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cnemies, and our own drowsiness, lest security steal upon us without observation ? for our hearts are as ready to sin as Satan is to tempt: besides the impression from tempting objects without us, there is treacherous danger within : our prime care must be to keep a severe command over our minds and hearts, to prevent the entrance of sin. The carnal appetite allures the will to consent to the actual commission, by the mediation of the mind that represents the pleasures and profits of sin. Therefore conscience must be a vigilant sentinel to prevent, as far as is possi- . ble, the first springing thoughts, the first risings of the sinful affections. Sinful thoughts and desires are possible acts, and are more odious to God than the gross commission is to men. The pernicious inspirations of the tempter are gradual: as one that kindles a fire with a small breath, cherishes the faint sparks till raised into a flame; so warm desires are cherished by the thoughts, till they break forth into a wilder flame. This is the most difficult part of our duty; we may more easily decline temptations from without, than keep a constant guard within. But there is no * excuse for the neglect of this duty, the consequence being of no less moment than salvation. “We are commanded to keep the heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life, and of death also.” As the elective faculty is inclined and determined, such will be the quality of our actions, either holy and good, or vicious and evil, and such will be the reward in the next state. It is true, it is morally impossible for even the best men to be so exact in their watch, but vain thoughts may suddenly spring into the mind, and indeliberate motions may rise in the will, (which should be matter of sorrow :) but we may suppress those beginnings of sin, and prevent the morose thoughts, the musings of the mind upon the pleasure or profit, that makes the temptation so strong as to overcome us. If a watch be set at the gates of a town, to prevent any commerce with infected places, though it is not possible to exclude pestilential vapours that mix with the air, and fly imperceptibly about, yet the persons and goods that come from infected places may be excluded, “ A child of God keeps himself, that the wicked one touches him
Multa sunt observanda venia, ubi de salute certatur.
ugnantibus, si quidem nulla est negligentiæ Veget,
not ;" that is, receives no defiling impressions, by yielding to his suggestions.
Our next care must be to avoid the outward temptations, that are apt to excite those lusts that are most natural to us. The art of our spiritual enemy is to make use of objects * without, to entice the affections within us. The world affords variety of temptations, that through the senses pierce the heart and wound the spirit. It is therefore our duty and safety, with the strictest caution, to guard our senses. The most make no other use of their senses than the brutes; it were well they made no worse. The acts of the understanding are immanent and invisible, the affections mix with sensible objects, and are actuated with heat and motion from them. For this reason holy men have been so careful to lay a restraint upon the senses. Job “ made a covenant with his eyes, not to look upon a maid.” “ turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity.” When Solomon had so earnestly pressed the divine counsel “ to keep the heart with diligence,” he annexes most fitly for that end; " put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee: let thy eyes look right on, and let thy eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established : turn not to the right hand or the left; remove thy foot from evil.” The sum of which counsel is, that we should so exactly guard our sensitive faculties, so order our words, our looks, our ways, as to preserve ourselves from every evil thing. Our great security is in flying from temptations. Lot was strictly commanded “ not to look back on Sodom :" his wife, by casting a lingering eye towards it, was turned into a pillar of salt, to season the world by her example, to beware of the occasions of sin.”
It is extreme folly to enter into temptation : for as near as the melting of wax is when it is near the flame, so are the carnal affections of being enticed, and the will of consenting when near inflaming objects. Our sad experience may instruct us, how prone our hearts are to yield to inviting occasions of sin, and how often we have been foiled by venturing into the confines of temptation. Solomon observes, “ surely in vain is the net spread
* Eripiunt omnes apimo sine vulnere vires: hæc sunt jucundi causa cibusq;
in sight of any bird.” Prov. 1. 17. If the toils be never so craftily laid, and the bait be very enticing, yet a silly bird has that foresight and caution, that it will not be tempted to run into the net, but fly from the present danger. What unaccountable folly is it in men, though the temptations of sin are never so alluring to the carnal appetites, not to make use of the
and wing, to fear and fly from the entanglements of iniquity.
Besides, we forfeit the divine assistance, by entertaining the temptations of sin. The promise of preserving grace is to us while we are faithful to God : “ he will keep us in all our ways," whilst we are constant in our duty, otherwise we cannot depend upon his gracious presence and assistance. If a soldier be commanded by a general to fight a duel with an enemy, he will arm him with armour of proof, and secure him from treachery : but if one from vain glory, from rage or revenge, against the command of his superior shall engage in a duel, he fights with great hazard, and if he conquers, is punished for his disobedience. | Thus if in the regular course of our lives, the divine providence so order things, that temptations approach us, upon our earnest and constant prayer, we shall be furnished with “ the armour of God, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, the helmet of salvation.” But if we run into temptations, we provoke him to desert us; and if we are not overcome by them, yet for our transgressing his holy command, we are liable to his displeasure.
Confirming grace is a continual emanation from the Holy Spirit, without which we shall fall every hour. It is therefore extremely hazardous to venture into temptations : for the corrupt nature that with weight and violence inclines us to sin, is within, and supernatural strength to control the combined efficacy of the inclination, and the occasion is from above, which is justly withdrawn when we “grieve the Holy Spirit,” by conversing with the temptations of sin. “ The fear of the Lord is clean,” effectively, as it induces an holy caution and circumspection to preserve ourselves from the defiling, captivating snares of sin. It is a petition more necessary than that for our daily bread; “ lead us not into temptation :” considering our inseparable frailty, and the arts of our spiritual enemies to take every advantage over us, we should with all possible ardency of affection pray, that we be not exposed to temptations, or not vanquished by them: but if we rashly expose ourselves, our prayers will be an indictment against us, and we shall fall under condemnation.
(3.) Serious resolutions, and solemn engagements, are of excellent efficacy to bind our deceitful hearts from yielding to sin. In the christian life a general resolution is absolutely necessary, of being faithful to God, never to have correspondence with his enemies, but always to cleave to our duty, notwithstanding all the allurements or terrors of the world to supplant our integrity, and surprise our constancy. David tells us,
I have sworn and will perform it, that I will keep thy.righteous judgments.” Psal. 119. 106. The divine law binds us antecedently to our consent, but having taken the oath of fidelity to God, there is superinduced a new obligation to fasten us to his service. After this, to revolt from our duty, is rebellion heightened with the guilt of perfidiousness. Besides, solemn engagements against particular sins are necessary : Ephraim “shall say, what have I to do any more with idols ?” He had been enchanted with the love of idols, which he renounces with indignation. A practical decree, a steadfast resolution to forsake our sin, will produce a diligent use of means in order to that end.
In resolving against sin, we must depend upon the present and perpetual assistance of the divine grace, without which our resolutions will neither be sincere nor effectual. Carnal men under judgments, do often relent and resolve against their sins; from the convinced mind, transient wishes, and floating purposes of reformation arise : but till the heart be renewed by divine grace, the will is incomplete: there are secret and sometimes undiscerned affections to sin, that by new temptations are drawn forth and betray them to satan. It is a charge against the hypocrites in the prophecy of Hosea, “they were like a deceitful bow," that being ill made, or ill bent, never sent the arrow directly to the mark : sometimes after the carnal faculties have been sated with the gross fruition, men renounce their sins, and promise they will never “ return more to folly:" but those resolutions are as insufficient to fortify them against the new incursion of tempting objects, as a wall of glass to resist the battery of cannon ; for there is no permanent overruling principle in the heart, that makes the resolution steadfast against sin. But suppose the resolutions be sincere, and proceed from a full bent of the heart
against sin, yet if divine grace do not ratify them, a strong temptation will break them, as a gust of wind breaks the strings of a cobweb. St. Peter consulting his affection, not his strength, presumptuously engaged to his master, “ though all men forsake thee, I will not forsake thee:” but in the time of trial, surprised with so strong a fear, that precluded serious recollection, and distracted his mind from the deliberate comparing of the evil of sin with the instant danger, he most unworthily denied his mas-. ter, and is a sad instance how weak and wavering the best men are, without the continual influences of the holy spirit to determine their wills, and make them with unfainting courage persevere in their duty.
There is a vast difference between the sight of a storm at sea, and a ship in violent agitation by the winds and waves, and the miserable passengers with pale affrighted countenances, expecting present death, in a lively picture; and being in a real ship, in the midst of a real tempest, and in real danger of being swallowed
up by the ocean. The sight of such a spectacle without fear, is but painted courage, as the object is upon which it is exercised: if one should presume that his heart were impenetrable to fear, because he sees the representation of extreme danger without fear, it were egregious folly, and would be soon confuted if he were actually in extreme danger of perishing in the raging sea. Thus there is a great difference between temptations represented in our thoughts, and when immediately and really before us: and between religious resolutions when temptations are at a distance, and when actually incumbent on us. There may be such resolutions conceived in the mind in the absence of temptations, that we may think ourselves guarded safely against our sins; and yet at the first encounter of a strong temptation, our resolutions
cool and faint, and our vows of obedience may vanish as the “ morning dew before the heat of the sun :”. there is such a levity and featheriness in our minds, such a inutability and inconstancy in our hearts. Therefore the scripture doth so frequently inculcate the duty of continual trust in God, to assist us by his strength to overcome our spiritual enemies. Divine grace raises our thoughts into steadfast resolutions against sin, turns our resolutions into holy, aetions, our actions into permanent habits.“ God works in us, to will and to do of his good pleasure.”