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DEVICE 4: By showing our souls the sins of very good men, and by hiding their faithfulness; by showing our soul their sins, and by hiding from our soul their sorrows and repentance. For instance he shows our soul the adultery of David, the pride of Hezekiah, the impatience of Job, the drunkenness of Noah, the blasphemy of Peter, etc., and he hides from the soul the tears, the sighs, the groans, the emotional pains, the humblings, and repentings of these precious souls.
Remedy (1). The first remedy against this device of Satan is, seriously to consider, That God in his Word has been equally as careful to draw attention to the saints’ repentance and turning from sin, as He has to note their falling into sins. David falls greatly—but by repentance he rises sweetly. ‘blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! ; For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. ;Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation’ It is true, Hezekiah’s heart was proud under the abundance of mercy that God had poured out to him; but it is as true that Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, so that the wrath of the Lord did not come upon him, nor upon Jerusalem, during Hezekiah’s lifetime. It is true, Job curses the day of his birth, but it is as true that he rises by repentance: ‘Behold, I am vile,’ says he; ‘what shall I answer you? I will lay my hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken—but I will not answer; yes twice—but I will proceed no further. I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear—but now my eye sees you; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes’ (Job 40:4, 5; 42:5, 6). Tertullian says that he was born for no other purpose but to repent.
Peter falls horribly—but rises by repentance sweetly; a look of love from Christ melts him into tears. He knew that repentance was the key to the kingdom of grace. At one time his faith had been so great that he leaped out of a boat into a sea of waters to come to Christ; now his repentance was so great that he leaped into a sea of tears, because he had denied Christ. Some say that, after his sad fall, he was continually weeping, and that his face was even furrowed with continual tears. As soon as he took in the poison he vomited it up again, before it got to his vital parts; As soon as he had touched this serpent, he turned it into a rod to punish his soul with guilt for sinning against such clear light, and strong love, and sweet discoveries of the heart of Christ to him. Luther confesses that, before his conversion, that the most displeasing word in all his study of the things of God was repent—but afterward he took delight in the word. Clement writes that Peter so repented, that for the rest of his life, every night when he heard the cock crow, he would fall down on his knees, and, weeping bitterly, would beg pardon of his sin. Oh, souls, you can easily sin like these saints—but can you repent with the saints? Many can sin with David and Peter, but cannot repent with David and Peter—and so must perish forever! Theodosius the emperor tried to force Ambrose to let him eat the Lord’s supper, excusing his own sinful act by David’s; to which Ambrose replies, You have followed David transgressing, now follow David repenting, and then you can come to table of the Lord.
Remedy (2). The second remedy against this device of Satan is to seriously consider that these saints did not make a habit of sin. They fell once or twice, and rose by repentance, so that they might remain close to Christ forever. They fell accidentally, occasionally, and with much reluctancy; but you sin presumptuously, obstinately, readily, delightfully, and customarily. The saints cannot sin with a whole will—but with a half-will, an unwillingness; not with a full consent—but with a dissenting consent. By making a habit of sinning you have brought on yourself a kind of curse that causes you to keep sinning. To stop sinning is now the same to you as to cease to exist. Sin has become so familiar to you it has become your nature, which you cannot, which you will not cast off; even though you know that if you do not cast off your sin, God will cast off your soul forever. You know that if your sin and soul are not torn apart, Christ and your soul can never meet. You make a habit of sin, and say—Didn’t David sin like this, and Noah sin like this, and Peter sin like this? No they did not! Their hearts turned aside to folly one day—but your heart turns aside to folly every day (2 Peter 2:14, Prov. 4:6); and when they had fallen, they turned away by repentance, and lived by faith in Christ crucified. But you fall, and don’t have strength or will to rise—but wallow in sin, and will eternally die in your sins, unless the Lord is merciful to your soul. Do you think this is good reasoning? — These saints only tasted poison once, and yet narrowly escaped; but you think you can daily drink poison, and somehow escape. This is the crazy reasoning of proud souls. David and Peter sinned once terribly and deeply; they tasted poison only once, and were sick to death; but you taste it daily, and somehow think you will not taste of eternal death. Remember, O souls! that the day is close when self-flatterers will be found self-deceivers, yes, self-murderers! Though sin dwells in the regenerate, it does not reign over the regenerate; they rise by repentance.
Remedy (3). The third remedy against this device of Satan is, seriously to consider, That though God does not, nor never will, disown his people for their sins, he has severely punished his people for their sins. David sins, and God breaks his bones for his sin: ‘Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which you have broken may rejoice’ (Psalm 51:8). ‘And because you have done this, the sword shall never depart from your house, to the day of your death’ (2 Sam. 12:10). Though God will not totally remove his loving-kindness, or allow his faithfulness to fail, or break his covenant, or change what He has decreed or commanded, yet he will ‘visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes’ (Psalm 89:30, 35). The Scripture if full of examples of this. Everyone who is familiar with scripture knows this, and to cite more scriptures to prove it would be like lighting a candle to see the sun at noon. Josephus reports that, not long after the Jews had crucified Christ on the cross, so many of them were condemned to be crucified that there were not places enough for crosses nor crosses enough for the bodies that were to be hung on. The Jews have a proverb, ‘That there is no punishment that comes upon Israel in which there is not one ounce of the golden calf’; meaning that that was so great a sin, God remembered it in every plague; that it had an influence into every trouble they fell into. Every man’s heart may say to him in his sufferings, as the heart of Apollodorus in the kettle, ‘I have been the cause of this.’ God is most angry when he shows no anger. God keep me from this mercy; this kind of mercy is worse than all other kind of misery.
There is an expression once used in a friend writing to a friend: ‘I account it a part of unhappiness not to know adversity; I judge you to be miserable, because you have not been miserable.’ Luther says, ‘There is not a Christian that carries not his cross.’ It is mercy that our affliction is not execution—but a correction. He who has deserved hanging, should be glad if he escape with a whipping. God’s corrections are our instructions, his lashes our lessons, his scourges our schoolmasters, his chastisements our admonitions. And to note this, both the Hebrews and the Greeks express correction and teaching by one and the same word (Musar, Paideia),*** because the latter is the true end of the former, according to that in the proverb, ‘Smart makes wit, and vexation gives understanding.’ Therefore, Luther correctly calls affliction The Christian man’s divinity.’ So says Job (Chap. 33:14-19), ‘But God speaks again and again, though people do not recognize it. He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night when deep sleep falls on people as they lie in bed. He whispers in their ear and terrifies them with his warning. He causes them to change their minds; he keeps them from pride. He keeps them from the grave, from crossing over the river of death. Or God disciplines people with sickness and pain, with ceaseless aching in their bones.’ When Satan shall tell you of other men’s sins to draw you to sin—then think of the same men’s sufferings to keep you from sin. Lay your hand upon your heart, and say, O my soul! if you sin with David, you must suffer with David!
Remedy (4). The fourth remedy against this device of Satan is, solemnly to consider, That there are only two main ends of God’s recording the falls of his saints. And the one is, to keep those from fainting, sinking, and despair, under the burden of their sins, who fall through weakness and infirmity.
And the other is, that their falls may be as landmarks to warn others to take heed lest they fall. It never entered into the heart of God to record his children’s sins, that others might be encouraged to sin—but rather that others might look to themselves, and cling more tightly and closely to Christ, and avoid all occasions and temptations that may cause them fall, as others have fallen, when they have been left by Christ. The Lord has made their sins landmarks, to warn his people to take heed how they come near those sands and rocks, those snares and baits, that have been fatal to the choicest treasures, namely—the joy, peace, comfort, and glorious enjoyments of the bravest spirits and noblest souls that ever sailed through the ocean of this sinful troublesome world; as you may see in David, Job, and Peter. There is nothing in the world that can so notoriously cross the grand end of God’s recording of the sins of his saints, than for any from thence to take encouragement to sin; and wherever you find such a soul, you may write him Christless, graceless, a soul cast off by God, a soul that Satan has by the hand, and the eternal God knows where he will lead him. I have known a good man, says Bernard, who, when he heard of any that had committed some notorious sin, he would say to with himself—he fell today, so may I tomorrow.