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The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations.
I HAVE formerly made some entrance into these words, in which, after a short explication and account given of these two things, viz.
1st, Who are here to be understood by the godly; And,
2dly, What is here meant by temptation;
I cast the further prosecution of the words under these following particulars.
1st, To shew how far God delivers persons truly pious out of temptation.
2dly, To shew what is the grand motive or impulsive cause, inducing God thus to deliver them. And,
3dly and lastly, To shew why and upon what grounds this is to be reputed so great a mercy and so transcendent a privilege.
The first of these three I have already despatched, and proceed now to the
Second, namely, to shew what is the prime motive, 324 or grand impulsive cause, inducing God to deliver persons truly pious out of temptation.
Now this is twofold.
1st, The free mercy of God. And,
2dly, The prevailing intercession of Christ.
And first for the first of these; the free, sovereign inclination of divine mercy. Concerning which, if we duly and exactly consider the absoluteness and simplicity of the divine nature, nothing can be more agreeable to the conceptions which we form of it, and consequently more rational, than to state the first reason or impulsive cause of all God’s actings within himself. So that, as we must acknowledge the different issue and success of persons brought into the same condition of danger or distress, to depend wholly upon the exercise or suspension of the divine mercy towards such persons; in like manner are we to resolve the exercise or suspension of this mercy into the divine will.
Thus in the present case: that one man is delivered out of the plunges of temptation, and another suffered to sink and perish under them; it is from an act of mercy vouchsafed to the one, and not to the other; and that this is not equally vouchsafed to both, it is from the free resolution of that sovereign, supreme will, which has mercy upon whom it will have mercy, and is by no means bound to save or deliver those who have freely destroyed themselves.
And that this is so is evident: for if the first motives or impulsive cause of this deliverance were not wholly from God himself, then it must proceed from something in the person who is to be delivered; and if so, it must be either from the necessity of his condition 325needing such a deliverance, or from the worth and goodness of his person deserving it. But it will appear to be from neither. Not from the necessity of his condition in the first place: for if this were the first and chief cause inducing God to deliver men, then it would equally do the same for all in the same condition. But the contrary is too manifest; for some under the same circumstances of temptation are delivered, while others are suffered to perish by it. Nor yet, in the next place, can the cause of this deliverance be stated upon the goodness or piety of the person delivered. For certain it is, that no degree of piety whatsoever could ever yet absolutely privilege the very best of men from being tempted, that is to say, either from first entering into, or for some time continuing under a temptation; as several in all ages, who have been most remarkably pious, have found and felt by sad experience. Nor is it less certain, that it is not a man’s piety which is the cause inducing God to vouchsafe him a final deliverance out of temptation, forasmuch as it could not antecedently induce God at first to rescue or keep him from it, when yet it is manifest, that the piety of the said person must needs have been at that time greater and more untainted, than after the temptation had made some breach upon it, as it always in some measure does, before the tempted person comes to be perfectly conquered by it. As, for instance, it must of necessity bring him to the commission of it; and (if it were no more) this must needs degrade his piety to a lower pitch than it was at before the temptation began. And then if an higher degree of piety could not obtain so much of God as to keep the man from first entering into the 326 snare, surely it cannot be imagined, that after he had lost some degrees of that piety by being taken and held in it, it should, under those disadvantages, be more prevalent with God to deliver him out of it, than at first to keep him from it; which experience shews it did not.
And therefore it is clear, that the first grand motive or impulsive cause of this deliverance is not to be sought for in any thing inherent in the person delivered, but in the sole and sovereign good-will and pleasure of his great deliverer.
But you will say, Does not the text itself state the cause and reason of this deliverance, upon the godliness of the persons delivered? For does not the apostle here expressly tell us, that they are the godly whom God delivers out of temptation?
To this I answer, that in all the actings of divine mercy we must distinguish between the first impulsive cause of the act, and the proper qualification of the object upon which that act is exerted: the confusion of which two, frequently occasions no small mistakes and blunders in discoursing about these matters.
God promises deliverance out of temptation to the godly, and yet their godliness is not the cause of this deliverance, any more than of God’s making such a promise. It is indeed the qualification of the person who is to be delivered; so that without it the deliverance (upon a federal account, as was said before) would not be; but still the cause of it is quite another thing.
A prince, for instance, has an hundred of his subjects in captivity, and makes a declaration that he will redeem so many of them as are of such a certain 327age, taking no notice of the rest. Now, in this case, we cannot say that their being of such an age was the first impulsive cause inducing their prince to redeem them; but his own good pleasure, which first made him take up a resolution to redeem such persons, and to make this the condition of it. Their being indeed of such an age is the qualifying condition, rendering them the proper objects of such a redemption; so that such, and none but such, are redeemed. But the cause of that redemption it is not, that being (as we have shewn) to be sought for elsewhere.
Now the case is much the same, where God vouchsafes to deliver men out of temptation. Whence is it, that, upon such trials befalling men, some few escape, and in the issue are brought off without ruin, while thousands fall at their right hand and at their left? Is it the extreme misery of their condition moving God’s compassion, or the worthiness of their persons requiring this of his justice, which causes their deliverance? No; these are not, cannot be the cause, for the reasons before mentioned; they are indeed the proper qualifications rendering them fit to be delivered, but the free mercy or good pleasure of God is the main, leading, impulsive cause that actually they are delivered.
The thing, therefore, which is eminent from first to last in this whole transaction is mercy; mercy, which is its own argument; mercy, the first and grand motive of which is itself. For if it were not so, what could there be in a sinful, polluted creature to engage it? There is indeed enough to need, but nothing to deserve it. But the divine compassion, wheresoever it fixes, removes all obstacles, answers 328 all objections, and needs no other reason of its actings, but its own sovereign, absolute, unaccountable freedom.
2dly, The other impulsive cause of God’s delivering the saints out of temptation, is the intercession of Christ on their behalf. And this does not in the least derogate from, or contradict our first assertion, ascribing this great work and benefit only to divine mercy: forasmuch as it is the sole effect of mercy, that we have such an intercessor; and there is no opposition in subordination.
Now the two great parts of Christ’s priestly office are his meritorious satisfaction, and continual intercession. By the first of which he purchased for us all spiritual blessings, and by the latter he actually applies them. The first he perfected here on earth upon the cross, and the latter he now performs in heaven.
And with what efficacy and success he discharges this great work of intercession there, sufficiently appears from that constant, never-failing prevalence which still attended his prayers here. For he himself expressly tells us, that the Father always heard him, John xi. 42. Heaven was always open to his prayers, and they could not but enter, where he, who made them, did command. There could be no frustration or denial where every request had the force of a claim, and every petition was founded in a purchase.
The divinity of Christ’s person, and the surpassing value of his merits, put a commanding sovereignty into all his desires; so that every thing which he asked of his Father was indeed a petition of right; and since his divinity made him able to give, it was 329one part of his humiliation that he vouchsafed to ask. And for this reason, some of his requests run stylo imperatorio, in a kingly dialect; and we some times find him not only preaching, but also praying, as one having authority; John xvii. 24, Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me be with me, to behold my glory. It was not a mere prayer, but a kind of compound address, made up of petition and demand.
And now this way of asking, as high and as efficacious as it is, is wholly employed by Christ for delivering the saints out of temptation. Judas, we know, was tempted, and fell without recovery. Peter also was tempted, and fell, but rose again. Now, whence was this difference in the issue of the temptation? Why, those words of our Saviour will in form us, Luke xxii. 31, Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have thee, that he may sift thee as wheat. And according to his desire he had him, and sifted him to the utmost, and discovered how much chaff and foul stuff was lodged in his heart, which he himself knew not of. Yet still for all this, the wheat was but sifted only, not destroyed; and Christ gives us the reason of it in the next words, I have prayed that thy faith fail not. And if Christ had not prayed for him in that wretched condition, it is to be feared that he would scarce have prayed for himself.
For though indeed the spirit of prayer and fervent supplication be one of the most effectual means to bring a man out of temptation, yet sometimes the temptation is so far beforehand with a man, that it prevents him, seizing and prepossessing his will and affections; and that to such a degree, that he has no heart to pray against it; but, like a thief, it steals 330 upon him, and then binds his hands and stops his mouth, so that he can neither lift up heart nor hand to call in aid from Heaven. In which forlorn estate, if Christ prays not in his stead, and solicits his Father for the succours of recovering grace, the sinner is left remediless in the cruel grasp of his insulting enemy, to be crushed and devoured by him at his pleasure.
And now, what Christ did for Peter and other of his saints, while he was here upon earth, the same he still does, and that with advantage, for all believers know that he is in heaven; where he has changed his place indeed, but not his office; his condition, but not his affection .
What it was to be tempted, our Saviour knew of old, by the sure, but sharp convictions of his own experience; and therefore treats such as are tempted with all the sympathizing tenderness, that fellow ship in suffering can produce in a mind infinitely merciful of itself; as it is expressly affirmed, Heb. ii. 18, For in that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour those also who are tempted. To which we may add those words, Heb. vii. 25, That he liveth for ever, to make intercession for us. And from both together we have all that comfort, that a boundless compassion, supported by an infinite power, and an endless duration, can afford.
And this is that unvaluable advantage which we reap from having such an high priest, as can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. For as he who has broke a limb, having his choice of several chirurgeons equally skilful, would much rather choose one who had not only cured many others, 331but had also suffered the same disaster, and felt the same pain and anguish of a broken limb himself: for that from such a hand he might rationally expect not only a sound, but a gentle cure; a cure in which compassion should combine with skill, and make one ingredient in every application.
In like manner it is not so much the greatness, the power, and majesty of our intercessor, that should animate persons under a temptation to address to him, as his having drank of the same cup, and passed through the same furnace himself. From which one endearing consideration it is, that the prayers of such persons find stronger arguments to enforce them in the breast of him who hears, than they can derive from the heart of him who makes them.
For as it is commonly, and perhaps very truly said, that none knows the heart of a father, but he who has been a father; so none knows what it is to be pursued and worried with the restless buffets of an impure spirit, but he who has endured the same terrible conflict himself. Christ has endured it, and his experience moves his compassion, and his compassion engages his prayers; and where he has promised us his prayers, we may promise ourselves the success.
And thus I have shewn, that the great impulsive cause of the saints’ deliverance out of temptation, is partly the free, sovereign, distinguishing mercy of God, and partly the mediatorial intercession of Christ: that is, they have a gracious Father, and a powerful Advocate; and therefore, being assaulted, they are not conquered, and being tempted, are not destroyed.
But now, by way of objection to the foregoing 332 particulars, you will say; Does not this doctrine open a door to presumption, and naturally encourage men to venture themselves into temptation, by giving them such assurances of an after-deliverance from it? Does it not tend to lessen the awe and dread they should have of their spiritual danger, by telling them that the mercy of God and the intercession of Christ are engaged for their recovery?
I answer, No; for as the persons who are here said to be delivered are persons truly sanctified, and regenerate by a principle of grace, which has wrought upon and changed their nature, (so much being implied in the very name and character of the godly,) so it is utterly against the very nature of such a principle, to draw such consequences from the mercy of God and the intercession of Christ. For moral ingenuity could not do so, and therefore grace much less. The love of God, says the apostle, 2 Cor. v. 14, constraineth us. And as it is impossible for a principle of love to exert acts of hatred, so it is equally impossible for a principle of holiness to suggest to the heart such villainous deductions, as to make the very mercy of God an argument to offend him. Every faculty or principle is carried by its own nature, as by a strong bias, to act suitably to itself; and you may as well expect that the fire should cool, or the water dry, or a false proposition issue from a true, as that a principle of grace should argue or discourse in this manner. He who is born of God, says the apostle, 1 John iii. 9, cannot sin, because he is born of God. That is, the principle which constitutes a man a new creature, cannot incline or induce him to sin. And therefore, how did Joseph answer and repel the 333temptation which accosted him? Why, he neither pleaded the disgrace nor danger that might ensue upon it, but the utter inconsistency of that principle which he both acted, and was acted by, with the commission of so vile a fact. How can I do this great wickedness, says he, Gen. xxxix. 9. Not only, how shall I, but, how can I do it. As if he had said, There is something within me so utterly contrary to, and so wholly averse from this wicked proposal, that I cannot comply with it, I cannot frame or bring my will to it.
In like manner, for persons regenerate, acting by that principle which makes them so, to take confidence to venture upon a temptation, from an assurance of God’s mercy or Christ’s intercession, is a thing absolutely unnatural, and consequently impossible.
But you will say, How then can a person, endued with this mighty and divine principle, come ever to be prevailed upon by a temptation?
Why, the reason of this is, because such an one does not always act according to this principle, but sometimes, either through surprise, or neglect of his duty, or remissness in it, or want of watchfulness over himself, the working force and energy of this mighty principle comes for a while to suspend its actings, and to lie, as it were, stupified, or in a trance; the giant is asleep, and the sword of the Spirit is not drawn, during which fatal interval or cessation, the flesh and the Devil take their advantage to assault, and get ground even of the best of men.
Nevertheless, the case is surely very different, when a man, thus overtaken with a kind of spiritual 334 slumber, drops into a temptation; and when, with his eyes open, and all the powers of his soul awake, he argues and debates the matter with himself for and against the temptation; and in the issue of that debate comes at length to a formed resolution to venture upon it from a confidence, that after he has took his fill of his sin, the divine mercy will deliver him out of it: this, I say, is a case so vastly different from the former, that though the former may very well consist with a habit of piety and sincerity, yet this latter looks so very ill, and has in it something so desperately wicked, that I very much question whether it be, or can be, incident to the heart of a person truly regenerate.
But because this is so great a mystery of iniquity, and apt to work so fatally upon the minds of such as think themselves sincere and regenerate, but indeed not so; I think it may be of no small use to look into and resolve this case of conscience, namely, whether a regenerate, a godly, or sincere person, (which are all but several words for the same thing,) can have any rational assurance, before he enters into a temptation, that being once prevailed upon by it, he shall in the issue be delivered out of it.
To which I answer in these two propositions.
1st, That a person under such circumstances can have no antecedent assurance one way or other, either that he shall or shall not be delivered. And,
2dly, That it is more probable, and that he has greater reason to believe, that he shall not be delivered, than that he shall.
Of both of which propositions with as much brevity as the thing will bear.
And first, for the first of them, I affirm, that such 335an one cannot certainly and positively conclude that he shall not be delivered; forasmuch as this would be a bold, unwarranted intrusion into the counsels of God, and a limitation of that mercy, the precise measures of which are determined by bounds known only to God himself. But this, I must confess, is an error of such a nature, that men need not be much cautioned against it, as being still more apt, in all their expectations of mercy, to conclude too much for, than at all against themselves.
And therefore I affirm also on the other side, that much less can a person thus offering himself to temptation have any ground of assurance, that he shall in the issue be brought out of it.
For the clearing of which matter we must observe, that the temptations here spoken of are generally such as lead to great sins; great, I say, either for the matter of them, such as are blasphemies, perjuries, rebellions, murders, adulteries, thefts, extortions, and the like; or great for the manner of committing them, as being committed against the clear light and conviction of conscience, or, as the scripture sometimes expresses it, presumptuously, and with an high hand, and with full deliberation. All which kind of sins wound and waste the conscience, grieve the Holy Spirit, hazard a man’s final and eternal estate, and, in a word, make a very great and dangerous alteration in his spiritual condition.
Those, I say, are the sins which we are now treating of; for such, and such only, the Devil drives at in most of his temptations, whether he effects them or no; but still the malignity of a temptation is to be measured by the greatness of the 336 sin, which it designs to bring a man to. And concerning these sins I affirm, that when any man is tempted to them, he can have no sufficient assurance, that, in case he should be prevailed upon by them, God will deliver him out of them. And the full, serious, thorough consideration of this is that flaming sword, which God has placed before the door and entrance of every such temptation, to warn all who value the present peace and future happiness of their souls, to fly from it, as they would from the regions of death and the mansions of the damned.
But you will say; Have there not been several in stances of persons whom God has delivered out of temptation, after they have been prevailed upon by it? And if so, may not others in following times, of the same qualifications, and under the same circumstances, antecedently assure themselves of the same deliverance?
To this I answer, first, that of all persons whom God has at any time delivered out of temptation, I believe it will be hard to produce any one who ever entered into it with such a presumption. But 2dly, I add moreover, that it is hardly possible for any man to assure himself, that his qualifications and circumstances are exactly the same with those who have been delivered. Besides that, in the last place, there is nothing to oblige God to vouchsafe the same mercy to persons under the same circumstances.
But you will urge further, that there are not only instances and examples, but also promises of such a performance in several places of the scripture, and particularly in the text, where, by God’s knowing how to deliver, the apostle no doubt meant his will 337and purpose to deliver the godly out of temptation. And if so, may not such persons be beforehand sure of their deliverance? since where there is a promise on God’s part, there may and ought to be an assurance on ours.
To this also I answer; that we are still to remember, that neither this nor any other the like promises are made immediately to any particular person, but only in general to the godly and regenerate; amongst which no man can with any rational evidence account himself, while he is either actually committing, or at least purposing to commit some great sin; as every man under the power of such temptations (as we have mentioned) certainly is. And consequently, while he cannot be sure of his regeneracy, neither can he be sure, that a promise made only to the regenerate does at all belong to him.
But you may yet say; Suppose that such an one had a former assurance of his regenerate state, may he not now, from his remembrance of that, draw a present assurance that he shall be delivered out of all temptations?
For the clearing of which, I observe, that there are two sorts of assurance.
1. The first consisting in such a certain persuasion of a man’s regenerate estate, as is subject to no mistake about it.
2. The second consisting in such a persuasion, as excludes all actual doubting of it.
Which two sorts of assurance differ as much from one another, as a man’s being sure of a thing differs from his being only confident of it; which latter he may very easily be, and yet be far enough from the 338 former. Accordingly in the case now before us, I shall not consider that first sort of assurance, consisting in an infallible persuasion of a man’s regenerate estate; it being much questioned by many, whether such an assurance be attainable in this life, unless by the special and immediate gift of God: albeit all confess, that in case he should vouchsafe to any one so high a privilege, it would certainly be at tended with such a confirmed habit of holiness, as would effectually keep him who had it from all gross and deliberate sins.
But then as for the other sort of assurance, which only excludes all actual doubting of a man’s regenerate estate, it is much another thing; for being raised chiefly upon the stock of a forward confidence, and not supported with an equal measure of grace, it may rise and fall, ebb and flow, and in many cases, and with several persons, come at length totally to be lost.
Which being premised, I answer to the foregoing question in the negative, and that upon the ground of a double hypothesis. As,
1st, Of that which holds, that a person truly regenerate may fall from his regeneracy, and through his sin cease to be what he was. According to which opinion the person here spoken of, who is either actually committing, or fully proposing to commit some great sin, has no small reason to suspect the case wholly altered with him as to his regeneracy, and that, whatsoever he was before, he is now fallen from it; and consequently, notwithstanding any former assurance of it, can at present lay no claim to a promise, made only to persons continuing under that estate.339
2dly, The other hypothesis or opinion, upon which I ground a further answer to the aforesaid question, holds the certain final perseverance of every regenerate person in a state of regeneracy. And according to this indeed, if a man be once truly assured that he is in such a state, it must follow that he will be always in the same. But then I add, that it does not also follow that he shall always be assured that he is so. But on the contrary, that the truth of a man’s former assurance, in the case of great sins committed, becomes very questionable, as most likely (for all his former confidence) to have been taken up at the first upon false grounds, and consequently must needs sink and cease, though his regenerate estate should continue. For even a true proposition may be assented to upon a mistaken ground. And as to the point now before us: nothing is more certain, than that former assurances (though never so free from all doubts when first entertained) will vanish upon a present great guilt; since admitting that it should not wholly change a man’s regenerate state, yet it will be sure to blot and weaken (if not quite extinguish) those evidences which he had once built his assurances thereof upon. David no doubt was a person truly regenerate, and in favour with God, and so continued to his life’s end; and as little is it to be doubted, but that at most times he fully reckoned himself to be what really and in truth he was: but that with a constant, uninterrupted confidence he always thought himself so, cannot, I am sure, with any warrant from scripture, be affirmed. For though we find him sometimes with a kind of triumphant assurance declaring, that God held him by his right hand, and that he would both guide 340 him with his counsel, and after that receive him with glory, Psalm lxxiii. 24, expressions (one would think) of a confidence too high to rise higher, and too strong to be brought lower; yet elsewhere we find this mighty hero upon the very brink of despair, or rather plunged into the depths of it, as appears from those terrible, desponding outcries, Psalm lxxvii. 7, 8, 9, Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? and does his promise fail for ever more? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? and hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Every verse, every sentence, and word here, speaking nothing but the horrors of an hopeless soul, and the struggles and agonies of one sinking under the dismal apprehensions of the divine wrath. Nor are we so much to wonder, that such fearful breaches should be made upon the confidence of so eminent a saint, if we consider what temptations and what sinful failings God was sometimes pleased to suffer him to be overtaken with. To all which vicissitudes of confidence and distrust about a man’s spiritual estate, we may add this further consideration; that according to the natural course of things, the insincerity of the latter part of a man’s life is a greater presumption against the sincerity of the former part of it, than the sincerity of the former can be a security against the insincerity of the latter. And therefore let a man’s spiritual state and condition be as safe and good as he would persuade himself that it is, yet, if he has no certain knowledge thereof, (as in the case of great guilt we have shewn that it is not to be had,) he can conclude nothing from such his condition concerning the final issue of a temptation. 341From all which it must follow, according to either of the forementioned hypotheses or opinions, (without my espousing either of them for my own,) that, whether a man really be or be not regenerate, yet when he is actually prevailed upon by a temptation, he cannot assure himself that God will deliver him out of it, and consequently, before the temptation, can have no certain prospect of such a deliverance.
Well then; assurance, in such a case, we have proved that a man can have none. But to make a step lower, though there be no assurance, yet may there not be at least a comfortable expectation? and though no certainty, yet a likelihood of recovery?
Why yes, I cannot deny but that in some cases there may. But then we must distinguish of two sorts of temptation, or rather of two ways of entering into it. As,
1st, When a man enters into it purely by his own free choice, no necessary business or circumstance of his life engaging him in it, by unhappily casting the matter of a temptation before him in the course of his lawful occasions.
2dly, When a man meets with a temptation in the pursuit of his honest calling or profession, or in such a condition as he is unavoidably brought into by an overruling hand of Providence.
These, I say, are the two ways by which men pass into temptation. Concerning the first of which I affirm, that when a man enters into it by his own free choice, putting himself upon needless, adventurous trials, he leads himself into temptation, and so has no cause to rely upon God for a deliverance out of it. And yet I do not, I cannot say, that God will not, in the event, deliver such an one. But this I 342 say, that such an one has no ground to conclude that he will; and withal, that for the most part he does not. For by thus stepping out of his way, he tempts God; and that surely is not the likeliest course to keep the Devil from tempting him.
As for the other way by which men pass into temptation, namely, in the course of their honest calling or profession, or by some overruling providence casting them under such circumstances as may lay some tempting, alluring object before them; I do not doubt but a man, in such a case, may comfortably and warrantably hope for such assistances from God, as shall carry him safe and successfully through the temptation, be it what it will;1515 Consult the sermon in vol. ii. p. 139-162, about the prevention of sin. I say, he may have much greater grounds to hope for them in this, than in the former cases, but can say no more; and that an hope so bottomed is so far from being an act of presumption, that it is indeed a lower act of faith, or next to it, and a justifiable dependence upon the power and goodness of him who never by his sole providence brings a good man into temptation, but that, sooner or later, he also opens a door whereby he may get out of it.
And it is in good earnest a matter of some astonishment, to consider, what eminent, what triumphant success even weak persons have had against such temptations as they have been next to unavoidably entangled in; and on the other side, what scandalous falls even the strongest and greatest heroes in religion have met with, by entering the lists with their powerful and skilful enemy, before God had called them to the combat: when indeed God thinks 343fit to call them to it, the battle is his, and the success must needs be answerable. But God is not bound to do miracles, as often as men are pleased to be wanton, and to throw themselves into danger, and thereby create to themselves a necessity either of a dismal fall or a miraculous delivery.
But to illustrate this matter further, I shall give you some instances of the different success which has attended these two ways of entering into temptation.
And first; how came David to fall into so foul a sin as adultery, and Joseph to escape it, though the temptation was much more pressing and importunate upon Joseph than it was upon David? Why, the reason is manifest: David cast himself into it by indulging himself at that time in a course of idleness and pleasure, and a gross neglect of the duties of his royal office: for in 2 Sam. xi. 1, 2, we find him represented first lazing upon his couch, and then walking upon the roof of his house; and, in a word, tarrying at home careless and unactive, and that at the highest time of action, a time when the text remarkably says that kings went out to battle, and when his own armies were in the field, and he himself should have been in the head of them, as be came a prince whom God had raised to that high station for nobler ends than to do his business by others, and assume the glory of it to himself.
On the contrary, Joseph came under the temptation without any precedent act or fault of his own, being forced out of his country, and carried as a slave into Egypt, and there bought and sold, and at length placed in a family where the Devil maliciously laid a snare for him, and he as victoriously broke through it. But had Joseph, out of a vain, vagrant humour, 344 travelled into Egypt, (as some do into France and other places,) only to see the country and to learn fashions, (as the word goes,) and in the course of his travels fallen into Potiphar’s house, probably he might have given that lewd proposal another kind of entertainment, and, while he was learning fashions, not have refused so fashionable a temptation.
Again, how came Moses to be safe amidst all the pleasures and idolatries of Pharaoh’s court, and Peter to deny and forswear the Son of God and Saviour of the world in the court of the high priest, where there was much less danger of forgetting God and himself, than there was in the Egyptian court, a place fraught with all sorts of vice, and without the least savour of God or goodness, virtue or religion? Why, the same reason is to be given for this also; God, by a strange providence, had placed Moses there, without any consent or concurrence of his own; and accordingly, having brought him thither by his providence, he preserved him there by his grace.
But on the other side. What reason had Peter to thrust himself into the high priest’s hall, where he had nothing to do, and to venture himself into the very mouth of that danger which Christ himself, but a few hours before, had so expressly warned him of? Why, it was his foolish confidence and curiosity, which betrayed him into that gazing, fatal adventure, which had like to have rifled his soul, and rob bed him of his faith, and, without the interposal of a singular grace, had consigned him over to a sad and final apostasy.
Many more such instances might be produced of both sorts; but I suppose these may suffice to convince the sober and considerate, that the same divine 345assistances which use to be vouchsafed to men in God’s way, are not to be expected by them in the Devil’s walk.
And yet so little is this considered, that I dare avouch, that most of those deadly blows and falls given by the tempter and his temptations to the souls of men, have been from their bold, voluntary, unwarrantable putting themselves upon those trials, which God would otherwise never have put them upon.
And it is wonderful to consider, what absurd, senseless pretences some allege for their so doing; three of which I shall briefly mention. As,
1st, Ask some men how they dare make themselves spectators of all that lewdness, and hearers of all that ribaldry, immorality, and profaneness, which is oftentimes seen and heard in some places and companies, and those in no small request neither; and they will tell you, that they do it (forsooth) because they know themselves proof against all impressions from such objects. And do they indeed find themselves so upon experience? Why yes, just as much as tinder uses to be proof against the sparks which fall upon it. And generally such spiritual braves, upon the first encounter and trial of their strength this way, are quickly taught the contrary, full sore to their cost, seldom coming off but with a baffled confidence and a bleeding conscience, with the shame of one and the guilt of the other.
2dly, Others, in the like cases, will tell you, that they venture in this manner, to create in themselves a greater and more lively hatred and detestation of such practices by an actual inspection of the ugliness and deformity of them. Which kind of reasoning is 346 just as if a man should go into a pest-house to learn a remedy against the plague.
But whosoever he is, who shall presume to try the strength and temper of his soul by such venturous, unhallowed courses as these, shall find that God will leave him, and his own purposes will fail him; and the sin which he would pretend to hate shall smile in his face, and win upon his heart, and by secret encroaches grow upon his spirit, till at length it has crept into and lodged itself within the very inmost powers of his soul. It being usually with the heart of man and a temptation, as it was with Esau and his brother Jacob; while Esau was marching towards him, he fully proposed to fight him, but as soon as he came to him, he embraced him.
It is a saying worthy to be wrote in the heart of every man with the pen of a diamond, Ecclus. iii. 26, that he who loves danger shall perish by it. And that man who can be so sottishly ignorant of the nature of things, as to think to learn sobriety amongst the debauched, chastity in the stews, modesty at balls and plays, and the like, will quickly come to leave his virtue behind him, and to take the shape and impress of that mould into which such courses and companies have cast him. For there is no such thing as gathering grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles; no turning the incentives of vice into the instruments of virtue, or growing holy by a kind of antiperistasis. He who will needs fight the Devil at his own weapon, must not wonder if he finds him an overmatch.
3dly and lastly, There are others again who run themselves upon these ungodly and foolhardy adventures, out of an insolent confidence, that, in case 347they should happen to be worsted and foiled in them, they will repent, and that shall salve all, and set them whole and right again: than which confidence nothing can be imagined more absurd and impious; absurd, because a man hereby ventures the greatest interest he has in the world upon some thing not in his own power; repentance being, upon several accounts, most particularly the gift of God: and surely no man can have cause to expect a gift, nay, the best of gifts, from God, while he is actually provoking him. For how can such a wretch assure himself that God will give him either grace to repent by, or time to repent in? And yet it is certain that there can be no repentance without both, and as certain that a man can give himself neither.
He may perhaps for a while stop the mouth of his crying conscience with some flattering, fallacious promises of an after-amendment. But as it was said to the rich, sottish worldling in the gospel, singing a requiem to his soul, and projecting his future ease, upon a survey of his present stores; so may it be said to that man who abuses himself with such false reckonings about his spiritual estate, Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee; and then what will become of all those windy, abortive projects of a future repentance? No doubt, a man may drop into hell in the midst of them. And that will be a sad conviction to him, that repentance is one thing, and a purpose to repent quite another. And so much for the absurdity of this pretence.
And then for the impiety of it. It is of so peculiar a malignity and opposition to the motions of God’s holy Spirit, that whosoever can take heart to sin upon presumption of a following repentance, 348 needs not be much concerned about the issue of any temptation; for he is already under the power of one of the worst and strongest temptations that can possibly befall a man; and carries an heart so utterly contrary to, and estranged from all real sense of piety, that the utmost commission of the sin which he is tempted to can hardly estrange it more.
Such an one is certainly in the very gall of bitterness, and under the most binding fetters that the Devil can well hold him by. For of all the Devil’s engines, this imposture of a future repentance is the chief, and most fatally efficacious; and, I dare affirm, has sent more souls to hell than any one thing else whatsoever. Nay, the truth is, it is hard to imagine how any man, with his senses about him, could venture upon any deliberate sin without it. For come to a sinner just as he is entering upon the Devil’s work, and ask him whether he does not know that God has threatened theft, murder, and uncleanness, and the like, with damnation? and he will tell you, Yes. And is not God true and just? Yes. And if so, how dare you venture to commit any of these sins? Then whispers his false heart this secret encouragement in his ear, that repentance shall step in between him and damnation. And so the scene being thus laid, the man goes on, and upon these terms complies with the temptation, and commits the sin; and God, perhaps, in his just judgment, never gives him grace to repent of it. But this is a subject of so great importance, that it worthily requires a just, entire discourse by itself.
And thus having shewn, that, which way soever a man passes into temptation, he can have no antecedent assurance that God will deliver him out of it; 349no, nor yet in the place, so much as a probable expectation of such a deliverance, unless the temptation befalls him in the course of his lawful occasions, or by some overruling providence casting him upon it, and not by his own free choice and fault stepping into it; and lastly, since it is certain that men fall into temptation this latter way, at least an hundred times for once that they fall into it upon the former account, I suppose there can need no further demonstration of the truth of that other proposition laid down by me, namely, “That before a man’s entering into temptation, it is much more probable, and that he has greater reason to believe, that being once prevailed upon by it, he shall not be delivered out of it, than that he shall.” Which one thing seriously thought of and laid to heart, surely, one would think, should be abundantly enough to alarm any man in his wits, and to keep him out of those fatal by-ways, where the entrance is dangerous, the retreat is doubtful, and the end is death.
And now to sum up this whole argument and discourse in a few words. If the foregoing assertions or propositions be true, (as the whole world will never be able to prove them otherwise,) let any one of sense and reason, from this consideration, that the mercy of God and the intercession of Christ are engaged to deliver the godly out of temptation, draw a rational argument to venture upon a temptation if he can.
For, first, upon a principle of common gratitude or humanity, will or can any one make mercy itself a motive to sin, and the greatest kindness a provocation to the foulest hostilities? Will a son kick against his father’s bowels, only because he knows 350 that they yearn over him? And if this be monstrous and incredible, can we believe that a principle of grace can suggest or endure such reasonings as common humanity would abhor?
Or, in the next place, will a principle of common prudence suffer a man under a capital guilt to offend, grieve, and affront his advocate? Shall I spit in the face of him who is to plead for my life, and I am a dead man if he does not? And if common sense will and must explode such practices, can a principle of grace, which enlightens the understanding as well as purifies the heart, carry a man to that which common sense would secure him from? All these are paradoxes in reason and nature, and therefore infinitely more so in religion.
Well, but admit that the enormous strength of a man’s corruption should so far overbear all these discourses both of reason and religion, as to make him sin, and then presume upon mercy in spite of them. Why, then it will follow, that such an one has no reason in the earth to reckon himself in the number of the godly and regenerate, to whom alone an interest in those two great benefits does belong; and consequently, that he presumes without any ground. In which case, it is not this or any other gospel doctrine, but the man’s own ignorance and misapplication of that to himself which he has no claim to, which causes his presumption.
And, therefore, shew me that man who can make such cursed inferences from those two high privileges, and I will undertake to demonstrate to him, that those inferences and conclusions are much more effectual arguments to evince that he has no interest at all in that mercy and that intercession, than they 351can be to prove that that mercy and that intercession will be employed, or concerned to deliver him out of temptation.
For a principle of true grace; nay, even a probable persuasion; nay, further, a full assurance of that grace, would keep any one from arguing at such a villainous rate: forasmuch as no man ever attains to such an assurance but by a long course of piety, and an habitual, strict communion with God, and such an eminent, controlling degree of grace, as shall render it morally impossible for a person so qualified to make such horrid conclusions.
But the truth is, error and a wicked mind will draw poison out of any thing, and turn the choicest benefits and the richest cordials of the gospel into gall and hemlock. But for all that, God is not mocked, though men love to be deceived. Nor are the means of salvation at all the less so, because some abuse them to their destruction. I am sure we have all cause to pray, that God would keep us from so dangerous a delusion in so great a concern.
To whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.352
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