Discovering why the Spirit is grieved
From Religious Cases of Conscience (1755), by Samuel Pike and Samuel Hayward, ministers at London, England.
How may a deserted believer find out the particular sin or sins, whereby he has grieved the spirit of God?
This is doubtless a most searching and experimental question, wherein there is a necessity for the greatest faithfulness to be used, both by him who resolves it, and by him who attempts to make use of it for himself. In many cases it seems very difficult to point out to a soul under declensions, what is the particular reason of the Spirit's withdrawment. However, I shall attempt to this matter as close home as I possibly can, recommending myself to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
We must indeed acknowledge, that the Lord may, for wise and holy ends, withdraw from his people those comforts and quickenings which they have been favored with, and that without any immediate respect unto any particular sin or sins committed by them. Sometimes this withdrawment is rather for the prevention of sin, or for the discovery of sin, than as a punishment for it. But generally divine withdrawments are in consequence of some iniquity, whereby the Holy Spirit has been grieved; and it is the duty and business of every gracious soul, when he finds himself deprived of these tokens of divine love, which he hath usually enjoyed, to ask this serious question, "Why does the Lord contend with me?" And on all such occasions he has reason to suspect himself, as being the proper cause of his complaints. Thus the holy Psalmist seems to maintain a godly jealousy over himself, when he says, Ps. 139:24. "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
The question under consideration may be placed in this familiar and soul-searching light; a believer that has been used to walk in the light of God's countenance, and under the quickening influence of his Spirit, now finds that these comforts are withdrawn from his soul, and does not experience such a spirituality of frame as he used to do. He now feels himself in a declining condition, his faith weak, his comforts low, his graces not ready for exercise. And notwithstanding all his attempts by prayer and endeavor, he cannot arrive at that spirituality and comfort of soul, which he once enjoyed; and therefore cries out with Job, "O that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me; when his candle shone upon my head, and when by his light I walked through darkness!" Job 29:2-3. Or, as the same holy person at another time, "Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot see him; on the left hand where he doth work, but cannot behold him; he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him." Job 28:8-9. This becomes a matter of sad complaint, and the believer wants to know the reason why it is thus with him. Feeling that the Spirit is withdrawn, he sees the greatest reason to suspect that the Spirit has been grieved by him. When he comes to search, he perhaps, so far as he knows himself, is conscious that he has been kept from gross immoralities and enormities; for which reason he cannot be certain what are the particular sins for which he is thus visited. If, indeed, upon reflection, the believer finds that he is fallen into some grievous sin either of heart or life; in such a case he cannot but know the reason of the visitation. Thus, David, after the commission of that complicated sin of murder and adultery in the matter of Uriah, could not but see the reason of the present declensions of his frame, and the present decay of his comforts; and therefore cries out, Ps. 51:11-14, "Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free Spirit. Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation." Now then, if you are conscious to yourselves of any enormity in your practice, or any willful neglect of duty, do not wonder if the quickening and comforting influences of the divine Spirit are awfully suspended. We have a general rule laid down, I John 1:6-7, which should be attended to with great concern in the present case. It consists of two parts; the first is mentioned in the sixth verse: "If we say we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth." The second part is contained in the seventh verse: "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another; and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us all from sin." From whence we may observe, that all those comforts are delusive, which are consistent with the love and practice of sin; and that those who are inclined to walk closely with God, may expect delightful communion with him. But the present case stands in this light: thou perhaps dost not feel that delight and pleasure in spiritual duties, nor that spirituality of frame, which thou were wont to enjoy. From whence thou very justly suspectest, that the Spirit has been one way or the other grieved by thee; but thou canst not be certain in what manner it has been done, because thy conscience does not charge thee with any gross immorality and defects. It is true, upon inspection, thou seest abundance of corruption in thy heart, but canst not point out the particular sin or corruption, which is the ground of thy present complaint. Thou wouldst therefore be glad to know how to discover it, on purpose that the sin may be brought to the cross of Christ, in order to be crucified.
In answer to this question, doubtless, the first and grand direction is this, to set about the duty of self-examination. O disconsolate believer, ransack thine own heart, look through it, look into it as deep as thou canst; and while thou art thus upon the search, beg of God that he would examine and prove thee, that he would try thy reins and thy heart. But it may be, that thou hast been thus searching and inquiring, and art still at a loss to fix thine eye upon that particular sin for which thou art visited. You will then ask, "What rule can now be given?" and will be ready to say, that if you yourselves cannot find it out by self-examination, how is it possible that any other should be able to do it? But yet I will venture at it, and would endeavor to act the most faithful and searching part, and then leave the whole to your own consciences to judge. Let me therefore give you three or four directions, whereby you may be able to fix your eyes upon the particular sins for which the Lord withdraws from you.
1. I say, the sin which was the immediate cause of your present declensions, and which most prevails under them, is very likely to be the reason of the present awful visitation. Look back therefore, and observe the time and manner in which you fell into this declining, uncomfortable way. Perhaps just at the time when your darkness began, you had some impatience under the divine hand, or perhaps you were left to slight or abuse those quickenings and comforts which you were favored with. The spouse in the Canticles seems to be sensible, that this must be the sin by which the Spirit is grieved, Canticles 2:7. "I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes and hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love till he please." You had been for a time favored with the divine presence, and the light of his countenance; but you began to grow wanton upon these spiritual privileges, to be careless about them, or to grow remiss in your duty under the enjoyment of them, or perhaps at this time you gave way to the rising of some particular corruption; and immediately upon this the Spirit withdrew, and left you in darkness and distress, or under coldness and indifference: if so, you may be very certain, that this was the particular crime which grieved the Spirit.
And farther, take notice what is that sin which most prevails under your present declensions. This you will be able to learn by a little inspection. And it is generally found, that the sin which causes the desertion is that which continues it; and as it has gained such an advantage as to drive the Spirit away, it now rages and triumphs, and grows stronger and stronger, under these calamitous experiences; whereby you may know, that this is the sin which lies at the bottom of your present complaints.
2. The sin, whatever it be, which you are now for alleviating and excusing, you have great reason to think is that which caused and continues the divine withdrawment. It may be, that under your present darkness you look into your own hearts and ways, and find a great many corruptions working, and sins prevailing, in your souls. The more you look, the more you see the corruption of your own hearts, the abominations that are working within you; and those things appear in such multitudes, that you know not which to fix upon, as the particular cause of your declensions. And after all your searches, it is not at all improbable, you may overlook the very thing you are seeking after. For those sins and corruptions which you are most ready to fix upon, are such as you are sensible of, lament under, strive and pray against; and these, however they may have caused, yet do not continue the divine desertion. Those sins which your souls are for magnifying, and for which you are perpetually accusing yourselves, you have the least reason to suspect; because so far as you thus see your sins, it is a happy token that the Spirit is present with you, as a Spirit of humiliation. Look therefore farther, and see whether you are not making some excuse for, or alleviating some of those evils which are in your heart and life; whether you are not for making them as little as possible, and endeavoring to throw off the guilt of them from yourselves. Now, then, as soon as you can observe this disposition with respect to any iniquity, you may immediately charge the fault upon that particular sin. For instance: Have you been guilty of neglecting, or slightly performing secret, family, or public duties? Have you been negligent in keeping the Sabbath, or careless in the public or private exercises of God's worship? Or have you conformed to any of the vices and vanities of the world? Perhaps in these cases your hearts are saying, "It is true, I have occasionally neglected secret prayer, or I have in some little instances conformed to the ways of the world; but this is no great matter. I neglected secret prayer, because my heart was not in a frame for it, or because I had not a clear opportunity for it; and I have given into the ways of the world, because there was some sort of necessity for it." And thus your minds palliate your offences; you are inclined to excuse your negligence or indifference; which plainly shows, that these sins have gained and retain an awful prevalency in you; and therefore, you may take it for granted, that these are the iniquities for which you now are visited.
3. Those sins in your heart and life, which you find the greatest unwillingness to oppose, are the sins which cause or continue the withdrawment. There are many corruptions working, and many temptations assaulting, to bring you into that which is contrary to the law or gospel. Some of these you can fight, strive, watch, and pray against; others of them are so pleasing to your flesh, or so suited to your inclinations, that you cannot find in your heart to make a vigorous resistance against them: you may then take it for granted, that these latter lie at the foundation of your spiritual complaints.
4. The sins which you are ashamed or unwilling to heartily to confess before the Lord, are those by which the Spirit is grieved. Look attentively into your own hearts, and perhaps you will find there is a sin committed or indulged by you, which you are for keeping secret in your own bosom. You cannot confess it with a true freedom and sincerity; and, as you are attempting to enumerate your transgressions before the Lord in a way of confession, perhaps there is one (or two) starts up in your remembrance, which you find yourselves unwilling to acknowledge to be so sinful as it really is, and as your conscience and judgment inform you it is. In this case, you know in your conscience that you cannot frankly confess the sin before God; because your heart is wedded to it, and you are unwilling to part with it. If it be thus, you need no longer to be at a loss to know what it is that hides the light of God's countenance from you. But could you now without reserve pray and plead, and watch and strive against that sin, which you find thus cleaving to your soul, you would probably be immediately delivered, and find the spirit of life and comfort restored to you. We have a clear instance of this in Ps. 32:5, where we find the Psalmist had been withholding himself from a frank confession; and so long as he thus kept silence, his guilt and his distress remained and increased; but as soon as ever he said in his heart, "I will confess my transgression to the Lord," then God forgave him the iniquity of his sin.
Thus I have endeavored, in the plainest and most faithful manner I could, to, lead you to the knowledge of those sins, which are the causes of your spiritual complaints. And it is very evident, from the nature of the thing, that these must be the sins that separate between you and your God. For those iniquities that you truly hate, that you lament under, that you desire to confess before the Lord, and to carry to the cross of Christ to be crucified there, are not the sins that maintain the distance between God and you: but those iniquities, whether spiritual or external, whether in heart or life, which you have such an affection for, that you cannot heartily condemn yourselves for them, cannot confess without reserve before the Lord, that you cannot find in your hearts to oppose with vigor, these must of necessity cause a continued distance between God and your souls. These are the iniquities which are peculiarly provoking to God; these are the sins that harden the heart, that benumb the conscience, and tarnish the soul. And remember, that you can never expect a return of the divine quickenings and comforts, until you can lay your hand upon those sins, can heartily pray against them, and can fly to the Lord Jesus Christ to have them pardoned and subdued.
Permit me to conclude this soul-searching subject by a few necessary and important advices upon the whole.
1. Beware of extenuating or excusing any sin. He that hideth his sins shall not prosper. But yet this is what we are very prone to. When we are under a temptation to any neglects of duty, our corrupt hearts will appear very ready to find out many excuses. They will suggest to us, either that the duty is too hard for us to undertake, or that we have not an opportunity for it, or that there will be no great advantage reaped by it. Thus we are often betrayed into a criminal omission of what the Lord calls for from us. And no wonder then, if the Spirit be grieved, and we soon feel the sad effects of indulging spiritual sloth; no wonder, if our communion with God be interrupted, if corruption gains an advantage, and a shyness between God and our souls be produced.
Again, when we are prevailed upon to neglect an incumbent duty, our corrupt hearts will now proceed to alleviate the fault, and to make any excuses for it, in order to hinder us from a free acknowledgment of it, and repentance for it; and so we grow more and more hardened and careless, whereby the grieved Spirit is still more grieved, and the separation between God and our souls is continued and widened.
The same may be said concerning a temptation to the commission of sin. Our carnal hearts will represent the iniquity as very small, or as very pleasant, in order to induce us to comply with the temptation; and when we are actually drawn away by our own lusts, and enticed, then lust, having conceived, bringeth forth death; and sin, being finished, bringeth forth death. O the dreadful tendency of excusing and alleviating sin!
It is this sad disposition in unrenewed persons, that keeps them under the dominion of their own lusts: it is this prevents them seeing the danger of their state: it is this likewise that makes them continually careless, without any interest in Christ's grace and righteousness; and deludes their souls with many vain and dangerous hopes.
The same inclination, when it appears, and in any measure prevails, in a gracious person, is peculiarly provoking to God, and effectively robs him of all his comforts and spirituality, makes him grow more and more carnal, and so produces and promotes divine withdrawments.
Let us all therefore beware of extenuating any iniquity; and let us rather endeavor to aggravate it to ourselves, and before God. It is true, that to aggravate your own sins, is very disagreeable to flesh and blood, and often occasions a diminution to our pleasure. But yet it is a necessary work; necessary to our true humiliation, and necessary to keep us in the love and under the smiles of our gracious God. None have a stronger view of the sinfulness of sin, than those who walk closely and comfortably with God.
2. Be watchful against the devices of Satan, and the deceitfulness of our own hearts. We cannot have a stronger call to this necessary duty, than what may be deduced from the foregoing discourse. For here we see, that the devil and our own hearts will use all possible means to conceal from us the particular sins that are the most detrimental and dangerous to our souls. Are we afflicted in our persons, or distressed in our minds, and under the evident marks of divine displeasure? Satan and our corrupt natures join to perplex us so, that we should not know wherefore it is that the Lord contends with us. Our perplexed minds will now be for condemning us for every other sin besides that which lies at the bottom of our spiritual distress; and our unbelief will attempt to drive us into desperation, because of those corruptions we see, lament, and pray against; while the foundation of the controversy between God and our souls lie hid under a criminal excuse. See here a most remarkable evidence, that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. See here the necessity of a narrow inspection, and of divine illumination, in order to attain the knowledge of our own case, and of the ground of our complaints. Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. By a thorough search, according to the foregoing rules, joined with prayer for divine teachings, you may be led to see the sin that most easily besets you, and that has gained the greatest strength in your souls.
Having found out the particular sin or sins which cause or continue the distance between God and your souls, now endeavor to lay it to heart as most abominable and detrimental. The least sin excused and alleviated by us becomes thereby a most grievous abomination. Observe therefore how it has worked, and does work, in your souls. Has it not polluted your souls, weakened your graces, taken away your spiritual strength and enjoyment? Does not this indulged or extenuated sin, be it what it will, destroy the sincerity of your confession, and the uprightness of your prayers? Can you frankly acknowledge, or heartily pray against that iniquity which your hearts cleave to, and which they would fain countenance? Surely no. Again, consider how provoking it must be to a gracious God to find you harboring his enemy in your bosom, to find you wishing that it may be spared or winked at. Surely you cannot wonder, if the Lord withdraws from you. He does it justly; you oblige him to it; and he never will, never honorably can, restore his comforts to you, until you are brought to hate, confess and bewail it before him. O beg therefore that the divine Spirit would convince you of sin, and show you more and more the sinfulness of that particular iniquity and indulgence that lies nearest your heart, that you may see how abominable it is, as well as feel how detrimental it is!
4. Bring the iniquity to the cross of Christ, to be crucified there. Sin will live everywhere but under the cross of Christ. You may see your sin, may strive, watch and pray against it, and it will still prevail to maintain the separation between God and you, until you are directed to exercise faith in the blood of Christ for the forgiveness and mortification of it. "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts," Gal. 5:24.
But you will, it may be, ask, "What is it to bring sin to Christ's cross, and to crucify it there?" I answer, it contains the following things: --
1. To behold the sinfulness of sin in the death of Christ. You may see much of the evil of it by looking into the holy law, and observing its polluting effect upon your own hearts: but such sights of sin, by themselves, will not subdue it. Look upon the cross of Christ; behold him suffering, bleeding, dying, and under his Father's withdrawment for sin imputed to him: there you may look and wonder, look and mourn, look and raise your indignation against sin in the strongest manner. This will be a most effectual means of making you to be truly ashamed of it, and to mourn for it with a godly, an evangelical sorrow.
2. To account every indulged sin in you as crucifying the Son of God afresh. By giving way to iniquity, by harboring it in your bosoms, or by casting a pleasing glance upon the abominable thing, you are guilty, not only of breaking the law, but of undervaluing the blood of the covenant. What! Did Christ die for sin, and shall you indulge it? Surely this would be doing what lies in your power to bring him down, and nail him upon the cross afresh. Oh! Could we but have such conceptions of sin indulged, they would greatly tend to set our hearts at the utmost distance from it.
3. It is to cast the guilt of our sin upon the atonement of Christ, by faith. Do we now see ourselves very guilty and filthy? Are we ashamed of ourselves and enabled to abhor ourselves, because of our abominations? Now surely we cannot but experimentally conceive, that nothing short of an infinite atonement can procure remission. Behold therefore the atonement Christ has made; see how satisfactory it is to divine justice, see how sufficient it is for our pardon: and let us now endeavor to answer the challenges of a guilty conscience by the blood of Jesus Christ. Thus we shall receive a divine pardon to our consciences; thus we shall receive a divine pardon to our consciences; thus we shall receive peace and reconciliation with God. And then we shall find him restoring comforts to us, restoring the joys of his salvation, and the quickenings of his free Spirit.
How unhappy is the believer, while he lies under the guilt of unpardoned sin, and while the corruption and unbelief of his heart keeps him back from a free confession of it! He has now lost all enjoyment of himself, all communion with God, and all special pleasure in, or profit by, his ordinances. He now sinks in deep mire, where there is no standing: he is now come into deep waters, where the floods overflow him. But when he is enabled to see his sin, guilt and impurity, and to disburden his conscience by an application to the blood of Christ, O then his soul is eased, his heart purified, his spiritual liberty restored, and a gracious God returns to him in lovingkindness and tender mercies.