Causes of Despair, the Devil, Melancholy, Meditation, Distrust, Weakness of Faith, Rigid Ministers, Misunderstanding Scriptures, Guilty Consciences, &c.

Causes of Despair, the Devil, Melancholy, Meditation, Distrust, Weakness of Faith, Rigid Ministers, Misunderstanding Scriptures, Guilty Consciences, &c.

The principal agent and procurer of this mischief is the devil; those whom God forsakes, the devil by his permission lays hold on. Sometimes he persecutes them with that worm of conscience, as he did Judas, Saul, and others. The poets call it Nemesis, but it is indeed God's just judgment, sero sed serio, he strikes home at last, and setteth upon them "as a thief in the night," 1 Thes. ii. This temporary passion made David cry out, "Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thine heavy displeasure; for thine arrows have light upon me, &c. there is nothing sound in my flesh, because of thine anger." Again, I roar for the very grief of my heart: and Psalm xxii. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me, and art so far from my health, and the words of my crying? I am like to water poured out, my bones are out of joint, mine heart is like wax, that is molten in the midst of my bowels." So Psalm lxxxviii. 15 and 16 vers. and Psalm cii. "I am in misery at the point of death, from my youth I suffer thy terrors, doubting for my life; thine indignations have gone over me, and thy fear hath cut me off." Job doth often complain in this kind; and those God doth not assist, the devil is ready to try and torment, "still seeking whom he may devour." If he find them merry, saith Gregory, "he tempts them forthwith to some dissolute act; if pensive and sad, to a desperate end." Aut suadendo blanditur, aut minando terret, sometimes by fair means, sometimes again by foul, as he perceives men severally inclined. His ordinary engine by which he produceth this effect, is the melancholy humour itself, which is balneum diaboli, the devil's bath; and as in Saul, those evil spirits get in as it were, and take possession of us. Black choler is a shoeing-horn, a bait to allure them, insomuch that many writers make melancholy an ordinary cause, and a symptom of despair, for that such men are most apt, by reason of their ill-disposed temper, to distrust, fear, grief, mistake, and amplify whatsoever they preposterously conceive, or falsely apprehend. Conscientia scrupulosa nascitur ex vitio naturali, complexione melancholica (saith Navarrus cap. 27. num. 282. tom. 2. cas. conscien.) The body works upon the mind, by obfuscating the spirits and corrupted instruments, which Perkins illustrates by simile of an artificer, that hath a bad tool, his skill is good, ability correspondent, by reason of ill tools his work must needs be lame and imperfect. But melancholy and despair, though often, do not always concur; there is much difference: melancholy fears without a cause, this upon great occasion; melancholy is caused by fear and grief, but this torment procures them and all extremity of bitterness; much melancholy is without affliction of conscience, as Bright and Perkins illustrate by four reasons; and yet melancholy alone may be sometimes a sufficient cause of this terror of conscience. Felix Plater so found it in his observations, e melancholicis alii damnatos se putant, Deo curæ, non sunt, nec prædestinati, &c. "They think they are not predestinate, God hath forsaken them;" and yet otherwise very zealous and religious; and 'tis common to be seen, "melancholy for fear of God's judgment and hell-fire, drives men to desperation; fear and sorrow, if they be immoderate, end often with it." Intolerable pain and anguish, long sickness, captivity, misery, loss of goods, loss of friends, and those lesser griefs, do sometimes effect it, or such dismal accidents. Si non statim relevantur, Mercennus, dubitant an sit Deus, if they be not eased forthwith, they doubt whether there be any God, they rave, curse, "and are desperately mad because good men are oppressed, wicked men flourish, they have not as they think to their desert," and through impatience of calamities are so misaffected. Democritus put out his eyes, ne malorum civium prosperos videret successus, because he could not abide to see wicked men prosper, and was therefore ready to make away himself, as Agellius writes of him. Felix Plater hath a memorable example in this kind, of a painter's wife in Basil, that was melancholy for her son's death, and for melancholy became desperate; she thought God would not pardon her sins, "and for four months still raved, that she was in hell-fire, already damned." When the humour is stirred up, every small object aggravates and incenseth it, as the parties are addicted. The same author hath an example of a merchant man, that for the loss of a little wheat, which he had over long kept, was troubled in conscience, for that he had not sold it sooner, or given it to the poor, yet a good scholar and a great divine; no persuasion would serve to the contrary, but that for this fact he was damned: in other matters very judicious and discreet. Solitariness, much fasting, divine meditation, and contemplations of God's judgments, most part accompany this melancholy, and are main causes, as Navarrus holds; to converse with such kinds of persons so troubled, is sufficient occasion of trouble to some men. Nonnulli ob longas inedias, studia et meditationes cúlestes, de rebus sacris et religione semper agitant, &c. Many, (saith P. Forestus) through long fasting, serious meditations of heavenly things, fall into such fits; and as Lemnius adds, lib. 4. cap. 21, "If they be solitary given, superstitious, precise, or very devout: seldom shall you find a merchant, a soldier, an innkeeper, a bawd, a host, a usurer, so troubled in mind, they have cheveril consciences that will stretch, they are seldom moved in this kind or molested: young men and middle age are more wild and less apprehensive; but old folks, most part, such as are timorous and religiously given." Pet. Forestus observat. lib. 10. cap. 12. de morbis cerebri, hath a fearful example of a minister, that through precise fasting in Lent, and overmuch meditation, contracted this mischief, and in the end became desperate, thought he saw devils in his chamber, and that he could not be saved; he smelled nothing, as he said, but fire and brimstone, was already in hell, and would ask them, still, if they did not smell as much. I told him he was melancholy, but he laughed me to scorn, and replied that he saw devils, talked with them in good earnest, Would spit in my face, and ask me if 1 did not smell brimstone, but at last he was by him cured. Such another story I find in Plater observat. lib. 1. A poor fellow had done some foul offence, and for fourteen days would eat no meat, in the end became desperate, the divines about him could not ease him, but so he died. Continual meditation of God's judgments troubles many, Multi ob timorem futuri judicii, saith Guatinerius cap. 5. tract. 15. et suspicionem desperabundi sunt. David himself complains that God's judgments terrified his soul, Psalm cxix. part. 16. vers. 8. "My flesh trembleth for fear of thee, and I am afraid of thy judgments." Quoties diem illum cogito (saith Hierome) toto corpore contremisco, I tremble as often as I think of it. The terrible meditation of hell-fire and eternal punishment much torments a sinful silly soul. What's a thousand years to eternity? Ubi múror, ubi fletus, ubi dolor sempiternus. Mors sine morte, finis sine fine; a finger burnt by chance we may not endure, the pain is so grievous, we may not abide an hour, a night is intolerable; and what shall this unspeakable fire then be that burns for ever, innumerable infinite millions of years, in omne ævum in æternum. O eternity!

"Æternitas est illa vox,
Vox illa fulminatrix,
Tonitruis minacior,
Fragoribusque cúli,

Æternitas est illa vox,
-- meta carens et orta, &c.
Tormenta nulla territant,
Quæ finiuntur annis;

Æternitas, æternitas
Versat coquilque pectus.
Auget hæc poenas indies,
Centuplicatque flammas," &c.

(Drexelius Nicet. lib. 2. cap. 11. "Eternity, that word, that tremendous word, more threatening than thunders and the artillery of heaven -- Eternity, that word, without end or origin. No torments affright us which are limited to years: Eternity, eternity, occupies and inflames the heart -- this it is that daily augments our sufferings, and multiplies our heart-burnings a hundredfold.")

This meditation terrifies these poor distressed souls, especially if their bodies be predisposed by melancholy, they religiously given, and have tender consciences, every small object affrights them, the very inconsiderate reading of Scripture itself, and misinterpretation of some places of it; as, "Many are called, few are chosen. Not every one that saith Lord. Fear not little flock. He that stands, let him take heed lest he fall. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, That night two shall be in a bed, one received, the other left. Strait is the way that leads to heaven, and few there are that enter therein." The parable of the seed and of the sower, "some fell on barren ground, some was choked. Whom he hath predestinated he hath chosen. He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy." Non est volentis nec currentis, sed miserentis Dei. These and the like places terrify the souls of many; election, predestination, reprobation, preposterously conceived, offend divers, with a deal of foolish presumption, curiosity, needless speculation, contemplation, solicitude, wherein they trouble and puzzle themselves about those questions of grace, free will, perseverance, God's secrets; they will know more than is revealed of God in his word, human capacity, or ignorance can apprehend, and too importunate inquiry after that which is revealed; mysteries, ceremonies, observation of Sabbaths, laws, duties, &c., with many such which the casuists discuss, and schoolmen broach, which divers mistake, misconstrue, misapply to themselves, to their own undoing, and so fall into this gulf. "They doubt of their election, how they shall know, it, by what signs. And so far forth," saith Luther, "with such nice points, torture and crucify themselves, that they are almost mad, and all they get by it is this, they lay open a gap to the devil by desperation to carry them to hell;" but the greatest harm of all proceeds from those thundering ministers, a most frequent cause they are of this malady: "and do more harm in the church" (saith Erasmus) "than they that flatter; great danger on both sides, the one lulls them asleep in carnal security, the other drives them to despair." Whereas, St. Bernard well adviseth, "We should not meddle with the one without the other, nor speak of judgment without mercy; the one alone brings desperation, the other security." But these men are wholly for judgment; of a rigid disposition themselves, there is no mercy with them, no salvation, no balsam for their diseased souls, they can speak of nothing but reprobation, hell-fire, and damnation; as they did Luke xi. 46. lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, which they themselves touch not with a finger. 'Tis familiar with our papists to terrify men's souls with purgatory, tales, visions, apparitions, to daunt even the most generous spirits, "to require charity," as Brentius observes, "of others, bounty, meekness, love, patience, when they themselves breathe nought but lust, envy, covetousness." They teach others to fast, give alms, do penance, and crucify their mind with superstitious observations, bread and water, hair clothes, whips, and the like, when they themselves have all the dainties the world can afford, lie on a down-bed with a courtesan in their arms: Heu quantum patimur pro Christo, as he said, what a cruel tyranny is this, so to insult over and terrify men's souls! Our indiscreet pastors many of them come not far behind, whilst in their ordinary sermons they speak so much of election, predestination, reprobation, ab æterno, subtraction of grace, preterition, voluntary permission, &c., by what signs and tokens they shall discern and try themselves, whether they be God's true children elect, an sint reprobi, prædestinati, &c., with such scrupulous points, they still aggravate sin, thunder out God's judgments without respect, intempestively rail at and pronounce them damned in all auditories, for giving so much to sports and honest recreations, making every small fault and thing indifferent an irremissible offence, they so rent, tear and wound men's consciences, that they are almost mad, and at their wits' end.

"These bitter potions" (saith Erasmus) "are still in their mouths, nothing but gall and horror, and a mad noise, they make all their auditors desperate:" many are wounded by this means, and they commonly that are most devout and precise, have been formerly presumptuous, and certain of their salvation; they that have tender consciences, that follow sermons, frequent lectures, that have indeed least cause, they are most apt to mistake, and fall into these miseries. I have heard some complain of Parson's Resolution, and other books of like nature (good otherwise) , they are too tragical, too much dejecting men, aggravating offences: great care and choice, much discretion is required in this kind.

The last and greatest cause of this malady, is our own conscience, sense of our sins, and God's anger justly deserved, a guilty conscience for some foul offence formerly committed,-- O miser Oreste, quid morbi te perdit? (Euripides. "O wretched Orestes, what malady consumes you?") Or: Conscientia, Sum enim mihi conscius de malis perpetratis. ("Conscience, for I am conscious of evil.") "A good conscience is a continual feast," but a galled conscience is as great a torment as can possibly happen, a still baking oven, (so Pierius in his Hieroglyph, compares it) another hell. Our conscience, which is a great ledger book, wherein are written all our offences, a register to lay them up, (which those Egyptians in their hieroglyphics expressed by a mill, as well for the continuance, as for the torture of it) grinds our souls with the remembrance of some precedent sins, makes us reflect upon, accuse and condemn our own selves. "Sin lies at door," &c. I know there be many other causes assigned by Zanchius, Musculus, and the rest; as incredulity, infidelity, presumption, ignorance, blindness, ingratitude, discontent, those five grand miseries in Aristotle, ignominy, need, sickness, enmity, death, &c.; but this of conscience is the greatest, Instar ulceris corpus jugiter percellens: The scrupulous conscience (as Peter Forestus calls it) which tortures so many, that either out of a deep apprehension of their unworthiness, and consideration of their own dissolute life, "accuse themselves and aggravate every small offence, when there is no such cause, misdoubting in the meantime God's mercies, they fall into these inconveniences." The poet calls them furies dire, but it is the conscience alone which is a thousand witnesses to accuse us, Nocte dieque suum gestant in pectore testem. A continual tester to give in evidence, to empanel a jury to examine us, to cry guilty, a persecutor with hue and cry to follow, an apparitor to summon us, a bailiff to carry us, a serjeant to arrest, an attorney to plead against us, a gaoler to torment, a judge to condemn, still accusing, denouncing, torturing and molesting. And as the statue of Juno in that holy city near Euphrates in Assyria will look still towards you, sit where you will in her temple, she stares full upon you, if you go by, she follows with her eye, in all sites, places, conventicles, actions, our conscience will be still ready to accuse us. After many pleasant days, and fortunate adventures, merry tides, this conscience at last doth arrest us. Well he may escape temporal punishment, bribe a corrupt judge, and avoid the censure of law, and flourish for a time; "for who ever saw" (saith Chrysostom) "a covetous man troubled in mind when he is telling of his money, an adulterer mourn with his mistress in his arms? we are then drunk with pleasure, and perceive nothing:" yet as the prodigal son had dainty fare, sweet music at first, merry company, jovial entertainment, but a cruel reckoning in the end, as bitter as wormwood, a fearful visitation commonly follows. And the devil that then told thee that it was a light sin, or no sin at all, now aggravates on the other side, and telleth thee, that it is a most irremissible offence, as he did by Cain and Judas, to bring them to despair; every small circumstance before neglected and contemned, will now amplify itself, rise up in judgment, and accuse the dust of their shoes, dumb creatures, as to Lucian's tyrant, lectus et candela, the bed and candle did bear witness, to torment their souls for their sins past. Tragical examples in this kind are too familiar and common: Adrian, Galba, Nero, Otho, Vitellius, Caracalla, were in such horror of conscience for their offences committed, murders, rapes, extortions, injuries, that they were weary of their lives, and could get nobody to kill them. Kennetus, King of Scotland, when he had murdered his nephew Malcom, King Duffe's son, Prince of Cumberland, and with counterfeit tears and protestations dissembled the matter a long time, "at last his conscience accused him, his unquiet soul could not rest day or night, he was terrified with fearful dreams, visions, and so miserably tormented all his life." It is strange to read what Cominæus hath written of Louis XI. that French King; of Charles VIII.; of Alphonsus, King of Naples; in the fury of his passion how he came into Sicily, and what pranks he played. Guicciardini, a man most unapt to believe lies, relates how that Ferdinand his father's ghost who before had died for grief, came and told him, that he could not resist the French King, he thought every man cried France, France; the reason of it (saith Cominseus) was because he was a vile tyrant, a murderer, an oppressor of his subjects, he bought up all commodities, and sold them at his own price, sold abbeys to Jews and Falconers; both Ferdinand his father, and he himself never made conscience of any committed sin; and to conclude, saith he, it was impossible to do worse than they did. Why was Pausanias the Spartan tyrant, Nero, Otho, Galba, so persecuted with spirits in every house they came, but for their murders which they had committed? Why doth the devil haunt many men's houses after their deaths, appear to them living, and take possession of their habitations, as it were, of their palaces, but because of their several villainies? Why had Richard the Third such fearful dreams, saith Polydore, but for his frequent murders? Why was Herod so tortured in his mind? because he had made away Mariamne his wife. Why was Theodoric, the King of the Goths, so suspicious, and so affrighted with a fish head alone, but that he had murdered Symmachus, and Boethius his son-in-law, those worthy Romans? Cúlius, lib. 27. cap. 22. See more in Plutarch, in his tract De his qui sero a Numine puniuntur, and in his book De tranquillitate animi, &c. Yea, and sometimes GOD himself hath a hand in it, to show his power, humiliate, exercise, and to try their faith, (divine temptation, Perkins calls it, Cas. cons. lib. 1. cap. 8. sect. 1.) to punish them for their sins. God the avenger, as David terms him, ultor a tergo Deus, his wrath is apprehended of a guilty, soul, as by Saul and Judas, which the poets expressed by Adrastia, or Nemesis:

"Assequitur Nemesique virum vestigia servat,
Ne male quid facias." --

("And Nemesis pursues and notices the steps of men, lest you commit any evil.")

And she is, as Ammianus, lib. 14. describes her, "the queen of causes, and moderator of things," now she pulls down the proud, now she rears and encourageth those that are good; he gives instance in his Eusebius; Nicephorus, lib. 10. cap. 35. eccles. hist. in Maximinus and Julian. Fearful examples of God's just judgment, wrath and vengeance, are to be found in all histories, of some that have been eaten to death with rats and mice, as Popelius, the second King of Poland, ann. 830, his wife and children; the like story is of Hatto, Archbishop of Mentz, ann. 969, so devoured by these vermin, which howsoever Serrarius the Jesuit Mogunt. rerum lib. 4. cap. 5. impugn by twenty-two arguments, Tritemius, Munster, Magdeburgenses, and many others relate for a truth. Such another example I find in Geraldus Cambrensis Itin. Cam. lib. 2. cap. 2. and where not?

And yet for all these terrors of conscience, affrighting punishments which are so frequent, or whatsoever else may cause or aggravate this fearful malady in other religions, I see no reason at all why a papist at any time should despair, or be troubled for his sins; for let him be never so dissolute a caitiff so notorious a villain, so monstrous a sinner, out of that treasure of indulgences and merits of which the pope is dispensator, he may have free pardon and plenary remission of all his sins. There be so many general pardons for ages to come, forty thousand years to come, so many jubilees, so frequent gaol-deliveries out of purgatory for all souls, now living, or after dissolution of the body, so many particular masses daily said in several churches, so many altars consecrated to this purpose, that if a man have either money or friends, or will take any pains to come to such an altar, hear a mass, say so many paternosters, undergo such and such penance, he cannot do amiss, it is impossible his mind should be troubled, or he have any scruple to molest him. Besides that Taxa Cameræ Apostolicæ, which was first published to get money in the days of Leo Decimus, that sharking pope, and since divulged to the same ends, sets down such easy rates and dispensations for all offences, for perjury, murder, incest, adultery, &c., for so many grosses or dollars (able to invite any man to sin, and provoke him to offend, methinks, that otherwise would not) such comfortable remission, so gentle and parable a pardon, so ready at hand, with so small cost and suit obtained, that I cannot see how he that hath any friends amongst them (as I say) or money in his purse, or will at least to ease himself, can any way miscarry or be misaffected, how he should be desperate, in danger of damnation, or troubled in mind. Their ghostly fathers can so readily apply remedies, so cunningly string and unstring, wind and unwind their devotions, play upon their consciences with plausible speeches and terrible threats, for their best advantage settle and remove, erect with such facility and deject, let in and out, that I cannot perceive how any man amongst them should much or often labour of this disease, or finally miscarry. The causes above named must more frequently therefore take hold in others.

 

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