That we may give some satisfaction to this question, we shall,
1. Shew what are the ingredients in this case, or what useth to concur in this distemper.
2. Shew some reasons why the Lord is pleased to dispense thus with his people.
3. Shew how Christ is life to the soul in this case.
4. Shew the believer's duty for a recovery; and,
5. Add a word or two of caution.
As to the first, There may be those parts of, or ingredients in this distemper:
1. God presenting their sins unto their view, so as they shall cry out, |Our sin is ever before us,| Psal. li.3, and say, as it is, Psal. xc.8. |Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance;| and so cause them see the Lord contending for sin, as the church did, Isa. lix. |We roar all like bears, and mourn sore like doves. We look for judgment but there is none, for salvation but it is far off from us; for our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us; and as for our iniquities, we know them,| &c.
2. Yea, God may bring upon them the iniquities of their youth, as Job speaketh, chap. xiii.26, and so bring upon them, or suffer conscience to charge them, with their old sins formerly repented of and pardoned. And this is more terrible: David is made to remember his original sin, Psal. li.
3. And, as Job speaketh, chap. xv.17, God may seem to be sealing up all their sins in a bag, that none of them may be lost or fall by, without being taken notice of; and, as it were, be gathering them together in a heap.
4. He may pursue sore with signs of wrath and displeasure, because of those sins, as we see in David, Psal. iv.; xxxviii.51, and in several others of his people, chastened of the Lord because of their transgressions; whereof there are many instances in Scripture.
5. Yea, and that for a considerable time together, and cause them cry out, with David, Psal. iv.3, |But thou, O Lord, how long!|
6. And that not only with outward, but also with inward plagues and strokes, as David's case cleareth, in the fore-cited Psalms.
7. Yea, and not even themselves, but even their posterity; as David's child was smitten with death, and the posterity of Manasses, who found mercy himself, 2 Chron. xxxiii.13, was carried into captivity for his sin, 2 Kings xxiii.26, 27.
8. Further, the Lord may deprive them of all their former joy and comfort, which made David cry out, Psalm li.12, |Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and grant me thy free Spirit.|
9. And, which is yet more terrible, write their sin upon their judgment, as when he caused the sword and whoredom follow David's house.
10. And, finally, he may cause them fear utter off-casting, as Psalm li.12, |cast me not away,| said he, |from thy presence.|
And this the Lord thinketh good to do (that we may speak a word to the second particular) for those, and the like reasons:
1. To discover to them, and to all the world, how just, holy, and righteous a God he is, that cannot approve of, or bear with sin, even in his own children.
2. To make all fear and tremble before this great and holy God, who is terrible in his judgments, even when they come from a Father's hand that is not pursuing in pure anger and wrath, but chastening in love. Sure all must think that his dispensations with the wicked will be much more fearful and horrible, seeing they are not yet reconciled to him through the blood of Jesus.
3. To press believers more earnestly into Christ, that they may get a new extract of their pardon, and their souls washed in the blood of Jesus.
4. To teach them to walk more circumspectly afterwards, and to guard more watchfully against Satan's temptations, and to employ Christ more as their strength, light, and guide.
5. To cause them see their great obligation to Jesus Christ, for delivering them from that state of wrath, wherein they were by nature, as well as others, and would have lain in to all eternity, had he not redeemed them.
6. To exercise their faith, patience, and hope; to see if in hope they will believe against hope, and lay hold on the strength of the Lord, that they make peace with him, Isaiah xxvii.5.
7. To give a fresh proof of his wonderful mercy, grace, love, and compassion, upholding the soul in the mean time, and at length pardoning them, and speaking peace to their souls through the blood of Jesus.
But as to the third particular, we may look on Christ as the Life to the soul in this case, upon those accounts,
1. He hath satisfied justice, and so hath borne the pure wrath of God due for their sins. |He hath trodden the wine press alone,| Isaiah lxiii.5. |He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our sins,| Isaiah liii.5, 10; and therefore they drink not of this cup which would make them drunk, and to stagger, and fall, and never rise again.
2. Yea, he hath procured that mercy and love shall accompany all those sharp dispensations, and that they shall flow from mercy; yea, and that they shall be as a covenanted blessing promised in the covenant, Psalm lxxxix.30, &c.
3. And sometimes he is pleased to let them see this clear difference betwixt the strokes they lie under, and the judgments of pure wrath which attend the wicked; and this supporteth the soul; for then he seeth that those dispensations, how sharp soever they be, shall work together for good to him, and come from the hand of a gracious loving Father, reconciled in the blood of Christ.
4. |He is a Prince, exalted to give repentance and remission of sins to Israel,| Acts v.31. Yea, he hath procured such a clause in the covenant, which is well ordered in all things and sure, that upon their renewing of faith and repentance, their after sins shall be pardoned; and besides the promises of faith and repentance in the covenant, his being a Prince exalted to give both, giveth assurance of their receiving of both.
5. He cleareth to them their interest in the covenant, and their right to the promises of the covenant; and through their closing with Christ by faith, he raiseth up their heart in hope, and causeth them to expect an outgate, even remission of their sins, and turning away the displeasure in due time through him. And this is a great part of their life.
6. Being the author and finisher of faith, and a prince to give repentance, he, by his Spirit, worketh up the soul to a renewing of its grips of himself by faith, and to a running to the death and blood of Christ for pardon and washing, and worketh godly sorrow in the heart, whereupon followeth pardon, according to the gospel constitution, though the believer as yet perceiveth it not; and sin being pardoned before God, conform to the tenor of the covenant of grace, the man is a living man, whatever fears of death he may be kept under for a time.
7. He helpeth also to a justifying of God, and to a holy, submissive frame of spirit under that dispensation; so that they are willing to bear the indignation of the Lord, because they have sinned against him, Micah vii.9; and to wait for an outgate in God's own time, and to kiss the rod, and to accept of the punishment of their sin.
8. When he seeth it fit for his own glory, and their advantage, he speaketh peace at length to the soul, and saith, |son (or daughter) be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee; and then is the soul restored to life.|
As to the fourth particular. The soul that is wrestling with an angry God for sin, and would make use of Christ as the Life, should do these things:
1. He should look to Christ as standing under God's curse in our room, and as satisfying justice for all the elect, and for all their sins.
2. He should eye the covenant wherein new pardon is promised, upon the renewing of faith and repentance.
3. He should eye Christ as the great Lord dispensator of both faith and repentance, and hang on him for both, and thus believe, that he may believe and repent, or lay his soul open to him, that he may work in him both repentance and faith.
4. He should flee to the blood of sprinkling, |that speaks better things than the blood of Abel,| that he may be washed, and sprinkled with hyssop, as David did, Psalm li.7.
5. He should eye Christ as a prince to give pardon and remission of sins, and as exalted for this end, and should fix his eye upon him, as now exalted in glory for this end.
6. He should close with Christ of new, as his only all-sufficient Mediator; and having done this, and repented of his sins, whereby God hath been provoked, he should conclude through faith, that a pardon is passed in the court of heaven, conform to the tenor of the gospel, and wait on Christ until the intimation come.
As for the cautions which I promised to speak to, in the last place, take those few:
1. Do not conclude there is no pardon, because there is no intimation thereof made to thy soul as yet. According to the dispensation of grace condescended upon in the gospel, pardon is had immediately upon a soul's believing and repenting; but the intimation, sense, and feeling of pardon, is a distinct thing, and may, for several ends, be long kept up from the soul. Sure they go not always together.
2. Do not conclude there is no pardon, because the rod that was inflicted for sin is not as yet taken off. God pardoned David's sin, and did intimate the same to him by Nathan, and yet the sword did not depart from his house till he died. God can forgive, and yet take vengeance on their inventions, Psalm xcix.8.
3. Do not upon this ground question God's faithfulness, or conclude that God's covenant doth not stand fast. He is the same, and the covenant abideth fast and firm; but the change is in thee.
4. Do not think that because thou hast once received Christ, that therefore, without any new act of faith on him, or of repentance towards God, thou should immediately be pardoned of thy sins, as soon as they are committed; for the gospel method must be followed, and it should satisfy us.