« PreviousContinue »
and to look inward, and to see conscience accusing and condemning; and to look downwards, and see hell's mouth open to receive the impenitent soul; and all this to render the work of repentance impossible to the soul. 'What," says Satan, ' dost thou think that that is easy, which the whole power of grace cannot conquer, while we are in this world?' 'Is it easy,' says Satan, ' to turn from some outward act of sin to which thou hast been addicted? Dost thou not remember that thou hast often complained against such and such particular sins, and resolved to leave them? and yet to this hour thou hast not, thou canst not. What will it then be to turn from every sin? yea, to mortify and cut otf those sins, those darling lusts, that are as joints and members, that are as right hands and right eyes? Hast thou not.loved thy sins above thy Saviour? Hast thou not preferred earth before heaven? Hast thou not all along neglected the means of grace? and despised the offers of grace? and vexed the Spirit of grace? There would be no end, if I should set before thee the infinite evils that thou hast committed, and the innumerable good services that thou hast omitted, and the frequent checks of thy own conscience that thou hast contemned; and therefore thou mayst well conclude, that thou canst never repent, that thou shalt never repent. Now do but a little consider thy numberless sins, and the greatness of thy sins, the foulness of thy sins, the heinousness of thy sins, the circumstances of thy sins; and thou shalt easily see, that those sins which thou thoughtest to be but motes, are indeed mountains; and is it not now in vain to repent of them?' 'Surely,'. says Satan, 'if thou shouldest seek repentance and grace with tears, as Esau, thou shalt not find it. Thy glass is out, thy sun is set, the door of mercy is shut, the golden sceptre is taken in; and now thou, who hast despised mercy, shalt be for ever destroyed by justice. For such a wretch as thou art to attempt repentance, is to attempt a thing impossible. It is impossible that thou, who in all thy life couldst never conquer one sin, should master such a numberless number of sins; which are so near, so dear, so necessary, and so profitable to thee; which have so long bedded and boarded No. Xlii. 2 G
with thee; which have been old acquaintance and companions with thee. Hast thou not often purposed, promised, vowed, and resolved, to enter upon the practice of repentance; but to this day couldst never attain it? Surely it is in vain to strive against the stream, where it is so impossible to overcome. Thou art lost and cast for ever; to hell thou must, to hell thou shalt.' Ah, souls, he that now tempts you to sin by suggesting to you the easiness of repentance, will at last work you to despair, and present repentance as the hardest work in all the world; and a work as far above man, as heaven is above hell, as light is above darkness. O that you were wise, to break off your sins by timely repentance.
Dev. 7. Now the seventh device that Satan has to draw the soul to sin, is by making the soul bold to venture upon the occasions of sin. Says Satan, 'You may walk by the harlot's door though you will not go into the harlot's bed. You may sit and sip with the drunkard, though you will not be drunk with the drunkard. You may look upon Jaebel's beauty, and you may play and toy with Delilah, though you do not commit wickedness with the one or the other. You may, with Achan, handle the golden wedge, though you do not steal the golden wedge.'
Now the remedies against this device of the devil, are these—
Rem. 1. The first remedy is, solemnly to dwell upon those scriptures that expressly command,us to avoid the occasions of sin, and the least appearance of evil. Abstain from all appearance of evil: whatsoever is heterodox, unsound and unsavoury, shun it, as you would a serpent in your way, or poison in your meat. Theodosius tore the Arians arguments presented to him in writing, because he found them repugnant to the scriptures; and Augustine retracted even ironies only, because they had the appearance of lying. When God had commanded the Jews to abstain from swine's flesh, they would not so much as name it, but in their common talk would call a sow another thing. To abstain from all appearance of evil, is to, do nothing wherein sin appears, or which has a shadow of sin. Bernard glosses finely, ' To avoid whatever is of evil shew or of ill report, that he may neither wound conscience nor credit.' We must shun, and be shy of the very shew and shadow of sin, if either we regard our credit abroad, or our comfort at home.
It was good counsel that Livia gave her husband Augustus, 'It behoveth thee not only not to do wrong, but not to seem to do so.' So Jude; And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. This is a phrase taken from legal uncleanness, which was contracted by touching the houses, the vessels, the garments, of unclean persons. Under the law, men might not touch a menstruous cloth, and God would not accept of a spotted peace-offering. So we must not only hate and avoid gross sins, but every thing that may carry a savour or suspicion of sin; we must abhor the very signs and tokens of sin. So in Prov. v. 8; Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house. He that would not be burnt, must dread the fire; he that would not hear the bell must not meddle with the rope. To venture upon the occasion of sin, and then to pray, Lead us not into temptation, is all one, as to thrust thy finger into the fire, and then to pray that it might not be burnt. So in Prov. iv. 14,15. you have another command; Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men; avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away. This triple gradation of Solomon, shews, with a great emphasis, how necessary it is for men to flee from all appearance of sin, as the seaman shuns sands and shelves, and as men shun those that have the plague-sores running upon them. As weeds endanger the corn, as bad humours endanger the blood, or as an infected house endangers the neighbourhood; so does the company of the bad endanger those that are good. Entireness with wicked consorts is one of the strongest chains of hell, and binds us to a participation of both sin and punishment.
Rem. 2. Solemnly consider that ordinarily there is no conquest over sin, unless the soul turns from the occasion of sin. It is impossible for that man to get the conquest of sin, who plays and sports with the occasions of sin. Godwin not remove the temptation, except you turn from the occasion. It is a just and righteous thing with God, that he should fall into the pit, who will adventure to dance upon the brink of the pit; and that he should be a slave to sin, who will not flee from the occasions of sin. As long as there is fuel in our hearts for a temptation, we cannot be secure. He who has gunpowder about him, had need keep far enough off from sparks. To rush upon the occasion of sin, is both to tempt ourselves, and to tempt Satan to tempt our souls. It is very rare that any soul plays with the occasions of sin, but that soul is ensnared by sin. It is seldom that God keeps that soul from the acts of sin, that will not keep off from the occasions of sin. He that adventures upon the occasion of sin, is as he that would quench the fire with oil, which is a fuel to maintain it and increase it. Ah, souls, often remember, how frequently you have been overcome by sin, when you have boldly gone upon the occasions of sin. Look back, souls, to the day of your vanity, wherein you have been as easily conquered as tempted, vanquished as assaulted, when you have played with the occasions of sin. As you would for the future be kept from the acting sin, and be made victorious over sin, O flee from the occasions of sin.
Rem. 3. Seriously consider that other precious saints who were once glorious on earth, and are now triumphing in heaven, have turned from the occasion of sin, as hell itself; as you may see in Joseph; And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her. Joseph was famous for all the four cardinal virtues, if ever any were; in this one temptation you may see his fortitude, justice, temperance and prudence, in that he shuns the occasion, for he would not so much as be with her. And that a man is* indeed, that he is in temptation, which is but a tap to give vent to corruption. The Nazarite might not only not drink wine, but not taste a grape, or the husk of a grape. The leper was to shave his hair, and pare his nails. The devil counts a fit occasion, half a conquest, for he knows that corrupt nature has a seed-plot for all sin, which being drawn forth and watered by some sinful occasion is soon set a work to the producing of death and destruction. God will not remove the temptation, till we remove the occasion. A bird while aloft, is safe, but she comes not near the snare without danger. Shunning the occasions of sin renders a man most like the best of men. A soul eminently gracious, dares not come near the train, though he be far off the blow. So Job xxxi. 1; I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid? I set a watch at the entrance of my senses, that my soul might not by them be infected or endangered. The eye is the window of the soul, and if that should be always open, the soul might smart for it. A man may not look intently upon that, which he may not love entirely. The disciples were set agog, by beholding the beauty of the temple. It is best and safest to have the eye always fixed upon the highest and noblest objects; as the mariners' eye is fixed upon the star, when their hand is upon the stern. So David when he was himself, shuns the occasion of sin. I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers; I have hated the congregation of evil doers, and will not sit with the wicked, Psalm xxvi, 4, 5. . ' .
Stories speak of some that could not sleep, when they thought of the trophies of other worthies who went before them. The highest and choicest examples are to some, and should be to all, very quickening and provoking. And O that the examples of those worthy saints, David, Joseph, and Job, might prevail with all your souls to shun and avoid the occasions of sin. Every one should strive to be like to them in grace, whom they desire to be equal with in glory. He that shoots at the sun, though he be far short, will shoot higher than he that aims at a shrub. It is best, and it speaks out much of Christ within, to eye the highest and the worthiest examples.
Rem. 4. Solemnly consider that avoiding the occasions of sin is an evidence of grace, and that which lifts up a man above most other men in the world. That a man is indeed, which he is in temptation; and when sinful occasions present themselves before the soul, this speaks out both the truth and the strength of grace, when, with Lot, a man can be chaste in Sodom; and, with Timothy, can live temperately in Asia, among the luxurious Ephesians; and,