Extracted from: Selected Writings of John Knox: Public Epistles, Treatises, and Expositions to the Year 1559
"During his residence at Berwick, he [Knox] had formed an acquaintance with Marjory Bowes, a young lady, who afterwards became his wife. Before he left Berwick, Knox had paid his addresses to this young lady, and met with a favourable reception. Her mother also was friendly to the match; but, owing to some reason, most probably the presumed aversion of her father, it was deemed prudent to delay solemnizing the union. But having come under a formal promise to her, he considered himself, from that time, as sacredly bound, and in his letters to Mrs. Bowes always addressed that lady by the name of mother." (M'Crie's Life of Knox [Edinburgh, 1855], p. 44.)
"Mrs. Bowes, who had borne her husband some fifteen children, had accepted the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone, probably prior to Knox's arrival. She soon became an important member of the congregation. Nevertheless, her views were not shared by her husband, although her fifth daughter Marjory and her son George seem to have followed her example. While we do not know very much about her, she shows herself to have been a woman with two distinct sides to her nature. On the one, according to Knox she was a person with strong convictions who at times strengthened even him when he was faint. This we may well believe, for she withstood considerable opposition, if not persecution, in her own family because of her faith. On the other hand, she had continual doubts and fears about her own spiritual condition: whether she had true faith, whether she was of the elect, whether she had committed the unpardonable sin. This uncertainty caused her constantly to consult Knox, and when he was not present to write to him. The letters in which he attempted to reply to her questions she kept and these provide us with a good insight not only into her problems, but into Knox himself." (W. Stanford Reid, Trumpeter of God [New York, 1974], p. 79-80.)
Shortly after being exiled in Dieppe, Knox dispatched two treatises to England. The reformer had previously begun writing the Exposition upon the Sixth Psalm in response to the entreaties of Mrs. Bowes. The Godly Letter of Warning or Admonition, was the other treatise sent at this time.
Knox was separated from his betrothed, as well as his mother-in-law, until he journeyed to Scotland in the autumn of 1555. Sometime after this, he and Marjory were able to solemnize their marriage. Marjory and her mother then returned with Knox to Geneva in September 1556, when the reformer assumed pastoral responsibilities within the congregation of English exiles in Geneva.
Wherein are declared his cross, complaints, and prayers; necessary to be read of all them, for their singular comfort, that under the banner of Christ are by Satan assaulted, and feel the heavy burden of sin with which they are oppressed.
The patient abiding of the sorely afflicted was never yet confounded.
To his beloved mother, John Knox sends greeting, in the Lord.
The desire that I have to hear of your continuance with Christ Jesus, in the day of this his battle, which shortly shall end to the confusion of his proud enemies, I can neither express by tongue nor by pen, beloved mother. Assuredly it is such that it vanquishes and overcomes all remembrance and solicitude, which the flesh uses to take for feeding and defence of itself. For in every realm and nation God will stir up some one or other to minister things that appertain to this wretched life. And if men will cease to do their office, yet he will send his ravens; so that, in every place, perchance I may find some feathers [clothing] to my body. But, alas! where I shall find children to be begotten unto God by the word of life, that I cannot presently consider. And therefore the spiritual life of such as sometimes boldly professed Christ (God knows) is to my heart more dear than all the glory, riches, and honour on earth.
And the falling back of such men, as I hear daily do turn back to that idol again, is to me more dolorous [sorrowful] than, I trust, the corporeal death shall be, whenever it shall come at God's appointment. Some will ask then, Why did I flee? Assuredly I cannot tell. But of one thing I am sure: the fear of death was not the chief cause of my fleeing. I trust the one cause has been, to let me see with my corporeal eyes that all had not a true heart to Christ Jesus who in the day of rest and peace bore a fair face. But my fleeing is no matter; by God's grace I may come to battle before all the conflict be ended. "And haste the time, O Lord, at thy good pleasure, that once again my tongue may yet praise thy holy name, before the congregation, if it were but in the very hour of death."
I have written a large treatise touching the plagues that assuredly shall apprehend obstinate idolaters, and those also who, dissembling with them, deny Christ by obeying idolatry, which I would you should read diligently. If it come not to you from the south, I will provide that it shall come to you by some other means.
Touching your continual trouble, given unto you by God for better purpose than we can at present espy, I have begun unto you the exposition of the sixth psalm; and as God shall grant unto me opportunity and health of body (which now is very weak), I purpose to absolve [complete] the same.
[THE ARGUMENT [OF THE SIXTH PSALM]
It appears that David, after his offences, fell into some great and dangerous sickness, in which he was sorely tormented, not so much by corporeal infirmities as by sustaining and drinking some large portion of the cup of God's wrath. And albeit he was delivered (as then) from the corporeal death, yet it appears that long after (yea, and I verily believe all his life) he had some sense and remembrance of the horrible fear which before he suffered in the time of his sickness. And therefore the Holy Ghost, speaking in him, shows unto us what are the complaints of God's elect under such crosses; how diversely they are tormented; how that they appear to have no sure hold of God, but to be abject [cast out] from him. And yet what are the signs that they are God's elect? And so does the Holy Ghost teach us to seek help of God, even when he is punishing and appears to be angry.
THE SIXTH PSALM
O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger,
nor chasten me in thy hot displeasure.
David, sorely troubled in body and spirit, lamentably prays unto God, which, that we may more surely understand, I will attempt to express [it] in more words. David speaks unto God, as he would speak unto a man, in this manner: "O Lord, I feel what is the weight and strength of thy displeasure. I have experienced how intolerable is the heaviness of thy hand, which I, most wretched man, have provoked against myself by my horrible sins. Thou whippest me and scourgest me bitterly; yea, thou so vexest me, that, unless thou withdraw thy hand and remit thy displeasure, there resteth nothing unto me but utterly to be confounded. I beseech thee, O Lord, rage not, neither be commoved against me above measure. Remit and take away thy heavy displeasure, which, by my iniquity, I have provoked against myself." This appears to have been the meaning of David in his first words, whereby he declares himself to have felt the grievous wrath of God before he burst forth in these words.
In which, first, is to be noticed, that the prophet does acknowledge all trouble that he sustained, as well in body as in mind, to be sent of God, and not to happen unto him by chance. For herein peculiarly differ the sons of God from the reprobate: that the sons of God know both prosperity and adversity to be the gifts of God only, as Job does witness. And, therefore, in prosperity commonly they are not insolent nor proud; but even in the day of joy and rest they look for trouble and sorrow. Neither yet in the time of adversity are they altogether left without comfort, but by one mean or other God shows to them that trouble shall have an end; where contrariwise, the reprobate, either taking all things of chance, or else making an idol of their own wisdom, in prosperity are so puffed up, that they forget God, without any care that trouble should follow; and in adversity they are so dejected, that they look for nothing but hell.
Here must I put you in mind, dearly beloved, how oft you and I have talked of these present days, till neither of us could refrain [from] tears, when no such appearance there was seen by man. How oft have I said unto you, that I looked daily for trouble, and that I wondered at it, that I did escape it so long? What moved me to refuse, and that with displeasure of all men (even of those who best loved me), those high promotions which were offered by him, whom God has taken from us for our offences? Assuredly the foresight of trouble to come. How oft have I said unto you, that the time would not be long that England would give me bread? Advise with the last letter that I wrote unto your brother-in-law, and consider what is therein contained.
While I had this trouble, you had the greater; sent, I doubt not, to us both of God; that, in that great rest, and, as we call it, when the gospel triumphed, we should not be so careless and so insolent as others were, who, albeit they professed Christ in mouth, yet sought they nothing but the world, with hand, with foot, with counsel, and wisdom. And albeit at this present [time] our comfort appears not; yet, before all the plagues are poured forth, it shall be known that there is a God who takes care for his own.
Secondarily, is to be observed, that the nature and engine [disposition] of the very sons of God, in the time of their trouble, is to impute unto God some other affection than there is, or can be in him, towards his children; and sometimes to complain upon God, as that he did those things which, in very deed, he cannot do to his elect. David and Job often complained that God had left them, had become their enemy, regarded not their prayers, and took no heed to deliver them. And yet it is impossible that God shall either leave his chosen, or that he shall despise the humble petitions of such as do incall his support. But such complaints are the voices of the flesh, wherewith God is not offended so as to reject his elect, but pardons them among their innumerable infirmities and sins. And therefore, dearly beloved, despair you not, albeit the flesh sometimes bursts out in heavy complaints, as it were, against God. You are not more perfect than were David and Job; and you cannot be so perfect as Christ himself was, who, upon the cross, cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46). Consider, dear mother, how lamentable and horrible were those words to the only Son of God. And David, in the eighty-eighth psalm (which, for the better understanding, I desire you to read) complains upon God, that night and day he had cried, and yet he was not delivered; "But," says he, "my soul is filled with dolour; I am as a man without strength. I am like unto those that are gone down into the pit, of whom thou hast no more mind; like unto those that are cut off by thy hand. Thou hast put me in a deep dungeon. All thy wrath lieth upon me. Why leavest thou me, Lord? Why hidest thou thy face so far from me? Thou hast removed all my friends from me. Thou hast made me odious unto them" (Ps. 88:3-8). And thus he ends his psalm and complaint, without mention of any comfort received. And Job, in diverse places of his book, makes even the like complaints; sometimes saying that God was his enemy, and had set him, as it were, a mark to shoot at; and, therefore, that his soul desires actual destruction (cf. Job 16:13).
These things I recite unto you, dearly beloved, understanding what have been your troubles heretofore, and knowing that Satan will not cease now to persuade your tender conscience that none of God's elect have been in like case as you are. But by these precedents, and many other places (which I have no opportunity now to collect), it plainly does appear that God's chosen vessels have suffered the like temptations. I remember that often you have complained upon the grudging and murmuring that you found within yourself, fearing that it provoked God to more displeasure. Behold and consider, dear mother, what God has borne with his saints before. Will he not bear the same with you, being most sorry for your imperfection? He cannot do otherwise. But as his wisdom has made us all of one mass and nature (earth and earthly); and as he has redeemed us with one price (the blood of his only Son); so must he, according to his promise, look mercifully upon the offences of all those that incall [call upon] the name of the Lord Jesus (Rom. 10:13): of these, I mean, that refuse all other justice [righteousness] but his alone.
But to our matter: of these precedents it is plain that God's elect, before you, suffered the like cross as presently you suffer; that they have complained as you complain; that they have thought themselves abject [cast off] as you have thought, and yet may [still] think yourself; and yet, nevertheless, they were sure in God's favour. Hope, dear mother, and look you for the same; hope (I say) against hope. How horrible the pain is to suffer that cross none can express, except such as have proved it. Fearful it is, for the very pain itself; but most fearful it is, for that the godly, so tormented, judges God to be angry, in fury, and in rage against them, as is before expressed. Seeing we have found this cross to appertain to God's children, it shall be profitable to search out the causes of the same.
Plain it is, that not only God works all to the profit of his elect, but also that he works it of such love towards them, and with such wisdom, that otherwise things could not be. And to understand this is very profitable, partly to satisfy the grudging complaints of the flesh, which in trouble, commonly does question, "Why does God this or that?" And albeit the flesh in this earth can never be fully satisfied; but even as hunger and thirst from time to time assault it, so do other more gross imperfections. Yet the inward man, with sobs unto God, knowing the causes why the very just are sorely troubled and tormented in body and spirit in this life, receives sure comfort, and gets some stay of God's mercy, by knowing the causes of the trouble. All causes I may not here recite, but two or three of the principal I will touch.
The first is, to provoke in God's elect a hatred of sin, and unfeigned repentance of the same; which cause, if it were righteously considered, were sufficient to make all spiritual and corporeal troubles tolerable unto us. For seeing it is, that without repentance no man does attain to God's mercy (for it is now appointed by him, whose wisdom is infinite, I mean, of those that are converted to the feeling of sin), and that without mercy no man can come to joy: is not that which lets us understand what repentance is, gladly to be received and embraced?
Repentance contains in it a knowledge of sin, a dolour [sorrow] for it, and a hatred of it, together with a hope of mercy. It is very evident that God's own children have not, at all times, the right knowledge of sin that is to say, how odious it is before God much less have they the dolour for it, and hatred of it. Which if they had, as they could not sin, so could they never be able (having always that very sense of God's wrath against sin) to delight in anything that appertains to the flesh, more than the woman whom God has appointed by the help of man to produce mankind, could ever delight in man, if at all times she felt the same pangs of dolour and pain, that she does in her childbirth. And therefore God, for such purposes as are known to himself, does sometimes suspend from his own children this foresaid sense and feeling of his wrath against sin; as no doubt he here did with David, not only before his sin, but also sometime after. But lest the sons of God should become altogether insolent, like the children of the world, he sends unto them some portion of this foresaid cup, in drinking whereof they come to such knowledge as they never had before. For, first, they feel the wrath of God working against sin, whereby they learn the justice of God to be even such as he himself pronounces, that he may suffer no sin unpunished. And thus begin they, as well to mourn for their offences, as also to hate the same, which otherwise they could never do. For nothing is so pleasing to the corrupt nature of man as sin is; and things pleasing to nature, nature by itself cannot hate.
But in this conflict, as God's children feel torments, and that most grievous; as they mourn, and by God's Holy Spirit begin to hate sin; so they come also to a more high knowledge: that is, that a man cannot be saviour to himself. For how shall he save himself from hell, who cannot save himself from anguish and trouble here in this flesh, while he has strength, wit, reason, and understanding? And therefore he must be compelled in his heart to acknowledge, that there must be another Mediator betwixt God's justice and mankind, than any that ever descended of the corrupt seed of Adam; yea, than any creature that only is [a] creature. And by the knowledge of this Mediator, at last the afflicted comes by some sense and lively feeling of God's great mercies declared unto mankind, albeit they are not so sensible as is the pain. And albeit that torment, by this knowledge, is not hastily removed, yet the patient has some hope that all dolour shall have [an] end. And that is the cause why he sobs and groans for an end of pain; why also he blasphemes not God, but cries for his help, even in the midst of his anguish.
How profitable this is to the children of God, and what it works in them, as the plain scripture teaches, so experience lets us understand. And verily even so profitable as it is to mourn for sin, to hate the same, to know the Mediator betwixt God and man, and, finally, to know his free love and mercy towards them: so necessary is it to drink this foresaid cup. What it works in them, none knows but such as tastes it.
In David it is plain that it wrought humility and abjection [casting down] of himself; it took from him the great trust that he had in himself; it made him daily to fear, and earnestly to pray, that afterwards he should not offend in like manner, nor be left to his own hands. It made him lowly, although he was a king; it made him merciful when he might have been rigourous; yea, it caused him to mourn for Absalom his wicked son. But to the rest of the causes.
The second cause why God permits his elect to taste of this bitter cup is to raise up our hearts from these transitory vanities; for so foolish and so forgetful of nature, and so addicted are we to the things that are present, that unless we have another school master than manly [human] reason, and some other spur and perpetual remembrance than any that we can choose (or devise ourselves), we neither can desire, neither yet righteously remember, the departure from this vain and wicked world, to the kingdom that is prepared.
We are commanded daily to pray, "Thy kingdom come" (Matt. 6:10): which petition asks that sin may cease; that death may be devoured; that transitory troubles may have an end; that Satan may be trodden under our feet; that the whole body of Christ may be restored to life, liberty, and joy; that the powers and kingdoms of this earth may be dissolved and destroyed; and that God the Father may be all in all things, after that his Son Christ Jesus has rendered up the kingdom for ever.
For these things are we all commanded to pray. But which of us (at the time when all abounds with us, when neither body nor spirit has trouble), from our heart, and without dissimulation, can wish these things? Verily, none. With our mouths we may speak the words; but the heart cannot thirst the effect to come, except we are in such estate that worldly things are unsavoury unto us. And so they can never be, but under the cross; neither yet under all kinds of crosses are worldly things unpleasant. For, in poverty, riches do greatly delight many; for although they lack them, yet they desire to have them, and so they are neither unsavoury nor unpleasant; for things that we earnestly covet are not unpleasant unto us. But when things appertaining to the flesh are sufficiently ministered unto us, and yet none of them can mollify our anguish or pain, then the heart sobs unto God, and unfeignedly wishes an end of misery. And, therefore, our heavenly Father, of his infinite wisdom, to hold us in continual remembrance that in this wretched world there is no rest, permits and suffers us to be tempted and tried with this cross, that with an unfeigned heart we may desire not only an end of our own troubles (for that shall come to us by death), but also of all the troubles of the church of God; which shall not be before the again [second] coming of the Lord Jesus.
The third cause I collect of Moses' words to the Israelites, saying, "The Lord thy God shall cast out these nations by little and little before thee. He will not cast them out all at once, lest, perchance, the wild beasts be multiplied against thee" (Deut. 7:22). And also, "When thou shalt enter into that good land, and shalt dwell in the houses which thou never builded, and that thou shalt eat and be filled, give thanks unto the Lord thy God, and beware that thou forget him not; and that thou say not in thy heart, 'The strength of mine own hand hath brought these great riches unto me'" (cf. Deut. 6:10-12; 8:8-17).
In these words are two things appertaining to our matter, most worthy to be noted. First, that Moses says, that the Lord will not at once, but by little and little, destroy those nations; adding the cause, lest, perchance (says he), the wild beasts be multiplied, and make uproar against you. The second, that when they had abundance, then they should declare themselves mindful of God's benefits; and that they should not think their own power, wisdom, nor provision was any cause that they had the fruition of those commodities.
By these precedents, the Holy Ghost teaches unto them, that like as they did not possess nor obtain the first interest of that land by their own strength, but that the Lord God did freely give it to them; so likewise they were not able to brook [sustain] nor enjoy the same by any power of themselves. For although God should have, in one moment, destroyed all their enemies, yet, if he should not have been their perpetual safeguard, the wild beasts would have troubled them. And if they had demanded the question, "Why wilt thou not destroy the wild beasts also?" He answers, "Lest thou forget the Lord thy God, and say unto thy heart, 'My strength hath obtained this quietness to myself'" (Deut. 8:17).
Consider, dearly beloved, that such things as the Spirit of God foresaw to be dangerous and damnable unto them, the same things are to be feared in us; for all things happened to them in figures (1 Cor. 10:11). They were, in Egypt, corporeally punished by a cruel tyrant; we were in spiritual bondage of the devil by sin and unbelief. God gave to them a land that flowed with milk and honey, for which they never laboured; God has opened to us the knowledge of Christ Jesus, which we never deserved, nor yet hoped for the same. They were not able to defend the land, after they were possessed in it; we are not able to retain ourselves in the true knowledge of Christ, but by his grace only. Some enemies were left to exercise them; sin is left in us, to teach us to fight. If [there] had not been enemies, wild beasts should have multiplied amongst them; if such things as we think most do trouble us were not permitted so to do, worse beasts should have dominion over us: to wit, trust in ourselves, arrogance, oblivion, and forgetfulness of that estate from which God has delivered us, together with a light estimation of all Christ's merits; which sins are the beasts that, alas, devour no small number of men. Neither yet let any man think, that if all kinds of crosses were taken from us, during the time we bear the earthly image of Adam, that we should be more perfect in using the spiritual gifts of God to wit, the free remission of sins, his free graces and Christ's justice [righteousness], for which we never laboured nor [than] that people should have been in using of those corporeal gifts.
And Moses says unto them, "Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God" (Deut. 8:11). He who knows the secrets of hearts, gives not his precepts in vain; but knowing what things are most able to blind and deceive man, the wisdom of God, by his contrary precepts, gives him warning of the same. Experience has taught us how such beasts have troubled the church of God, to speak nothing of the time of the prophets, of the apostles, or of the primitive church.
What trouble Pelagius made by his heresy! affirming that man, by natural power and free will, might fulfill the law of God, and deserve for himself remission and grace. And to come a little nearer to our own age, has it not been openly preached and affirmed in schools, and set out by writings, that only faith does justify, but that works do also justify? Has it not been taught that good works may go before faith, and may provoke God to give his graces? What has been taught of men's merits, and of the works of supererogation? Some openly affirming, that some men have wrought more good works than were necessary to their own salvation. I pray you, consider if these men said not, "Our hand and our strength have given these things unto us" (Deut. 8:17). What were these devilish heresies aforesaid, and others that have infected the whole Papistry? Assuredly they were cruel and ravenous beasts, able to devour the souls of all those upon whom they get the upper hand. But the merciful providence of our God, willing our salvation, will not suffer us to come to that unthankfulness and oblivion. And therefore he permits us, with his apostle Paul, to be buffeted to [of] our enemies to the end, and that we may mourn for sin, and hate the same; that we may know the only Mediator and the dignity of his office; that we may unfeignedly thirst [for] the coming of the Lord Jesus; and that we neither be presumptuous, lightly esteeming Christ's death, neither yet unmindful of our former estate and miseries. And so this cup is, as it were, a medicine prepared by the wisdom of our eternal Physician, who only [alone] knows the remedies for our corrupt nature.
Advert and mark, dear mother, that all comes to us for our most singular profit. It is a medicine, and therefore presently it cannot be pleasing. But how gladly would we use and receive, when the body was sick (how unpleasant and bitter that ever it was to drink), that medicine which would remove sickness and restore health! But O! how much more ought we, with patience and thanksgiving, receive this medicine of our Father's hand, that from our souls removes so many mortal diseases (his Holy Ghost so working by the same); such as pride, presumption, contempt of grace, and unthankfulness; which are the very mortal diseases that, by unbelief, kill the soul, and do restore unto us lowliness, fear, invocation of God's name, remembering of our own weakness, and of God's infinite benefits, by Christ received; which are the very evident signs that Jesus Christ lives in us. What signs and tokens of these precendents have appeared in you (and [in] others that are in your company), since your first profession of Christ Jesus, it needs me not to rehearse. "God grant that the eyes of men be not blinded to their own perdition. Amen."
Presently I may write no more unto you in this matter, beloved mother. But as God shall grant unto me more opportunity, by his grace who gives all, you shall receive from my hands the rest of David's mind in this psalm: most earnestly beseeching you in the bowels of Christ Jesus, patiently to bear your present cross and dolours, which shortly shall vanish, and shall never appear. I cannot express the pain which I think I might suffer to have the presence of you, and of others that are alike troubled, but a few days. But God shall gather us at his good pleasure; if not in this wretched and miserable life, yet in that estate where death may not dissever us. My daily prayer is for the sorely afflicted in those quarters. Sometimes I have thought that impossible it had been, so to have removed my affection from the realm of Scotland, that any realm or nation could have been equally dear unto me. But God I take to record in my conscience, that the troubles present (and appearing to be) in the realm of England are doubly more dolorous [sorrowful] unto my heart, than ever were the troubles of Scotland. But hereof to speak, I now supersede; beseeching God of his infinite mercy so to strengthen you, that in the weakest vessels Christ's power may appear.
My hearty commendation to all whom effeirs [this concerns]: I mean such as now boldly abide with Christ. I bid you so hearty farewell as can any wicked and corrupt man do to the most especial friends. In great haste, and troubled heart, this 6th of January [1553-54].
[THE SECOND PART] But to our purpose: dearly beloved, accept this cup from the hands of our heavenly Father, and albeit your pains are almost intolerable, yet cast yourself, because you have no other refuge, before the throne of God's mercy, and with the prophet David, being in like trouble, say unto him:
Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak!
O Lord, heal me, for all my bones are vexed!
Now proceeds David in his prayer, adding certain causes why he should be heard, and obtain his petitions. But first, we will speak of his prayers, as they are in order through this whole psalm.
David, in sum, desires four things in this his vehement trouble. In the first verse, he asks that God would not punish him in his heavy displeasure and wrath. In the second verse, he asks that God should have mercy upon him. And in the third verse, he desires that he should heal him. And in the fourth verse, he asks that God should return unto him, and that he should save his soul. Every one of these things was so necessary unto David, that lacking any one of them, he judges himself most miserable. He felt the wrath of God, and therefore desired the same to be removed. He had offended, and therefore desired mercy. He was fallen into most dangerous sickness, and therefore he cried for corporeal health. God appeared to be departed from him, and therefore he desired that the comfort of the Holy Ghost should return unto him. And thus was David, not as the most part of men commonly are in their prayers, who, of a consuetude [usage] and custom, often times do ask with their mouths such things as their hearts do not greatly desire to obtain.
But let us mark principally what things are to be noted in these his prayers, which he, with earnest mind, poured forth before God. It is evident that David, in these his prayers, sustained and felt the very sense of God's wrath; and also that he understood clearly that it was God only that troubled him, and had laid that sore scourge upon him. And yet he seeks support or aid no where else but at God alone, who appeared to be angry with him. This is easy to be spoken, and the most part of men will judge it but a light matter to flee to God in their troubles. I confess, indeed, that if our troubles come by man's tyranny, then the most sure and most easy way is to run to God for defence and aid. But let God appear to be our enemy, to be angry with us, and to have left us, how hard and difficult it is then to call for his grace and for his assistance none knows, except such as have learned it by experience; neither yet can any man so do, except the elect children of God. For so strong are the enemies who, with great violence, invade the troubled conscience in that troublesome battle, that unless the hidden seed of God should make them hope against hope, they could never look for any deliverance or comfort. The flesh lacks not reasons and persuasions to bring us from God. The devil, by himself and by his messengers, dares boldly say and affirm that we have nothing to do with God. And a weak faith is often compelled to confess both the accusations and reasons to be most true.
In time of trouble, the flesh does reason: "O wretched man, perceive you not that God is angry with you? He plagues you in his hot displeasure; therefore it is in vain for you to call upon him." The devil, by his suggestion or by his ministers, does amplify and aggravate these precedents, affirming and beating into the conscience of the sorely afflicted in this manner: "God plagues you for your iniquity. You have offended his holy law. Therefore it is labour lost to cry for mercy or relief; for his justice must needs take vengeance upon all disobedient offenders." In the mean season, a weak faith is compelled to confess and acknowledge the accusations to be most true; for who can deny that he has deserved God's punishments? The flesh feels the torments, and our weakness cries out, "All is true, and no point can be denied."
The vehemence of this battle may be plainly espied [in the account of] the sickness of Hezekiah, and in the history of Job. Hezekiah, after he had, with lamentable tears, complained that his life was taken away, and cut off before his time; that violence was done unto him, and that God had bruised all his bones like a lion; at last he says, "Be thou surety for me, O Lord" (Isa. 38:14-15). But immediately upon these words, as it were correcting himself, he says, "What shall I say, it is he that hath done it!" as who should say, "To what purpose complain I to him? If he had any pleasure in me, he would not have treated me in this manner. It is he himself, whom I thought should have been my surety and defender, that hath wrapped me in all this wretched misery. He cannot be angry and merciful at once (so judges the flesh), for in him there is no contrariety. I feel him to be angry with me, and therefore it is in vain that I complain or call upon him."
This, also, may be perceived in Job, who, after he was accused by his friends, as one that had deserved the plague of God; and after his wife had willed him to refuse all justice, and to curse God and so to die; after his most grievous complaints, he says, "When I called upon him, and he hath answered, yet believe I not that he hath heard my voice" (Job 9:16). As if Job would say, "So terrible are my torments, so vehement is my pain and anguish, that, albeit, verily God has heard my petitions, yet I feel not that he will grant me my request." Here is a strong battle, when they understand perfectly that remedy is in none, but in God only; and yet they look for no support from God's hand, as might appear to man's judgment. For he that says that God punishes him, and therefore cannot be merciful, and he who doubts whether God hears him or not, appears to have cast away all hope of God's deliverance.
These things I put you in mind of, beloved mother, that, albeit your pains sometimes are so horrible, that you find no release nor comfort, neither in spirit nor body; yet if the heart can only sob unto God, despair not; you shall obtain your heart's desire, and you are not destitute of faith. For at such time as the flesh, natural reason, the law of God, the present torment, and the devil, at once do cry, "God is angry, and therefore is there neither help nor remedy to be hoped for at his hands" at such time, I say, to sob unto God is the demonstration of the secret seed of God, which is hid in God's elect children; and that sobs only are a more acceptable sacrifice unto God, than, without this cross, to give our bodies to be burnt, even for the truth's sake. For if God is present by [the] assistance of his Holy Spirit, or no doubt is in our conscience, but we stand assuredly in God's favour, what can corporeal trouble hurt the soul or mind? seeing the bitter frosty wind cannot hurt the body itself, which is most warmly covered and clad from violence of the cold.
But when the Spirit of God appears to be absent, yea, when God himself appears to be our enemy, then to say, or to think, with Job in his trouble, "Although he should destroy or slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15). O, what is the strength and vehemence of that faith, which so looks for mercy, when the whole man feels nothing but dolours on every side? Assuredly that hope shall never be confounded, for so is it promised by him who cannot repent of his mercy and goodness. Rejoice, mother, and fight to the end, for sure I am that you are not utterly destitute of that Spirit who taught David and Job. What obedience I have heard you give unto God, in your most strong torment, it needs now not [for me] to write; only I desire, which is a portion of my daily prayer, God our Father, for Christ Jesus his Son's sake, that in all your trouble you may continue as I have left you, and that, with David, you may sob. Albeit the mouth may not speak, yet let the heart groan, and say, "Have mercy upon me, O Lord, and heal me" (Ps. 6:2). And then, I nothing doubt, your grievous torments shall not molest you for ever, but shortly shall have an end, to your everlasting consolation and comfort.
You think, peradventure, that you would gladly call and pray for mercy, but the knowledge of your sins does hinder you.
Consider, dearly beloved, that all physic or medicine serves only for the patient. So does mercy serve only for the sinner, yea, for the wretched and most miserable sinner. Did not David understand himself to be a sinner, and adulterer, and a shedder of innocent blood? Yea, knew he not also that he was punished for his sins? Yes, verily he did, and therefore he called for mercy; which he that knows not the heaviness and multitude of sins can in no wise do, but most commonly does despise mercy when it is offered; or, at least, the man or woman that feels not the burden of sin, lightly regards mercy, because he feels not how necessary it is unto him; as betwixt Christ and the proud Pharisees (Luke 5:31-32), in many places of the New Testament it is to be seen. And therefore, dear mother, if your adversary troubles you with your sins past or present, objecting that mercy appertains not unto you, by reason of your sins, answer unto him as you are taught by our Saviour Christ Jesus, that the whole needs no physician, neither yet the just, mercy nor pardon; but that our Christ is come to give sight to the blind, and to call sinners to repentance, of whom you acknowledge yourself to be the greatest, and yet that you doubt nothing to obtain mercy, because it was never denied to none [any] that asked the same in faith, and thus no doubt you shall obtain victory by Christ Jesus, to whom be praise for ever. Amen.
In the rest of David's prayer now will we be shorter, that we may come to the ground of the same. After desiring of mercy, David now desires a corporeal benefit, saying, "Heal me, Lord" (Ps. 6:2). Hereof is to be noted that bodily health, being the gift of God, may be asked of him without sin, albeit we understand ourselves to be punished for our offences. Neither yet in so praying, are we contrary to God's will; for his providence has planted in the nature of man a desire of health, and a desire that it may be preserved. And, therefore, he is not offended that we ask health of body, when we lack it, neither yet that we seek preservation of our health by such ordinary means as his Majesty has appointed; provided always that God himself be first sought, and that we desire neither life nor health to the hindrance of God's glory, nor to the hurt or destruction of others our brethren; but, rather, that by us God's glory may be promoted, and that others, our brethren, by our strength, health, and life may be comforted and defended. These precedents now rightly observed, it is no sin earnestly to ask of God health of body, albeit we know our sickness to be the very hand of God, punishing or correcting our former evil life.
This I write, because some men are so severe, that they would not that we should ask bodily health of God, because the sickness is sent to us by him. But such men do not rightly understand, neither yet consider, that sickness is a trouble to the body, and that God commands us to call for his help in all our troubles. Surely, our submission and prayers, in such extremity, is the greatest glory that we can give to our God. For so doing, we think that his mercy abounds above his judgment, and so we are bold to pray for the withdrawing of his scourge. Which petition, no doubt, he must grant; for so he promises by his prophet Jeremiah, saying, "If I have spoken against any nation or city, saying that I will destroy it, and if it turn from iniquity, and repent, it shall repent me also of the plagues that I have spoken against it" (Jer. 18:7-8). God promises to show mercy to a whole city or nation if it repent; and will he not do the same to a particular person, if, in his sickness, he calls for grace? He has shown unto us that he will, by diverse examples, and especially to the leprosy of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, which she received of the Lord's hand, punishing her high and haughty mind. And again, upon her submission, and at the prayer of Moses, she shortly was restored to health.
But to proceed. David, moreover, prays, "Turn again, O Lord" (Ps. 6:4). It appeared unto David, being in the extremity of his pain, that God was altogether departed from him, for so this flesh (yea, the whole man) always judges when trouble works by any continuance of time. David had sustained trouble many days; he had prayed, and yet was not delivered. And, therefore, he judges that God, being offended for his sins, had left him. And yet it is plain that God was with him, working repentance in his heart by his Holy Spirit; expressing forth those sobs and groans, as also the desire he had to be restored to that comfort and consolation which sometimes he had felt, by the familiarity which he had with God. All these motions, I say, were the operations of God's Holy Spirit; and yet David could perceive no comfort nor presence of God in his trouble, but lamentably complains, as you have heard before. Hereof it is plain, that the very elect sometimes are without all feeling of consolation, and that they think themselves altogether destitute, as may be seen in David.
But it is chiefly to be noted, that David, in his anguish, remembers that God sometimes had been familiar with him, for he says, "Turn again, O Lord," signifying hereby, that before he had felt the sweetness of God's presence; but now he was left to himself without feeling of comfort or consolation. For thus David appears to complain, "Hast thou not been familiar with me, O Lord, thy unprofitable servant? Didst thou not call me from keeping sheep, to be anointed king over thy people Israel? Didst thou not so encourage my mind, that I feared not the fresh strength of the cruel lion, neither yet the devouring teeth of the hungry bear, from whose jaws I delivered my sheep? Didst not thou once inflame my heart with the zeal of thy holy name, that when all Israel were so afraid that none durst encounter with that monster Goliath, yet thy Majesty's Spirit made me so bold and so valiant, that, without harness or weapons (except my sling, staff, and stones), I durst enterprise singular battle against him? Was it not thy own strength that gave me victory, not only at that time, but also over all other enemies that have sought my life since? Hast thou not made me so glad by the multitude of thy mercies and thy most gracious favour, which thou from time to time most abundantly hast poured upon me, so that both soul and body hath rejoiced through the gladness of thy countenance? Hast thou not been so effectually present with me in troubles and dangers, that my very enemies have known and confessed that thy power was always with me, and that thou didst take my defence upon thy own self? And wilt thou now so leave the habitation that thou hast chosen? Shall it be left desolate for ever? Can thy mercies have an end, and shall thy fatherly pity never appear more unto me? Shalt thou leave me for ever, thus to be tormented, whom thy goodness afore so abundantly comforted? O Lord, I am sure thy free mercies will not so treat me; and therefore turn again, O Lord, my God; and make me glad with thy countenance, whom of long time thou hast left void of consolation and joy."
Advert and consider, dearly beloved, in what estate David was, when he had no other comfort, except only the remembrance of God's former benefits showed unto him. And, therefore, marvel you not, nor yet despair yea, albeit you find yourself in the same case that David was. Sure I am, that your own heart must confess that you have received even like benefits of the hands of God as David did. He has called you from a more vile office than from the keeping of sheep, to as great a dignity (touching the everlasting inheritance) as he did David. For, from the service of the devil and sin, he has anointed us priests and kings by the blood of his only Son Jesus. He has given you courage and boldness to fight against enemies that are more near unto you than were either the lion, the bear, or Goliath, to David. Against the devil, I mean, and his assaults; against your own flesh, and most inward affections; against the multitude of them that were (and yet remain) enemies to Christ's religion; yea, and against some of your most natural friends, who appear to profess Christ with you, and in that respect the battle is more vehement.
What boldness I have seen with you in all such conflicts, it needs not me to rehearse. I write this to the praise of God; I have wondered at that bold constancy which I have found in you at such time as my own heart was faint. Sure I am, that flesh and blood could never have persuaded you to have contemned and set at nought those things which the world most esteems. You have tasted and felt of God's goodness and mercy in such measure, that not only are you able to reason and speak, but also, by the Spirit of God working in you, to give comfort and consolation to such as were in trouble. And therefore, dear mother, think not that God will leave his own mansion for ever. No, it is impossible that the devil shall occupy God's inheritance, or yet that he [God] shall so leave and forsake his holy temple that he will not sanctify the same. Again, God sometimes suspends his own presence from his elect, as here by David may be espied, and very often he suffers his elect to taste of bitterness and grief for such causes as are before expressed. But to suffer them to be reft out of his hands, that he neither will, nor may permit; for [if] so, he were a mutable God, and [would] give his glory to another, if he permitted himself to be overcome of his adversary, which is as impossible as it is that God shall cease to be God.
Now last, David prays, "Deliver my soul, and save me" (Ps. 6:4). In this prayer, no doubt, David desired to be delivered from the very corporeal death at that time, and his soul to be saved from the present plagues and grievous torments that he sustained. In which it might appear to some that he was more addicted to this present life, and that he loved more the quietness of the flesh, than it became a spiritual man to do. But, as before is said, God has naturally engrafted and planted in man this love of life, tranquillity, and rest; and the most spiritual man often times desires them, because they are seals and witnesses of the league and fellowship that is between God and his elect. And albeit trouble most commonly does follow the friends of God, yet he is nothing offended that earnestly we ask our quietness; neither is that our desire any declaration of carnality or of inordinate love that we have to the world, considering that the final cause wherefore we desire to live, is not for enjoying of worldly pleasures; for many times, in the midst of these, we grant and confess that it is better to be absent from the body. But the chief cause why God's elect do desire life, or to have rest on earth, is for the maintenance of God's glory, and that others may see that God takes care over his elect.
But now to the grounds and foundations of David's prayers, and whereupon his prayers do stand.
1. The first is taken from the vehement trouble which he sustained, and from the long continuance of the same;
2. The second is taken from the goodness of God;
3. And the third from God's glory, and from the insolent rage of his enemies.
Here is to be observed and noted, that neither is trouble, neither long continuance of the same, neither yet the proud and haughty minds of wicked men, the chief moving cause why God hears our prayers, and declares himself merciful unto us; and therefore they may not be the sure and sound foundations of our prayers; but only God's infinite goodness is the free fountain of all mercy and grace, which springs and comes unto us by Christ Jesus his Son; but they are causes, by operation of the Holy Spirit, helping our weakness to believe, and to trust that God (who is the Father of mercies) will not be angry for ever at the sorely afflicted, neither yet that he will punish without mercy such as call for his help and comfort; as also that God, who has always declared himself enemy to pride, will not suffer the proud and obstinate contemners of his poor saints long to blaspheme his lenity and gentleness, but that he will pour forth his plagues upon them, according to his threatenings. And so are our troubles, and the tyranny of our enemies in that behalf, fundamentals whereupon our prayers may stand, as here appears.
David declares his dolour, and its continuance, in these words,
I am consumed away with sickness, all my bones
are vexed, and my soul is in horrible fear. But, Lord, how long wilt thou thus
entreat me? I am wearied for sobbing; I water my bed with tears.
Psalm 6:2, 6
Let us think that David thus speaks, "O Lord, mayest thou, who ever hast taken care for me from my mother's womb, now forget me, the workmanship of thy own hands? Mayest thou, that hast declared thyself so merciful unto me in all my tribulations, now in the end take thy mercies clean from me? Hast thou no pity, O Lord! Dost thou not behold that I am pined and consumed by this grievous torment, wherein not only is my tender flesh, but also my very bones (the strongest part of the body) so vexed, that neither is there beauty nor strength left unto me. If these anguishes occupied the body only, yet were the pain almost insufferable; but, O Lord, how horribly is my soul tormented, that, albeit it be immortal, yet it so quakes and trembles, as [though] very death could devour it. And thus do I sustain most grievous torments, both in body and soul, of such long continuance, that it appears unto me thou hast forgotten to be merciful. O Lord, how long wilt thou treat me in this manner? Hast thou forgotten thy loving mercies? Or hast thou lost thy fatherly pity? I have no longer strength to cry; yea, and for sobs and groans I am so weary, that my breath faileth me; the tears of my eyes, wherewith nightly I have wet my bed, hath borne witness of my unfeigned dolour; but now my eyes are waxed dim, and my whole strength is dried up."
In all these lamentable complaints, David speaks unto God as he would speak unto a man that was ignorant what another man suffered; whereof it may be understood how the most prudent and the most spiritual man judges of God in the time of trouble. Assuredly he thought that God takes no care for him, and therefore does he, as it were, accuse God of unmindfulness, and that he looked not upon him with the eyes of his accustomed mercy, as clearly by these words may be espied. And yet are David's troubles the first ground and cause why he makes his prayers and claims to be heard. Not that troubles (as before is noted) are sufficient by themselves for God's deliverance, but, in recounting his dolour, David has a secret access to God's mercy, which he challenges and claims of duty to appertain to all his, who in the time of trouble call for his support, help, and aid. And it is the same ground that Job takes, when he says, "Is it profitable unto thee that thou violently oppress me? Wilt thou despise the work of thy own hands? Thou hast formed and made me altogether, and wilt thou now devour me? Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast fashioned me as a mold, and that thou shalt bring me to dust. Thou hast covered me with skin and flesh; with sinews and bones hast thou joined me; with life and comeliness hast thou beautified me; and thy prudence hast kept my spirit" (Job 10:3, 8-9, 11-12). Here may be espied upon what ground these two stood in their most grievous pains. Their trouble moved them to complain and to appeal to the great mercy of God, which, as they alleged, even so it is most sure, he may deny to none that ask it. For as the trouble of his creatures is no advantage unto God, so to deny mercy when it is asked, were to deny himself.
And herein, dearly beloved, I heartily wish you to rejoice, for I can be witness how constantly you have called for grace in your anguishes; and your own conscience must testify, that oftentimes you have found release and comfort in such measure that you have been bold to triumph against your adversaries, in Christ Jesus your Saviour. Be not afraid, albeit presently you feel not your accustomed consolation; that shall hurt you no more than the troubles of David and Job did hurt them, who, in the time that they spoke these former words, found no more consolation than you do now in the most extremity of your trouble. Neither yet did they hastily obtain comfort, for David says, "O Lord, how long wilt thou so cruelly punish me?" (cf. Ps. 6:3). And yet we know most assuredly that they were heard, and that they obtained their heart's desire; as, no doubt, every man shall, that in time of trouble, be it spiritual or corporeal, appeals only to God's mercy.
The second ground and foundation whereupon the prayers of David do stand is the infinite goodness of God. For thus he says, "Save me, O Lord, for thy goodness" (Ps. 6:4). David before had asked mercy, and declared his complaints; but now searching and reasoning with himself secretly in his conscience after this manner, "Why should God show mercy unto him that so heinously had offended, and that justly was tormented by God's hand for his transgression and sin?" he finds no other ground that is always sure and permanent, except God's infinite goodness, which he espies to be the only stay; which neither tempest of winds, nor floods of water, are able to overthrow nor undermine. And O! how piercing are the eyes of faith, that, in so deep a dungeon of desperation, can yet espy, in the very midst of this troublesome darkness, plentiful goodness to remain in our God; yea, and such goodness as is sufficient and able to overcome, devour, and swallow up all the iniquities of his elect, so that none of them are able to gainstand [withstand] or hinder God's infinite goodness to show his mercy to his troubled children.
Hereby are we taught, beloved, in the extremity of our trouble, to run to God's goodness only; there to seek comfort by Christ Jesus, and nowhere else. I fear nothing the blasphemous voices of such, nor their raging against God, and against his only eternal verity, who are not ashamed to affirm that this kind of doctrine makes men negligent to do good works; against whom no otherwise will I contend than the apostle does, saying, "Their damnation is just" (Rom. 3:8). For my purpose and mind is to edify those whom God has called from darkness to light, whose eyes it has pleased his mercy so to open, that evidently they feel the flesh to rebel against the spirit (even in the hour of their greatest perfection), in such a manner, that all power, all justice, and all virtue proceeding from us is so contaminated and defiled, that the very good works which we do must be purged by another; and that, therefore, none of them can be an infallible ground of our prayer, neither yet a sufficient cause why we should be heard.
But the goodness of God, as it is infinite, so can it not be defiled by our iniquity; but it passes through the same, and will show itself to our consolation, even as the beams of the bright sun pass through the misty and thick clouds, and bring down his natural heat, to comfort and quicken such herbs and creatures as, through violence of cold, were almost fallen into most deadly decay, and thus only the goodness of God remains, in all storms, the sure foundation to the afflicted, against which the devil is never able to prevail. The knowledge of this is so necessary to the afflicted conscience, that without the same it is very hard to withstand the assaults of the adversary. For as he is a most subtle spirit, and vigilant to trouble the children of God, so it is easy to him to deface and undermine all the grounds and causes that are within man; and especially, when we are in trouble; yea, he can persuade us that we want those things which, most assuredly, we have received by God's free gift and grace.
As, for example, if we desire to be delivered from trouble and anguish of conscience, with David and Job, the devil suddenly can object, "What appertains their examples unto you? They had many notable and singular virtues which you lack." If we desire remission of sins with Magdalene, with Peter, or with any other offenders, he has these darts ready to shoot: "They had faith, but you have none! They had true repentance; you are but a hypocrite! They hated sin and continued in good works, but you rejoice in sin, and do no good at all!" By these means can he who is the accuser of us and of our brethren, ever find out some crafty accusation to trouble the weak conscience of the afflicted, so long as ever it rests upon anything that is within itself; and till, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, we are ravished and reft to the contemplation of our God, so that our minds are fixed only upon God's infinite goodness, claiming by the same to receive mercy; as Job does in his former words, the sense and meaning whereof is this: "O Lord, thou madest me when yet I was not; thou gavest me soul and body when I neither knew nor understood what thy power was. Thou feddest me and nursed me when I could do nothing but weep and mourn; and thy Majesty's providence unto this day hath preserved my life; and yet neither I nor my works could profit thee. For thou (whose habitation is in heaven) needest not the help of man. And as for my works, such as the fountain is, such must the waters be. My heart is corrupted. How then can anything that is clean proceed from the same? And so, whatever I have received, that either was, is, or hereafter shall be, within my corrupt nature, all proceeds from thy infinite goodness, which began to show thy mercy before I knew thee. Canst thou, O Lord, leave me thus, then, in my extremity? I grant and confess that I have offended. But is there any creature clean and perfect in such perfection that without mercy he may abide the trial of thy justice? Or is there any iniquity now in me, which thy wisdom did not know before? And thus I appeal only to thy mercy, which springs from thy infinite goodness."
O beloved, when the afflicted soul can thus forsake and refuse whatever is in man, and can stay itself (how little soever it be), upon God's infinite goodness, then are all the fiery darts of the devil quenched, and he is repulsed as a confounded spirit. It shall hurt nothing, albeit the stormy tempest cease not suddenly; that is sufficient, that this anchor be cast out, which assuredly shall preserve your ship, that she violently run not upon the foreland of desperation.
This I write, beloved in the Lord, knowing what have been your complaints heretofore; in that you found your faith faint, that you could not repent of your former evil life, that you found no disposition nor readiness to good works, but were rather carried away of sin and wickedness. If all this had been true, yet had you been in no worse case than the apostle Paul was, when he cried, "Oh wretched and unhappy man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of sin?" (Rom. 8:24).
But I assuredly know that the chief part of your trouble proceeds from the malice and envy of the devil, who would persuade to your hurt, that you delighted in those things which, to you, were most displeasing. For how oft have you complained of the weakness of your faith! How oft have you lamented the imperfection of your flesh! The tears of your eyes have witnessed before God that you delight not in such things as your adversary falsely lays to your charge. For who uses continually to mourn for those things that are pleasing to his heart, if they be present with them at all times? Or who will desire pleasing things to be removed from him? You have mourned for your weakness, and have desired your imperfections to be removed; and you have detested all sorts of idolatry. How then can you think that you take any pleasure in the same? Despair not, although all remembrance of God's goodness or worthiness be removed from your mind. You have David, Job, Daniel, and all the other saints of God in equal sort with you. Of David and Job you have heard. And Isaiah, making his heavy complaint for the plague of the people of Israel, openly confesses that all have sinned, that their righteousness was nothing but filthiness, that none sought God, that none called upon his name (Isa. 64:6). And Daniel, in his prayer, likewise confesses that all had wrought wickedly, that all had declined from God, yea, that none had submitted themselves to God, nor yet had made supplication unto him, albeit he had punished their former disobedience; and therefore he says that they did not allege their own justice [righteousness] in their prayers (Dan. 9:4-19).
Consider, dear mother, that no mention is made of any righteousness that was in themselves, neither yet do they glory of any works or virtues that they had wrought before; for they understood that God was the author of all goodness, and therefore to him only appertained the praise. But as for their sins, they understood them to be the infirmities of their own flesh, and therefore they boldly called for mercy, and that only by God's infinite goodness, which is no less free unto you than unto them, according to the riches of his liberal graces, which he plentifully pours forth upon all them that incall [call upon] the name of the Lord Jesus.
The third and last ground of David's prayer was the glory and praise of God's name to be shown and uttered in his life, as in these words he declares, "For there is no remembrance of thee in death: Who laudeth thee in the pit?" (Ps. 6:5). As [if] David would say, "O Lord, how shall I pray and declare thy goodness when I am dead, and gone down into the grave? It is not thy ordinary course to have thy miracles and wondrous works preached unto men by those that are buried and gone down into the pit. Those that are dead make no mention of thee in the earth; and, therefore, O Lord, spare thy servant, that yet, for a time, I may show and witness thy wondrous works unto mankind." These most godly affections in David did engender in him a vehement horror and fear of death, besides that which is natural and common to all men, because he perfectly understood that, by death, he shall be letted [prevented] to advance the glory of God any further. Of the same he complains most vehemently in the eighty-eighth psalm (vvs. 10-12), where, apparently, he takes from them that are dead, sense, remembrance, feeling, and understanding; alleging that God works no miracles by the dead; that the goodness of God cannot be preached in the grave, nor his faith in perdition; and that his marvellous works are not known in darkness. By which speeches we may not understand that David takes all sense and feeling from the dead, neither yet that they which are dead in Christ are in such estate that they have not consolation and life by God. No, Christ himself does witness the contrary. But David so vehemently depresses their estate and condition, because that, after death, they are deprived from all ordinary ministration in the kirk of God. None of those that are departed are appointed to be preachers of God's glory unto mankind. But after death, they cease any more to advance God's holy name here amongst the living on earth; and so shall even they, in that behalf, be unprofitable to the congregation, as touching anything that they can do either in body or soul after death. And therefore David most earnestly desires to live in Israel for the further manifestation of God's glory.
Here is to be observed a short, but yet a most necessary note, which is this: What are the things that we ought principally to seek in this transitory life? Not those for which the blind world contends and strives; but God and his loving-kindness towards mankind, his amiable promises, and true religion, to be advanced and preached unto others, our brethren, that are ignorant. If we do not so, we may rather be counted beasts than men dead stocks nor [than] living creatures yea, rather things that be not at all, than substance having either being or life. Seeing that the heavens declare the glory of God; the earth, with the whole contents thereof, whatever they are, do give praise to his holy name; the sea, floods, and fountains, with the wonders contained in the same, do not cease to make manifest the wisdom, the power, and the providence of their Creator: what then shall be said of [the] man that neither seeks nor regards God's glory? Yea, what shall be judged of those that not only hinder God's glory, but also declare themselves enemies to such as would promote it? I must speak my conscience with a sorrowful heart; they are not only dead, but they are also of the nature of him by whose malice and envy death entered into the world, that is, of the devil. But them I omit at this present [time], because their accusation does not much appertain to this our matter, whereof now I must make an end, somewhat contrary to my mind; for so I am compelled to do by some present troubles, as well of body as of spirit.
The fourth part of this psalm I omit to more opportunity; for it does not much appertain to the spiritual cross, but it is, as it were, a prophecy, spoken against all such as rejoice at the troubles of God's elect, [and] who assuredly shall be confounded, and suddenly brought to shame, when the Lord shall hear the voices of his sorely afflicted. Now, dearly beloved in our Saviour Jesus Christ, seeing that the spiritual cross is proper for the children of God; seeing that it is given to us as a most effectual medicine, as well to remove diseases as to plant in our souls most notable virtues, such as humility, mercy, contempt of ourselves, and continual remembrance of our own weakness and imperfections; and seeing that you have had most evident signs that this medicine has wrought in you a part of all the premises [those things of which I've spoken], receive it thankfully of your Father's hand, what trouble soever it brings with it. And albeit the flesh grudge, yet let the spirit rejoice, steadfastly looking for deliverance; and assuredly you shall obtain, according to the good will and promises of him who cannot deceive: to whom be glory for ever and ever, before his congregation. Amen.
Now seeing it is uncertain, beloved mother, if ever we shall meet in this corporeal life; which words I will that you take not in any displeasure, for if God continue you in life, and me in corporeal health, I shall attempt and essay to speak with you, face to face, within less time than is passed since the one of us last saw the other. And be you assured, beloved mother, that neither shall it be the fear of death, nor the rage of the devil, that shall impede me; and therefore, I beseech you, take not my words in that part, as though I were not minded to visit you again. No, I assure you, that only God's hand shall withhold me. But because our life vanishes as the smoke before the blast of wind, my conscience moves me to write unto you, as though I should take from you my last good night on earth. The sum whereof is this, to exhort and admonish you, even as you will have part with Christ Jesus, to continue in the doctrine to the end, which before the world you have professed.
For before God, before Christ Jesus his only Son, and before his holy angels, neither [am] I ashamed to confess, nor doubt I to affirm, that the doctrine which you and others have heard not only of my mouth, but also faithfully taught by the mouths of many others (of whom some are exiled, some cruelly cast into prison, and the rest commanded to silence) is the only word of life, and that all doctrine repugning to the same is diabolical and erroneous, which assuredly shall bring death and perpetual condemnation, to all those who thereto shall condescend and agree. And, therefore, mother, be not moved with any wind, but stick to Christ Jesus in the day of this his battle. And also, I admonish you to avoid that abomination, which often you have heard affirmed by me to be damnable idolatry. And I take God to record in my conscience, that neither then (nor now) I spoke (neither do speak) for pleasure or hatred of any living creature in earth, whatsoever it be; but as my conscience was certified by the infallible and plain word of God, from which, I praise my most merciful Father, I am not this day one jot removed; neither repent I of that, my blessed and most happy society with the truth of Christ's gospel, unto which it has pleased God to call me, the most wretched of others. Neither forthink I [do I regret] that God has made me an open and manifest enemy to Papistry, to superstition, and to all that filthy idolatry which is newly erected in God's hot displeasure. Neither yet would I recant (as they term it) one sentence of my former doctrine, for all the glory, riches, and rest that is in earth.
And, in conclusion, I would not bow my knee before that most abominable idol, for all the torments that earthly tyrants can devise, God so assisting me, as his Holy Spirit moves me to write unfeignedly. And albeit I have, in the beginning of this battle, appeared to play the faint-hearted and feeble soldier (the cause of which I remit to God), yet my prayer is that I may be restored to the battle again. And blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, I am not left so bare without comfort, but my hope is to obtain such mercy, that if a short end be not made of all my miseries by final death (which to me were no small advantage), that yet, by him who never despises the sobs of the sorely afflicted, I shall be so encouraged to fight, that England and Scotland shall both know that I am ready to suffer more than either poverty or exile, for the profession of that doctrine, and that heavenly religion, whereof it has pleased his merciful providence to make me, amongst others, a simple soldier and witness bearer unto men. And therefore, mother, let no fear enter into your heart, as that I, escaping the furious rage of those ravening wolves (which for our unthankfulness are lately loosed from their bands), do repent anything of my former fervency. No, mother, for a few sermons by me to be made in England, my heart at this hour could be content to suffer more than nature were able to sustain; as by the grace of the most mighty and most merciful God, who only is [the] God of comfort and consolation through Christ Jesus, one day shall be known.
In the mean season, yet once again, and as it were my final good night and last testament in this earth, in the bowels of Christ Jesus, I exhort and admonish you constantly to continue with the verity which yet shall triumph and obtain victory, in despite of Satan and his malice. And avoid idolatry, the maintainers and obeyers whereof shall not escape the sudden vengeance of God, which shall be poured forth upon them, according to the ripeness of their iniquity; and when they shall cry quietness and peace (which never remains for any continuance with the ungodly), then shall their sudden destruction come upon them without provision.
The God of peace and consolation, who, of his power infinite and invincible, has called from death the only true and great Bishop of our souls, and in him has placed our flesh above principalities and powers of whatsoever preeminence they be, in heaven or in earth, assist you with his Holy Spirit, in such constancy and strength, that Satan and his assaults be confounded, now and ever, in you, and in the congregation, by Christ Jesus our Lord. To whom, with the Father and with the Holy Ghost, be all praise and honour eternally. Amen.
Upon the very point of my journey, the last of February 1553,
Yours with sorrowful heart,
Watch and Pray
1. The Romish Mass
2. Upon the accession of Queen Mary, persecution erupted throughout England. Knox was persuaded by friends to depart to the Continent.
3. See The Godly Letter of Warning or Admonition to the Faithful in London, Newcastle, and Berwick, p. 145ff.
4. Marginal note: The beginning of the sixth psalm
5. Marginal note: The dolorous complaint of David in his trouble
6. Marginal note: His prayer
7. Marginal note: His confession
8. Marginal note: All trouble comes of God
9. During the reign of King Edward, Knox had declined to accept both the bishopric of Rochester, and a ministerial living in London.
10. Marginal note: King Edward
11. Marginal note: God's very elect sometimes accuse God
12. Marginal note: God shows mercy where none is deserved
13. Marginal note: Objection of the flesh
14. Marginal note: Answer by similitude
15. Marginal note: Mark well
16. Marginal note: In trouble David remembered God's former works to him
17. Marginal note: Wilt thou forsake the poor creature that thou has done so much for?
18. Marginal note: The most spiritual man desires rest
19. Marginal note: Mercy appertains to all the creatures of God that call for the same unfeignedly for Christ's sake
20. Marginal note: The eyes of faith
21. Marginal note: The cleanest works that we can do are in God's sight unclean
22. Marginal note: A most faithful confession
Copyright © 1995 by Kevin Reed
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