But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. ~ Matthew 9:12-13
O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help. And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.
~ Hosea 13:9, Mark 10:27
And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. ~ John 5:40
The Sound Believer, a Treatise of Evangelical Conversion: Compunction for Sin, by Thomas Shepard. An Excerpt.
For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.
~ Matthew 18:11
The second Act of Christ’s Power, in working Compunction, or Sense of Sin.
Compunction, pricking at the heart, or sense and feeling of sin, is different from conviction of sin: the latter is the work of the understanding, and seated in that principally; the other is in the affections and will, and seated therein principally: a man may have sight of sin without sorrow and sense of it. (Dan. v. 22, with 20, 21. James i. 24. Rom. ii. 20, 21). Yet that conviction which the Spirit works in the elect is ever accompanied with compunction, first or last. For the better unfolding this point, let me open these four things to you:–
1. That compunction or sense of sin immediately follows conviction of sin in the day of Christ’s power.
2. The necessity of this work to succeed the other.
3. Wherein it consists.
4. The measure of it in all the elect.
That compunction follows conviction is evident from Scripture and reason. (Acts Ii. 37). When they heard this, that is, when they saw and were convinced of their sin in crucifying the Lord of life, which they did not imagine to be a sin before, what follows next? It is said, “They were pricked at the heart.” Lo, here is compunction. Ephraim, also, in turning unto God, (Jer. xxxi. 19), hath these words: “After that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh,” (as men in great calamity befallen them use to do). “I was ashamed, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth.” The men of Nineveh hearing by the prophet they were all to die within forty days, it is said “they believed God,” (in the work of conviction), and then they fell to sackcloth and ashes, (in the work of compunction), which did immediately follow. Josiah, (2 Chron. xxxiv. 27), in his renewed return unto God, after he heard the words of the law, “his heart melted, and he wept before the Lord.” For what is the end of conviction? Is it not compunction? for if the Lord should let a man see his sin, and death for sin, and yet suffer the heart to remain hard and unaffected, the Lord did but leave him without excuse; nay, the Lord should but leave him under great misery, and under a more fearful judgment, viz., for a man to see and know his sin, and yet unaffected with it, and hardened under it: hardness of heart is one of the greatest judgments; to see sin, and not to be affected with it, argues greater hardness. For it is no wonder if they that see not and know not sin remain senseless of sin; alas! they know not what they do; but for a man to be enlightened, and see his sin, and yet unaffected, Lord, how great is this hardness, and how un-excusable will such a man be left before God, when the Lord shall reckon with him for his hardness of heart! What is the end of that light the Lord lets into the understanding in other things? Is it not that there by the heart might be affected throughly with it? Why doth the Lord let in the light of the knowledge of Christ and of his will? Is it that this knowledge should, like froth, float in the understanding, and be imprisoned there? No, verily, but that the heart might be throughly and deeply affected therewith. And do you think the Lord will, in the light of conviction, imprison it up in the mind? Is there not a further end that by this light the heart might be deeply affected with sin? If any say that the end of conviction is to drive the soul to Christ, I grant that is the remote and last end of it; but the next end is compunction. For if the understanding be convinced of misery, and the heart remain hard, the mind may see indeed that righteousness and life only are to be had in Christ; yet the heart remaining hard, the will and affections will never stir toward Christ; it is impossible a hard heart, remaining such, wholly unaffected with sin or misery, should be truly affected with Jesus Christ; but of this more hereafter.
What necessity is there of this compunction, to succeed conviction? I speak now of necessity in way of ordinary dispensation, not of God’s usual and extraordinary way of working, where he useth neither law nor gospel (as ordinarily he doth) to work by. Many have been nibbling lately at this doctrine, and demanded, What need is there of sorrow and compunction of heart? A man may be converted only by the gospel, and God may let in sweetness and joy without any sense of sin or misery, and in my experience I have found it so; others, godly and gracious, also feel it so; why, therefore, do any press such a necessity of coming in by this back door unto Christ? This point I conceive is very weighty, and much danger in denying the truth of it; yet, withal, there needs much tenderness in handling of it, lest any stumble; and therefore, before I lay down the reasons to show the necessity of it, give me leave to propound these rules both for the clearing of the point, and answering sundry objections usually about this point:–
In this work of compunction, do not think that the Lord hath not wrought any true sense of sin, because you find it not in such a measure as you imagine you should desire to have, and that others feel; sense of sin admits degrees. I doubt not but Joseph’s brethren were humbled; yet Joseph must be more; he must be cast into the ditch, and into the prison, and the iron must enter not only into his legs, but into his soul. (Ps. cv. 18). He must be more afflicted in spirit, because he was to do greater work for God, and was to be raised up higher than the rest, and therefore did need the more ballast: some are educated more civilly than others, and thereby have contracted less guilt and stoutness of heart against God and his ways; therefore these have not such cause of trouble; and being less rugged, have less need of axes to hew them: some men’s sorrow breaks in upon them more suddenly, like storms and breaches of the sea, and the Lord is resolved to hasten and finish his work in them more speedily, and it may be more exemplarily, (for every Christian is not a fair copy), as in those. Acts ii. 37. In others their sorrows soak in by degrees; Gutta cavat lapidem; the Lord empties them by continual droppings, and hence feel not that measure of sorrow that others do: every Christian is not a Heman, (Ps. lxxxviii.), who suffers “distracting fears and terrors from his youth up,” (ver. 15), who is “afflicted with all God’s ways,” (ver. 7), for he was a man of exceeding high parts and gifts, as you may see, 1 Kings iv. 31; and therefore the Lord had need of hanging some special plummets on his heart to keep it ever low, lest it should be lifted up above measure. Some sense of sin the Lord will work in all he saves, but not the same measure; the Lord gives not always unto his that which is good in itself, (it is good, I confess, to be deeply affected and humbled,) but that which is fit, and therefore best for thee.
Do not think there is no compunction or sense of sin wrought in the soul because you can not so clearly discern and feel it, nor the time of the working and first beginning of it. I have known many that have come with complaints–they were never humbled, they never felt it so, nor yet could tell the time when it was so; yet there hath been, and many times they have seen it, by the help of others’ spectacles, and blessed God for it. When they in Isaiah lxiii. 17, complained, Lord, why hast thou hardened our hearts from thy fear”? do you think there was no softness nor sensibleness indeed? Yes, verily, but they felt nothing but a hard heart; nay, such hardness as if the Lord had plagued them with it by his own immediate hand, and not born and bred with them only, as with other men. Many a soul may think the Lord hath left it, nay, smitten it with a hard heart, and so make his moan of it; yet the Lord hath wrought real softness, under self-hardness, as many times in reprobates there is felt softness when within there is real hardness. The stony ground hearers were ploughed and broken on the top, but were stony at the bottom. Some men may be wounded outwardly and mortally; this may easily be discerned. The Lord may wound others, and they may bleed out; their sorrow is more inwardly and secret, and therefore can not point with their finger to the wound as others can.
Do not think the Lord works compunction in all the elect in the same circumstantial work of the Spirit, but only in the same substantial work; the Lord works a true sense of sin for substance and truth of it, yet there are many circumstantial works, like so many enlargements and comments upon one and the same text. Ex. gratia, the same sin that affects Paul, it may be, doth not affect Lydia or Apollos. The same notions for the aggravation of sin in one do not come into the mind of the other; the same complaints, and prayers, and turnings of spirit in the one, may not be in the same circumstances, and with the like effects, as in the other, and yet both of them feel sin, and therefore complain; they both feel sin, yet by means of various apprehensions and aggravations. This I speak, because you may the better understand the meaning of God’s servants in opening the work of humiliation. You may hear them say, The soul doth this, and thinks that, and speaks another thing; it may be every one does not so think in the same individual circumstances, and therefore is to be understood as producing only exemplum in re simili: something like this, or for the substance of this, is here wrought.
In this work of compunction we must not bring rules unto men, but men to rules; crook not God’s rules to the experience of men, (which is fallible, and many times corrupt,) but bring men unto the rule, and try men’s estates herein by that; for many will say some men are not humbled at all, never had any precedent sorrow for sin, God’s mercy only hath melted their hearts; and experience proves this, and many find this, who are sincere and gracious Christians.
I answer, We are not in this or any other point to be guided by the experience of men only, but attend the rule; if it be proved that according unto the rule men must be broken and affected with their sin and misery before mercy can be truly apprehended or Christ accepted. What tell you me of such or such men? Let the rule stand, but let men stand or fall according to the rule; many are accounted gracious and godly for a time, much affected with mercy and Christ Jesus; yet afterward fall or wizen into nothing, and prove very unsound.
What is the reason?
Truly the cause was here: their first wound and sorrow for sin was not right, as hereafter shall be made good; many thousands are miserably deceived about their estates by this one thing, of crooking and wresting God’s rules to Christians’ experience. Let all God’s servants tremble and be wary here; rack not the Holy Scriptures, nor force them to speak as thou feelest, but try all things by them. (1 Thess. v. 21).
Do not make the examples of converted persons in Scripture patterns in all things of persons unconverted; do not make God’s work upon the one run parallel with God’s work upon the other.
Some say that many in Scripture are converted to Christ without any sorrow for sin, and produce the examples of Lydia, whose heart God sweetly opened to receive Christ; and the eunuch, (Acts viii.), converted in the same manner.
I answer. These are examples of persons converted to God before, who did believe in the Messiah, but did not know that this Jesus was the Messiah, which they soon did when the Lord sent the means to reveal Christ; and therefore Lydia, a Jewish proselyte, is called a worshiper of God, (Acts xvi. 14), and so was the eunuch, (Acts viii. 27); and in the same condition was the centurion, (Acts x. 2), who feared God, and whose prayers were accepted, (ver. 4), (which can not be without faith) yet did not know that this Jesus crucified was the Messiah, until Peter came unto him. So that, suppose here was no sense or sorrow for sin, at this time; doth it therefore follow they never had any when the Lord at first wrought upon them? are these examples in persons converted fit to show forth God’s work in persons unconverted? In some things, indeed, they are examples, in others not so; their examples of believing in Christ are not in that act examples of sorrow for want of Christ. And yet let me add, to say that God opened Lydia’s heart to believe in Christ, and yet opened not her heart to lament her sin and misery in her estate without Christ, (suppose she were without Christ), is more than can be proved from the text; for it is said her heart was opened to attend unto the things that were spoken by Paul; and can any think that Paul, or an apostle, ever preached Christ without preaching the need men had of him? and could any preach their need of Christ without preaching men’s undone and sinful estate without Christ? and do you think that Lydia was not made to attend unto this? do you think that when Philip came to open the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah to the eunuch, that “Christ was bruised for our iniquities”; that he did not let him understand the infinite evil of sin and misery of all sinners, and of him in special, unless the Lord Jesus was bruised for him?
In examples recorded in the Scripture of God’s converting grace, do not think they had no sorrow for sin, because it is not distinctly and expressly set down in all places; for the Scripture usually sets down matters very briefly; it oftentimes supposeth many things, and refers us to judge of some by other places; as (Acts vi. 7) it is said, “many of the priests were obedient to the faith:” doth it therefore follow that they did immediately believe, without any sense of sin? Look to a fuller example, (Acts ii.), and then we may see, as the one were converted to the faith, so were the other, having a hand in the same sin. (1 Tim. i. 13, 14), Paul, he was a “persecutor, but the Lord received him to mercy;” and that “God’s grace was abundant in faith and love,” doth it hence follow that Paul had no castings down, because not mentioned here? If we look upon Acts ix., we shall see it otherwise.
Do not judge of general and common workings of the Spirit upon the souls of any to be the beginnings of effectual and special conversion; for a man may have some inward and yet common knowledge of the gospel, and Christ in it, before there be any sorrow for sin; yet it doth not hence follow that the Lord begins not with compunction and sorrow, because common work is not special and effectual work; when the Spirit thus comes, he first begins here, as we shall prove.
The terrors, and fears, and sense of sin and death be in themselves afflictions of soul, and of themselves drive from Christ; yet in the hand of Christ, by the power of the Spirit, they are made to lead, or rather drive unto Christ, which is able to turn mourning into joy, as well as after mourning to give joy; and therefore it is a vain thing to think there is no need of such sorrows which drive from Christ, and that Christ can work well enough therefore without them; when as by the mighty power and riches of mercy in Christ, the Lord by wounding, nay, killing his of all their carnal security and self-confidence, saves all his alive, and drives them to seek for life in the Son.
These things thus premised, let us now hear of the necessity of this work to succeed conviction.
Else a sinner will never part with his sin; a bare conviction of sin doth but light the candle to see sin; compunction burns his fingers, and that only makes him dread the fire. “Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double-minded” men, saith the apostle James, (chap. iv. 8). But how should this be done? He answers, (ver. 9), “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep; turn your laughter into mourning.” So Joel ii. 12. The prophet calls upon his hearers to turn from their sin unto the Lord; but how? “Rend your hearts, and not your garments.” Not that they were able to do this, but by what sorrow he requires of all in general; he thereby effectually works in the hearts of all the elect in particular; for every man naturally takes pleasure, nay, all his delight and pleasure is in nothing else but sin; for God he hath none, but that. Now, so long as he takes pleasure in sin, and finds contentment by sin, he can not but cleave inseparably to it. O, it is sweet, and it only is sweet; for so long as the soul is dead in sin, “pleasure in sin is death in sin.” (1 Tim. v. 6). So long as it is dead in sin, it is impossible it should part with sin; no more than a dead man can break the bonds of death. And therefore it undeniably follows, that the Lord must first put gall and wormwood to these dugs, before the soul will cease sucking, or be weaned from them; the Lord must first make sin bitter, before it will part with it; load it with sin, before it will sit down and desire ease. And look, as the pleasure in sin is exceeding sweet to a sinner, so the sorrow for it must be exceeding bitter, before the soul will part from it.
It is true, I confess, a man sometime may part with sin without sorrow; the unclean spirit may go out for a time, before he is taken, bound, and slain by the power of Christ. But such a kind of parting is but the washing of the cup; it is unsafe and unsound, and the end of such a Christian will be miserable: for a man to hear of his sin, and then to say, I will do no more so, without any sense or sorrow for it, would not have been approved by Paul, if he had seen no more in the careless Corinthians, in tolerating the incestuous person; but their sorrow wrought this repentance. No, the Lord abhors such whorish wiping the lips; and therefore the same apostle, when he reproves them for not separating the sinner, and so the sin from them, he sums it up in one word: “You have not mourned, that such a one might be taken from you”; because then sin is severed truly from the soul, when sorrow or shame, some sense and feeling of the evil of it, begins it. Not only sin is opposite to God, but when the Lord Jesus first comes near his elect in their sinful estate, they are then enemies themselves by sin unto God. And hence it is they will never part with their weapons, until themselves be throughly wounded; and therefore the Lord must wound their consciences, minds, and hearts, before they will cast them by. Now, if there be no parting with, no separation from sin, but sin is as strong, and the sinner as vile, as ever before, hath Christ (who now comes to save his elect from sin) the end of his work? What is the man the better for conviction, affection to Christ, name what you can, that remains still in his sins? When the apostle would sum up all the misery of men, he doth it in those words, “Ye are yet in your sin.” So I say, thou art convicted, but art yet in thy sin; art affected with Christ, and takest hold of Christ, but art yet in thy sin: “He that confesseth and forsaketh his sin shall find mercy.”
You will say. May not the sweetness of Christ in the gospel, and sense of mercy, separate from sin, without any compunction?
1. Sense of mercy and Christ’s sweetness (I conceive) serve principally to draw the soul unto Christ. (Jer. xxxi. 3), “With loving kindness have I drawn thee.” But compunction or sense of sin principally serves, in the hand of Christ, to turn the soul from sin. Aversion from sin is distinct from, and in order goes before, our conversion unto God.
2. Sense of the sweetness of God’s grace in Christ keeps out sin, but it doth not thrust out sin at first.
3. Christ can not be effectually sweet, unless sin be first made bitter; there may be some general notice of Christ’s excellency, and some thirty pieces given for him; some esteem of his grace, and hope of his mercy, which may occasion sorrow; but I dare not say, that this is any sound or thorough work, till after sorrow. (Is. 1. 4). Christ hath “the tongue of the learned given him to speak a word in season.” Unto whom? It is added, “unto the weary”; they are the men that will prize mercy, and they only to purpose; they that have felt the bitterness of sin and wrath find it exceeding hard to prize Christ, and to taste his sweetness; how shall they do it indeed that find none at all? Sweetness before sense of sin is like cordials before purging of a foul stomach; which usually strengthen the humor, but recover not the man.
Because, without this, no man will either care for Christ, or feel a need of Christ; a man may see a want of Christ by the power of conviction, but he will never feel a need of Christ, but by the spirit of compunction. “The whole need not the physician, but they that are sick.” A whole man may see his want of a physician, but a sick man only feels his need of him, will prize him, send for him. By the whole you are not to understand such as have no need indeed of Christ, (for what sinner but hath need of him?) but such as feel no need of him; as by sick can not be meant such as are sinful and miserable, for then Christ should come actually to save all men; but those that did feel themselves so, as a sick man that feels his sickness: these only are the men that feel a need and necessity of Christ; these only will come to Christ, and be glad of Christ, and be truly thankful for their recovery of Christ. And hence ariseth the great sin of the world in despising the gospel, not at all affected with the glad tidings of it, because they are not affected with their sin and misery; or if they be affected but in part with the gospel, it is because they are not throughly affected with their misery before.
Here is the full text of The Sound Believer, a Treatise of Evangelical Conversion: Compunction for Sin, by Thomas Shepard.