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while, cease to be a reprover to himself, and hereby will be exposed to this judgment of hardness of heart.
4thly, Our venturing on the occasions of sin, or committing it presumptuously, without considering the heinous aggravations thereof, or the danger that will ensue to us thereby; these things will certainly bring on us a very great degree of hardness of heart.
But, since there are some who are afraid of falling under this judgment, and are ready to complain, that the hardness,
, a us to enquire, [2.] What is the difference between that hardness of heart, which believers often complain of, and judicial hardness, which is considered, in this answer, as a punishment of sin. There is nothing that a believer more complains of, than the hardness and impenitency of his heart, its lukewarmness and stupidity under the ordinances ; and there is nothing that he more desires, than to have this redressed, and is sometimes not without a degree of fear, lest he should be given up to judicial hardness; and therefore, to prevent discouragements of this nature, let it be considered,
(1.) That judicial hardness is very seldom perceived, and never lamented ; a broken and a contrite heart is the least thing that such desire : But it is otherwise with believers ; for, as it is said of Hezekiah, that he was humbled for the pride of his heart, 2 Chron. xxxii. 26. so all they, who have the truth of grace, and none but such, are exceedingly grieved for the hardness of their heart, which is an argument that it is not judicial, how much soever it be, in common with every sin, the result of the corruption of nature, and the imperfection of this present state,
(2.) Judicial hardness is perpetual ; or, if ever there be any remorse, or relenting, or the soul is distressed, by reason of its guilt, or the prevalency of sin, it is only at such times when he is under some outward afflictions, or filled with a dread of the wrath of God; and, as this wears off, or abates, his stupidity returns as much, or more, than ever : Thus it was with Pharaoh, when he was affrighted with the mighty thundering and hail, with which he was plagued, he sent for Moses and Aaron, and said unto them, I have sinned; the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked, Exod. ix. 27. but, when the plague was removed, it is said, that he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart. But it is otherwise with a believer ; for sometimes, when no adverse dispensations, with respect to his outward circumstances in the world, trouble him, yet he is full of complaints, and greatly afflicted, that his heart is no more affected in holy duties, or inflamed with love to God, or zeal for his glory, of
that he cannot delight in him as he would, or obtain a compleat victory over in-dwelling sin, which is his constant burden; and, whenever he has a degree of tenderness, or brokenness of heart, under a sense of sin, it is not barely the fear that he has of the wrath of God, as a sin-revenging judge, or the dreadful consequences of sin committed, that occasion it, but a due sense of that ingratitude and disingenuity, which there is in every act of rebellion against him, who has laid them under such inexpressible obligations to obedience.
(3.) Judicial hardness is attended with a total neglect of all holy duties, more especially those that are secret ; but that hardness of heart which a believer complains of, though it occasions his going on very uncomfortably in duty, yet it rather puts him upon, than drives him from it.
(4.) When a person is judicially hardened, he makes use of indirect and unwarrantable methods to maintain that false peace, which he thinks himself happy in the enjoyment of; that, which he betakes himself to, deserves no better character than a refuge of lies; and the peace he rejoices in, deserves no better a name than stupidity: but a believer, when complaining of the hardness of his heart, cannot take up with any thing short of Christ, and his righteousness; and it is his presence that gives him peace; and he always desires that faith may accompany his repentance, that so, whenever he mourns for sin, the comfortable sense of his interest in him, may afford him a solid and lasting peace, which is vastly different from that stupidity and hardness of heart, which is a punishment of sin.
There is another expression in this answer, which denotes little more than a greater degree of judicial hardness, when it is styled, A reprobate sense, or, as the apostle calls it, A reprobate mind, Rom. i. 28. which God is said to have given them up to, who did not like to retain him in their knowledge; the meaning of which is, that persons, by a course of sin, render their hearts so hard, their wills so obstinate and depraved, as well as their understandings so dark and defiled, that they hardly retain those notices of good and evil, which are enstamped on the nature of man, and, at some times, have a tendency to check for, and restrain from sin, till they are entirely lost, and extinguished by the prevalency of corrupt nature, and a continued course of presumptuous sins ; and, as the result hereof, they extenuate and excuse the greatest abominations : Thus Ephraim is represented, as saying, In all my labours, they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin, Hos. xii. 8. whereas God says in a following verse, that they provoked him to anger most bitterly, ver. 14., and, after this, they entertain favourable thoughts of the vilest actions, as some are represented doing, Who call evil good, and
good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness ; that put bitter
for sweet, and sweet for bitter, Isa. v. 20. 4. The next spiritual judgment mentioned in this answer, as a punishment for sin, is a person's being given up to vile affections. This God is said to have done, to those whom the
apostle describes, as giving themselves over to the committing of those sins, which are contrary to nature, Rom. i. 26. such as all men generally abhor, who do not abandon themselves to the most notorious crimes: This is a contracting that guilt, which is repugnant to those natural ideas of virtue and vice, which even an unregenerate man, who has not arrived to this degree of impiety, cannot but abhor. These are such as are not to be named among Christians, or thought of, without the utmost regret, and an afflictive sense of the degeneracy of human nature.
5. The last thing mentioned in this answer, in which the inward punishment of sin, in this life, consists, is, Horror of conscience. Under the foregoing instances of spiritual judgments, conscience seemed to be asleep, but now it is awakened, and that by the immediate hand of God, and this is attended with a dread of his wrath falling upon it: horror and despair are the result hereof; The arrows of the Almighty are within him, the poison whereof drinketh up his spirit; the terrors of God do set themselves in array against him, Job vi. 4. and, Terrors take hold on him as waters; a tempest stealeth him away in the night. The east wind carrieth him away, and he departeth; and, as a storm, hurleth him out of his place. For God shall cast upon him, and not spare; he would fain flee out of his hand, chap. xxvii. 20-22.
This differs from those doubts and fears, which are common to believers, inasmuch as it is attended with despair, and a dreadful view of God, as a God to whom vengeance belongeth, and is attended, as the apostle says, with a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries, Heb. x. 37. Before this, he took a great deal of pains to stifle convictions of conscience, but now he would fain do it, but cannot; which is a sad instance of the wrath of God pouring forth gall and wormwood into it, when he says, to use the prophet's words, Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee, Jer. ii. 19.
But, now we are speaking concerning horror of conscience, we must take heed, lest we give occasion to doubting believers, who are under great distress of soul, through a sense of sin, to apply what has been said, to themselves, for their farther discouragement, and conclude, that this is a judicial act of God, and a certain evidence, that they have not the truth of grace : Therefore we may observe, that there is a difference between this horror of conscience, which we have been describing, and that distress of soul, which believers are often liable to, in three respects.
(1.) The former, under horror of conscience, flee from God, as from an enemy, and desire only to be delivered from his wrath, and not from sin, the occasion of it; whereas the believer desires nothing so much, as that his iniquity, which is the occasion of it, may be subdued and forgiven, and that he may have that communion with God which he is destitute of; and, in order thereunto, he constantly desires to draw nigh to him in ordinances, and, if he cannot enjoy him he mourns after him : Thus the Psalmist complaineth, as one in the utmost degree of distress, Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves, Psal. lxxxviii. 7. yet he says, Unto thee have I cried, O Lord, and in the morning shall my prayer prepént thee, ver. 13.
(2.) The one reproaches God, and entertains unworthy thoughts of him, as though he were severe, cruel, and unjust to him ; whereas the other, with an humble and penitent frame of spirit, complains only of himself, acknowledges that there is no unrighteousness with God, and lays all the blame to his own iniquity.
(3.) Horror of conscience, when it is judicial, seldom continues any longer, than while a person is under some outward afflictive dispensation of providence, under which sin is increased, and the removal thereof leaves him as stupid as he was before : whereas it is otherwise with a believer; for the removal of God's afflicting hand, as to outward troubles, will not afford him any remedy against his fears, unless sin be mortified, and God is pleased to lift up the light of his countenance upon him, and give him joy and peace in believing.
Secondly, Having considered the inward punishments of sin, in this life we are now to speak something concerning those, which, in this answer, are styled outward, of which some are the immediate consequence of the first entrance of sin into the world, and others are increased by the frequent commission thereof; the former includes in it the curse of God upon the creature for our sakes, and our liableness to death; the latter respects those various other evils that befal us, of which some are personal, and others relative; accordingly, many evils are said to befal us, in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments.
1. The curse of God was denounced against the creatures, immediately after man's apostasy from him : This is, in part, contained in the threatning, Cursed be the ground for thy sake. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; by the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return to the ground, Gen. iii. 17-19. and it is very elegantly described by the apostle, who speaks of (a) the creature as subject to vanity, not willingly,
(a) z?, means animal nature in man. The relief of the body is spoken of.
but by reason of him, who hath subjected the same in hope ; (b) and of the whole creation's groaning and travelling in pain together until now, Rom. viii. 20—22. the general scope and design whereof seems to be this, that it retains the visible marks of the curse of God, which followed upon man's sin. This I rather think to be the sense thereof, than to suppose, as some do, that the creature, hcre spoken of, is the Gentile world, and the vanity, which they were subject to, that idolatry which they were universally addicted to; for that does not seem to agree with what the apostle says, when he supposes that their subjection to this vanity was not willingly, neither can it well be called the bondage of corruption. But if, on the other hand, we take it for that part of the creation, which was more immediately designed for the use of man, being abused, and so subject to that vanity, which is the consequence of his fall, this agrees very well with its being not willingly; for he is speaking here of creatures not endowed with understanding and will, yet abused by those that are, and therefore their subjection to man's vanity, is not so much from themselves, as from man's sin; and then he speaks of the liableness of all these things to corruption, as the world is decaying and growing toward a dissolution. How far this curse of God, on the creature, extended itself, whether only to this lower world, or to the heavenly bodies themselves, such as the sun, moon, and stars, I pretend not to determine; for I desire not to extend my conjectures beyond the line of scripture, which speaks of the earth, as cursed for man's sake; and how far the other parts of nature, are liable to corruption, or inclined towards a dissolution, it is hard to say. All that I shall add, on this head, is, that, when this is called a punishment, which is consequent on man's sin, it more espe. cially respects man, who is the only subject of punishment in this world : inanimate creatures are the matter, in which he is punished, but he alone is the subject thereof.
2. There are other evils that befal us, in which we are more immediately concerned, and these are either personal or rela. tive; and, accordingly,
(1.) We are liable to bodily diseases, which are a continual weakness, or decay of nature; and afterwards to death, which is the dissolution of the frame thereof. All the pains and disorders of nature, whereby our health is impaired, and our passage, through this world, rendered uneasy, are the consequence of our sinful and fallen state, and, in that respect, are sometimes styled, a punishment of sin : thus, when our Saviour healed the man that was sick of the palsy, he intimates, that his sickness was the consequence of sin, by the mode of expression used, Thy sins are forgiven thee, Mat. ix. 2. and the Psalmist speaks
(b) ver. 20. is a parenthesis, except, " in hope." " Waiteth &c, cons of God () in hope that the creature, &c.".