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The Groans Of Believers Under Their Burdens
by Ebenezer Erskine
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"Lord, all my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not hid from thee."
"The Spirit helpeth our infirmities; and maketh intercession for us with
groanings which cannot be uttered." Romans 8:26.
"We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened." 2 Corinthians 5:4.
In the first verse of this chapter, the apostle gives a reason, why he, and
others of the saints in his day, endured persecution for the cause of Christ,
with such an unshaken constancy, and holy nobility: he tells us, that they had
the prospect of better things, the solid and well-grounded hope of a happy
immortality to follow upon the dissolution of this clay tabernacle of the body.
Ye need not wonder, would he say, though we cheerfully and willingly undergo the
sharpest trials for religion: "for we know, that if our earthly house of this
tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with
hands; eternal in the heavens." When the poor believer can say with David, "I
shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever," he will be ready to join
together with the same holy man, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow
of death, I will fear no evil." Yea, so far is the apostle from being damped or
discouraged at the thoughts of death, that he rather invites it to do its
office, by striking down this clay tabernacle, that his soul may be at liberty
to ascend to these mansions of glory, that his blessed Friend and Elder Brother
has prepared for him above: ver. 2: "In this we groan, earnestly desiring to be
clothed upon with our house which is from heaven." He knew very well, that when
he should be stript of his mortal body, he should not be found naked, as it is
ver. 3; but clothed with a robe of glory and immortality. And in the verse read,
he gives a reason why he was so desirous to change his quarters; and it is drawn
from the uneasiness and inconvenience of his present lodging, while cooped up in
this clay tabernacle: We that are in this tabernacle, says he, do groan, being
In which words we may briefly notice, 1. The believer's present lodging or
habitation; he is in a tabernacle. 2. His melancholy disposition; he is
groaning. 3. The cause or reasons of his groans; being burdened.
1. I say, we have an account of the believer's present lodging or habitation; he
is in this tabernacle. By the tabernacle, here, we are to understand the body;
so called, because it is a weak, moveable sort of habitation; (as we may hear
more fully afterwards.) The indweller of this lodging is the noble soul, which
is said to be in this tabernacle, while it is in an imbodied state. So that the
meaning is, We that are in this tabernacle; that is, we that are living in the
2. We have the melancholy disposition of the poor believer while in this
lodging; he groans. The word in the original, stenazw, rendered, to groan, we
find it taken in a three-fold sense in scripture. 1st, It is an expression of
grief: Heb. 13:17: "Obey them that have the rule over you, that they may give
their account of you, not with grief;" or, as it may be rendered, Not with
groans. It is the same word that is here used. There is nothing more ordinary,
when a person is weighed and pressed in spirit, than to give vent to the heart
in sobs and groans: and thus stands the case with the Lord's people many times,
while in the tabernacle of the body. 2dly, It is sometimes an expression of
displeasure: James 5:9: "Grudge not one against another." It is the same word
that is here rendered to groan. And so it imports, that the believer is
dissatisfied with, or disaffected to, his present quarters; he does not like it,
in comparison of the better habitation that he has in view. 3dly, It is
sometimes taken as an expression of ardent, passionate, and earnest desire.
Thus, the word is taken in the second verse of this chapter: "In this we groan,
earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven." I
shall not exclude any of these senses from the apostle's scope in these words.
3. In the words we have the cause or reason of the believer's groans; being
burdened. Many a weary weight and heavy load has the believer hanging about him,
while passing through this "valley of Baca," which make him to go many times
with a bowed-down back. What these weights and burdens are, you may hear more
The observation I offer from the words is this:
DOCTRINE "That believers are many times burdened, even to groaning, while in the
clay tabernacle of the body." We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being
The method I shall observe, in handling this doctrine, is, to give you some
I. Of the believer's present lodging; he is in a tabernacle.
II. Of the believer's burdens in this tabernacle.
III. Of his groans under these burdens.
IV. Conclude with some improvement of the whole.
I. The first thing is, to give you some account of the believer's present
lodging while in the body. And there are these two or three things that I remark
about it, which I find in the text and context.
1. Then, I find it is called a house in the first verse of this chapter. And it
is fitly so called, because of its meticulous and exquisite structure and
workmanship; Psalm 139:14, 15: "I will praise thee, for I am fearfully and
wonderfully made; marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well.
My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret; and curiously
wrought in the lowest parts of the earth." The body of man is a awe-inspiring
piece of architecture, and the skill and wisdom of the great Creator are
awe-inspiringly revealed in it: it is set up, as it were, by line and rule, in
such exact order, that the most skilful buildings and structures in the world
are but a chaos or mass of confusion, when compared with it. Take a clod of
dust, and compare it with the flesh of man, unless we were instructed of it
beforehand, we would not imagine it to be one and the same matter, considering
the beauty and excellency of the one above the other; which evidently proclaims
the being, power, and wisdom of the great Creator, who made us, and not we
ourselves, and who can elevate matter above its first original.
2. I remark concerning the believer's present lodging, that however ingenious
its structure be, yet it is but a house of earth; therefore called in the first
verse, an earthly house. And it is so, especially in a threefold respect.
1st, In respect of its original; it is made of earth. It is true, all the
elements meet in the body of man, fire, earth, water, and air; but earth is the
predominant. And therefore, from thence he is said to have his rise; Job 4:19:
"He dwells in houses of clay, and his foundation is in the dust." Whatever be
the beauty, strength, structure, or high pedigree of men; yet as to their
bodies, they claim no higher extract than the dust of the earth.
2dly, It is a house of clay, in respect of the means that support it; it stands
upon pillars of dust; for the corn, wine, and oil, wherewith the body of man is
maintained, all spring out of the earth. Hosea 2:21, 22: God is said to hear the
heavens, the heavens to hear the earth, the earth to hear the corn, wine, and
oil, and these to hear Jezreel. And if these props be withdrawn, how soon will
the clay tabernacle fall to the ground, and return to its original?
3dly, It is a house of earth in respect of its end; it returns thither at its
dissolution. Accordingly, see what God said to Adam, Gen. 3:19: "Dust thou art,
and unto dust shalt thou return." Perhaps there may be some allusion to these
three in that passionate exclamation of the prophet Jeremiah to the rebellious
Jews, Jer. 22:29: "O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord." They were
earth in their original, they were earth as to their support, and they would
return to earth in the end.
3. I remark concerning the believer's present lodging, that it is at best but a
tabernacle. So it is called, ver. 1: "If our earthly house of this tabernacle
were dissolved;" and again here, We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being
burdened." Now, a tabernacle or a tent is a moveable or portable kind of
habitation, and is peculiar especially to two sorts of men. 1. To travellers or
wayfaring men. 2. To soldiers or warfaring men.
1st, I say, tabernacles or tents are peculiar to strangers or wayfaring men.
Strangers, especially in the eastern countries, used to carry these portable
houses about with them, because of the inconveniences to which they were
exposed. Hence, (Heb. 11:9,) it is said of Abraham, that "by faith he sojourned
in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with
Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise." They dwelt in
tabernacles, because they had no present inheritance; they were only strangers
and passengers in the country. To this the apostle probably alludes here. And so
this intimates to us, that the saints of God, while in the body, are pilgrims
and strangers, not as yet arrived at their own country: "I am a stranger in the
earth," says the psalmist, Psalm 119:19; and it is said of the
scripture-worthies, (Heb. 11:13,) that they "confessed that they were strangers
and pilgrims on the earth; they desired a better country, that is, a heavenly."
O believer, thou art not a resident, but only a passenger through this valley of
Baca; and therefore study a disposition of soul suitable to thy present
2dly, Tabernacles were used by strangers and wayfaring men, so by soldiers and
warfaring men, who are obliged frequently to convey their camps from one place
to another. Believers, while they are in the tabernacle of the body, must act
the part of soldiers, fight their way to the promised land, through the very
armies of hell. "We wrestle not," says the apostle, "against flesh and blood;
but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness
of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places," Eph 6:12. And
therefore, as the apostle exhorts, it concerns us to "put on the whole armour of
God, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of
righteousness, the girdle of truth;" and to be frequently accustoming ourselves
to a holy dexterity in wielding and managing "the sword of the Spirit, which is
the word of God," that so we may be able to make a courageous stand in the day
of battle and at last come off The field in a victorious manner, when Christ the
Captain of our salvation shall sound the retreat at death. Thus, the believer's
lodging in a tabernacle, shows him to be both a traveller and a soldier.
4. Another thing that I remark concerning the believer's lodging, is, that it is
but a tottering and crazy house, that is shortly to be taken down; for, says the
apostle, ver. 1: "The earthly house of this tabernacle is" to be
"dissolved.-What man is he," says the psalmist, "that liveth, and shall not see
death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave?" Psalm 89:48. This
king of terrors has erected his trophies of victory over all that ever sprung of
Adam. The greatest Ceasars and Alexanders, who "made the world to tremble" with
their swords, were all forced at last to yield themselves captives to this grim
messenger of the Lord of hosts. "There is no discharge of this warfare;" the
tabernacle of the body must dissolve. However, it may be ground of encouragement
to the believer, that death is not a destruction or annihilation: no, as the
apostle tells, it is only a dissolving, or taking down of the tent or
tabernacle; for God designs to set up this tabernacle again at the resurrection,
more glorious than ever. It was the faith of this that comforted and encouraged
Job under his affliction, Job 19:25, 26: "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and
that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin
worms destroy this body, and though my reins be consumed within me," says he,
"yet in my flesh shall I see God." So much for the first thing in the method.
II. The second thing proposed was, to speak a little of the believer's burdens
while in this tabernacle. This earthly house lies under many servitudes, and the
believer, as one says, pays a dear mail or rent for his quarters. For,
1. The clay tabernacle itself is many times a very heavy burden to him. The
crazy cottage of the body is liable to innumerable pains and distempers, which
makes it lie like a dead weight upon the soul, by which its vivacity and
activity are exceedingly marred. When the poor soul would mount up, as upon
eagles' wings, the body will not bear part with it. So that the believer feels
the truth of Christ's apology verified in his sad experience, "The spirit is
willing, but the flesh is weak."
2. Not only is he burdened with a burden of clay, but also with a burden of sin;
I mean indwelling corruption, the secret atheism, enmity, unbelief, ignorance,
pride, hypocrisy, and other abominations of his heart. O but this is a heavy
burden, which many times is like to dispirit the poor believer, and press him
through the very ground. David (though a man according to God's own heart,) yet
cries out under this burden, "Who can understand his errors ? cleanse thou me
from secret faults," Psalm 19:12. And the apostle Paul never complained so much
of any burden as of this, Rom. 7:24: "O wretched man that I am, who shall
deliver me from the body of this death!" To be rid of this burden, the poor
believer many times would be content that this clay tabernacle were broken into
3. He is burdened many times with a sense of much actual guilt, which he has
contracted through the untenderness of his way and walk. Conscience, that deputy
of the Lord of hosts (being supported by the authority of the law,) frequently
brings in a heavy indictment against the poor soul, and tells it, Thus and thus
thou hast sinned, and trampled upon the authority of God the great Lawgiver. In
this case the believer cannot but take with the charge, and own, with David,"
Mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as a heavy burden they are too heavy
for me," Psalm 38:4, and Psalm 40:12: "Innumerable evils have compassed me
about; mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look
up: they are more than the hairs of mine head, therefore my heart faileth me."
4. He is sometimes sadly burdened with the temptations of Satan. The devil, that
cunning "archer, shoots at him, and sore wounds and grieves him." Sometimes
whole showers of fiery darts, dipt in hell, are made to fly about his ears. God,
for holy and wise ends, suffers the believer to be winnowed, sifted, and
buffeted by this enemy. And O how much is the believer burdened in this case!
Sometimes he is ready to conclude with David, One day or other I shall fall by
this roaring lion, that goes about seeking to devour me; sometimes he is brought
to his wit's end, saying, with Jehoshaphat in great extremity, when surrounded
by enemies, "I know not what to do, but mine eyes are towards thee." But let not
the believer think strangely of this, seeing Christ himself was not exempted
from the molestations of this enemy.
5. Sometimes the believer is burdened with the burden of ill company. The
society of the wicked, which perhaps is unavoidable, is a great incumbrance to
him, and tends mightily to mar and hinder him in his work and warfare. Hence
David utters that mournful and melancholy complaint, Psalm 120:5, 6: "Woe is me,
that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar," &c. The believer
is of Jacob's disposition, with reference to the wicked, Gen. 49:6: "O my soul,
come not thou unto their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou
united." And truly, sirs, if the company and society of the wicked be not your
burden, it is a sign you are of their society.
6. Sometimes the believer is sadly burdened, not only with his own sins, but
with the abounding sins and abominations of the day and place in which he lives.
"I beheld the transgressors," says David, "and was grieved. Rivers of waters run
down mine eyes: because they keep not thy law," Psalm 119:136, 158. O what a
heart-breaking thing is it to the poor soul, to see sinners dashing themselves
to pieces upon the thick bosses of God's buckler, and, as it were, upon the rock
of salvation, running headlong to their own everlasting ruin, without ever
reflecting upon their ways! His very bowels yearn with pity towards them, who
will not pity themselves. Upon this account believers are frequently designated
the "mourners in Zion: they sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done
in the midst of Jerusalem," Ezek. 9:4.
7. The believer is many times, while in this tabernacle, burdened with the
public concerns of Christ. He is a person of a very grateful and public spirit.
Christ took a lift of him while he was in a low state; and therefore he cannot
but be concerned for the concerns of his kingdom and glory, especially when he
sees them suffering in the world. When he beholds the boar out of the wood, or
the wild beast of the forest, open and avowed enemies, wasting and devouring the
church of God; when he sees the foxes spoiling the tender vines, and the
watchmen wounding, smiting, or taking away the veil of the spouse of Christ,
Song 5:7; when he sees the privileges of the church of Christ invaded, her
doctrine and worship corrupted, her ordinary meals retrenched by the stewards of
the house: these things, I say, are sinking and oppressing to his spirit; he
then hangs his harp upon the willows, when he remembers Zion. In this case he is
"sorrowful for the solemn assembly, and the reproach of it is his burden," Zeph.
8. The poor believer has many times the burden of great crosses and afflictions
lying upon him, and these both of a bodily and spiritual nature, and deep many
times calleth unto deep; the deep of external trouble calls to the deep of
inward distress; and these, like two seas meeting together, break upon him with
such violence, that the waters are like to come in unto his very soul.
Sometimes, I say, he has a burden of outward troubles upon him; perhaps a burden
of sickness and pain upon his body, by which the crazy tabernacle of clay is
sorely shattered: "There is no soundness in my flesh," says David, "because of
my sin," Psalm 38:3. Sometimes he is burdened with poverty, and want of the
external necessaries of life, which needs be no strange thing, considering that
the Son of God, the heir of all things, became poor; and so poor, that, as he
himself declares, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests;
but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." Sometimes he is burdened
with infamy and reproach, malice and envy striking at his reputation, and
wounding his name. "False witnesses," says David, "rose up against me; they laid
to my charge things that I knew not," Psalm 35:11. Sometimes he is burdened in
his relations, as by their miscarriages. It was a grief of heart to Rebekah,
when Esau married the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, Gen. 26:34, 35. And no
doubt David had many a sad heart for the miscarriages of his children,
particularly of Amnon and Absalom. Sometimes he is burdened with the death of
near relations. It is breaking to him when the Lord takes away the desire of his
eyes with a stroke. I might here tell you also of many trials and distresses of
a more spiritual nature, that the believer is exercised with, besides those
already named. Sometimes he has the burden of much weighty work lying on his
hand, and his heart is like to faint at the prospect of it, through the sense of
his own utter inability to manage it, either to God's glory, or his own comfort,
or the edification of others; such as, the work of his station, relation, and
generation, and the great work of his salvation. This lies heavy upon him, till
the Lord say to him, as he said to Paul in another case, "My grace is sufficient
for thee." Sometimes the believer in this tabernacle is under the burden of much
darkness. Sometimes he is in darkness as to his state; he "walks in darkness,
and has no light," insomuch that he is ready to raze the foundation, and to cry,
"I am cast out of thy sight: the Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath
forgotten me," Is. 49:14. Sometimes he is in darkness as to his duty, whether he
should do or forbear; many a perplexing thought rolls in his breast, till the
Lord, by his word and Spirit, say to him, "This is the way, walk ye in it," Is.
30:21. Sometimes be is burdened with distance from his God, who seems to have
withdrawn from him behind the mountains; and in this case he cries, with the
church, "For these things I weep, mine eye, mine eye, runneth down with water,
because the Comforter that should relieve my soul, is far from me," Lam. 1:16.
And sometimes it is a burden to him to think, that he is at such a distance from
his own country and inheritance; and in this case he longs to be over Jordan, at
the promised land, saying, "I desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ;
which is best of all," Phil. 1:23. Sometimes, again, he is under the burden of
fear, particularly the fear of death. Heb. 2:15, we read of some who are held in
bondage all their life through fear of death: and yet, glory to God, such have
had a safe landing at last.
Thus I have told you of some of these things with which the believer is
burdened, while in the tabernacle of this body.
III. The third thing in the method was, to speak of the believer's groaning
under his burden: for (says the apostle,) We that are in this tabernacle do
groan, being burdened. Upon this head I shall only suggest two or three
1. Consider, that the working of the believer's heart, under the pressures of
these burdens, vents itself variously. Sometimes he is said to be in heaviness:
1 Pet. 1:6: "If need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations."
Sometimes he is said to sigh under his burdens, and to sigh to the breaking of
his loins: he is said to fetch his sighs from the bottom of his heart: "My
sighing cometh before I eat," says Job. Sometimes his burdens make him to cry.
Sometimes he cries to his God, Psalm 130:1: "Out of the depths have I cried unto
thee, O Lord." Sometimes he cries to by-standers and on-lookers, as Job did to
his friends, "Have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath
touched me," Job 12:21; or, with the church, Lam. 1:12: "Is it nothing to you,
all ye that pass by? behold and see, if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow,
wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me, in the day of his fierce anger." Sometimes
he is said to roar under his burden: "My roarings," says Job, "are poured out
like the water." "I have roared all the day long," says David, "by reason of the
disquietness of my heart." Sometimes he is at the very point of fainting under
his burden: "I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the
Lord in the land of the living." Sometimes his spirits are quite overset and
overwhelmed: Psalm 61:2: "From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when
my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I." Sometimes
again he is as it were distracted, distracted and put out of his wits, through
the weight of his burdens, especially when under the weight of divine terrors.
Thus it was with holy Heman, Psalm 88:15: "While I suffer thy terrors, I am
distracted." Yea, sometimes the matter is carried so far, that it goes to the
drinking up of the very spirits, and a drying and withering of the bones; as you
see in the case of Job; "The arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison
whereof drinketh up my spirit." O the heavy tossings of the believer's heart
under his burdens! the apostle here expresses it by a groaning: We that are in
this tabernacle do groan, being burdened.
2. For clearing this, you would know, that there are three sorts of groans that
we read of in scripture: 1st, Groans of nature. 2dly, Groans of reason. 3dly,
Groans of grace.
1st, I say, we read of groans of nature. Rom. 8:22: "We know," says the apostle,
"that the whole creation groaneth, and travaileth in pain together until now."
Man, by his sin, brought a curse upon the good creatures of God; "Cursed is the
ground for thy sake," Gen. 3:17. And the very earth upon which we tread groans,
like a woman in travail, under the weight of that curse and vanity, that it is
subjected to through the sin of man; and it longs, as it were, to be delivered
from the bondage of corruption, and to share the glorious liberty of the sons of
God, at the day of their manifestation.
2dly, We read of groans of reason, or of the reasonable creatures under their
affliction. Thus, we are told, that the children of Israel groaned under the
weight of their affliction in Egypt, by reason of the heavy tasks that were
imposed upon them: Exod. 6:5: "I have heard," says the Lord, "the groaning of
the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage."
3dly, We read of groans of grace, or of spiritual groans, Rom. 8:26: The Spirit
helpeth our infirmities: and maketh intercession for us with groanings which
cannot he uttered. And of this kind, we conceive, are these groans which the
apostle speaks of in our text; they are not natural, neither are they merely
rational groans, though even these are not to be excluded, but they are gracious
and supernatural, being the fruit of some saving work of the Spirit of God upon
the soul. And, therefore,
3. A third remark I offer is this, that these groans of the gracious soul here
spoken of, seem to imply, as was hinted at in the explication of the words, (1.)
A great deal of grief and sorrow of spirit on account of sin, and the sad and
melancholy effects of it on the believer, while in this embodied state. (2.) It
implies a displeasure, or dissatisfaction in the believer, with his present
burdened state; he cannot find rest for the sole of his foot here; he finds that
this is not his resting place. And, (3.) It implies a breathing and panting of
soul after a better state, even the immediate enjoyment of God in glory, (ver.
1,) he groans with an "earnest desire to be clothed upon with his house which is
IV. But I proceed to the fourth thing in the method, which was the application
of the doctrine. And the first use shall be of information.
1. Hence we may see the vast difference between heaven and earth. O what vast
odds is there betwixt the present and future state of the believer! between his
present earthly lodging, and his heavenly mansion! This world is but at best a
"weary land:" but there is no wearying in heaven: no; "They shall serve him day
and night in his holy temple." This world is a land of darkness, where thou
goest many a time "mourning without the sun;" but when once thou comest to thine
own country, "the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and thy God thy glory."
This world is a land of distance; but in heaven thou shalt be at home: when
"absent from the body," thou shalt be "present with the Lord." This world is a
"den of lions," and a "mountain of leopards;" but there is no lion or leopard
there: "they shall not hurt nor destroy in all God's holy mountain" above. This
world is a land of thorns: many pricking briers of affliction grow here; but no
pricking brier or grieving thorn is to be found in all that country above. This
world is a polluted land, it is defiled with sin; but "there can in no wise
enter into" the land of glory "any thing that defileth, or worketh abomination,
or maketh a lie." In a word, there is nothing but matter of groaning, for the
most part, here; but all reasons for groaning cease for ever there.
2. See hence, a consideration that may contribute to stay or allay our griefs,
sobs, and groans, for the death of godly relatives; for while in this tabernacle
they "groan, being burdened:" but now their groans are turned into songs, and
their mourning into hallelujahs; for "the ransomed of the Lord," when they
"return," or "come to Zion," at death or the resurrection, it is "with songs,
and everlasting joy upon their heads: they obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow
and sighing flee away," Is. 35:10. And therefore, let us "not sorrow as them
that have no hope." If our godly friends that are departed, could tell us all
their hearts, they would be ready to say to us, as Christ said to the daughters
of Jerusalem, O "weep not for us, but weep for yourselves;" for we would not
exchange conditions with you for ten thousand worlds: ye are yet groaning in
your clay tabernacle, oppressed with your many burdens; but as for us, the day
of our complete redemption is come, our heads are lifted up above all our
burdens, under which, once in a day, we groaned while we were with you.
3. See hence, that they are not always the happiest who have the merriest life
of it in the world. Indeed, if we look only to things present, the wicked would
seem to have the best of it, for, instead of groaning, "they take the timbrel
and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ; they spend their days in
wealth" and ease, Job 21:12,13. But, O, sirs, remember, that it is the evening
that crowns the day. "The triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the
hypocrite but for a moment:" whereas the groanings of the righteous are but
short, and their jubilee and triumph shall be everlasting. "Mark the perfect
man," says David, "and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace. But
the transgressors shall be destroyed together, the end of the wicked shall be
cut off" Psal. 37:37. I will read you a word that will show the vast difference
betwixt the godly and the wicked, and discover the strange alteration of the
scene betwixt them in the life to come: Is. 65:13, 14: "Thus saith the Lord God,
Behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry: behold, my servants shall
drink, but ye shall be thirsty: behold, my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall
be ashamed: behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry
for sorrow of heart, and shall howl for vexation of spirit."
4. See hence, that death need not be a terror to the believer. Why? Because, by
taking down this tabernacle it takes off all his burdens, and puts a final end
point to all his groans. Death, to a believer, is like the fiery chariot to
Elijah; it makes him drop the mantle of his body with all its filthiness: but it
transports his soul, his better part, into the mansions of glory, "the house not
made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
The second use of the doctrine may be of reproof to two sorts of persons.
1. It reproves those who are at home while in this tabernacle. Their great
concern is about this clay tabernacle, how to gratify it, how to beautify and
adorn it; their language is, "Who will show us any good? What shall we eat? What
shall we drink? Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" But they have no thought or
concern about the immortal soul which inhabits the tabernacle, which must be
happy or miserable for ever. O, sirs! Remember, that whatever care you take
about this clay tabernacle, it will drop down to dust ere long, and the noisome
grave will be its habitation, where worms and corruption will prey upon the
fairest face, and purest complexion. Where will be your beauty, strength, or
fine attire, when the curtains of the grave are drawn about you?
2. This doctrine serves to reprove those who add to the burdens and groans of
the Lord's people, as if they were not burdened enough already. Remember that it
is a dreadful thing to vex or occasion the grief of those whom the Lord has
wounded: they that do so, counteract the commission of Christ from the Father,
who was "sent to comfort them that mourn in Zion, to give them the oil of joy
for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." But, on the
contrary, they study to give a heavy spirit, and to strip and rob them of their
garments of praise. Remember that Christ is very tender of his burdened saints;
and if any offer to lay a load above their burden, by grieving or offending
them, the Lord Jesus will not pass it without a severe reproof; and "it were
better for such that a millstone were hanged about their neck, and that they
were drowned in the depth of the sea.
A third use shall be of lamentation and humiliation. Let us lament, that the
Lord's saints and people should have so much matter of groaning at this day and
time wherein we live. And here I will tell you of several things that are a
burden to the spirits of the Lords people, and help on their groaning, and make
them sad hearts.
1. The abounding profanity and immorality of all sorts that are to be found
among us. O how rampant is atheism and profanity; and impiety, like an impetuous
torrent, carrying all before it! It is become fashionable among some to be
impious and profane. Religion, which is the ornament of a nation, is faced down
by bold and petulant wits: It is reckoned, by some, a genteel accomplishment to
break a jest upon the Bible, and to play upon things religious and Sacred. O
what cursing and swearing! O what lying and cheating! What abominable
drunkenness, murders, and uncleanness! With what perjury and blasphemy is the
land defiled! We may apply that word, Hos. 4:3: "For these things the land
mourns." The land groans at this day under these and the like abominations. And,
therefore, no wonder that the hearts of those that regard the glory of God do
groan under them also, and cry with the prophet, Jer. 9:1, 2: "Oh, that my head
were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night
for the slain of the daughter of my people. Oh, that I had in the wilderness a
lodging place of wayfaring men, that I might leave my people, and go from them:
for they be all adulterous, an assembly of treacherous men."
2. The universal barrenness that is to he found among us at this day, is matter
of groaning to the Lord's people. God has been at great pains with us both by
ordinances and providences: he has planted us in a fruitful soil; he has given
us a standing under the means of grace; he has given us "line upon line, precept
upon precept:" and yet, alas! may not the Lord say of us, as he said of his
vineyard, Is. 5:2: "I looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought
forth wild grapes." And, as for the fruit of providences, alas! Where is it?
Mercies are lost on us; for when God feeds us to the full, when he gives peace
and plenty, then, Jeshurun like, we wax fat, and kick against him, Deut. 32:15.
And as mercies, so rods and afflictions are lost upon us likewise: God has
"stricken us, but we have not grieved;" he has "consumed us, but we have refused
to receive correction," Jer. 5:3.
3. The lamentable divisions that are in our Reuben, occasion great thoughts of
heart, and heaviness to the Lord's people at this day. Court and country, church
and state, are divided: ministers divided from their people, and people from
their ministers; and both ministers and people are divided among themselves; and
every party and faction turning over the blame upon the other: than which there
cannot be a greater evidence of God's anger, or of approaching ruin and
desolation; for "a city or kingdom divided against itself cannot stand," Matth.
4. The innumerable defections and backslidings of our day are a great burden to
the Lord's people, and make their hearts to groan within them. The charge which
the Lord advances against the church of Ephesus, may too justly be laid to our
door, that we are fallen from our first love. There is but little love to God or
his people, little zeal for his way and work, to be found among us; the power of
godliness, and life of religion, are dwindled away into an empty form with the
I might here take occasion to tell you of many public defections and
backslidings that we stand guilty of before the Lord; particularly, of the
breach of our solemn national engagements. It was once the glory of our land to
be "married unto the Lord," by solemn covenant, in a national capacity; but, to
our eternal infamy and reproach, it has been both broken and burnt by public
authority in this very city. Perhaps, indeed, some may ridicule me for making
mention of the breach of our solemn engagements; but I must blow the trumpet, as
God's herald, "whether ye will hear or forbear." And you who ridicule these
things now, will perhaps laugh at leisure, if God shall send a bloody sword, or
raging pestilence, to "avenge the quarrel of his covenant."
But some may say, Ye talk of breach of solemn national engagements; but wherein
does the truth of such a charge appear? For answer, I shall instance in a few
particulars. It is fit that we not only know wherein our fathers have broken
this covenant; but wherein ourselves, this present generation, stands guilty.
1. Then, in our national covenant we swear, that we will endeavour to be humbled
for our own sins, and for the sins of the kingdom. But, alas! Public days of
fasting and humiliation for the sins of the land are but rare, and thinly sown
at this day. Where are the mourners of our Zion? How few are they whose hearts
are bleeding for the abounding wickedness of the day! If God should give a
commission to the men with the slaughter weapons to go through Scotland, and
"slay utterly old and young, only come not near any that sigh and cry;" O what a
depopulated country would it be! How few inhabitants would be left in the land!
2. In that covenant we are bound to go before one another in the example of a
real reformation. But, alas! Who makes conscience of this part of the oath of
God? How little personal reformation is there! How little care to have the heart
purified from lusts and uncleanness! So that the Lord may well say to us, as he
said to Jerusalem, "O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness: how long
shall vain thoughts lodge within thee?" How little reformation of life! what a
scandalous latitude do many professors of religion take to themselves, cursing,
swearing, lying, drinking, cheating, and over-reaching others in their dealings,
whereby the way of religion comes to be evil spoken of?
3. By the covenant we engage, not only to reform ourselves, but our families.
But alas! How little of this is to be found? How little care is taken by many
parents and masters, to have their children and servants, after the example of
Abraham, instructed in the good ways of the Lord! Every head of a family should
be a priest in his family, for maintaining the worship of God in it: but, alas!
how many are there who either perform the duty in a superficial manner, or else
live in the total neglect of it! Go through many noble-men and gentlemen's
families in the kingdom, and you shall find as little of the worship of God in
them, as if they were Turks and Pagans, and perhaps, less. Yea, atheism is
become so common among people of higher rank, that, with some, he is not
reckoned a man of any spirit, that will bow a knee to God in his family.
4. In our national covenant we swear to endeavour the reformation of England and
Ireland from the remains of Roman hierarchy, and ceremonies of man's invention
in the worship of God. But how is this article performed, when, by solemn
treaty, the representatives of the nation, in a parliamentary capacity, have
consented, that episcopacy should continue as the form of worship and government
in our neighbouring nation? Again, by the covenant we swear to endeavour the
extirpation of popery: and yet how many masses are kept openly in the land,
particularly in the northern parts of the kingdom! How many trafficking priests
and Jesuits are swarming among us! And how many professed Protestants are there,
who have of late shown their good will to sacrifice a protestant interest to the
will of a popish Pretender? Again, in our national covenant, we abjure prelacy
and tyranny in our church-government: but though prelatic tyranny be not
established, yet there is too much of a prelatic spirit venting itself among us
at this day, while many are laying claim to a negative voice in radical
judicatories, over those whose offices give them equal interest in the
government of the church with themselves. And there is but too much tyranny
exercised over the Lord's people by many judicatories of the church, while men
are thrust in upon them, to take the charge of their souls, contrary to their
own free choice and election. Christ's little ones are but too little regarded,
if the world's great ones be gratified. On which account many of the Lord's
people are crying at this day with the church, Cant. 5:7: "The watchmen that
went about the city, found me, they smote me, they took away my veil from me."
Again; in our covenant, we abjure superstition in worship; and yet, to the
scandal of our holy religion, it is not only tolerated by public authority, but
greedily gone after by many in our land. Heresy and error are abjured by the
covenant, every doctrine inconsistent with the word of God, and our Confession
of Faith; and yet all sorts of errors are tolerated, except rank popery, and
blasphemy against the Trinity. It is true, the standard of our doctrine (blessed
be God) remains pure; but it is to be lamented, there is not so much zeal
discovered in curbing error, as our covenant vows do engage us to. Again; in our
covenant, we abjure malignants; that is to say, enemies to a covenanted work of
reformation, as being no members of our church, and, consequently, as having no
right to the privileges of it; and yet malignant lords and lairds are the men
who are generally gratified in the affair of planting churches, in opposition to
them that fear God, and who, on all occasions, discover their love and regard
for a covenanted work of reformation. Again; in the covenant, we swear against a
detestable neutrality and indifference in the cause of God and religion; and yet
how many Gallios are there among us, who are indifferent whether the interest of
Christ sink or swim? And does it not discover too much of a lamentable
lukewarmness and indifference of spirit about the way and work of God, when we
are beginning to abridge the ordinary number of our sermons at our solemn
gospel-festivals, and to diminish the solemnity of it, which has been so
remarkably owned of God? What else is this, but a snuffing at his ordinances,
and saying, practically, What a weariness is it? Mal. 1:13. Whatever some may
think of the matter, yet I know that the hearts of many of the Lord's people are
sorrowful, even unto groaning, for the solemn assembly. I shall not say, that
what is now transacted of late, with relation to this matter, is a breach of our
national covenant; but I say, it seems to be a sad evidence of the lukewarmness
of our spirits about the way and work of God. And I find, that a "changing of
the ordinances, and a breaking of the everlasting covenant," go together in
scripture, Is. 24:5. I might have told you of many other things that break and
burden the spirits of the Lord's people at this day; particularly, of the
removing of the righteous by death; which, as it is a great and heavy judgment
in itself, so it is an ordinary forerunner of some heavy calamity approaching:
Is. 57:1: "Merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is
taken away from the evil to come." And I suppose there may be many hearing me,
whose hearts are inwardly groaning to this day, for the removal of that eminent
light (Mr. James Webster,) which shined with such a refreshing lustre from this
pulpit among you so many years. It bodes ill to our Zion, when such watchmen are
called off from her walls, as, on all occasions, were ready to blow the trumpet
upon the approach of any danger from earth or hell. But I pass this use, and go
A fourth use of the doctrine, which shall be in a word to two sorts of persons.
First, A word to you who are not burdened in this tabernacle. You never knew
what it was to groan, either for your own sins, or for the sins of the land in
which you live, or the tokens of God's anger, which are to be found among us;
these are things of no account with them, they can go very lightly and easily
under them. All I shall say to you, shall be comprised in these two or three
1. It seems the adamant and flint-like millstone you carry in your breast, was
never to this day broken by the power of regenerating grace. And, therefore, I
may say to you, as Peter said to Simon Magus, "Ye are yet in the gall of
bitterness and in the bond of iniquity," Acts 8:23. You are under the slavery of
Satan, and the curse of the law, and wrath of God; and these are heavy burdens,
whether you feel them or not.
2. Know it for a certainty, that, except mercy and repentance interpose, your
groaning time is coming. However you make light of sin now, and of things
serious and sacred; yet you will find them to be sad and weighty things when
death is sitting down upon your eye-lids, when your eye-strings are breaking,
and your souls taking their flight into another world. O "what will ye do in the
day of visitation? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your
glory?" Is. 10:3. When you are standing trembling as defendants before the awful
bar of the great Jehovah, will you make light of sin then? Or will you make
light of it, when, with Dives, you are weltering among the flames of hell? O
"consider this, ye that forget God, lest he tear you in pieces, and there be
none to deliver. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned
to mourning, and your joy to heaviness." Whether do ye think it is better to
groan awhile in this tabernacle under the burden of sin, or to groan for ever
under the weight of God's vengeance, while an endless eternity endures?
Secondly, A second sort I would speak a word to, are poor, broken, and burdened
believers, who are groaning under the weight of these burdens I mentioned. I
only offer two or three things for your encouragement, with which I shall close;
for we are to "comfort them that mourn in Zion."
1. Know, for thy comfort, poor believer, that thy tender-hearted Father is privy
to all thy secret groans; though the world know nothing about them, he hears
them. "Lord," says David, "all my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not
hid from thee," Psalm 38:9. As he puts thy tears in his bottle, so he marks down
thy groans in the book of his remembrance.
2. As the Lord hears thy groans, so he groans with thee under all thy burdens:
for "he is touched with the feeling of our infirmities; and in all our
afflictions he is afflicted." He has the bowels of a father to his children:
Psalm 103:13: "As a father pitieth his children: so the Lord pitieth them that
fear him." Yea, his heart is so tender toward thee, that it is compared to the
tender affection of a mother to her sucking child. And, therefore,
3. Know, for thy encouragement, that thou art not alone under thy burdens. No:
"The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." He
bears thee and thy burdens both: and, therefore, though you may "pass through
the fire and water; yet the fire shall not burn thee, the waters of adversity
shall not overwhelm thee."
4. Know, for thy comfort, that whatever be thy burden, and however heavy thy
groanings be, there is abundant consolation provided for thee in God's covenant.
And here I might go through the several burdens of the Lord's people, and offer
a word of encouragement to you under each. I shall only touch them passingly.
1st, Art thou burdened with the body of clay? Perhaps thy clay cottage is always
like to drop down every day; and this fills thee with heaviness. Well, believer,
know, for thy comfort, that, "if the earthly house of this tabernacle were
dissolved, thou hast a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in
the heavens." There are mansions of glory prepared for thee there, where thou
"shalt be for ever with the Lord."
2dly, Art thou burdened with a burden of sin, crying, "O wretched man that I am,
who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Well, here is comfort,
believer; thy "old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be
destroyed." Ere long he will present thee to his Father, "without spot or
wrinkle, or any such thing."
3dly, Art thou burdened with the sense of much actual guilt? Art thou crying,
with David, "Mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as a heavy burden they are
too heavy for me?" Well, but consider, believer, "God is faithful to forgive
thee:" for he has said, "I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their
sins and their iniquities will I remember no more."
4thly, Art thou burdened with the temptations and fiery darts of Satan? Well,
but consider, believer, Christ, thy glorious head, the true seed of the woman,
has bruised the head of the old serpent; "through death he has destroyed him
that had the power of death, that is, the devil." And, as he overcame him in his
own person, so he will make thee to overcome him in thy person ere long: "The
God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly."
5thly, Is the society of the wicked thy burden? Art thou crying," Woe is me,
that I sojourn in Mesech?" Why, consider, that thou shalt get other company ere
long; when thou puttest off this clay tabernacle, thou shalt enter in among "the
spirits of just men made perfect." Only stand thy ground, and be not conformed
to the world.
6thly, Art thou burdened with the abounding sins and backslidings of the day and
generation wherein thou livest? Well, be comforted, God's mark is upon thee as
one of the mourners in Zion; and, in the day when the man with the
slaughter-weapon shall go through, God will give a charge not to come near any
upon whom his mark is found: "Thou shalt be hid in the day of the Lord's anger."
7th1y, Art thou burdened with the concerns of Christ, with the interests of his
kingdom and glory? Is thy heart, with Eli's, "trembling for fear of the ark of
the Lord," lest it get a wrong touch? Know, for thy encouragement, that "the
Lord shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations;" and
that, though "clouds and darkness be round about him," yet justice and judgment
are the habitation of his throne, and mercy and truth shall go before his face."
Though his way be in the whirlwind, and his footsteps in the great waters, yet
he carries on the designs of his glory, and his church's good. And as for thee
that art "sorrowful for the solemn assembly, to whom the reproach of it is a
burden," God will gather thee unto himself; he will gather thee unto the
"general assembly, and church of the first-born."
8thly, Art thou burdened with manifold afflictions in thy body, in thy estate,
in thy name, in thy relations? Know, for thy comfort, God is carrying on a
design of love to thee in all these things: "Thy light afflictions, which are
but for a moment, will work for thee a far more exceeding and eternal weight of
glory." See a sweet prophecy for thy comfort, Is. 54:11, 12.
9thly, Art thou burdened with much weighty work? Perhaps thou knowest not how to
manage this and the other duty; how to adventure to a communion-table, or the
like. Well, for thy encouragement, poor soul, the Lord "sends none a warfare
upon their own charges." And, therefore, look to him, that he may bear thy
charges out of the stock that is in thy Elder Brother's hand; and "go in his
strength, making mention of his righteousness."
10thly, Art thou, under the burden of much darkness, crying with Job, "Behold, I
go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him?" &c.
Job. 23:8. Well, be comforted; for "unto the upright there ariseth light in the
darkness. Unto you that fear my name, shall the sun of righteousness arise with
healing in his wings." And therefore say thou with the church, Mic. 7:9: "He
will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness."
11thly, Art thou burdened with the Lord's distance from thy soul, "because the
Comforter that should relieve thy soul, is far from thee?" Lam. 1:16: Well, be
comforted, "He will not contend for ever," he has promised to return, Is.
54:7,8. The Lord cannot keep up himself long from the poor soul that is weeping
and groaning after him; as we see in Ephraim, Jer. 31:18, &c. Again;
12thly, Art thou burdened with the fear of death? Know, for thy comfort, the
sting of death is gone, and it cannot hurt thee: Hos. 13:14: "I will ransom them
from the power of the grave: I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be
thy plague; O grave, I will be thy destruction."
Lastly, Art thou burdened with the death of the righteous, particularly with the
loss of faithful ministers? Well, be encouraged, that though the Lord take away
an Elijah, yet the Lord God of Elijah lives, and the residue of the Spirit is
still with him. And therefore take up David's song, and sing, "The Lord liveth,
and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted."