A Discourse For The Comfort of Childbearing Women
Stephen Charnock, Works, vol. 5, pp. 399-414.
“Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety” (1 Timothy 2:15).
I shall not take my rise any higher than verse 12, where the apostle orders that a woman should not teach: “But I suffer not a woman to teach,” i.e. publicly.
Two reasons are rendered.
1. She was last in creation. “Adam was first formed, then Eve.”
2. First in defection: verse 14, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, was in the transgression.” The fall of man was the fruit of the woman’s first doctrine, and therefore she is not suffered to teach any more. The woman was deceived by the serpent, and so drew her husband and whole posterity into ruin. Some of the papists bring this place as an argument against women’s reading the Scripture; but no reason can conclude it from this place. How can the Spirit of God prohibit their reading the Scripture in private, and the instruction of their families, since women are among those who are commended for reading the Scripture? Acts 17:11-12, where the honourable women are mentioned; and Lois and Eunice are applauded for their instruction of Timothy. Are not women bound, by that command of Peter, to give a reason of their faith to any that shall ask them, unless they would have women Christians without reason? What was the office of those ecclesiastical widows in the primitive times, but to instruct the younger women? But this is not to be charged upon all the papists: Becanus only is the man that Rivet mentions. And because, upon this declaration of the apostle, some might be dejected by the consideration of the deep hand the woman had in the first fall, in the punishment inflicted upon them for it, the apostle in the text brings in a “notwithstanding” for their comfort. Notwithstanding her guilt in defection, her punishment in child-bearing, she hath as good a right to salvation as the man; so that the apostle here answers, by way of anticipation, an objection which might be made, whether the guilt contracted by the woman, and the punishment inflicted, might not hinder her eternal salvation. The apostle answers, No. Though she was first in the transgression, and the pain of child-bearing was the punishment of that first sin, yet the woman may arrive to everlasting salvation notwithstanding that pain, if she be adorned with those graces which are necessary for all Christians. Though the punishment remain, yet the believing woman is in the covenant of grace, under the wings of the mediator of that covenant, if she have faith, the condition of the covenant, which works by love and charity, and is attended with holiness and renewal of the heart.
Observe, God hath gracious cordials to cheer up the hearts of believers in their distress, and in the midst of those cases which are sufficient of themselves to cast them down. The apostle here alludes to that curse upon the woman: Gen. 3:16, “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception: in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.” The punishment is peculiar to the married woman, besides that punishment which was common to her with the man.
“Thy sorrow and thy conception.” Hendiadis, say some; the sorrow of thy conception. The word l^in signifies the whole time of the woman’s bearing in the womb, and so includes not only those pains in the very time of labour, but also all those precursory indispositions, as the weakness of the stomach, heaviness of the head, irregular longings, and those other symptoms which accompany conceptions. Though this pain seems to be natural, from the constitution of the body, yet since some other creatures do bring forth with little or no pain,f it would not have been so with the woman in innocency, because all pain, which is a punishment of sin, had not been incident to a sinless and immortal body.
We will consider the words apart.
“Saved.” It may either note the salvation of the soul, or the preservation of the woman in child-bearing. The first, I suppose, is principally intended; for the apostle here would signify some special comfort to women under that curse. But the preservation of women in child-bearing was a common thing testified by daily experience in the worst, as well as in the best women, and Christianity did not bring the professors of it into a worse estate in those things which immediately depended upon God, or make the children vipers, not to come into the world without the death of their mothers; yet a temporal preservation may be included, for when an eternal salvation is promised, temporal salvation is also promised, according to the methods of God’s wisdom and goodness in the course of his providence, there being in all such promises a tacit reserve, viz., if God sees it good for us; and the manner of their preservation also, wherein the preservation of a believer differs from that of an unregenerate person. Others are preserved by God, as a merciful Creator and Governor, in a way of common providence, for the keeping up of the world; but believers are preserved in the way of promise and covenant, in the exercise of faith, and by the special love of God, as a tender Father, and their God in covenant with them through Christ.
“In child-bearing.” Greek: “through child-bearing.” The preposition δια is often taken for εν, as Rom. 4:11, “That he might be the Father of all that believe,” though they be not circumcised, πιστευόντων δί άκροβυστίας, believing in uncircumcision, where it notes the state wherein they shall be saved. So it notes here, not the cause of the salvation of the woman, but the state wherein she shall be saved, and amounts to this much: the punishment inflicted upon the woman for her first sin shall not be removed in this life, yet notwithstanding this, there is a certain way of salvation by faith, though she pass through this punishment. For by τεκνογονία is not meant a simple child-bearing, but a child-bearing in such a manner as God hath threatened with sorrow and grief.
“If they continue.” By they is not meant the children, as some imagine, because of the change of the singular to the plural; the sense then should run thus: she shall be saved, if the children remain in faith, &c. That would be absurd to think that the salvation of the mother should depend upon the faith and grace of the children, when it is sometimes seen that the children of a godly mother may prove as wicked as hell itself. But by they is meant the woman. The name woman is taken collectively for all women, and therefore the plural number is added. The apostle passes from the singular number to the plural, as he had done from the plural to the singular, verse 9, “In like manner let the women adorn themselves” in modesty, where he uses the plural, but verse 11, re-assumes the other number again in his discourse. The graces which are here put as the conditions, are faith, charity, sanctification, sobriety; where the apostle seems to oppose those to the first causes or ingredients of the defection.
1. Faith opposed to unbelief of the precept of God and the threatening annexed.
2. Charity, opposed to disaffection to God; as though God were an enemy to their happiness, and commanded a thing which did prejudice their happiness, whereupon must arise ill surmises of God, and an aversion from him.
3. Sanctification. In opposition to this filthiness and pollution brought upon the soul by that first defection, there must therefore be in them an aim and endeavour to attain that primitive integrity and purity they then lost.
4. Sobriety, Σωφροσύνη, temperance. Because the giving the reins to sense, and obeying the longings thereof, was the cause of the fall. Gen. 3:6. She saw that it was pleasant to the eye. Original sin is called concupiscence, and lusting, and to this is opposed sobriety.
1. Faith. This is put first, because it is a fundamental grace. It is the employer of charity, for it works by it; the root of sanctification, for by faith the heart is purified. By faith is chiefly meant the grace of faith: (1.) faith in the habit, (2.) faith in the exercise.
2. Charity. The first sin was an enmity against God, therefore there is now necessary a love to God. The first sin was virtually an enmity to all the posterity of man, which were to come out of his loins, therefore love to mankind is necessary, and faith always infers love to God and man.
3. Sanctification is here added, because by that both the truth of faith and love appears to ourselves and others; and justification by faith is thereby ratified, James 2:24. By sanctification is not here meant a particular holiness or chastity due to the marriage bed, as some of the papists assert, but an universal sanctity of heart and life.
4. Sobriety. This is a natural means for preservation. Intemperance makes bodily distempers more dangerous in their assaults. True faith is accompanied with temperance and sobriety in the use of lawful comforts. The papists, though without any good ground, frame an argument from hence to prove marriage to be a sacrament, asserting that those graces of faith and charity, &c., are conferred upon the women by virtue of marriage, and ex vi institutionis. How severe a doctrine is it then to engage any in vows of a single life, when they might have a readier way to attain grace with the satisfaction of nature? Are not the virtues mentioned here as necessary to the single as the married Christians? Who ever heard that marriage was appointed to confer those Christian graces which are necessary for men and women in all conditions? Besides, is it probable that that was instituted to confer Christian graces, which was instituted in paradise before Christianity was in being, and had been valid if man had stood in innocency, where there had been no need of a justifying faith?
Obs. 1. The punishment of the woman: “in child-bearing.“
2. The comfort of the woman: “she shall be saved.“
3. The condition of the salvation: “if they continue.” Wherein is implied an exhortation to continue in faith, &c.
Doct. Many observations might be raised.
1. The pain in child-bearing is a punishment inflicted upon the woman for the first sin.
2. The continuance of this punishment after redemption by Christ, doth not hinder the salvation of the woman, if there be the gospel conditions requisite.
3. The exercise of faith, with other Christian graces, is a peculiar means for the preservation of believers under God’s afflicting hand.
I shall sum them up into this one
Doct. The continuance of the punishment inflicted upon the woman for the first sin, doth not prejudice her eternal salvation, nor her preservation in child-bearing, where there are the conditions of faith, and other graces.
Here I shall speak,
I. Concerning the punishment, and the cause of it. II. The nature of it. III. It is not prejudicing eternal salvation.
I. Concerning the punishment. Child-bearing itself is not the punishment, but the pain in it. For the blessing, increase and multiply, was given in innocency. This punishment is peculiar to the woman, and superadded to that inflicted upon the man, wherein the woman also hath her share, though it lay heaviest upon Adam’s shoulders. And because this punishment is the greater, it is disputed in the schools whether Adam’s or Eve’s sin were the greater. Various opinions there are. We may, I think, safely make these conclusions.
1. In regard of the kind of sin, it was equal in both. They both had an equal pride, an equal aspiring to be like God; for in all probability, Eve gave not her husband the fruit to eat, without acquainting him with the reasons which moved her to eat it, as also the advantage she expected from it. And God chargeth this aspiring humour upon the man: Gen. 3:22, “The man, is become like one of us.” Both of them, therefore, embraced the temptation as it was directed, and swallowed the fruit, with an expectation to be like, not the angels (as some think, from Gen. 3:5, “ye shall be as gods,” Elohim), but like God himself, as appears by verse 22, in that ironical speech where the Lord God Jehovah saith, “The man is become like one of us.” They both believed the serpent, both broke the command in eating the fruit, both were guilty of this aspiring ambition. Some indeed think Eve ate twice of the fruit, once before the serpent, and the other time when she gave her husband: Gen. 3:6, “She did eat. and gave to her husband with her, and he did eat.” But that is not so clear in the text.
2. In regard of the first motion to this sin, Eve’s sin was the greater. She was the seducer of Adam, which the apostle expresseth in the verse before the text. “The woman being deceived, was in the transgression.” Where the apostle intimates the woman’s in that respect to be greater than the man’s. Adam was in it too, but the woman deeper.
3. In regard of the woman’s condition, the sin was greater on Adam’s part.
(1.) Because he, being the man, had more power to resist, more strength to argue the case.
(2.) Eve had a stronger and craftier adversary to deal with, the subtlest of all the beasts of the field. Gen. 3:1, animated and inspired by a craftier devil. The stronger the tempter, the more excusable the sin. Adam was tempted by Eve, but Eve by the serpent.
(3.) Eve had the command of not eating immediately from her husband, which laid not altogether so strong a tie upon her as it did upon him, who had it immediately from the mouth of God, and therefore was more certain of the verity of the precept.
II. Of what nature is this punishment?
1. It is not a punishment in a rigid sense, nor continued as such.
(1.) Because it is not commensurate to the nature of the sin, neither is it that penalty which the law required. Death was due, and death immediately upon the offense; but death was kept off” by the interposition of the Mediator, and this which is less than death, inflicted at present. The Mediator or day’s-man interposed before this sentence, for the promise of the seed which should bruise the serpent’s head preceded the pronouncing of this sentence. Gen. 3:15-16. God arms himself against both, but not with those weapons they had deserved. Capital crimes are usually attended with capital punishments, which draw a destruction upon the offender. Where death is deserved, and a lighter punishment inflicted, it is rather an act of clemency than strict justice, and may be called by the name of a partial pardon or reprieve, as well as a punishment. It is indeed a punishment when conscience racks a man with further expectation of torment, when it is but a prologue to everlasting burnings, when through those pains any fall into the place of everlasting horror. It is then more properly a punishment, when it proceeds from an irreconcilable justice, armed with omnipotency in the execution, not when it proceeds from an anger mixed with mildness, and mitigated by the intercessions of a Mediator.
(2.) It is not a reparation of the injury done to God. One reason of the institution of punishment is to repair the damage the person offended sustains by the malefactor, as far as he is capable. The injury done to God cannot be repaired by any temporary punishment; no, nor indeed actually by an eternal one, though an eternal suffering is all the reparation a finite creature is capable to make to the honour of God. A man is capable of making some kind of amends to his neighbour for an offense done, but God being infinitely our superior, cannot have his honour repaired by anything a creature can do or suffer.
(3.) It is not continued as a part of satisfaction to the justice of God; as though Christ needed the sufferings of the creature to make up the sum which he was to pay for us, and which he hath already paid. It is not, on the account of the death of Christ, purely a vindictive, but a medicinal act to a believer: it is rather to awaken us than to satisfy justice; as we wring a man by the nose who is fallen into a swoon, not to have satisfaction from him for any injury he may have done us, but to fetch him out of his fit. These punishments are to awaken men to a sight of their first sin.
(4.) The proper impulsive cause of punishment is wrath. Though this was the first cause of this sentence, yet it is not inflicted in wrath upon a believer. Though at first it was an effect of God’s anger, yet in a believer it is a fruit of God’s fatherly anger, wherein he acts with a composition of Judge and Father. In inflicting it, he preserves the authority of a judge; in preserving under it, and pardoning the sin for which it was inflicted, he evidenceth the affection of a Father. Punishment, as such, is only to hurt, and make men reap the fruit of their iniquity; but the end of affliction, in the intention of the person that doth afflict, is oftentimes to benefit.
2. Yet it is in some sort a punishment, and something more than an affliction.
(1.) In respect of the meritorious cause, sin. This is not inflicted ratione absoluti dominii, but ratione meriti; it is not an act of absolute sovereignty, but a judicial legal act upon the demerit of sin. There are some afflictions which are not punishments, as in the case of the man that was born blind: Christ tells us that it was neither for his own sin, nor for the sins of his parents, but that God might be glorified, John 9:2-3, i.e. God in inflicting that blindness, respected neither the sin of the man, nor the sin of the parents, but the making him a passive subject of his glory in our Saviour’s miraculous cure. But in this case God respected the sin of the woman as the cause and reason of the punishment.
(2.) Because if man had stood in innocency, neither this grief, nor indeed any other, had been. The birth in innocency would have been without sorrow and grief, as the hunger and thirst which would have been in Adam in that state, would have been without that gnawing in the stomach, and that pain which we find in those defects, because a state of integrity and perfect righteousness must needs be without grief. But after the fall, all those pains incident to man or woman are fruits of the curse of sin.
III. This punishment doth not hinder salvation, though it be continued.
I shall lay down these propositions to clear up this matter.
1. God intended not in the acceptance of Christ’s mediation to remove in this life all the punishments denounced after the fall. God takes away the eternal, but not the temporal. For this very punishment was threatened after his acceptance of Christ’s mediation; and after the compact and covenant between the Father and the Son about the redemption of mankind, because the promise preceded the threatening, and the mediatory covenant preceded the promise. Some parts of Christ’s purchase are only payable in another life, and some fruits of redemption God intends for growth only in another soil; such are freedom from pain, diseases, death, and sin. And therefore the last day, when believers shall be gathered together, is called, by way of excellency, the day of redemption, Eph. 4:30, as if we had nothing of redemption properly in this life, because we have it not complete. And it is called upon this account, the “time of refreshing,” and “the time of the restitution of all things,” Acts 3:19, 21; when all things shall be restored to their primitive completeness, and we shall have a full refreshment by a removal of all the evils which we suffer by reason of sin; so that the satisfaction made by Christ extends not to a present removal of all the effects of the curse, pains of the body, death of relations, &c. The ground is not restored to its original vigour and fruitfulness, man must still eat his bread in the sweat of his brows, women must still bring forth with sorrow, our lives must waste by a continual invasion of weaknesses and diseases, we must drop one after another into the grave, send some before us, and leave others to come after us; though God in mercy doth mitigate these, in some more, in some less, according to his sovereign pleasure; and though those curses do materially continue, yet they are attended with a blessing, the fruits of Christ’s purchase. But the full value of Christ’s satisfaction will appear when there shall be a new heaven and a new earth, when the day of redemption shall dawn, and all tears be wiped from believers’ eyes. But God never promised the total removal of them in this life to any saint; no, though he should have all the faith and holiness of all the catalog of saints in the book of life centered in him.
2. Christ never intended, in the payment of the price of our redemption, the present removal of them. He interposed himself before this sentence was pronounced, for the promise preceded the threatening, and therefore shewed himself content that those marks should be set upon that sin, though he prevented by his mediation the dreadful sentence of eternal death. Christ never expected it; for the compact between the Father and the Son did not run in this strain. Christ’s enemies were not presently upon his ascension to be made his footstool, whereof death is not the least; but he was to sit at the right hand of God expecting it: neither can we expect to be rid of our burdens till Christ’s victory over his enemies be fully complete. He sent, after his ascension, the Spirit to be our comforter, which supposeth a state wherein we should need comfort; and when are we under a greater necessity of comfort than when the punishment of sin is actually inflicted on us? The Spirit was to comfort us in the absence of our Saviour, and consequently in the absence and want of those fruits of redemption which are not yet completed.
3. Christ intended, and did actually take away the curse of those punishments from every believer. As Christ came to take away the guilt of sin, so by consequence he took away the curse of punishment; for as he was not a minister of sin, so he was not a minister of the curse, Gal. 2:17; for he himself, by taking the curse upon himself, took it off from us; so that though the curse remains materially, yet it doth not formally. As when man fell, his understanding and will were not destroyed, but the purity and healthfulness of those faculties which made up his well-being were lost; so in redemption, the temporal punishment is not removed, but the curse, which is the sting in that punishment, and is indeed the essential part of it, is removed, since the anger of God is pacified by the death of Christ. Death was a curse upon man for sin, yet the death of a believer falls not under that title, because Christ hath taken away the sting: 1 Cor. 15:55-56, “death, where is thy sting?” &c. And the victory over it, he saith, is given us through our Lord Jesus Christ; whence the apostle puts even death itself, and things present, into the catalog of privileges, upon the account of Christ: 1 Cor. 3:22, “Life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” Not that death simply in itself is a privilege, but death as conquered, and as attended with consequent blessings, is so to a believer. Now the same reason is for all the other parts of the curse, which were either prologues to, or attendants upon, death. And as Christ destroyed death by raising his own body from the grave, thereby taking from death the power of perpetually retaining man, so in the same manner he hath took away those punishments, that they shall not perpetually remain, though they do for a time; but when death is swallowed up in victory, all the attendants on it shall undergo the same fate. Though the curse was not immediately the work of the devil, yet that which procured it was; and Christ’s intention being to take away sin, it was also to take away the curse, which was intentionally the devil’s work, his chief aim being to bring men under the curse, by enticing them to sin. The end of his manifestation was to destroy the works of the devil, 1 John iii. 8. Christ therefore bore our infirmities, our natural penal infirmities, though not our natural sinful ones, unless morally, i.e. by suffering for them; he bore the infirmity of our nature, though not our personal infirmities. He endured pain, and grief, and death, and greater than we can endure; but he did not bear every particular pain and disease which ariseth from sin, and a particular cause; yet by satisfying the justice of God, which required death, he satisfied for all other pains which were parts of the curse, though he did not formally feel them; so that no longer they remain as a curse, no more than death itself is a curse to a believer. Now, as Christ by his death upon the cross did remove the sting of death from every believer, and sanctify it, though he did not die every kind of death which a man may die; so by enduring pain and grief, and being a man of sorrows, he took away the sting of all those pains which are fruits of the curse, though they were of a different kind from those he hath himself endured. This I have added to prevent an objection that may be made, that Christ endured not this particular pain, and therefore the curse is not taken away.
4. Hence it will follow, that to a believer the very nature of these punishments is altered. Whence ariseth a mighty difference between the same punishments, when suffered by a believer and by an unregenerate man. Though they are materially the same, yet not formally, nor eventually. In the one, the sting remains; in the other, it is pulled out. The one is an earnest of eternal torture, and a sprinkling of hell; the other is in order to salvation, and sanctified by the blood of Christ. Christ by his cross hath made our judgments to become physic, and turned a believer’s punishments into purges. The intention of the agent makes a vast difference. There is a great difference between a punishment edged with a prince’s wrath, and those which are sweetened with a father’s affection; much difference between a sturgeon’s lance, and a tyrant’s wound. The cord that binds a malefactor and a patient may be made of the same hemp, and a knife only go between; but it binds the malefactor to execution, the other to a cure. In a believer, they bring forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness, Heb. 12:11, such fruits of righteousness which engender peace and joy in the soul. That which brings such excellent effects is rather an argument of love in the inflicter, and so cannot come under the full notion of a punishment. God comforts the Israelites that were to go into captivity by a gospel promise: Hosea 14:4, “I will heal their backslidings; I will love them freely, for mine anger is turned away from them.” The punishment was continued, for they never returned into their country in the form of a commonwealth; but the anger was removed, so that the captivity of the believers among them was not the effect of God’s wrath as a judge, since they were under his magnificent love as a Father. The change in our relation to God, makes a change in the nature of the punishment; though the punishment threatened may be inflicted and continued, yet the anger in that punishment may be turned away.
5. Therefore all temporal punishments of original sin, though they remain, do not prejudice a believer’s present interest.
(1.) They cut not off his relation to God, A son is as much a son under the rod as in the bosom: neither the father’s stroke nor the child’s grief dissolve that near relation: nay, a father may shew more of a true paternal affection in his chastisements than in his caresses. The branches which are battered with sticks may be nearer the root than those that flourish at their ease. Christ, while a man of sorrows, was pronounced by God his well beloved Son, and bore our punishment, not only without forfeiting his Father’s affection, but with a high gratification of him; neither doth God’s visiting the seed of Christ with stripes cut off their relation to him: Ps. 89:32, “Then will I visit their transgressions with rods.” Whose transgressions? Verse 30, “his children.” Whose children? Even the children of him whom he would make “the first-born, higher than the kings of the earth,” verse 27; which cannot be understood literally of David or his lineal posterity in the Jewish kingdom, who were never higher than the kings of the earth.
(2.) They debar not from the presence of God, God may be and is as near to us in supporting as he is in punishing. It is not the cloud that interposeth between the sun and us that alters the sun’s course or obstructs its influences, Christ took not off the badges of original guilt from those disciples which had the greatest interest in his affections; be left them in a sinful world to endure the fruits of sin; he sent them not to ease, pleasure, and a quiet and painless life, but to labour, toil, and sweat, yet promised that he would abide with them, that he and his Father would manifest themselves to them. And he turned that sweat and pain, which was the fruit of sin, by his presence with them, to be instrumental for the glory of God and the good of themselves in the world,
(3.) They break not the covenant. His rod and his stripes, though they seem to break our backs, make no breaches in his covenant, Ps. 89:32-34; he will visit transgression with rods, but he will not suffer his faithfulness to fail, nor break his covenant. No; they are rather covenant mercies when they break our hearts, and are means by his grace to make our stony hearts more fleshy. He makes even those dispensations which were pronounced for punishment to bring forth covenant mercies, and the rich fruits of his grace to grow upon the sour crab-stock of his judgments. Jacob, in Gen. 49, is said to bless his children, though he predicts smart afflictions to come upon them; they are ranked among the blessings, because the covenant should remain firm. The lash removes not the inheritance. Augustine saith well, “Noli attendere quam poenam habes in flagello, sed querm locum in testamento.” [“do not think of what punishment you suffer in the scourge, but what place you have in the Testament”].
6. Add to all this, that the first promise secures a believer under the sufferings of those punishments. God’s affection in the promise of bruising the serpent’s head was more illustrious in his wrath than the threatening. There are the bowels of a father in the promise, before there was the voice of a judge in the sentence. God brought sugar with his potion, and administered his cordial before he struck with his lance; and therefore that threatening which commenced after the promise can no more prejudice the fruits of the promise to a believer, than the law, which was given four hundred and thirty years after the promise to Abraham, could dis-annul that and make it of no effect, as the apostle argues in another case. Gal. 3:17. Much less can the threatening denounced immediately after the promise change the veracity of God in that which was fresh in his mind at the very time of his threatening.
Obs. But it may be asked, What is the reason these punishments are continued since the redemption wrought by Christ?
Ans. It is frequent with God to inflict a temporal punishment after pardon, not, as the papists assert, in order to satisfaction, Moses his unbelief hindered him from coming unto Canaan, so that when he desired to go over Jordan, God was wroth with him, cut him off short, and commands him silence: Deut. 3:25-26, “Speak to me no more of this matter,“
There are reasons:
1. On God’s part. 2. On our part.
1. On God’s part.
(1.) It is congruous to the wisdom of God to leave them upon us while we are in the world. Since God created man to gain glory by his actions, but was presently after his creation disgraced and disparaged by him, it seems agreeable to the wisdom of God not immediately to bring him to his former state, but to leave some marks of his displeasure upon man, to mind him of the state whence he was fallen, the misery he contracted, and the necessity of flying to his mercy for succour.
(2.) It is congruous to the holiness of God. God keeps up those punishments as the rector and governor of the world, to shew his detestation of that sin which brought a disorder and deformity upon the creation, and was the first act of dishonour to God, and the first pollution of the creature. It is an high vindication of the holiness and authority of God, and the majesty and purity of his law, to punish sin in them that are dear to him upon another’s righteousness, whereby he evidenceth that he hates sin in all, and will not wink at it or approve of it. So he pardoned David; but for the honour of his name, which had been blasphemed by occasion of David’s sin, he would leave the smart of it upon his family, 2 Sam. 12:10, 14.
(3.) It is a declaration of his justice. It is not congruous to the justice of God not to leave some marks of his anger against that sin which caused him to be at the expense of his Son’s blood, and is the source of all those evils whereby God is injured, for which the Redeemer bled, and by which the Spirit is grieved, since pardon doth not, neither can, alter the demerit of sin; but that will continue, and what is once meritoriously a capital crime in its own nature can never be otherwise. God may for the demonstration of his justice inflict and continue something upon the creature, though he free him from actual condemnation. We should not be so sensible of the justice of God in the death of Christ, did we not feel some strokes of it upon ourselves, nor what the purchase of our redemption did cost our Saviour. What we hear doth not so much affect as what we feel. That which brought disorder into God’s government of the world, and made him change the scene of his providence, may very justly have some signal remark upon it notwithstanding the redemption, especially when the fruits of it are not fully complete; for since man was the immediate end of the creation of this lower world, and since all creatures were made for the service of man, that he might be tit for the service of his righteous Creator, he did by his fall violate the order of the creation, and subjected it to the service of the devil, a corrupt creature, and an enemy to God, the chief Lord of the world, and so did deprave the order of the universe, and endeavoured to frustrate the end of God and the end of all the creatures. It is very rational to think that though God, out of his infinite compassion, would not lose his creature, yet that he should set such a badge upon him that should make him sensible of a depravation he had wrought in the world
(4.) It is useful to magnify his love. We should not be sensible of what our Saviour suffered, nor how transcendently he loved us, if the punishment of sin had been presently removed upon the first promise. Nay, how then could he have died in the fullness of time, which was necessary to the demonstration of God’s love, satisfaction of his justice, and the security of the creature’s happiness? God adds the threatening to the promise, as a dark colour to set off and beautify the brighter. As Christ suffered that he might have compassion on us, so are we punished that we might have an estimation of him. When Paul cries out of the body of death, so when we cry out of the punishment of sin, it should raise our thankfulness for redeeming love: “I thank God through Jesus Christ,” Rom. 7:24-25. We never know the worth of mercy till we feel the weight of misery. The sharper the pains of sin, the higher are our valuations of redeeming mercy. In lsa. 4:2, “In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious.” In what day? After great punishments, verse 1, and in the foregoing chapter. He appears most beautiful to us when we are under the lash for sin. As sin continues in us that the justifying grace of Christ’s righteousness might more appear to us, so punishment continues on us that redeeming love might be more prized by us.
2. On our parts. It is useful to us,
1. To make us abhor our first defection and sin. It was great, and is not duly considered by us. This sin of Adam is the worst that ever was committed in the world, extensively, though not intensively, worse than the sin of Judas or the sin against the Holy Ghost, in respect that those are but the effects of it, and branches of that corrupt root; also because those sins hurt only the persons sinning. But this drew down destruction upon the whole world, and drove thousands into everlasting fire and brimstone. It is not fit that this, which was the murder of all mankind, the disorder of the creation, the disturbing of God’s rest in the works of his hands, should be passed over without a scar left upon us to make us sensible of the greatness of the evil. Though the wounds be great upon our souls, yet they do not so much affect us as those strokes upon our bodies. This certainly was one main end of God in this; to what purpose else did he (after the promise of restoration, and giving our first parents the comfort of hearing the head of their great seducer threatened to be bruised by the seed of the woman) order this punishment, but to put them in mind of the cause of it, and stir up a standing abhorrency of it in all ages of the world? Had not this been his intent, he would never have ushered it in by a promise, but ipso facto have showered down a destroying judgment upon the world, as he did upon Sodom, without any comfortable word preceding. God inflicts those punishments both to shew his own and excite our detestation of this sin. “He binds us in those fetters to shew us our work and our transgression wherein we have exceeded,” Job 36:8-9.
2. To make us fear to sin, and to purge it out. Sin hath riveted itself so deep, that easy medicines will not displace it. It hath so much of our affections, that gentle means will not divorce us from it. We shall hate it most when we reap the punishment of it. Punishment is inflicted as a guard to the law, and the security of righteousness from the corrupt inclinations of the creature; so it is ίατρεία ψυχής, as Plato calls punishment. As death is continued for the destruction of sin in the body, so are the lesser punishments continued for the restraint of sin in our lives. We need further conversions, closer applications of ourselves to God, more quick walks to him, and fixedness with him. God’s smitings are to quicken our turnings. As it was the fruit of Jacob’s trouble to take away sin, Isa. 27:9, so it is a great end of God in those common punishments of mankind to weaken corruption in a believer by them; therefore, when we have any more remarkable sense of those punishments, let us see what wounds our sin gets thereby; how our hatred of it is increased. If we find such gracious effects we shall have more reason to bless God for it than complain of it. Oh happy troubles, when they repair, not ruin us, when they pinch us and cure us, like thunder, which, though it trouble the air, disperses the infectious vapours mixed with it, or the tide, which, though turning the stream of the river against its natural course, carries away much of the filth with it at its departure.
3. To exercise grace. Punishments of themselves have no power to set any grace on work, but rather excite our corruptions; but the grace of God accompanying them makes them beneficial for such an end. God hath to a believer altered the commission of such punishments; they are to exercise our faith, improve our patience, draw us nearer in acts of recumbency, but he hath given them no order to impair our grace, waste our faith, or deaden our hopes.
(1.) Faith and trust: 1 Tim. 5:5, “She that is desolate trusts in God.” The lower the state, the greater necessity and greater obligation to trust; such exercises manifest that the condition we are in is sanctified to us. As sin is suffered to dwell in a regenerate man, to occasion the exercise of faith, so is the punishment of sin continued for the same end. The continuance of it is a mighty ground of our confidence in God. We experiment the righteousness of God in his threatening, and it is an evidence he will be the same in his promise. When we bear the marks of his punitive justice, it is an evidence that he will keep up the credit of his mercy in the promise, as well as of his justice in the punishment, both being pronounced at the same time; the good of the one is as sure by God’s grace to our faith, as the smart of the other is by our desert to that sin. The continuance, therefore, of those punishments may be used by a believer as a means to fix a stronger confidence in God, for if he were not true to the one, we might suspect his truth in the other; if God should be careless of maintaining the honour of his truth in his threatenings, we should have reason to think that he would be careless of maintaining the honour of it in his promises, and thereupon be filled with despondencies. What comfort could we have in an unrighteous God? The righteousness of God in inflicting punishment is but a branch of that essential righteousness of his nature, which obligeth him to be righteous in the performing his promise too. It is a mighty support to faith, that the righteous God loveth righteousness.
(2.) Obedience in a believer hath a greater lustre by them. It was the glory of Job, that he preserved his integrity under the smartest troubles. To obey a God always smiling, is not so great an act of loyalty as to obey a God frowning and striking. It is the crown of our obedience to follow our God though he visits us with stripes. It is a noble temper to love that hand which strikes us, and cheerfully serve that Father which lasheth us. Our obedience is too low when it must be excited by a succession of favours, and cannot run to God unless he allures it by smiles. It is then a generous and sincere obedience, when we can embrace him with a sword in his hand, trust him though he kill us, love him though he stone us, and, as the Persians did by the sun, adore him when he scorcheth, as well as when he refresheth us. Were these punishments wholly absent, we should not have a rise for so heroic faith and love, and our holiness in this state would want much of its lustre.
(3.) Humility. These punishments are left upon us to allay our pride, and be our remembrancers of our deplorable miscarriage. It had been an occasion of pride in us to be freed from punishment at the first appearance of a mediator. It is reasonable the soul should have occasions to exercise itself in a grace contrary to that first sin, pride, which was the cause of the fall. We affected to be gods, and punishment is left that we may know we are but men, which is the end of judgments: Ps. 9:20, “Put them in fear, Lord, that the nations may know they are but men;” we should otherwise think ourselves gods. We are so inclined to sin that we need strong restraints, and so swelled with a natural pride against God, that we need thorns in the flesh to let out the corrupt matter. The constant hanging the rod over us makes us lick the dust, and acknowledge ourselves to be altogether at the Lord’s mercy. Though God hath pardoned us, he will make us wear the halter about our necks to humble us.
(4.) Patience. Were there no punishments, there would be but little occasion for patience. This grace would not have had its extensive exercise, its full formation, without such strokes left upon the creature. Resignation to God, which is the beauty of grace, would not come to its due maturity and stature without such trials. So that in these reasons of the continuance, we see they are rather advantages to salvation than hindrances, by promoting, through the influence of God’s grace, those graces in us which are necessary to a happy state.
Use 1. See the infinite mercy of God, who, when upon the defection of our first parents he might have burnt up the whole world as he did Sodom, would upon the Redeemer’s account, who stepped in, impose so light a punishment upon that sin; it is but light in comparison of what the nature of sin deserves, every sin being a contempt of the majesty of God, and a slight of his authority, and that sin having greater aggravations attending it. It is a merciful punishment, it might have been everlasting damnation; God might have left us to the first sentence of the law, and made no exchange of eternal death for temporal pains; he might have been deaf to the voice of a mediator, and put his mercy to silence, as he did Moses, “Speak no more of this matter;” but his bowels pull his justice by the arm, and hinder that fatal stroke, and a Mediator, by his interposition, breaks off the full blow from us by taking it upon himself, and suffers only some few smart drops to light upon us. Oh wonderful mercy, that our punishment should not hinder, but rather further, our everlasting happiness by incomprehensible grace! Let not, then, our punishments for sin hinder our thankfulness. Let our mouths swell with praise, while our bodies crumble away by diseases, and relations drop from us by death. Let us love God’s glory, admire his mercy, while we feel his arrows; whatever our punishments are, there is more matter for praise than murmuring.
2. How should we bewail original sin, the first fall of man. It is a great slighting of God not to take notice either of his judicial or fatherly proceedings. As we are to lament any particular sin more especially when the judgments of God, which bear the marks of that sin in their foreheads, are upon a nation or person, so, though we are to bewail the sin of our nature at all times, yet more signally when the strokes of God, the remembrancers of it, are most signally upon us. A child doth more particularly think of his fault when he is under the correcting rod for it. We should scarce think of original sin, if we did not feel original punishment. All the pains of sin should be considered as God’s sermon to us, and we should under them be afflicted with that sin, as we may suppose Adam and Eve were when they first heard the punishment denounced in paradise, when they had a sense of the flourishing condition they had lost for a slight temptation. To turn sorrow for pain into sorrow for our first sin, is to spiritualize our grief, and sanctify our passion.
3. What an argument for patience under punishments is here ! The continuance of them doth not hinder our salvation. “Shall a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sin?” For such a punishment that doth not hinder his eternal welfare, but by the grace of God, and the exercise of faith, rather promote it. God promised as well as threatened; both his mercy and righteousness directs him to that which is most for his honour and our good. Let us not by any impatience charge infinite wisdom with blindness or unrighteousness. They were punishments at first, but by faith in Christ, the deportment of a judge is changed into that of a father. Drusius hath an observation: Ps. 56:10, “In God will I praise his word; in the Lord will I praise his word.” The first word, Elohim, is a name belonging to God as a judge, the second word, Jehovah, is a name of mercy; I will praise God, whether he deal with me in a way of justice or in a way of mercy, when he hath thunder in his voice as well as when he hath honey under his tongue. Oh how should we praise God, and pleasure ourselves by such a frame! When our distresses lie hard upon us, we should justify God’s holiness. So the psalmist, or rather Christ, in the bearing our punishment, Ps. 22:1, “But thou art holy,” when he expostulates with God why he had forsaken him, justifies God’s holiness. Howsoever thou dealest with me, thou art holy in all thy ways. Thou doest me no wrong; why should I complain, when holiness and hatred of sin guides thee in all those actings with me?
4. How earnest should we be to get rid of sin! By pardon, by sanctification. Guilt is the sting of punishment. Sin only embitters trouble. The remission and mortification of sin is the health of the soul. If the arrow’s head be out of a wound, the cure will be more easy. “Look upon my affliction, and my pain, and forgive all my sin,” saith the psalmist, Ps. 25:8; forgiveness of sin would mitigate the sharpness of his pain.
5. How should we act faith on God in Christ, before, and under, such a condition of punishment! As we can never love God too much, because he is the highest good, so we can never trust God too much, because he is one of immutable truth. When we are in straits, it is not for want of faithfulness in God, but for want of faith in us, that we are many times not preserved. We distrust God, and this is the cause we fall into many distresses, which otherwise would not come upon us, or be quickly removed from us. Did we grasp the promises closely, and plead them earnestly, we should often find the deliverance we desire. We pray, but we pray not in faith; we cry for deliverance, but not with confidence; we plead God’s power, but forget his promise. Many temporal promises are not performed to us, not for want of truth in God, but for want of faith in us. Particular fiduciary acts will draw out the riches of a promise, for want of which we remain poor in the midst of abundance. Some think that the promise made to Josiah of his dying in peace, which phrase is usually meant in Scripture of a peaceable death upon the bed, was not performed, because Josiah was out of the way against the precept of God, and therefore could not act faith requisite to the fulfilling of that promise, for faith is much damped in its actings under present contracted guilt. This faith in promises for outward preservation is not an absolute, infallible assurance that God will bestow such outward things (because the promises themselves are not absolute), but it is rather an indefinite act of recumbency, and submission, referring it to bis good pleasure towards us. But it is certain we are very much defective in acting faith upon promises for temporal mercies, because it is an epidemical distemper in us to trust God with our souls rather than with our bodies and outward concerns.
1. Exercise faith before such a time. Furnish yourselves with the comforts of the covenant, and the efficacy of the death of Christ. In bodily distempers, our minds are discomposed, and we cannot have that freedom of thoughts and spiritual reflections. This is the way to engage God, who is the best assistant, “a very present help in time of trouble.“
2. Exercise it in the use of spiritual means. God never commanded us to trust him but in his own methods. That is not trust in God which is attended with any willful omissions. If we be careful in doing our duty, God will be careful in doing what belongs to him. Prayer is the best means for faith to exercise itself in. A spirit of prayer beforehand is a sign of good success. When the heart is drawn out to cry, it is a sign God stands ready with the mercy in his hand. Times of distress are times of calling upon God: Ps. 18:6, “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my cry.” God is to be acknowledged in all our ways, Prov. 3:6, in the beginning by prayer for his direction; in the end, by praises for the success. We are usually more earnest in trouble. We have not at all times an equal fervency. Christ himself (some say) had not; for when he was in his agony, he prayed more earnestly than before, Luke 22:44.
3. Act faith upon the relation God bears to you. He is our Father. We trust earthly fathers, and are confident they will not abuse us. How much more ought we to trust our heavenly Father, and not doubt of his sincerity towards us! The greater the trouble, the more we should plead God’s relation to us. Our Saviour in the garden. Mat. 26:29, 42, at his entrance into his passion for us, prays to God by the title of my Father, whereas at other times he calls God Father, without that appropriation. But now he would excite his confidence, and trust in God, and those promises he had made him to assist him in that hour.
4. Act faith upon the attributes of God. There is nothing in God can affright a believer. There is not an attribute but seems fixed in God to encourage our dependence on him in any strait; wisdom, mercy, truth, omniscience, power, justice too (for what comfort could we have to trust an unjust God? All which attributes are promised to be assistant to a believer in any case of need, in the covenant of grace, where God makes himself over to us as our God, and therefore all that God hath, and is, is promised there for our good. Upon the power of God: God’s omnipotence was the ground of our Saviour’s prayer to him in his distress, and that which the apostle seems to intimate his eyeing of: Heb. 5:7, “He offered up prayers unto him that was able to save him from death.” And, Ps. 16:1, the psalmist, or rather Christ, pleads the power of God: “Preserve me, Lord, for in thee do I put my trust.” Aquila renders it strong. Plead the truth of God in his promise, the promise that preceded the threatening, viz., the bruising the serpent’s head, the defeating all his plots and designs, whereof this was one, to bring man into a state of punishment. There is a promise which has been especially tried and made good, though all in the book of God have been found true: Ps. 28:30, “The word of the Lord is tried.” Not one word but the truth of it hath been tried, but especially this word, that God is a buckler to them that trust in him, i.e. that he will preserve and defend depending believers.
5. Act faith upon Christ. Hath God delivered Christ to death? It must be for some glorious end, not for destruction of the creature, that might have been done without the death of his Son, but for remission; if so, there is sufficient ground to trust him for everything else. We have a merciful high Priest, which encourageth us to make our addresses known to him. He cannot but be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, our penal infirmities which he suffered, our sinful infirmities for which he suffered. Where can he shew his mercy but in our misery? Are we under God’s strokes? Christ himself felt them, that he might the better pity us. Are we in such cases tempted to despond and distrust? He felt such fiery darts of the devil, that he might the better commiserate us. Run to him and cry out. Blessed Redeemer, compassionate High Priest, let thy pity break out to allay my grief, and support my weakness.
Take a few encouragements to fiduciary acts.
1. Nothing is more pleasing to God. The continuance in faith is the necessary condition of our salvation. Nothing more honours him. We honour his wisdom and goodness, when we acknowledge that he hath a singular care of his creatures, and trust him in his own methods; we own his skill in governing, and his goodness in bringing every thing about to the best end. Christ hath given us the highest example of trust, and highly pleased God in it, in coming into the world to die upon God’s bare word and oath. It is all we can do to glorify God. Other graces glorify some particular attribute, but confidence in God glorifies all in the lump; his wisdom, righteousness, faithfulness, mercy, truth, omniscience, and power. There is no attribute but gives a particular encouragement to faith, and there is no attribute but faith returns a revenue of glory to. Despondency disparageth the Father’s affection and the Redeemer’s love. If we do not trust him, we imply that he hath not either wisdom, or love, or power, or faithfulness enough to be trusted by us, and that his word is of no value.
2. Nothing is more successful. It is the argument the psalmist, or rather Christ, useth, Ps. 16:1, “Preserve me.” Why? “Because I trust in thee.” Trust in God is a strong argument to prevail with God for preservation. All the ancient fathers were delivered by God upon their trust: Ps. 22:4-5, “Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.” Faith in gospel promises is not a grace of a new date. It is as old as Adam’s fall, as old as the patriarchs, and successful in all ages of the world. They were under new-covenant promises, and had new-covenant deliverances before the promises were actually sealed by the blood of Christ. How much stronger ground have we of trust now! Faith draws out the treasures of God, and sets God on work to display both his wisdom, goodness, and power: Ps. 31:19, “How great is thy goodness which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee, which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee!” Much more when faith is vigorously acted. Unbelief binds God’s hands. Faith then draws forth that power which unbelief locks up. God is first the hope of Israel, and then “the Saviour thereof in times of trouble,” Jer. 14:8, of every one of Israel. Where God inspires with a humble confidence in himself, there is hope of success, for God will not frustrate the expectation of that which he hath been the author of in his creature. David had found such good evidence of this, that he tells God he would make bold with him upon every occasion of fear: Ps. 57:3, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.“
3. Nothing more calms the spirit. A fiduciary reliance on God is the way to live free from fears and anxieties. Faith is an establishing grace. By faith we stand. What storms would be in the minds of poor passengers in a ship, as great as those in the sea, if they had no pilot to direct them! How soon would the arrival of a skillful steersman, in whom they could confide, and that knew the shelves and rocks upon the coast, calm their disquiets!
Well, then, to sum up all. This very scripture is a letter of comfort, writ only to women in the state of child-bearing; claim it as your right by faith. What comfort is here to appeal from the threatening to the promise, from God as a judge to God as a father, from God angry to God pacified in Christ! How comfortable is this, that when God seems to fight against you with his punishments, you can take off the edge of his weapons by the pleas of his promise! Oh blessed God, who arms a believer against himself, before he arms himself against a believer! You can never be under the curse if you have faith, as long as God is sensible of his own credit in the promise. In the material part of the punishment, there is no difference between a believer and an unbeliever. Jacob is pinched with famine as well as the Canaanite; but Jacob is in covenant, and hath a God in heaven and a Joseph in Egypt to preserve him. God directs every pain in all by his providence, in believers by a particular love; every gripe in all the physic he gives us. He orders even his contendings with his creature in such a measure as the Spirit may not fail before him, Isa. 57:16.