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224

Chapter IX.

The deceit of sin in drawing off the mind from a due attendance unto especial duties of obedience, instanced in meditation and prayer.

How22    At the head of this paragraph the numeral 2. ought to have stood, in order to unfold the division begun on page 217, line 20. Great complexity would be occasioned in the subsequent numeration if it were inserted, and it does not appear in the original edition. Each chapter is generally made to contain its own series of numerals. — Ed. sin by its deceit endeavours to draw off the mind from attending unto that holy frame in walking with God wherein the soul ought to be preserved, hath been declared; proceed we now to show how it doth the same work in reference unto those especial duties by which the designs, workings, and prevalency of it may in an especial manner be obviated and prevented. Sin, indeed, maintains an enmity against all duties of obedience, or rather with God in them. “When I would do good,” saith the apostle, “evil is present with me;” — “Whenever I would do good, or what good soever I would do, (that is, spiritually good, good in reference unto God), it is present with me to hinder me from it, to oppose me in it.” And, on the other side, all duties of obedience do lie directly against the actings of the law of sin; for as the flesh in all its actings lusteth against the Spirit, so the Spirit in all its actings lusteth against the flesh. And therefore every duty performed in the strength and grace of the Spirit is contrary to the law of sin: Rom. viii. 13, “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the flesh.” Actings of the Spirit of grace in duties doth this work. These two are contrary. But yet there are some duties which, in their own nature and by God’s appointment, have a peculiar influence into the weakening and subduing the whole law of sin in its very principles and chiefest strengths; and these the mind of a believer ought principally in his whole course to attend unto; and these doth sin in its deceit endeavour principally to draw off the mind from. As in diseases of the body, some remedies, they say, have a specific quality against distempers; so, in this disease of the soul, there are some duties that have an especial virtue against this sinful distemper. I shall not insist on many of them, but instance only in two, which seem to me to be of this nature, — namely, that by God’s designation they have a special tendency towards the ruin of the law of sin. And then we shall show the ways, methods, and means, which the law of sin useth to divert the mind from a due attendance unto them. Now, these duties are, — first, Prayer, especially private prayer; and, secondly, Meditation. I put them together, because they much agree in their general nature and end, differing only in the manner of their performance; for by meditation I intend meditating upon what respect and suitableness 225there is between the word and our own hearts, to this end, that they may be brought to a more exact conformity. It is our pondering on the truth as it is in Jesus, to find out the image and representation of it in our own hearts; and so it hath the same intent with prayer, which is to bring our souls into a frame in all things answering the mind and will of God. They are as the blood and spirits in the veins, that have the same life, motion, and use. But yet, because persons are generally at a great loss in this duty of meditation, having declared it to be of so great efficacy for the controlling of the actings of the law of sin, I shall in our passage give briefly two or three rules for the directing of believers to a right performance of this great duty, and they are these:—

1. Meditate of God with God; that is, when we would undertake thoughts and meditations of God, his excellencies, his properties, his glory, his majesty, his love, his goodness, let it be done in a way of speaking unto God, in a deep humiliation and abasement of our souls before him. This will fix the mind, and draw it forth from one thing to another, to give glory unto God in a due manner, and affect the soul until it be brought into that holy admiration of God and delight in him which is acceptable unto him. My meaning is, that it be done in a way of prayer and praise, — speaking unto God.

2. Meditate on the word in the word; that is, in the reading of it, consider the sense in the particular passages we insist upon, looking to God for help, guidance, and direction, in the discovery of his mind and will therein, and then labour to have our hearts affected with it.

3. What we come short of in evenness and constancy in our thoughts in these things, let it be made up in frequency. Some are discouraged because their minds do not regularly supply them with thoughts to carry on their meditations, through the weakness or imperfection of their inventions. Let this be supplied by frequent returns of the mind unto the subject proposed to be meditated upon, whereby new senses will still be supplied unto it. But this by the way.

These duties, I say, amongst others (for we have only chosen them for an instance, not excluding some others from the same place, office, and usefulness with them), do make an especial opposition to the very being and life of indwelling sin, or rather faith in them doth so. They are perpetually designing its utter ruin. I shall, therefore, upon this instance, in the pursuit of our present purpose, do these two things:— (1.) Show the suitableness and usefulness of this duty, or these duties (as I shall handle them jointly), unto the ruining of sin. (2.) Show the means whereby the deceitfulness of sin endeavours to draw off the mind from a due attendance unto them.

(1.) For the first, observe, —

[1.] That it is the proper work of the soul, in this duty, to consider 226all the secret workings and actings of sin, what advantages it hath got, what temptations it is in conjunction withal, what harm it hath already done, and what it is yet farther ready to do. Hence David gives that title unto one of his prayers: Psalm cii., “A prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord.” I speak of that prayer which is attended with a due consideration of all the wants, straits, and emergencies of the soul. Without this, prayer is not prayer; that is, whatever show or appearance of that duty it hath, it is no way useful, either to the glory of God or the good of the souls of men. A cloud it is without water, driven by the wind of the breath of men. Nor was there ever any more present and effectual poison for souls found out than the binding of them unto a constant form and usage of I know not what words in their prayers and supplications, which themselves do not understand. Bind men so in their trades or in their businesses in this world, and they will quickly find the effect of it. By this means are they disenabled from any due consideration of what at present is good for them or evil unto them; without which, to what use can prayer serve, but to mock God and delude men’s own souls? But in this kind of prayer which we insist on, the Spirit of God falls in to give us his assistance, and that in this very matter of finding out and discovering the most secret actings and workings of the law of sin: Rom. viii. 26, “We know not what we should pray for as we ought, but he helpeth our infirmities;” he discovers our wants unto us, and wherein chiefly we stand in need of help and relief. And we find it by daily experience, that in prayer believers are led into such discoveries and convictions of the secret deceitful work of sin in their hearts, as no considerations could ever have led them into. So David, Psalm li., designing the confession of his actual sin, having his wound in his prayer searched by the skillful hand of the Spirit of God, he had a discovery made unto him of the root of all his miscarriages, in his original corruption, verse 5. The Spirit in this duty is as the candle of the Lord unto the soul, enabling it to search all the inward parts of the belly. It gives a holy, spiritual light into the mind, enabling it to search the deep and dark recesses of the heart, to find out the subtle and deceitful machinations, figments, and imaginations of the law of sin therein. Whatever notion there be of it, whatever power and prevalency in it, it is laid hand on, apprehended, brought into the presence of God, judged, condemned, bewailed. And what can possibly be more effectual for its ruin and destruction? for, together with its discovery, application is made unto all that relief which in Jesus Christ is provided against it, all ways and means whereby it may be ruined. Hence, it is the duty of the mind to “watch unto prayer,” 1 Pet. iv. 7, to attend diligently unto the estate of our 227souls, and to deal fervently and effectually with God about it. The like also may be said of meditation, wisely managed unto its proper end.

[2.] In this duty there is wrought upon the heart a deep, full sense of the vileness of sin, with a constant renewed detestation of it; which, if any thing, undoubtedly tends to its ruin. This is one design of prayer, one end of the soul in it, — namely, to draw forth sin, to set it in order, to present it unto itself in its vileness, abomination, and aggravating circumstances, that it may be loathed, abhorred, and cast away as a filthy thing; as Isa. xxx. 22. He that pleads with God for sin’s remission, pleads also with his own heart for its detestation, Hos. xiv. 3. Herein, also, sin is judged in the name of God; for the soul in its confession subscribes unto God’s detestation of it, and the sentence of his law against it. There is, indeed, a course of these duties which convinced persons do give up themselves unto as a mere covert to their lusts; they cannot sin quietly unless they perform duty constantly. But that prayer we speak of is a thing of another nature, a thing that will allow no composition with sin, much less will serve the ends of the deceit of it, as the other, formal prayer, doth. It will not be bribed into a secret compliance with any of the enemies of God or the soul, no, not for a moment. And hence it is that oftentimes in this duty the heart is raised to the most sincere, effectual sense of sin and detestation of it that the soul ever obtains in its whole course of obedience. And this evidently tends also to the weakening and ruin of the law of sin.

[3.] This is the way appointed and blessed of God to obtain strength and power against sin: James i. 5, “Doth any man lack? let him ask of God.” Prayer is the way of obtaining from God by Christ a supply of all our wants, assistance against all opposition, especially that which is made against us by sin. This, I suppose, need not be insisted on; it is, in the notion and practice, clear to every believer. It is that wherein we call, and upon which the Lord Jesus comes in to our succour with suitable “help in time of need,” Heb. iv. 16.

[4.] Faith in prayer countermines all the workings of the deceit of sin; and that because the soul doth therein constantly engage itself unto God to oppose all sin whatsoever: Ps. cxix. 106, “I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments.” This is the language of every gracious soul in its addresses unto God: the inmost parts thereof engage themselves to God, to cleave to him in all things, and to oppose sin in all things. He that cannot do this cannot pray. To pray with any other frame is to flatter God with our lips, which he abhorreth. And this exceedingly helps a believer in pursuing sin unto its ruin; for, —

1st. If there be any secret lust that lies lurking in the heart, he 228will find it either rising up against this engagement, or using its artifices to secure itself from it. And hereby it is discovered, and the conviction of the heart concerning its evil furthered and strengthened. Sin makes the most certain discovery of itself; and never more evidently than when it is most severely pursued. Lusts in men are compared to hurtful and noisome beasts; or men themselves are so because of their lusts, Isa. xi. 4–6. Now, such beasts use themselves to their dens and coverts, and never discover themselves, at least so much in their proper nature and rage, as when they are most earnestly pursued. And so it is with sin and corruption in the heart.

2dly. If any sin be prevalent in the soul, it will weaken it, and take it off from the universality of this engagement unto God; it will breed a tergiversation unto it, a slightness in it. Now, when this is observed, it will exceedingly awaken a gracious soul, and stir it up to look about it. As spontaneous lassitude, or a causeless weariness and indisposition of the body, is looked on as the sign of an approaching fever or some dangerous distemper, which stirs up men to use a timely and vigorous prevention, that they be not seized upon by it, so is it in this case. When the soul of a believer finds in itself an indisposition to make fervent, sincere engagements of universal holiness unto God, it knows that there is some prevalent distemper in it, finds the place of it, and sets itself against it.

3dly. Whilst the soul can thus constantly engage itself unto God, it is certain that sin can rise unto no ruinous prevalency. Yea, it is a conquest over sin, a most considerable conquest, when the soul doth fully and clearly, without any secret reserve, come off with alacrity and resolution in such an engagement; as Ps. xviii. 23. And it may upon such a success triumph in the grace of God, and have good hope, through faith, that it shall have a final conquest, and what it so resolves shall be done; that it hath decreed a thing, and it shall be established. And this tends to the disappointment, yea, to the ruin of the law of sin.

4thly. If the heart be not deceived by cursed hypocrisy, this engagement unto God will greatly influence it unto a peculiar diligence and watchfulness against all sin. There is no greater evidence of hypocrisy than to have the heart like the whorish woman, Prov. vii. 14, — to say, “ ‘I have paid my vows,’ now I may take myself unto my sin;” or to be negligent about sin, as being satisfied that it hath prayed against it. It is otherwise in a gracious soul. Sense and conscience of engagements against sin made to God, do make it universally watchful against all its motions and operations. On these and sundry other accounts doth faith in this duty exert itself peculiarly to the weakening of the power and stopping of the progress of the law of sin.

229If, then, the mind be diligent in its watch and charge to preserve the soul from the efficacy of sin, it will carefully attend unto this duty and the due performance of it, which is of such singular advantage unto its end and purpose. Here, therefore, —

(2.) Sin puts forth its deceit in its own defence. It labours to divert and draw off the mind from attending unto this and the like duties. And there are, among others, three engines, three ways and means, whereby it attempts the accomplishment of its design:—

[1.] It makes advantage of its weariness unto the flesh. There is an aversation, as hath been declared, in the law of sin unto all immediate communion with God. Now, this duty is such. There is nothing accompanieth it whereby the carnal part of the soul may be gratified or satisfied, as there may be somewhat of that nature in most public duties, in most that a man can do beyond pure acts of faith and love. No relief or advantage, then, coming in by it but what is purely spiritual, it becomes wearisome, burdensome to flesh and blood. It is like travelling alone without companion or diversion, which makes the way seem long, but brings the passenger with most speed to his journey’s end. So our Saviour declares, when, expecting his disciples, according to their duty and present distress, should have been engaged in this work, he found them fast asleep: Matt. xxvi. 41, “The spirit,” saith he, “indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak;” and out of that weakness grow their indisposition unto and weariness of their duty. So God complains of his people: Isa. xliii. 22, “Thou hast been weary of me.” And it may come at length unto that height which is mentioned, Mal. i. 13, “Ye have said, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the Lord of hosts.” The Jews suppose that it was the language of men when they brought their offerings or sacrifices on their shoulders, which they pretended wearied them, and they panted and blowed as men ready to faint under them, when they brought only the torn, and the lame, and the sick. But so is this duty oftentimes to the flesh. And this the deceitfulness of sin makes use of to draw the heart by insensible degrees from a constant attendance unto it. It puts in for the relief of the weak and weary flesh. There is a compliance between spiritual flesh and natural flesh in this matter, — they help one another; and an aversation unto this duty is the effect of their compliance. So it was in the spouse, Cant. v. 2, 8. She was asleep, drowsing in her spiritual condition, and pleads her natural unfitness to rouse herself from that state. If the mind be not diligently watchful to prevent insinuations from hence, — if it dwell not constantly on those considerations which evidence an attendance unto this duty to be indispensable, — if it stir not up the principle of grace in the heart to retain its rule and sovereignty, and not 230to be dallied withal by foolish pretences, — it will be drawn off; which is the effect aimed at.

[2.] The deceitfulness of sin makes use of corrupt reasonings, taken from the pressing and urging occasions of life. “Should we,” says it in the heart, “attend strictly unto all duties in this kind, we should neglect our principal occasions, and be useless unto ourselves and others in the world.” And on this general account, particular businesses dispossess particular duties from their due place and time. Men have not leisure to glorify God and save their own souls, It is certain that God gives us time enough for all that he requires of us in any kind in this world. No duties need to jostle one another, I mean constantly. Especial occasions must be determined according unto especial circumstances. But if in any thing we take more upon us than we have time well to perform it in, without robbing God of that which is due to him and our own souls, this God calls not unto, this he blesseth us not in. It is more tolerable that our duties of holiness and regard to God should intrench upon the duties of our callings and employments in this world than on the contrary; and yet neither doth God require this at our hands, in an ordinary manner or course. How little, then, will he bear with that which evidently is so much worse upon all accounts whatever! But yet, through the deceitfulness of sin, thus are the souls of men beguiled. By several degrees they are at length driven from their duty.

[3.] It deals with the mind, to draw it off from its attendance unto this duty, by a tender of a compensation to be made in and by other duties; as Saul thought to compensate his disobedience by sacrifice. “May not the same duty performed in public or in the family suffice?” And if the soul be so foolish as not to answer, “Those things ought to be done, and this not to be lest undone,” it may be ensnared and deceived. For, besides a command unto it, namely, that we should personally “watch unto prayer,” there are, as hath been declared, sundry advantages in this duty so performed against the deceit and efficacy of sin, which in the more public attendance unto it it hath not. These sin strives to deprive the soul of by this commutation, which by its corrupt reasonings it tenders unto it.

[4.] I may add here that which hath place in all the workings of sin by deceit, — namely, its feeding the soul with promises and purposes of a more diligent attendance unto this duty when occasions will permit. By this means it brings the soul to say unto its convictions of duty, as Felix did to Paul, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” And by this means oftentimes the present season and time, which alone is ours, is lost irrecoverably.

These are some of the ways and means whereby the deceit of sin 231endeavours to draw off the mind from its due attendance unto this duty, which is so peculiarly suited to prevent its progress and prevalency, and which aims so directly and immediately at its ruin. I might instance also in other duties of the like tendency; but this may suffice to discover the nature of this part of the deceit of sin. And this is the first way whereby it makes way for the farther entangling of the affections and the conception of sin. When sin hath wrought this effect on any one, he is said to be “drawn away,” to be diverted from what in his mind he ought constantly to attend unto in his walking before the Lord.

And this will instruct us to see and discern where lies the beginning of our declensions and failings in the ways of God, and that either as to our general course or as to our attendance unto especial duties. And this is of great importance and concernment unto us. When the beginnings and occasions of a sickness or distemper of body are known, it is a great advantage to direct in and unto the cure of it. God, to recall Zion to himself, shows her where was the “beginning of her sin,” Micah i. 13. Now, this is that which for the most part is the beginning of sin unto us, even the drawing off the mind from a due attendance in all things unto the discharge of its duty. The principal care and charge of the soul lies on the mind; and if that fail of its duty, the whole is betrayed, either as unto its general frame or as unto particular miscarriages. The failing of the mind is like the failing of the watchman in Ezekiel; the whole is lost by his neglect. This, therefore, in that self-scrutiny and search which we are called unto, we are most diligently to inquire after. God doth not look at what duties we perform, as to their number and tale, or as to their nature merely, but whether we do them with that intension of mind and spirit which he requireth. Many men perform duties in a road or course, and do not, as it were, so much as think of them; their minds are filled with other things, only duty takes up so much of their time. This is but an endeavour to mock God and deceive their own souls. Would you, therefore, take the true measure of yourselves, consider how it is with you as to the duty of your minds which we have inquired after. Consider whether, by any of the deceits mentioned, you have not been diverted and drawn away; and if there be any decays upon you in any kind, you will find that there hath been the beginning of them. By one way or other your minds have been made heedless, regardless, slothful, uncertain, being beguiled and drawn off from their duty. Consider the charge, Prov. iv. 23–27. May not such a soul say, “If I had attended more diligently; if I had considered more wisely the vile nature of sin; if! had not suffered my mind to be possessed with vain hopes and foolish imaginations, by a cursed abuse of gospel grace; if I had not 232permitted it to be filled with the things of the world, and to become negligent in attending unto especial duties, — I had not at this day been thus sick, weak, thriftless, wounded, decayed, defiled. My careless, my deceived mind, hath been the beginning of sin and transgression unto my soul.” And this discovery will direct the soul unto a suitable way for its healing and recovery; which will never be effected by a multiplying of particular duties, but by a restoring of the mind, Ps. xxiii. 3.

And this, also, doth hence appear to be the great means of preserving our souls, both as unto their general frame and particular duties, according to the mind and will of God, — namely, to endeavour after a sound and steadfast mind. It is a signal grace to have “the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” 2 Tim. i. 7; — a stable, solid, resolved mind in the things of God, not easily moved, diverted, changed, not drawn aside; a mind not apt to hearken after corrupt reasonings, vain insinuations, or pretences to draw it off from its duty. This is that which the apostle exhorts believers unto: 1 Cor. xv. 58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” The steadfastness of our minds abiding in their duty is the cause of all our unmovableness and fruitfulness in obedience; and so Peter tells us that those who are by any means led away or enticed, “they fall from their own steadfastness,” 2 Pet. iii. 17. And the great blame that is laid upon backsliders is, that they are not steadfast: Ps. lxxviii. 37, “Their heart was not steadfast.” For if the soul be safe, unless the mind be drawn off from its duty, the soundness and steadfastness of the mind is its great preservative. And there are three parts of this steadfastness of the mind:— First, A full purpose of cleaving to God in all things; Secondly, A daily renovation and quickening of the heart unto a discharge of this purpose; Thirdly, Resolutions against all dalliances or parleys about negligences in that discharge; — which are not here to be spoken unto.


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