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Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, therefore will I keep thee from the hour of temptation, which is coming upon all the world, to try the inhabitants of the earth.
AS deliverance out of temptation is undoubtedly one of the greatest mercies that God vouchsafes his people in this world, so there is nothing that more enhances and sets off the greatness of the mercy, than the critical time of God’s vouchsafing it. The wise man assures us, that there is a time for every thing and purpose under heaven; a time which gives it a peculiar and proper advantage above what it has at other times. And therefore, since the said advantage is universal, and extends to all kinds of action, we must not wonder if the great enemy of souls has his time also; his particular, advantageous time to tempt and destroy, as God has his time to rescue and deliver. But as, in the vicissitudes of night and day, the darkness of one recommends the returns of the other, adding a kind of lustre even to light itself, so it is the hour of danger which sets a price and a value upon the hour of deliverance, and 378 makes it more properly in season. It shall be given you, says our Saviour to his disciples, in that very hour, Matth. x. 19, in the very point and crisis of their extremity; like a pardon intervening just as the fatal arm is lifting up, a pardon sent in the very instant of execution. And certainly next to life from the dead, is to be near the killing stroke, and yet snatched away from it; to see death brought to our very doors, and yet prevented from coming in.
The occasion of the words is indeed particular, as containing in them a prediction of the sad and calamitous estate of the church under the approaching reign of Trajan the Roman emperor; but I shall not consider them under any such particular respect or limitation, but as they hold forth a general import ant lesson or admonition, of equal and perpetual use to all men, with reference to those spiritual trials, conflicts, and temptations, which will be sure to exercise and engage them in the course of their Christian warfare; and accordingly I shall cast the prosecution of the words under these four particulars.
1st, I shall shew, that there is a certain proper season or hour, which gives a peculiar force and efficacy to temptation.
2dly, I shall shew, by what means, helps, and advantages, a temptation attains its proper season or hour.
3dly, I shall shew some signs, marks, or diagnostics, whereby we may discern when it has actually attained it.
4thly and lastly, draw some useful inferences from the whole. And,
First, for the first of these; that there is a certain proper season or hour, which gives a peculiar force, 379strength, and efficacy to temptation. It is observed in all those actions or passages which cause any great and notable change, either in the mind or life of man, that they do not constantly operate at the same rate of efficacy, but that there is a certain crisis, or particular season, which strangely provokes and draws forth the activity and force of every agent, raising it to effects much greater and higher than the common measure of its actings is observed to carry it to.
So that if we would take a true estimate of the full power of any operative principle, we must consider it under its proper advantages of working, and in those critical seasons which will be sure to employ, heighten, and call forth the utmost strength and energy that it is naturally possessed of. Every fit of a burning fever is not equally dangerous to the sick person, nor are all hours during the distemper equally fatal. But we usually say, that if the man passes such a day, or such a turn of the moon, the danger is over; forasmuch as at those particular sea sons the distemper rallies together all its malignity, and vents the height of its rage; after which it breaks and declines, and nature begins to recover itself.
In like manner there is a determinate proper time, sometimes called in scripture the day of temptation, Psalm xcv. 8; sometimes the evil day, Ephes. vi. 13; and sometimes (as here in the text, and elsewhere) remarkably, the hour of temptation; a time in which temptation is infinitely more fierce and daring, more urgent and impetuous, than at other times; a time in which with all its might it comes rushing in upon the soul, like the fluctus decumanus upon the labouring 380 ship or vessel, which always gives it the greatest and most dangerous shock.
We know our Saviour conversed freely and safely with the Jews for a considerable time, coming into the temple, and teaching in their synagogues, and they stretched forth no hands against him, as he himself tell us, Luke xxii. 53; and yet all this while, as quiet as they held their hands, they had malice enough working in their hearts, and opportunity enough to have exerted that malice in their actions. Nevertheless for that time they touched him not.
But how then came the Devil and his instruments to have so much power at length, as to apprehend, and seize, and put him to a cruel, ignominious death? Why, our Saviour gives us the reason of it in the next words. This, says he, is their hour, and the power of darkness. Accordingly, Mark xiv. 35, we have him praying, that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And again, ver. 41, The hour is come, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
And it is worth observing, that though our Saviour began his great office and ministry with temptations, (Matt. iv. 1,) and carried it on under temptations, (Ye are those, says he to his disciples, who have continued with me in my temptations, Luke xxii. 28,) yet the scripture records not his praying in his own person against any temptation, but only this last and great one, this hour of temptation, this terrible and critical hour, in which it pleased the all-wise God to let loose all the powers of hell upon him, and in which they spit the utmost of their venom, and summoned all their hellish arts and forces to give one mighty push for all. And it was the behaviour of Christ at 381this hour, upon which depended the eternal happiness or misery of mankind, and the vast moments of the world’s redemption.
And as it was with Christ himself, who did and suffered every thing as a public person, and consequently was tempted as well as crucified for us, so it will be with every Christian in the world. Christ vouchsafed to be like us in most things, and we shall certainly be like him in this.
And from this consideration no doubt it is, that we must gather the true sense and exposition of that noted place, James iv. 7, in which the apostle bids us resist the Devil, and he will fly from us. But experience sufficiently shews, that upon every act of resistance he does not fly, but that his assaults are frequent, and oftentimes continue very long; nay, the frequency of the onset and the length of the siege are usually some of the principal methods by which he conquers, and brings the soul to a surrender. And if so, what can that particular kind of resistance be, which proves so victorious, and sends him going like a vanquished person? Why, no question, it must be eminently that which withstands and encounters him at that particular hour or season, in which the temptation is come to an head, and in which it has all the helps and advantages for conquest imaginable.
For if the tempter miscarries in this his highest, his sharpest, and most violent attack, it is natural to conceive, that lie must surcease the conflict, draw off, and give it over for that time at least. For if his twenty thousands prevail not, to what purpose can it be for him to carry on the war with ten? Or what should an enemy do more, who has already done his 382 utmost? And thus much for the first thing proposed; which was to shew, that there is a certain proper season or hour, which gives a peculiar force, strength, and efficacy to temptation. I proceed now to the second, which is to shew by what means, helps, and advantages, a temptation attains its proper season or hour. And for this I shall mention seven, beginning at the more remote, and so proceeding to such as bring it still nearer and nearer to an head. And,
1st, For that which is most remote, but yet the very source and groundwork of all the mischief which the Devil either does or can do to the souls of men; namely, that original, universal corruption of man’s nature, that fomes peccati, containing in it the seeds and first principles of all sins whatsoever, and more or less disposing a man to the commission of them. For it is this which administers the first materials for the tempter to work upon, and without which it is certain that he could do nothing. For when he set upon our Saviour with all his rage and subtilty, yet still he was worsted, and beaten off; and the reason of it is assigned by our Saviour himself, in those words in John xiv. 30, The prince of this world, says he, cometh, and hath nothing in me; that is, nothing for any of his temptations to fasten upon. The infinite purity of his nature, free from the least inherent filth, afforded no handle for the tempter to lay hold of him by. He was like pure fountain-water in a glass, which you may shake and shake, as much and as often as you will, but no shaking of it can ever foul it. On the contrary, let a liquor in any vessel look never so clear and transparent upwards, yet if there be the least settlement 383or heterogeneous matter in any part of it, shake it thoroughly, and it will be sure to shew itself.
In like manner when the tempter comes to any of us, he knows that there is something lurking in the heart of the very best of men, which he can make foul work with, if the particular grace of God does not prevent him, as it is certain that in many cases it does not. Temptation first finds a man evil, and then makes him worse.
And thus much for the first advantage which a temptation has towards the attainment of its hour; namely, the general corruption of man’s nature, suiting it to all the proposals of the tempter, and rendering it always ready both to invite him and to be invited by him.
2dly, The next advantage is from that particular corruption, or sort of sin, which a man is most peculiarly prone and inclined to. And this is one step and advance beyond the former. For though every man, as we have shewn, has the root and seeds of all sins virtually in him, yet, through the good providence of God, (setting bounds to the extravagance of nature,) no man is equally inclined or carried out to all sorts of sin, for that would quickly throw the whole world into confusion. But there is a particular bent of constitution, which derives and contracts the general stream of natural corruption into a much narrower channel, by that special propensity which every man finds in himself to some one kind of vice or sinful passion more than to any other. Such a thing there is certainly in all men, and being founded in nature, it sticks closely, and operates strongly.
And so advantageous a ground does this afford 384 the tempter to plant his batteries upon, when he would assault us, that he never overlooks it, but observes it exactly, and studies it throughly, and will be sure to nick this governing inclination (as I may so express it) with some suitable temptation. So that whereas by virtue of this some men are naturally choleric and impatient, some proud and ambitious, some lustful, some covetous, some intemperate, and some revengeful, and the like; this the Devil knows better than any man knows himself. He understands the crasis and temperament of his body, and the peculiar turns and motions of his mind and fancy, better than any physician can judge of one, or any philosopher can give an account of the other; and accordingly, a man shall be sure to hear from him, and receive many a terrible blow and buffet on his blind side.
He is not such a bungler at his art as to use the same nets or baits indifferently for all sorts of game. He will not tempt a shrewd, designing, active, aspiring mind, with the gross and low pleasures of wine or women; nor a sot or an epicure with the more refined allurements of power or high place. But still suiting his proposals to the temper of the person whom he addresses them to, he strikes for the most part home and sure, and it is seldom but he speeds. And therefore let a man look to it, and before he enters the combat with so experienced an enemy, who will assuredly find him out, and fight him (if possible) to his disadvantage, let him view and review himself all over, and consider where he lies most opportune and open to a fatal thrust, and be sure to guard himself there, where he is most liable to be mortally struck.385
3dly, A third advantage towards the prevailing hour of a temptation, is the continual offer of alluring objects and occasions extremely agreeable to a man’s particular corruption. Fire cannot burn with out fuel; and the strongest inclinations would in a little time faint and languish, if there were not objects to invigorate and draw them forth: nay, and the very faculties of the mind would grate and prey upon themselves, if they found no matter from with out to work and to whet upon. Something there must be to employ them; and whatsoever employs, will at the same rate also improve them.
And therefore the world is like a great store house, full of all sorts of provisions for men’s lusts; so that whatsoever course may be taken to mortify or extinguish them, it is certain that, being left to themselves, they will never die of want. For there are riches for the covetous, honours for the ambitious, and pleasures for the voluptuous. And so keen and eager are the appetites of corrupt nature towards these things, that where such plentiful, and withal such suitable preparations come before them, they will be sure to fall to. And such moreover is the mutual agreeableness between them, that they never fail to find out one another; either such objects to find out the heart, or the heart them. And if there could chance to be any failure or defect upon this account, there is an old pander (the prince of pimps) always at hand, who makes it his great business and perpetual study to bring them together, and will never suffer a vicious inclination to starve for want of a suitable object to feed it. And this introduces the
Fourth advantage or furtherance towards the maturity 386 or prevalent season of a temptation; which is, the unspeakable malice and activity, together with the incredible skill and boldness of the tempter. Now malice and envy are of all ill qualities the most fierce, active, and indefatigable; admitting neither peace nor truce with their respective objects. And accordingly, being much higher and more sublimate in the Devil’s nature than they can be in man’s, they carry him roving and ranging about the world like a roaring, insatiable lion, night and day upon the search whom he may devour; and the more he has devoured, the greater is his appetite to devour more. His mouth is always open, and his eyes never shut. He is restless and unwearied; and though idleness be a sin which he loves to tempt men to, yet he is never guilty of it himself.
To which we may add his profound skill and cunning in the various arts, wiles, and stratagems which he has to overreach and circumvent even the wisest and most watchful. It is enough to say of his cunning, that it is equal to his diligence, and not inferior to his malice.
And then, in the last place, so intolerable is his boldness, or rather impudence, that no repulse shall daunt, no defeat discourage him, nor any degree of holiness deter him from tempting even the best of men to the very worst of sins. For he set upon Adam in his innocence, and prevailed; nay, and he ventured upon our Saviour himself, and that again and again: and though as often as he spoke he was baffled, yet still, though baffled, he would not be silenced: he received foil after foil, and was thrice conquered before he would quit the field.
From all which qualifications, united in our mortal 387enemy, let this be concluded upon, that as certain as it is that there is such an evil spirit in the world, so certain is it that every man living has a restless, implacable, subtle, audacious adversary, who will infallibly engage and fall upon him, and with his utmost skill and force dispute it with him for his salvation. But then,
5thly, Over and above all this, God sometimes, in his wise providence and just judgment, commissions this implacable spirit to tempt at a rate more than ordinary. And this must needs be a further advantage towards the ripening of a temptation, than any of the former. I shall not presume to assign all the reasons why God is pleased to do this. But it is enough that sometimes to try and manifest men’s graces, as when he commissioned the Devil to try and tempt Job in that terrible manner, Job i. 12; and sometimes to reproach them for their weakness, in conjunction with their absurd confidence, as when, at the tempter’s own instance, he allowed him to winnow and tempt Peter, Luke xxii. 31; and some times to punish them for former great sins, as when he empowered the evil spirit to persuade that monster of wickedness, and first-born of hell, king Ahab, to go up and perish at Ramoth Gilead; 1 Kings xxii. 22, Thou shalt persuade him, says God, and prevail also. Go forth, and do so. I say, it is enough, that, for these and the like ends, (especially in the way of judgment for former guilt,) God is sometimes pleased to take this dreadful course with men; nothing being more true, than that as temptation brings a man to sin, so sin also brings him to temptation.
But the thing which I would chiefly observe from 388 hence is, that in all such cases in which the Devil acts by commission from above, he tempts (as we may say) with authority, and consequently with more than usual vehemence and success; always using the former, and seldom failing of the latter; as indeed it is hard to imagine how he should, when the only thing that can stand between him and success, (to wit, the divine grace,) in the case here supposed by us, is withdrawn, and the man thereby left wholly to himself. And whosoever has any experience in these matters will easily acknowledge, that for a man to be left to himself, and to be left to the Devil, will be found in the issue but one and the same thing.
6thly, A sixth advantage, by which a temptation approaches to its crisis or proper hour, is a previous, growing familiarity of the mind with the sin which a man is tempted to; whereby he comes to think of it with still lesser and lesser abhorrences than formerly he was wont to do. Frequent thoughts of a thing naturally wear off the strangeness of it: for by these the mind converses with its objects; and conversation breeds acquaintance with things as well as persons.
Upon which account, when any ill thing is suggested to the mind, whether from a man’s own corruption within, or from the Devil, or the examples of wicked men without, if it be not immediately rejected with a present and particular act of abhorrence, it will leave some small impression upon or disposition in the mind towards that ill thing which before it had not, and otherwise would not have.
Which impressions or dispositions, though small and inconsiderable at first, yet, by the frequent repetition 389of such like thoughts or suggestions, will in the issue amount to something very dangerous, and either produce in the heart a positive inclination to, or at least extinguish its former aversation from, the sin suggested to it: either of which will assuredly be made use of by the tempter, and by degrees prepare and smooth him a way, and at length open a door for the temptation in its full force and fury to enter. The serpent has already got in his head, and his whole body will not be long behind.
7thly and lastly, There is yet another way by which a temptation arrives to its highest pitch or proper hour; and that is by a long train of gradual, imperceivable encroaches of the flesh upon the spirit. I say, imperceivable for the present, and considered each of them singly and by themselves; but sufficiently perceivable, after that some considerable space of time, and a frequent iteration of them, has wrought such a change in the soul, as to a spiritual discernment will quickly shew and discover itself.
The meaning of which, I conceive, will be best declared and made intelligible by particular in stances; having first premised this great and certain rule, viz. that whatsoever tends to gratify or strengthen the flesh, in the same proportion or degree tends to weaken the spirit; and look in what degree the spirit is weakened, in the same degree it is prepared for and laid open to a temptation.
Now there are several enjoyments in themselves very lawful, and yet such as, upon a free, unwary use of them, will by degrees certainly indispose and unspiritualize the mind, dulling its appetite, and taking off its edge and relish to the things of God. A man’s food, his sleep, his recreations, nay, and his very business, 390 if not ordered by the arts and conduct of the spirit, may prove a snare to him, and draw off his heart by secret estrangements from those spiritual duties and disciplines in which the very health and life of his soul consists.
So that after some time so spent, a man shall have lost his heart he knows not how nor which way; and by what dark escapes it has slipped from him he shall hardly be able to learn; only he shall find, that when he should make use of it, it is gone. For the reason of which, it is enough that the flesh has got ground of the spirit; the rise of one being still the fall of the other. And when after such a course either of extreme solicitude, or intentness upon business, on the one hand, or of gayety and freedom of conversation on the other, the frame of a man’s spirit comes to be loose and unfixed, and took off from its usual guard, then let him know that the evil hour is preparing for him, and he for that. His enemy is not far off, and it will not be long before he hears from him in some fierce temptation or other.
And thus I have done with the second particular proposed, and shewn the several helps and advantages by which a temptation ripens and arrives to its proper hour and full maturity.
But now, to determine how many of these must concur to the bringing of a temptation to such a pass, is a thing not to be done by any one standing, universal rule. For sometimes two or three, some times more, sometimes all of them join and fall in, to the working it up to this critical pitch. Nevertheless, when we have said all that we can upon this subject, that which Agur says, Prov. xxx. 9, of the way and motion of a serpent upon a rock, may 391be much more appositely said of the intriguing ways and windings of this old serpent, the tempter, with the heart of man, viz. that they are in the number of those mysterious things, which it surpasses the reason of man to give an account of. That he is often at work is too manifest, though the way of his working be undiscernible. Pass we now therefore to the
Third particular, which is to shew some signs, marks, and diagnostics, whereby we may discern when a temptation has attained its proper season or hour: I shall instance only in three. As,
1. When there is a strange, peculiar, and more than usual juncture and concurrence of all circumstances and opportunities for the commission of any sin, that especially which a man is most inclined to; then, no doubt, is the hour of temptation. When a man is to take physic, if both the humours within are prepared, and the weather without proves suitable, and the potion itself be strong, the operation and force of it must needs be more than ordinary. And as it is with the physic of the body, so no question it is also with the poison of the soul; the same advantages will give the same force of operation to both.
Sometimes a man shall see the scene of things round about him so fitly laid, and prepared to serve him in the gratification of his corrupt desires, that he cannot but conclude that there was something more than blind chance which brought him into that condition. For when we see a net or snare curiously and artificially placed, we may be sure that there is some thing intended to be caught, and that the fowler is not far off, whether we see him or no.
Judas, no doubt, had temptation to gratify his covetous 392 humour before he betrayed his master. For St. John has given us his character, John xii. 6, that he was a thief, and carried the bag, and that more to serve himself than any one else. But the great hour was not come, that he should shew himself so, till he had that opportunity of trucking with the priests; and then he quickly swallowed the sop and the treason together, sold his conscience, and put his master’s blood in his pocket.
A corrupt principle may be strong, though it be still; and as strong at one time as at another, though it does not always break out into the same exorbitance of sin. But when occasion improves and quickens it, circumstances help and encourage it, and opportunities further and push it on; then you shall see not only what a day, but even what an hour of temptation can bring forth. Fire has always the same consuming quality, though it does not always make work for a brief. Sometimes it is quenched as soon as kindled; but when the wind strikes in with it, and both strengthens and spreads the flame, and the matter upon which it seizes is more than ordinarily catching and combustible, and all means of extinguishing and stopping the progress of it are out of the way; then, and not till then, it shall reign and rage with a boundless, irresistible fury, and shew you how much another kind of thing it is while it is your servant, and when it comes to be your master; while it serves the occasions of the house upon the hearth, and when it comes to lord it upon the roof.
Now the case of a man’s corruption, before and under the crisis of a temptation, is much after this manner. When it comes against him with all its recruits, all its auxiliaries, all its peculiar advantages, 393then let him expect a battle, and know that he is to combat a prepared enemy, who has prevented him, and comes to fight him upon the vantage-ground. And as it was said of the stars fighting in their courses against Sisera, Judges v. 20, so may it be said of a man brought into such a condition, that all the circumstances of time, place, person, and the like, shall jointly fight against him, inflame his corruption, heighten and give life to the temptation, driving it home like so many mighty strokes upon a wedge strong and sharp-pointed, and apt enough to enter, and makes its way of itself.
2dly, A second sign of a temptation’s drawing near its hour, is a strange averseness to duty, and a backwardness to, if not a neglect of, the spiritual exercises of prayer, reading, and meditation. Now as every principle of life has some suitable aliment or provision, by which both its being is continued and its strength supported; so the forementioned duties are the real, proper nutriment by which the spiritual life is kept up and maintained in the vigorous exercise of its vital powers.
And as in all other things, when the great instrument of life, appetite to food, fails them, it is an undoubted argument of some notable disturbance or decay of nature; so when the soul begins to disrelish its daily nourishment of prayer, watchfulness, and strict communion with God, it is an infallible sign that it is under some present disorder, and possibly not far from some mortal distemper.
A man at first, perhaps, feels a kind of grudging and uneasiness all over his body, a deadness upon his stomach, and a drowsiness upon his senses, and he cannot well tell what he ails; but after a few days 394 these uncertain beginnings come to rage in a burning fever, or to strike him with an apoplex; and then it appears what those symptoms foreboded and tended to all along; and the great question now is, not when or how soon the man shall recover and be well, but whether or no he shall live.
In like manner, when a man finds it thus with himself, as to the state of his soul, that his former freshness and fervour in the service of God is abated, and that his heart either flies off from the duties of religion, or performs them with a cold, faint, languishing indifference; in the judgment of all those guides of souls, who discourse most experimentally and knowingly of these matters, such an one has all the reason in the world to suspect, that there is some notable mischief designed him by his spiritual enemy; and that he is entering upon some dangerous trial, some critical, searching temptation, which will be sure to probe him to the bottom, to shake all the powers of his soul; and from which if the divine mercy does in the issue deliver him, yet it will be so as by fire, by smart, and difficulty, and great unlikelihoods, and by such near approaches to, and narrow rescues from destruction, that it will be matter of horror to him to reflect upon his very deliverance, and the danger will be terrible even after it is escaped.
3dly, The third and last sign that I shall mention, of a temptation’s attaining its full hour or maturity, is a more than usual restlessness and importunity in its enticings or instigations. For it is the tempter’s last assault, and therefore will certainly be furious; the last pass which he makes at the soul, and therefore will be sure to be driven home. For he knows 395that if he succeeds now, he is absolutely victorious; and that if he miscarries in this his last action, all his former arts and attempts vanish and fall to nothing.
So that upon such a promising concurrence of all those mighty advantages which we have mentioned, nothing can remain further to speed his design, but that he presses on to victory, by charging forcibly and frequently: and this he will sometimes do with such fury, pouring in arguments upon the mind so thick and fast, that all contrary considerations and arguings, by which it would fence against the power of his proposals, shall be either stifled with the multitude, or overborne with the urgency and impudence of his solicitations.
There have been strange examples of men brought into such a condition. It is reported of Luther, that being tempted to make away with himself, the temptation grew so fierce and pressing upon him, that falling into an agony, and, as it were, struggling for life, he had no other way to defend himself, but, during the conflict, by frequently urging and repeating over and over to himself the sixth commandment; Thou shall do no murder; Thou shalt do no murder. That so, by encountering this fiery dart with the continually renewed evidence of the sin offered full and fresh to his faith, in the peremptory, express words of the precept, he might relieve his labouring mind against the present violence of that impious suggestion.
The tempter in this action behaves himself just as you shall see some eager, ill-bred petitioners, who do not so properly supplicate as hunt the person 396 whom they address to, dogging him from place to place, till they even extort an answer to their rude requests. So in this case a man shall find himself not only importuned, but even invaded; the temptation shall in a manner break in upon him, and follow him without pause or intermission, so that he shall not be able to discharge his mind of the irksome, incessant representations of the sin which it solicits him to, but his imagination shall be possessed, and his thoughts so far entangled with it, that they shall have no power to divert or pass off to any other thing. And now when a temptation has arrived to this pitch, the tempted person may assure himself that it is at its high crisis, its hour is come, and he is actually engaged in a dispute for his soul, and nothing less than the keeping or losing it for ever is the thing which is contended for.
And thus I have also done with the third particular at first proposed, and given you three several signs or marks, by which the spiritually wise and watchful may observe the motions of their grand enemy, and discern the approach of the fatal season. Of all which we may say, as Christ did of those signs that were to portend his own coming, Mark xiii. 29, When you shall see these things come to pass, then know that it is nigh, even at the doors. So when a man shall find these things come upon him, he must know, that though he is not actually conquered and trodden down, yet the enemy is in his quarters, and the sword at his breast; and if these dangers alarm him not, he is beside the remedies of mercy and the admonitions of grace; he is passing into a state of hardness and insensibility, 397and (for ought appears) under all the sad likelihoods of a perishing condition. And thus at length we come to our
Fourth and last particular, which was, to draw some useful inferences from the whole discourse; and many such might be drawn from thence. But I shall insist only upon three, and that very briefly. As,
1st, That every time in which a man is tempted, is not properly the hour of temptation. A man in his Christian course may meet with several assaults and spiritual rencounters, which he easily masters and breaks through; but if from these slight efforts or velitations, (as we may call them,) he shall conclude that the tempter can do no more, and from former success in smaller combats shall promise himself certain and final victory in all future conflicts, he will find himself deceived and imposed upon by false measures, taken from insufficient experience. For probably the temptation at those times might not have got all those helps and advantages about it, which were necessary to give it its full strength.
Temptation has its daily risings and fallings, ebbings and flowings, and a man must daily and of course expect them. But the great danger is not from hence; but when, by a kind of periodical revolution or return, it comes (as I may so speak) to its springtide, then let a man look to his spiritual banks and mounds, that the flood break not in upon him, and the killing waters (as the Psalmist expresses it) come not in even to his soul.
The life and business of a Christian is but too truly a warfare, and a sharp one too; and no warrior 398 must think himself sufficiently informed, by a few antecedent skirmishes, what the whole body and united force of his enemy can do in the main heat of the battle. For after a man has been victorious in the former, he may be, and very often is, shamefully worsted and overthrown in the latter.
2dly, The second thing which we shall infer from the foregoing particulars is, that every man living, some time or other, sooner or later, shall assuredly meet with an hour of temptation; a certain critical hour, which shall more especially try what mettle his heart is made of, and in which the eternal concerns of his soul shall more particularly lie at stake. So that if he does not quit himself like a man, and make good his station against this principal assault of his spiritual adversary, a failure or miscarriage then will prove like an oversight in the day of battle, hardly to be recovered by any after reparation.
It is indeed called an hour, but it is such an hour as has an eternity depending on it, and consequently makes a whole life little enough to prepare for it. The advice of the son of Sirach is excellent, and home to the case, Ecclus. ii. 1, My son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation. And great reason, doubtless, has a man to prepare for that which will assuredly be prepared for him, and from which no privilege of Christianity does or can exempt the very holiest and perfectest of men. For gold itself must be tried, and must pass the furnace for that purpose.
Now the two great ways of trial, by which men are generally brought to a dividing point, are by their hopes and their fears. And for the most part 399the tempter uses to accost men first by their hopes, and to bid fair and high, to see what they will take for their souls; and if he finds that they will come to no bargain with him, but that his offers are rejected, and so this course succeeds not, then he will see what he can do upon their fears, and try whether he can fright or disgrace, beggar or kill men out of their consciences. These, I say, are the two old stated methods, by which his temptations are usually wrought up to a pitch; and if the tempter cannot prevail one way, let not men flatter themselves, but rest assured that he will take the other; if he can not speed as a merchant, he will try what he can do as a warrior.
What our Saviour says of offences, Matt. xviii. 7, holds equally true of temptations, that it must needs be that they will come, And accordingly, that declaration of his runs absolute and positive, Luke xiv. 26, If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother, wife and children, brethren and sisters, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. This is the terrible decree and sentence of Christianity. And that critical, searching hour (which we have been hitherto discoursing of) is the great instrument of providence to draw forth, and place those two commanding motives of men’s actions, and rivals for their choice, duty and interest, one against the other; and to set the offers of this world and the promises of the next, the enjoyments of one and the hopes of the other, in their full competition. And when, after a thorough debate on both sides, the deciding cast and issue of the whole matter conies to this; “Either part with your conscience or your pleasures; your conscience or 400 your interest; your conscience or your estate; nay, your conscience or your very life;” then let a man know that the hour of temptation has over taken him; and God and his holy angels sit as spectators in heaven, looking down, and observing how he will behave and govern himself in this great cri sis; in the whole carriage of which, as he is most particularly and directly under God’s eye, so it will be a vast help and advantage to him to place God immovably before his.
In the mean time let this be fixed and concluded upon, that such a season, such an hour will come; and that when it is come, every man must expect to fare in it according as he has prepared himself for it. And this directly brings us to the
Third and last inference which I shall make from the words; namely, that the surest way to carry us safe and successful through this great and searching hour of probation, is a strict, steady, conscientious living up to the rules of our religion, which the text here calls a keeping the word of Christ’s patience; a denomination given to the gospel, from that peculiar distinguishing grace, which the great author of the gospel was pleased to signalize it for, above all other religions and institutions in the world, and that both by his precept and example. And therefore we must not take patience here in the new and lately current sense of the word, for patience perforce, (though a most useful quality, I confess, in the case of madness;) nor, which is much the same, for a willingness of disposition to suffer, only where a man has no power to resist; according to the republican divinity of some scandalous exploders of the doctrine of passive obedience: 401a doctrine which shines with as high and flaming an evidence throughout the whole New Testament, as the very history of our Saviour’s life does, which was a kind of comment upon it. For the Christian religion, both in itself and in its author, is a suffering religion; a religion teaching suffering, enjoining suffering, and rewarding suffering; and to express all in a word, it was Christ’s passive obedience which redeemed the world; and for any one who wears the name of a Christian to scoff at or write against it, and at the same time to look to be saved by it, is certainly very strange and preposterous, and too much in all conscience for any, but such professors of Christianity as live and practise in a direct defiance of their profession.
But to pass to that which I principally intend; I say it is a steady, uniform practice of the common, constant duties of Christianity, which is the Christian’s surest preservative against this great and critical day of trial. It is not any one or more strange, superlative act or acts of mortification, nor any high strain of discipline or severity upon ourselves, (though of excellent use doubtless in their proper place,) but it is the constant, even tenor of a good life, which will be found the best security against the tempter; as no one blow, how great soever, discharged upon an enemy, is so certain a protection against him, as a continual posture of defence. And such a thing is a good life against all the arts and assaults of our subtle, watchful aggressor.
Great disputes there are about religion, and great reason there is that men should be zealous for the truth; nevertheless, be a man’s belief never so true, and his religion never so good, an ill life will certainly 402 send him to the Devil. And it is really a very senseless and ridiculous thing for an ill liver to be zealous about any religion; it being much the same case as if one who had a rotten, pocky carcass should be extremely solicitous about the colour of his clothes. For suppose a man a murderer, an adulterer, or a perjured, false person, can any religion in the world do such an one any good? No, it is impossible; for if his religion be false, it will further his damnation; and if true, it will aggravate it.
Nothing but the word of Christ’s patience, derived into practice, and digested into a good life, can keep a man firm and tight in the terrible, shaking day of temptation; a day which every one who knows the t rue value of a soul will be always providing against. And that he may do it effectually, let him follow the course which I shall here briefly mention and mark out to him, and so conclude.
As first, let him be frequent and fervent in prayer, and in his devotions to God, both public and private, assuring himself that God values not one without the other. In the next place, let him be exact and impartial in the great work of self-examination, looking often and narrowly into the state of his soul, and clearing all accounts and old scores between God and his conscience. Moreover, let him be much and serious in considering the extreme vanity, emptiness, and shortness of all those worldly enjoyments which the generality of men do so much dote upon. And lastly, above all, let him daily and hourly, and with the closest intention of mind, meditate of death and judgment, of the certainty and horror of them, and the intolerable misery of such as shall be overtaken by them in their sins.403
And when a man shall have inured and beaten himself to such thoughts as these for some consider able time, the allurements of the flesh and the world will be but dry, tasteless, insipid things to him; and if the tempter comes, all the avenues and passages to such a soul will be found shut and bolted against his temptations, so that he must withdraw and be gone; for where he finds a man so doing, he will find nothing to do himself.
In a word, such a course of living will make that which is generally one of the greatest hours of temptation, even the hour of death itself, neither terrible nor strange; so that although it should be sudden, yet it shall not be surprising, as having nothing more to do with such an one, but only to take him out of this world, which in mind and desire he has left already, and to carry him to heaven, where his conversation was before.
To which God of his mercy vouchsafe to bring us all; to whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and do minion, both now and for evermore. Amen.404
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