The Groans Of Believers
Under Their Burdens
by Ebenezer Erskine
"Lord, all my desire is before you; and my groaning is
not hidden from you." Psalm 37:9.
"The Spirit helps our infirmities; and makes intercession
for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." Romans 8:26.
"For we who 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. You need not wonder, would he say, though
we cheerfully and willingly undergo the sharpest trials for religion: "For
we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down—when we die and
leave these bodies—we will have a home in heaven." When the poor believer
can say with David, "I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever," 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."
Yes, 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, which his blessed Friend and
Elder Brother has prepared for him above: verse 2: "Meanwhile we groan,
longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling." He knew very well, that
when he should be stripped of his mortal body, he should not be found naked,
as it is verse 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: "For we who are in
this tabernacle do groan, being burdened."
In which words we may briefly notice,
1. The believer's present lodging or habitation; he is in
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 embodied state. So
that the meaning is, We who are in this tabernacle; that is, we who are
living in the body.
2. We have the melancholy
disposition of the poor believer while in this lodging; he
groans. The word in the original, is 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 those who 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: "Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed
with our heavenly dwelling." 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 who are in
this tabernacle do groan, being burdened.
The method I shall observe, in handling this doctrine,
is, to give you some account,
I. Of the believer's present lodging; he is in a
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. An 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 you,
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are your works, and that
my soul knows right well. My substance was not hidden from you, 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
skillful 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. 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. 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 there at its dissolution. Accordingly, see what God said to Adam,
Gen. 3:19: "Dust you are, and unto dust shall you 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
3. I remark concerning the believer's present lodging,
that it is at best but a TENT. So it is called, verse 1: "If our
earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved;" and again here, We who 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 travelers or wayfaring men. 2. To soldiers or
1st, I say, tabernacles or tents were used by
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 tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him
of the same promise." They dwelt in tents, 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 one." O believer,
you are not a resident, but only a passenger through this valley of Baca;
and therefore study a disposition of soul, suitable to your present
2dly, Tents were used also 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 armor of God, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the
breastplate of righteousness, the belt 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 traveler and a soldier.
4. Another thing that I remark concerning the believer's
lodging, is, that it is but a tottering and
unstable house, that is shortly to be taken down; for, says the
apostle, verse 1: "The earthly house of this tabernacle is to be dissolved".
"What man is there," says the psalmist, "who lives, 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 who 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 Almighty. "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 belief of this which
comforted and encouraged Job under his affliction, "But as for me, I know
that my Redeemer lives, and that he will stand upon the earth at last. And
after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for
myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the
thought!" Job 19:25-27
II. The believer's BURDENS while in this tabernacle.
This earthly house lies under many servitudes, and the believer, as one
says, pays a costly rent for his quarters. For,
1. The clay tabernacle itself is many times a very heavy
burden to him. The unstable 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
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 likely to dispirit the poor believer, and press
him down to 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 me from secret faults," Psalm 19:12. And the apostle Paul never
complained so much of any burden as of this, Romans 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 shivers.
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 Almighty, frequently brings
in a heavy indictment against the poor soul, and tells it, Thus and thus you
have 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,
"My iniquities have 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; my 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 fails 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, dipped in
hell, are made to fly about his ears. God, for holy and wise ends, allows
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 another 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 my eyes are towards you." 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
ungodly company. The society of the wicked, which perhaps is
unavoidable, is a great encumbrance 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!" The believer is of Jacob's disposition,
with reference to the wicked, Gen. 49:6: "O my soul, stay away from them.
May I never be a party to their wicked plans." 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 my eyes: because they keep not your 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 shield, and, as it were,
upon the rock of salvation, running headlong to their own everlasting ruin,
without ever reflecting upon their ways! His very affections 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 drew him up out of his 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 wild boar out of the woods, 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. 3:18.
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 calls 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 likely 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 frail 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 lack 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 has nowhere to lay his head."
Sometimes he is burdened with infamy and
reproach, malice and envy striking at his reputation, and
wounding his name. "Malicious witnesses testify against me. They accuse me
of things I don't even know about." Psalm 35:11. Sometimes he is burdened in
his families. 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 behavior of his children, particularly of Amnon and
Absalom. Sometimes he is burdened with the death of near relations.
It is heart-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 likely 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, until the Lord say to him, as he said to Paul in
another case, "My grace is sufficient for you."
Sometimes the believer in this tabernacle is under the
burden of much spiritual darkness. Sometimes he is in darkness as to his
state; he "walks in darkness, and has no light," insomuch that he is ready
to tear down the foundation, and to cry, "I am cast out of your sight: the
Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has 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 bosom, until the Lord, by his word and
Spirit, says to him, "This is the way, walk in it," Is. 30:21. Sometimes be
is burdened with distance from his God, who seems to have withdrawn from
him, and is hidden behind the mountains; and in this case he cries, with the
church, "For these things I weep, mine eye, my eye runs down with water,
because the Comforter who 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 eternal home 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
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 believer's GROANING under his burden.
"We who are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened." Upon this head I
shall only suggest two or three considerations.
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 Peter 1:6: "If need be,
you are in heaviness through manifold trials." 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: "I cannot eat for
sighing; my groans pour out like water," 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 you, O Lord." Sometimes he cries to by-standers
and on-lookers, as Job did to his friends, "Have pity upon me, O you my
friends; for the hand of God has touched me," Job 12:21; or, with the
church, Lam. 1:12: "Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by? behold and
see, if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, with which the Lord has
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 overwhelmed:
Psalm 61:2: "From the end of the earth will I cry unto you, when my heart is
overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I." Sometimes again he
is as it were, in despair, 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
your terrors, I am in despair." Yes, 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 drinks up my spirit." O the
heavy tossings of the believer's heart under his burdens! the apostle here
expresses it by a groaning: "We who are in this tabernacle do groan,
2. 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. Romans
8:22: "We know," says the apostle, "that the whole creation groans, and
travails in pain together until now." Man, by his sin, brought a curse upon
the good creatures of God; "Cursed is the ground for your 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, Romans 8:26: "The Spirit helps our infirmities: and makes
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,
3. 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.
(3.) It implies a breathing and panting of soul after a
better state, even the immediate enjoyment of God in glory. "We grow weary
in our present bodies, and we long for the day when we will put on our
IV. The APPLICATION of the doctrine.
A. The first use shall be of
1. Hence we may see the vast difference between heaven
and earth. O what a vast difference is there between the present earthly
state, and future heavenly 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
you go many a time "mourning without the sun;" but when once you come to
your own country, "the Lord shall be your everlasting light, and your God
your glory." This world is a land of distance; but in heaven you shall be at
home: when "absent from the body," you shall 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 "nothing evil will be allowed to enter—no one who practices
shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in
the Lamb's Book of Life." In a word, there is nothing but matter of
groaning, for the most part, here; but all reasons for groaning cease
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 those who have no hope." If our godly
friends who have 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: you 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 which 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" Psalm
37:37. I will read you a word that will show the vast difference between the
godly and the wicked, and discover the strange alteration of the scene
between them in the life to come: Is. 65:13, 14: "Therefore, this is what
the Sovereign Lord says: You will starve, but my servants will eat. You will
be thirsty, but they will drink. You will be sad and ashamed, but they will
rejoice. You will cry in sorrow and despair, while my servants sing for
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
B. The second use of the doctrine may be of
REPROOF to two sorts of people.
1. It reproves those who are at home while in this
earthly 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? How 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 forever. O,
sirs! Remember, that whatever care you take about this clay tabernacle, it
will drop down to dust before long, and the abhorrent 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: those who do so, counteract the
commission of Christ from the Father, who was "sent to comfort those who
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
attempt 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!
C. 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
increase their groaning, and make them sad hearts.
1. The abounding profanity and immorality of all
sorts of people, who 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 scorned by bold and petulant wits: It
is reckoned, by some, a cultured 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 who
regard the glory of God do groan under them also, and cry with the prophet,
Jer. 9:1, 2: "Oh, that my eyes were a fountain of tears; I would weep
forever! I would sob day and night for all my people who have been
slaughtered. Oh, that I could go away and forget them and live in a shack in
the desert, for they are all adulterous and treacherous."
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: "Then he waited for a
harvest of sweet grapes, but the grapes that grew were wild and sour." 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 which are among us,
occasion great heaviness to the Lord's people at this day. 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," Matthew. 12:25.
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 have 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 most.
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 you will
hear or not." 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 breaking of his covenant."
But some may say, You 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
endeavor 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
your heart from wickedness: how long shall vain thoughts lodge within you?"
How little reformation of life! what a scandalous latitude do many
professors of religion take to themselves, cursing, swearing, lying,
drinking, cheating, and defrauding 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, to have their children, 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. Yes, atheism has 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.
D. A fourth use of the doctrine, which shall be in
a word to two sorts of people.
First, A word to you who are not
burdened. 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 words:
1. It seems the adamant and flint-like millstone you
carry in your bosom, 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, "You 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 you do in the day of visitation? To whom will
you flee for help?" Is. 10:3. When you are standing trembling as defendants
before the dreadful 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, you who 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."
Do you think it is better to groan awhile in this tabernacle under the
burden of sin--or to groan forever under the weight of God's vengeance,
while an endless eternity endures?
Secondly, A second sort I would speak
a word to those 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 those who mourn in Zion."
1. Know, for your comfort, poor believer, that your
tender-hearted Father is privy to all your secret groans; though the
world knows nothing about them, your Father hears them. "Lord," says David,
"all my desire is before you; and my groaning is not hidden from you," Psalm
38:9. As he puts your tears in his bottle, so he marks down your groans in
the book of his remembrance.
2. As the Lord hears your groans, so he groans with you
under all your burdens: for "he is touched with the feeling of our
infirmities; and in all our afflictions he is afflicted." He has the
affections of a father to his children: Psalm 103:13: "As a father pities
his children: so the Lord pities those who fear him." Yes, his heart is so
tender toward you, that it is compared to the tender affection of a mother
to her nursing child. And, therefore,
3. Know, for your encouragement, that you are not alone
under your burdens. No! "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath
are the everlasting arms!" He bears you and your burdens both. "But now, O
Israel, the Lord who created you says: Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed
you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep
waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of
difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of
oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For
I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior!" Isaiah 43:1-3
4. Know, for your comfort, that whatever be your burden,
and however heavy your groanings be, there is abundant consolation provided
for you 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, Are you burdened with the body of clay?
Perhaps your clay cottage is always likely to drop down every day; and this
fills you with heaviness. Well, believer, know, for your comfort, that, "if
the earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, you have a building of
God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." There are
mansions of glory prepared for you there, where you "shall be forever with
2dly, Are you 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; your "old man is crucified
with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed." Before long he will
present you to his Father, "without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing."
3dly, Are you burdened with the sense of much actual
guilt? Are you crying, with David, "My iniquities are gone over
my head: as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me?" Consider, believer,
"God is faithful to forgive you:" for he has said, "I will be merciful to
their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember
4thly, Are you burdened with the temptations and fiery
darts of Satan? Well, but consider, believer, Christ, your
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 you to overcome him in your person before long: "The God of peace shall
bruise Satan under your feet shortly."
5thly, Is the society of the wicked your burden?
Are you crying, "Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech?" Why, consider,
that you shall get other company before long; when you put off this clay
tabernacle, you shall enter in among "the spirits of just men made perfect."
Only stand your ground, and be not conformed to the world.
6thly, Are you burdened with the abounding sins and
backslidings of the day and generation wherein you live? Well, be
comforted, God's mark is upon you 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: "You shall
be hidden in the day of the Lord's anger."
7th1y, Are you burdened with the concerns of Christ, with
the interests of his kingdom and glory? Is your heart, with
Eli's, "trembling for fear of the ark of the Lord," lest it gets a wrong
touch? Know, for your encouragement, that "the Lord shall reign forever,
even your God, O Zion, unto all generations;" and that, though "clouds and
thick darkness are around about him," yet justice and judgment are the
habitation of his throne, and mercy and truth shall go before his face."
Though his way is 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 you that are "sorrowful for the solemn assembly, to whom the reproach of
it is a burden," God will gather you unto himself; he will gather you unto
the "general assembly, and church of the first-born."
8thly, Are you burdened with manifold afflictions in your
body, in your estate, in your name, in your relations? Know, for
your comfort, God is carrying on a design of love to you in all these
things: "Your light afflictions, which are but for a moment, will work for
you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." See a sweet prophecy
for your comfort, "For the mountains may depart and the hills disappear, but
even then I will remain loyal to you. My covenant of blessing will never be
broken," says the Lord, who has mercy on you. "O storm-battered city,
troubled and desolate! I will rebuild you on a foundation of sapphires and
make the walls of your houses from precious jewels. I will make your towers
of sparkling rubies and your gates and walls of shining gems." Isaiah
9thly, Are you burdened with much weighty work?
Perhaps you know not how to manage this and the other duty; how to
adventure to a communion-table, or the like. Well, for your encouragement,
poor soul, the Lord "sends none to warfare upon their own charges." And,
therefore, look to him, that he may bear your charges out of the stock that
is in your Elder Brother's hand; and "go in his strength, making mention of
10thly, Are you, 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?" Job. 23:8. Well, be comforted; for "unto the
upright there arises light in the darkness. Unto you who fear my name, shall
the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings." And therefore say
with the church, Mic. 7:9: "He will bring me forth to the light, and I shall
behold his righteousness."
11thly, Are you burdened with the Lord's distance from
your soul, because the Comforter who should relieve your soul, is
far from you? Lam. 1:16: Well, be comforted, "He will not contend forever,"
he has promised to return, Is. 54:7,8. The Lord cannot keep up himself long
from the poor soul who is weeping and groaning after him; as we see in
Ephraim, "You disciplined me severely, but I deserved it. I was like a calf
that needed to be trained for the yoke and plow. Turn me again to you and
restore me, for you alone are the Lord my God." Jer. 31:18
12thly, Are you burdened with the fear of death?
Know, for your comfort, the sting of death is gone, and it cannot
hurt you: Hos. 13:14: "I will ransom them from the power of the grave: I
will redeem them from death: O death, I will be your plague; O grave, I will
be your destruction."
Lastly, Are you 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
therefore take up David's song, and sing, "The Lord lives, and blessed be my
rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted."