For this cause many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged,' &c.—1 COR. 11:30, 31.
I NITEND at this time especially to stand upon the duty of judging, as being fittest for the occasion.* But yet, by God's assistance, we† will take the words‡ in order, because I desire to speak somewhat of the other which follow.
'For this cause many are sick,' &c. After the holy apostle, the seedsman of God, had sown the seed of heavenly doctrine, Satan also by his instruments had sown his cockle of abuses among the Corinthians, of which, amongst many, this was one, to come irreverently to the holy communion. Whereupon God was forced to take them into his own hands; and lest they should be ignorant of the cause, the blessed apostle points them here, as it were with the finger, to the cause of the visitation among them,§ for their irreverent and unprepared coming to the Lord's table, 'For this cause,' &c. In the words we will speak of,
1. The cause of the correction among them.
2. And then of the kinds of it: 'Many are sick, and weak, and sleep.'
3. And then of the care, if it had been used, that might have prevented those contagious sicknesses among them: 'If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.'
But lest God's children should despair when they are judged and sharply corrected of him, he adds, in the next place, the comfort; howsoever things fall out, our salvation is promoted. 'When we are judged,' and chastened of the Lord, 'it is that we should not be condemned with the world.'
First, of the cause.
I will speak briefly of the former verse, but dwell most upon the next, of self-judging. 'For this cause many are weak and sick, and many sleep.' Observe here in the cause.
Doct. (1.) First, when there is a cause, God will correct; and where there is this cause, he will correct, that is, irreverent coming to the communion.
Doct. (2.) Secondly, As there is a cause when God doth correct, so usually there is this or that particular cause.
For the first, where there is cause he will correct, and where there is this cause. Where there is no cause he will not correct. 'For this cause.' There is always a cause, and a particular cause, [and a particular cause of God's judgment is]*
Quest. Why must there be alway a cause?
Ans. Because God is the judge of the world, and the judge of the world must needs do that which is right, Gen. 18:25. And therefore he will not judge without a cause.† We have ill in us, before we suffer ill. God is forced to mortify sins by afflictions, because we mortify them not by the Spirit, and in the use of holy means. There is a cause always.‡ God doth favours from his own bowels, and from his own nature; but he never correcteth without a cause from us. Corrections and judgments are always forced. It is a stranger work to him than favours that come from his own nature as a gracious God, and therefore the cause of his judgment is always in us. But when he is beneficial to us, it comes from himself, as water comes from a fountain.
Instruction. This should teach us in all visitations to justify God, and to take heed of that which our nature is prone to, of swelling and murmuring, and rising up against God. Just thou art, and righteous are thy judgments. 'I will bear the wrath of the Lord, because I have sinned,' &c., as it is said, Micah 7:9. Let us lay our hand upon our mouth, and justify God in all his visitations. There is a cause.
And not only a cause at random, but if we search ourselves there is this or that particular cause. So 2 Thes. 2:10 it is said, 'For this cause God gave them up to strong delusions, because they entertained not the truth in the love of it.' There is a 'this;' for God shoots not his judgments, as children shoot their arrows, at random, light where they will; but he hath his aim.
Quest. How shall we find out that 'this'?
Ans. 1. Our consciences will upbraid us. If we be well acquainted with our consciences, we shall know it by them, as Joseph's brethren did. It was because they used their brother hardly many years before, Gen. 42:21.
2. Again, what the word meets most with when we hear it.
3. And what our friends tell us most of.
4. And what our enemies upbraid us most with.
5. That we may know the cause, we may know the sin by the contrary. God cures contraries with contraries. We may read ofttimes the cause in the judgment. Is the judgment shame? Then the cause was pride. Is the judgment want? Then our sin was in abundance. We did not learn to abound as we should when we had it. It is an ordinary rule, contraries are cured with contraries. Usually God meets with men, he pays them home in their own coin and kind. Those that have been unmerciful, they shall meet with those that shall shew them no mercy, &c.§ By searching into our own hearts, by considering these things, we may know what is the 'this,' the particular cause.
And, if we fail in the search, then go to God, that he would teach us, as well as he corrects us, as usually he doth his children: Ps. 94:12, 'Blessed is the man that thou correctest and teachest.' Desire God that unto correction he would add teaching, that we may know what the meaning of the rod and of the cross is. Whatsoever it is, if we join prayer with the other means, we may know the 'this,' the particular sin that God aims at. So you see these things* clear, that there is a cause, and usually the 'this,' some particular cause.
Doct. (3.) The next point is that where there is a cause, God will correct first or last, and where there is this cause mentioned, irreverent coming to the communion, he will do it because he is just. If we prevent† it not by repentance, and so afflict our souls, surely we must fall into God's hands. He will lose the glory of none of his attributes. Where there is a cause he will correct. Sin is against his nature, against his truth, against his manner of dealing with us by favours and benefits, and therefore he will correct us.
For even as smoke goes before fire, and as conception goes before birth, and as seed-time goes before harvest; so sin goes before some correction or other universally,‡ unless it be those daily infirmities that God's children fall into, those sins of daily incursion, as we call them. When we labour to knit our hearts fast and close to God, some infirmities slip from us that God overlooks; he takes not notice of every slip;§ he bears with our infirmities 'as a father bears with a son that serves him,' Mal. 3:17. And yet if we allow ourselves in any infirmity, we shall not go unpunished. Infirmities are one thing, and allowance and defence of them is another. Therefore I beseech you make this use of it.
Use. Take heed of sinning upon this false conceit, We shall escape, we shall never hear of it again. No; it will be owing first or last. As we say of those that make bold with their bodies, to use them hardly, to rush upon this thing and that thing: in their youth, they may bear it out, but it will be owing them after; they shall find it in their bones when they are old. So a man may say of those that are venturous persons, that make no con science of running into sin, these things will be owing to them another day; they shall hear of these in the time of sickness, or in the hour of death. And therefore never sin upon vain hope of concealing; for as there is a cause alway, and 'this cause,' so where there is a cause, God will correct his own children.
Again, where there is this cause, God will visit. What was this cause? This cause was irreverent, unprofitable coming to the holy table of the Lord. Why, is this so great a matter as to provoke God's judgment? Oh, yes! Favours neglected provoke anger most of all.
Is it not a great favour for the great God to condescend to help our weakness in the sacrament? Is it not a special favour that he will stoop to strengthen our weak faith this way? And shall we, when he condescends to us, rise up in pride against him, and forget our distance, forget with whom we have to deal? No; God will be honoured of all that come near him; if not by them, yet in them. Those that come not to God now in Christ, a Father, they know not his goodness; and those that come irreverently, know not his greatness and majesty. Take heed, therefore, when we come before God, that we come not with strange fire, as Nadab and Abihu; that we come not irreverently and unpreparedly, with carnal affections; but that we converse in holy business with holy affections. Is it not a great pity that those things which God hath ordained for the comfort of our souls, and the help of our faith, that we by our carelessness should turn them to our hurt, as we do by an irreverent coming to the holy things of God? We procure our own judgments, and therefore we ought to help this irreverent demeanour and carriage of ourselves in the holy things of God by all means, with the consideration of his majesty, and our dependence upon him;* and such considerations, which I cannot now enter into, because I hasten. So you see these things clear, the cause, and the particular cause, this cause.
To go on to the kinds therefore. The kinds are set down in three degrees:
1. Some are weak.
2. And some sick.
3. And some sleep.
Nay, 'many are sick and weak, and many sleep.' Here are three degrees, like the three degrees of sin amongst them. Some are more presumptuous than other, and,
Doct. 4. God, who made all in number, weight, and measure, dispenseth all in number, weight, and measure. Some are weak, and some are sick, which is greater; and some sleep, that is, die.† Even as in the commonwealth, those that are discreet governors have degrees of punishment, as the stocks, the prison, and the gibbet, violent death, and the like; so God, the great Governor of heaven and earth, according to the different degrees of sin, hath different degrees of correction.
A physician loves all his patients alike, but he doth not minister sharp potions alike to all; but out of the same love there is a different carriage of the same, according to the exigent‡ of the party. So doth the wise God. 'Some are weak, and some sick, and some sleep.'
Doct. 5. Again, we may observe here, that sickness and weakness of the body come from sin, and is a fruit of sin. Some are weak, and some are sick, 'for this cause.' I shall not need to be long in the proof of that, which you have whole chapters for, as Deut. 28:27, seq.; and many psalms. 107., and others.§ It is for the1 sickness of the soul that God visits with the sickness of the body. He aims at the cure of the soul in the touch of the body. And therefore in this case, when God visits with sickness, we should think our work is more in heaven with God than with men or physic. Begin first with the soul. So David, Ps. 32:5, till he dealt roundly with God, without all kind of guile, and confessed his sins, he roared; his moisture was turned into the drought of summer. But when he dealt directly and plainly with God, and confessed his sins, then God forgave him them, and healed his body too. And therefore the best method, when God visits us in this kind, is to think that we are to deal with God. Begin the cure there with the soul. When he visits the body, it is for the soul's sake: 'Many are weak and sick among you.' We see what tabernacles of dust we carry about us, that if we had no outward enemy, yet God can raise that in our own bodies that shall cast out the greatest giant, 'weakness and sickness,' that we may learn to fear God, in whose hand is both health and sickness. And it should teach us to make precious use of our health while we have it. It were a thousand times better for many persons to be cast on the bed of sickness, and to be God's prisoners, than so scandalously and unfruitfully to use the health that they have: 'many are weak and sick.'*
Doct. 6. The sin was general, and God's visitation was as general. When sins grow general, corrections grow general. It is an idle and vain excuse that many think to make to themselves, The world doth thus; others do thus. Oh! there is the more danger of a spreading and general visitation! Do others so? Is it a spreading sin? Take heed of a spreading and contagious punishment. We must not follow a multitude to do evil, Exod. 23:2. He is not a whit the less tormented that is tormented with company. The plea therefore that they make from many, that the world doth thus, it should rather, if they did wisely reason, move them to take heed. 'Many are sick and weak, and many sleep,' saith he;† that is, many even die. God takes away the life of many for the irreverent coming to the holy things of God. So that sin brings with it death itself, not only at the last, but sin it shortens a man's days; and this kind of sin, irreverent coming to the holy things of God, shortens our days, and puts out our own candle, and pulls our own houses about our ears. They are felons upon themselves, soul-murderers and body-murderers, that wilfully commit sin; yea, if it be this sin in the holy things of God, not only if they commit gross sins, but if they commit this sin, if they be careless and unconscionable‡ in the performance of this holy duty. If any other did us the thousand part of that harm we do ourselves by a careless life, a loose and lawless kind of course, we would not bear them. We see here what hurt we do ourselves [what injury, what wrong we do to our own souls and bodies also];§ for 'for this cause many are weak and sick, and many sleep.'
We are the greatest enemies to ourselves. We cry out of Judas and Ahithophel that made away themselves, and we may well. Every stubborn man, that goes on in a course of sin, and forgets with whom he hath to deal, he is like Judas and Ahithophel; he is an enemy to himself, and a murderer of himself. Oh! take heed therefore of the Devil's baits; meddle not with this pitch; touch it not; hate all shows and appearances of evil.
Doct. 7. Again, it is not to be forgotten here that he saith, 'Many of you,' that is, 'you, believing Corinthians;' whence learn, that God will correct sin wheresoever he finds it, even in his dearest children; nay, he will correct them more sharply in this world, because he will save their souls in another world, than he will others. The careless, brutish world, that are not worthy of correction, God lets them go on in smooth ways to hell; but 'many of you,' &c. Let none think to be exempt, and venture themselves from grace they have. No. God will look to those of his family, that are near him; he will have a special eye to them, he will have his family* well ordered: 'You have I known of all the nations of the world,' saith he, 'and therefore I will be sure to punish and to correct you,' Amos 3:2. Let none therefore bear themselves upon their profession, I do thus and thus, so many good things, therefore I may be bold; nay, therefore, you may be the less bold. Moses cannot so much as murmur at the waters of strife, but he must not come into Canaan, Num. 20:2. David cannot have a proud thought of numbering the people, but he must smart for it, 1 Chron. 21:2. The Corinthians cannot come irreverently to the communion, 'but for this cause many are weak and sick.'
I beseech you, let us take it to heart, and let no profane person take encouragement because God so deals with his own: 'If God deal thus with the green tree, what will he do with the dry?' 'If judgment begin at the house of God, where shall the sinner and ungodly appear?' 1 Pet. 4:18. If the godly taste of the cup of God's anger, the wicked must drink off the dregs of his wrath. And therefore let no man take offence that God follows the church with crosses, that the cross follows the poor church in the world. Alas! they carry corruptions about them continually. We see here,† 'you, many of you,' &c. Let us therefore labour to make an end of our salvation with fear and trembling, the best of us all.
Doct. 8. One thing more before I leave this; that is, how God in justice remembereth mercy. 'Many,' he saith not, 'all,' and 'many of you are weak;' he takes not all away with death. It is a mercy, then, that the correction is outward in the body, weak in body, and sick. There was not a spiritual giving up to hardness of heart. Beloved! if we consider what kind of judgments spiritual judgments are, to have a seared conscience, and a hard and desperate heart, which are forerunners of hell and of eternal judgment and damnation, we would much prize mercy in judgment. Oh! it is not so with God's church. Their visitations are in the outward man; they are weak, and sick, and die, but God is merciful to their souls, as we shall see after. And it should be an art we should learn and labour to be expert in, to consider God's gracious dealing in the midst of his correction;‡ that in the midst of corrections§ we might have thankful, and cheerful, and fruitful hearts, which we shall not have, except we have some matter of thankfulness. Consider, doth God make me weak? He might have struck me with death, or if not taken away my mortal life, he might have given me up to a spiritual death, to a hard heart, to desperation, &c. So let us search out in the visitations that we are in, always some matter of mitigation, and we shall always find that it might have been worse with us than it is. So much shall serve for that verse, that is, the cause and the kinds, 'For this cause many are weak and sick, and many sleep.' Now I come to the cure.
'If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.'
This course, if it had been used by the Corinthians, they might have prevented their weakness, sickness, and over-timely** death; and so we, if we take the course prescribed by the apostle here, may prevent the like; and perhaps God will not now, in this dispensation that he useth in the latter end of the world, outwardly visit us, for now usually his dispensation and government is more inward. And therefore we should take the more heed to what followeth; he may give us up, I say, to blindness, to deadness, to security. He doth not usually give men up to sickness, and to death, now, for such breaches, but his government is more spiritual. Indeed then, for the terror of all, his government was more outward in the primitive times of the church. To come therefore to that I mean to speak of: the cure of all is judging. There is a judge set up in our own hearts. 'If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged of the Lord.' To open the words a little.*
That which is translated here 'judging,' is by the best expositors, one and other, and according to the nature of the word, 'if we would discern of ourselves,' 'if we would try ourselves,' and have our senses exercised to distinguish what is good, and what is ill in us, and then to fall upon judging, trial, and discussing. The word signifieth primarily 'to discuss,' and 'to sift,' and then 'to censure' upon that; and then after, 'To sever ourselves from the ill we censure.' The word implies all these duties.†
God hath so framed man, that he alone of all other creatures can work upon himself; he hath this reflexed act, as we call it, he can examine, judge, try, and humble himself; other creatures look straight forwards. Man, I say, can discern and put a difference; he can discern of relations; this and that hath relation to such and such a thing. The beast cannot discern of relations:‡ the beast goes to the water, and to the fodder, but knows not what relation that hath to spiritual things. But man, when he sees the sacrament, he can think of Christ; when he seeth one thing, he can think of this relation to more spiritual things. So he can discern of himself, and of the things he takes in hand, by a principle that God hath put into him peculiar to himself. Now God hath set up in a man a judgment-seat, wherein things should be judged, before they come to this scanning and judgment. We ourselves are the parties judged, and we should be the judges; we are the parties that examine, and the parties examined; we are the parties that condemn, and the parties condemned. This is the power of conscience, that God hath made his vicegerent and deputy in us. But to acquaint you with what things I mean to speak of, as the time will give leave.
Doct. 9. [1.] First of all, out of these words, the cure I will shew; that naturally we are very backward to this duty, because the Corinthians here were falling in the duty.§
[2.] Secondly, I will shew you the necessity, profit, and use of this self-judging.
[3.] Then of the time when we should judge especially; when we are to deal with God in holy things.
[4.] And then, what to do after all, when we have judged ourselves; what course to take then. The unfolding of these things will help us to understand this great point that is so necessary.
[1.] First of all, naturally we are wondrous backward to this duty, as we see here in the Corinthians; they slubbered over this duty of examination and self-judging.
Quest. What is the reason?
Sol. The reason is, it is an inward act; and naturally we look to outward glorious things. There is no glory in it before the world; it is in God, and his own soul, and usually the life of careless persons, even of Christians sometimes, it is spent outwardly; they never enter into their own souls to see what is there.
Again, naturally we rest in the judgment of others. Others conceive well of us, and therefore we conceive well of ourselves. Remember they are but our fellow-prisoners. What can they excuse, if God accuse and condemn us? Those things that make us most odious to God are undiscernible of the eye of man, as a proud heart, a revengeful spirit, an earthly disposition, and the like; no man can see these things.
Again, usually we rest in this, that we have wit enough to judge others. The proud nature of man thinks itself somebody, when it can get up and judge others perhaps better than itself. This is a poor contentment, and an easy thing for a man to spend his censures upon others, and is done usually with some glory. It is necessary sometimes to those that are under us, to discover to them what we judge of their ways, but ofttimes, I say, it is done only of self-love and pride.
Again, we are backward to this duty. Hence that the heart of man is a proud piece of flesh; and therefore he is loath to be conceited* of himself as there is cause. Man naturally would be in [a] fool's paradise. He knows if he enters deeply into himself, somewhat will be presented to the eye of his soul that will be an ungrateful object to him; and therefore, because he will not force upon himself other conceits of himself than he hath for the present, he is content never to examine his courses, but to go on still. As there are some creatures in the world deformed, that are loath to come to the water, because they will not see their deformity in it; so it is with the nature of man, he is loath to see his deformity, he is willing to be deceived. In other things we are loath to be mistaken, but in our state between God and us, we are willing to be deceived. We deceive ourselves, we are sophisters unto ourselves, in this great point. Thus we see that it is a duty to which we are very backward, and that it is something hard, because, I say,† it reflects upon ourselves, and requires retiring; for naturally we are slothful and idle; and then sin it loves corners, which makes it harder.
Now, what is this sifting and searching of the heart, but a searching of all the corners of the soul by the light of God's word and Spirit? A searching of all the corners of the heart. This requires much pains. Naturally we are loath to take pains with our own souls, though indeed this be a preventing pains, to shun a worse misery hereafter; there is nothing gotten by favouring ourselves. What need I be large in this point? It is clear that naturally we are loath to judge ourselves, as we shall see hereafter.‡ Oh! if the worst man had that judgment of himself, as he shall have ere long, when he shall not be besotted, but be free from his spiritual drunkenness and madness that he is in, carried with the course of the world, then he shall judge truly of himself. Oh! that he could do it in time. But naturally, I say, what for negligence, and what for pride, and resting in the conceits that others have of us, we neglect so necessary a duty.
Well, then, to go to the second point: as we are prone to neglect it, so we must know,
Doct. 10. That it is a necessary and useful duty to judge ourselves: for it is the ground of all repentance, Jer. 8:6. He complains that they rushed as 'a horse into the battle, and no man said, what have I done?'
Quest. What was the reason they rushed as a horse into the battle?
Sol. No man entered into himself and said, What have I done? I considered my ways, and turned my feet to thy testimonies, saith David, Ps. 119:59. Consideration is the ground therefore of repentance and conversion. Thus in discussing of our ways, and trial of them, and of every good work, there must be this judging, this discerning, what is spirit and what is flesh. A man cannot do a good work without the use of this principle that God hath put into him, of judging himself, and judging his ways.
And then again, it is a duty that makes a man good in himself: for when we do outward good duties, they are good for others. If a man be bountiful, another hath the benefit; if he be merciful, another hath the profit; but when a man judgeth himself, and sets up a court in himself, his own soul is the better for it; he is the more holy man, the more watchful man, the more clear from his sins; he is the fitter framed for holy duties; it is the better for his own self; and therefore this duty it is the spring of all other good duties, and it is most beneficial to a man's own soul.
Again, this is such a duty as doth settle the judgment, and make us impregnable in temptation. When we have passed a judgment upon ourselves, let this or that judgment be, we care not; for we have judged ourselves as we should by the rule. We know what we have done, we know what we have said, we are able to justify it: it makes us ready and able to give an account to God, and to the world for what we do. But what, should I go further than the text? Here is a special good use it hath: if we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged of the Lord. This judging of ourselves, it* prevents a further judgment.
Quest. How is that?
Ans. First of all, because we spare God a labour. When we judge ourselves, he need not take us in hand to judge us. His corrections and his statutes are often called judgments in the Psalms.† Now upon the neglect of his judgments‡ and statutes, we run into his judgments and corrections; yet if we were careful of our duty, we might prevent the judgments of correction.§
Then again, things judged in one court cannot be judged in another by equity. Now the God of all justice and equity will surely strictly observe equity. When our sins are judged in an inferior court; when in the court of conscience we have cited, indicted ourselves before ourselves, and given sentence upon ourselves, before ourselves, then what is** condemned in this lower court of conscience, it shall never be condemned for hereafter: and, therefore, the necessity of this duty issues hence; 'if we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged.'
Quest. What is the ground that men are judged with the judgment of correction?††
Sol. We may learn hence, that we may thank ourselves for not returning into our souls. I was careless of setting up a court in my‡‡ own heart; careless in using those abilities that God hath given me to discern, to understand my* own ways. I have been careless there; and because I did not judge myself, it is just with God to judge me. We see here the necessity from the text: when we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged; therefore, when we are judged, we have been negligent in this duty of judging ourselves.†
Well, to hasten;‡ if this be so, if it be a duty that we are backward to, and yet it is a holy and useful duty, then we come, in the next place, to some directions how to carry ourselves in it.
(1.) First, in judging ourselves, let us call and cite ourselves before ourselves, and fall to a reckoning both with our persons and the state wherein we stand, and likewise the actions that come from us; what is good in us, and what is ill; what omitted, and what committed; what corruption is mingled with our best performances, and such like, as we shall see after. First, call ourselves to a reckoning, and see whether we can give account to ourselves or no. And if we cannot give account to ourselves, much less can we to the all-seeing eye and justice of God. I would fain have a worldling give account to himself, why the elder he grows the more worldly he should be; he cannot give an account to himself for it. I would have a profane swearer give account to himself, why he dallies with the great and terrible majesty of God, as if he were greater than he, when he pronounceth 'that he will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain,' Exod. 20:7. I would fain know of those that spend the prime of their time and years in the service of the devil, and bring their rotten old age to God, what account they can give to their own hearts. I would have any sinner, that lives in a course of sin, give account to his own heart: thou wretched man, canst thou not give an account to thyself? God is greater than thy heart; how dost thou think to stand before the judgment-seat of God ere long? The first thing, therefore, is to arraign ourselves at our own bar. I exclude not others that have calling to examine others, but especially present ourselves.
(2.) And when we find anything amiss, then besides this arraigning of ourselves, we must give sentence against ourselves. That is the second thing in discussing: as David, Ps. 73:22, 'So foolish was I, and as a beast,' when he had entertained a thought that God neglected his church, and regarded it no more; he had a dishonourable thought of God raised in his heart. 'Oh,' saith he, 'I was ashamed, so foolish, and so like a beast was I.' And so you have the prodigal; and Dan. 9:4, seq., and Ezra 9:6. seq., for examples how to pass a censure upon ourselves, when we find anything amiss; and labour that those affections that are in us towards ill, as grief, and shame, and sorrow, may be stirred up in us, by setting ourselves in grief, and shame, and sorrow, as we should, to turn the stream of our affections the right way.
When we find anything amiss in our own hearts, when we have given sentence and judgment upon ourselves;§
(3.) Then proceed to execution: let them go together, judgment and execution. This the apostle calls an holy revenge, 2 Cor. 7:11. If we have been proud, let us abase ourselves. If we have been base in the duties of charity and good works to others, let us now, as Zaccheus, labour for the contrary, Luke 19:8. If we have misspent our precious time, let us labour now to redeem the time, to do the contrary good. This course we ought to take.
And for the things that we ought to sift, and to try, and to judge, they are not only our persons, but whatsoever comes from us: we are to judge all our actions, not only our ill actions, but our good actions. There is much dross mingled with our gold: let us examine our best actions. Nay, and not only our outward, but go to the very root. When we find a fault in any outward action, follow it to the very corrupt spring. Those that have a plant, that bears venomous fruit, they dig it at the root; so when any bad fruit comes from us, go to the root, strike there at it; follow sin to its burrow, its first hatching place, to the very heart. Thus David doth, Ps. 51:5: he goes to his birth sin. What, should I speak, saith he, of the sins that I have committed? 'In sin was I conceived.' In all actual sins look to the corrupt root and puddle whence they come; as, Oh, what is this word that I have spoken? what is this action? I have a corrupt nature, that is ready to yield to an hundred such upon the like occasion; and thereupon go to the heart, and to* the soul, and censure that; for that is worse than any particular act whatsoever.
Take heed of laying the fault upon this occasion, or that occasion,† when we find ourselves faulty. No. Say it was thou, my proud heart! it was thou, mine angry heart! my base worldly heart! The occasion did but help; the principal was mine own heart. Let us labour, therefore, to be acquainted thoroughly with our heart, that is wondrous unfaithful. There is a mystery of deceit in it.
What is the reason that God's children sometimes fall into sins that they never thought of, and that naturally they are not prone to?
Sol. Because there is no man that sufficiently knows the depth of the falsehood of his own heart. For Moses to become an angry man, that was the meekest man on earth, it was strange, yet at the waters of strife he brake forth into passion, Num. 20:10. For David, that had his heart touched for cutting off the lap of Saul's garment, it was strange to come to murder, 1 Sam. 24:5, 2 Sam. 11:15, seq. Now, who would have thought that murder had lodged in David's heart? For Peter, that loved Christ so much, to come to deny and to forswear his Master; who would have thought that forswearing had lurked in the heart of Peter? Mat. 26:72. Beloved! we know not what corruption lurks in our hearts. Nay, sometimes we shall find, if we search our hearts narrowly, those corruptions therein that at other times we are not prone to, so deceitful is our heart. And therefore, in all breaches outwardly, in speech or carriage, be sure to run to the heart to condemn sin, and to strike at it there.
Well, thus we see some directions how to carry ourselves. It is not, beloved, the having of corruption that damns men, but the affections we carry towards our corruptions. The best of us have corruptions, but mark how we do carry ourselves towards them. A carnal man pleads for his corruptions, he strengthens them; and another man hath corruption, but it is hardly used. Corruption is differently used in the heart of a carnal and of a gracious man, for in the one it is fostered, cherished, and pleaded for: in a civil, carnal man;‡ in the other man it is indeed, but it is subdued and mortified, it is judged and condemned. As we say of a man, when judgment is passed upon him, he is a dead man, though he be not dead, because the sentence of death is passed upon him, who, when he comes to be executed, by little and little he dies, till he be perfectly dead; so it is when corruption is judged by us and condemned in our hearts, it is as it were dead, because we have passed the sentence on it, we have condemned it, and because we have begun the execution that shall end in death; and therefore, as we would difference ourselves from the world, let us labour more and more, that though we have corruption, yet to carry ourselves thus towards it, to make it more hateful by all means. We cannot make it too hateful to us; it doth us all the mischief in the world; it is the ill of ills. All other ills are but the fruits2 of it; it puts a fiery, venomed sting into all things; it makes things comfortable uncomfortable: as the hour of death, that should be thought on as our entrance into heaven; and the day of judgment, the consideration whereof should be our joy. What makes these things terrible? Oh! it is sin, the sin that we cherish and love better than our souls; it is that that makes things that are most comfortable uncomfortable. What a thing is that that makes us afraid to go to God! to think of a gracious God! that hinders us in our best performances! that makes us backward and dull! Labour, by all means, to make sin odious, I say. In the best commonwealth in the world there will be lurking rebels, base people. What! doth the commonwealth bear the blame? No. The laws are against them, and they are executed when they are found out. So in the best heart there will be rebellious thoughts, evil thoughts, but let it not be laid to the charge of God's people. There are laws against them; they labour to find them out and to execute them. Here is the comfort of God's children, that though they groan under many infirmities, yet they look upon them as enemies, and as objects of their mortification.
Well, to hasten: again, in judging ourselves, let us labour to judge ourselves for those things that the world takes no notice of; for spiritual, for inward things: as for stirring of pride, of worldliness, of revenge, of security, unthankfulness, and such like; unkindness towards God, barrenness in good duties, that the world cannot see. Oh, let these humble our hearts! For want of judging ourselves for these, God gives us up to outward breaches, and justly too. When we make not conscience of spiritual sins, God gives us up to open sins, that stain and blemish our profession.
Again, for the sins in good duties. Take heed in our best performances that we be not deceived in them. Poison is dangerously taken in sweet gloves, and in sweet things, because it is conveyed in sweetness; and so in holy duties there is conveyed pride and resting in them. Take heed, lest corruption mingle some deadly thing with our best performances.
The Corinthians came to the table of the Lord; but because they thought the duty a good duty,* and that they might not sin in a good duty, they came hand over head, carelessly [unto it].† Oh, but we see how God deals with them. And therefore, let us examine, in good duties and performances, with what minds we come, with what preparation, with what aims and ends [we perform them].‡ Many thousands, we may fear, are damned even for good duties; for§ duties that are not ill in themselves, because they think they may be bold there, and put off the power of grace, and rest in common civil things, [even] in outward performances. When we regard not the manner, God regards not the matter of the things we do, but oftentimes punisheth for the performance of good duties, as we see here in the Corinthians. But to proceed.
Let us observe some helps to all this that we have spoken. To help us, let us get a good rule.* Let the rule of our judging and discerning be digested into our hearts; let the word of God be engrafted into us; that is the word that we must judge by, that we must be saved or damned by ere long; [as]† for false rules, the practice of the world, our own imaginations, away with them. We must not judge by those, but by the truth of God; and,‡ therefore, be sure of this, that so the rule and our souls may be one, that we may have the rule as ready as any corruption and as any sin is; when anything ariseth in our hearts, that the word engrafted in our hearts may be ready to check it presently. An unlearned judge oftentimes may mar all, whatsoever the cause be, though never so good. So, when the judgment is not instructed, an ignorant person can never manage his own soul. Let us labour for knowledge, that we may be learned in this judicature and judgment§ of ourselves.
Quest. What is the reason that many good souls are ready to bear false witness against, and to condemn themselves for what they should not?
Sol. (1.) Sometimes they condemn their state, and think [that] they are not the children of God, when they are. They want judgment out of God's book. Because they have corruption in them, they conclude that they have no grace; because they have but little grace, therefore they have none at all; as if God's glory were not to shew his strength in the midst of their weakness, and so, for want of judgment out of the Scriptures, they lay a plaster upon a sound place, and a true man is condemned for a traitor. Just persons condemn themselves in their courses that are gracious, for want of a sanctified and good judgment. Let us labour to have our judgment rightly instructed out of God's word, and in the use of all good means, grow in knowledge, that we may be discerning Christians, to judge between the flesh and the spirit, between good and bad, to have our senses exercised in this kind.
Sol. (2.) And not only to have the law, but to know the gospel too. To know in what estate Christians should be under the gospel, not to look to legal breaches altogether, but what the gospel requires; not only how short we are of the law (which we can never attain to),** but of that which we might attain to in the gospel. Let us bring ourselves to that which we might be, and which others have attained to, to the view of others better than ourselves, and this will make us to judge ourselves. But, as I said before, let us labour to know the sins against the gospel; let us know what condition of life is required under the gospel: a fruitful life and a thankful. Our whole life should be nothing but thankfulness under the gospel, and fruitfulness; we should be inflamed with the love of Christ. Oh! take heed of turning that grace of God into wantonness. Oh! would we have fresh evidence of the love of God in Christ?†† Take heed of sins against the gospel; know what the conversation of a Christian should be, to walk worthy of the gospel, worthy of the high calling of a Christain. The state of the gospel requires that we should deny all ungodliness and worldly lust, and live righteously, and soberly, and godly, &c., Titus 2:12; that we be earnest, and zealous of good works. When we find ourselves otherwise, think, Oh! this is not the life of a Christian under the gospel. The gospel requires a more fruitful, more zealous carriage, more love to Christ. 'Anathema maranatha' belongs to him that loves not the Lord Jesus, 1 Cor. 16:22; and therefore, when we find any coldness to so gracious a God, and so blessed a Saviour, let us condemn ourselves.
Sol. (3.) And take the benefit likewise of the judgment of others, if we would learn to judge ourselves thoroughly; consider what others say; it is one branch of the communion of saints to regard the judgment of others. Oh, it is a blessed thing to have others tell us of our faults, and as it were to pull us out of the fire with violence, as Jude speaketh, 23; rather to pull us out with violence, with sharp rebukes, than we should perish and be damned in our sins. If a man be to weed his ground, he sees need of the benefit of others; if a man be to demolish his house, he will be thankful to others for their help; so he that is to pull down his corruption, that old house, he should be thankful to others that will tell him, This is rotten, and this is to blame; who if he be not thankful for seasonable reproof, he knows not what self-judging means. If any man be so uncivil when a man shews him a spot on his garment, to grow choleric, will we not judge him to be an unreasonable man? And so when a man shall be told, This will hinder your comfort another day; if men were not spiritually besotted, would they swell and be angry against such a man? Therefore take the benefit of the judgment of others among whom you live. This was David's disposition, when he was told of the danger [in]* going to kill Nabal and his household; when Abigail, a discreet woman, came and diverted him; Oh, saith he, 'Blessed be God, and blessed be thou, and blessed be thy counsel,' 1 Sam. 25:32; thou hast kept me from shedding of innocent blood this day. So we should bless God, and bless them that labour by their good counsel and advice to hinder us from any sinful course, whatsoever it is.†
Sol. (4.) And then again, as a help to awaken thy conscience, go to the house of mourning. That will help us by awakening conscience. Consider the judgments of God abroad in the church, and consider our danger at home, and labour to have our hearts awakened; and then we will be ready to judge ourselves, when we keep our souls in a waking temper; take heed of spiritual security above all things.
Sol. (5.) For our conversion,‡ let it not be with the world; for then we will justify ourselves, but converse with those that are better, and the light of their excellency will abase us, and make us to judge ourselves. I have reason to be as good as they, to be as forward as they; what a shame is it for me not to do as they do! To bring ourselves to the light of good examples, it doth much good to Christians, and makes them ashamed of their backwardness and dulness. Those that have false hearts they§ shun the company of those that are better than themselves; who because they would have all alike, they besmear and sully others in their reputation, because they shall not be thought to be better than they. A base and devilish course! Whereas a Christian labours to converse with those that are better, because he would grow better than himself; take heed of a false heart in this kind.
Sol. (6.) Again, because I cannot follow the argument so fully as I thought I should have done, when all these helps and directions perhaps are not sufficient, join with this* a desire that God would help us by his own Spirit to search our hearts and judge ourselves; and complain to him of our corruptions and weaknesses; as the virgin when she was forced, Deut. 22:26, if she complained, she saved her reputation and her life. So complain to God, Lord, I would serve thee, but corruption bears too great a sway in me; and desire God to help us with heavenly light and strength, so shall we escape eternal death. Corruption is his enemy. [It is]† Christ's enemy as well as ours, and Christ, if we beg of him, will help us against his enemy and ours; this should be our daily course and practice.
Obj. Now some will object, Here is a troublesome course! what a deal of do is here. What kind of life would you have the life of a Christian to be, to be thus discussing and censuring?
Sol. I answer, it is the trouble of physic that prevents the trouble of sickness. Is it not better to be troubled with physic, than to be troubled with a long and tedious sickness? Is it not better to be troubled with the pain of a tent,‡ than with the pain of a wound? All this is but preventing; by this course we prevent further trouble. For we must know that God hath put conscience into us, and this conscience must, and it shall have its work, either in this world or in the world to come; and therefore let us discharge it now by sifting, by examining and condemning ourselves, that it may not rise and stand against us, when we would have it our friend. Oh, carry things so that conscience may be a friend at the day of judgment, put it§ out of office now, let it say what it can, stifle it not, stop it not, divert it not, let it have its full scope to say what it can. For I beseech you do but consider the fearful estate of a man that hath neglected self-examination: when he comes to die, and is in any trouble, when he sees death before him, live he cannot, and to die he is unfit; for if he look back, he looks back to a world of sin not repented of; forwards he sees eternal damnation before him; if he look to God, he is offended for his rebellious course of life. Where is then the comfort of such a one, that in the glorious light of the gospel doth not practise this duty of judging himself?
Sin must be judged either in a repentant heart or [else] by God, [it] being against God's prerogative, for he hath made a law against it. Judged it must be: we must give account of every 'idle word,' either in a repentant heart, by afflicting our own souls for it, or at the day of judgment, Mat. 12:36. Now what a fearful thing will this be, to have all to make account for then. Is it not a great mercy, beloved, that God hath pointed out such a course to set up a court of conscience to prevent shame? Were it not a shame for us to have our faults written in our foreheads? And yet better so, than to have all to reckon for at the day of judgment. For if all our faults were laid open, our corrupt thoughts and vile affections here—there were hope of repentance in this world; but to have them laid open to our shame and confusion in the world to come, it is a matter of eternal despair. Now God, to prevent both these, hath set up a court of conscience, that we might judge ourselves, and prevent shame here, and damnation hereafter.
Quest. And how shall this torment [wretches] in hell, when a man** shall think, God put conscience in me; if I had not put it off, but suffered it to have done what it would, I might have been thus and thus, but now I have wilfully cast myself into this [misery].* It will be the hell in hell, that shall torment us more than hell,† when we shall think, I have brought myself carelessly and securely to that‡ cursed estate such shall be then in;§ therefore, I beseech you, consider the misery of a man that neglects the practice of this duty, and consider withal how happy and how sweet the condition of that man is that hath and carefully doth daily perform this duty: he is afraid of no ill tidings; if anything come, he hath made his reckoning and account with God, there is no sin upon the file unrepented of, and unjudged, and unconfessed to God. If he looks back, he considers his sins, but he hath repented of them. If he look forward, he sees nothing but God reconciled, and he can think of death and judgment with comfort. Oh, the happiness, and the peace, and the inward paradise of such a man, about another careless man that puts off his estate, because he will not trouble and afflict his own soul, and torment himself before his time.
Here is the difference between a careless and a sound Christian; what the one thinks now, the other shall ere long. But only the one is mad now, and is not his own man, but besotted with ambition and covetousness; the other is sober, and in his right wits, able to judge and to censure himself. And therefore let holy persons that are careful, pass not a whit for the censures of vain persons; they speak against what they know not; against a strict course of life. Those that truss up the loins of their souls, and are careful of their ways, they are the only sound Christians; they are the only comfortable Christians, that can think of all conditions, and of all estates comfortably. I beseech you take these things to heart, and let us be stirred up to perform this duty I speak of,** of daily trying and examining of†† our ways, that daily we may relish Christ.
Quest. What is the reason there is no more rejoicing and thankfulness for Christ?
Sol. We keep not the wound, I mean corruption, open; we see that which is unmortified, but we dry it up; and therefore we do not relish Christ. Sweet is Christ to the soul that is exercised in a search of his own heart and ways.
Quest. But at what times especially are we to examine?
Sol. At all times, every day; because we must feed on Christ every day. Therefore we ought to have these sour herbs, considering that we daily sin, that Christ may relish. Christ justifieth the ungodly every day. We have use of justification; and therefore we should daily see our corruptions, and judge ourselves for them: then Christ is Christ indeed, and Jesus is Jesus indeed to us. Every day let us do this. We have short memories; and sin when it is green it is easily rooted out. Therefore,
1. Every day, before sin be rooted, let us judge ourselves. The more we do it now every day, the less we shall have to do when we die, and when we are on our sickbeds; and therefore do it still, that we may have the less to do when we are weak. Is that a fit time to go over our life, and to censure our courses, when we are in such a case as we cannot think of earthly things? Oh, it is an ill time to get grace when we should use grace. And therefore, that we may have the less to do when we shall have enough to do to struggle with sickness; and have nothing to do when we die, but to die and comfortably yield up our souls to God let us be exact in our accounts every day.
2. But more especially we should do so when we are to deal with God, as now we are to receive the communion, wherein we draw near to God.* Those that go to great persons, they will not go in rags, but put on their best attire, and make all neat and handsome, that nothing may be offensive. Have we this wisdom when we appear before any greater than ourselves? When we are to appear before God and Christ (especially† to have so near communion as we have in the sacrament), let us labour, I say,‡ to come neat and prepared. When they were to come to the passover, the lamb was singled out beforehand three days, that they might have time to prepare themselves in, Exod. 12:6. But we ought especially§ to examine and to judge ourselves when we come near to God in holy communion, to feast with God, which is here intended, when we come to receive the blessed sacrament. They should have prepared and have judged themselves. Because they neglected it they were judged of God; and therefore know you that mean to receive now, now is the time when we should judge ourselves, the more especial time.** Though we should do it every day, yet this is the special time. Take heed of superstition though, to thrust all religion into one time, to the time of the communion, as many do. They turn off all their examination to a little time before the communion, and the taking of the communion to one time of the year, to Easter; and thus they think God will bear with them. Oh, take heed!†† that is superstition. As I said before, keep a daily account; every week examine how we have kept our daily account; and every month examine how we have kept our weekly account; and when we come to the communion, examine how we have kept our daily account, whether we have slubbered anything before,‡‡ especially when we come to take the communion.
Quest. But what shall we do, when we have done all? When we have examined, and judged, and passed a censure upon ourselves,§§ what shall [we] do when we have done all?
Sol. When we are condemned in one court, go to another; as a man that is condemned in the Common Law, he appeals to the Chancery. When we are condemned in the court of justice, fly to God's chancery, fly to mercy. He that hath a sentence passed in one court, he appeals to another: when we have judged ourselves, then appeal to mercy; for this is to do it in faith; and when we judge ourselves in faith, then, upon our judging, we know that God will pardon. You know he hath promised, 'If we confess our sins, he is merciful to forgive them,' 1 John 1:9. Say, Lord, I confess them, cancel thou the bond, cancel thou the debt. Therefore a Christian's plea is, when he hath judged himself, to fly to God for pardon. Saul, we know, could judge himself; and Judas could pass a sentence upon his own act, that he had sinned; but they went no further, they did not fly to God for mercy in Christ. Therefore let us fly to the throne of grace; as we have an excellent pattern of this, Ps. 130:3: saith the psalmist there, 'If thou be strict to mark what is done amiss, Lord, who shall abide it?' There he is condemned in one court. If thou be strict to mark what is done amiss, who shall abide it? There, being condemned in that court, he flies to the throne of grace: 'But there is mercy with thee, that thou mightst be feared.' Lord, if thou be strict to mark what is done amiss by me in this action and in that action, who shall abide it? But, Lord, there is mercy with thee in Jesus Christ, in whom thou hast stablished a throne of mercy;* there is mercy with thee, that thou mayest be feared. Take this course, and undoubtedly God will shew mercy; because the Son directs us to the Father in the Lord's prayer that we should ask forgiveness; and God the Father directs us to his Son, to believe his Son† for forgiveness. 'This is his commandment, that we believe in his Son Jesus Christ,' 1 John 3:23. We cannot honour the Father more, we cannot honour the Son more, than to go to God for mercy; because God in Christ now will be glorified in his mercy.‡
Let us fetch out a pardon of course for every sin. 'If we confess our sins, he is merciful to forgive our sins.' And therefore it is our own fault if we find not the assurance of the forgiveness of them, because we deal not roundly, without a spirit of guile, with God. That is the next duty then, after we have judged ourselves, to go to mercy. And to shew you one example, how peace comes in after this judging of ourselves, Rom. 7:24, the blessed apostle complains of his own corruptions. He had laid sore to his own charge, that the ill that he would not do, that he did; and the good that he would do, that he did not; and he breaks out, 'Oh! wretched man that I am.' What did he find presently upon this? 'Thanks be to God,' presently upon it, as if he had found peace presently upon complaining of his corruptions. Oh, miserable man, &c.§ So when we honour God by confessing and judging ourselves, he will honour us with inward peace and joy; because faith honours him by trusting and relying upon his mercy. If therefore we would find inward peace in the pardon of our sins, let us deal faithfully with our souls in spreading our sins before God; and we shall find peace presently upon it. If not, learn to wait; for undoubtedly God will make good his promise.
Quest. But what shall we do in the next place, after we have so opened the case to God, and gone to him for pardon, and forgiveness, and mercy in Christ?
Sol. Then renew our covenant with God for the time to come, of better service, and enter upon reformation, upon our resolution; for this is a fruit of the former.
Quest. How shall we know that we have humbled ourselves, and judged ourselves as we should do?
Sol. When we relish the mercy of God in the pardon of our sins.
Quest. But how shall we know when God hath pardoned our sins?
Sol. When he gives us grace to renew our covenants for the time to come, not to offend him; and when he gives us strength to reform our ways; for with pardoning mercy there goeth healing mercy: Ps. 103:1, 'Praise the Lord, O my soul, that forgives all thy sins, and heals all thine infirmities.' So these must go together, judging and censuring of ourselves; then pleading for mercy, and renewing of our covenants, with reformation thereupon. A Christian looks as well to the time to come as to the time past: for the time past he repents; for the time to come he resolves against all sin. A wicked carnal man could be content to be freed from the guilt of sins past, that his conscience might not twitch* him and torment him. But for the time to come he makes no conscience to entertain any vows, and purposes, or desire, that God would assist him against all sin. But† a Christian is as careful of the sin that he is in danger to commit for the time to come,‡ as a wicked man is to have the sin past off his conscience.
As therefore we would have an evidence of our certainty, let us look that we renew our covenants and purposes for the time to come; an excellent pattern for this you have, Ps. 19:12, where David prays, 'Lord, cleanse me from my secret sins' (for the sins that hung upon him, and his sins past), and what for the time to come? 'Lord, keep me that presumptuous sins have not the dominion over me.' So we should pray to God, 'Lord, cleanse me from my former sins, and keep me by thy Holy Spirit, that presumptuous sins for the time to come have not the dominion over me;'** and as it is in the Lord's Prayer, to join both together, 'Forgive us our debts,' and 'lead us not into temptation' for the time to come. Those that feel in their souls' assurance of pardon, they†† will entertain purposes against all sin for the time to come; they will as heartily say, Lord, lead me not into temptation, as they will say, Lord, forgive my sins.
Use 1. Well,‡‡ I beseech you, let us lay these things to heart, to practise them. Our peace depends upon them. Oh! how sweet is peace and rest, after we have made our peace with God, when we have dealt thoroughly and soundly with our own souls, and have not daubed with them!§§ There may be dangerous times a-coming; there is a cloud hangs over our heads; we know not how it may fall; we see all the world is in combustion. Who, when troubles come, will be the happy man? [Even] he that hath judged himself, accused himself, that hath mortified his corruptions, and, according to the grace that God hath given him, renewed his covenant and laboured to reform his life, and keeps it in his purpose of heart so to do (as David prays, that he may not offend God for the time to come), he is fit for all times; whatsoever times come they shall find him in good purposes. What a fearful thing were it if death, if some terrible judgment should light on us in an evil course of life; what would become of us then? Happy man is he that is in the good way, in good purposes, in good resolutions, that the bent of his soul is to God and to heavenward; and therefore, as we would evidence to ourselves, that our state is good, that we are wise, and not fools, I beseech you let us practise this duty, and make it more familiar to us than we have done; and then undoubtedly we shall find somewhat in us better than nature. Nature cannot judge itself. Corruption cannot pass a censure upon itself. It is grace, a principle above nature, that censures corruption; and therefore when we judge ourselves, it is an undoubted evidence that we are in the state of grace. Who would want such an evidence?
Use 2. Again, when we find want of grace, go out of ourselves, go* to God and to Christ. Naturally we stick in ourselves. Judas and Saul, they could not go to God for mercy, when their conscience was awaked with the sense of their sin. To go to God for pardon, it is an argument that there is somewhat wrought above nature in the heart; and therefore, as we would have an evidence to our souls, that there is somewhat in us above common men, let us judge ourselves; let us spare no sin, that God may spare all, Be severe to ourselves, that God may be merciful to us; and when we have done this, look to the abundant mercy of God in Christ. 'Where sin hath abounded, grace hath more abounded,' Rom. 5:13. Oh! mercy is sweet after we have searched into our corruptions. There is a height, and breadth, and depth of mercy, when we have felt the height, and breadth, and depth of corruption first. The Lord give a blessing to that which hath been delivered.
Sibbes, Richard. The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes