. And this kind of Tentation is twofold: For either it is more violent, and lesse common; or lesse violent and more common.

Sect. 1.

The violent Distresse of minde, shewes it selfe by feares and terrours of the Conscience, by doubtings of the mercie of God, by lamentable and fearefull complaints made to others.

Now Question is mooved, Howe this violent distresse of minde, arising from our owne sinnes, is to be cured? Answ. That it may be cured by the blessing of God, three things must be done.

First, that particular sinne must be known, which is the cause of this violent distresse. And here we are to know, by the way; that it is an usuall thing, with the parties thus distressed, to dissemble and cloake their sinnes: and therefore they will alleadge, that their trouble ariseth from some evill thoughts, from wicked affections, and from the corruption of nature: whereas commonly men are not distressed, in violent manner, for evill thoughts, affections, &c. but the violent distresse commeth from some actuall and odious sinne or sinnes done, which wound the conscience, and are the causes of great distraction of minde: and they are many, which having bin upon occasion before rehearsed, I will not now repeat them. Onely this must be remembred, that the greater sinns against the third, sixt, and seventh commandements, are the maine and proper causes of violent distresses: and the more secret the sinne is, in regard of the practise thereof, the greater horror of Conscience it bringeth; and open offences doe not given so deepe a wound unto it, as secret and hidden sinnes.

Secondly, the particular sinne being known, Inquirie must be made, as much as possibly may be, by signes, whether the partie distressed repenteth, yea or no. For except he hath repented, he cannot be fitted to receive comfort: & unlesse he be first fitted to receive comfort, he cannot be releeved in Conscience. Now if it be found, that the partie hath repented, then care must be had in the next place, that his repentance may be renued, for the particular sinne committed.

Thirdly, having thus done, the comfort must be ministred, for the moderating, or taking away of the distresse. And here remember by the way, that the comforts ministred, usually and ordinarily, must not goe alone, but be mingled and tempered, with some terrors of the Law: that beeing thereby feared, with the consideration of sinne, and of the wrath of God due unto the same, the comfort may appeare to be the sweeter. The ministring whereof, in case of this distresse, would not be direct and present, but by certaine steppes and degrees: except onely in the point of death: for then a directer course must be used. These degrees are two.

First, the partie is to be informed of a possibilitie of pardon, that is, that his sinnes are pardonable, and though in themselves they be great, and hainous, yet by the mercie of God in Christ, they may be remitted. Now put the case, that the afflicted apprehendeth onely the odiousnesse of his sinnes, and the wrath of God due to the same, and in this fitte puts off the pardon from himselfe, and cannot be perswaded that his sinne may be forgivenn, what then is to be done? Ans. Then for the effecting of this first degree, certaine Grounds are to be laid downe, whereupon assurance in that case may be built up in his heart.

The first Ground of possibilitie of pardon is, That the mercie of God is infinite, yea over all his works, Psal. 45. 9. That the death of Christ is of infinite price, merit, and value before God. That God is much in sparing, Isa. 55. 7. That with the Lord is mercie, and with him is plenteous redemption, Psal. 130. 7. That Christ’s satisfaction is not onely abprice, but accounterprice, 1. Tim. 2. 6. able to satisfie for the sinnes of all men, yea for them that have sinned against the holy Ghost. For that sinne, is not therefore unpardonable, because the offence thereof is greater, then the merit of Christ; but because the partie offending, neither doth, nor can applie the merit of Christ unto himselfe. An ancient father upon Cains wordes, My punishment is greater then I can beare, saith, Thou liest Cain, for God’s mercie isgreater then the sinnes of all men. The mercie of God was very great to Manasses, to Salomon, to Peter, and to many others, though they were great offenders.

The second Ground. Men of yeares, living in the Church of God, and knowing the doctrine of salvation, shall not be condemned simply for their sinnes, but for lying in their sinnes. upon this ground, I say, that men distressed must be grieved, not so much for committing of sinne, as for lying and continuing in sinnes committed.

A third Ground. It pleaseth God many times to leave men to themselves, and to suffer them to commit some sinne that woundeth conscience. It is true and cannot be denied. But we must withall remember, that sinnes committed, doe not utterly take away grace, but rather make it the more to shine and shew it selfe. For God in mercie turneth all things, even sinne it selfe, to the good of them that be his: and therefore sinne committed, cannot either waste, or extinguish grace received, but by divine dispensation, serveth to amplifie and inlarge the same; so as where sinne aboundeth, there grace aboundeth much more, Rom. 5. 20. And the Lord saide to Paul, beeing in great extremitie, 2. Cor. 12. 9. My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect through weakenes. Hence it appeareth, that the grace of God is not utterly lost, but appeareth lively in the time of distresse.

The fourth Ground is this. The promises of God touching remission of sinnes, and life eternall, in respect of beleevers are generall, and in regard of all and every man indefinite: that is, they doe not define, or exclude any person, or any sinner, or any time; onely they admit one exception, of finall impenitencie. Here a question may be mooved, How long he that ministreth comfort, must stand upon the possibilitie of pardon? I answer, untill he hath brought the partie distressed, to some measure of true repentance: and this beeing done, then he is to proceede to the second degree of comfort.

The Second degree of comfort is, to teach, that the sinne, or sinnes of the partie distressed, are indeede pardoned. But it may be asked, upon what signes may this comfort be applyed? I answer, upon these two. First, if the partie distressed confesse, that he or shee is heartily grieved, that by their sinne or sinnes, they have offended so loving and so mercifull a God. Secondly, if they professe, that they desire with all their heart, to be reconciled unto God in Christ: and at least doe desire to repent for their sinnes; and withall doe carrie in heart, a purpose to sinne no more, but in all things, (as much as in them lieth) to performe new obedience unto god, Luc. 15. 11. &c. Now for the better enforcing of this comfort, some textes of Scripture, fitting this purpose must be rehearsed, as for example, Matth. 9. 12, 13. I came not to call the righteous, that is to say, those that judge themselves righteous, but sinners, that is, those which are grieved, because in their owne conscience, they are vile and hainous offenders, to repentance. Againe, Matth, 11. 28. Come unto me all ye that are wearie, and heauie laden, and I will refresh you. And Christ saith, it was the end of his cōming to preach deliverance to the captiues, and to set at libertie them that are bruised. Luk. 4. 18.

To conclude this point, there remaines yet a further question to be resolved, and that is this. A man after repentance, for some greiuous sinne, falls into it againe, and is distressed more then before: It is a cause somewhat grievous. For we knowe, that if a man be recovered of an ague, and through distemper in diet, or otherwise, makes a relapse into it againe, his case is often desperate, and he hardly scapeth with his life. In the same manner it is a dangerous case, if after repentance, men make a relapse into the same sinne againe. It may then be asked, how such persons may be recovered after a relapse?

I answer, though we find not any one particular example in scripture, of any one person, that was restored againe after a relapse: yet neverthelesse there is some comfort for such persons. upon what grounds may some say? Ans. Men that have not so much as a drop of mercie, in comparison of God, must forgiven ther brethren often and many times, yea as our Saviour Christ saith to Peter, till seventy times seven times, if they returne and say it repents them. Now god is infinite in all his attributes. He is much in sparing: with him is plenteous redemption: and therefore he will questionlesse, upon true repentance, often forgiven and forget, even the same sinne iterated againe and againe.

Nowe these persons are to be relieved in this sort. First they must have their Consciences setled in this point, that their relapse is pardonable, though very dangerous. For proof hereof read Esay, 2. 18. Where mention is made of divers Apostataes, that were by God called to repentance, with promise…if they turned unto him. And in Luk. 15. the prodigall child, (by whome I understand one, that after grace received, fell from his repentance and obedience to God) when he did but purpose in his heart to returne again, was pardoned, and received into favour. In the 2. Cor. 5. 20. Paul saith to the Corinths, that were fallen away, We pray you in Christ’s steade that ye be reconciled unto God.

Secondly, beeing thus setled in conscience they must againe repent them of their sinnes.

Thirdly and lastly, they are to be comforted, with the promise of remission of sinnes, after that some signes of renewed repentance for sinnes past, have beene given.

Sect. 2.

The Second kinde of this Tentation or trouble of minde, which is more common & lesse violent, befalls the Children of God: and it is a griefe of heart, more or lesse, whereby men are troubled, in respect of the want of grace in their hearts, and defects of obedience in their lives. Paul the deere servant of God, was possessed with this trouble of minde, as we may read, Rom. 7. 23. And indeede there is no child of God, but more or lesse, one time or other, he feeles the stings of sinne, and the buffetings of Satan, which cause griefe in his heart. But this griefe is a notable grace of God, and therefore they which want it, must labour to have it, and they which have it, must not seeke to put it out, but to keepe it in measure and order.

And the Grounds of comfort, whereby the heart may be stayed in this sorrow, that it be not immoderate, may be these.

I. Ground. It is God’s will, that the worke of sanctification, or regeneration, should be imperfect in this life, and remaine unfinished til death. This point needs no proofe, it is manifest both in the word of God, and in daily experience. The reasons for which God will have it to be so, may be these.

First of all, God givens grace, according to the measure, and manner of our receiving of it, which in this life is imperfect. Some giftes of God in Christ, bestowed on his servants, as remission of sinnes by his death, and iustification by his obedience, are not put into us, but are only applied and made ours by imputation. Some other giftes there be, which are infused and put into us, as namely, sanctification, regeneration, the love of God and man: and by one of these two meanes, to wit, either by imputation or infusion, are all the giftes of God in Christ made ours. Yet before we can have them, we must receive thee: and the meanes whereby we receive them is faith, which God hath ordained, to be the hand of our soules, to receive his benefits bestowed on us. Which faith because it is weake and imperfect, in this life, therefore the gifts which we receive thereby, are also imperfect. For though God’s benifits be like a bottomlesse sea, yet the faith, wherby we lay hold of them, is like unto a vessell with a narrow necke, which though it be cast into the great Ocean, receives but a little water at once, and that by degrees, droppe by droppe, according to the widenesse of the mouth. And hence it is, that though the gifts of God without us, which are ours by imputation, be perfect; yet all such graces as are put into us, are weake and imperfect.

Secondly, if any servant of God, should be perfectly regenerate, and made absolutely holy in this life: then he should fulfil the morall lawe, and so become a Saviour to himselfe: and by the tenour of the law have life: and so should not Christ be a Saviour properly, but only an instrument, to dispose us, to the keeping of the law, whereby we might save our selves. But there is one only all sufficient Saviour, Christ Iesus: and the beginning, the middle, and the accomplishmēt of our salvation, is to be ascribed to him alone.

Thirdly, it is the wil God, that his owne children, with whome he is well pleased in Christ, should be brought to nothing in themselves that they might be all in all out of themselves in Christ: being, as it were, emptied of selfe-love, and of all confidence in their owne goodnesse. But if sanctification should be perfect at the first, then a man should not goe out of himselfe, but would rather stay as he is, and rest contented in his owne goodnesse. For this cause Paul, after his exaltation, was buffeted by Satans temptations, that he might not be exalted out of measure, 2 Cor. 12. 7. but should content himselfe with this, that he was in the love and favour of God in Christ.

II. Ground is; To consider, what makes a man professing Christ, accepted of God, and howe much he himselfe must doe, for this end? The substance of all things to be done of us for this ende, that we may become the children of God, may be reduced to three heads.

First of all, we must heartily bewaile our sinnefull lives past, and seriously humble our selves, in regard of our owne sinnes, both of heart and life; and if by occasion wee fall into any sinne, we must not lie therein, but by speedie repentance, recover our former estate.

Secondly, in regard of the sinnefulnesse of our hearts and lives, in times past, we must rest our selves on God’s mercie alone, •lying to the throne of mercie for the pardon of them all.

Thirdly, we must indeauour in the course of our lives afterward, to performe obediēce to God in all his commandements; that thereby we may shew our selves thankefull to him for his mercie, and profit in our obedience.

For proofe hereof, First, consider the examples of this practise in God’s children. All that Dauid that worthie servant of God could doe, after his sinnes committed, to bring himselfe againe into the favour of God, whome he had offended, consisted of these very heads, which have beene named; Repentance, Confidence, and Affiance in God’s mercie, and Performance of new obedience. And this his practise was verified, amongst many other places, specially in the 119. Psalme, & in all the Psalmes commonly called penitentiall. Againe, the Prophet Daniel was accepted of God onely for the doing of these things, Dan. 9. And in like manner was Paul, and the rest of the Apostles. Rom. 7. 1. Tim. 1. 12. Againe, for further proofe, let it be considered; what it is that makes a man to become a Christian, and servant of God: not this, that he is pure from all sinnes, and never slides or swar•es from obedience unto God; but because when he sinneth and falleth, he is grieved with himselfe, and laboureth every day, to mortifie his corruptions, which are the matter of sinne, in his heart, and life; and suffereth not sinne to reigne in his mortall bodie, but crucifieth the flesh, with the affections and lusts therof.

Yet here remaines a great difficultie. Many a good servant of God, may, and doth truly say of himselfe, I bewaile my sinnes, and doe in some sort rest on God’s mercie, and withall I endeauour to performe new obedience: but alas! here is my griefe, I cannot doe these things as I would. In matter of sorrow and griefe, I am troubled with hardnes of heart: in occasions of boldnes and confidence, with doubtings: 〈◊〉 endeauour to obey, with many slippes, and sundrie falls: For the staying & moderating of this griefe, these rules may further be remembre•….

The first Rule. If there be in the minde, a purpose not to sinne; in the will, a desire to please God; and in the whole man, •n endeauour to performe the purpose of the minde, and the desire of the will: marke what followes upon this: God in mercie accepteth the purpose and will to obey, for obedience it selfe. Yea though a man faile in the very act, and do not so well as he should, the Lord accepteth the affection and endeauour for the thing done. Excellent is the saying of an auncient Father, God accepteth thatwhich is his, and forgivens that which is thine: his is the grace whereby we are inabled to endeauour to obey in the want of obedience, and that he accepteth; ours i• the sinne and weakenes in performance of the dutie which he requireth, and that he doth in mercie forgiven. Herein appeareth the great goodnes of God unto us, and we can never be sufficiently thankfull for the same. But yet that we may not here delude our hearts with conceits, and bless• our selves in vaine: we must knowe, that God doth not alwaies accept the will for the deede, unlesse there be a constant purpose in heart, a true desire in will, and some resolved indeauour sutable in the life, Malac•. 3. •7. God spares them that feare him, •s a father spares his own child. How is that? though the sick or weake child beeing com•…ed some busines, goeth about it very unhandsomly, and so the deede be done to little 〈◊〉 no purpose: yet the father accepts it as well done, if he see the childe yoelde unto his commandement, and doe his indeauour, to the uttermost of his power. even so will God deale with those that be his children though sicke and weake in obedience.

Or how will some say, can God accept a worke of ours that is imperfect? Ans. So farre forth, as the obedience is done in truth, so farre forth God accepts it, because it is his owne worke in us: and as it is ours, he pardons it unto us, because we are in Christ.

A second Rule is laid downe, Rom. 7. 19. where Paul saith to this purpose, the good which I would doe, I doe not, and the evill which I would not, that do I. In these words, is set down the state of all regenerate men in this life: and the meaning is this. The good things which God hath commanded, I doe them, but not as I would, and the evill forbidden I avoid, but not as I would. This we shall see to be true by comparing the voices of three kindes of men together. The carnall man saith, I doe not that which is good, neither will I do it, and that which is evill I doe, and I will doe it. Contrariwise, the man glorified, he saith, That which is good I do, and will doe it, and that which is evill I doe not, neither will I doe it. The regenerate man, in a middle betweene them both, he saith; The good things commanded I do, but not as I would; the evill things forbidden I avoid, but not as I would.

And this is the estate of the child of God in this life, who in this regard, is like unto a diseased man, who loves his health, and therfore observes both diet and physick: and yet he often falls into his fit againe, (though he be never so carefull to observe the rules of the Physitian) by reason of the distemperature of his bodie: and hereupon is saine to goe to the Physitian the second time for new counsell. In like manner, God’s children, have indeede in their hearts, a care to please and obey God; but by reason of sinne that dwelleth in them, they faile often, and so are to humble themselves again before him, by new repentance. Againe, the servants of God are like to a man, by some suddaine accident cast into the sea, who in striving to save himselfe from drowning, puts to all his strength, to swim to the shore, and beeing come almost unto it, their meetes him a wave or billow, which drives him cleane backe againe, it may be a mile or further, and then the former hope and ioy conceiued of escape, is sore abated: yet he returnes againe, and still labours to come to the land, and never rests till he attaine unto it.

III. Ground. He that is indeede regenerate, hath this priviledge, that the corruption of nature, is no part of him, neither doth it belong to his person, in respect of divine imputation. Paul saith of himselfe, Rom. 7. 17. It is no more I, but sinne that dwelleth in me. In which words, he distinguisheth betweene his owne person, and sinne that is in him. For in man regenerate, there be three things, the bodie, the soule, and the gift of God’s image restored againe. Now touching the corruption of nature, that is in his person, and so may be said to be his; but it belongs not to the man regenerate, it is not his, because it is not imputed to him, and so indeed is, as though it were not in him. The Apostle 1 Thess. 5. 23. praies for the Thessalonians, that God would sanctifie them throughout, and preserve their whole spirit, soule, and bodie. Of which place (amongst many) this exposition may be givenn. The Apostle speaking of men regenerate, and sanctified, makes three parts in them: bodie, soule, and spirit: and by spirit, we are to understand, not the conscience, but the gift of regeneration, and sanctification, which is the whole man bodie and soule, opposed to the flesh, which in a naturall man, is called the olde man, Rom. 7. And the praier which Paul makes in the behalfe of the Thessalonians, teacheth us in effect thus much; that though corruption remaine in the regenerate, after regeneration; yet in respect of divine acceptation, he is accounted as righteous, and so continueth: his sinne, (by the mercie of God in Christ) not beeing imputed to him to condemnation. And so much for that point.

Now these Grounds of comfort, and others of the like nature, may serve to sustaine and uphold the hearts of the children of God, when they shall be pressed and troubled, in consideration of their estate in this life, which cannot till death, be fully freed, from much weakenes and manifold imperfections.