Taken and adapted from, “A Treatise of Man’s Imaginations”
Written by William Perkins, (1558–1602)
A great evil thought concerning God is…
…the thought of distrust, thus framed in the mind; God does not regard me; God will not help me; God will not be merciful unto me: This thought made entrance unto the fall of our first parents: for first Eve looked upon the fruit, and saw that it was beautiful, and then entered into her heart a thought of distrust after this manner; It may be it is not true which God has said to us concerning this fruit, and it may be God regards us not as we think he does, in that he denies us this fruit; hereupon her will and her affections were carried to the breaking of Gods commandment, and so she sinned by disobedience, and Adam also sinned.
When the people of Israel murmured in the wilderness Moses sinned a sin, for he was debarred entrance into the land of Canaan: Now what was Moses sin? For both he and Aaron prayed to the Lord, and checked the people saying, Hear oh ye rebels, And at Gods commandment did he not bring water out of the rock? Surely his sin was secret, even an inward unbelief and distrust in Gods promise, for when he smote the rock, he might think thus with himself, it may be that God will not now give water out of the rock; and this seems the more probable, because he went beyond his commission in smiting thrice upon the rock, when God bad him only to speak unto it. This evil thought takes hold of religious David also: I said in mine hast I am cast out of thy sight, as though he should say, Heretofore I have found favor with God, but now in mine adversity I am utterly rejected: Again, I said in my fear, all men are liars: that is, when fear of death took hold of me, then I thought that Samuel lied unto me, when he said I should come to the kingdom over Israel. The children of Israel did often betray this thought of distrust, when they were pinched with hunger, and famine in the wilderness, they say, Can God provide a table for us in the wilderness? Can he give bread and flesh for his people? As if they should say, we think he cannot, nor will not: Yea the Apostle Peter was not free from this thought, for when Christ walking on the waters, commanded Peter to come unto him, he came out boldly, walked towards Jesus, but when He saw a mighty wind, he began to sink: whence came this? Surely from a thought of distrust which he had in his heart to this effect: It may be God will not support me in this my walking: and that this or some such thought was in his heart appears by Christ’s answer to him saying, Oh you of little faith, why didst you doubt? By all which it is evident that this is a natural thought in the mind of man, which at some time troubles even the most righteous man.
Now touching this thought of distrust, two things are to be gleaned:
First, the time when it takes place in man’s mind; Second, the danger of it.
As for the time; this thought is not always in the mind of man, but only in the time of some danger, affliction, and temptation, and especially in the time of sickness, and in the pangs of death. Thus in his grievous affliction was righteous Job troubled with this thought of distrust: for then he complained, that God did hate him and gnash upon him with his teeth, and as his enemy, sharpened his eyes against him; Yea, that he made him as his target, and mark to shoot at. And David in a grievous trouble of mind, thus complained: Will the Lord absent himself forever? And will be show no more favor? Is his mercy clean gone forever? Does this promise fail for evermore? Has God forgotten to be merciful, whereby it appears, that in his affliction David was greatly troubled with this distrustful thought; and there is no man living, but when trouble affliction comes, he shall feel in himself these thoughts of distrust. Indeed while peace and ease continues, presumptuous thoughts possess the mind; but when the days of peace be gone, troublesome times approach, then presumptuous thoughts are replaced, and thoughts of distrust come into their mind, instead.
The danger of these thoughts of distrust is very great, as the fruits themselves declare: for from it arise;
First, all horrors, and terrors of conscience, all fears, and astonishments of the heart: For when the mind says (though falsely) God does not regard me, God will not save me, then the trembling heart is full of horror and dread.
Second, then comes desperation itself, whereby men confidently vouch that God has forsaken them, and cast them off, and that there is no hope of life, but present death, remaining for them: this thought troubles the mind of the wicked, and of the repentant person also: for desperation is nothing but the strength of this thought of distrust. Thirdly, this weakens the foundation of our salvation, which stands in the certainty of God’s promises, for this thought of distrust denies credit to God’s promises, and makes them uncertain: Among all other evil thoughts this does most directly hinder salvation, for it is flat against faith, as water is to fire: for true faith makes a man say with good conscience, Christ died shed his blood for me, God the Father will be merciful unto me, and save me: But this distrustful thought causes a man to say the clean contrary, Christ died not for me: God will not save me: so that where this thought prevails, true faith is not, neither can take place.
Considering that the danger of this distrustful thought is so great, we must be admonished in the fear of God to use all good means, while the days of peace do last, that it take not place with us in the day of trouble and temptation: The means to repress it are the preaching of the word, and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lords Supper.
For the first: the word of God preached is a special means ordained of God, for the true applying of Gods promises of mercy to our own souls; and therefore a most sovereign remedy against this thought of distrust; for when the promises of mercy in Christ, are offered unto Gods people in the preaching of the word by a lawful Minister, it is as much as if Christ himself in his own person should speak unto them, by virtue of Gods ordinance. If God from heaven should say to any man, mercy belongs to thee, he would believe: if God say to Cornelius, believe you, and my mercy belongs to thee, Cornelius will believe; if he say to Peter believe you, and my mercy belongs to thee, Peter will believe: if he say so to Mary Magdalen, she will believe. Low, here, when the Minister of God, out of God’s word, says to any man, believe you, and repent you, and God’s mercy belongs unto thee; it is as much as if the Lord should call him by name particularly, and say unto him, believe you, and repent, and my mercy belongs unto thee: yea it is all one as if God himself should say, I am thy Father and you are my child, if you will repent, and believe.
The second means which is also very effectual to cut off this thought of distrust, is Baptism. If any earthly prince give a pardon to any man, and put the man’s name in the pardon, and his own broad seal unto it, the man will never doubt of his pardon, but believe it. Behold, in Baptism God enters covenant with miserable wretched man, and herein makes promise of life unto him: yea he puts the man’s name in the covenant, sealing the same with his own seal: and therefore the party baptized, must believe against, this thought.
The third means, is the Lord’s Supper rightly administered and received: for therein the bread and wine given to the hand of every communicant by the Minister, are particular pledges tokens unto them of special mercy in Christ. These are the means which we must use with all good conscience in the days of peace, so that when troubles come, this thought of distrust may not prevail against us.