Sorrow for Sin

Samuel Rutherford

Excerpts from Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself (1647)

“Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” John 12:27-28.

It cannot then be a sin, intrinsically and of itself, to be troubled in soul, if Christ was under soul trouble, for sins imputed to him. Hence let me stay a little on these two: First, what a troubled conscience is, and secondly, what course the troubled in soul are to take in imitation of Christ. A soul troubled for sin must either be a soul feared and perplexed for the penal displeasure, wrath and indignation of God, or for the eternal punishment of sin; or, for sin as it faileth against the love of God, or for both. In any of these three respects it is no sin to be soul-troubled for sin, upon these conditions: (1.) That the soul be free of faithless doubting of God’s love. Now Christ was free of this. He could not but have a fixed, entire, and never-broken confidence of his Father’s eternal love. If we have any sin in our soul trouble for sin, it’s from unbelief, not from soul trouble; if there be mud and clay in the streams, it is from the banks, not from the fountain.

Or, (2.) If the soul fear the ill of punishment as the greatest ill, and as a greater than the ill of sin, there is more passion than sound light in the fear. This could not be in Christ. The aversion of the Lord’s heart from the party in whom there is sin, either by real inherence, or by free imputation, and the withdrawing of rays and irradiations, and of outflowings of divine love, is a high evil in a soul that hath anything of the nature of a son in him. Now there was as much of a son in Christ as a man’s nature could be capable of. And the more of God that was in Christ, as the fullness, the boundless infinite sea of the Godhead overflowed Christ over all the banks, then for Christ to be under a cloud in regard of the outbreathings of eternal love, was in a sort most violent to Christ, as if he had been torn from himself, and therefore it behooved to be an extreme soul trouble, Christ being deprived, in a manner, of himself, and of his soul’s only substantial delight and paradise. And this could not be a sin, but an act of gracious soul sorrow, that sin and hell intervened between the moon and the sun, the soul of Christ and his Lord.

The more of heaven in the soul, and the more of God, the want of God and of heaven is the greater hell. Suppose we that the whole light of the body of the sun were utterly extinct, and that the sun were turned in a body as dark as the outside of a caldron, that should be a greater loss, than if an half penny candle were deprived of light. Christ had more to lose than a world of millions of angels. Imagine a creature of as much angelic capacity as ten thousand times ten thousand thousand of angels, all contemperated in one. If this glorious angel were filled, according to his capacity, with the highest and most pure and refined glory of heaven, and again were immediately stripped naked of all this glory, and then plunged into the depth and heart of hell, and of a lake of more than hell’s ordinary temper, of fire and brimstone, or suppose God should add millions of degrees of more pure and unmixed wrath and curses, this angel’s soul must be more troubled than we can easily apprehend. Yet this is but a comparison below the thing. But the Lord Jesus, in whose person heaven in the highest degree was carried about with him, being thrown down from the top of so high a glory, to a sad and fearful condition, an agony and sweating of blood (God knows the cause), that shouting and tears of this low condition drew out that saddest complaint, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”, his loss must be incomparably more than all we can say in these shadows.

This showeth the cause why there is not among troubles any so grievous as the want of the presence of God, to a soul fattened and feasted with the continual marrow and fatness of the Lord’s house. No such complaints read you, so bitter, so pathetic, and coming from deeper sense, than the want of the sense of Christ’s love. It’s broken bones and a dried-up body to David; it’s bitter weeping and crying, like the chattering of a crane, to Hezekiah; it’s more than strangling, and brings Job to pray he had been buried in the womb of his mother, or that he had never been born, or his mother had been always great with him. It is swooning, and the soul’s departure out of the body, sickness and death, to the spouse, Song of Solomon 5:6 and 8; it’s hell and distraction to Heman, Psalm 88:15. It is to Jeremiah the cursing of the messenger that brought tidings to his father that a man child was born, and a wishing that he never had being, nor life. It’s death to part the lover from the beloved, and the stronger love be, the death is the more death.

But in all that we yet have said, Christ’s greatest soul trouble as a Son (for that he was essentially) was in that his holy soul was saddened and made heavy even to death, for sin, as sin, and as contrary to his Father’s love. The elect sinned against the Lord, not looking to him as either Lord or Father; but Christ paid full dear for sin, eyeing God as Lord, as Father. We look neither to Lord, to law, nor to love, when we sin; Christ looked to all three, when he satisfied for sin. Christ did more than pay our debts; it was a sum above price that he gave for us. It is a great question, yea out of all question, if all mankind redeemed came near to the worth, to the goodly price given for us.

So according to the sense of any happiness, so must the soul trouble for the loss of that happiness be, in due proportion. First, as we love, so is sorrow for the loss of what we love. Jacob would not have mourned so for the loss of a servant as for his son Joseph. According to the fulness of the presence of the Godhead, so heavy was Christ’s loss under desertion. Now no man enjoying God could have a more lively and vigorous sense of the enjoyed Godhead, as Christ; so his apprehension and vision of God must have been strong. The union with the Godhead, and communion of fullness of grace from the womb, must add to his natural faculties a great edge of sense; his soul and the faculties thereof were never blunted with sin. The larger the vessel be, the fullness must be the greater: When Solomon’s heart was larger than the sand in the sea shore, and he was but a shadow of such a soul as was to dwell personally with the fullness of the Godhead bodily, Oh how capacious and wide must the heart of the true Solomon be? It being to contain many seas, and rivers of wisdom, love, joy, goodness, mercy, above millions of sands in millions of sea shores. What bowels of compassion and love, of meekness, gentleness, of free grace must be in him, since all thousands of elected souls sat in these bowels, and were in his heart, to die and live with him, and since in his heart was the love of God in the highest degree. God’s love must make a strong impression in the heart of Christ, and the stronger, purer and more vigorous that Christ’s intellectuals are, the deeper his holy thoughts and pure apprehensions were, and more steeled with fullness of grace, therefore his fruition, sense, joy, and love of God must be the more elevated above what angels and men are capable of.

Hence it must follow that Christ was plunged in an uncouth and new world of extreme sorrow, even to the death, when this strong love was eclipsed. Imagine that for one spring and summer season all the light, heat, motion, vigor, influence of life, should retire into the body of the sun and remain there, what darkness, deadness, withering, should be upon flowers, herbs, trees, mountains, valleys, beasts, birds, and all things living and moving on the earth? Then what wonder that Christ’s soul was extremely troubled, his blessed sun was now down, his spring and summer gone? His Father a forsaking God was a new world to him, and I shall not believe that his complaint came from any error of judgment, or mistakes, or ungrounded jealousies of the love of God. As his Father could not at any time hate him, so neither could he at this time let out the sweet fruits of his love; the cause of the former is the nature of God, as the ground of the latter is a dispensation above the capacity of the reason of men or angels. We may then conclude that Jesus Christ’s soul trouble, as it was rational and extremely penal, so also it was sinless and innocent. Seldom have we seen soul trouble sinless, but it is by accident of the way. For our passions can hardly rise in their extremity (except when God is their only object), but they go overscore. Yet soul trouble intrinsically is not a sin.

Then to be troubled for sin, though the person be fully persuaded of pardon, is neither sin, nor inconsistent with the state of a justified person. Nor is it any act of unbelief, as Antinomians falsely suppose. For (1.) to be in soul trouble for sin which cannot, to the perfect knowledge of the person troubled, eternally condemn, was in Jesus Christ, in whom there was no spot of sin. But Antinomians say, Sin remaining sin essentially, must have a condemnatory power. (2.) To abstain from sin as it offendeth against the love of God showing mercy, rather than the law of God inflicting wrath, is spiritual obedience. So also to be troubled in soul for sin committed by a justified person against so many sweet bonds of free love and grace is a sanctified and gracious sorrow and trouble of soul. (3.) To be troubled for sin, as offensive to our heavenly Father and against the sweetness of free grace and tender love, includeth no act of unbelief, nor that the justified and pardoned sinner thus troubled is not pardoned, or that he feareth eternal wrath (as Antinomians imagine), no more than a son’s grief of mind for offending a tender-hearted father can infer that this grief doth conclude this son under a condition of doubting of his state of sonship, or a fearing he be disinherited. (4.) Sanctified soul trouble is a filial commotion and agony of spirit, for trampling under feet tender love, spurning and kicking against the lovely warmness of the flowings of the blood of atonement. Such soul trouble is found in checks and love terrors or love fevers that Christ’s princely head was wet with the night rain while he was kept out of his own house, and suffered to lodge in the streets, and fear that the Beloved withdraw himself, and go seek his lodging elsewhere, as Song of Solomon 5:4-5, Psalm 5:9-10, and that the Lord cover himself with a cloud and return to his place, and the influence of the rays and beams of love be suspended. This soul trouble represents sweet expressions of filial bowels, and tenderness of love to Christ.

Libertines imagine that if the hazard and fear of hell be removed, there is no more place for fear, soul trouble, or confession. Therefore they teach that there is no assurance true and right, unless it be without fear and trembling; that to call in question whether God be my dear Father after, or upon, the commission of some heinous sins (as murder, incest, etc.) doth prove a man to be under the covenant of works; that a man must be so far from being troubled for sin that he must take no notice of his sin, nor of his repentance. Yea, Dr. Crisp saith, “There was no cause why Paul” (Romans 7) “should fear sin or a body of death, because in that place Paul doth” (saith he) “personate a scrupulous spirit, and doth not speak out of his own present case, but speaks in the person of another, yet a believer. And my reason is, Paul, in respect of his own person, what became of his sin was already resolved (Romans 8:1): There is now no condemnation, etc. He knew his sins were pardoned, and that they could not hurt him.”

Observe that Arminius, as also, of old, Pelagius, interpreted Romans 7 of a half renewed man, in whom sense, which inclines to venial sin, fights with reason, that so the full and perfectly renewed man might seem to be able to keep the law and be free of all mortal sin. So then there is no battle between the flesh and the Spirit in the justified man, by the Antinomian way to heaven. As the old Libertines in Calvin’s time said, The flesh does the sin, not the man, for the man is under no law, and so cannot sin. But that Paul, Romans 7, speaks in the person of a scrupulous and troubled conscience, not as it’s the common case of all the regenerate in whom sin dwells, is a foul and fleshly untruth. (1.) To be carnal in part, as (verse 14), to do that which we allow not, to do what we would not, and to do what we hate, is the common case, not peculiar to a troubled conscience only, but to all the saints, Galatians 5:17. (2.) Paul speaketh not of believing, as he must do if he speak only of a scrupulous and doubting conscience. But he speaketh of working (verse 15), doing (17-18), willing (15, 19). (3.) A scrupulous and troubled conscience will never grant, while he is in that doubting condition, that he does any good or that he belongs to God, as is clear, Psalm 88, 38, 77:1-4, etc. But Paul in this case granteth that he does good, hates evil, delights in the law of the Lord in the inner man, hath a desire to do good, hath a law in his mind that resisteth the motions of the flesh.

(4.) Yea, the apostle would have had no cause to fear the body of sin, or to judge himself wretched. This would be his unbelief, and there would be no ground of his fear, because he was pardoned. It would then be Paul’s sin, and the sinful scrupulosity of unbelief, to say, being once justified, “Sin dwells in me,” and “There is a law in my members, rebelling against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity unto the law of sin,” and “I am carnal, and sold under sin,” and “I do evil, even that which I hate.” For all these would be lies, and speeches of unbelief: the justified man sinneth not, his heart is clean, he doth nothing against a law. But I will remember that our divines, and particularly Chemnitius, Calvin, Beza, prove against Papists that concupiscence is sin after baptism, even in the regenerate, and it is called eleven or twelve times with the name of sin, Romans 6-8. So we may use all these arguments against Libertines to prove we are, even being justified, such as can sin, and do transgress the law. Therefore we ought to confess these sins, be troubled in conscience for them, complain and sigh in our fetters, though we know that we are justified and freed from the guilt of sin and the obligation to eternal wrath.

Sin is one thing, and the obligation to eternal wrath is another thing: Antinomians confound them and so mistake grossly the nature of sin, and of the law, and of justification. Some imprudently go so far on that they teach that believers are to be troubled in heart for nothing that befalls them, either in sin or in affliction. If their meaning were that they should not doubtingly, and from the principle of unbelief, call in question their once sealed justification, we should not oppose such a tenet. But their reasons do conclude that we should no more be shaken in mind with sin than with afflictions and the punishments of sin, and that, notwithstanding of the highest provocation we are guilty of, we are always to rejoice and to feast on the consolations of Christ. Their reasons are, (1.) “Because trouble for sin ariseth from ignorance or unbelief, when believers understand not the work of God for them, the Father’s everlasting decree about them, the Son’s union with them and headship to them, his merits and intercession, and the Holy Spirit’s inhabitation in them and his office toward them, to work all their works for them, till he make them meet for glory.” (2.) “Because such trouble is troublesome to God’s heart, as a friend’s trouble is to his friends. But especially, because the Spirit of bondage never returns again to the justified,” Romans 8:15.

But I crave to clear our doctrine touching soul trouble for sin in the justified person. Assertion 1. No doubting, no perplexity of unbelief, de jure, ought to perplex the soul once justified and pardoned. (1.) Because the patent and writs of an unchangeable purpose to save the elect, and the subscribed and resolved-upon act of atonement and free redemption in Christ, standeth uncanceled and firm, being once received by faith; the justified soul ought not so to be troubled for sin as to misjudge the Lord’s past work of saving grace. (2.) Because the believer, once justified, is to believe remission of sins, and a paid ransom. If now he should believe the writs, once signed, were canceled again, he were obliged to believe things contradictory. (3.) To believe that the Lord is changed, and off and on, in his free love and eternal purposes, is a great slandering of the Almighty. (4.) The church acknowledgeth such misjudging of God to be the soul’s infirmity, Psalm 77:10.

Assertion 2. (1.) Yet, de facto, David, a man according to God’s heart, fell in an old fever, a fit of the disease of the Spirit of bondage, Psalm 32:3-4: When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me, my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. So the church in Asaph’s words, Psalm 77:2, 7: My sore ran in the night, and ceased not. Will the Lord cast off for ever? Will he be merciful no more? Then faith and doubting both may as well be in a soul possessing the life of God, as health and sickness in one body, at sundry times. And it is no argument at all of no spiritual assurance, and of a soul under the law or covenant of works, to doubt; as sickness argueth life, no dead corpse is capable of sickness or blindness. These are infirmities that neighbor with life; thus doubting with sorrow, because the poor soul cannot, in that exigency, believe, is of kin to the life of God. The life of Jesus in the soul hath infirmities kindly to it, as some diseases are hereditary to such a family. (2.) The habit or state of unbelief is one thing, and doubtings and love jealousies is another thing. Our love to Christ is sickly, crazy, and full of jealousies and suspicions. Temptations make false reports of Christ, and we easily believe them. But jealousies argue love, and the strongest of loves, even marriage love. (3.) The morning dawning of light, is light; the first springing of the child in the belly, is a motion of life; the least warmings of Christ’s breathings, is the heart of life. When the pulse of Christ new-framed in the soul moveth most weakly, the new birth is not dead; the very swoonings of the love of Christ cannot be incident to a buried man.

(4.) The disciples’ prayer, Lord increase our faith, Christ’s praying that the faith of the saints, when they are winnowed, may not fail, and the exhortation to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, prove the saint’s faith may be at a stand, and may stagger and slide. (5) The various condition of the saints, now it’s full moon, again no moonlight at all, but a dark eclipse, evidenceth this truth. The believer hath flowings of strong acts of faith, joy, and love, supernatural passions of grace arising to an high springtide, above the banks and ordinary coasts, and again a low-ground ebb. The condition in ebbings and flowings, in full manifestations and divine raptures of another world, when the wind bloweth right from heaven, and the breath of Jesus Christ’s mouth, and of sad absence, runneth through the Song of Solomon, the book of the Psalms, the book of Job, as threads through a web of silk, and veins that are the strings and spouts carrying blood through all the body, less or more.

Assertion 3. The justified soul, once pardoned, receiveth never the spirit of bondage, to fear again eternal wrath. That is, this spirit in the intention of the habit such as was at the first conversion, when there was not a grain of faith, doth never return, nor is it consistent with the Spirit of adoption. Yet happily it may be a question, if a convert brought in with much sweetness and quietness of spirit, if he fall in some heinous sin like the adultery and murder by David, have not greater vexation of spirit than at his first conversion, but more supernatural.

But yet this must stand as a condemned error, which Libertines do hold, “that frequency or length of holy duties, or trouble of conscience for neglect thereof, are all signs of one under a covenant of works.” This is but a turning of faith into wantonness, whereas faith, of all graces, moveth with lowest sails. For faith is not a lofty and crying, but a soft-moving and humble, grace. For then David’s being moved, and his heart smiting him, at the rending of King Saul’s garment, should be under a covenant of works, and so not a man according to God’s own heart, for a smitten heart is a troubled soul. And then David ought not to have been troubled in soul for sin, for his sins were then pardoned; nor could the Spirit of the Lord so highly commend Josiah’s heart-melting trouble at the reading and hearing of the law, nor Christ own the tears and soul trouble of the woman, as coming from no other spring but much love to Christ, because many sins were pardoned.

Nor can it be said that we are to be less troubled for sin than the saints of old were, because our justification is more perfect, and the blood of Christ had less power to purge the conscience and to satisfy the demands of the law before it was shed, than now. Indeed, the law was a severer pedagogue to awe the saints, then in regard of the outward dispensation of ceremonies and legal strictness, keeping men as malefactors in close prison till Christ should come. But imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and blessedness in the pardon of sin, and so freedom from soul trouble for eternal wrath, and the law’s demanding the conscience to pay what debts none were able to pay but the surety only, was one and the same to them and to us. Who dare say that the believing Jews died under the curse of the law, Deuteronomy 27:26? For so they must perish eternally, Galatians 3:10. Then there must be none redeemed under the Old Testament, nor any justified, contrary to express Scriptures. As they were blessed, in that their transgression was forgiven, and their sin covered, and that the Lord imputed no iniquity to them, our blessedness is the same, and Christ as he was made a curse for them, so for us. David, Abraham, and all the fathers under the law, were justified by the imputed righteousness of Christ, apprehended by faith, as we are, Romans 4:23. Then the law could crave them no harder than us, and they were no more justified by works than we are. The law did urge the Jews harder than us (1.) in regard of the Mosaical burden of ceremonies and bloody sacrifices, that pointed out their guiltiness, except they should flee to Christ, (2.) in regard of God’s dispensation of the severer punishing of law transgression, and that with temporary punishments, and rewarding obedience with external prosperity, and (3.) in urging this doctrine more hardly upon the people to cause them not rest on the letter of the law, but seek to the promised Messiah, in whom only was their righteousness: as young heirs and minors are kept under tutors while their nonage expire. But who dare say that the saints under the Old Testament were to trust to the merit of their own works, or seek righteousness in themselves, more than we? Yea, they believing in the Messiah to come, were no more under the law and the dominion of sin, than we are, but under grace, and pardoned, and saved by faith, as we are.

Josiah’s tenderness of heart, David’s smiting of heart, the woman’s weeping, even to the washing of Christ’s feet with tears, Peter’s weeping bitterly for the denying of his Lord: these woundings were gospel affections, and commotions of love issuing from the Spirit of adoption, of love, grace, and nothing but the turtle dove’s love sorrow. These soul commotions were not, as Antinomians imagine, from “demands of law to pay what justice may demand of the self-condemned sinner”; such an obligation to eternal wrath is no chain which can tie the sons of adoption, who are washed, justified, pardoned. And yet if the justified and pardoned say they have no sin, and so no reason to complain under their fetters, and to sigh as captives in prison, as Paul doth, Romans 7:24, nor cause to mourn for indwelling of sin, they are liars and strangers to their own heart, and do sleep in deep security, as if sin were so fully removed both in guilt and blot, as if tears for sin as sin should argue the mourning party to be in the condition of those who weep in hell, or that they were no more obliged to weep, but only to exercise joy, comfort, and perpetuated acts of solace and rejoicing, as if Christ had, in the threshold of glory, already with his own hand wiped all tears from their eyes.

Saltmarsh saith in a dangerous medicine for wounded souls, “Where there is no law,” (as there is none in or over the justified soul) “there is no transgression, and where there is no transgression, there is no trouble for sin, all trouble arising from the obligement of the law, which demandeth a satisfaction of the soul for the breach of it, and such satisfaction as the soul knows it cannot give, and thereby remains unquiet, like a debtor that hath nothing to pay, and the law, too, being naturally in the soul, as the apostle saith, the conscience accusing or else excusing. It is no marvel that such souls should be troubled for sin and unpacified, the law having such a party and engagement already within them, which must needs work strongly upon the spirits of such as are but faintly and weakly enlightened, and not furnished with gospel enough to answer the indictments, the convictions, the terrors, the curses which the law brings.”

I can see no reason why any should affirm that “the law is naturally as a party in the soul,” either of the regenerate and justified, or of those who are out of Christ. (1.) For the law’s engaging, by accusing and condemning, is not naturally in any son of Adam, because there is a sleeping conscience, both dumb and silent, naturally in the soul. And if there be any challenging and accusing in the Gentile conscience, Romans 2, as stirring is opposed to a silent and dumb conscience that speaketh nothing, so the law-accusing is not naturally in the soul. A spirit above nature (I do not mean the Spirit of regeneration) must work with the law, else both the law and sin lie dead in the soul. The very law of nature lieth as a dead letter, and stirreth not, except some wind blow more or less on the soul, Romans 7:8-9. (2.) That the law wakeneth any sinner, and maketh the drunken and mad sinner see himself in the sea, and sailing down the river to the chambers of death, that he may but be occasioned to cast an eye on shore, on Jesus Christ, and wish a landing on Christ, is a mercy that no man can father on nature, or on himself. (3.) All sense of a sinful condition, to any purpose, is a work above nature, though it be not ever a fruit of regeneration. (4.) It’s true, “Christ teacheth a man’s soul, through the shining of gospel light, to answer all the indictments of the law, in regard that Christ the Ransomer stops the law’s mouth with blood,” else the sinner can make but a poor and faint advocation for himself. Yet this cannot be made in the conscience without some soul trouble for sin.

Another Antinomian saith, “God’s people need more joys after sins than after afflictions, because they are more cast down by them. And therefore God useth sins as means by which he leads in his joys, in this world; and also in the world to come, their sins shall yield them great joys. Indeed, in some respects they shall joy most at the last day who have sinned least; but in other respects, they have most joy who have sinned most.” It’s strange that God’s people “need more joy after sin than after affliction,” and that in “some respect they have most joy who have sinned most.” Sure, this is accidental to sin: this joy is not for sin, but it’s a joy of loving much because much is forgiven. Forgiveness is an act of free grace; sin is no work of grace. Sin grieves the heart of God, “as a friend’s trouble is trouble to a friend.” The believer is made the friend of God, John 15:15, and it must be cursed joy that lay in the womb of that which is most against the heart of Christ, such as all sin is. Yea, to be more troubled in soul for sins than for afflictions smelleth of a heart that keeps correspondence with the heart and bowels of Christ, who wept more for Jerusalem’s sins than for his own afflictions and cross. There is no rational way to raise and heighten the price and worth of the soul-Redeemer of sinners, and the weight of infinite love, so much as to make the sinner know how deep a hell he was plunged in, when the bone acheth exceedingly. For that the gospel tongue of the Physician Christ should lick the rotten blood of the soul’s wound, speaketh more than imaginable free love. Nor do we say that gospel mourning is wrought by the law’s threatenings; then it were servile sorrow. But it’s wrought by the doctrine of the law discovering the foulness and sinfulness of sin, and by the doctrine of the gospel, the spirit of the gospel shining in both; otherwise, sounds, breathings, letters of either law or gospel, except the breathings of heaven shine on them and animate them, can do no good.

Related Reading

The Will of God and the Gospel Offer:

David Dickson & James Durham

Samuel Rutherford

John Howe

James Webster

John Willison

Robert Riccaltoun

Samuel Davies

Thomas Beveridge

John Love

David Black

Archibald Alexander

Thomas Chalmers

William B. Sprague

John Duncan

John Macdonald

Alexander Moody Stuart

John H. Bocock

Robert Murray M’Cheyne

John Kennedy of Dingwall

Hugh Martin

John Macleod

Kenneth MacRae

John Murray

William Young