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thoughts, so as to fall under the greatest agonies of mind; and often to be so near distraction as to choose death rather than life.
For the relief and comfort of these, the minister should suggest to them that such horrid and frightful thoughts are either occasioned through melancholy prevailing over their spirits, and disordering the frame of their minds; or else from the malice of the devil and the spirits of darkness, who do all they can to shake our faith and to imbitter the Christian life.
If to the former we ascribe such horrid thoughts, they may be comforted upon assurance that they will not be imputed to them as their sin, any more than a fever or any bodily distemper will, which they did not willingly procure, and which they have tried all
means to remove.
If to the latter, they may be encouraged rather to rejoice; as nothing is a greater sign of their being high in the favour of God than when they are under the most violent temptations of the devil. My brethren, count it all joy," saith Saint James, "when ye fall into divers temptations;" chap. i. 2. To that effect they may be taught to consider that the way to heaven is justly said to be by the gates of hell: that the "same afflictions are accomplished in their brethren which are in the world," who in various kinds are tempted of the tempter; 1 Pet. v. 9: that Satan "desired to have Saint Peter to sift him as wheat;" Luke xxii. 31: that our Saviour himself was tempted by him, and the best of men have always been most obnoxious to his malice; and that to live in carnal security, without any molestations from him, is the
most dangerous state: that the being so much concerned and afflicted at such evil thoughts is a certain argument of a good disposition, since the wicked and profane are rather pleased than tormented with them.
Arguments of this kind are the most proper to be offered to such unhappy persons: but in case their faith and hope be totally overcome by the devil, and they fall into direct despair, it will be necessary then to endeavour the cure of so great an evil and temptation by the addition of the following exercise.
An Exercise against Despair.
Let the minister suggest to them that God is not willing that any should perish, but desirous that all should come to his glory: that for this end we were created that he is so far from being "extreme to mark what is done amiss," that he will not refuse the returning prodigal, nor reject the worst of criminals upon their sincere repentance: that the thief the cross is a demonstrable proof of this, and a standing example to prevent the greatest sinner from despair: that if God is so merciful and condescending to the vilest transgressors, much rather may we hope to be pardoned for our weakness and infirmities; for, he "knoweth whereof we are made, he remembereth that we are but dust;" nay, he hath assured us that he "will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax :" that all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, except one, which is the sin against the Holy Ghost; "the sin unto death," as Saint John calls it.
But that no man commits a sin against the Holy
Ghost, if he be afraid he hath, or desires that he may not; for such penitential passions are against the very nature and definition of that sin: that although forgiveness of sins is consigned to us in baptism, and baptism is but once; yet, forgiveness of sins being the special grace of the gospel, it is secured to us for our life, and ebbs and flows according as we discompose or renew the performance of our baptismal vow; therefore it is certain that no man ought to despair of pardon, but he who hath voluntarily renounced his baptism, or willingly estranged himself from that covenant that if it were not so, then all preaching and prayers were in vain, and all the conditions of the gospel invalid; and there could be no such thing as repentance, nor indeed scarce a possibility of any one's being saved, if all were to be concluded in a state of damnation who had committed sin after baptism.
To have any fears, therefore, on this account, were the most extravagant madness; for Christ "died for sinners," and "God hath comprehended all under sin, that" through him "he might have mercy upon all;" Rom. xi. 32. And it was concerning baptized Christians that Saint John said, "If any man sin,, we have an advocate with the Father, and he is the propitiation for our sins:" and concerning lapsed Christians, Saint Paul gave instruction, that "if any man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such a man in the spirit of meekness, considering lest ye also be tempted." The Corinthian Christian committed incest, and was pardoned; and Simon Magus, after he was baptized, offered to commit the sin we call simony, and yet Peter bade him
pray for pardon and Saint James tells us that "if the sick man send for the elders of the church, and they pray over him, and he confess his sins, they shall be forgiven him;” chap. v. v. 14.
That even in the case of very great sins, and great judgments inflicted upon sinners, wise and good men have declared their sense to be, that God vindicated his justice in that temporal punishment; and so it was supposed to have been done in the case of Ananias, &c.: that nothing can be more absurd than to think that so great and good a God, who is so desirous of saving all, as appears by his word, by his sending his Son, by his oaths and promises, by his very nature, and daily overtures of mercy, should condemn any, without the greatest provocations of his majesty, and perseverance in them.
Upon the strength of these arguments the despairing person may be further taught to argue thus with himself:
I consider that the ground of my trouble is my sin; and were it not for that I should have no reason to be troubled: but since the "whole world lieth in wickedness," and since there cannot be a greater demonstration of a man's abhorrence of sin than to be so deeply affected with sorrow for it; I therefore will erect my head with a holy hope, and think that God will also be merciful to me a sinner, as he is to the rest of mankind. I know that the mercies of God are infinite; that he sent his Son into the world on purpose to redeem such as myself; and that he hath repeatedly promised "to give to them that ask, and to be found of them that seek him;" and therefore I will not distrust his goodness, nor look upon
the great God of heaven and earth to be worse than his word. Indeed, if from myself I were to derive my title to heaven, then my sins were a just argument of despair; but now that they bring me to Christ, that they drive me to an appeal to God's mercy, they cannot infer a just cause of despair. I am sure it is a stranger thing that the Son of God should come down from heaven, and take upon him our nature, and live and die in the most ignominious state of it, than that- a sinful man, washed by the blood of Christ, and his own tears and humiliation, should be admitted to pardon, and made "partaker of the kingdom of heaven:" and it were stranger yet that he should do so much for man, and that a man that desires, that labours after it to the utmost of his power, that sends up strong cries and prayers, and is still within the covenant of grace, should inevitably miss that end for which our Saviour did and suffered so much.
It is certain that of all the attributes that belong to God, there is none more essential to his nature, and which he takes more delight in, than his mercy; and it is as certain also, there must be proper objects for this boundless and immense attribute of God; and the most proper, if not only objects of mercy in the creation are the children of men; and of men, surely those who are most grieved and wearied with the burden of their sins. I, therefore, who am as pitiful an object of mercy as any, will cheerfully hope that God will both forgive me here, and give me the blessing of eternal life hereafter: for I know that eternal life is purely the gift of God, and therefore have less reason still to despair. For if my sins were fewer,