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But deliver us from evil.
WE come to the close. The words ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ may be rendered, either ‘from the evil one,’ or ‘from the evil thing.’
First, From the evil one: Mat. xiii. 19, ‘Then cometh, ὁ πονηρὸς, the evil one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart;’ and 1 John ii. 13, ‘I will write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome, τον πονηρὸν, the wicked one;’ and 1 John v. 18, ‘He that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and, ὁ πονηρὸς, that wicked one, toucheth him not;’ Eph. vi. 16, ‘Take the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked,’ τοῦ πονηροῦ, of that wicked one. In all these places the devil is so called, because his great business is to draw, and drive others to sin; and therefore, as God is ‘the holy one,’ so Satan is called ‘the wicked one.’
Secondly, It may be rendered that evil thing: Mat. v. 37, ‘Whatsoever is more than, these cometh, ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ, of evil;’ Mat. v. 39, ‘But I say unto you, μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ, resist not evil.’ We are commanded to resist the devil, and therefore in that place clearly it is put for the evil thing; and so in many other places. Now which of these senses shall we prefer?
First, If it be meant of the evil one, or Satan, the words will bear a good sense, thus: If God, for our trial and further humiliation, shall suffer us to be tempted by the devil, yet we desire that he may not have his will upon us, that we be not kept under his power.
To make good this interpretation, know the devil may fitly be called ‘the evil one,’ for he is the oldest sinner; he sins from the beginning: 1 John iii. 8. And he is the greatest sinner, therefore he is called, Eph. vi. 12, ‘spiritual wickedness;’ his sins are in the high est degree sinful, every sin of his is a sin against the Holy Ghost, against full light, and with malice and spite against God and the saints. And he is the father of sin, John viii. 44. As Jubal was ‘the father of all such as handle the harp and organ,’ Gen. iv. 21; that is, he was the first that taught the use of that instrument: so all the sins in the world are by his furtherance, both actual and original; therefore he may be fitly called the evil one.
Again, he hath a great stroke in temptation, that he is the artificer, the designer, the improver of them; therefore he is called, ὁ πειράζων, ‘the tempter.’ Mat. iv. 3. Well, then, ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
Secondly, we may render it indefinitely, as we do, ‘Deliver us from 233evil,’ that is, from sin. And fitly is this so called, because it is the greatest evil, above poverty, sickness, and worldly loss. Everything which doth harm us, that may be called evil. Now sin doth most hurt; nothing so much as sin. Why? Because it doth endamage our in ward man, and endanger our everlasting hopes.
[1.] It doth endamage our inward man, and hindereth and diminisheth our comfortable communion with God. Other things may harm the man, but they do not touch the Christian; and therefore saith the apostle, 2 Cor. iv. 16, ‘For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.’ Breaches made upon the outward man come not so near as a breach made upon the inward man; therefore we faint not, so long as the inward man is safe.
[2.] It doth endanger our everlasting hopes and concernments, and therefore it is the greatest evil. All afflictions do but reach our temporal, but sin reacheth our eternal concernments; and therefore the apostle promiseth himself this kind of deliverance, as that which was most worthy: 2 Tim. iv. 17, 18, ‘I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom.’ Well, then, you see it may be rendered the evil one, or the evil thing. The word carrieth it for sin; κακὸν denoteth the evil of afflictions, and malum poenae, as well as malum culpae; but πονηρὸν never but evil of fault. And we need not anxiously dispute whether the one or the other, for one can not be understood without respect to the other. Therefore I shall take it in a general sense—that evil which results from temptations, whether they arise from Satan, the world, or our own hearts.
From the words thus opened, the points will be two:—
First, That while we are in this valley of tears and snares, we should with earnestness and confidence pray to be delivered from evil.
Secondly, To be kept from the evil of sin is a greater mercy than to be kept from the trouble of temptation.
I observe the first point, because Christ thus directed us to pray to God. The second, because the evil of sin is intended. For the first, we should pray with earnestness, because of our danger, and with confidence, because of God’s undertaking. The Lord Jesus knows what requests are most acceptable to his Father. Now when he would give a perfect pattern and platform of prayer, he bids you pray thus: ‘Deliver us from evil.’ Nay, we have not only Christ’s direction, but Christ’s example: John xvii. 15, ‘I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.’ He did not absolutely pray for an exemption from temptation, though he knew the world would be a tempestuous place, that his people must expect strong assaults—Lord, take them not out of the world, but keep them from the evil; so here, ‘Deliver us from evil.’
First, We should pray with earnestness, because of our danger from the enemies of our salvation, which are the devil, the world, and the flesh; in respect of all which, we pray to be delivered from evil.
[1.] From the evil which the devil designs against us. Both bad and good men have need to make this prayer: bad men have need; good 234men will have a heart certainly to pray thus to God, if they consider their danger.
(1.) Natural and unconverted men, they are under the power of the devil, if they were sensible of it; for the devils are said to be ‘rulers of the darkness of this world,’ Eph. vi. 12. By which is meant the wicked, ignorant, and carnal part of the world, whether they live in Gentilism, or within the pale and line of Christ’s communion; over all those that live in their unrenewed state of sin and ignorance, over all these, Satan hath an empire and dominion. And mark, when God carried on his kingdom in a way of sensible manifestation, by visions, oracles, and miracles, so did Satan visibly govern the pagan world by apparitions, oracles, lying wonders, and sensible manifestations of himself. But now, when God’s kingdom is spiritual,—‘the kingdom of God is within yon,’ Luke xvii. 21,—so by proportion, Satan’s kingdom is spiritual too; he rules in the hearts of men, though they little think of it. All natural men, whether they be pagans or Christians, though outwardly and apparently they may renounce the devil’s kingdom, and do not seem to have such open communion with him, as the Gentiles that consulted with his oracles, and were instructed by his apparitions, acted by his power, and offered sacrifice to him: but spiritually, all natural men are under the devil; for, 1 John iii. 8, ‘He that committeth sin is of the devil;’ that is, he belongeth to him. How is he of the devil? They are his children: Acts xiii. 10, ‘O thou child of the devil.’ And they are his subjects, he ruleth in them , he hath a kingdom among men, which by all means he goeth about to maintain: Mat. xii. 26, ‘If Satan be divided against himself, how then can his kingdom stand?’ And they are his workhouses, he worketh in them: Eph. ii. 2, ‘The spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience.’ The devil is hard at work in a wicked man’s heart, framing evil thoughts, carnal motions; urging them to break God’s laws; drawing them on to more sin and villainy; fills their hearts with lying, and all manner of sins: Acts v. 3, ‘Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?’ He binds them with prejudices, and will not suffer them to hearken to the glorious gospel: 2 Cor. iv. 4, ‘In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should shine unto them.’ He blinds and holds them captive at his will and pleasure, their souls are fettered: 2 Tim. ii. 26. And sometimes he oppresses their bodies (for Satan carrieth on his kingdom by force, tyranny, fears, and bondage); and therefore it is said, Acts x. 38, that Christ ‘went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil.’ Yet further, as God’s executioner, he hath the power over death for their torment: Heb. ii. 14, ‘That through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.’ And unless the Lord be merciful, he never ceaseth carrying on wicked men, until both they and he are for ever in hell: Mat. xxv. 41, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.’ All this is spoken, to show carnal men their condition. Oh that they would seriously think of it! When they do evil, when they slight the motions of God’s grace, they are under Satan; and not only by force, as a child of God may be sometimes, but they are willingly 235ignorant: 2 Pet. iii. 5. The more willingly we commit sin, still the more we are under the power of the devil. Well, then, if any have need to say, ‘Deliver us from evil,’ certainly unrenewed carnal men have need to go to God, and say, ‘Lord, pluck us out of evil;’ as the same expression is used, Col. i. 13, ‘Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness,’ Ὃς ἐῤῥύσατο, who hath delivered us with a strong hand. Oh, go to God, in the name of Christ; there is no way of escape until God pluck you out by main forte. And mark, this power by which we are delivered, God conveyeth by the preaching of the word, which was appointed to turn us from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God, Acts xxvi. 18; and therefore hearken to God’s counsel before your condition grow incurable, and wait upon the ordinances; for the more you neglect and contemn the means of your recovery, your misery increaseth upon you; for every day you are still more given up to Satan by the just judgment of God, and to be captivated and taken by him at his will and pleasure by the snares he sets for you.
(2.) Good men, or God’s own children, though they are delivered from the power of Satan, and brought into the kingdom of Christ, yet they are not wholly free in this world, but are sometimes caught by Satan’s wiles, Eph. vi. 11, sometimes wounded by his fiery darts, ver. 16. Their lusts and their consciences are sometimes set a-raging; though he hath no allowed authority over their hearts, yet he exerciseth a tyrannical power; though he cannot rule them, yet he ceaseth not to assault them, if it were but to vex and trouble them. Briefly, the children of God have cause to pray, Deliver us from evil, in regard of Satan, because Satan hath a hand in their persecutions, and like wise a hand in their temptations to sin. It is he that instigateth their enemies to persecute them, and it is he that inflameth their lusts.
(1st.) In stirring up their enemies to persecute them. All the troubles of the children of God, they come originally from the devil: Luke xxii. 53, ‘This is your hour, and the power of darkness.’ We do not read that Satan did immediately vex Christ; and how was that hour then said to be the power of darkness? Why, by setting his instruments a-work to crucify him. And as he dealt with the head, so with the members: Rev. xii. 12, ‘The devil hath great wrath, for he knoweth he hath but a short time.’ When his kingdom begins to totter and shake, then he stirs up all his wrath, and inflames his instruments, as dying beasts bite hardest. So, Rev. xvi. 14, we read of the spirits of devils that go forth unto the kings of the earth, to stir them up against the saints. If you could behold, with your bodily eyes, this evil spirit hanging upon the ears of great men, and buzzing into them, and stirring them up, and the common people, and animating them against the children of God, you would more admire at the wonders of God’s providence that you do subsist. Oh, how they are acted by this wrathful spirit!
(2d.) By inflaming our lusts and corruptions. So, 1 Cor. vii. 5, lest Satan tempt you by your incontinency, sets lusts a-boiling, either to vex the saints or to ensnare them. It is possible he may sometimes prevail with God’s own children to draw them to some particular act of gross sin, as 2 Sam. xi. 4, as when David defiled himself with lust, 236that thereby he may dishonour God; for by this means the name of God was blasphemed, 2 Sam. xii. 14. Or that thereby he may disturb their peace, for this made David lie roaring, Ps. xxxii. 3, 4; his radical moisture was even wasted and exhausted. Or else to spiritual sins, as murmuring, repining against God, distrust of providence when under crosses. Or when they are in their comforts, to drive them to carnal complacency and neglect of holy things, disuse of communion with God. Or to inordinate passions or spiritual wickedness, such as is not conversant about carnal passions or fleshly lusts, but spiritual pride, error, and unbelief. Certainly those that have anything of experience of the spiritual life cannot be ignorant of Satan’s enterprises.
Well, then, we had need go to God to deliver us from evil: for outward evils, for the protection of his providence; for these God hath undertaken: Ps. l. 15, ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee.’ Satan is in God’s chains; he could not enter into the herd of swine without leave; therefore certainly he cannot get among the sheep of Christ’s fold. It is the saying of Tertullian, If the bristles of swine be numbered, the hairs of our head are numbered; therefore you had need go to God (‘Deliver us from evil’), that persecution may not rage over you, that he may hedge you in by his providence, Job i. 10, and that he would be as a wall of fire round about you.
As to inward evils, so we go to God for wisdom and strength; for Satan assaults us both ways, by wiles and darts: when he comes in a way of violence, he comes with fiery darts; but when he doth lie in ambush, there he hath his wiles to entice us with a seeming good. We—
(1.) Beg wisdom, that you may espy the wiles of Satan, and may not be caught unawares, for he is ‘transformed into an angel of light,’ 2 Cor. xi. 14. Mark, the devil doth not care so much to ride his own horses, to act and draw wicked men to evil; he hath them sure enough; but he laboureth to employ the saints in his work, if he can, to get one which belongs to God to do his business; therefore he changeth himself into an angel of light. The temptation is disguised with very plausible pretences; then a child of God may be a factor for Satan, and an instrument of the devil. For instance, would Peter have ever made a motion for Satan if he had seen his hand? Oh, no; the temptation was disguised to him when he persuaded his Master from suffering. He covereth his foul designs with plausible pretences. Carnal counsel shall be pity and natural affection; Mat. xvi. 22, 23, ‘Let not these things be; be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. He said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence unto me.’ At another time, the disciples, when their Master was slighted and contemned, they thought certainly they should do as Elias did, call for fire from heaven to consume them, Luke ix. 54. Revenge will often go for zeal for God. Revenge, or storming at personal affronts or injuries done to ourselves, is looked upon as zeal; then the disciples may not know what spirit they are of. Many times we are acted by the devil when we think we are acted by the Spirit of God, and that which seems to be zeal is nothing but revenge. Therefore we had need go to God: Lord, deliver us from evil; we are 237poor unwary creatures; that we may not be ensnared by fair pretences and surprised by his enterprises. And thus we beg wisdom.
(2.) We pray for strength to withstand his darts, that we may take the armour of God and withstand the evil one, Eph. vi. 13. Alas! of ourselves we cannot deliver ourselves from the least evil, or stand out against the least assault; therefore it is God alone that must keep the feet of his saints, 1 Sam. ii. 9. Therefore we go to him, that we may get his covenant strength, that we may be ‘strong in the power of his might,’ to conflict with Satan. Well, then, in regard of the first enemy of our salvation, the devil, we had need pray earnestly, that we may not be prevailed over by his arts; it is God alone that can keep us.
[2.] The world, that is another evil which is, as it were, the devil’s chessboard; we can hardly move backward or forward but he is ready to attack us and surprise us by one creature or another, and draw us into the snare. Therefore it is said, Gal. i. 4, that Christ ‘gave himself for us, that he might deliver us from this present evil world.’ That is one way of being delivered from evil, when we are delivered from an evil world. It concerns us, and it is a great point of religion, to be ‘kept unspotted from the world,’ James i. 27. The whole world is full of evils and temptations, and we cannot walk anywhere but we are likely to be defiled. The things of the world, the men of the world.
(1.) The things of the world. All conditions of life become a snare to us, prosperity, adversity: Prov. xxx. 8, 9, ‘Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me,’ &c., ‘lest I be full, and deny thee,’ &c. Either condition hath its snares. A garment too short will not cover our nakedness, and too long proves lacinia praependens, ready to trip up our heels; and therefore both the one and the other condition are very dangerous. Many carry themselves well in one condition, but quite miscarry in another. As Ephraim was as a cake not turned, baked on the one side, Hosea vii. 8, quite dough on the other. Or as it is said of Joab, 1 Kings ii. 28, ‘He turned after Adonijah, though he turned not after Absalom.’ Some miscarry in adversity, others in prosperity. Indeed more under prosperity. Diseases which grow out of fulness are more rife than those which grow out of want; and fat and fertile soils are more rank of weeds. God’s children most miscarry when all things are prosperous and flow in upon them, when they have lived in plenty. David was not soiled while he wandered up and down in the wilderness; but when he walked upon the terrace of his palace in Jerusalem, then he fell to lust and blood. The unsoundness of a vessel is not seen when it is empty; but when filled with water, then we see whether it be stanch, or leaky or no.
But the other condition is not without its snares neither. In adversity we are apt to be impatient, as well as in prosperity to be forgetful of God; and therefore we had need learn how to go up hill and down hill, to ‘know how to abound, and how to be abased,’ Phil, iv. 12. Look, as the wind doth rise from all corners, so do temptations. When we are kept low and bare, or in danger, then we are full of worldly fears, distrusts, cares, grow base, pusillanimous, and have not the spirit and generosity of a Christian. In a high condition we are 238proud, secure, forgetful of changes, vain, wanton; and press towards heaven less, and grow dead to good things.
(2.) As from the things of the world, so from the men of the world. We are apt to be poisoned by their bad example, and easily catch a sickness one from another. Good men may receive a taint: Isa. vi. 5, ‘I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.’ Open excesses do soon, manifest their own odiousness. I confess, a man that runs into open excess, we are not so much in danger of being enticed by him to the like practice; but we learn of one another secretly to be cold, careless, and less mortified. I say, though we are not carried into inordinate practices and gross wickednesses by the example of others, yet we learn to be cold in the profession of godliness, formal, less stirring in the way of holiness, and sometimes ensnared by their counsels. The flood and torrent of evil examples and counsels is so great, that it carrieth away men: Gal. ii. 13, ‘Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.’ And the wills of men is one of our snares, 1 Pet. iv. 2. And besides, we are in danger to be terrified by their frowns, and act unseemly: Isa. viii. 13, ‘Fear not their fear, nor be afraid.’ Out of the fear of men we are apt to miscarry in our duty to God. Well, then, we need to go to God to be delivered from the evil of the world, that we may not be infected nor terrified by the men of the world; or, which is the more usual temptation, corrupted by the things of the world. The world doth secretly and slightly insinuate with us; and therefore keep us from evil.
Now how comes the world to be evil?
In two things, when both our care and our delight is lessened towards heavenly things.
(1.) When our care is lessened, when we are not so serious, so frequent in communion with God as we were wont to be; as Martha, that was ‘cumbered about many things,’ but Mary ‘had chosen the better part,’ Luke x. 42. When you begin to lessen your cares of duty, and Hagar thrusts Sarah out of doors, when the son of the bond-woman begins to mock at the son of the free-woman, when religion begins to be looked upon but as mopishness; to be so nice, precise, and so careful to maintain constant commerce with God; and begin to have lessening thoughts of God, and religion goes to the walls. So,
(2.) When our delight is less in heavenly things, when we have lost our savour of the word, and ordinances, and Sabbaths, and they are not so sweet as before: 1 John ii. 16, ‘If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.’ When the love of the world hath made you weary of the love of God, when your heart goes a-whoring from God, the chief good. As when the affections are scattered, a man is tempted to look upon other objects, the wife of the bosom is defrauded of her right; so God is defrauded by an over-delight in the creature, the world intercepts your delight: Ps. lxxiii. 27, 28, ‘Thou hast destroyed all them that go a-whoring from thee; but it is good for me to draw nigh to God.’ When our delight in communion with God is lessened by delight in the creature, it is spiritual adultery. Now when worldly objects are so continually with us, soliciting our affections, and drawing us away from God, oh what need have the 239best of us to pray, ‘Lord, keep us from evil!’ The soul doth easily receive a taint from the objects to which we are accustomed; therefore they which live in the world had need to take heed of a worldly spirit. The continual presence of the object doth secretly entice the heart; as long suits prevail at length, and green wood kindles by long lying in the fire. Insensibly is the heart drawn away from God, and you shall find less savour in holy things.
[3.] We had need to pray earnestly, Lord, keep us from evil, because we are in danger of that other enemy, the flesh. There is not only an evil without us, as the devil and the world, but an evil within us: ‘An evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God,’ Heb. iii. 12. An evil heart, that is full of urgings and solicitations to sin. There are not only snares and temptations in the world, but there is a flexibleness in the party tempted: James i. 14, ‘Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed,’ ὑπὸ τῆς ἰδίας ἐπιθυμίας, of his own lust. The fire burns in our own hearts, Satan doth but blow up the flame. There is bad liquor in the vessel, Satan doth but only give it vent, and set it abroach with violence. We carry sinning natures about with us, therefore, Lord, ‘Deliver us from evil.’ The evil of the world would do no more hurt than the fire doth to a stone, if we were not combustible matter: ‘The corruption that is in the world through lust,’ 2 Pet. i. 4. The danger of living in the world doth not stand in this, because here are so many enticements and baits for every sense; but it is the corruption through lust; as the venom is not in the flower, but in the spider. The Philistines could not prevail against Samson if Delilah, on whom he doted, had not lulled him asleep; or as Balaam first corrupted Israel before he could curse them or bring them any harm: so corruption in the heart makes us liable to Satan’s malice. There is a treacherous party within to open the door to Satan, without which all outward force could not annoy us.
Well, then, we had need go to God: Lord, ‘Deliver us from evil.’
Where we beg:—
(1.) That God would weaken the strength of inbred corruption, that we may not be foiled by it. Paul groans sadly, Rom. vii. 24, ‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ It is a question, but it implieth a wish, for the Hebrews propose their wishes by way of question; that is, Oh that I were delivered! It is a great mercy to be kept from falling into sin: ‘kept from every evil work,’ 2 Tim. iv. 18.
(2.) If we be foiled by our corruption, we beg that we may not lie in it, nor grow weary of our resistance, nor cast away our weapons, and suffer sin to have a quiet reign: Ps. cxix. 133, ‘Let not any iniquity have dominion over me.’ We cannot hope for a total exemption from sin, but, O Lord, let it not reign over us. How shall we know when sin reigns? When there is no course of mortification set up against it, to break the power, force, and tyranny of it. Take this distinction: There are remaining and reserved corruptions; sin remains where it doth not reign; but reserved corruption, that is reigning. I will explain it thus: sin remains when, notwithstanding all our endeavours, yet it still haunts and pesters us, though praying, watching, 240striving, waiting, and depending upon God for strength; but it is reserved when you let it alone and are loth to touch it, but rather cherish, dandle, and foster it in the heart, and make provision for it. Therefore then are we delivered from evil when we recover by repentance; and though we suffer by the tyranny of sin, we will not let it alone to have a quiet reign in our hearts, do not live under the power of corruptions. Sin let alone will do us further mischief.
Secondly, As we have reason to pray to God with earnestness, be cause of our danger; so with confidence, because of God’s undertaking: 2 Thes. iii. 3, ‘The Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil.’ God hath undertaken to keep those who, with humble and broken hearts, do come to him to be kept from evil; that are watchful, serious, and careful to get evils redressed as soon as discerned; therefore we may come with an assured confidence to be delivered from all evil.
How far hath God undertaken to keep his people from evils and dangers in this life? I answer:—
[1.] So far as may be hurtful to their souls: 1 Cor. x. 13, ‘God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.’ It is part of God’s faithfulness to keep you from evil, to proportion and temper temptation to your strength. God suits the burden to every back, he drives on as the little ones are able to bear; therefore certainly he will mitigate temptation, or give in supply of strength.
[2.] God will keep you from the evil of sin so far as it is deadly; that is, that it be not a sin unto death, 1 John v. 16; and that it may not reign in our mortal bodies, for you are dead to it: Rom. vi. 14, ‘For sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace.’
[3.] God undertakes for our final deliverance from all evil upon our translation to heaven. This is included in this prayer, that we may at length come to that state where is no sorrow, no sin, no assault and temptation from Satan, that we may be kept from all wickedness: Ps. xxxiv. 19, ‘Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.’ There is a time when God delivereth us from all at once, and that is by death and our translation into heaven.
Well, then, let us fly to God for deliverance, waiting for his help.
Doct. That to be kept from the evil of temptation is a greater mercy than to be kept from the trouble of temptation.
‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;’ that is, if we be led into temptation, let us be kept from the evil of it.
First, It is a more wonderful providence to be kept from evil than from temptation; esse bonum facile est, ubi quod vetat esse remotum est. It is no great matter to be chaste or honest, when there is no temptation to the contrary. Ay, but to keep our integrity in the midst of assaults and temptations, there is the wonder. If a garrison be never assaulted, it is no wonder that it standeth exempt from the calamity of war. This is like the bush that was burned, yet not consumed; exercised with temptation from day to day, and yet kept from evil. 241And in this sense God’s power is more glorified than in keeping the angels; for the angels are out of gun-shot and harm’s way, and not liable to temptations. But to preserve a poor weak creature in the midst of temptation, oh, how is the power of God ‘made perfect in weakness!’ 2 Cor. xii. 9: perfected, that is, gloriously discovered.
Secondly, The evil of sin is greater than the evil of affliction or trouble.
[1.] The evil of sin is the greater evil, because it separateth from God: Isa. lix. 2. It is an aversion from the chiefest good. Affliction doth not separate from God, it is a means to make us draw nigh to him. Poverty, sickness, blindness, loss of goods, let a man be never so low and loathsome, yet if in a state of grace, the Lord taketh plea sure in him, and he is near and dear to God; God kisseth him with the kisses of his mouth; nothing is loathsome to God but sin.
[2.] Sin is evil in itself, whether we feel it or no; affliction is not evil in itself, but in our sense and feeling: Heb. xii. 11. Sin is evil, whether we feel it or no; it is worse when we do not feel it: ‘Past feeling,’ Eph. iv. 19, when our conscience is benumbed.
[3.] Affliction, or malum poenae, is an act of divine justice; but malum culpae is an act of man’s corruptness. For the first, affliction, Amos vi. 3, ‘Is there any evil, and the Lord hath not done it?’ But sin is the devil’s work in us: 1 John iii. 8, ‘He that committeth sin, is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.’ And John viii. 34, ‘Whosoever committeth sin, is the servant of sin.’ The one cometh from a just God, the other from our corrupt hearts. The one is the act of a holy God, the other the act of a sinful creature.
[4.] The death of Christ falls more directly upon this benefit—exemption from sin: Mat. i. 21, ‘He shall save his people from their sins;’ Acts iii. 26, ‘God having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities;’ not troubles or sorrows, but sins.
[5.] Affliction is a more particular temporal evil, but sin is an infinite universal evil. Sickness depriveth us of health, poverty of wealth, &c., and every adverse providence doth but oppose some particular temporal good; but sin depriveth us of God, who is the fountain of our comfort; the other but of some limited comfort.
[6.] Afflictions are sent to remove sin: Heb. xii. 11, ‘Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby;’ Isa. xxvi. 9, ‘When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness:’ but sin is not sent to remove affliction. Now the end must be greater than the means, both as to prosecution and aversation. As to prosecution; to dig for iron with mattocks of gold and silver. So in aversation; if death were not worse than the pain of physic, no man would take physic to avoid death.
[7.] Affliction is the effect of God’s love: Heb. xii. 6, ‘Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.’ But to be left to sin is an effect of God’s anger. God doth not always exempt from troubles; yet if he keep 242from spiritual hurt thereby, if he sanctify the trouble, support us with sufficient grace, 2 Cor. xii. 9; if preserved from evil, howsoever tempted and exercised, it is enough.
Use 1. To reprove our folly. We complain of other things, but we do not complain of sin, which is the greatest evil. This is contrary to the spirit of God’s children, who rejoice in troubles, but not in sins: 2 Cor. xii. 9, ‘Most gladly therefore will I rejoice in infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.’ They groan bitterly under sins: Rom. vii. 23, ‘O wretched man!’ &c. If any man had cause to complain of afflictions, Paul had: in perils often, whipped, persecuted, stoned. But the body of sin and death was the greatest burden: lusts troubled him more than scourges; his captivity to the law of sin more than prisons. When affliction sitteth too close, sin sits loose. In affliction there is some offence done us, but in sin the wrong is done to God. And what are we to God? Afflictions may be good, but sin is never good. The body suffereth by affliction, but the soul suffereth by sin loss of grace and comfort, which are not to be valued by all the world’s enjoyments. The evil of affliction is but for a moment—like rain, it drieth up of its own accord; but the evil of sin is for ever, unless it be pardoned and taken away. Sin is the cause of all the evils of affliction; therefore when we complain, we should complain, not so much of the smart, as of the cause of it.
2. It directeth us:—
[1.] How to pray to God against sin rather than trouble. This is indeed to be delivered from evil: 2 Tim. iv. 18, Paul reckoned upon that, ‘He will deliver me from every evil work.’ When afflicted, you should rather desire to have the affliction sanctified than removed; you will be most careful for that; saints do not pray for the interests of the old man rather than the new man. To be freed from trouble is a common mercy, but to have it sanctified is a special mercy. Carnal men may be without affliction, but carnal men cannot have experience of grace. Bare deliverance is no sign of special love.
[2.] In our choice. It was a heavy charge they put upon Job: Job xxxvi. 21, ‘Thou hast chosen iniquity rather than affliction.’ Sometimes we are put upon the trial, to lose the favour of God or the favour of men, duty and danger: here content myself, gratify my lusts and interests; there offend God. Out of the temptation, we could easily judge that all the misery in the world is to be endured rather than commit the least sin. But how is it upon a trial, when a worldly convenience and a spiritual inconvenience is proposed? By choosing sin, a man cannot altogether escape affliction here or here after. Wickedness, though it prosper a while, yet at length it proveth a snare.
3. It directeth us to submit to God’s providence, and to own mercy in it. Though God doth not exempt us from troubles, yet if he keep us from hurt thereby, if he sanctify the trouble, and support us with grace sufficient, it is his mercy to us. For Daniel to be put into the lions’ den was not so great a judgment as for Nebuchadnezzar to have the heart of a beast. To be given up to our own hearts’ lusts, to commit any sin, it is a greater cross than any misery that can light upon us; therefore let us be patient under affliction. Our great care 243should be, not to dishonour God in any condition. God hath promised to be with his people in their afflictions to comfort them; but hath never promised to be with his people in their sins: ‘I will be with you in the fire, and in the water.’ as the Son of God was with the three children in the fiery furnace. But God is departed when they sin; I will go to my own place. Sin hindereth prayer, but afflictions quicken it: Isa. xxvi. 16, ‘Lord, in trouble have they visited thee; they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them.’ In affliction it is a time to put the promises in suit; it doth not hinder our access to God and the throne of grace, but driveth us to it. But sin increaseth our bondage, maketh us stand at a distance, and grow shy of God. The fruit of sin is shame, Rom. vi. 21.
4. It teaches us how to wait and hope for the issue of our prayers. Pray that ye enter not into temptation; yet be not absolute in that, but to be kept from evil, that what way soever we are tried we may be kept from the evil of sin.
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