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—God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
THERE is nothing in itself more irrational, nor yet (as the state of nature now is) more natural, than for men to govern their hopes and their fears wholly by their present apprehensions; so that where they see a danger manifestly threatening them, there they will fear; and where, on the other hand, the means of their deliverance are obvious to the view of sense, there they will hope; that is, in other words, they will hope and fear just as far as they can see, and trust God so far as they can trust their eyes, and no further.
A temper of mind utterly contrary to that heroic nature of faith, the noblest property of which is to give light and evidence to things not seen, and being and subsistence to things before they are; and by so doing, to render its object then more credible, when most invisible; and this (if throughly considered) with the highest reason imaginable; for as such a short and limited faith, as ties itself wholly to the 405measures of sense, can proceed from nothing else but a man’s not considering how many ways he may be attacked and ruined, even in his highest security; and how many ways again he may be delivered, even in his deepest distress, which he cannot possibly comprehend nor pierce into, and upon that account presumes in one case, and despairs in another; and this only from a peremptory persuasion founded upon a gross ignorance of both; so, on the contrary, that generous confidence of faith, which carries it above all these low phenomena of sense and matter, is bottomed upon the truest and strictest philosophy discoursing about God’s wisdom and power; which being confessedly infinite, must needs upon that score, even in the very judgment of bare reason, have unconceivably more ways to deliver from temptation, than there can be temptations for any one to be delivered from. And therefore, where the utmost reach of created wit and power ends, then and there these two mighty attributes begin; this being the proper, eminent, and peculiar season for their working wonders; that so by this means a man may see his pitiful, narrow reason nonplused and outdone, before he sees his wants answered; and the proud nothing own himself baffled, while, in spite of his despair, he finds himself delivered.
Now of all the evils incident to man, there is none from which an escape is both so difficult and so desirable as from temptations. For as all escape, in the very notion and nature of it, imports in it these three things; 1st, Some precedent danger threatening; and, 2dly, The difficulty of getting through it; and yet, 3dly, A final deliverance from it: so in this business of temptation, the danger threatening 406 is no less than damnation; the difficulty of escaping it is founded partly upon the importunity, vigilance, and power of a spirit inexpressibly strong, subtle, and malicious, and partly upon a furious, inbred inclination to sin in the tempted person himself; and this both heightened by inveterate custom, and inflamed by circumstances continually pushing it on to action. All which represents to us such a scene of opposition, such a combination of craft and force together, as must needs overmatch all the strength of nature, all the poor auxiliaries which flesh and blood can bring into the field against so mighty an enemy.
And therefore nothing less than a Being infinitely wise, and thereby able to sound all the depths, and to outreach and defeat all the finesses and intrigues of this tempting spirit; and withal, of an infinite, irresistible power, to support the weaknesses and supply the defects of a poor sorry mortal engaged against him, and ready to fall under him; nothing, I say, but that almighty Being which can do all this, can break the bonds and loose the cords which the tempter holds the tempted person by, and so give him a full and absolute deliverance.
Now how and by what ways God does this, shall be our present business to inquire. In which, though (as I shew before) it would be a great vanity, and as great an absurdity, to offer to reduce omniscience to our methods, or to confine omnipotence to our measures, and consequently to give a full and distinct account of those innumerable ways by which the great ruler of the world brings about his designs, especially in his dealing with the souls of men, (which ever was and will be strange, secret, and unaccountable,) yet I shall venture to assign 407four several ways, and those very intelligible to any considering mind, by which God is pleased, in the course of his providence, to deliver men out of temptation. As,
1st, If the force of the temptation be chiefly from the vehement, restless, and incessant importunities of the evil spirit, God often puts an issue to the temptation by rebuking and commanding down the tempter himself. For we must know, that although the Devil, in his dealings with men, acts the part of an enemy, yet still, in respect of God, he does the work of a servant, even in his greatest fury, and operates but as an instrument; that is, both with dependence and limitation. He is in a chain, and that chain is in God’s hand; and consequently, notwithstanding his utmost spite, he cannot be more malicious than he is obnoxious. And therefore, being under such an absolute control, all that he does must be by address and art; he must persuade us to be damned, cajole and court us to destruction. He must use tricks and stratagems, urge us with importunity, surprise us with subtilty, till at length we enter upon death by choice, and by our own act put ourselves into the fatal noose.
For certain it is, that God has not put it into the power of any created being to make a man do an ill thing against his will, but has committed the great portal and passage into his soul, to wit, the freedom of his will, to his own keeping; and it is not all that the Devil can do, that can force the key of it out of his hands. But he must first be a tempter, before he can be a destroyer.
Nevertheless, though he cannot compel to sin, yet he can urge, and press, and follow a man with vehement 408 and continual solicitations to it. And though his malice can go no further, yet certainly it is a real torture and a great misery to a well-disposed mind, that he should go so far, and to find itself incessantly importuned to any vile thing or action; indeed as great and vexatious as blows or bastinadoes can be to the body; for during the solicitation, the spiritual part is all the time struggling and fencing, and consequently in the same degree suffering and oppressed; and for any one to be always in a laborious, hazardous posture of defence, without intermission or relief, must needs be intolerable.
For admitting that none of the fiery darts of the Devil should actually kill and destroy, yet certainly it is next to death to be always warding off deadly blows, and to be held upon the rack of a constant, anxious, unintermitted fear about the dreadful issues of a man’s eternal condition. And that man who is not sped with a mortal wound, yet if he is continually pulling arrows out of his flesh, and hearing bullets hissing about his ears, and death passing by him but at the distance of an hair’s breadth, has surely all that fear, and danger, and destruction, in the nearest approach of it, can contribute to make him miserable.
It is hard indeed, if not impossible, to assign exactly how one spirit may operate upon and afflict another. But thus much it is very agreeable to reason to suppose, to wit, that a stronger spirit may proportionably make the afflictive impression upon a weaker, which a stronger body is able to make upon a body of less strength than itself. And two ways we have ground to conclude that the evil spirit does this by; one by raising strange and unaccountable 409horrors in the mind; and the other by rude and boisterous impulses to something contrary to the judgment of conscience. The former of which might easily be made out both from reason and experience; and the latter is what we are now discoursing of. And a very wretched, dangerous, and dubious condition is the soul very often cast into by this means; and being brought thereby to the very brink of destruction, God is then pleased to step in to its assistance; and when the tempter grows rest less, and next to violent, and, instead of persuading, attempts even to ravish the consent, God stops his foul mouth, and commands him to hold his peace, as formerly, in Job’s case, he commanded him to hold his hand.
For his devilish method in tempting is commonly this. First to begin the temptation with a still voice and a gentle breath, and all the sly and fawning applications that can be; but when that will not do, then he raises his voice, and the temptation blows rough and high like a tempest, and would shake down where it cannot insinuate. It raises a storm amongst all the powers and faculties of the soul, and, like the rolling billows of a troubled sea, dashes them one against another, judgment against appetite, and appetite against judgment, till the poor man, as it were, broken between both, is ready to sink and perish, and make shipwreck of his faith, did not a merciful and powerful voice from above rebuke the winds, and compose the waves, and chide down the rage and blusterings of so impetuous an adversary.
And this God often does out of mere compassion to a soul labouring and languishing, and even wearied out with the frequent and foul instigations of a 410 tempting spirit. For all importunity is a kind of violence to the mind. This was the course which our Saviour himself took with him in the like case. The Devil seemed to pour in his temptations upon him without any pause or intermission; and accordingly our Saviour answers his first and second temptations with fit scriptures, calmly and rationally applied to both; but when he grew impudent and audacious in his third temptation, our Saviour not only confounds him with scripture, but also cuts him short with a word of authority, and bids him give over, and be gone. And as afterwards he once took up Peter speaking like Satan, so at this time he turns off Satan speaking like himself, with an Ὕπαγε Σατανᾶ, Get thee behind me. And a most proper and efficacious way it is certainly to repel the encroachment of a bold and troublesome proposal, to be rough and peremptory with it, to strike it down, and to answer it with scorn and indignation; and so to silence the pressing insolence of a saucy sophister, not so much by confuting the argument, as by countermanding the opponent. And this is one way by which God gives deliverance and escape out of temptation; he controls and reprimands the tempter, and takes off the evil spirit before he can be able to fasten.
2dly, If the force of a temptation be from the weakness of a man’s mind, rendering it unable of itself to withstand and bear up against the assaults of the tempter, God oftentimes delivers from it by mighty, inward, unaccountable supplies of strength, conveyed to the soul immediately from himself. The former way God delivers a man by removing his enemy, but this latter by giving him wherewithal to conquer him. And this is as certain a way of deliverance 411as the other can be. For surely a man is equally safe, whether his enemy flies from him or falls before him. It seems to be with the soul, with reference to some temptations, as with one of a weak and a tender sight, with reference to the sunbeams beating upon it: if you divert or keep off the beam, you relieve the man; but if you give him an eagle’s eye, he will look the sun in the face, endure the light, and defy the impression. So if God, instead of silencing and commanding off the tempter, suffers him to proceed and press home the temptation, yet if at the same time also he gives in a proportion of strength superior to the assault, and an assistance greater than the opposition, the man is as much delivered as if he had no enemy at all; the manner indeed of his deliverance is infinitely more noble, and as much preferable to the other, as the trophies of a conqueror surpass the poor inglorious safeties of an escape.
Thus it was with that holy and great man St. Paul. He was not only accosted, but even worried with a messenger from Satan; a messenger sent not only to challenge, but actually to duel him; and so sharp was the encounter, that it passed from soli citations to downright blows; for in 2 Cor. xii. 7, he tells us he was buffeted. And so near was he to an utter despair of the main issue of the conflict, that he cries out like a man vanquished, and with the sword of a prevailing enemy at his throat, O wretched man! who shall deliver me? Delivered (we all know) he was at length, and that it was God who delivered him. But how? Why, not by taking off the tempter, not by stopping his mouth that he should not solicit, nor, lastly, by tying up his hands that he 412 should not buffet, (which yet was the thing which St. Paul so much desired, and accordingly so earnestly prayed for;) Thrice, says he, I besought the Lord, that it might depart from me, ver. 8. But God designed him another, and a nobler kind of deliverance, even by a sufficiency of his grace, ver. 9, My grace, says he, is sufficient for thee. God himself (as I may so speak) undertook the quarrel, and fought his battles, and that brought him off, not only safe, but triumphant, which surely was as much more honourable than to have the combat ended by parting the combatants, as it is for a generous and brave enemy to have his quarrel decided by the verdict of a victorious sword, than took up and compromised by the mean expedients of reference and arbitration.
But this kind of deliverance by such mighty inward conveyances of strength, was never so signal and illustrious as in that noble army of martyrs, which fought Christ’s battles in the primitive ages of the church. For what could make men go laughing to the stake, singing to the rack, to the saw and the gridiron, to the wild beasts and the lions, with a courage vastly greater than theirs, but an invincible principle, of which the world saw the manifest effects indeed, but could not see the cause? What, I say, could make nature thus triumph over nature in the cause of religion? Some heathen philosophers, I confess, did, and some heathenish Christians (who have neither religion nor philosophy) still do ascribe all this to the peculiar strength and sturdiness of some tempers.
But, in answer to these, in the first place I ask, where such a strength and sturdiness of temper ever yet was, or elsewhere to be found in any great and 413considerable multitude of men? Flesh and blood was and will be the same in all places and ages. But is flesh and blood, left to itself, an equal match to all the arts and inventions, all the tortures and tyrannies, which the will, power, and malice of persecution could or can encounter it with? No, assuredly the courage, which rises and reaches up to martyrdom, is infinitely another thing from that which exerts itself in all other cases whatsoever. Nor can every bold man, who in hot blood can meet his enemy in the field, upon the stock of the same courage fry at the stake, or with a fixed, deliberate firmness of mind endure to have his flesh torn off with burning pincers piece by piece before his eyes. No, there are few hearts so strongly and stoutly hard, but are quickly melted down before such fires.
All this is most undeniably true. But then, by way of further answer to the forementioned allegation, that the natural sturdiness of some tempers might be sufficient to enable some persons to endure such exquisite torments, as we have been speaking of, I add moreover, that the endurance of them has been in none more eminent and glorious than in persons of a quite contrary temper, of a weak and tender constitution, and of a nice and delicate education. Nay (and which is yet more) in such as have been extremely diffident and suspicious of themselves, lest upon the terrible approach of the fiery trial they should fly off, and apostatize, and deny the truth. And yet when God has brought these poor, diffident, self-distrusting souls to grapple (as it were) hand to hand with the enemy whom they so much dreaded, they have found something within them greater and mightier than any thing which 414 they feared without them; something which equally triumphed over the torment itself, and their own more tormenting fears of it. All which could spring from nothing else but those secret, inward supplies and assistances of the divine Spirit, which raised and inspired their blessed souls to such an ecstasy of fortitude, as not only exceeded the very powers, but almost overflowed the very capacities of nature.
For the truth is, nature at best is but a poor and a feeble thing, the flesh is weak, and the heart fallacious; purposes are frail, and resolutions changeable, and grace itself in this life is yet but begun. But thanks be to God, our principal strength lies in none of all those, but in those auxiliaries which shall flow in upon us from the Almighty God, while we are actually engaged for God, in those hidden, ineffable satisfactions, which are able to work a man up to a pitch of doing and suffering incredibly above and beyond himself.
For still as God brings his servants into different states and conditions, he fails not to measure out to them a different spirit, suited and proportioned to the respective exigences of each condition. For this is a most certain truth, and worthy of our best observation; that the same almighty and creative power, which has given to one man greater strength of mind than to another, can, and undoubtedly very often does, vouchsafe to the same man greater strength of mind at sometimes than he does at others. Without which consideration it is impossible to give any satisfactory account of the cause and reason of that miraculous passive fortitude (may our triumphant whigs pardon the word) which shined forth in the primitive Christians; which yet 415all the records of antiquity, and historians of the church, are unanimously witnesses, and equally admirers of. From all which it follows, that no man living, though never so humble, so distrustful and suspicious of himself, can, from any thing which he finds or feels in his heart in the time of his prosperity, certainly know, what a daring, invincible spirit may enter into him, when God shall call him forth as his champion to own and assert an oppressed truth, to act and to suffer, to fight and perhaps die, in his despised cause.
And therefore, if a day of trial should come upon us, (as God knows how near it may be, and how terrible it may prove,) let us so prepare for it before it comes, as not to despond under it when it does come. For when I consider that vast load of national guilt, which has been growing upon us ever since the year forty-one, and never yet to any considerable degree accounted for to public justice; I cannot persuade myself, that either the judgments of God or the malice of man have done with us yet: especially since the same faction, which overturned the church and monarchy then, is, with all its republican guilt, strong and in heart now; and gnashing its teeth at the monarchy, and at the church of England for the sake of the monarchy, every day. And it is but a melancholy reflection, I confess, to all honest minds to consider, what so daring a combination may in a short time arrive to.
Nevertheless, as I said before, let us not despond, but only make this our care, that though we suffer by their spite, we may not share in their guilt. And then we may be confident, that our main strengths will be found in better keeping than our 416 own; as being neither deposited in our own hands, nor to be measured by our own knowledge. We shall find those inward comforts and supports of mind, which all the malice of men and devils shall never be able to suspend us from or deprive us of. All my fresh springs are in thee, says David, Psalm lxxxvii. 7. We shall find a fulness in the stream to answer all our needs, though the spring perhaps, which feeds it, may escape our eye.
When our Saviour Christ had set before his disciples a full and lively draught of all those barbarous and cruel usages which they should meet with after his death, from synagogues and councils, from kings and potentates, before whom they should be arraigned, and brought to plead their cause against all the disadvantages which the wit and eloquence, the power and malice of their persecutors could put them to, he well knew that this would create in them great anxiety of thoughts and solicitous fore cast, how they, who were men of an unskilled, unlearned simplicity, and withal of none of the greatest courage, should be able to manage their own defence so as to acquit themselves at the bar of the learned, and in the face of princes. All this, I say, he foresaw and knew, and therefore, Luke xxi. 14, 15, he lays in this sovereign and peculiar antidote against all such disheartening apprehensions. Settle it, says he, in your hearts, not to meditate beforehand what ye shall answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist. And in Matt. x. 19, it is emphatically remarked, that it should be given them in that same hour what they should speak. Which undeniably proves, that they should receive 417that ability by immediate and divine infusion; as coming in upon them just in the season, in the very hour and critical instant of their necessity.
This example, I confess, is particular, personal, and miraculous; but the reason of it is universal and perpetual, as being founded in this: that as nature in things natural, so grace in things supernatural, is never deficient or wanting to men in necessaries. And as necessary as it was for the first founding of a church, that Christ should vouchsafe his disciples those miraculous assistances in point of ratiocination and elocution, so necessary is it at this very day, and will be so as long as the world lasts, for God to vouchsafe men under some temptations such extraordinary supplies of supporting grace, as otherwise are not commonly dealt forth to them. For still (as we observed before in St. Paul’s case) God intends us a sufficiency of grace. But where the trial is extraordinary, unless the grace afforded be so too, it neither is nor can be accounted sufficient. Let this therefore be the second way by which God delivers out of temptation.
3dly, If the force of a temptation springs chiefly from the unhappy circumstances of a man’s life continually exposing him to tempting objects and occasions of sin, God frequently delivers such an one by a providential change of the whole course of his life and the circumstances of his condition. And this he may do either by a general public change and revolution of affairs, which always carries with it the rise and fall of a vast number of particular interests, whereby some perhaps, whose greatness had been a snare to themselves, as well as a burden to others, are happily thrown down into such a condition, as 418 may serve to mortify and fit them for another world, from such an one, as had before made them in tolerable in this.
And sometimes God does this by a personal change, affecting a man only in his own person and his private concerns. So that, whereas his former conversation, interests, and acquaintance might enslave him to some sort of objects and occasions, which have such a strange and powerful ascendant over his temper and affections, that he is never assaulted by them, but he is still foiled in the encounter, and always comes off from them a worse man than they found him; in this case, God, by a sovereign turn of his providence, alters and new models the whole state and course of such an one’s affairs, and thereby breaks the snare, and unties the several bonds and ligaments of the fatal knot, and so unravels the whole temptation.
And this is as much God’s prerogative, and the act of a divine power, as that to which a man owes his very being and creation. For as no man can add one cubit to his stature, so neither can he add one span, one hand’s breadth to his fortune. For that a man should be either high or low, rich or poor, strong or weak, healthful or sickly, or the like, is wholly from the disposal of a superior power; and yet upon these very things depends the result and issue of all temptations.
Accordingly, if God shall think fit to strip a voluptuous person of his riches and interest, and there by transplant him from an idle and delicate way of living into a life of hardship, service, and severe action; from the softness of a court to the disciplines of a camp, to long marches, short sleeps, and shorter 419meals, there is no question but those temptations which drew their main force and prevalence from the plenties of his former condition, will attack him but very faintly under the penuries of the quite contrary; and the combustible matter being thus removed, the flame must quickly abate and languish, expire, and at length go out of itself.
Nevertheless there is, I confess, such an impregnable strength, such an exuberant fulness of corruption in some natures, as to baffle and disappoint all these methods and applications of Providence, and even where objects and occasions of sin are wanting, to supply the want of them by an inexhaustible, over flowing pravity and concupiscence from within. So that such an one can be proud and insolent, though Providence clothes him with rags, and seats him upon a dunghill; he can be an epicure even with the bread and water of affliction; nor can hardship and hunger itself cure him of his sensuality, the fury of his appetites remaining still fierce and unmortified, in spite of the failure of his stores and the scantiness of his condition: in a word, the man is his own tempter, and so is always sure of a temptation.
All this we must own to be very true; but then this is also as true, that these and the like hard and severe passages of Providence have in them a natural fitness to work upon the heart of man, though some hearts are never actually wrought upon by them. For no doubt there are monsters and anomalies, not only in the course of nature, but also in that of grace and morality; and some sort of tempers are not to be altered, and much less bettered by any or all of those disciplines, by which yet God reclaims and effectually reduces millions of souls to himself. God 420 strikes many in their temporal concerns to promote and further them in their spiritual; and if this way fails of its designed effect, it is not from the unfitness of the remedy, but the invincible indisposition of the patient. God knows how to reach the soul through the body, and commonly does so; and so do the laws of all the wise nations in the world; though our new-fashioned politics, I confess, contrary to them all, have cried down the fitness of all temporal inflictions, to reduce men to a sober sense and judgment in matters of religion.
Nevertheless the sacred story assures us, that this was still the course which God took with his own people. They were the sins and apostasies of their souls, for the reformation of which he plagued them in their bodies and estates; and when profaneness or idolatry was the malady, captivity and the sword were generally the cure. This was God’s method; and by this he put a stop to the sin, and an end to the temptation. Nor do we find that the Jews ever threw it in the prophets teeth, when they denounced God’s judgments against them, that sword and famine, and such like temporal miseries and calamities, were things wholly improper, and unable to work upon the conscience: for their conscience knew and told them the quite contrary. And much less do we find, that God ever thought it suit able to his wisdom to secure the authority of those laws by which he meant to govern the world, by proclaiming impunity and indulgence to the bold violators of them.
And thus much for the third way by which God delivers out of temptation; namely, by altering the circumstances of a man’s life, when the temptation 421is principally founded in them, and arises from them. So that if riches debauch a man, poverty shall reform him. If honour and high place turns his head, a lower condition shall settle it. If his table becomes his snare, God will remove it, and diet him into a more temperate and severe course of living. In a word, God will cut him short in his very conveniences, rather than suffer him in his extravagances; and to prevent his surfeits, abridge him even in his lawful satisfactions.
4thly and lastly, If the force and strength of a temptation be chiefly from the powerful sway and solicitation of some unruly and corrupt affection, God delivers from it by the overpowering influence and operation of his holy Spirit gradually weakening, and at length totally subduing it. The strength of a temptation lies generally in the strength of a man’s corruption. And the tempter, for the most part, prevails not so much by what he suggests to a man, as by what he finds in him; for what hold can he have of that man, in whom he finds nothing to take hold of him by? They are our lusts, our depraved appetites, and corrupt affections, which give the tempter such a mighty power and advantage over us. Otherwise, if these were throughly mortified and extinguished, the temptation must of necessity fail, and sink, and vanish into nothing, for want of matter to work upon. It is said of Archimedes, that he would undertake to turn about the whole earth, if he could but have some place beside the earth to fix his feet upon. In like manner, as skilful an engineer as the Devil is, he will never be able to play his engines to any purpose, unless he finds something to fasten them to. If indeed he finds a man naturally choleric and 422 passionate, he has numberless ways and arts to work upon his choler, and transport him to a rage; if he finds him lustful, he will quickly blow up his lewd heats into a flame; and if luxurious and sensual, he can lay a thousand trains to betray him to excess and intemperance. But still in all these cases, and many more, it is the corrupt humour within us, wherein his great strength lies. It being with the soul in such instances as with some impregnable fort or castle, nothing but treachery within itself can deliver it up to the enemy.
I withheld thee from sinning against me, says God to Abimelech, Gen. xx. 6, and no doubt God has innumerable ways by which he does this: though still, by the way, barely to withhold a man from sin, and to cure him of it, are things extremely different; the proper effect of this latter being to bring a man to heaven, but of the former without this, only to suffer him to pass on in a cleanlier way to hell. God may withhold a man from sin, by plucking away the baneful object that would have ensnared him; as likewise by diverting the course of his thoughts, and the bent of his desires, by sundry cross accidents cast in his way. And lastly, after a full purpose of sin conceived, he may by many intervening impediments disable him from the execution of it: with several other ways of restraint, which we are not aware of, and all of them, no question, very great mercies, as giving a man some check at least in his full career to destruction.
But when, over and above all this, God, by the powerful impressions of his almighty Spirit, shall make a man, of angry and passionate, meek and patient; of lustful, chaste; of luxurious, temperate and abstemious; 423that is, when he shall subdue, break, and mortify the sinful appetite and inclination itself, and plant a mighty contrary bias and propensity of will in the room of it, (all which God can do, and some times has done,) this is a greater, a nobler, and a surer deliverance out of temptation, than either the removal of the enticing object, or the cutting off the occasion; nay, than the very prevention of the sinful act itself. It is undoubtedly one of the greatest and the best things which God does for a man in this world; and without which a man lives in continual danger of being ruined by every returning temptation. For certain it is, that he cannot be se cure from the returns, nay, the frequent violent returns of it. In a word, as long as the old ferment remains unthrown out, a man cannot be safe; nor can he assure himself, that, after a very long cessation, it shall not break out and rage afresh, as occasion may give life and motion to his corruption.
But you will say, perhaps, Where are there any in stances of such a mighty change wrought upon men? I confess there are but very few; and I must confess also, that this, upon supposal of the necessity of such a change, is a very dreadful consideration. Nevertheless, some such instances there are: for both the scripture asserts it, 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10, 11; and those known expressions of regeneration and the new creature do evidently import it, John iii. 3-7; and the experience of many good men now in heaven, who were far from having been always such while they lived upon earth, does fully confirm it. Howbeit we must still acknowledge thus much, that wheresoever such mighty changes are found, they are (as I may so express it) the very trophies and 424 magnalia of grace, the peculiar triumphs of the Spirit over the corruption of nature, and the grand instances of its invincible, controlling power over the hearts of men. But still, I say, for all the rarity and fewness of such examples, God will have the world know, (maugre all our flourishing Socinians and Pelagians,) that under the gospel economy there is such a thing, such a gratia vorticordia, as we have been speaking of. And I fully believe, from the authority of much learneder men than either Pelagius or Socinus, or any of their preferred disciples, as well as from the authority of holy scripture, (paramount to all other authorities whatsoever,) that none ever yet did, or ever shall, go to heaven, whom God does not vouchsafe these heart-changing impressions of his Spirit more or less to. And indeed, if we do but grant the general corruption of human nature through original sin, it is infinitely sottish, as well as impious, to assert the contrary.
And as to the present subject now before us, I doubt not to affirm, that these extraordinary workings of the Spirit in the sanctification and change of men’s hearts, are so much the very masterpiece of God’s power, and the greatest (as well as last) efforts of his mercy, in ridding men out of temptation, that all other ways (though confessedly great in themselves) are yet as nothing in comparison of this. For they are all of them but the diverting of a blow, not the conquest of an enemy, but like the dealing with a man under a fever or an ague, in which there may be many ways both to lessen and to put off a fit, (and those of singular use too,) but nothing but the removal of the feverish and morbific mat ter within can carry off the distemper.425
Let this therefore be the fourth and last way which we shall mention, whereby God gives escape out of temptation; namely, by the inward, over powering influences of his Spirit, working such a mighty change upon the will and the affections, that a man’s desires shall become cold and dead to those things which before were so extremely apt to captivate and command them; than which there can not be a greater balk to the tempter, nor a more effectual defeat to all his temptations.
But now, besides all these four ways of deliverance, there are no doubt (as I shew at first) innumerable others, which no human understanding is able to comprehend or look into. Nevertheless, so much I shall venture to say, that there is hardly any sort or degree of temptation which man is subject to, but, by some one or other of those four mentioned ways, God has actually given men a full and a complete deliverance from it.
Now there are several inferences naturally flowing from the foregoing particulars, and those of no small use; but being too many to be fully treated of now, and therefore reserving them to a distinct discourse by themselves, as I have already laid before you some of the principal ways and methods by which God delivers out of temptation, so I shall now mark out to you some of the principal temptations also which do most threaten and endanger the souls of men, and which God principally magnifies his goodness by delivering them from. As, 1. A public, declared impunity to sin is one of the greatest temptations to it, which it is possible for human nature to be brought under. For if laws be intended by God and man for some of the principal preventives of sin, and 426 the sin-preventing strength of the law lies chiefly in the coercive force it has over the transgressors of it, it is manifest, that when these coercions are taken from it, the law is disarmed, feeble, and precarious, and sin, like a mighty torrent, when the banks are cut down, must break in, and pour itself upon the lives and manners of men without resistance or control. And I need say no more than this, that laws, without power to affect or reach the transgress ors of them, are but imperii et justitiae ludibria, the mockeries of justice, the reproaches of government, and the invincible encouragements of sin; for whatsoever weakens the law, in the same degree also invites the transgression.
Some, I know, talk of politics and reason of state; but there is no such thing as policy against common sense and experience, nor any true reason of state against religion. For since the propensity of man’s nature to most things forbidden is so mighty and outrageous, that nothing can check or overawe it, but the dread and terror of the law, it is evident, that when the law is stripped of that by which alone it can strike terror into the despisers of it, it is, in effect, to bid vice and profaneness do their worst, and to bid virtue and religion shift for themselves; the grand rule by which some politicians (as they would be thought, forsooth) govern their counsels by.
2dly, The wicked, vicious, and scandalous examples of persons in place and power are strong temptations to sin. For amongst the prime motives of human actions, next to laws most reckon examples, and some place examples above them. For though indeed there may be a greater authority in laws, yet there is a greater force (because a greater suitableness) 427in examples; and then experience shews, that it is not so much what commands as what agrees, which gains upon the affections; and the affections, we all know, are the grand springs and principles of action.
So that if a prince, for instance, gives himself up to lewdness and uncleanness, there is no doubt but whoring will soon come into fashion, and that he will quickly find more, by a great many, to follow him in his lusts, than to obey him in his laws. If a prince be a breaker of his word, his oath, or his solemn promise, it may prove a shrewd temptation to others to do the like by him. And then he may thank his own example, if he suffers by the imitation. Like wise, if a clergyman be noted for sensuality, covetousness, or ambition, he may preach his heart out in behalf of the contrary virtues, and all to no purpose; for still his example will be a stronger temptation to the sin, than his doctrine can be an enforcement of the duty.
The sins of princes and priests are of a spreading and a reigning contagion; and though naturally they are no more than the acts of particular persons, yet virtually and consequently they are often the sins of a whole community. And if so, good God! what huge heaps of foul guilt must lie at such sinners doors! For every person of note, power, and place, living in an open violation of any one of God’s laws, holds up a flag of defiance against Heaven, and calls in all about him to fight under his lewd banner against God and his express commands, and so, as it were, by a kind of homage and obedience, to be as vile and wicked as himself. And when it once comes to this, then all the villainies which were committed 428 by others in the strength and encouragement of his devilish example, will be personally charged upon his account, and, as a just debt, exacted of him to the utmost farthing.
3dly and lastly, Great, cruel, and vexatious oppressions of men in their persons, liberties, and estate, are strong and powerful temptations to sin; and that indeed to some of the worst of sins, such as are murmuring and repining at Providence, and perhaps questioning, nay, and possibly sometimes absolutely denying it; besides those sinister and unlawful courses, which they may tempt and drive men to for their deliverance. For as the great master of wisdom tells us, oppression will make even a wise man mad, Eccles. vii. 7. And whatsoever robs a man of his reason, must needs also give a terrible shake to his religion. Such impressions has it sometimes made upon some of the wisest and holiest men living; and no wonder, since the wisest of men have their weak side, and the holiest some mixture of corruption. Job, David, Jeremy, and Habakkuk found it so; the last of which debates the case with God in these remarkable words, Habakkuk i. 13, Wherefore, says he, dost thou hold thy tongue when the wicked devours the man that is more righteous than himself? From which, and such like staggering passages about God’s government of the world, we may safely and certainly conclude thus much at least, that that which has been a temptation to the best of men sometimes to dispute it with Providence, will effectually bring ill men to deny it.
The truth is, one grand oppressor (the more is the pity) is able to make many blasphemers; and one French Nero or Dioclesian, prospering in all his cruelties 429and barbarities, is like to make many more converts to atheism and scepticism than ever he did to his own false religion.
Though, by the way, one would think that such oppressing Nimrods should have a little wit in their cruelty, and take heed how they bear too hard upon their poor subjects, whom God has placed under their government, not under their feet; and that they should find but little temptation to oppression, when others have found oppression so strong a temptation to rebellion.
And thus I have given you three great and notable instances of temptation, and those indeed so great, that thousands have perished by them; and nothing but an infinite power, under the conduct of an infinite mercy, can carry a man safe through them, or victorious over them. Nevertheless, these two things must still be considered by us.
1st, That the strongest temptations to sin are no warrants to sin.
2dly, That God delivers those only out of them, who do their lawful utmost to deliver themselves.
Accordingly to resume and run over the three forementioned particulars. As if a man, for instance, finds himself tempted to any unlawful course upon a declared impunity to the thing which he is tempted to; let him soberly and seriously consider with himself, that the obligation of a law is the same, though no punishment ever follows the transgression or breach of it; and that a liberty of sin (christen it by the name of what liberty you will) is yet one of the greatest and dreadfullest judgments which can be fall any person or people, and a certain cause as well as sign of an approaching destruction. Again, if a 430 man be tempted to any wicked or vile act by the example of some great, powerful, or illustrious sinner, let him learn, instead of admiring and following the greatness of the person, to abhor the baseness of the practice, as knowing that the man can never authorize the sin, but the sin will be sure to embase the man.
And lastly, if a man finds himself tempted to murmuring and repining at Providence, by his being op pressed in his just rights and estate, as the greatest part of Europe now is, let him satisfy and compose his mind with this consideration, that no oppression can go a step further or last a minute longer than its commission; and that God, who gave it its commission, never did nor will suffer a good man to be oppressed beyond what he is able to endure.
Which, and the like considerations, pressed home upon the heart, will wonderfully blunt the edge and break the force of any temptation. And when a man shall thus acquit himself, and do his part, by fencing in this manner against the assaults and buffets of the tempter, then and then only may he be properly said to depend upon God; and while men do so, be the temptation never so great and pressing, such as faith fully depend upon him shall be certainly delivered by him.
To whom therefore be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.431
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