CHAPTER VII

Grace Abounding To The Chief Of Sinners

AFTER this I began to consider of Peter's sin, which he committed in denying his Master. And indeed this came nighest to mine of any that I could find, for he had denied his Saviour as I, after light and mercy received; yea, and that too after warning given him. I also considered that he did it once and twice, and that after time to consider between. But though I put all these circumstances together, that, if possible, I might find help, yet I considered again that his was but a denial of his Master, but mine was a selling of my Saviour. Wherefore I thought with myself that I came nearer to Judas than either to David or Peter. Here, again, my torment would flame out and afflict me; yea, it would grind me as it were to powder, to consider the preservation of God towards others while I fell into the snare; for in my thus considering other men's sins, and comparing them with mine own, I could evidently see that God preserved them, notwithstanding their wickedness, and would not let them, as he had let me, become a son of perdition.

But Oh, how did my soul at this time prize the preservation that God did set about his people. Ah, how safely did I see them walk whom God had hedged in. They were within his care, protection, and special providence; though they were full as bad as I by nature, yet because he loved them, he would not suffer them to fall without the range of mercy; but as for me, I was gone; I had done it; he would not preserve me, nor keep me; but suffered me, because I was a reprobate, to fall as I had done. Now did those blessed places that speak of God's keeping his people shine like the sun before me, though not to comfort me, yet to show me the blessed state and heritage of those whom the Lord had blessed.

Now I saw that as God had his hand in all the providences and dispensations that overtook his elect, so he had his hand in all the temptations that they had to sin against him, not to animate them to wickedness, but to choose their temptations and troubles for them, and also to leave them for a time to such things only as might not destroy, but humble them—as might not put them beyond, but lay them in the way of the renewing of his mercy. But Oh, what love, what care, what kindness and mercy did I now see mixing itself with the most severe and dreadful of all God's ways to his people. He would let David, Hezekiah, Solomon, Peter, and others fall, but he would not let them fall into the sin unpardonable, nor into hell for sin. Oh, thought I, these be the men that God hath loved; these be the men that God, though he chastiseth them, keeps in safety by him, and whom he makes to abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

But all these thoughts added sorrow, grief, and horror to me, as whatever I now thought on it was killing to me. If I thought how God kept his own, that was killing to me; if I thought of how I was fallen myself, that was killing to me. As all things wrought together for the best, and to do good to them that were the called according to his purpose; so I thought that all things wrought for damage and for my eternal overthrow. Then, again, I began to compare my sin with the sin of Judas, that if possible I might find if mine differed from that which in truth is unpardonable; and Oh, thought I, if it should differ from it, though but the breadth of a hair, what a happy condition is my soul in. And by considering I found that Judas did his intentionally, but mine was against prayer and strivings; besides, his was committed with such deliberation, but mine in a fearful hurry on a sudden:all this while I was tossed to and fro like the locust, and driven from trouble to sorrow, hearing always the sound of Esau's fall in mine ears, and the dreadful consequences thereof.

This consideration about Judas' sin was for a while some little relief to me, for I saw I had not, as to the circumstances, transgressed so fully as he. But this was quickly gone again, for I thought with myself there might be more ways than one to commit this unpardonable sin; also I thought there might be degrees of that as well as of other transgressions; wherefore, for aught I yet could perceive, this iniquity of mine might be such as might never be passed by. I was often now ashamed that I should be like such an ugly man as Judas. I thought also how loathsome I should be unto all the saints in the day of judgment, insomuch that now I could scarce see a good man that I believed lead a good conscience, but I would feel my heart tremble at him while I was in his presence. Oh, now I saw a glory in walking with God, and what a mercy it was to have a good conscience before him.

I was much about this time tempted to content myself by receiving some false opinions, as that there should be no such thing as a day of judgment; that we should not rise again; and that sin was no such grievous thing; the tempter suggesting thus:"If these things should indeed be true, yet to believe otherwise would yield you ease for the present. If you must perish, never torment yourself so much beforehand; drive the thoughts of damning out of your mind by possessing your mind with some such conclusions that atheists and ranters use to help themselves withal." But Oh, when such thoughts have fled through my heart, how, as it were within a step, have death and judgment been in my view! Methought the Judge stood at the door; I was as if it was come already, so that such things could have no entertainment. But methinks I see by this that Satan will use any means to keep the soul from Christ; he loveth not an awakened frame of spirit; security, blindness, darkness, and error are the very kingdom and habitation of the wicked one. I found it a hard work now to pray to God, because despair was swallowing me up; I thought I was as with a tempest driven away from God, for always when I cried to God for mercy this would come in:"It is too late; I am lost; God hath let me fall, not to my correction but my condemnation; my sin is unpardonable, and I know concerning Esau, how that, after he had sold his birthright, he would have received the blessing, but was rejected."

About this time I did light on that dreadful story of that miserable mortal, Francis Spira, a book that was to my troubled spirit as salt when rubbed into a fresh wound. Every sentence in that book, every groan of that man, with all the rest of his actions in his dolors (sorrows), as his tears, his prayers, his gnashing of teeth, his wringing of hands, his twisting and languishing and pining away under that mighty hand of God that was upon him, were as knives and daggers in my soul; especially that sentence of his was frightful to me:"Man knows the beginning of sin, but who bounds the issues thereof?" Then would the former sentence, as the conclusion of all, fall like a hot thunderbolt again upon my conscience:"For ye know how that afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears."

Then would I be struck into a very great trembling, insomuch that at some times I could, for whole days together, feel my very body as well as my mind shake and totter under the sense of this dreadful judgment of God that would fall on those that have sinned that most fearful and unpardonable sin. I felt also such a clogging and heat at my stomach, by reason of this my terror, that I was, especially at some times, as if my breastbone would split asunder; then I thought concerning that of Judas, who by his falling headlong burst asunder, and all his bowels gushed out. Acts 1:18. I feared also that this was the mark that God did set on Cain, even continual fear and trembling, under the heavy load of guilt that he had charged on him for the blood of his brother Abel.

Thus did I wind and twine and shrink under the burden that was upon me, which burden did so oppress me that I could neither stand nor go, nor lie either at rest or quiet. Yet that saying would sometimes come into my mind:"He hath received gifts for the rebellious." Psa. 68:18. The rebellious, thought I:why, surely they are such as once were under subjection to their prince; even those who, after they have once sworn subjection to his government, have taken up arms against him; and this, thought I, is my very condition. I once loved him, feared him, served him; but now I am a rebel; I have sold him; I have said, Let him go if he will:but yet he has gifts for rebels; and then why not for me? This sometimes I thought on, and would labor hard to take hold thereof, that some, though small refreshment, might have been conceived by me; but in this also I missed of my desire:I was driven with force beyond it; I was like a man going to execution even by that place where he would fain creep in and hide himself, but may not.

Again, after I had thus considered the sins of the saints in particular, and found mine went beyond them, then I began to think with myself, Set the case as I should, put all theirs together, and mine alone against them, might I not then find encouragement? for if mine, though bigger than any one, yet should be but equal to all, then there is hope; for that blood that hath virtue enough in it to wash away all theirs, hath virtue enough in it to wash away mine, though this one be full as big, if not bigger than all theirs. Here, again, I would consider the sin of David, of Solomon, of Manasseh, of Peter, and the rest of the great offenders, and would also labor, what I might with fairness, to aggravate and heighten their sins by several circumstances. I would think with myself that David shed blood to cover his adultery, and that by the sword of the children of Ammon—a work that could not be done but by contrivance, which was a great aggravation to his sin.

But then this would turn upon me:"Ah, but these were but sins against the law, from which there was a Jesus sent to save them; but yours is a sin against the Saviour, and who shall save you from that?" Then I thought on Solomon, and how he sinned in loving strange women, in falling away to their idols, in building them temples, in doing this after light, in his old age, after great mercy received. But the same conclusion that cut me off in the former consideration, cut me off as to this, namely, that all these were but sins against the law, for which God had provided a remedy; but I had sold my Saviour, and there remained no more sacrifice for sin. I would then add to these men's sins the sins of Manasseh, how that he built altars for idols in the house of the Lord; he also observed times, used enchantments, had to do with wizards, was a wizard, had his familiar spirits, burned his children in sacrifice to devils, and made the streets of Jerusalem run down with the blood of innocents. These, thought I, are great sins, sins of a bloody color; but yet it would turn again upon me; "They are none of them of the nature of yours; you have parted with Jesus, you have sold your Saviour." This one consideration would always kill my heart:my sin was point-blank against my Saviour, and that too at such a height that I had in my heart said of him, Let him go if he will. Oh, methought this sin was bigger than the sins of a country, of a kingdom, or of the whole world; no one pardonable, nor all of them together was able to equal mine; mine outwent them every one.

Now I would find my mind to flee from God as from the face of a dreadful judge; yet this was my torment, I could not escape his hand:"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Heb. 10:31. But blessed be his grace, that scripture in these flying fits would call, as running after me:"I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and as a cloud, thy sins:return unto me; for I have redeemed thee." Isa. 44 :22. This, I say, would come in upon my mind when I was fleeing from the face of God, for I did flee from his face, that is, my mind and spirit fled before him, by reason of his highness I could not endure; then would the text cry, "Return unto me;" it would cry aloud with a very great voice, "Return unto me; for I have redeemed thee."

Indeed, this would make me make a little stop, and as it were look over my shoulder behind me to see if I could discern that the God of grace did follow me with a pardon in his hand; but I could no sooner do that but all would be clouded and darkened again by that sentence:"For ye know how that afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears." Wherefore I could not refrain, but fled, though at sometimes it cried, Return, return, as if it did follow after me; but I feared to close in therewith lest it should not come from God, for that other, as I said, was still sounding in my conscience:"For ye know how that afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected," etc.

Once, as I was walking to and fro in a good man's shop, bemoaning myself in my sad and doleful state, afflicting myself with self-abhorrence for this wicked and ungodly thought; lamenting also this hard hap of mine, that I should commit so great a sin, greatly fearing that I should not be pardoned; praying also in my heart that if this sin of mine did differ from that against the Holy Ghost, the Lord would show it me; and being now ready to sink with fear, suddenly there was as if there had rushed in at the window the noise of wind upon me, but very pleasant, and as if I heard a voice speaking, "Didst thou ever refuse to be justified by the blood of Christ?" and withal, my whole life of profession past was in a moment opened unto me, wherein I was made to see that designedly I had not; so my heart answered groaningly, No.

Then fell with power that word of God upon me:"See that ye refuse not him that speaketh." Heb. 12:25. This made a strange seizure upon my spirit; it brought light with it, and commanded a silence in my heart of all those tumultuous thoughts that did before use, like masterless hell-hounds, to roar and bellow and make a hideous noise within me. It showed me also that Jesus Christ had yet a word of grace and mercy for me; that he had not, as I had feared, quite forsaken and cast off my soul; yea, this was a kind of check for my proneness to desperation—a kind of threatening of me, if I did not, notwithstanding my sins and the heinousness of them, venture my salvation upon the Son of God.

But as to my determining about this strange dispensation, what it was I know not, or from whence it came I know not; I have not yet in twenty years' time been able to make a judgment of it; I thought then what I should be loath here to speak. But verily that sudden rushing wind was as if an angel had come upon me; but both it and the salvation I will leave until the day of judgment:only this I say, it commanded a great calm in my soul; it persuaded me there might be hope; it showed me, as I thought, what the sin unpardonable was, and that my soul had yet the blessed privilege to flee to Jesus Christ for mercy. But I say, concerning this dispensation, I know not yet what to say of it; which was also in truth the cause that at first I did not speak of it in the book; I do now also leave it to be thought on by men of sound judgment. I lay not the stress of my salvation thereupon, but upon the Lord Jesus in the promise; yet seeing I am here unfolding my secret things, I thought it might not be altogether inexpedient to let this also show itself, though I cannot now relate the matter as then I did experience it. This lasted in the savor of it for about three or four days, and then I began to mistrust and to despair again.

Wherefore still my life hung in doubt before me, not knowing which way I should go; only this I found my soul desire, even to cast itself at the foot of grace by prayer and supplication. But Oh, it was hard for me now to have the face to pray to this Christ for mercy against whom I had thus vilely sinned; it was hard work, I say, to offer to look Him in the face against whom I had so vilely sinned; and indeed I have found it as difficult to come to God by prayer, after backsliding from him, as to do any other thing. Oh the shame that did now attend me, especially when I thought, I am now a going to pray to him for mercy that I had so lightly esteemed but a while before; I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because this villany had been committed by me; but I saw that there was but one way with me:I must go to him, and humble myself unto him, and beg that he of his wonderful mercy would show pity to me, and have mercy upon my wretched sinful soul; which, when the tempter perceived, he strongly suggested to me that "I ought not to pray to God, for prayer was not for any in my case; neither could it do me good, because I had rejected the Mediator, by whom all prayers came with acceptance to God the Father, and without whom no prayer could come into his presence; wherefore now to pray is but to add sin to sin; yea, now to pray, seeing God hath cast you off, is the next way to anger and offend him more than you ever did before. For God, saith he, hath been weary of you for these several years already, because you are none of his; your bawling in his ears hath been no pleasant voice to him, and therefore he let you sin this sin, that you might be quite cut off:and will you pray still?"

This the devil urged, and set forth that in Numbers, when Moses said to the children of Israel, that because they would not go up to possess the land when God would have them, therefore for ever he did bar them out from thence, though they prayed they might with tears. Num. 14:36, etc. As it is said in another place, "The man that sins presumptuously shall be taken from God's altar, that he may die;" even as Joab was by king Solomon, when he thought to find shelter there. Exodus 21:14; 1 Kings 2:28-34. These places did pinch me very sore; yet, my case being desperate, I thought with myself, I can but die; and if it must be so, it shall once be said that such an one died at the foot of Christ in prayer. This I did, but with great difficulty, God doth know; and that because, together with this, still that saying about Esau would be set at my heart, even like a flaming sword, to keep the way of the tree of life, lest I should take thereof and live.

Oh, who knows how hard a thing I found it to come to God in prayer. I did also desire the prayers of the people of God for me; but I feared that God would give them no heart to do it; yea, I trembled in my soul to think that some or other of them would shortly tell me that God had said those words to them that he once did say to the prophet concerning the children of Israel: "Pray not for this people, for I will not hear them," Jer. 11:14; so pray not for him, for I have rejected him. Yea, I thought that he had whispered this to some of them already, only they durst not tell me so; neither durst I ask them of it, for fear, if it should be so, it would make me quite beside myself. "Man knows the beginning of sin," said Spira, "but who bounds the issues thereof?"

About this time I took an opportunity to break my mind to an ancient Christian, and told him all my case; I told him also that I was afraid that I had sinned the sin against the Holy Ghost; and he told me he thought so too. Here therefore I had but cold comfort; but talking a little more with him, I found him, though a good man, a stranger to much combat with the devil. Wherefore I went to God again, as well as I could, for mercy still. Now also did the tempter begin to mock me in my misery, saying that, seeing I had thus parted with the Lord Jesus, and provoked him to displeasure who would have stood between my soul and the flame of devouring fire, there was now but one way, and that was to pray that God the Father would be a mediator between his Son and me; that he would be reconciled again, and that I might have that blessed benefit in him that his saints enjoyed. Then did that scripture seize upon my soul:"He is of one mind, and who can turn him?" Oh, I saw it was as easy to persuade him to make a new covenant or a new Bible besides those we have already, as to pray for such a thing. This was to persuade him that what he had done already was mere folly, and persuade him to alter, yea, to disannul the whole way of salvation; and then would that saying rend my soul asunder:"Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Acts 4:12:

Now the most free and full and gracious words of the gospel were the greatest torment to me; yea, nothing so afflicted me as the thought of Jesus Christ; the remembrance of a Saviour, because I had cast him off, brought forth the villany of my sin and my loss by it to mind: nothing did twinge my conscience like this; every thing that I thought of the Lord Jesus, of his grace, love, goodness, kindness, gentleness, meekness, death, blood, promises, and blessed exhortations, comforts and consolations, went to my soul like a sword; for still unto these my considerations of the Lord Jesus, these thoughts would make place for themselves in my heart: "Aye, this is the Jesus, the loving Saviour, the Son of God whom you have parted with, whom you have slighted, despised, and abused; this is the only Saviour, the only Redeemer, the only one that could so love sinners as to wash them from their sins in his own most precious blood: but you have no part nor lot in this Jesus; you have put him from you; you have said in your heart, Let him go if he will. Now therefore you are severed from him; you have severed yourself from him: behold then his goodness, but yourself to be no partaker of it." "Oh," thought I, "what have I lost; what have I parted with; what has disinherited my poor soul! Oh, it is sad to be destroyed by the grace and mercy of God—to have the Lamb, the Saviour, turn lion and destroyer." Rev. ch. 6. I also trembled, as I have said, at the sight of the saints of God, especially at those that greatly loved him, and that made it their business to walk continually with him in this world; for they did, both in their words, their carriage, and all their expressions of tenderness and fear to sin against their precious Saviour, condemn, lay guilt upon, and also add continual affliction and shame unto my soul. The dread of them was upon me, and I trembled at God's Samuel. I Sam. 16.

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