“The day in which we live, and the present circumstances which the people of God and these nations are under, do loudly proclaim a very great necessity of being in this broken and tender frame; for who can foresee what will be the issue of these violent fermentations that are amongst us?”
Returning after a week of coding problems with this software, unable to post at all, we are very glad to be back! Our post today breaks out of the box and presents a brief work by a Baptist! The Rev. George Cokayn wrote the preface to the last work that John Bunyan prepared for publication, shortly before his death. Rev. Cokayn does a wonderful job of summarizing Bunyan’s work here, but also concludes with a powerful statement building from an oft forgotten doctrine, that of mourning over the sins of our times.
A PREFACE TO THE READER.
The author of the ensuing discourse, now with God, reaping the fruit of all his labour, diligence, and success, in his Master’s service, did experience in himself, through the grace of God, the nature, excellency, and comfort of a truly broken and contrite spirit. So that what is here written is but a transcript out of his own heart: for God, who had much work for him to do, was still hewing and hammering him by his Word, and sometimes also by more than ordinary temptations and desertions. The design, and also the issue thereof, through God’s goodness, was the humbling and keeping of him low in his own eyes. The truth is, as himself sometimes acknowledged, he always needed the thorn in the flesh, and God in mercy sent it him, lest, under his extraordinary circumstances, he should be exalted about measure; which perhaps was the evil that did more easily beset him than any other. But the Lord was pleased to overrule it, to work for his good, and to keep him in that broken frame which is so acceptable unto him, and concerning which it is said, that ‘He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds’ (Psa 147:3). And, indeed, it is a most necessary qualification that should always be found in the disciples of Christ, who are most eminent, and as stars of the first magnitude in the firmament of the church. Disciples, in the highest form of profession, need to be thus qualified in the exercise of every grace, and the performance of every duty. It is that which God doth principally and more especially look after, in all our approaches and accesses to him. It is to him that God will look, and with him God will dwell, who is poor, and of a contrite spirit (Isa 57:15, 66:2). And the reason why God will manifest so much respect to one so qualified, is because he carries it so becomingly towards him. He comes and lies at his feet, and discovers a quickness of sense, and apprehensiveness of whatever may be dishonourable and distasteful to God (Psa 38:4). And if the Lord doth at any time but shake his rod over him, he comes trembling, and kisses the rod, and says, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good’ (1 Sam 3:18). He is sensible he hath sinned and gone astray like a lost sheep, and, therefore, will justify God in his severest proceedings against him. This broken heart is also a pliable and flexible heart, and prepared to receive whatsoever impressions God shall make upon it, and is ready to be moulded into any frame that shall best please the Lord. He says, with Samuel, ‘Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth’ (1 Sam 3:10). And with David, ‘When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek’ (Psa 27:8). And so with Paul, who tremblingly said, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ (Acts 9:6).
Now, therefore, surely such a heart as this is must needs be very delightful to God. He says to us, ‘My son, give me thine heart’ (Prov 23:26). But, doubtless, he means there a broken heart: an unbroken heart we may keep to ourselves; it is the broken heart which God will have us to give to him; for, indeed, it is all the amends that the best of us are capable of making, for all the injury we have done to God in sinning against him. We are not able to give better satisfaction for breaking God’s laws, than by breaking our own hearts; this is all that we can do of that kind; for the blood of Christ only must give the due and full satisfaction to the justice of God for what provocations we are at any time guilty of; but all that we can do is to accompany the acknowledgments we make of miscarriages with a broken and contrite spirit. Therefore we find, that when David had committed those two foul sins of adultery and murder, against God, he saw that all his sacrifices signified nothing to the expiating of his guilt; therefore he brings to God a broken heart, which carried in it the best expression of indignation against himself, as of the highest respect he could show to God (2 Cor 7:11).
The day in which we live, and the present circumstances which the people of God and these nations are under, do loudly proclaim a very great necessity of being in this broken and tender frame; for who can foresee what will be the issue of these violent fermentations that are amongst us? Who knows what will become of the ark of God? Therefore it is a seasonable duty with old Eli to sit trembling for it. Do we not also hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of wars; and ought we not, with the prophet, to cry out, ‘My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me, I cannot hold my peace, ‘ &c. (Jer 4:19). Thus was that holy man affected with the consideration of what might befall Jerusalem, the temple and ordinances of God, &c., as the consequence of the present dark dispensations they were under. Will not a humble posture best become us when we have humbling providences in prospect? Mercy and judgment seem to be struggling in the same womb of providence; and which will come first out we know not; but neither of them can we comfortably meet, but with a broken and a contrite spirit. If judgment comes, Josiah’s posture of tenderness will be the best we can be found in; and also to say, with David, ‘My flesh trembleth for fear of thee, and I am afraid of thy judgments’ (Psa 119:120). It is very sad when God smites, and we are not grieved; which the prophet complains of, ‘Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved, ‘ &c. ‘They have made their faces harder than a rock, they have refused to return’ (Jer 5:3).
But such as know the power of his anger will have a deep awe of God upon their hearts, and, observing him in all his motions, will have the greatest apprehensions of his displeasure. So that when he is coming forth in any terrible dispensation, they will, according to their duty, prepare to meet him with a humble and broken heart. But if he should appear to us in his goodness, and farther lengthen out the day of our peace and liberty, yet still the contrite frame will be most seasonable; then will be a proper time, with Job, to abhor ourselves in dust and ashes, and to say, with David, ‘Who am I that thou hast brought me hitherto’! (Job 42:6; 2 Sam 7:18).
But we must still know that this broken tender heart is not a plant that rows in our own soil, but is the peculiar gift of God himself. He that made the heart must break the heart. We may be under heart-breaking providences, and yet the heart remain altogether unbroken; as it was with Pharaoh, whose heart, though it was under the hammers of ten terrible judgments, immediately succeeding one another, yet continued hardened against God. The heart of man is harder than hardness itself, till God softeneth and breaks it. Men move not, they relent not, let God thunder never so terribly; let God, in the greatest earnest, cast abroad his firebrands, arrows, and death, in the most dreadful representations of wrath and judgment, yet still man trembles not, nor is any more astonished than if in all this God were but in jest, till he comes and falls to work with him, and forces him to cry out, What have I done? What shall I do?
Therefore let us have recourse to him, who, as he gives the new heart, so also therewith the broken heart. And let men’s hearts be never so hard, if God comes once to deal effectually with them, they shall become mollified and tender; as it was with those hardened Jews who, by wicked and cruel hands, murdered the Lord of life: though they stouted it out a great while, yet how suddenly, when God brought them under the hammer of his Word and Spirit, in Peter’s powerful ministry, were they broken, and, being pricked in their hearts, cried out, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ (Acts 2:37).
And the like instance we have in the jailor, who was a most barbarous, hard-hearted wretch; yet, when God came to deal with him, he was soon tamed, and his heart became exceeding soft and tender (Acts 16:29, 30).
Men may speak long enough, and the heart not at all be moved; but ‘The voice of the Lord is powerful, the voice of the Lord is full of majesty, ‘ and breaketh the rocks and cedars (Psa 29:4). He turns ‘the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters’ (Psa 114:8). And this is a glorious work indeed, that hearts of stone should be dissolved and melted into waters of godly sorrow, working repentance not to be repented of (2 Cor 7:10).
When God speaks effectually the stoutest heart must melt and yield. Wait upon God, then, for the softening thy heart, and avoid whatsoever may be a means of hardening it; as the apostle cautions the Hebrews, ‘Take heed, – lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin’ (Heb 3:13).
Sin is deceitful, and will harden all those that indulge it. The more tender any man is to his lust, the more will he be hardened by it. There is a native hardness in every man’s heart; and though it may be softened by gospel means, yet if those means be afterwards neglected, the heart will fall to its native hardness again: as it is with the wax and the clay. Therefore, how much doth it behove us to keep close to God, in the use of all gospel-means, whereby our hearts being once softened, may be always kept so; which is best done by repeating the use of those means which were at first blessed for the softening of them.
The following treatise may be of great use to the people of God, through his blessing accompanying it, to keep their hearts tender and broken, when so many, after their hardness and impenitent heart, are treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath (Rom 2:5).
O let none who peruse this book herd with that generation of hardened ones, but be a companion of all those that mourn in Zion and whose hearts are broken for their own, the church’s, and the nation’s provocations; who, indeed, are the only likely ones that will stand in the gap to divert judgments. When Shishak, king of Egypt, with a great host, came up against Judah, and having taken their frontier fenced cities, they sat down before Jerusalem, which put them all under a great consternation; but the king and princes upon this humbled themselves; the Lord sends a gracious message to them by Shemaiah the prophet, the import whereof was, That because they humbled themselves, the Lord would not destroy them, nor pour out his wrath upon them, by the hand of Shishak (2 Chron 12:5-7).
The greater the party is of mourning Christians, the more hope we have that the storm impending may be blown over, and the blessings enjoyed may yet be continued. As long as there is a sighing party we may hope to be yet preserved; at least, such will have the mark set upon themselves which shall distinguish them from those whom the slaughtermen shall receive commission to destroy (Eze 9:4-6).
But I shall not further enlarge the porch, as designing to make way for the reader’s entrance into the house, where I doubt not but he will be pleased with the furniture and provision he finds in it. And I shall only further assure him, that this whole book was not only prepared for, but also put into, the press by the author himself, whom the Lord was pleased to remove, to the great loss and unexpressible grief of many precious souls, before the sheets could be all wrought off.
And now, as I hinted in the beginning, that what was transcribed out of the author’s heart into the book, may be transcribed out of the book into the hearts of all who shall peruse it, is the desire and prayer of
A lover and honourer of all saints as such,
September 21, 1688