The Groans Of Believers Under Their Burdens
by Ebenezer Erskine
"Lord, all my desire is before you; and my groaning is not hidden from you." Psalm 37:9.
"The Spirit helps our infirmities; and makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." Romans 8:26.
"For we who are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened." 2 Corinthians 5:4
In the first verse of this chapter, the apostle gives a reason, why he, and others of the saints in his day, endured persecution for the cause of Christ, with such an unshaken constancy, and holy nobility: he tells us, that they had the prospect of better things, the solid and well-grounded hope of a happy immortality to follow upon the dissolution of this clay tabernacle of the body. You need not wonder, would he say, though we cheerfully and willingly undergo the sharpest trials for religion: "For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down—when we die and leave these bodies—we will have a home in heaven." When the poor believer can say with David, "I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever," he will be ready to join together with the same holy man, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil."
Yes, so far is the apostle from being damped or discouraged at the thoughts of death, that he rather invites it to do its office, by striking down this clay tabernacle, that his soul may be at liberty to ascend to these mansions of glory, which his blessed Friend and Elder Brother has prepared for him above: verse 2: "Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling." He knew very well, that when he should be stripped of his mortal body, he should not be found naked, as it is verse 3; but clothed with a robe of glory and immortality. And in the verse read, he gives a reason why he was so desirous to change his quarters; and it is drawn from the uneasiness and inconvenience of his present lodging, while cooped up in this clay tabernacle: "For we who are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened."
In which words we may briefly notice,
1. The believer's present lodging or habitation; he is in a tabernacle.
2. His melancholy disposition; he is groaning.
3. The cause or reasons of his groans; being burdened.
1. I say, we have an account of the believer's present lodging or habitation; he is in this tabernacle. By the tabernacle, here, we are to understand the body; so called, because it is a weak, moveable sort of habitation; (as we may hear more fully afterwards.) The indweller of this lodging is the noble soul, which is said to be in this tabernacle, while it is in an embodied state. So that the meaning is, We who are in this tabernacle; that is, we who are living in the body.
2. We have the melancholy disposition of the poor believer while in this lodging; he groans. The word in the original, is rendered, to groan, we find it taken in a three-fold sense in scripture.
1st, It is an expression of grief: Heb. 13:17: "Obey those who have the rule over you, that they may give their account of you, not with grief;" or, as it may be rendered, Not with groans. It is the same word that is here used. There is nothing more ordinary, when a person is weighed and pressed in spirit, than to give vent to the heart in sobs and groans: and thus stands the case with the Lord's people many times, while in the tabernacle of the body.
2dly, It is sometimes an expression of displeasure: James 5:9: "Grudge not one against another." It is the same word that is here rendered to groan. And so it imports, that the believer is dissatisfied with, or disaffected to, his present quarters; he does not like it, in comparison of the better habitation that he has in view.
3dly, It is sometimes taken as an expression of ardent, passionate, and earnest desire. Thus, the word is taken in the second verse of this chapter: "Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling." I shall not exclude any of these senses from the apostle's scope in these words.
3. In the words we have the cause or reason of the believer's groans; being burdened. Many a weary weight and heavy load has the believer hanging about him, while passing through this "valley of Baca," which make him to go many times with a bowed-down back. What these weights and burdens are, you may hear more fully afterwards.
The observation I offer from the words is this:
DOCTRINE "That believers are many times burdened, even to groaning, while in the clay tabernacle of the body." We who are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened.
The method I shall observe, in handling this doctrine, is, to give you some account,
I. Of the believer's present lodging; he is in a tabernacle.
II. Of the believer's burdens in this tabernacle.
III. Of his groans under these burdens.
IV. Conclude with some improvement of the whole.
I. An account of the believer's present lodging while in the body.And there are these two or three things that I remark about it, which I find in the text and context.
1. Then, I find it is called a house in the first verse of this chapter. And it is fitly so called, because of its meticulous and exquisite structure and workmanship; Psalm 139:14, 15: "I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are your works, and that my soul knows right well. My substance was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret; and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth." The body of man is a awe-inspiring piece of architecture, and the skill and wisdom of the great Creator are awe-inspiringly revealed in it: it is set up, as it were, by line and rule, in such exact order, that the most skillful buildings and structures in the world are but a chaos or mass of confusion, when compared with it. Take a clod of dust, and compare it with the flesh of man, unless we were instructed of it beforehand, we would not imagine it to be one and the same matter, considering the beauty and excellency of the one above the other; which evidently proclaims the being, power, and wisdom of the great Creator who made us, and not we ourselves, and who can elevate matter above its first original.
2. I remark concerning the believer's present lodging, that however ingenious its structure be, yet it is but a house of earth; therefore called in the first verse, an earthly house. And it is so, especially in a threefold respect.
1st, In respect of its ORIGINAL; it is made of earth. And therefore, from thence he is said to have his rise; Job 4:19: "He dwells in houses of clay, and his foundation is in the dust." Whatever be the beauty, strength, structure, or high pedigree of men; yet as to their bodies, they claim no higher extract than the dust of the earth.
2dly, It is a house of clay, in respect of the means that SUPPORT it; it stands upon pillars of dust; for the corn, wine, and oil, wherewith the body of man is maintained, all spring out of the earth. And if these props be withdrawn, how soon will the clay tabernacle fall to the ground, and return to its original?
3dly, It is a house of earth in respect of its END; it returns there at its dissolution. Accordingly, see what God said to Adam, Gen. 3:19: "Dust you are, and unto dust shall you return." Perhaps there may be some allusion to these three in that passionate exclamation of the prophet Jeremiah to the rebellious Jews, Jer. 22:29: "O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord." They were earth in their original, they were earth as to their support, and they would return to earth in the end.
3. I remark concerning the believer's present lodging, that it is at best but a TENT. So it is called, verse 1: "If our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved;" and again here, We who are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened." Now, a tabernacle or a tent is a moveable or portable kind of habitation, and is peculiar especially to two sorts of men. 1. To travelers or wayfaring men. 2. To soldiers or warfaring men.
1st, I say, tabernacles or tents were used by strangers or wayfaring men. Strangers, especially in the eastern countries, used to carry these portable houses about with them, because of the inconveniences to which they were exposed. Hence, (Heb. 11:9,) it is said of Abraham, that "by faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise." They dwelt in tents, because they had no present inheritance; they were only strangers and passengers in the country. To this the apostle probably alludes here. And so this intimates to us, that the saints of God, while in the body, are pilgrims and strangers, not as yet arrived at their own country: "I am a stranger in the earth," says the psalmist, Psalm 119:19; and it is said of the scripture-worthies, (Heb. 11:13,) that they "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth; they desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one." O believer, you are not a resident, but only a passenger through this valley of Baca; and therefore study a disposition of soul, suitable to your present condition.
2dly, Tents were used also by soldiers and warfaring men, who are obliged frequently to convey their camps from one place to another. Believers, while they are in the tabernacle of the body, must act the part of soldiers, fight their way to the promised land, through the very armies of hell. "We wrestle not," says the apostle, "against flesh and blood; but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places," Eph 6:12. And therefore, as the apostle exhorts, it concerns us to "put on the whole armor of God, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth;" and to be frequently accustoming ourselves to a holy dexterity in wielding and managing "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," that so we may be able to make a courageous stand in the day of battle and at last come off the field in a victorious manner, when Christ the Captain of our salvation shall sound the retreat at death. Thus, the believer's lodging in a tabernacle, shows him to be both a traveler and a soldier.
4. Another thing that I remark concerning the believer's lodging, is, that it is but a tottering and unstable house, that is shortly to be taken down; for, says the apostle, verse 1: "The earthly house of this tabernacle is to be dissolved". "What man is there," says the psalmist, "who lives, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave?" Psalm 89:48. This king of terrors has erected his trophies of victory over all who ever sprung of Adam. The greatest Ceasars and Alexanders, who "made the world to tremble" with their swords, were all forced at last to yield themselves captives to this grim messenger of the Lord Almighty. "There is no discharge of this warfare;" the tabernacle of the body must dissolve.
However, it may be ground of encouragement to the believer, that death is not a destruction or annihilation: no, as the apostle tells, it is only a dissolving, or taking down of the tent or tabernacle; for God designs to set up this tabernacle again at the resurrection, more glorious than ever. It was the belief of this which comforted and encouraged Job under his affliction, "But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought!" Job 19:25-27
II. The believer's BURDENS while in this tabernacle.This earthly house lies under many servitudes, and the believer, as one says, pays a costly rent for his quarters. For,
1. The clay tabernacle itself is many times a very heavy burden to him.The unstable cottage of the body is liable to innumerable pains and distempers, which makes it lie like a dead weight upon the soul, by which its vivacity and activity are exceedingly marred. When the poor soul would mount up, as upon eagles' wings, the body will not bear part with it. So that the believer feels the truth of Christ's apology verified in his sad experience, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
2.Not only is he burdened with a burden of clay, but also with a burden of sin. I mean indwelling corruption, the secret atheism, enmity, unbelief, ignorance, pride, hypocrisy, and other abominations of his heart. O but this is a heavy burden, which many times is likely to dispirit the poor believer, and press him down to the very ground. David (though a man according to God's own heart,) yet cries out under this burden, "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults," Psalm 19:12. And the apostle Paul never complained so much of any burden as of this, Romans 7:24: "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!" To be rid of this burden, the poor believer many times would be content that this clay tabernacle were broken into shivers.
3. He is burdened many times with a sense of much actual guilt, which he has contracted through the untenderness of his way and walk.Conscience, that deputy of the Lord Almighty, frequently brings in a heavy indictment against the poor soul, and tells it, Thus and thus you have sinned, and trampled upon the authority of God the great Lawgiver. In this case the believer cannot but take with the charge, and own, with David, "My iniquities have gone over mine head: as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me," Psalm 38:4, and Psalm 40:12: "Innumerable evils have compassed me about; my iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up: they are more than the hairs of mine head, therefore my heart fails me."
4. He is sometimes sadly burdened with the temptations of Satan.The devil, that cunning archer, shoots at him, and sore wounds and grieves him. Sometimes whole showers of fiery darts, dipped in hell, are made to fly about his ears. God, for holy and wise ends, allows the believer to be winnowed, sifted, and buffeted by this enemy. And O how much is the believer burdened in this case! Sometimes he is ready to conclude with David, 'One day or another I shall fall by this roaring lion, that goes about seeking to devour me!' Sometimes he is brought to his wit's end, saying, with Jehoshaphat in great extremity, when surrounded by enemies, "I know not what to do, but my eyes are towards you." But let not the believer think strangely of this, seeing Christ himself was not exempted from the molestations of this enemy.
5. Sometimes the believer is burdened with the burden of ungodly company.The society of the wicked, which perhaps is unavoidable, is a great encumbrance to him, and tends mightily to mar and hinder him in his work and warfare. Hence David utters that mournful and melancholy complaint, Psalm 120:5, 6: "Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!" The believer is of Jacob's disposition, with reference to the wicked, Gen. 49:6: "O my soul, stay away from them. May I never be a party to their wicked plans." And truly, sirs, if the company and society of the wicked be not your burden, it is a sign you are of their society!
6. Sometimes the believer is sadly burdened, not only with his own sins, but with the abounding sins and abominations of the day and place in which he lives. "I beheld the transgressors," says David, "and was grieved. Rivers of waters run down my eyes: because they keep not your law," Psalm 119:136, 158. O what a heart-breaking thing is it to the poor soul, to see sinners dashing themselves to pieces upon the thick bosses of God's shield, and, as it were, upon the rock of salvation, running headlong to their own everlasting ruin, without ever reflecting upon their ways! His very affections yearn with pity towards them, who will not pity themselves. Upon this account believers are frequently designated the "mourners in Zion: they sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst of Jerusalem," Ezek. 9:4.
7. The believer is many times, while in this tabernacle, burdened with the public concerns of Christ.He is a person of a very grateful and public spirit. Christ drew him up out of his low state; and therefore he cannot but be concerned for the concerns of his kingdom and glory, especially when he sees them suffering in the world. When he beholds the wild boar out of the woods, or the wild beast of the forest, open and avowed enemies, wasting and devouring the church of God; when he sees the foxes spoiling the tender vines, and the watchmen wounding, smiting, or taking away the veil of the spouse of Christ, Song 5:7; when he sees the privileges of the church of Christ invaded, her doctrine and worship corrupted, her ordinary meals retrenched by the stewards of the house: these things, I say, are sinking and oppressing to his spirit; he then hangs his harp upon the willows, when he remembers Zion. In this case he is "sorrowful for the solemn assembly, and the reproach of it is his burden," Zeph. 3:18.
8. The poor believer has many times the burden of great crosses and afflictions lying upon him, and these both of a bodily and spiritual nature, and deep many times calls unto deep; the deep of external trouble calls to the deep of inward distress; and these, like two seas meeting together, break upon him with such violence, that the waters are likely to come in unto his very soul.
Sometimes, I say, he has a burden of OUTWARD troubles upon him; perhaps a burden of sickness and pain upon his body, by which the frail tabernacle of clay is sorely shattered: "There is no soundness in my flesh," says David, "because of my sin," Psalm 38:3. Sometimes he is burdened with poverty, and lack of the external necessaries of life, which needs be no strange thing, considering that the Son of God, the heir of all things, became poor; and so poor, that, as he himself declares, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head."
Sometimes he is burdened with infamy and reproach, malice and envy striking at his reputation, and wounding his name. "Malicious witnesses testify against me. They accuse me of things I don't even know about." Psalm 35:11. Sometimes he is burdened in his families. It was a grief of heart to Rebekah, when Esau married the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, Gen. 26:34, 35. And no doubt David had many a sad heart for the behavior of his children, particularly of Amnon and Absalom. Sometimes he is burdened with the death of near relations. It is heart-breaking to him when the Lord takes away the desire of his eyes with a stroke.
I might here tell you also of many trials and distresses of a more SPIRITUAL nature, that the believer is exercised with, besides those already named. Sometimes he has the burden of much weighty work lying on his hand, and his heart is likely to faint at the prospect of it, through the sense of his own utter inability to manage it, either to God's glory, or his own comfort, or the edification of others; such as, the work of his station, relation, and generation, and the great work of his salvation. This lies heavy upon him, until the Lord say to him, as he said to Paul in another case, "My grace is sufficient for you."
Sometimes the believer in this tabernacle is under the burden of much spiritual darkness. Sometimes he is in darkness as to his state; he "walks in darkness, and has no light," insomuch that he is ready to tear down the foundation, and to cry, "I am cast out of your sight: the Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me," Is. 49:14. Sometimes he is in darkness as to his duty, whether he should do or forbear; many a perplexing thought rolls in his bosom, until the Lord, by his word and Spirit, says to him, "This is the way, walk in it," Is. 30:21. Sometimes be is burdened with distance from his God, who seems to have withdrawn from him, and is hidden behind the mountains; and in this case he cries, with the church, "For these things I weep, mine eye, my eye runs down with water, because the Comforter who should relieve my soul, is far from me," Lam. 1:16. And sometimes it is a burden to him to think, that he is at such a distance from his own eternal home and inheritance; and in this case he longs to be over Jordan, at the promised land, saying, "I desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ; which is best of all," Phil. 1:23. Sometimes, again, he is under the burden of fear, particularly the fear of death. Heb. 2:15, we read of some who are held in bondage all their life through fear of death: and yet, glory to God, such have had a safe landing at last.
Thus I have told you of some of these things with which the believer is burdened, while in the tabernacle of this body.
III. The believer's GROANING under his burden."We who are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened." Upon this head I shall only suggest two or three considerations.
1. Consider, that the working of the believer's heart, under the pressures of these burdens, vents itself variously.Sometimes he is said to be in heaviness: 1 Peter 1:6: "If need be, you are in heaviness through manifold trials." Sometimes he is said to sigh under his burdens, and to sigh to the breaking of his loins: he is said to fetch his sighs from the bottom of his heart: "I cannot eat for sighing; my groans pour out like water," says Job. Sometimes his burdens make him to cry. Sometimes he cries to his God, Psalm 130:1: "Out of the depths have I cried unto you, O Lord." Sometimes he cries to by-standers and on-lookers, as Job did to his friends, "Have pity upon me, O you my friends; for the hand of God has touched me," Job 12:21; or, with the church, Lam. 1:12: "Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by? behold and see, if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, with which the Lord has afflicted me, in the day of his fierce anger."
Sometimes he is said to roar under his burden: "My roarings," says Job, "are poured out like the water." "I have roared all the day long," says David, "by reason of the disquietness of my heart." Sometimes he is at the very point of fainting under his burden: "I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." Sometimes his spirits are quite overwhelmed: Psalm 61:2: "From the end of the earth will I cry unto you, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I." Sometimes again he is as it were, in despair, distracted and put out of his wits, through the weight of his burdens, especially when under the weight of divine terrors. Thus it was with holy Heman, Psalm 88:15: "While I suffer your terrors, I am in despair." Yes, sometimes the matter is carried so far, that it goes to the drinking up of the very spirits, and a drying and withering of the bones; as you see in the case of Job; "The arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinks up my spirit." O the heavy tossings of the believer's heart under his burdens! the apostle here expresses it by a groaning: "We who are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened."
2. There are three sorts of groansthat we read of in scripture: 1st, Groans of nature. 2dly, Groans of reason. 3dly, Groans of grace.
1st, I say, we read of groans of NATURE. Romans 8:22: "We know," says the apostle, "that the whole creation groans, and travails in pain together until now." Man, by his sin, brought a curse upon the good creatures of God; "Cursed is the ground for your sake," Gen. 3:17. And the very earth upon which we tread groans, like a woman in travail, under the weight of that curse and vanity, that it is subjected to through the sin of man; and it longs, as it were, to be delivered from the bondage of corruption, and to share the glorious liberty of the sons of God, at the day of their manifestation.
2dly, We read of groans of REASON, or of the reasonable creatures under their affliction. Thus, we are told, that the children of Israel groaned under the weight of their affliction in Egypt, by reason of the heavy tasks that were imposed upon them: Exod. 6:5: "I have heard," says the Lord, "the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage."
3dly, We read of groans of GRACE, or of spiritual groans, Romans 8:26: "The Spirit helps our infirmities: and makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot he uttered." And of this kind, we conceive, are these groans which the apostle speaks of in our text; they are not natural, neither are they merely rational groans, though even these are not to be excluded, but they are gracious and supernatural, being the fruit of some saving work of the Spirit of God upon the soul. And, therefore,
3. These groans of the gracious soulhere spoken of, seem to imply, as was hinted at in the explication of the words,
(1.) A great deal of grief and sorrow of spirit on account of sin, and the sad and melancholy effects of it on the believer, while in this embodied state.
(2.) It implies a displeasure, or dissatisfaction in the believer, with his present burdened state; he cannot find rest for the sole of his foot here; he finds that this is not his resting place.
(3.) It implies a breathing and panting of soul after a better state, even the immediate enjoyment of God in glory. "We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long for the day when we will put on our heavenly bodies."
IV. The APPLICATION of the doctrine.
A. The first use shall be of INFORMATION.
1. Hence we may see the vast difference between heaven and earth. O what a vast difference is there between the present earthly state, and future heavenly state of the believer! between his present earthly lodging, and his heavenly mansion! This world is but at best a "weary land:" but there is no wearying in heaven: no; "They shall serve him day and night in his holy temple." This world is a land of darkness, where you go many a time "mourning without the sun;" but when once you come to your own country, "the Lord shall be your everlasting light, and your God your glory." This world is a land of distance; but in heaven you shall be at home: when "absent from the body," you shall be "present with the Lord." This world is a "den of lions," and a "mountain of leopards;" but there is no lion or leopard there: "they shall not hurt nor destroy in all God's holy mountain" above. This world is a land of thorns: many pricking briers of affliction grow here; but no pricking brier or grieving thorn is to be found in all that country above. This world is a polluted land, it is defiled with sin; but "nothing evil will be allowed to enter—no one who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life." In a word, there is nothing but matter of groaning, for the most part, here; but all reasons for groaning cease forever there.
2. See hence, a consideration that may contribute to stay or allay our griefs, sobs, and groans, for the death of godly relatives; for while in this tabernacle they "groan, being burdened:" but now their groans are turned into songs, and their mourning into hallelujahs; for "the ransomed of the Lord," when they "return," or "come to Zion," at death or the resurrection, it is "with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads: they obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing flee away," Is. 35:10. And therefore, let us "not sorrow as those who have no hope." If our godly friends who have departed, could tell us all their hearts, they would be ready to say to us, as Christ said to the daughters of Jerusalem, O "weep not for us, but weep for yourselves;" for we would not exchange conditions with you for ten thousand worlds: you are yet groaning in your clay tabernacle, oppressed with your many burdens; but as for us, the day of our complete redemption is come, our heads are lifted up above all our burdens, under which, once in a day, we groaned while we were with you.
3. See hence, that they are not always the happiest, who have the merriest life of it in the world. Indeed, if we look only to things present, the wicked would seem to have the best of it, for, instead of groaning, "they take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ; they spend their days in wealth" and ease, Job 21:12,13. But, O, sirs, remember, that it is the evening which crowns the day. "The triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment:" whereas the groanings of the righteous are but short, and their jubilee and triumph shall be everlasting. "Mark the perfect man," says David, "and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace. But the transgressors shall be destroyed together, the end of the wicked shall be cut off" Psalm 37:37. I will read you a word that will show the vast difference between the godly and the wicked, and discover the strange alteration of the scene between them in the life to come: Is. 65:13, 14: "Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: You will starve, but my servants will eat. You will be thirsty, but they will drink. You will be sad and ashamed, but they will rejoice. You will cry in sorrow and despair, while my servants sing for joy."
4. See hence, that death need not be a terror to the believer. Why? Because, by taking down this tabernacle it takes off all his burdens, and puts a final end point to all his groans. Death, to a believer, is like the fiery chariot to Elijah; it makes him drop the mantle of his body with all its filthiness: but it transports his soul, his better part, into the mansions of glory, "the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
B. The second use of the doctrine may be of REPROOF to two sorts of people.
1. It reproves those who are at home while in this earthly tabernacle. Their great concern is about this clay tabernacle, how to gratify it, how to beautify and adorn it; their language is, "Who will show us any good? What shall we eat? What shall we drink? How shall we be clothed?" But they have no thought or concern about the immortal soul which inhabits the tabernacle, which must be happy or miserable forever. O, sirs! Remember, that whatever care you take about this clay tabernacle, it will drop down to dust before long, and the abhorrent grave will be its habitation, where worms and corruption will prey upon the fairest face, and purest complexion. Where will be your beauty, strength, or fine attire, when the curtains of the grave are drawn about you?
2. This doctrine serves to reprove those who add to the burdens and groans of the Lord's people, as if they were not burdened enough already. Remember that it is a dreadful thing to vex or occasion the grief of those whom the Lord has wounded: those who do so, counteract the commission of Christ from the Father, who was "sent to comfort those who mourn in Zion, to give them the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." But, on the contrary, they study to give a heavy spirit, and to strip and rob them of their garments of praise. Remember that Christ is very tender of his burdened saints; and if any attempt to lay a load above their burden, by grieving or offending them, the Lord Jesus will not pass it without a severe reproof; and "it were better for such that a millstone were hanged about their neck, and that they were drowned in the depth of the sea!
C. A third use shall be of LAMENTATION and HUMILIATION. Let us lament, that the Lord's saints and people should have so much matter of groaning at this day and time wherein we live. And here I will tell you of several things that are a burden to the spirits of the Lords people, and increase their groaning, and make them sad hearts.
1. The abounding profanity and immorality of all sorts of people, who are to be found among us. O how rampant is atheism and profanity; and impiety, like an impetuous torrent, carrying all before it! It is become fashionable among some to be impious and profane. Religion, which is the ornament of a nation, is scorned by bold and petulant wits: It is reckoned, by some, a cultured accomplishment to break a jest upon the Bible, and to play upon things religious and Sacred.
O what cursing and swearing! O what lying and cheating! What abominable drunkenness, murders, and uncleanness! With what perjury and blasphemy is the land defiled! We may apply that word, Hos. 4:3: "For these things the land mourns." The land groans at this day under these and the like abominations. And, therefore, no wonder that the hearts of those who regard the glory of God do groan under them also, and cry with the prophet, Jer. 9:1, 2: "Oh, that my eyes were a fountain of tears; I would weep forever! I would sob day and night for all my people who have been slaughtered. Oh, that I could go away and forget them and live in a shack in the desert, for they are all adulterous and treacherous."
2. The universal barrenness that is to he found among us at this day, is matter of groaning to the Lord's people. God has been at great pains with us both by ordinances and providences: he has planted us in a fruitful soil; he has given us a standing under the means of grace; he has given us "line upon line, precept upon precept:" and yet, alas! may not the Lord say of us, as he said of his vineyard, Is. 5:2: "Then he waited for a harvest of sweet grapes, but the grapes that grew were wild and sour." And, as for the fruit of providences, alas! Where is it? Mercies are lost on us; for when God feeds us to the full, when he gives peace and plenty, then, Jeshurun like, we wax fat, and kick against him, Deut. 32:15. And as mercies, so rods and afflictions are lost upon us likewise: God has "stricken us, but we have not grieved;" he has "consumed us, but we have refused to receive correction," Jer. 5:3.
3. The lamentable divisions which are among us, occasion great heaviness to the Lord's people at this day. Ministers divided from their people, and people from their ministers; and both ministers and people are divided among themselves; and every party and faction turning over the blame upon the other: than which there cannot be a greater evidence of God's anger, or of approaching ruin and desolation; for "a city or kingdom divided against itself cannot stand," Matthew. 12:25.
4. The innumerable defections and backslidings of our day are a great burden to the Lord's people, and make their hearts to groan within them. The charge which the Lord advances against the church of Ephesus, may too justly be laid to our door, that we have fallen from our first love. There is but little love to God or his people, little zeal for his way and work, to be found among us; the power of godliness, and life of religion, are dwindled away into an empty form with most.
I might here take occasion to tell you of many public defections and backslidings that we stand guilty of before the Lord; particularly, of the breach of our solemn national engagements. It was once the glory of our land to be "married unto the Lord," by solemn covenant, in a national capacity; but, to our eternal infamy and reproach, it has been both broken and burnt by public authority in this very city. Perhaps, indeed, some may ridicule me for making mention of the breach of our solemn engagements; but I must blow the trumpet, as God's herald, "whether you will hear or not." And you who ridicule these things now, will perhaps laugh at leisure, if God shall send a bloody sword, or raging pestilence, to "avenge the breaking of his covenant."
But some may say, You talk of breach of solemn national engagements; but wherein does the truth of such a charge appear? For answer, I shall instance in a few particulars. It is fit that we not only know wherein our fathers have broken this covenant; but wherein ourselves, this present generation, stands guilty.
1. Then, in our national covenant we swear, that we will endeavor to be humbled for our own sins, and for the sins of the kingdom. But, alas! Public days of fasting and humiliation for the sins of the land are but rare, and thinly sown at this day. Where are the mourners of our Zion? How few are they whose hearts are bleeding for the abounding wickedness of the day! If God should give a commission to the men with the slaughter weapons to go through Scotland, and "slay utterly old and young, only come not near any that sigh and cry;" O what a depopulated country would it be! How few inhabitants would be left in the land!
2. In that covenant we are bound to go before one another in the example of a real reformation. But, alas! Who makes conscience of this part of the oath of God? How little personal reformation is there! How little care to have the heart purified from lusts and uncleanness! So that the Lord may well say to us, as he said to Jerusalem, "O Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness: how long shall vain thoughts lodge within you?" How little reformation of life! what a scandalous latitude do many professors of religion take to themselves, cursing, swearing, lying, drinking, cheating, and defrauding others in their dealings--whereby the way of religion comes to be evil spoken of?
3. By the covenant we engage, not only to reform ourselves, but our families. But alas! How little of this is to be found? How little care is taken by many parents, to have their children, after the example of Abraham, instructed in the good ways of the Lord! Every head of a family should be a priest in his family, for maintaining the worship of God in it: but, alas! how many are there who either perform the duty in a superficial manner, or else live in the total neglect of it! Go through many noble-men and gentlemen's families in the kingdom, and you shall find as little of the worship of God in them, as if they were Turks and Pagans, and perhaps, less. Yes, atheism has become so common among people of higher rank, that, with some, he is not reckoned a man of any spirit, that will bow a knee to God in his family.
D. A fourth use of the doctrine, which shall be in a word to two sorts of people.
First, A word to you who are not burdened. You never knew what it was to groan, either for your own sins, or for the sins of the land in which you live, or the tokens of God's anger, which are to be found among us; these are things of no account with them, they can go very lightly and easily under them. All I shall say to you, shall be comprised in these two or three words:
1. It seems the adamant and flint-like millstone you carry in your bosom, was never to this day broken by the power of regenerating grace. And, therefore, I may say to you, as Peter said to Simon Magus, "You are yet in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity," Acts 8:23. You are under the slavery of Satan, and the curse of the law, and wrath of God; and these are heavy burdens, whether you feel them or not.
2. Know it for a certainty, that, except mercy and repentance interpose, your groaning time is coming. However you make light of sin now, and of things serious and sacred; yet you will find them to be sad and weighty things when death is sitting down upon your eye-lids, when your eye-strings are breaking, and your souls taking their flight into another world. O "what will you do in the day of visitation? To whom will you flee for help?" Is. 10:3. When you are standing trembling as defendants before the dreadful bar of the great Jehovah, will you make light of sin then? Or will you make light of it, when, with Dives, you are weltering among the flames of hell? O "consider this, you who forget God, lest he tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness." Do you think it is better to groan awhile in this tabernacle under the burden of sin--or to groan forever under the weight of God's vengeance, while an endless eternity endures?
Secondly, A second sort I would speak a word to those poor, broken, and burdened believers, who are groaning under the weight of these burdens I mentioned. I only offer two or three things for your encouragement, with which I shall close; for we are to "comfort those who mourn in Zion."
1. Know, for your comfort, poor believer, that your tender-hearted Father is privy to all your secret groans; though the world knows nothing about them, your Father hears them. "Lord," says David, "all my desire is before you; and my groaning is not hidden from you," Psalm 38:9. As he puts your tears in his bottle, so he marks down your groans in the book of his remembrance.
2. As the Lord hears your groans, so he groans with you under all your burdens: for "he is touched with the feeling of our infirmities; and in all our afflictions he is afflicted." He has the affections of a father to his children: Psalm 103:13: "As a father pities his children: so the Lord pities those who fear him." Yes, his heart is so tender toward you, that it is compared to the tender affection of a mother to her nursing child. And, therefore,
3. Know, for your encouragement, that you are not alone under your burdens. No! "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms!" He bears you and your burdens both. "But now, O Israel, the Lord who created you says: Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior!" Isaiah 43:1-3
4. Know, for your comfort, that whatever be your burden, and however heavy your groanings be, there is abundant consolation provided for you in God's covenant. And here I might go through the several burdens of the Lord's people, and offer a word of encouragement to you under each. I shall only touch them passingly.
1st, Are you burdened with the body of clay?Perhaps your clay cottage is always likely to drop down every day; and this fills you with heaviness. Well, believer, know, for your comfort, that, "if the earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, you have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." There are mansions of glory prepared for you there, where you "shall be forever with the Lord."
2dly, Are you burdened with a burden of sin, crying, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Well, here is comfort, believer; your "old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed." Before long he will present you to his Father, "without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing."
3dly, Are you burdened with the sense of much actual guilt?Are you crying, with David, "My iniquities are gone over my head: as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me?" Consider, believer, "God is faithful to forgive you:" for he has said, "I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more."
4thly, Are you burdened with the temptations and fiery darts of Satan?Well, but consider, believer, Christ, your glorious head, the true seed of the woman, has bruised the head of the old serpent; "through death he has destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." And, as he overcame him in his own person, so he will make you to overcome him in your person before long: "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly."
5thly, Is the society of the wicked your burden?Are you crying, "Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech?" Why, consider, that you shall get other company before long; when you put off this clay tabernacle, you shall enter in among "the spirits of just men made perfect." Only stand your ground, and be not conformed to the world.
6thly, Are you burdened with the abounding sins and backslidingsof the day and generation wherein you live? Well, be comforted, God's mark is upon you as one of the mourners in Zion; and, in the day when the man with the slaughter-weapon shall go through, God will give a charge not to come near any upon whom his mark is found: "You shall be hidden in the day of the Lord's anger."
7th1y, Are you burdened with the concerns of Christ, with the interests of his kingdom and glory?Is your heart, with Eli's, "trembling for fear of the ark of the Lord," lest it gets a wrong touch? Know, for your encouragement, that "the Lord shall reign forever, even your God, O Zion, unto all generations;" and that, though "clouds and thick darkness are around about him," yet justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne, and mercy and truth shall go before his face." Though his way is in the whirlwind, and his footsteps in the great waters, yet he carries on the designs of his glory, and his church's good. And as for you that are "sorrowful for the solemn assembly, to whom the reproach of it is a burden," God will gather you unto himself; he will gather you unto the "general assembly, and church of the first-born."
8thly, Are you burdened with manifold afflictions in your body, in your estate, in your name, in your relations?Know, for your comfort, God is carrying on a design of love to you in all these things: "Your light afflictions, which are but for a moment, will work for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." See a sweet prophecy for your comfort, "For the mountains may depart and the hills disappear, but even then I will remain loyal to you. My covenant of blessing will never be broken," says the Lord, who has mercy on you. "O storm-battered city, troubled and desolate! I will rebuild you on a foundation of sapphires and make the walls of your houses from precious jewels. I will make your towers of sparkling rubies and your gates and walls of shining gems." Isaiah 54:10-12
9thly, Are you burdened with much weighty work?Perhaps you know not how to manage this and the other duty; how to adventure to a communion-table, or the like. Well, for your encouragement, poor soul, the Lord "sends none to warfare upon their own charges." And, therefore, look to him, that he may bear your charges out of the stock that is in your Elder Brother's hand; and "go in his strength, making mention of his righteousness."
10thly, Are you, under the burden of much darkness, crying with Job, "Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him?" Job. 23:8. Well, be comforted; for "unto the upright there arises light in the darkness. Unto you who fear my name, shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings." And therefore say with the church, Mic. 7:9: "He will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness."
11thly, Are you burdened with the Lord's distance from your soul, because the Comforter who should relieve your soul, is far from you? Lam. 1:16: Well, be comforted, "He will not contend forever," he has promised to return, Is. 54:7,8. The Lord cannot keep up himself long from the poor soul who is weeping and groaning after him; as we see in Ephraim, "You disciplined me severely, but I deserved it. I was like a calf that needed to be trained for the yoke and plow. Turn me again to you and restore me, for you alone are the Lord my God." Jer. 31:18
12thly, Are you burdened with the fear of death?Know, for your comfort, the sting of death is gone, and it cannot hurt you: Hos. 13:14: "I will ransom them from the power of the grave: I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be your plague; O grave, I will be your destruction."
Lastly, Are you burdened with the death of the righteous, particularly with the loss of faithful ministers? Well, be encouraged, that though the Lord take away an Elijah, yet the Lord God of Elijah lives. And therefore take up David's song, and sing, "The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted."