The Anchor of Hope will then be broken.
Secondly, I shall speak to the properties of this departure from Christ, or loss therein.
In this short chapter he lays out aspects of the loss of Christ for eternity, which will be end of those without godliness. The purpose of this review is create a rationale and desire to pursue godliness, which will be the focus of the treatise.
This first paragraph is interesting in its ontology: he impliedly gives his understanding of the functioning of the soul.
1. It [the loss of Christ] is spiritual [loss]. It is a loss peculiar to the soul or spirit of man, and a loss of that good that is most suitable to the soul or spirit of man. No mercies are like soul-mercies, Eph. 1:3, and Job 4:4; no miseries are like soul-miseries.
This proposition is something which is not intuitive for someone reading the work today. The social imaginary is something along the lines of naturalism and materialism. The soul, at best, is a bare conception meant to express our self-awareness.
He then provides an image to back up his argument. This analogy is unlikely to be persuasive in an age of leveling – perhaps he would have to speak of a celebrity being made unhappy!
For, the nobler any being is, the better that is which advantageth it, and the worse that is that injureth it. It is one thing to relieve or abuse a distressed prince, and another thing to relieve or abuse a distressed subject. The soul of man is the prince, the chief and noblest part of man, and it is principally the subject, as chiefly sensible of this departure.
What he means here: Since nothing can be actually away from God’s presence (there is no existence apart from God), the soul cannot be apart from God in a spatial sense; there is not some place for the soul to get to. However, there is a psychological distance which can be had. I may be sitting next to you on a bench; but I can be very hard away in terms of “connection.”
It is true the soul cannot depart from God locally, but it can and doth morally here in its affections and conversation.
Here makes an emphatic argument. Having logically laid out his case, that the spiritual loss of Christ is the greatest loss which can befell one, he here makes an argument to raise an emotional response to the proposition. There is a kind of preacher or teacher who thinks that in spiritual matters what one needs is information. That information conveyed in a dull manner is then understood to have truly expressed what needs to be known.
Such a thought is false. Part of the information is the manner in which the information affects the hearer. A warning given in dull, quiet tones is conveying a meaning contrary to the words: Yes, there is a fire, but it is not really dangerous. Yes you must exit the building, but don’t worry about it.
This is a good display of rhythm and sound to underscore the meaning. I have broken it down into clauses to better see the work. Notice in this paragraph, the repetition of sounds, particularly the first “p” in words. Notice also how the clauses are balanced. Notice the repetition of words at the beginning of clauses to underscore the balance: “Other losses”, “and the portion”; the contrast of words: Pinch-pierceth; practice/pleasure – torment/punishment. Notice how “torment” and “punishment” rhyme to draw the concepts closer together.
How does he construct such a careful argument? First, by much exposure to such structures. There is a part of this which is intuitive, assimilated from much reading and hearing. Part of it is the result of practice and effort. Part of it is from editing and re-writing. A good place to start thinking of this is “Why Johnny Can’t Preach”.
But that which is now its practice and pleasure,
will then be their torment and punishment.
Other losses pinch the flesh,
but this pierceth the spirit.
Other losses are castigatory,
and the portion of children;
but this is damnatory,
and the portion of devils.
Here is another stanza, if you will, which again uses rhetorical structures to make the concept clearer and more emphatic. Notice the use of w’s and s’s; the use of r’s and d’s within a line: revive/refresh; dismal/doleful/death/depart.
Ah, how will the soul pine and wither away,
when it shall take its farewell of that Sun,
who alone could revive and refresh it!
What a dismal, doleful death must it undergo,
when it shall depart from him who is its only life!
Such a wounded spirit who can bear?
His last point then draws the whole together: the soul’s greater reality means that the pain I have expressed will be felt more exquisitely, than pain is experienced by the body.
The soul hath more exquisite sense, and more curious feeling, than the body; therefore its loss of its own peculiar suitable satisfying good will cut deep, and fill it with bitter horror.
Next he considers the nature of the departure:
2. It will be a total departure. Here they depart in part from God, but then totally.
In this world they have departed in part; in eternity there will be no reconciliation. To prove his point, he argues by analogy from the lesser (a departure in this life) to the greater (the eternal departure). His first argument is from the experience of Cain. The point being that if this is a trial for the wicked in this life, how much more in the life to come.
Here Cain complains, if not allowed God’s presence in ordinances, though he had his presence in many ways of ordinary favour: ‘Behold, thou hast driven me this day from the face of the earth, and from thy face shall I be hid,’ Gen. 4:14. But, alas! Low doth he complain there, where he is wholly deprived of the divine presence in any way of favour; where he hath not the least glimpse of the light of his countenance.
Next he provdes three examples from the godly, Job, David, Heman. The nature of the argument is that if the temporary departure of God experientially for the godly is such a trial; what must be the eternal despair of those who are eternally distanced from the gracious presence of God? What hellish void must that be?
The partial departures of God have forced sad complaints from them that are godly: Job 13:24, ‘Why hidest thou thy face, and holdest me for thine enemy?’ saith Job. I can bear the withdrawings of men, and their absence; I can bear the strangeness of my friends, and the unkindness of relations, but I cannot bear thy strangeness to me, thy withdrawings from me. ‘Why hidest thou thy face?’ Job, though a strong stout man, able to overcome the strong one, the devil, yet was ready to faint away and die at this.
David crieth out mournfully at it: Ps. 10:1, ‘Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? why hidest thou thyself in time of trouble?’
Here, having given the examples, he explains the nature of the examples. Again this is good practice in preaching. I have sat through many sermons where a number of examples or cross references were read but it was never clear what was the point of these many example?
If these partial departures, which had much love in them and with them, cast down the friends of God so heavily, oh what will his total departures out of pure wrath cause to his enemies? That world must needs be dolesome and darksome indeed, to whom this Sun is wholly set, and totally eclipsed.
He takes the same point and now recasts it in terms of the sheer duration: forever. It is thus a hopeless state, because it cannot be remedied.
3. It will be an eternal departure. They must leave God for ever. Though it had been spiritual and total, yet if but temporal, there had been somewhat to have allayed their sorrows; but to suffer so great a loss, and that wholly and for ever too, must needs pierce to the quick.
There is a way in which this argument contains a presupposition. The wicked do not want to see Jesus now – why would he want to see him forever? Because that is the only hope for the despair he faces. Even if that knowledge is now buried under a seared conscience or a dull heart, the proposition remains true. Notice how this is also an ‘altar call’ moment. He is holding out Christ as altogether lovely. In this, notice how rather than merely piling adjectives, he uses pictures: a bridge, a gate, a gulf. These would not have been strange pictures to the original audience.
The sinner shall see the blessed Jesus no more for ever. He must depart from the tenderest father, lovingest friendship, richest treasure, choicest good, greatest glory, sweetest pleasure, and that for ever: Jude 13, ‘To whom is reserved blackness of darkness for ever.’
The sentence once denounced, ‘Depart from me,’ will be like the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be altered: 2 Thes. 1:8, 9, ‘Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.’
The anchor of hope will then be broken,
the bridge of grace will then be drawn,
the gate of mercy will then be shut,
and the gulf between Christ and the wicked never to be passed over.
Again notice the careful construction of the clauses: there is a balance of sound and rhythm. He then proves his point with quotations flow naturally into the structure of his argument.
They may cry out in truth, what the psalmist in unbelief, ‘Will the Lord cast off for ever? will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever?’ Ps. 77:7, 8. Alas! they are cast off for ever; he will be favourable to them no more. They may roar out in vain, How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? shall I never be remembered? Ps. 13:1.
Finally, this loss can never be remedied in space or time. There is no god from the machine to rescue, because the God of Creation has ruled.
4. It is an irreparable loss, such a loss as nothing can make up.
He then draws a psychological reserve which may act to protect someone from the full danger of what is faced. Well, there are other good things which I have lost and yet not all was lost. Maybe there was discomfort, but there was not despair. Swinnock takes aim at that reserve:
There are many good things which we may do well without, because the want of them may be supplied by other things; but Christ is the one thing necessary, the one thing excellent, the want of whom no good thing in heaven or earth can make up.
When the soul departs from Christ it departs from all good, because nothing is good without him, and nothing can be had in the room of him.
He then offers a homely picture. Notice how again and again, he offers a proposition, explains it, illustrates it, and then returns to the proposition with Scriptural support.
If some kind of food be wanting, another kind may possibly do as well; so if some sort of drugs or herbs for physic be wanting, there may be others found of the same virtue and operation; but if once the soul be sentenced to depart from Christ, there is nothing to compensate this loss.
He is the Saviour, and indeed the only Saviour, Acts 4:12; he is the mediator between a righteous God and a guilty creature, and indeed the only mediator: 1 Tim. 2:5, ‘For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’