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But 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.
I HAVE discoursed several times, from several texts of scripture, upon this great subject of temptation.
And that branch of it which I last treated of from this scripture, was about the several ways whereby God delivers men from it.
Concerning which we are to observe in general, that the said deliverances are of two sorts.
1st, Those whereby God delivers men out of temptation immediately by himself and his own act, without the concurrence or interposal of any act of the tempted person. And,
2dly, Those wherein God makes use of the endeavours of the tempted person himself, in subordination to the workings of his own grace. And these are two, watchfulness and prayer; which I intend for the subject of my next discourse upon that portion of scripture, Matth. xxvi. 41, Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.432
Now for the first of these two sorts, viz. that wherein God acts immediately by himself, I shew the instances thereof were innumerable, and such as it was impossible for any human understanding to have a full and a distinct comprehension of. How ever in particular I then instanced in four; the heads of which, for the better representing the connection of what went before with that which is to follow, I shall briefly repeat, and so go on. As,
1st, I shew, that if the force and strength of a 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.
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.
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.
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.
These four ways in particular I assigned, whereby God was pleased to deliver men out of temptation; 433and though I shew that he had infinite other ways to effect the same, known only to himself; yet I shew withal, that there was hardly any sort or degree of temptation which man is subject to, but, by some or other of these four forementioned ways, God has actually given men a full and complete deliverance from it.
Upon the whole matter, the design of the apostle in the text seems to be the convincing of the persons he wrote to, of these two things.
1st, That it is not man himself, but God, who does and must deliver him out of temptation.
2dly, That the ways by which God does this are certainly above man’s power, and for the most part beyond his knowledge too.
Now these two are very great considerations; great indeed in themselves, but greater in the practical consequences naturally deducible from them. And the business I then proposed to myself was, to draw forth and lay before you some of the usefullest and most important of them.
Accordingly I undertook to insist upon these five. As,
1st, That the only true estimate of an escape from temptation, is to be taken from the final issue and result of it. From whence these two things naturally follow. First, that an escape from a temptation may consist with a very long continuance under it; indeed so long, that God may put an end to the temptation and a man’s life together; so that he shall not have striven his last, till he has breathed his last too. And the other inference is, that a final escape and deliverance from temptation may very well consist with several foils under a temptation. 434 Both which considerations are of vast moment to satisfy and instruct the conscience in so important a case, as affording an equal antidote against presumption on the one hand, and despair on the other.
For neither is a foil given or received a conquest. The tempter may be foiled and worsted in many a conflict, and yet make head again, and come off victorious at last, as we have already shewn. It is true, the scripture tells us, that if we resist the tempter, he will fly from us. Nevertheless we are not sure, that, after that flight, he will not return; but that he who flies at one time may face about, and fight it out sharply, and carry all before him at another. And therefore let no man flatter himself too much upon some little successes against the tempter and his temptations; for it is not every skirmish which determines the victory. Has a man borne up with courage against a first, second, and third assault, whether of pride, lust, intemperance, or whatsoever other vice it be, which the Devil is apt to attack the souls of men by; let such an one be joyful, and bless God for it, but still let him be humble too; and prepare for a fourth and fifth encounter, and God knows how many more after them: for he only conquers, who gives the last stroke. On the contrary, has a man received many a foil and wound in the combats between him and his spiritual enemy, yet let him not despond; for God may deliver him for all this: only let him continue the combat still; for as long as a man dares dispute it with his enemy, though with his blood about his ears, he is not conquered. God can turn the fortune of the day when he will; and where the tempted person is not wanting to himself, he always does. But I do not say that he 435always does this presently; for God may try a man several years, and not deliver him till the last; as a man may struggle with a distemper the greatest part of his life, and yet recover, and get the full mastery of it in the issue; and not only so, but live many a fair and comfortable year after it.
Nothing should make us give up our hope, till it forces us to give up the ghost too. And it is only men’s being slavishly tied to the present, and fixing their thoughts wholly upon what they actually see and converse with, which disables them from doing any thing that is great, or enduring any thing that is difficult. The greatest obstacles to a religious course are men’s ungoverned passions and affections; and it is impossible to conquer or overrule these, but by carrying the judgment of reason beyond the apprehensions of sense: for the passions are all founded upon the present sight and sense of things. And it is this which so wretchedly abuses and transports men, that they think that all the good and evil which is considerable in the world lies within that pitiful compass of visible objects which they have before them. This, I say, is that which makes them sell eternity for a song, give away their souls for a trifle, and turn their backs upon glory and immortality, and God himself, under the pinch of any present pain, or the bewitchery of some present pleasure. In a word, the main strength of almost every temptation lies in this, that men ascribe all to the present, which is short and contemptible, and nothing to the future, which is infinite and invaluable.
But as reason is of itself able to look much further than sense, so faith is able to look as much be yond reason: and therefore if my reason tells me 436 that there is something in the nature of things which escapes and transcends my view, faith (I am sure) will take yet a further flight and a nobler prospect, and assure me, that though I am but an inhabitant of this world, yet I am heir of a better, and consequently ought to be governed by my highest interest, and to proportion my esteem to the mea sure of my concern, which is incomparably greater in the next life than it can be in this.
A man perhaps is pressed hard and sore by a temptation, and he begs as hard of God to deliver him from it: nevertheless the temptation goes on, and he is not presently delivered. But shall now this pitiful thing called man prescribe to his Maker, and (which is yet worse) to his Deliverer? He, I say, who can dance attendance from day to day, and sometimes from year to year, upon such another pitiful thing as himself, possibly a treasurer, chancellor, or some chief officer of state, (who may be, and often is, stripped and kicked out of his precarious greatness the next day;) and shall this proud nothing think much to attend the uncontrollable pleasure of the Almighty God about the inestimable concerns of his never-dying soul?
But let men satisfy themselves that God will have them wait his leisure, and that there is a ripeness for mercy as well as for judgment, and consequently that there must be a fulness of time for the former, as well as for the latter. But it has ever been one of the prime arts of the tempter to make such an attendance tedious, nauseous, and uneasy to men under any present pressure, and thereby to frustrate the wise and leisurely methods of the divine grace for their deliverance. From all which we may with 437great reason conclude, that nothing can be so fatal and mischievous to a person under temptation, as that weakness and instability of spirit, which so naturally betrays him to two of the worst and meanest affections incident to the mind of man, impatience and despair.
2dly, No way out of any calamity, (whatsoever temptation it may subject the afflicted person to,) if brought about by his own sin, is or ought to be accounted a way made or allowed by God for his escape either out of that calamity, or the temptation springing from it. But on the contrary, so far is it from being so, that it is truly and properly a preventing of one death by another, a temporal by an eternal, a seeking to cure the burnings of a fever by the infections of a plague; and in a word, a flying from the Devil as a tempter, and running into his hands as a destroyer. For though indeed his power and malice be such, as may and does enable him to trouble and distress us, (which is the most that he can do,) yet nothing but sin can give him power to destroy us. He may lay the train, but till sin gives fire to it, it can do no execution.
The temptations which men generally attempt to rid themselves of this way, are either temptations from suffering, or from the plausible pretences of compassing some great and public good by an action in itself indeed evil; but yet such as shall be vastly exceeded and overbalanced (as they imagine) by the good brought to pass thereby. But this is a wretched fallacy; and the procurement of the greatest good in the world cannot warrant a man to commit the least evil, nor the safety of a kingdom commute 438 for the loss of his personal innocence. And therefore let us suppose, that a man sees his country ready to sink under the violence of a brutish tyranny; yet for all that, let him take heed that he does not rebel, and that he does not, to prevent it, baffle and distinguish himself out of his duty: for let his grievances and his fears be what they will, the fifth commandment is still where it was, and binds as fast as it did or can do in times of the greatest justice and prosperity; and it is not in the power of the mightiest sinners, and the most successful sins, to dissolve or lessen the obliging force of any of God’s laws. Or does a man, in the next place, see religion and the church ready to be overrun with fooleries and superstition, or (which is worse) overturned with sacrilege and separation, this will not authorize him to step beyond the compass of a private man, whose business is to honour and preserve religion only by a sincere practice of the duties of it, and for the rest let him leave it to that God who governs the world, to protect his church, the best part of it, and not think to minister to his providence by a violation of the least of his precepts. For no such pretence, how specious soever, will allow a man to leap over the bounds of his profession, nor justify St. Peter himself in taking up the sword, though for the defence and rescue of his master: the greatest and the warmest zeal being but a weak and a cold plea for one who acts without a commission. Uzzah, we know, was struck dead for but offering to take hold of the ark, then shaking and tottering, though out of a pious concern to keep it from falling. But, it seems, the act was unwarrantable; and being so, 439the purpose of the heart could not execute the error of the hand. He went beyond his duty, and God needed not his help.
And so we may be sure it is in all God’s other commands. The infinitely wise lawgiver foresaw and weighed all possible emergent cases, which might any ways be alleged in exception to the binding power of any of his laws. That is to say, God, by a full, clear, and comprehensive grasp of his immense, all-knowing wisdom, perfectly foreknew and considered all the good which men could pretend to compass or bring about by disobeying his laws, and all the evil which they were capable of suffering for obeying them, and yet, notwithstanding both, he thought fit to fix his laws absolute and peremptory, and without any limitations, exceptions, or reserves; an evident demonstration, doubtless, that God in tended that our obedience should be every whit as absolute as his laws, and that when he gives a command, he does by no means allow us to assign the measures of its obligation.
But the truth is, be the case how and what it will, men care not for suffering, (which is the only grand and unanswerable argument against passive obedience that I know of,) and from hence alone it is, that while men fly from suffering, they are so fatally apt to take sanctuary in sin; that is, in other words, to go to the Devil to deliver them out of temptation. For so men certainly do, where suffering is the temptation, and sin must be the deliverance.
3dly, To choose or submit to the commission of a lesser sin to avoid the commission of a greater, (which a man finds himself tempted to,) ought by no means 440 to be reckoned amongst those ways, whereby God delivers men from temptation. This particular head may seem at first to coincide with the former, but is in truth very different from it. Forasmuch as the former considered sin as sometimes made use of for an escape out of a temptation, founded in and springing from some temporal suffering, which a man would rather sin than fall into or continue under; whereas here we consider it as a means to defeat a temptation, by our choosing to commit one sin rather than another. But this also, howsoever it may possibly carry with it something more of art and fineness than the other, yet, as we shall now shew, has no more to justify or plead for it than that has; it being nothing else but a leaving of the broad way to hell for a narrower, and perhaps a smoother, but still leading to the same place.
And the reason, that no sin, though never so small, can be a warrantable and allowed means to prevent the commission of a greater, is, because no man can be brought into such a condition as shall or can put him under any necessity of sinning at all. That the case indeed may be such, that it shall render it very difficult for a man to come off without sin, is and must be readily granted; but for all that, no difficulty of any duty can take off the obligation to it, how many soever it may fright from the practice of it.
I have heard it reported (and it is a story not unknown) of a certain monk or prelate, who for a long time together was continually urged and solicited, or rather worried and pursued, with three foul and horrid temptations, viz. to commit murder, or incest, or to be drunk, till at length, quite wearied out with 441the restless, vexatious importunity of the tempter, he pitches upon the sin of drunkenness, as the least of the three, to avoid his solicitation to the other two. This was the course he took to rid himself of a vehement temptation. But the tempter, who was much the better artist of the two, knew how to make the very same course he took to decline it, an effectual means to push it on and enforce it. For having once prevailed and carried his point so far as to bring him to be drunk, he quickly brought him in the strength thereof to commit both the other sins too. Such are we, when God abandons us to ourselves and our own deluded and deluding judgments. Whereas had this poor wretch, (if this story of him be real, and not a parable only,) under his unhappy circumstances, betook himself to frequent prayer and fasting, with a vigilant and severe shunning all occasions of sin, such especially as either his natural temper or his unactive way of living put him in most danger of; I dare undertake, that, following such a course, he should neither have worn out his knees with praying, nor his body with fasting, before God would have given him an answer of peace, and a full conquest over his temptations. To which method may be added one instruction more, and that of no less sovereign influence in the case now before us than all of them together; viz. that we should upon no terms account any sin small; for whatsoever it may be reckoned, if compared with others of an higher guilt and malignity, yet still, considered absolutely in itself, it is not so small, but that it is an act of rebellion against the supreme Lord and Governor of the universe, by a direct violation of his law; not so small, but that by the 442 same law it merits damnation to the sinner in the eternal destruction of his soul and body; nor, lastly, so small, but that as it merits, so it would actually and infallibly inflict the same upon him, had not the Son of God himself shed his blood and laid down his very life, both as a satisfaction for the sin, and a ransom for the sinner. And if all this must be owned and submitted to as uncontrollable truth, from what topic of reason or religion can the most acute disputant argue for the smallness of any sin? Nevertheless, admitting (without granting) that a sin were never so small, yet certain it is, that the greatest and the foulest sins, which the corrupt nature of man is capable of committing, generally enter upon the soul by very small and scarce observable instances at first. So that of all the courses which a man in such a case can take, this of capitulating, and, as it were, making terms with the Devil, is the most senseless and dangerous; no man having ever yet driven a saving bargain with this great trucker for souls, by exchanging guilts, or bartering one sin for another.
It is too well known, how it was with a most virtuous and excellent prince, (if we may be suffered to pay a due honour to that glorious name, which to the astonishment and scandal of all good men has been so vilified and run down of late;) it is known, I say, what a struggle his pious and truly tender conscience had with itself, when he was urged to sign the death of a faithful and great minister, and how far his heart was from going along with his hand in signing that fatal act. Nevertheless thus pressed, (as he was on all sides,) he was prevailed upon at last to throw an innocent life overboard, 443to secure the whole government from that terrible national storm, which seemed at that time to threaten all. But what was the issue and result of this woful expedient? (which yet none more deeply regretted and repented of than that blessed prince himself.) Why, the result and natural effect of it was, that the flame (intended thereby to be stifled and extinguished) broke out and raged thereupon ten times more violently, and the Devil and his faction took their advantage, and carried all before them more and more audaciously; never ceasing, till they had brought his royal head to the block, overturned both church and state, and laid our laws and liberties, with every thing that was great, honourable, or sacred throughout the whole kingdom, in the dust.
This was the consequence of an unjustifiable act for preventing a greater mischief, (as some judged:) which, no doubt, had it not been taken, but instead thereof innocence had been resolutely protected, and Providence humbly relied upon, things could never have come to that deplorable issue, which they were brought to, and which it is to be feared that we and our posterity may for some ages rue. For according to the course of God’s justice in his government of the world, there is but too much ground to think, that so horrid a rebellion and regicide have not yet been so fully accounted for, but that there remains a long and a black score still to be paid off: it being so usual as well as just with God, where the guilt of a people is high and clamorous, to revenge the practices of the fathers upon the children, succeeding into and avowedly persisting in the same principles which produced them. God has owned it for his 444 rule, and that for more generations than one; and it is not to be presumed that he will balk an established rule for our sakes.
Such, we see, have been the false and fallacious methods, whereby some have so wretchedly deceived themselves: besides which it has been likewise observed of some others, who have been so unfortunate as to have their dependance upon persons as much wickeder as greater than themselves, that they have complied with them in lesser irregularities to induce the grandee, out of mere good nature forsooth, not to press his poor dependant to fouler and more frightful enormities. But alas! this is a way which never takes: for such great ones in all their debauches will be attended upon through thick and thin, and care not for any but a thoroughpaced companion in their vices; since no other can give them any countenance in their lewdness, which is the chief thing they drive at and desire. And therefore this also will be found as senseless and absurd a project to elude the tempter as any of the former, and seldom or never succeeds, but to an effect quite contrary to what was designed. For from lesser to greater has been ever accounted a very easy and natural passage, especially in sin. And he who suffers the Devil to be his rider, must not think always to jog on softly and slowly even in the dirtiest road, but must expect to be sometimes put upon his full career, and neither be suffered to choose his own way or his own pace. In a word, he who ventures deliberately to commit a less sin in order to his avoidance of a greater, does certainly bring himself under the guilt of one, and puts himself in the next disposition 445to the other. And therefore this can be none of those ways by which God delivers men out of temptation.
4thly, If it be the prerogative and proper work of God to deliver and bring men out of temptation, let no man, when the temptation is founded in suffering, (how careful soever he may and ought to be of entering into it,) be so solicitous how to get out of it, as how to behave himself under it. For the former being God’s work, may be best left to his care; it is the latter only which belongs to the man himself, and let him but make good his own part, and he may rest assured that God will not fail in his.
And to this purpose, and for the comfort of every one under temptation, let this be observed as a great truth; that no man’s suffering is properly and formally his sin, (how much soever it might be occasioned by it,) and withal, that the whole time a man is under a temptation without consenting to it, he is really and truly a sufferer by it. The tempter indeed dogs and pursues him close, and consequently must needs vex and afflict him proportionably; but still no man is ruined by being pursued by his enemy, but by being taken; and the huntsman (as hard as he may follow the chace) does not always carry his game. It is the tempted person’s duty (no doubt) to fence, and strive, and oppose the temptation with all the art, as well as resolution, that he can; but nevertheless it is not his sin, if he cannot wholly rid himself of it. A sturdy beggar may weary me, but he cannot force me. He may importune my charity, but he cannot command my purse. And if in all our spiritual combats with our great enemy the tempter, this one rule were but impartially 446 considered, and as strictly followed, it is in credible to imagine what a vast deal of guilt and mischief it would prevent in the world. It would prevent all that can arise from rashness and impatience, from a man’s confidence in himself, and his diffidence in God; qualities that would advance the creature to the prerogative of God, and bring down God to the level of the creature. In a word, it would keep men from daring to snatch God’s work out of his hand, from audaciously carving for themselves, or expecting God’s mercies upon any but his own terms. It would keep them quiet even upon the rack, silent and patient under all the arts and engines of cruelty, and in the sorest distresses they can groan under; fearful how they catched at a deliverance, before God (who alone knows the proper seasons of mercy, and understands men better than they can themselves) saw them fit for it. In fine, according to that of the prophet, Isaiah xxviii. 16, he who believeth will not make haste; that is, he who founds his belief in his reason will not sacrifice it to the transports of his passion; but rather (as Moses bade the Israelites, in a condition they thought desperate) stand still, and see the salvation of God, than fly to such false methods of escape, as shall both assure and hasten his destruction. Nothing so much entitles a tempted person to relief from above, as a steady, composed, and unwearied looking up for it; a qualification always attended with such a peculiar greatness and firmness of mind, as the goodness of God never yet did, nor will, nor indeed can desert. In every arduous and difficult enterprise, action, all own, must begin the work, and courage carry it on; but it is perseverance only which gives 447the finishing stroke. If a city be besieged by an enemy, a bold and brisk sally now and then may give a present repulse to the besiegers, but it is constancy and continuance that must raise the siege; and consequently, in such cases, where the assault is frequent, and the opposition long, he who stands it out, bids as fair for victory as he who fights it out; and nothing can be more pusillanimous or more fatal than an hasty surrender. Promises of succour (if not too long delayed) often inspire courage, even where they find none. And therefore no man of judgment, if but with a competent supply of spirit to second it, would in so high a concern as that of his soul, part with his hope before his life, having so particular a promise to support the one, and only the common protections of Providence to guard the other. But then, on the other side, if his strength lie here, and this be his case, must it not be inexpressibly senseless and irrational, for one who owns a dependance upon God for his deliverance, to have recourse to the Devil for the way and means of it? That man, no doubt, who makes his duty to God the sole measure of his dependance upon him, can never (be his straits what they will) be so much enslaved and insulted over, as to think it worth his while to purchase his liberty with the sale of his conscience, or to quit his passive obedience (with the inward comforts always accompanying an oppressed innocence) for the most active, thriving, and successful rebellion. For let a temporal suffering be never so sharp, whosoever will needs be his own deliverer, and that in his own time, and his own way also, that man first distrusts God, and then defies him, and not only throws off his yoke, but throws it 448 at him too. For the great Lord and Governor of the world will be as much obeyed, trusted, and relied upon, while he visits and afflicts, as while he embraces and supports us; while his rod is upon us, as while his staff is under us. And in the very worst circumstances which we can be in, it will be hard to prove that our allegiance to the King of kings (according to the new, modish, whig-doctrine relating to our temporal kings) is only conditional.
5thly, The fifth and last corollary or conclusion deducible from the foregoing particulars, is, that there can be no suffering or calamity whatsoever, though never so terrible and grievous to human nature, but may be endured without sin; and if so, may be likewise made a means whereby God brings a man out of temptation.
As to the first part of which proposition, the Christian martyrs were a glorious and irrefragable proof of it (as has been before observed;) the torments they endured were as horrid and exquisite as the wit of man could then invent, or now comprehend; nor were they more for their peculiar strangeness unaccountable, than for the variety of their kinds innumerable. The whole history of the primitive church is but a continued martyrology; in a word, this noble army of martyrs were (as the apostle tells us, Heb. xi. 35, 36, 37) cruelly mocked and scourged, racked and tortured, slain with the sword, or rather butchered, burnt, and sawn asunder; and in a word, what not? All this, I say, and a great deal more, they undauntedly suffered, and triumphed over; and the same grace which enabled them to bear such barbarities, enabled them also to bear them without sin; the fire indeed consumed 449them, but the smoke could not blacken them. All which being as to matter of fact unquestionable, it must needs be an argument of the clearest and most allowed consequence, that if such inhumanities actually have been borne, it is certain that they may be borne. Experience (which answers, or rather annihilates all objections) has made good the antecedent, and nothing can keep off the consequent. In the mean time, for my own part, I must confess my self wholly unable to believe, that such monstrous cruelties could ever have been endured, but in the strength of something supernatural and divine, some thing which raised and bore human nature above itself, something which gave it a kind of inward armour of proof; mere flesh and blood (God knows) being but a pitiful, weak thing, and by no means a match equal to such encounters.
From all which we see and learn, how wholly different the wise and gracious methods of God are from those of poor silly mortals. The way of the world is for men to rush into sin, to keep or bring themselves out of misery; but God’s method is, sometimes to bring men into worldly misery, to keep them from sin, and thereby rescue them from damnation. And this is most certainly true, that no evil, how afflictive soever, is or ought to be accounted intolerable, which may be made a direct means to escape one intolerably greater. For as there is no sort of enjoyment upon earth, but may, and often does, become the ground and scene of a temptation, so neither is there any sort of temporal misery, but may be a remedy against it. Poverty is indeed a bitter pill, but often used by the great physician of souls as a sovereign antidote against pride, 450 profuseness, and sensuality. Nothing sinks deeper into an ingenuous mind than disgrace, and yet God frequently makes it an effectual cure of vainglory, arrogance, and ambition. Sickness is a tedious and vexatious trial, eating up and consuming the vigour and spirit both of body and mind, and yet the surest and best course, by which God beats down the rage of lust, and the brutish furies of intemperance. And lastly, death itself, which nature fears and flies from, .as its dreadfullest and greatest enemy, is yet the grand instrument in the hand of mercy to put an end to sin and sorrow, and a final period to all temptations.
And thus at length I am come near a close of what I had to discourse upon this great and important subject of temptation; indeed so important, that, whereas that best of prayers prescribed and left us by our Saviour (as the standing form and pattern for his church to pray by for ever) consists in all but of six petitions, this against temptation makes one of that small number; a clear demonstration, doubtless, of what infinite concern it is to all who know how to value their eternal state and condition, to guard against it, and to be delivered from it. For so much I dare aver may with great truth be affirmed of the malignity of it, (and more and worse can hardly be said,) that greater numbers have been destroyed by it than repentance ever saved. For it is this which has peopled hell, and made the Devil’s dominions large and populous; this which has carried the trophies of his black conquests as far and wide as the corruption of man’s nature has spread itself, and the sin of Adam extended its contagion; this, whereby that avowed enemy of God and man 451has done such terrible execution upon souls: for were it not for his art and skill to insinuate, his power could do nothing to destroy; that being his sure and long tried method for getting hold of the will, and seizing the affections, and so drawing the whole man after him, which by downright force he could never do. In short, (according to the poet’s expression,) populo dat jura volenti, he brings men to obey and serve him spontaneously, and further than this he cannot go, nor lead any into the bottomless pit, but such as are as willing to follow as he to lead; a woful way of perishing certainly, and the very sting, not of death only, but even of dam nation itself.
Nor is this all whereby he carries on his work, but he has yet this further advantage over men, that, being a spirit, he can convey himself into and possess himself of the chief instruments of the soul’s operations, the spirits, and this without the man’s discerning that he does so. For though, indeed, when God permits him to exert his mischievous power upon the bodies of men, (as he did upon many in the days of our Saviour,) it must needs in that case be discernible enough where and of whom the evil spirit has taken possession; yet where he employs his malice only in a spiritual way, by secret but powerful instigations of their corrupt nature to wicked actions, (as for the most part he does nowadays,) it is hard, if possible, to distinguish truly and exactly what proceeds from bare inherent corruption, and what from diabolical impulse and infusion; but no doubt in many instances it proceeds from both, and from the latter more especially, that being always more impetuous, and hurrying the soul with a 452 more violent bias to the commission of sin, than, if left merely to its own inclinations, it would probably have been carried out to. And thus it is with men frequently; they find within themselves a motion both sensible and forcible, while the spring of it is invisible, and so run on violently, not aware, in the mean time, who it is that drives them, or what it is that he drives at.
These and many more are the advantages which the tempter has over the sons of men, partly from the spirituality of his own nature, and partly from the grossness and imbecility of theirs; to which if we join his incredible sagacity to spy out every the least opportunity offered him, and his implacable malice to pursue and make use of it, to the utter supplanting us, and that in no less an interest than that of our immortal souls, (in comparison of which the whole world is but a trifle,) it must needs hold all thoughtful minds under such continual agonies and misgiving reflections, that although we may escape hell hereafter, he will be sure, if he can, to give us a severe taste of it here.
But what? Must all advantages then lie like a dead, or rather like a killing weight, wholly on the tempter’s side, and no remedies to encounter them be found on ours? God forbid; for then we must look upon our case not only as dangerous, but desperate, and give over the conflict as absurd, where all resistance is vain, and the conquest impossible. But, on the contrary, as God of his great wisdom has not been wanting to forewarn and assure men that temptations will attend them, so neither has he been failing of his equal goodness to prescribe the proper ways, means, and methods, whereby to fence against 453them; which, as in the several particulars thereof, (each of them severally adapted to the several states, tempers, and conditions of men,) are for their vast variety (upon the matter) innumerable, so they are nevertheless every one of them directly reducible to, and fully comprehensible under these two grand general heads, (prescribed by the best and surest guide of souls, our Saviour himself,) watchfulness and prayer; and accordingly (as I hinted before) I shall treat of them distinctly by themselves, as the proper materials of my following discourse upon the same subject, (though from another text,) with which I shall conclude all that I had proposed to deliver upon this weighty, useful, and highly concerning point of temptation.
Now to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, &c. be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.454
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