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Some of the various ways wherein sinners flatter themselves in their own eyes.
1. Some flatter themselves with a secret hope, that there is no such thing as another world. They hear a great deal of preaching, and a great deal of talk about hell, and the eternal judgment; but those things do not seem to them to be real. They never saw hell, nor the devils and damned spirits; and therefore are ready to say with themselves, How do I know that there is any such thing as another world? When the beasts die, there is an end of them, and how do I know but that it will be so with me? Perhaps all these things are nothing but the inventions of men, nothing but cunningly-devised fables.
Such thoughts are apt to rise in the minds of sinners, and the devil sets in to enforce them. Such thoughts are an ease to them; therefore they wish they were true, and that makes them the more ready to think that they are so. So that they are hardened in the way of sin, by infidelity and atheistical thoughts. Psal. xiv. 1. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” Psal. xciv. 6, 7. “They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless. Yet they say, The Lord shall not see: neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.”
2. Some flatter themselves that death is a great way off, and that they shall hereafter have much opportunity to seek salvation; and they think if they earnestly seek it, though it be a great while hence, they shall obtain. Although they see no reason to conclude that they shall live long, and perhaps they do not positively conclude that they shall; yet it doth not come into their minds that their lives are really uncertain, and that it is doubtful whether they will live another year. Such a thought as this doth not take any hold of them. And although they do not absolutely determine that they shall live to old age or to middle age, yet they secretly flatter themselves with such an imagination. They are disposed to believe so, they act upon it, and run the venture.
Men believe that things will be as they choose to have them, without reason, and sometimes without the appearance of reason, as is most apparent in this case. Psal. xlix. 11. “Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling-places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.”—The prepossession and desire of men to have it so, is the principal thing that makes them so believe. However, there are several other things which they use as arguments to flatter themselves. Perhaps they think, that since they are at present in health, or in youth, or that since they are useful men, do a great deal of good, and both themselves and others pray for the continuance of their lives; they are not likely to be removed by death very soon.—If they live many years in the world, they think it very probable that they shall be converted before they die; as they expect hereafter to have much more convenient opportunities to become converted, than they have now. And by some means or other they think they shall get through their work before they arrive at old age.
3. Some flatter themselves that they lead moral and orderly lives, and therefore think that they shall not be damned. They think with themselves that they live not in any vice, that they take care to wrong no man, are just and honest dealers; that they are not addicted to hard drinking, or to uncleanness, or to bad language; that they keep the sabbath strictly, are constant attendants on the public worship, and maintain the worship of God in their families. Therefore they hope that God will not cast them into hell. They see not why God should be so angry with them as that would imply, seeing they are so orderly and regular in their walk! They see not that they have done enough to anger him to that decree. And if I hey have angered him, they imagine they have also done a great deal to pacify him.
If they be not as yet converted, and it be necessary that they should experience any other conversion in order to their salvation, they hope that their orderly and strict lives will move God to give them converting grace. They hope that surely God will not see those that live as they do go to hell. Thus they flatter themselves, as those (Luke xviii. 9.) “that trusted in themselves that they were righteous.”
4. Some make the advantages under which they live an occasion of self-flattery. They flatter themselves, that they live in a place where the gospel is powerfully preached, and among a religious people, where many have been converted; and they think it will be much easier for them to he saved on that account. Thus they abuse the grace of God to their destruction; they do that which the Scriptures call despising the riches of God’s goodness; Rom. ii. 4. “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”
Some flatter themselves, that they are born of godly parents, who are dear to God, who have often and earnestly prayed for them, and hope that their prayers will be heard; and that encourages them to go on in the way of 219neglecting their souls. The Jews had great dependence upon this, that they were the children of Abraham; John viii. 33. they make their boast, ” We be Abraham’s seed;” and in verse 39. “Abraham is our father.”
5. Some flatter themselves with their own intentions. They intend to give themselves liberty for a while longer, and then to reform. Though now they neglect their souls, and are going on in sin; yet they intend ere long to bestir themselves, to leave off their sins, and to set themselves to seek God. They hear that there is great encouragement for those who earnestly seek God, that they shall find him. So they intend to do; they propose to seek with a great deal of earnestness. They are told, that there are many who seek to enter the kingdom of heaven, who shall not be able; but they intend, not only to seek, but to strive. However, for the present they allow themselves in their ease, sloth, and pleasure, minding only earthly things.
Or if they should be seized with some mortal distemper, and should draw near to the grave, before the time which they lay out in their minds for reformation, they think how earnestly they would pray and cry to God for mercy; and as they hear God is a merciful God, who taketh no delight in the death of sinners, they hence flatter themselves that they shall move God to have pity on them.
There are but few sinners, knowing themselves to be such, who have not intentions of future repentance and reformation; but few who do not flatter themselves, that they shall in good earnest seek God some time or other. Hell is full of good intenders, who never proved to be true performers: Acts xxiv. 25. “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.”
6. There are some who flatter themselves, that they do, and have done, a great deal for their salvation, and therefore hope they shall obtain; when indeed they neither do what they ought to do, nor what they might do even in their present state of unregeneracy; nor are they in any likely way to be converted. They think they are striving, when they actually neglect many moral and some instituted duties; nor do they exert themselves as if it were for their lives; they are not violent for the kingdom of heaven.
There are doubtless many such; many are concerned, and are seeking, and do many things, and think that they are in a very fair way to obtain the kingdom of God; yet there is great danger that they will prove at last to be some of the foolish virgins, and be found without oil in their vessels.
7. Some hope by their strivings to obtain salvation of themselves. They have a secret imagination, that they shall, by degrees, work in themselves sorrow and repentance of sin, and love towards God and Jesus Christ. Their striving is not so much an earnest seeking to God, as a striving to do themselves that which is the work of God. Many who are now seeking have this imagination; they labour, read, pray, hear sermons, and go to private meetings, with the view of making themselves holy, and of working in themselves holy affections.
Many, who only project and design to turn to God hereafter, are apt to think that it is an easy thing to be converted; that it is a thing which will be in their own power at any time, when they shall earnestly set themselves to it.
8. Some sinners flatter themselves, that they are already converted. They sit down and rest in a false hope, persuading themselves that all their sins are pardoned; that God loves them; that they shall go to heaven when they die; and that they need trouble themselves no more: Rev. iii. 17. “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”
Sinners very generally go on flattering themselves in some or other of these ways, till their punishment actually overtakes them. These are the baits by which Satan catches souls, and draws them into his snare. They are such self-flatteries as these that keep men from seeing their danger, and that make them go on securely, Proverbs vii. 23. “as the bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life.”
Those that flatter themselves with hopes of living a great while longer in the world, very commonly continue to do so till death comes. Death comes upon them when they expect it not; they look upon it as a great way off, when there is but a step between. They thought not of dying at that time, nor at any time near it. When they were young, they proposed to live a good while longer; and if they happen to live till middle age, they still maintain the same thought, that they are not yet near death; and so that thought goes along with them as long as they live, or till they are just about to die.
Men often have a dependence on their own righteousness, and as long as they live are never brought off from it. Multitudes uphold themselves with their own intentions, till all their prospects are dashed in pieces by death. They put off the work which they have to do till such a time; and when that comes, they put it off to another time; until death, which cannot be put off, overtakes them. There are many also that hold a false hope, a persuasion that they belong to God; and as long as they live, by all the marks and signs which are given of a true convert, they never will be persuaded to let go their hope, till it is rent from them by death.
Thus men commonly uphold themselves, and make themselves easy, till hell-fire makes them uneasy. Everlasting ruin comes upon them as a snare, and all their hopes are at once cut off, and turned into everlasting despair: 1 Thess. v. 3. “When they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”
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