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abuse of God's mercy. This exasperates that high and tender attribute : for what can be more provoking than to imagine that the divine mercy should encourage sin, and protect unreformed sinners from the arrests of vindictive justice?
The blood that Ahab spared in Benhadad induced a deadly guilt, as that he spilt of Naboth; as God spake by the prophet to him, “Because thou hast spared that man, whom I appointed to destruction, thy life shall go for his life :” the application is easy, to spare the life of sin will cost the life of the sinner. One lust that adhering custom, or the closer nature, or any carnal interest so endears to men, that they do not sincerely desire and endeavour to mortify and forsake, will be fatal to them for
Some habitual sinners when terrified with the apprehension of future judgment, (for God sometimes thunders in the conscience as well as in the air) endeavour to quiet their fears by presuming that the death of Christ will reconcile offended justice, and his blood cleanse them from all sin. They will lean upon the cross to save them from falling into the bottomless pit, but not crucify one lust on it.
The vanity of this has been showed before : I shall only add, that it is most opprobrious to the Son of God, and most destructive to sinners; for it is to make him the minister of sin, as if he came into the world to compose a church of rotten and corrupt members, and unite it to himself: such a mystical body would be more monstrous than Nebuchadnezzar's image, of which the head was gold, and feet was miry clay. And this will be most destructive to their souls; for by turning the remedy of sin into an occasion of sinning, they derive a woful guilt from the death of Christ instead of the precious benefits purchased by it for true believers. For an unreformed sinner to oppose the blood of Christ to the fears of damnation, renders his condition desperate.
The most who continue in a sinful course, strive to elude the warnings of conscience, by resolving that after the season of sinning is passed, they will reform, and apply themselves to seek the favour and grace of God. But how hazardous, how incongruous is the delay of serious repentance? How hazardous ? The lives of sinners are forfeited in law, their time is a reprieve depending merely upon the favour of the Judge, how can they have a warrant for a day? But they are young, and strong, and think the day of death and their last account to be at a great distance. Vain security! as if death were not in every place, and every hour, as near rebellious sinners as their sins that deserve it : “ if thou doest evil,” says God to Cain, “ sin is at the door.” Damnation is ready to tread upon the heels of sinners, and if divine clemency and patience did not interpose, would immediately seize upon them. God sometimes shoots from the clouds, and breaks the strongest buildings into ruins : it is not the error of his hand, but his pity, that impenitent sinners escape his visible vengeance. But who can assure them of future time? • Besides, suppose that sinners who hate to be reformed whilst present temptations are so inviting, had a lease of time, can they command the grace of God? They now suppress the motions of the Spirit, and in effect say to him, as Felix to St. Paul, awakening his conscience with a sermon“ of righteousness, and temperance, and judgment to come: Go away for the present, when it is a convenient season I will call for thee." But will the holy Spirit assist them at death who have always resisted him in their lives? Without his powerful quickening grace, they will be unrelenting in their guilty polluted state: and can they have any regular hope to obtain repentance unto life, when they have so often quenched his warm excitations ? Delay proceeds from hardness of heart, and merits final desertion from God.
How incongruous is it to expect, that divine mercy will accept of a death-bed repentance, that is merely by constraint of fear, and à resolution to live well when they know they can live no longer ? To continue in sin upon this conceit, that God will easily be reconciled to sinners at the last ; that confession with the mixed affections of sorrow and fear, for the sensible effects of sin in pains and sickness, and worse that immediately attend it in the next state, will obtain a total and final acquittance from our Judge, is an extreme dishonour to his ruling wisdom, his unspotted holiness, his incorruptible justice, and inviolable truth. The mercy of God that will justify all unfeignedly repenting believing sinners for Christ's sake, will justify God in the condemning wilful obstinate sinners, who render themselves eternally unworthy of it.
To conclude the motives; if we desire the favour of God that is better than life, if we fear his wrath that is worse than death, if we would obtain heaven, or escape hell, let us mortify our respective sins.
I shall now propound the means that are requisite for the preserving us from our special sins. If the following rules seem harsh and distasteful to the carnal mind, it is to be considered, that medicines for the recovery and preservation of health, are not sweetmeats of a pleasant relish.
(1.) In order to the keeping ourselves pure and upright, we must be inquisitive to understand intimately and distinctly what are the sins to which we are most liable: for he that doth not know what he should fear, is careless, and secure, easily disordered and vanquished by a temptation. Some lusts are open and notorious in the gross commission : others lie deep and are of a harder disclosure. Ignorance is the strong defence of sin ; it begins in inward darkness : the captive is kept securely in the dungeon. The understanding directs the will, the will commands the practice: if the sin be undiscovered, we are not acquainted with our danger, and shall not avoid it. A principal part of our knowledge is terminated upon ourselves : what is the weakest part with respect to our natures, minds, and affections : otherwise not provided of defence, we shall be overcome without resistance.
Now by applying the rules that have been largely insisted on in explicating the doctrinal point, we may understand our peculiar sins. If we consider our constitution, we may know what șins are suitable to our tempers. Our frequent lapses are a sensible discovery how the weight of nature inclines us. The reflecting upon the several ages of life, and our conditions in the world, will be an indication what sins endanger our souls: the young are strongly disposed to pleasures, the old to avarice, the healthful and prosperous to intemperance in the use of worldly things, the sick and afflicted to impatience, the rich to security, the poor to envy.
When the special sin is found stripped of its flattering colours, divest it of its alluring dress, that it may appear in its foul deformity, and kindle an aversion in our breasts against it. The correcting vicious errors begins in the enlightened mind, * that
* Et hoc ipsum argumentum est in melius translati animi, quod vitia sua quæ ad huc ignorabat videt. Senec, Epist. 6.
discovers them, and our proneness to them. And since we are $0 apt to disguise our darling sins, and to be partial to ourselves, let us with the psalmist, pray to the Father of lights, “ that he would search us, and try us, and see whether there be any way of wickedness in us, to discover it to us by the light of his word, and cover it with his pardoning mercy, and lead us in the way everlasting.”
(2.) Diligent watchfulness and circumspection is an effectual means to keep ourselves from the sins that easily encompass us. This implies prudence to discover dangers, and the exercise of the spiritual powers to prevent and resist them. Watchfulness is a universal duty of constant revolution : there are respective duties that belong to persons according to their relations, and several conditions: there are duties of stated times and seasons ; but the duty of watchfulness to prevent sin, extends to all in this frail state, according to our Saviour's command to his disciples, " what I say
I say unto all, watch :” and at all times; for though we are not always engaged in actual fight, we are always in the field, liable to manifold temptations, that are ready to surprise us upon careless neglect of our duty. Habitual grace if it be not drawn forth into exercise by constant watchfulness, cannot fortify us against sin.
A saint that is humble and watchful, preserves himself from the power and infection of sin, that another who in degrees of grace excels him, but relaxes his watch, is sadly foiled by. Joseph, a young man, by vigilance, and avoiding the temptation, kept himself untainted from the impure solicitations of his mistress: David, though of great experience in religion, and of eminent holiness, yet when he intermitted his watch, how suddenly was he surprised ? From a careless glance, curiosity passed into complacence, complacence into lust, lust into adultery, and is an eternal example to excite our fear and caution. If there be not a continued diligence, the same holy person that with defiance and indignation has resisted the tempter at some times, has been vanquished at other times. Lot was righteous in Sodom, but how foully and wofully he fell in the mountain ?
Now our chief care must be directed to avoid our special sins. It is a fundamental rule in the christian life, that our weakest part is to be guarded with most jealousy, and fortified with the strongest defence : for the most frequent and dangerous assaults are on the side that is most open to surprise. * The subtile tempter addresses his insinuations in compliance to our affections: he knew the softness of Adam towards his wife, and chose her to be the instrument of persuading him to eat of the forbidden fruit. Every one has a carnal part, that like Eve the mother of our miseries, is prevalent to corrupt us, and accordingly he suits his temptations. It was the crafty counsel of Balaam to Balak, Numb. 31. 16. not to encounter the Israelites with armed soldiers, but with the allurements of women, by whom they were corrupted and seduced to impurity and idolatry; and thereby provoked God's wrath, and were divested of his protection. When Ulysses was employed to discover Achilles, who was concealed in the habit of a virgin amongst the maids of honour, he carried a f pack of toys, and a lance: and whilst the women were looking upon the ribbons, and lace, and glasses, Achilles takes up the lance, that was suitable to his martial spirit, and so was discovered, and drawn to the Trojan war, that proved fatal to him. Thus the tempter is observant of our inclinations : he will interpret a blush, a glance, a smile, a discontented gesture, any signs of our affections, and by proper motives excites the desiring and angry appetites, and is usually successful. His advantage is chiefly from our security. It is easy to surprise a suspectless enemy. St. Peter straitly warns us, “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.".. Pet. 5. 8. His diligence is equal to his malice. If we are not wise and watchful, we shall fall into his snares. There is a fearful instance of it in Adam, who lost the image and favour of God in an hour, that his posterity cannot recover to all ages; yet there was no corruption in his nature, he was furnished with sufficient grace: he might easily have repelled the motion to the confusion of the tempter; but through carelessness he neglected his duty to the eternal Lawgiver, slighted the double death, that of the soul and the body, that was threatened to deter him from sin, and innocence did not preserve him from seduction. What reason is there to make us watchful, both against our spiritual