|« Prev||A Discourse upon Proverbs xxviii. 26.||Next »|
He that trusteth in Ms own heart is a fool.
THE great instrument and engine for the carrying on of the commerce and mutual intercourses of the world is trust, without which there can be no correspondence maintained either between societies or particular persons. And accordingly being a thing of such general and immediate influence upon the affairs of mankind, there is nothing in the management of which men give such great experiments either of their wisdom or their folly; the whole measure of these being taken by the world, according as it sees men more or less deceived in their transacting with others. Certain it is, that credulity lays a man infinitely open to the abuses and injuries of crafty persons. And though a strong belief best secures the felicity of the future life, yet it is usually the great bane and supplanter of our happiness in this; there being scarce any man who arrives to any sound understanding of himself or his own interest, till he comes to be once or twice notably deceived by such an one, of whom he was apt to say and think, according to the common phrase, I would trust my very life with him. And for this cause it is, that that nation, which seems justly of the greatest reputation for wisdom in the western world, has vouched 488 it for a maxim, and lived by it as a rule, to trust nobody: whether in so doing they deal honestly and ingenuously they seem not much to care, being contented that it is safe.
But of all the fallacies and scurvy cheats put upon men by their trusting others, there are none so shameful, and indeed pernicious, as the baffles which men sustain by trusting themselves; which gives them but too frequent and sad an experience, that the nearest neighbours are not always the best friends. For none surely can be nearer to a man than himself, or be supposed so true and faithful to all his concerns, as the heart which beats in his own breast; yet Solomon, and a greater than Solomon, which is experience, gives us infallible demonstrations that it is much otherwise; and that the heart, of all things in the world, is least to be confided in, else certainly a man’s trusting of it could not thus denominate him a fool.
The words contain in them a caution or admonition against men’s trusting their own hearts, upon the account of that disgraceful imputation which such a trust or confidence will in the issue bring upon them; and consequently they very naturally present these two things to our inquiry.
I. What is meant by a man’s trusting his heart.
II. Wherein the folly of it consists.
As for the first of these. For a man to trust his own heart, is, in short, for him to commit and resign up the entire conduct of his life and actions to the directions of it, as of a guide, the most able and the most faithful, to direct him in all the most important matters which relate either to his temporal or his spiritual estate. For whosoever trusts another 489for his guide, must do it upon the account of these two qualifications to be found in him.
1st, That he is able to direct and lead him. So that in this case a man must look upon every dictate of his heart as an oracle; he must look upon it as speaking to him from an infallible chair, incapable of error or mistake in any thing which it proposes to him to be followed. In a word, he must take it for the unerring measure of truth, and the most certain reporter of the mind of God.
2dly, A guide must be such an one as not only certainly can, but also faithfully will give the best directions. For let a man know the way never so well, yet if he has a design not to impart that know ledge, but perhaps has more windings and turnings than the way itself, such an one is far from being a competent guide, and fit to be trusted, especially in a man’s journey to eternity. So that for a man to trust his heart, is to take it for his best, his surest, and most unfailing friend, that will deal openly, clearly, and impartially with him in every thing, and give him faithful intelligence in all his affairs.
Having thus seen what is imported in a man’s trusting his heart, we come now, in the next place, to see wherein the foolishness of it consists. For the making out of which, we are to observe, that there are two things which render a trust foolish, both of them to be considered with mutual relation to one another in this particular.
1st, The value of the thing which we commit to a trust.
2dly, The undue qualifications of the person to whose trust we commit it.
In both of which respects the confidence reposed 490 by men in their own hearts will, in the procedure of this discourse, appear to be inexcusably foolish.
First of all, then, as for the thing which we commit to a trust. We do, in a word, trust all that to our hearts which is the consequent of our actions, either in reference to this world or the other. But to explicate and draw forth this general into the several particulars wrapt up and included in it; while we rely upon the guidance of our heart, we commit these three things to the mercy of its trust. 1. The honour of God. 2. Our own felicity here. 3. The eternal concernments of our souls hereafter. All of them certainly, either jointly or severally, things too great, too high, and too concerning, to be ventured upon the rotten bottom of a false and a deceiving heart.
We shall speak of each of them distinctly.
1st, First of all then, the honour of God is in trusted with the heart. So far as the manifestation of God’s honour depends upon the homage of his obedient creature, so far it is at the mercy of our actions, which are at the command of the heart, as the motion of the wheels follows the disposition of the spring. God is never disobeyed, but he is also dishonoured. In every act of sin, dust and ashes flings itself in the face of the Almighty, and defies him so far, that it puts him to the exercise of his vindictive justice, to prove his sovereignty and dominion over the bold offender.
Now God is capable of being honoured or dishonoured by us in three several respects.
1st, As he is our Creator. And is it not infinitely reasonable for clay to comply with the will of the potter? for such frail vessels as men are, to be subject 491to their almighty artificer? For did God make us, that we might spit in his face, and give us a being, that we might employ it to the dishonour of him who gave it? While a man sins, he seems to be his own creator, and to own an absolute independency, as to any superior, productive cause. For no understanding, judging rationally, would imagine, that a creature durst act against him, who first raised him into a capacity of acting, and that even out of nothing, and could crush him into nothing again every minute. So that the honour, by which we vouch and own God for a Creator, is a result of our actions, and the conduct of them is committed to the heart.
2dly, God is capable of being honoured by us as a Lord and Governor. If I am a master, says God, where is my honour? But can the rebellion of the subject declare the sovereignty of his prince? And is not every act of sin a blowing of a trumpet against Heaven, and a lifting up of a standard against the Almighty? Is it not the language of every offence, We will not have God reign over us? Does it not trample upon his laws, and puff at the power which should revenge the violation of them? And, on the contrary, is not the piety and obedience of our lives a proclaiming of God to be our King, and a recognizing of him for our great Master?
For this is an obvious and easy maxim of reason, that his servants we are to whom we obey. Obedience is but a clearer comment upon our allegiance. Why does God call upon us to let our light shine before men, did not the shining of that by reflection cast a shine and a lustre upon his own glory? When men see our good works, they are apt to glorify and 492 acknowledge the supremacy and ruling hand of our Lord and Master in heaven.
Well it is, that it is not in the power of the most rebellious creature, by any sin and misbehaviour of his, to take away the power and prerogative of God, though it may for the present be able to eclipse, slur, and so obscure it. For surely this is done, in a great measure, by every broad violation of the divine law, which seems to attempt to persuade the rest of the world, that God is not so great and so mighty a potentate as he bears himself for; since the boldness of an offender, for the most part, speaks the weakness of the governor.
To advance the clearness of which by instance. Pray how did David own God in the relation of a king, when by his two great sins he caused the enemies of God to blaspheme? How did the sons of Eli own him in that respect, when by the insolence and impurity of their behaviour they caused all Israel to loathe the offerings of the Lord? All these actions were a deposing of God from his throne, so far as his throne was placed in the heart and awful esteem of his creatures. In this respect therefore is the heart intrusted with God’s honour.
3dly, The honour of God also, considered as our Saviour and gracious Father, is trusted to the behaviour of the heart. For does not every sin defy, and every act of obedience honour God in this capacity? Would any one take him for a son, who lifts up his heel against him, to whom he should bend the knee? Or can any man be thought to own God for his Saviour, while he treats him with all the acts of hatred and hostility? By the behaviour of sinners towards God, one would think that they took him for an 493implacable tyrant and an enemy, for one who hated and maligned them, and consequently that the whole tenor of their life was but the acting of a continual revenge upon him for it. Natural ingenuity abhors the recompensing of a friend with all the indignities and contempts that exasperated nature passes upon an enemy. Every unworthy, sinful deportment therefore tends to beget and foment unbeseeming apprehensions of God in the mind of his creature. Now since the actions are governed by the heart, as the great dictator and commander in chief of all that a man either does or desires; it follows, that the heart has that great trust reposed in it, how far God shall receive the glory due to him, as he bears these three grand relations to us, of a Creator, a Governor, and a Saviour.
2dly, The second thing a man trusts his heart with, is his happiness in this world. And this is two fold: 1st, Temporal. 2dly, Spiritual.
1st, And first he trusts it with all his temporal comforts and felicities. It is a most known truth, that most of the miseries and calamities which befall a man in this life, break in upon him through the door of sin; frequent experience shewing us, how easily men sin themselves into disgrace, poverty, sickness, loss of friends, and the like; they are the direct consequents of a man’s personal misdemeanours. David’s adultery and murder made his enemies scorn, and his friends desert him, Psalm xxxviii. 11. It is said of them, that they stood aloof off; they flew from him as from a living, walking contagion. Intemperance ends in poverty, and a full belly makes an empty purse. Luxury enters upon and spoils the soul through the ruins of the body, 494 and the bed of uncleanness prepares for the bed of sickness.
But now in all these instances of sin, which maul the sinner with these temporal disasters, the heart is the first moving spring and principle; they all flow from the prevarications of this. It is this that is the source and the fruitful womb of all the mischiefs that render this life miserable, were there no after-reckonings in another.
How cautious is every man almost of trusting his neighbour with his mind or with his estate; because he knows how much such an one thereby gets the command, and the dispose of his happiness; for he fears lest he may by this means betray his honour, and disgrace him, or undermine his estate, and ruin him; not considering how much greater a suspicion he ought to have of his own heart and temper, which may, through the unhappy bent and propensity of it, push him on upon those courses which shall irrecoverably dash him in all his outward enjoyments; and then that shall sound forth his infamy, and trumpet out his disgrace louder than the tongue of the most merciless reviler can; that shall betray him into captivity to some expensive vice, which shall grind his fortunes to powder, and leave him as bare as the oppression of a domestic tyrant, or the invasion of a foreign enemy.
Such an one ventures into lewd company, and perhaps is thereby surprised into the dishonours of intemperance, and so departs with a wound upon his reputation. Another is confident, and steps into the occasion of sin, which perhaps by degrees entangles, and at length draws him into the paths of vice and uncleanness, and that sullies the clearness of his 495fame, and withal makes a breach upon the serenity and content of his mind, so that he is brought to taste but little even of these temporal felicities.
Now, how comes this to pass? Why, all through the treachery of his heart, which persuaded him of those strengths which he never really had, which told him what command he had of himself under those circumstances of temptation, which yet upon trial he was unable to contest with, and which would needs make him believe, that he might touch pitch, and yet not be defiled, venture upon the occasions of sin, and yet stand secure from the sin itself. These fraudulent dealings of the heart are those impostures which plunge men into infinite calamities and inconveniences, such as embitter the enjoyment even of common life itself.
2dly, There is yet another part of a man’s happiness in this world, which is spiritual, which his heart is also intrusted with, and that is, the peace of his conscience; a thing, the enjoyment of which is so valuable, and the loss so dreadful, that though it stands here reckoned but for a part of a man’s felicity, yet it is of that nature, that it may well pass for the whole: for what can a man truly enjoy while he wants it? and what can he much feel the want of, while he enjoys it? It is in effect a man’s whole, entire happiness; such a spreading universal influence has it upon all his thoughts, actions, and affections. For while a man carries his acquitting, absolving sentence within him, and a transcript of the pardons of Heaven deposited in his own breast, what storm can shake, what terror can amaze, what calamities can confound him! It is he alone who can 496 look death and danger in the face with a rational unconcernment; for he has that which enables him to look him, who is infinitely more terrible than all these together, even a just, an holy, and sin-revenging God, in the face.
On the other side, when the glass of a man’s conscience shall shew him a God frowning, a law cursing, wrath and vengeance preparing, and all the artillery of heaven and earth making ready against him, what can he think, say, or enjoy, in this condition? Even as much as Cain enjoyed, who lived a vagabond, and a terror to himself; or as Belshazzar, whose joints loosed, and whose knees smote together with horror and consternation. But now, what is this which puts the scourge into the hand of conscience, thus to lash and torment a man? Why, what is it, but the guilt of sin, which arms and envenoms it against the sinner? And is not sin the product of the sinner’s heart? Is not this the dung hill where that snake is bred, and which gives warmth to the cockatrice’s egg, till it be hatched and brought forth to the sinner’s confusion? It is the heart which sows dissension between a man and his conscience, by enticing and ensnaring him into those sins, the guilt of which lies grating and gnawing upon his mind perpetually; so that he lives with pain, and dies with horror, passes his days ill, and ends them worse. In every thing that a man’s heart prompts him to, it casts the die, whether he shall be happy or miserable for ever after. An unwholesome draught or an unwholesome morsel may make a man a pining, languishing person all his days. And it is the treachery of his appetite which inveigles 497him into the mischief, which cheats, and abuses, and by deceitful overtures trapans him into a perpetual calamity.
3dly and lastly, The other great thing which a man intrusts his heart with, is the eternal concernment of his soul hereafter. For as a man’s heart guides him, so he lives; and as he has lived in this world, so he must be rewarded in the other; and the state a man passes into there is eternal and unchangeable; there is neither retreat from misery, nor fall from happiness. And if so, how vast an acquisition is future glory, and how invaluable a loss goes along with damnation! Better is it that a man had never been born, than that he should miscarry in that his grand and last concern. But it is the behaviour of his heart, which must decide whether he shall or no; for if his heart deceives and seduces him into the fatal ways of sin, upon promise of pleasure, it is a thousand to one but the man holds on his course with his life, till those present pleasures determine in everlasting pains. How many are now in hell, who have nothing to charge their coming into that woful place upon, but an hard heart, a voluptuous heart, a vain, seducing, and deluding heart, which failed them in all the specious shews and promises it made them, which varnished over the ways of sin and death, which spread the paths of destruction with roses, and made them venture an immortal soul upon an appearance, and build eternity upon a fallacy. This has been that which has kindled the unquenchable flames about their ears, which has tied those millstones, those loads of wrath, about their necks, which have sunk them into endless destruction.498
Keep thy heart with all diligence, says the wise man. Why? Because, says he, out of it are the issues of life, Prov. iv. 23. It is that in which a man’s life is bound up. It is the portal of heaven and hell; and a man passes to either of them through his own breast. For what think we of murders, adulteries, thefts, blasphemies, and the like? Are not these the sins which have filled the mansions of the damned, and slain so many millions of souls? and whence come they, but from the heart? Matt. xv. 19. This is the puteus inexhaustus; here are the provisions made for the place of torment, here is laid in the fuel for the everlasting burnings; one bottomless pit emptying and discharging itself into the other.
And thus I have shewn these things, which a man intrusts his heart with; namely, the honour of God, his happiness in this world, the peace of his conscience, and his eternal happiness hereafter; things, one would think, too great to be trusted with any one, since in all trust there is something of venture; and these things are of too high a value to be ventured any where, but where it is impossible a man should be deceived. God only, who made the soul, is fit to be trusted with it. For if a man is deceived here, where shall he have reparation? or what can a man gain, when he has once lost himself?
But however, if we should trust these great things in such hands as were liable to a possibility of failing, yet surely we should secure the next degree, that at least there might be no probability of it; and that we would repose our confidence in one who was infinitely unlikely to deceive or put a trick upon us; so that our confidence might be prudent at least, though not certain and infallible. But now we 499shall find the heart far from being such a thing, but, on the contrary, so unfit to be trusted, that it is ten thousand to one but it betrays its trust; so that as the folly of such a trust has been seen in the first ingredient, namely, the high and inestimable worth of the thing committed to a trust; so the same will appear yet more abundantly from the next, which is the undue qualifications of the party who is trusted: and the heart of man will be found to have eminently these two ill qualities utterly unfitting it for any trust.
1. That it is weak, and so cannot make good a trust. 2. That it is deceitful, and so will not.
As for its weakness, this is twofold.
1st, In point of apprehension; it cannot perceive and understand certainly what is good.
2dly, In point of election; it cannot choose and embrace it.
1st, And first for the weakness of the heart, in respect of its inability to apprehend and judge what is good. This it is deplorably defective in. For though it must be confessed, that there are these common notions concerning good and evil writ in the hearts of men by the finger of God and nature; yet these are blurred, and much eclipsed by the fall of man from his original integrity: and if they were not impaired that way, yet they arrived not to their full natural perfection, but as they are improved and heightened by virtuous practices. Upon which account the apostle ascribes not a discerning of good and evil to every one having the natural sense of it, but to such only as have their senses exercised, Heb. v. 14. Every man has an innate principle of reason; 500 but it is use and cultivation of reason, that must enable it actually to do that, which nature gives it only a remote power of doing.
This being so, it is further evident, that all men may, and most do, neglect to improve those notions naturally implanted in them, whereupon they can with no more certainty trust to their direction, than they can rely upon an illiterate ploughman to be instructed by him in philosophy. The light within is darkness in many, and but as the dusk and twilight in all; and consequently its directions are but imperfect and insufficient, and dangerous to be relied upon.
2dly, The heart of man labours under as great weakness in point of election: it cannot choose what the judgment has rightly pitched upon. For, supposing that the understanding has done its part, and given the heart a faithful information of its duty, yet how unable is the heart, after all, actually to engage in the thing so clearly laid before it! It may indeed see the beauty, the lustre, and the excellency of an action, but still it is so much a slave to base, inferior desires, that it cannot practise in any proportion to what it approves. Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor. That excellent description of a good judgment enslaved to a vile appetite, is an exact account of the movings of man’s heart in most of its choices.
It cannot look its fawning affections in the face, and deny them any thing: but, like a man captivated with the sottish love of a woman, he is ready to sacrifice his reason, his interest, and all that he is worth, to her imperious will. When the affections 501come clamouring about the heart, that presently yields, and is not able to stand out against their assaults, to frown upon their demands, and behave itself boldly and severely in the behalf of virtue and reason. Most men in the world, who perish eternally, perish for prevaricating with themselves, and not living up to the judgment and resolves of their own knowledge; they miss of their way to heaven, not because they do not know it, but because they know it, and will not choose it. The heart is as unstable as water, and therefore it cannot excel. It hardly bears up against its corruptions so far, as to dare to purpose what is good; but if it does, inconstancy quickly melts down its strongest purposes, and the next temptation scatters its best resolutions, as the sun chases away the morning clouds, and drinks up the early dew.
It is the just shame and blush of the frailty of our condition, to consider how hardly we come to fix up on good, and then how quickly we are unfixed; how weak we are to intend, and how much weaker to perform. Impotence and change, like a spiritual palsy, have so seized all the faculties of our souls, that when we reach forth our hand to duty, and endeavour to apply the rule to practice, it trembles and shakes, and is utterly at a loss how to do any thing steadily and exactly, and reach the nice measures of Christian morality. The rule serves only to upbraid the action, which always comes short of it. Since thou doest these things, says God, Ezek. xvi. 30, how weak is thy heart! how unable to resist a flattering mischief and a tempting destruction! It resigns up itself upon every summons of great desire. It quits its throne, lays aside its sceptre, forgets its sovereignty, 502takes the bit into its mouth, and is willing to be rid.
And thus much for the first ill quality unfitting the heart of man to be trusted, namely, its weakness; and that both in apprehension, that it cannot under stand, and also in election, that it cannot choose and embrace what is good.
2. The other ill quality rendering the heart unfit to be trusted, is its deceitfulness, which does so abound in the breasts of all men, that it would pose the acutest head to draw forth and discover what is lodged in the heart. For who can tell all the windings and turnings, all the depths, the hollownesses, and dark corners of the mind of man! He who enters upon this scrutiny, enters into a labyrinth or a wilderness, where he has no guide but chance or industry to direct his inquiries, or to put an end to his search. It is a wilderness, in which a man may wander more than forty years; a wilderness, through which few have passed into the promised land. If we should endeavour to recount all the cheats and fallacies of it, no arithmetic can number, or logic resolve them; their multitude is so vast, and their contexture so intricate.
Yet, to discover and give us some acquaintance at least with the treachery and unfaithfulness of our hearts, I shall endeavour to lay open and set before you some of those tricks and delusions, which may convince us how unlikely the heart is to make good any trust which we can repose in it, in relation to our spiritual affairs.
And these delusions shall be reduced to these three sorts,
1. Such as relate to the commission of sin.503
2. Such as relate to the performance of duty.
3. Such as relate to a man’s conversion, or change of his spiritual estate.
And first for those which relate to a man’s committing of sin; of this sort there are three.
1. First of all, a man’s heart will drill him on to sin, by persuading him that it is in his power to give bounds to himself, as to the measure of his engaging in that sin, according as he shall think fit. If his conscience is affrighted, when a great and a foul sin shall offer itself to his consideration, his heart will tell him, though the commission of it be indeed dangerous, yet he may at least indulge himself in the thought of it, act it upon the scene of his fancy, and so reap the fantastic pleasure of it in conceit and imagination. And if it comes to be listened to in this its first crafty and seemingly modest proposal, it will advance a little further, and tell him, that he may also please himself with the desires of it; and so, by letting his desires work, his corruption grows at length so inflamed, that the man is troublesome and uneasy to himself, till it breaks out into actual commission: and when he is wrought up to such an eagerness and impatience, his heart will then enlarge his commission, and tell him that it is no great mat ter if he ventures to commit the sin he so much desires for once, since it is in his power to retreat and give over when he pleases, and so is in no danger of being forced to continue in it, which alone proves damnable. But now, being brought thus far, sin has a greater interest in his desires than before, and easily persuades the man to act it yet once more, and then again and again, till he is insensibly brought under the power of his sin, and held captive in a sinful 504 course; from which he is not able, by all the poor remainders of his own reason, to redeem and disentangle himself; he has brought himself into the snare which holds and commands him. So that if the free preventing grace of God (which yet no man can certainly promise to himself in such a condition) does not interpose, and knock off his bolts and shackles, the man must die a prisoner and a slave to his sin, which will provide him but a sad entertainment in the other world.
And now when a man is thus disposed of into his eternal state, with what sadness must he needs reflect upon the cursed artifices of his deluding heart? He little imagined that his destruction could have entered upon him through the narrow passage of sinful thoughts and desires. But had he considered the spreading, insinuating, and encroaching nature of sin, how that by every step it makes into the soul it gets a new degree of possession, and thereby a proportionable power; had he considered also how few men are destroyed at once, but by gradual underminings, and that the greatest mischiefs find it necessary to use art and fallacy to make their approach indiscernible by the smallness of their beginnings; I say, had he considered all these things by an early caution, (which his false heart would be sure never to prompt him to,) he might have prevented his fatal doom, and avoided the blow by suspecting the hand that designed it.
2dly, The heart of man will betray him into sin by drawing him into the occasions of it. Certain it is, that every thing may be the occasion of a sin to man, if it be abused; but some things have a more direct and natural connection with sin than others, 505so that a man is under a greater danger of being surprised when he falls under such circumstances, than under others. For surely some companies, and some ways of living are such, that, upon the frailty of corrupt nature, a man may as well expect to come dry out of a river, as to come clear and unpolluted out of them. Let a man accustom himself to converse with the intemperate, the profane, and the lascivious, and something of the venom and contagion of these sins will rub itself upon him, do what he can. The very breath of infected and polluted persons is itself infectious.
But there is one notable way above the rest, by which the hearts of most men supplant them, and that is in drawing them on to something unlawful, by causing them to take their utmost scope and liberty in things lawful. The difference between lawful and unlawful is often very nice, and it is hard to cut the hair in assigning the precise limits of each of them.
But surely it cannot be safe for any man still to walk upon a precipice, to stand upon an indivisible point, and to be always upon the very border of destruction. It is true indeed, that he who stands upon the very brink of the sea, stands as really upon the land, as he who is many miles off; but yet he is not like to stand there so long as the other. There are many companies, sports, and recreations, (I shall not mention particulars,) no doubt in themselves very lawful; but yet they may chance to prove the bane of the bold user of them. For alas! the heart is unable to bear them without warping. Sin is not in the house, but it lies at the door; and it is hard for so near a neighbourhood not to occasion a visit. 506 There are some diversions nowadays much in request to gratify the palate, the eating of which it is possible a man may time and regulate so, that they shall do him no hurt, but it is certain that they can never do him any good. Though in the diet of the soul I am afraid the observation is much stricter, and that it is hard to assign any thing, which should only not do us good, without also doing us some hurt.
And therefore let no man trust his glozing heart, when it tells him, what hurt is there in such and such pleasures, such and such recreations? for this very discourse of his heart is a shrewd sign, that they are like to prove hurtful and pernicious to him. And I shall venture to state and lay down this for a rule; that be an action or recreation never so lawful in itself, yet if a man engages in it merely upon a design of pleasure, (as I believe most do,) it is ten to one but it becomes a snare to that person, and that he comes off from it with a wound upon his conscience, whether he is always sensible of it or no. Let a man’s heart say what it will, I am sure the Spirit of God in these cases recommends to every pious person caution, diffidence, and suspicion. It bids him secure himself by keeping out of harm’s way. He that escapes a danger is fortunate, but he that comes not into it is wise.
3dly, The heart of man will betray him into sin, by lessening and extenuating it in his esteem. Than which fallacious way of dealing, there is nothing more usual to the corruption of man’s nature. In the judgment of which, great sins shall pass for little sins, and little sins for no sins at all. For moats may enter, where beams cannot; and small offences 507find admittance, where great and clamorous crimes fright the soul to a standing upon its guard, to prevent the invasion.
Now the heart, if it does not find sins small, has this notable faculty, that it can make them so; for it has many arts to take off from, and to diminish the guilt of them. As either by calling them infirmities, such as creep upon men by daily and unavoidable surprise, and such as human weakness cannot possibly protect itself against. When the truth is, the heart is willing to excuse itself from performing duty, and from resisting sin, by representing difficulties for impossibilities, and accounting many things difficult, because it never so much as went about them; whereas a vigorous endeavour would remove not only the supposed impossibility, but even the difficulty also of many actions and duties, which mere laziness has represented to the mind as impracticable.
Certain it is, that the blow given by original sin to man’s nature has left a great weakness upon it, much disabling it as to the prosecution of what is good; but yet many impotencies, or rather averseness to good, are charged upon a natural account, which indeed are the effects only of habitual sins, sins that by frequent practice have got such firm hold of the will, that it can very hardly advance itself into any action of duty. Some have accustomed themselves to swear so often, that they cannot for bear it upon every light occasion. Some have lived intemperately so long, that they cannot refrain from their whore and their cups; and then if either their conscience checks them, or others reprove them, 508 presently their answer is, God forgive them, it is their infirmity, they cannot help it.
But in this they are wretchedly deceived; for it is not infirmity, but custom, custom took up, and continued by great presumption and audaciousness in sin, inducing them to trample upon a clear command, for the gratifying of a lust or a base desire.
Temptation also is another topic, from which the heart will draw a plausible argument for the extenuation of sin. Men will confess that they sin; but how can they forbear, say they, when the Devil pushes them on headlong into the commission of what is evil? And the Devil being so much stronger than they, how can such weak creatures resist so mighty an adversary? But in this also the heart plays the sophister, and shews itself like the Devil, while it pleads against him: for God himself assures us, that the Devil may be resisted, and that so far as to be put to flight: and besides this, the freedom of man’s will is a castle that he cannot storm, a fort that he cannot take. If indeed it will surrender itself upon vain and treacherous proposals, its destruction is from itself, and it is deceived, but not forced into sin.
Now so long as a man’s heart can possess him with an opinion of the smallness of any sin, it will certainly have these two most pernicious effects upon him.
1st, Antecedently, he will very easily be induced to commit it; nor will he think the eternal happiness of his soul concerned to watch against it; for he cannot imagine but that it will be as soon pardoned as committed, or that it can make any great 509breach between God and him. His conscience he finds not much startled or alarmed at it, and so he concludes that it must needs be fair weather without doors, because he finds it so within.
2dly, The other malignant effect it will have upon a man consequently to sin, is, that he will scarce repent of it, scarce think it worthy of a tear. By which means, he is actually under the wrath of God, which abides upon every man during his impenitence. The consequence of which to him, who has a spiritual sense of things, must needs be very dreadful. For every sin unrepented of may provoke God by withdrawing his grace to lay the sinner open to the commission of grosser; which how far they may waste his conscience, and where they may end, he knows not, but has cause at the thought of it to tremble.
It is incredible to consider what ground sin gets of the soul, by the heart’s extenuating and under valuing of it, and that in the very least and most inconsiderable instance. For by this means it is easily let into the soul, and seldom thrown out. No caution is applied beforehand, nor repentance after. And surely it cannot but be dangerous to leave the world with any one sin unrepented of.
And thus much for that first sort of fallacies, which the heart of man is apt to put upon him, namely, such as relate to the commission of sin. The
Second sort is of those that relate to the performance of duty; of which kind are these two.
1st, A man’s heart will persuade him that he has performed a duty, when perhaps it is only some circumstance of it that has been performed by him. 510 Prayer is one of the prime and most sovereign duties of a Christian; and many there are, whose consciences will by no means suffer them to omit it. But how few are there who perform it spiritually, and according to the exact measures of Christian piety! For some do it to be seen of men, and to approve themselves to the eye of the world, that they are not altogether heathens, and destitute of all sense of religion. Some use to pray, as the Athenian orators made harangues before the people, for applause and ostentation of parts, styling a readiness of speech, and a great flow of words, the inspirations of the Spirit.
The corrupt heart of man naturally rests in the opus operatum of every duty; and the conscience having lost much of its first tenderness and sagacity, is willing to take up with the outside and superficies of things; to feed upon husks, and to be contented with the mere shew and pageantry of duty. There is no doubt, but the pharisee, who made that boasting prayer, or rather bravads before God, Luke xviii. 14, went home abundantly satisfied in himself, though not at all justified before the Seer of hearts. And it is as little to be doubted, but that the rest of his brethren, who did their alms in the concourse of the multitude, and proclaimed their charity with trumpets, were full of an opinion of their own piety; though all that they gave was but a sacrifice to their own pride, and a slavish service to the designs and humours of an insatiable ambition; yet still their flattering hearts echoed back to them all those acclamations of the ignorant, deceived rabble, and questionless told them, that they were the most pious, liberal, and generous persons in the world.511
The like instances may be given in the fastings and mortifications used by many people; which, no question, rightly managed, are huge helps to piety, great weakeners of sin, and furtherances to a man in his Christian course. But every man who is driven from his meat by a proclamation, does not therefore keep a fast in the sight of God, whatsoever his foolish heart may persuade him. Every man who wears sackcloth, and uses himself coarsely, does not therefore perform any one true act of mortification upon his sin. The man catches at the shadow, but misses of the substance of the duty. His heart misreckons him; and therefore, when he comes to rectify his account by the measure God takes of things, he finds that in all his fastings and corporal austerities, he has done indeed a great deal of work, but little duty.
2dly, A man’s heart will make him presume to sin with greater confidence, upon the account of duty performed. I have heard of some, who, after they had discharged their consciences in confession, used to rush with so much quicker an appetite into sin; as if former scores being cleared, they were now let loose to sin upon a fresh account: and experience shews, that many take heart to sin, after they have performed some strict duty, thinking that that has set them so much beforehand with heaven, that they may well be borne with, if they make some little excursions in the indulgence of their sinful and voluptuous appetites. If they have been for any time in the school of virtue, tied up under its severe disciplines, they think they may well claim some time for play, and then vice shall be their recreation.512
This is the corrupt, perverse reasoning of most hearts; this they insist upon as a satisfactory argument to themselves, though infinitely sottish and contradictory to the very nature and design of religion. For as the apostle most justly and rationally upbraids the Galatians in that significant reproof of them, Gal. iii. 3, What? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Can piety fit a man for that which crosses and destroys piety? Can any man make this an argument why he should be vicious, because he has been virtuous? or loose and voluptuous, because he has been some time strict and abstemious? Yet this is the brutish discourse of most men’s minds; who think it all the reason in the world, that they should relax and unbend, after they have for some time abridged themselves by the severe courses of religion.
Though the truth is, upon a right and due estimation of things, such persons never performed any one truly pious and religious action, who had such principles and persuasions habitually resting upon their hearts, but were utterly void of the very notion, much more of the power of godliness. This is evident; for he who performs a duty from a principle of true piety, is so far from being weary of going on in the same course, that he finds his desires thereby quickened, and his strength increased, for a more vigorous prosecution of it; and no man changes his course, and passes into contrary practices, but because he finds in himself a loathing and a dislike of his former: than which there is not a more certain and infallible sign of a false, rotten, hypocritical heart, an heart abhorred and detested by God; for if we loathe God’s commands, we may be sure that 513God as much loathes our performances, as being the forced effects of compulsion, not the natural, genuine, and free emanations of the will. He therefore who thinks the merit of any pious action performed by him may compound for a future licentiousness, abuses himself and his religion; for he makes a liberty to sin the reward of piety, than which there cannot be a greater and a more pestilent delusion. And thus much for the fallacies of the heart relating to the performance of duty.
3. The third sort relate to a man’s conversion, and the change of his spiritual estate; of which I shall mention two.
1. A man’s heart will persuade him that he is converted from a state of sin, when perhaps he is only converted from one sin to another; and that he has changed his heart, when he has only changed his vice. This is another of its fallacies, and that none of the least fatal and pernicious. A man has perhaps for a long time took the full swing of his voluptuous humour, wallowed in all the pleasures of sensuality, but at last, either by age or design, or by some cross accident turning him out of his old way, he comes to alter his course, and to pursue riches as insatiably as formerly he did his pleasures, so that from a sensual epicure he is become a covetous miser; a worthy change and conversion indeed. But as a river cannot be said to be dried up, because it alters its channel; so neither is a man’s corruption extinguished, though it ceases to vent itself in one kind of vice, so long as it runs with as full and as impetuous a course in another.
Suppose, amongst the Jews, a man had passed from the society of riotous and debauched livers, from 514 the company of publicans and sinners, to the strictness and profession of the pharisees, this man indeed might have been termed a new sinner, but not a new creature; he had changed his intemperance or his extortion for the more refined sins of vainglory and hypocrisy; he had changed a dirty path for one more cleanly, but still for one in the same road. One man perhaps goes to a town or a city through the fields, another through the highway, yet both of them intend and arrive at the same place, and meet and shake hands at the same market. In like manner a man may pass as surely to hell by a sin of less noise and infamy, as by one more flaming and notorious. And therefore he that changes only from one sin to another is but the Devil’s convert; and the whole business of such a conversion is but a man’s altering of the methods of his ruin, and the casting of his damnation into another model.
2. A man’s heart will persuade him, that a cessation from sin is a plenary conquest and mortification of sin. But a king is a king even while he is asleep, as well as when he is awake, and is possessed of a regal power even then when he does not exercise it. So sin may truly reign where it does not actually rage, and pour itself forth in continual gross eruptions.
There are intervals of operation, vicissitudes of rest and motion, in all finite agents whatsoever; and therefore it is not to be expected, but that the sinner may have some relaxation from the drudgery of his sin, and not be put every minute to obey the flesh in the lusts thereof.
Nay, there may be a very long forbearance; and yet as there may be a truce with an enemy, with 515whom there is no peace; so no man can conclude his corruption vanquished, because for the present it is quiet. For such a quietness there may be upon several accounts. As partly mere lassitude and weariness; for what epicure can be always plying his palate? what drunkard always pouring in? Nature is not sufficient for the commands of sin without some respite and breathing time. Partly also may sin be quiet out of design; for sin must still bait its hook with pleasure, and pleasure consists in the interchanges of abstinence with enjoyment, without which it would quickly pass into loathing and satiety. And the Devil knows that these interposals of forbearance do but whet the appetite to a greater keenness of desire, when the object shall come again before it.
How miserably then does that man’s heart deceive him, when it tells him that his sin lies wholly prostrate and dead, when it only lies still, and stirs not for some time! But alas! it is not dead, but sleepeth; for when the soul is hereby made so confident as to quit its guard, sin will quickly step forth and take advantage to act a sorer and a sharper mischief upon it than ever.
And thus I have given an account of some of those deceits and fallacies which the heart of man is apt to circumvent him by; and God knows that it is but some of many. For infinite are the impostures that lie couched in the depths and recesses of this hollow and fallacious thing. So that all that I have said is but a paraphrase, and that a very imperfect one, upon that full text of the prophet Jeremy, xvii. 9, That the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it? 516 It is a depth not to be fathomed, and a mystery never throughly to be understood. And being so, I suppose it appears by this time how unavoidable that consequence and deduction is made by Solomon here in the text, that whosoever trusts it is inexcusably a fool. For what principles of ordinary prudence can warrant a man to trust a notorious cheat, and that also such an one as he himself has been cheated and deceived by? There is no man whose experience does not tell him to his face that his heart has deceived him; and no wise man will be deceived so much as twice by the same person.
Now the imputation of being a fool, is a thing which mankind of all others is the most impatient of, it being a blot upon the prime and specific perfection of human nature, which is reason, a. perfection which both governs and adorns all the rest. For so far as a man is a fool, he is defective in that very faculty which discriminates him from a brute. Upon which account, one would think, that this very charge of folly should make men cautious how they listen to the treacherous proposals coming out of their own bosom, lest they perish with a load of dishonour added to that of their destruction. For if it is imaginable that there can be any misery greater than damnation, it is this, to be damned for being a fool.
But this needs not be our lot, if we can but prevail with ourselves to take that conduct which God has provided us for our passage to our eternal state; a conduct which can neither impose upon us, nor be imposed upon itself, even the holy and eternal Spirit of God, the great legacy which our dying Saviour left to his church, whose glorious office and 517business it is to lead such as will be led by him into all truth.
To whom therefore, with the Father and the Son, be ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.518
|« Prev||A Discourse upon Proverbs xxviii. 26.||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version