« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
capable of instruction and discipline, and by coming near to reason, have a little imitation of liberty, they are rewarded or punished. But man in the condition wherein he was created, had perfect freedom, becoming the dignity of the reasonable creature, and was enriched with all the graces of which original righteousness was compounded : the harmonious orders, and coherent dispositions of the soul and body qualified him for his duty. But in the state wherein his voluntary sin has sunk him, the body is often distempered by the annoyance of the mind, and the soul pays an unnatural and injurious tribute to the vicious appetites of the body : and when corruption is heightened by custom, and the natural propensity inflamed by temptations, any lust becomes more irresistible: so that without a new nature inspired from above, they cannot rescue themselves from the bondage of sin.
Now the moral impotence in men to vanquish their lusts, though it will be no apology at the day of judgment, yet it will discourage them from making resistance: for who will attempt an impossibility ? Despair of success relaxes the active powers, cuts the nerves of our endeavours, and blunts the edge of industry. It is related of the West-Indians, that upon the first incursion of the Spaniards into their country, they tamely yielded to their tyranny : for seeing them clad in armour which their spears could not pierce, they fancied them to be the children of the sun, invulnerable and immortal. But an Indian carrying a Spaniard over a river, resolved to try whether he were mortal, and plunged him under water so long till he was drowned. From that experiment they took courage, and resolved to kill their enemies who were capable of dying, and recover their dear liberty lost by so foolish a conceit. Thus men will languish in a worse servitude, if they fancy the lusts of the flesh, their intimate enemies to be insuperable. Fear congeals the spirits, and dis,ables from noble enterprises, which hope persuades and courage executes. Now we have an army of conquerors to encourage us in the spiritual war with the flesh, the world, and satan, enemies in combination against us. How many saints have preserved themselves unspotted from the most alluring temptations ? They were not statues, without sensible faculties, but ordered them according to the rule of life; they were not without a conflict of carnal passions, but by the Holy Spirit subdued them : and though some obtained a clearer victory than others, yet all
were victorious by divine grace. The examples of so many holy and heavenly men, prove as clearly and convincingly, that the strongest lusts may be subdued, as the walking of Diogenes demonstrated there was progressive motion against the sophistical arguments of Zeno. “I can do all things, saith the apostle, through Christ that strengthens me.” To omnipotent grace all things are easy. Our Saviour speaking of the extreme difficulty of a rich man's salvation ; “ that it is as easy for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, as for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven,” presently mitigates the difficulty ; “ what is impossible to men, is possible to God.” He can sanctify a rich man, that his humility shall be as low, as his estate is raised above others; that his affection shall be heavenly in the affluence of the world ; that trust in God shall be his dearest treasure. Divine grace is a sure fountain of assistance to all that sincerely seek it. It is the promise of God, “ Ephraim shall say, what have I to do any more with idols ?” The idols that charmed their imaginations, should be rejected with deep abhorrence. Our Saviour cured the paralytic person that for thirty-eight years had been in a desperate case, incurable by natural remedies : an emblem of the efficacy of divine grace in curing the most inveterate habits of sin. There are recorded some eminent instances of the power of grace in changing the nature of men. Nicodemus came to our Saviour concealed, at first by night, as being ashamed or afraid of observation in the day: “ but when he was born again by the renovation of the spirit,” what an admirable change was wrought in him: with a holy heat of affection he defended our Saviour when alive, in the presence of the pharisees, his unrighteous and implacable enemies: he brought costly preparations for his funeral when dead: and these two glorious effects of his valour, are recorded by St. John with this addition, “ this is that Nicodemus that came to Jesus by night.” John 7. 19. John 19. 37. No passion is more ungovernable than fear, yet even the apostles did not express such fidelity and fervency for the honour of their master. Another instance is of the jailor that kept the apostles prisoners : he was of a harsh cruel temper, a quality adherent to his office; but grace so intenerated and softened his heart, that " he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, Acts 16. 33. A visible and sudden effect of the spirit of love and power, and of a sound
mind. It is recorded of many who used “ curious arts, they brought their magical books, though counted worth fifty thousand pieces of silver, and burnt them : so mightily grew the word of God, and prevailed.” Acts 19. 19, 20. How insuperable soever sin is to naked nature, it may be subdued by grace. St. John gives an honourable testimony of the christians to whom he wrote: “ my little children, ye are of God, and have overcome the evil one: for the spirit that is in you is greater than that which is in the world.” The Holy Spirit is not only greater in himself than the tempter, but as fortifying weak christians is superior to the evil spirit, with all his train of artillery, the manifold temptations which the world affords in his war against our souls. Satan takes advantage, not only from our security, but our pusillanimity : we are therefore “ commanded to resist the devil, and he will flee from us." * What is observed of the crocodile, is applicable to the great enemy of our salvation : he is terrible in his assaults upon the faint-hearted, but flies from those who are watchful to resist his temptations.
To excite christians to make serious and hopeful trials for the subduing the strongest corruptions, I will select-two examples of the virtuous heathens, who restrained anger and lust, that are the most rebellious passions against the empire of the mind. Socrates by natural temper was choleric, yet he had so far reduced his passions under the command of reason, that upon any violent provocation, his countenance was more placid and calm, his voice more temperate, and his words more obliging : thus by wise counsel and circumspection, he obtained a happy victory over himself.
The other is of young Scipio, the Roman general in Spain, who when a virgin of exquisite beauty was presented to him among other captives, religiously abstained from touching her, and restored her to the prince to whom she was espoused. How do such examples of the poor pagans, who in the glimmerings of nature expressed such virtues, upbraid christians who are servants to their corruptions in the light of divine revelation ? If by the practice of philosophy they kept themselves from the dominion of their carnal appetites, shall not christians by a supernatural aid obtain a clearer victory over them? In vain do men pre
* Terribilis contra fugaces hæc bestia, fugax contra sequentes. Plin,
tend want of strength to vanquish their stubborn lusts; for if they sincerely seek for divine grace, and are faithful in the use of means proper to that end, they shall obtain a blessed freedom from the power of sin. o sile b e talt ansa
(3.) The subduing the ruling lust, will make the victory over other sins more easy. Our commission against sin, is like that of Saul against the Amalekites, to destroy them all : if any one be spared, it will prove as fatal to us as the Amalekite that dispatched Saul, who suffered him to live when the whole lineace was doomed to utter excision. Now amongst the divers lusts that war against the soul, some are the leaders that give vigour to the rest, that recal them when withdrawn, rally them when scattered ; and renew the fight against us. As the virtues of the sanctified mind, so the passions of the carnal appetite assist one another : therefore when the corrupt passion that was so dangerously influential upon the rest, is subdued by divine grace, they necessarily decline, and are easily mortified. Steeris op
The temperamental lust is the root from whence many others spring and are fed, and the eradicating of that takes away the strength and life of other vicious affections. The king of Syria commanded his captains not to fight against small or great, but only against the king of Israel ; and after he was slain, the victory over his army was presently obtained. Let us direct our zeal against the leading lust, for all the servile lusts must fall and die with it. * When Mithridates the king of Pontus, a fierce implacable enemy of the Romans was killed, their joy was exuberant in sacrifices and feasts, esteeming that an army of enemies were extinguished in his death. Do lo strai saldus
Besides, one victory inspires courage to achieve another. When David was to encounter with Goliah, he derived confidence from his experince; “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.” 1 Sam. 17. 37.
The visible expresses of the divine power in conquering the former enemies of the church, were the support of their faith : “Awake, awake, O arm of the Lord, and put on strength; art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon, Pharaoh and the Egyptian army?" Isa, 51. 9. In our spiritual
warfare, experience of the divine assistance is a cordial that fortifies the spirits : if the strongest and fiercest of our corruptions lie bleeding ready to expire, we shall not fear the rest. The same grace that has subdued the reigning lust, will make an impression of obedience upon our affections that are less powerful in us.
(4.) Consider how dearly our sins cost our Saviour, his sacred blood, to reconcile us to God, and to set us free from their dominion. This is an argument purely evangelical, and most worthy the breast of a christian. He dearly purchased a title to our love, and the serious contemplation of his passion, has an admirable efficacy to inspire the flame, and consequently to make sin odious, that must be expiated and purged away by such bitter sufferings. Our sins brought our Saviour to the cross, and can we entertain them in our hearts with the crimson guilt that cleaves to them? Can we live in the practice of them, and crucify him afresh ? He “came to redeem us from all iniquity, and purify us to himself, a peculiar people zealous of good works.” How can we defeat the end and disparage the efficacy of his death ? How can we violate such dear obligations ? To cherish any sin is the most ungracious and unkind return to his bleeding dying love, who valued our souls more than his most precious life. Were it not visible by daily experience, that many are so prodigiously wicked, it would raise our wonder how it is possible, that any christian to whom the love of the Son of God in dying for our sins is revealed, should indulge himself in any sin. If we did frequently and with solemnity and seriousness remember the death of our Saviour, and his blessed intention in it, we should find that change in our hearts in regard of our sins, as Ammon did in his affections to his sister Tamar: his incestuous love to her at first was a secret fire that consumed him ; but after he had dishonoured her, and polluted himself, his hatred of her was more extreme than his love before : thus the sins that have been as near to us as our bosoms, as pleasant as our corrupt inclinations, as familiar and intimate as custom, that have deeply defiled our souls, we should with stronger detestation reject them, than ever with delight we committed them.
(5.) The blessed reward of uprightness is a powerful motive to excite us to keep ourselves from our sins. The firmament is not sowed thicker with stars, than the scripture with precious