From “Meditations Against Despair,” The Practice of Piety (1613)
If Satan shall persuade you that you have been doubting a long time, and that it is best for you now to despair, seeing you sins increase, and you judgment draws near, meditate on the following:
No sin, though never so great, should be a cause to move any Christian to despair, because God’s mercy by so many millions of degrees is greater; and every penitent and believing sinner has the pardon of all his sins confirmed by the word and oath of God, “two immutable things, wherein it is impossible that God should lie” (Heb. 6:18) His word is, that at what time soever a sinner, whosoever, doth repent of his sins, whatsoever (for both time, and sins, and sinners are indefinite) from the bottom of his heart, God will blot forth all his sins out of his remembrance, that they shall be mentioned unto him no more.
If we will not take his word (which God forbid we should doubt of) he hath given us his oath. “As I live, I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek. 33:11). As if he had said, Will you not believe my word? I swear by my life, that I delight not to damn any sinner for his sins, but rather to save him upon his conversion and repentance. The meditation of which moved Tertullian to exclaim, “O how happy are we, when God swears that he wills not our damnation! O what miserable wretches are we, if we will not believe God when he swears this truth to us!”
Listen, O drooping spirit, whose soul is assailed with waves of faithless despair, how happy would it be to see many like you and Hezekiah, who mourn like doves for the sense of sin, and chatter like cranes and swallows for the fear of God’s anger (Isa. 38:14), rather than to behold many who die like beasts without any feeling of their own state, or any fear of God’s wrath, or tribunal-seat, before which they are to appear!
Comfort yourself, O languishing soul, for if this earth has any for whom Christ spilled his blood on the cross, you assuredly are one. Cheer up therefore yourself in the all-sufficient atonement of the blood of the Lamb, which speaks better things than that of Abel (Heb. 12:24) and pray for those who never yet obtained the grace to have such a sense and detestation of sin. You are one, indeed, for whom Christ died; and from whom a wounded spirit, judging rather according to his feeling than his faith, has wrung that doleful voice of Christ, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And doubt not, but ere long you shall as truly reign with him, as now you suffer with him; for yes and Amen has spoken it (2 Tim. 2:11; 2 Cor. 1:20; Rev. 3:14). No sin bars a man from salvation, but only incredulity and impenitency (Heb. 6:6). Nothing makes the sin against the Holy Ghost unpardonable, but want of repentance. Your unfeigned desire to repent is as acceptable to God, as the most perfect repentance that you could wish to perform for him.
Meditate upon these evangelical comforts, and you shall see that in the very agony of death, God will so assist you with his Spirit, that when Satan looks for the greatest victory, he shall receive the foulest foil.
Lewis Bayly (d.1631) was an Anglican bishop and spiritual writer, an important Puritan leader who was chaplain to King James I, and then Bishop of Bangor. His Practice of Piety was one of the seventeenth century’s most influential and widely translated devotional texts, and was responsible for the conversion of John Bunyan.