This sermon by Thomas Adams was preached on March 29, 1625, just after the death of King James
The Sinner’s Mourning-Habit
(A habit here means an outfit, the way one dresses in mourning.)
The text given is Job 42:6, “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent and dust and ashes.”
Adams begins with the implicit question, How does God speak to us, what does God do to gain our attention?
Affliction is a winged chariot, that mounts the soul toward heaven; nor do we ever rightly understand God’s majesty as when we are under our own misery….The Lord hath many messengers by which he solicits man….But among them all, none dispatcheth the business surer or sooner than affliction; if that fail of bring a man home, nothing can do it.
God had used affliction to gain the attention of Job and Job’s repentance here in “dust and ashes” is the end of that work. Where we may consider three degrees of mortification: the sickness, the death, and the burial of sin.
To study God is the way to make a humble man; and a humble man is in the way to come unto God.
Adams comes to the first word of the text, “Wherefore.” This establishes the basis upon which Job was humbled. Adams sees two elements here: (1) God’s majesty and (2) God’s mercy as the basis for Job’s humility.
As to majesty, “Mathematicians wonder at the sun, that, being so much bigger than the earth, it doth not set it on fire and burn it to ashes: but here is a wonder, that God being so infinitely great, and we so infinitely evil, we are not consumed.”
As to mercy: Meditating upon the mercy of God is the great means to humble us, “nothing more humbles a heart of flesh.”
It is a certain conclusion, no proud man knows God.
Humility is not only a virtue itself, but a vessel to contain other virtues: like embers, which keep the fire alive that is hidden under it. It empieth itself by a modest estimation of its own worth that Christ may fill it….All our pride, O Lord, is from want of knowing thee.
Next words, “I abhor myself. It is a deep degree of mortification for a man to abhor himself.”
He that doth not admire himself is a man to be admired.
But the children of grace have learned another lesson – to think well of other men, and to abhor themselves. And indeed, if we consider what master we have served, and what wages deserved, we have just cause to abhor ourselves. What part of us hath not sinned that it should not merit to be despised?
He then asks this question, which raises a fascinating psychological question as to the nature of self-centeredness and more particularly the sin-centeredness of human beings. Perhaps this centering upon sin is truly what is at issue in narcissism rather than the bare “self.” Here is Adams’ observation on this point:
That we love God far better than ourselves is soon said; but to prove it is not so easily done. He must deny himself that will be Christ’s servant, Mark viii. 34. Many have denied their friends, may have denied their kindred, not a few have denied their brothers, some have denied their own parents; but to themselves, this is a hard task. To deny their profits, to deny their lusts, to deny their reasons, to deny themselves? No, do to all this they utterly deny.
But this denial of self and abhorrence of the sin which inhabits this is the heart of repentance.
Thus, if we deny ourselves,
God will honor us.
If we abhor ourselves,
God will accept us.
If we hate ourselves,
God will love us.
If we condemn ourselves,
God will acquit us.
If we punish ourselves,
God will spare us.
Yea, thus if we seem lost to ourselves,
We shall be found in the day of Jesus Christ.
Next, he comes to the words, “I repent.” Rather than explain the nature of repentance, Adams’ goal is to bring us to repentance. He begins by noting that for many the potential for repentance perversely becomes an encouragement to sin. But such thinking is faulty, repentance – true repentance – can never be a basis to encourage sin: “repentance is a fair gift of God.”
Man’s heart is like a door with a spring-lock; pull the door after you, it locks of itself, but you cannot open it again without a key. Man’s heart naturally locks out grace; none but he that hath the key of the house of David, Rev. iii.7, can open the door and put it in. God hath made a promise to repentance, not of repentance; we may trust to that promise, but there is no trusting to ourselves.
We have no promise that God will grant us repentance, and without repentance there is no reconciliation with God. True repentance does not lie in magic words nor in our natural ability. True repentance is something given and granted by God.
Nor yet must we think with this one short word, ‘I repent,’ to answer for the multitude of our offenses; as if we, that had sinned in parcels, should be forgiven in gross….Nor is it enough to recount them, but we must recant them….
If we could truly weigh our iniquities, we must needs find a necessity of either repenting or of perishing.
Shall we make God frown upon us in heaven,
Arm all his creatures against us on earth?
Shall we force his curses upon us and ours;
Take his rod, and teach it to scourge us with all temporal plagues;
And not repent?
Shall we wound our consciences with sin,
That they may wound us with eternal torments;
Make a hell in our bosoms here,
And open the gates of that lower hell to devour us hereafter,
And not repent?
Do we give by sin Satan a right to us
A power over us
An advantange against us:
And not labor to cross his mischiefs by repentance?
Do we cast brimstone into that infernal fire,
As if it could not be hot enough, or we should fail of tortures expect we make ourselves our own tormentors?
And not rather seek to quench those flames without penitent tears?
How then will we put off sin? We cannot look to repentance as a remedy to sin if we look to it as an excuse for sin. We start with looking to the end of sin, “If we could see the farewell of sin, we would abhor it and ourselves for it.” Look at the consequence which will flow from the sin: what will happen? How will your conscience stand?
Finally the phrase, “Dust and ashes.”
This is a wonderful line, “I have but on stair more, down from both text and pulpit, and this a very low one, ‘Dust and ashes.’”
What keeps us from thinking of this end?
How may doth the golden cup of honor make drunk, and drive from all sense of mortality. Riches and heart’s ease are such usual intoxications to the souls of men, that it is rare to find any of them so low as dust and ashes.
Dust as the remembrance of his original; ashes, as the representation of his end. Dust, that was his mother; ashes, that shall be the daughter of our bodies.
Dust the matter of our substance, the house of our souls, the original grains whereof we were made, the top of all our kindred. The glory of the strongest man, the beauty of the fairest woman, all is but dust. Dust, the only compounder of differences, the absolver of all distinctions.
Who can say which was the client, which the lawyer;
which the borrower, which the lender;
which the captive, which the conqueror,
when they all lie together in blended dust?
The sport of the wind,
The very slave of the besom [a broom].
This is the pit from whence we are digged,
And this is the pit into which we shall be resolved.
As he writes later, we are made from dust and live in the empire of dust.
I call you not to casting dust on your heads
Or sitting in ashes
But to that sorrow and compunction of souls
Whereof the other was but an external symbol or testimony.
Let us rend our hearts and spare our garments
Humble our souls without afflicting our bodies. Is. lviii.5.
It is not the corpse wrapped in dust and ashes,
But a contrite heart,
Which the Lord will not despise. Ps. li. 17.
Let us repent our sins
And amend our lives;
So God will pardon us by the merits
Save us by the mercies,
And crown us with the glories of Jesus Christ.