|« Prev||A Discourse Concerning Temptation. The Seventh…||Next »|
THE SEVENTH AND LAST PART.
THE SEVENTH AND LAST PART.
Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.
AS the life and business of a Christian in this world is certainly to flesh and blood a thing of great difficulty, and, considering the opposition which it is sure to meet with, of equal danger, so this appears in nothing more than in its being represented by one of the most difficult and dangerous things in human life, which is war; 1 Tim. i. 18, This charge I commit unto thee, says Paul to Timothy, that thou mightest war a good warfare. And as the difficulty and danger of war is to be measured partly by the high worth of the thing fought for, and partly by the power and policy of the enemy to be fought with; so the eternal, invaluable interest of an immortal soul on the one side, and the arts and strength of a mighty, subtle, and implacable spirit on the other, are but too full a demonstration with what difficulty and danger the soul is to manage and maintain this spiritual conflict.
And therefore as all war is to be carried on partly by our own strength, and partly by that of allies and 455auxiliaries called in to our aid and assistance; so in this Christian warfare the things which properly answer those two are watchfulness and prayer; forasmuch as by watchfulness we exert and employ our own strength, and by prayer we engage God’s; and if ever victory and success attend us in these encounters, these two must join forces, heaven and earth must be confederate, and when they are so, the Devil himself, as strong as he is, and as invincible a monarch as he would be thought to be, may yet be forced to go off with a pluribus impar, and to quit the field with frustration and a baffle.
In the first place then we will speak of watchfulness as the first of the two great defensatives against temptation, here prescribed in the text, Watch and pray. In giving an account of which, as the foundation of the expression is a metaphor, so the prosecution and further illustration of it must (in a great measure at least) be metaphorical also. And consequently, as it relates to the soul waging and carrying on this spiritual war with the tempter and his temptations, it imports in it these five following particulars. As,
1. First of all, watching imports a strong, lively, abiding sense and persuasion of the exceeding greatness of the evil which we watch and contend against. Sense of danger is the first step to safety, and no man watches but to secure and defend himself. Watching is a troublesome and severe work, and wise men would not willingly trouble themselves to no purpose. A combatant must first know and dread the mischief of a blow, before he will fence against it; he must see it coming with his eye, before he will ward it off with his hand.456
To be always upon the guard, hungry and rest less, expecting the enemy, and liable to be killed every minute, only to secure the life of others, must needs be a very afflicting discipline; and no man would spend the night upon the sentry, who knew that he might spend it as safely in his bed. Had the good man of the house known of the thief’s coming, (as our Saviour observes, Matt. xxiv. 43,) he would have watched; he would have kept his eyes open, and his doors shut; for though to break one’s sleep, when nature importunately calls for it, be something grievous, yet to have one’s house broke open, and to be spoiled of one’s goods, and perhaps of one’s life too, is much worse. The sight of danger is stronger than the strongest inclinations to rest; and no man could with any heart go to sleep, who fully believed that he should wake in another world.
Accordingly, let a man in every temptation consider the evil which is designed him, and is certainly coming towards him, and that (if reason governs) will make him readily digest a less pain to secure himself from an infinitely greater. But men slight and dally with temptation, because they are not really persuaded that there can be so much evil at the bottom of that which looks so fair at top. But the evil which lies lurking under a temptation is in tolerable and inexpressible. The design of it is, by leading thee from sin to sin, to harden thy heart, to debauch thy conscience, and seal thee up under a reprobate sense; and when the tempter has brought things to this pass, he knows he has a man sure enough; he has the sinner in chains, whensoever may be the time of his execution.457
A temptation presents itself to thee dressed and painted, and set off according to thy own false heart’s desire; and the evil spirit is pressing thee to a compliance with it, and the good Spirit of God and thy own conscience would keep thee off from it; God is urgent on the one side, and the tempter busy on the other, and thy heart is warmly solicited on both: now consider, in this critical push, which way it inclines, and what the issue may be, if the tempter should carry thy choice. Possibly, if the blessed motions of God’s Spirit dissuading thee from sin be refused now, this may be the last address the Spirit may make to thee, the last time it may ever knock at the door of thy heart. And then what follows? why, blindness of mind, stupidity of conscience, deadness of affection to all that is good, and a daring boldness in sin; which are as certain forerunners of the soul’s destruction, as buds and blossoms are the foretellers of fruit, or the sentence of condemnation the harbinger of death.
Now if a man would have these terrible effects always fresh upon his spirit, it is impossible but he should be willing to be at any pains to intrench and fortify himself against such invasions. I have heard of a criminal who endured the bitterest torments of the rack with incomparable resolution, which if a malefactor endures without confessing his crime, (ac cording to the custom of those countries where this trial is used,) he escapes death. And being asked, how he could strengthen his spirit to endure such horrid pains, Why, says he, before I was to ascend the rack, I caused the picture of a gibbet to be drawn upon my foot, and still, as my pains grew higher, I fixed my eye upon that; and so the fear 458 and abhorrence of dying at the gibbet, if I confessed, enabled me with silence to master and overcome the tortures of the rack without confession. In like manner, when a man is at any time accosted with a temptation, a sly, pleasing, insinuating temptation, so that to turn away from it is extremely irk some to corrupt nature, and to oppose and defy it resolutely much more, so let him, while he is thus casting one eye upon the difficulty of resisting it, cast the other upon the dismal consequences of being overcome by it. Let him look upon the slavery and the vassalage which it will subject him to here, and the ruin, the dreadful and never-ending torments, which it will infallibly bring him to hereafter. And then let but common sense be his counsellor, and it will quickly reconcile him to all the fatigues of watching and striving, and all the rigours of mortification; and even self-love itself will make him with both arms embrace all these austerities, and ten thousand more, rather than give up the combat, and lie down in eternal sorrow. Let him but once come to this positive, decretory result with himself: Either I must watch, and strive, and fence against this detestable sin and temptation, or I am lost; I must fight, or I must die; resist and stand it out, or perish and sink for ever. I say, let the case be but thus partially put, and driven home, and we may safely venture the greatest epicure and the most profligate sinner in the world, indeed any thing that wears the name of a man, to judge and choose for himself.
2dly, Watching imports a diligent consideration and survey of our own strengths and weaknesses, compared with those of our enemy. Let a man know himself strong, before he ventures to fight; 459and if he finds himself weak, it will concern him either to fence or fly. Wise combatants will measure swords before they engage. And a discreet person will learn his own weaknesses rather by self-reflection than by experience. For to know one’s self weak only by being conquered, is doubtless the worst sort of conviction.
The greatest and most fatal miscarriages in all war are from these two things, weakness and treachery; and a subtle enemy will certainly serve his turn by one or both of them. And as it is too evident that weakness, as such, can be no match for strength, so strength itself must become a prey to weakness, where treachery has the management of it. Now let a man know, that he carries both these about him, and that in a very deplorable degree. And,
1st, For weakness; his heart is extremely unable to withstand or repel a sinful object suitably proposed. For so much as there is of corruption, whether natural or moral, in any one, so much there is of weakness. Since thou dost these things, how weak is thy heart! says the prophet Ezekiel, xvi. 30. Sin is the greatest weakness in the world; and what a pitiful thing does it render the stoutest heart upon the assault of a mighty temptation! just like a reed shaken with the wind, or like a bulrush yielding and bending itself under the torrent of a mighty stream; so far from being able to stem or conquer it, that it is not so much as able to shew its head.
This therefore let a man always think upon; let him still consider his weakness, and compare it with the wit and strength of him who comes against him; and if he duly weighs and considers this, he will find that weakness can have no other support in nature 460 but watchfulness. He who is not strong enough to beat back a blow, ought to be quicksighted enough to decline it. But,
2dly, This is not all; there is not only weakness, but also treachery in the case; Jer. xvii. 9, The heart of man is deceitful above all things: and so great is the deceitfulness of it, that the tempter never assails a man, but he is sure of a party within him. The poor man has not only one arm too feeble to resist his enemy, but (which is worse) he has the other ready to embrace him. And then, as it falls out in a siege, if weakness abandons the walls, and treachery opens the gates, the enemy must needs enter, and carry all before him.
Let a man therefore, in his spiritual warfare, draw another argument for vigilance from hence, that he carries something about him, which is like to do him more mischief than any thing that can annoy him from without; that he has a close, domestic, bosom enemy, more dangerous than the bitterest and most avowed adversary, whose open and professed defiances may pass for humanity and fair play, in comparison of the sly, hollow, and fallacious arts of the corresponding traitor within.
The truth is, in most of the transactions of human life, the cruellest and most killing blows, given both - to persons and societies, have been from some amongst themselves: hardly any government or constitution comes to confusion, but by some hungry vipers which were conceived and bred in her own bowels, and afterwards gnawed their way through them: hardly any church (though in never so flourishing a condition) is destroyed, but by the help of some wretches, who first eat her bread, (and perhaps 461wear her honours,) and then lift up their heel against her; suck themselves fat with her milk, and then stab her to the heart through the breast which gave it. Such oftentimes has been the fate of the greatest things. They have been ruined from with in, which no force from abroad could shake. A bullet from an enemy often goes beside a man, and so spares him; but an imposthume in his head, or an apoplex, strikes him dead.
Now what I have here remarked by way of illustration, from such cases as these, let a man be assured that he is in danger of finding fatally verified upon himself in the spiritual war carried on by the tempter against him. For it is his own heart, his own false and base heart, which he is chiefly to watch against. The very instruments of watching (if not looked to) may sometimes betray him; and one eye had need to keep a watch over the other. And therefore, “God defend me from myself,” ever was, and is, and will be a most wise and excellent petition.
Every man (as I may so speak) has a wolf in his breast, which (if not prevented) will be sure to devour him. Let him therefore take heed, and be wakeful; let him neither give rest to his eyes., nor slumber to his eyelids; for as they shut, so the tempter takes him, still directing his arrows rather by our eyes than by his own. This is our case; and surely if ever it concerns us to watch, it should be against an enemy, whose malice is such, that he will not, and whose nature is such, that he cannot sleep.
3dly, Watchfulness implies a close and thorough consideration of the several ways by which temptation has at any time actually prevailed either upon 462 ourselves or others. He who would encounter his enemy successfully should acquaint himself with his way of fighting, which he cannot do but by observation and experience. Great captains should be good historians; that so, by recollecting the various issues and events of battles, they may see in several instances by what arts and methods the victory has been gained on one side, and by what failures and miscarriages it has been lost on the other. As for instance, such an army perished by ambuscade; such a battle was lost by such an oversight or fault in conduct; such a strong place, for want of men or courage, was took by assault and storm; such a castle was surprised by such a stratagem; and such an one was undermined, and had its walls laid flat with the ground, and delivered, but not given up; and lastly, another, by a surer way than all, sold.
In like manner, in this spiritual warfare, let the soul watch against an assault, against a surprise, and against the close, subterraneous actings of its rest less enemy; for ruin and destruction has entered by every one of these ways; and therefore take heed, that, whilst thou art expecting an assault, the enemy steals not upon thee with a stratagem, or over reaches thee by a parley, when he cannot overmatch thee by force. And thus a sagacious reflection upon what has been done, is the surest way to establish solid and certain rules what to do. For though persons vary, yet cases are generally the same, as being founded in the nature of things; and it is eternally true, that the same method will be always applicable to perfectly the same case, as things that are cast into the same mould will certainly take the same figure. Therefore, I say, let the watchful Christian consider 463what has been the issue and effect of the tempter’s arts and methods both upon himself and others.
1st, And first for himself; every man does or should know the plagues of his own heart, and what false steps he has made in the several turns and periods of his Christian course; by what means he fell, and upon what rocks he split. I say, every rational, thinking, reflecting man must needs know this: for he who has the mind of a man must remember, and he who remembers what has fallen out, will be watchful against what may. He will carry his eye backward and forward, and on every side, when he knows that the danger moves so too. For though possibly in dealing with friends it may not always be thought so commodious to look backwards, (the rule of a great prince, one really great,) yet in dealing with enemies one would think it the concern of the stoutest soldiers to look backwards sometimes, for fear an old, sly enemy should come behind him, and knock out his brains before he is aware; and it is certain that he will hardly be the wiser for that: for it will be too late to watch when his head is low, or to make use of his sword when he has no hand to hold it.
He who shall make true and accurate reflections upon his past life, and observe by what secret avenues and passes the temptation has entered and broke in upon him, shall find that there have been some sorts of things, persons, companies, and actions, which perhaps he never ventured upon in all his life, but he brought away matter of repentance from them, and it was well if God gave him the grace of it too.
Now let such an one look upon all these as so 464 many engines planted against him by the Devil, and accordingly let him fly from them, as he would from the mouth of a cannon, or the breath of a pesthouse, assuring himself that the same poison will still have the same operation, and that the same stone which gave him so desperate a fall once, if he stumbles at it again, will be as apt to give him another; but then, if, notwithstanding such frequent and fatal trials, he will still run himself upon the same mischief which he has so terribly felt and fatally fallen by, he must know, that though his old enemy the Devil tempted him the first time, yet his worse enemy, himself, tempts him the second. And will that man pretend to watch, whom neither sense, smart, nor experience can awaken? who, while he feels blow after blow, will not be persuaded that he is struck? But when it comes to this, destruction must convince, where danger cannot admonish. But then,
2. In the next place; let the watchful Christian carry his eye from himself to others, and observe with what trick and artifice the tempter has practised upon them. And for this how many tragical stories and doleful complaints may you hear of persons, sometimes of great hope and reputation, yet after a while utterly fallen from both, and plunged into the very sink and dregs of all debauchery! And what account do men give us of so wretched a change? Why, of some you shall be told, that while they were under the eye and wing of their parents, they were modest, tractable, and ingenuous, sober in their morals, and serious in their religion. But alas! either they were first unhappily planted in some place of ill and vicious education, where the 465Devil and his agents infused such diabolical filth and poison into their hearts, that no discipline or advice, no sermons or sacraments, could ever after antidote or work it out.
Or if, through the singular mercy of Providence, such persons escape the first taint and venom of ill-breeding, and so thereby make one further step into the world, with all the advantages of a fair carriage and a fair esteem, yet generally not long after, by the insinuations of that old pander and trapanner of souls, it is odds but you shall hear, that some of them either fall into villainous and lewd company, or light into loose and debauched families, or take to some ensnaring employments, which quickly wear off the first tenderness of their hearts, and bring them to a callous hardness and sturdiness in vice, till at length, stripped even of common civility, as well as abandoned by morality, they come to launch out into the deeps of sin, to drink and whore, and scoff at religion; and so by an uncontrolled progress through all the several stages and degrees of vice, commence at last fashionable and complete sinners.
Now when the watchful Christian shall stand by, and observe this dismal catastrophe of things, when he shall see that proximus ardet Ucalegon, surely it will be high time for him to look about him, and to conclude that the fire which has already burnt down his next neighbour’s house will assuredly catch at his. Let him therefore watch, and stand upon his guard against all those forementioned encroaching mischiefs, which have made such a woful havoc of souls even before his eyes. Let him neither send son nor friend to the stews or the play house, banditti to Sodom or Gomorrah for education. 466 Let him make no friendships or acquaintance with those, whom nothing will satisfy but to go to hell with them for company; let him have nothing to do with any house or family (though never so great and so much in power) where the Devil is majordomo, and governs all; and lastly, let him not follow any employment or course of life which may work immoderately upon any of his passions, which may swell his hopes, feed his lust, or heighten his ambition. In a word, let him look with horror upon all these high roads to hell, as the man did upon the passage to the lions’ den, where he beheld with trembling the footsteps of innumerable who had gone in, but of none who had returned from thence. And this is truly to be watchful, for a man thus to secure and make good his own standing, by considering how and whereby others have fallen; no wisdom being so sure, and so much a man’s own, as that which is bought; and none so cheap, and yet withal so beneficial, as that which is bought at another’s cost.
4thly, Watchfulness implies a continual, actual intention of mind upon the high concern and danger which is before us, in opposition to sloth, idleness, and remissness. Stand, says the apostle, having your loins girt about, Eph. vi. 14. The grand security of a warrior is to be always ready. While the bow is bent, it is still fit for execution; but if the enemy comes and finds that unbent, and the armour off, the man is destroyed and run down before he can either bend the one or put on the other; and then it will be to little purpose to cry out, Who would have thought this! For the fool’s thought comes always too late, too late to rescue, though 467time enough to reproach him. There is ever some gross neglect in an army, when they come to have their quarters beaten up; for an enemy rarely ventures at this, but where he knows his advantage, and that one enemy can never take, till the other is fool enough to give.
We have a notable, but sad instance, of a supine, careless people, immersed in sloth and ease, and of the terrible fate which attended them in that condition. For in Judges xviii. 7, it is said of the inhabitants of Laish, that they dwelt careless, and after the manner of the Zidonians, quiet and se cure, and had no business with any man. But what follows? Why, some, it seems, were resolved to have business with them, though they would have none with others; for the children of Dan, we read, came, and in the midst of this profound quiet and security fell upon them, burnt down their city, and put them all to the sword. The text says expressly of them in two several places, that they were secure; but the event shews that they were far from being safe.
In like manner, when David and Abishai came and found Saul with his troops round about him all asleep, (a most warlike and fit condition, you will say, for one upon the pursuit of an enemy,) 1 Sam. xxvi. 7, 8, Abishai thereupon thus bespeaks David; This day hath God delivered thine enemy into thy hands: let me therefore smite him with the spear to the earth at once, and I will not smite him twice. See here the danger of a drowsy warrior; but it was well for his royal drowsiness that he found him his true friend, whom he pursued as his mortal enemy: for had his old back-friends the Philistines 468 found him in such a posture, they would hardly have left him so; but David would do as be came David, though never so ill used by Saul.
Another instance I have met with in story not much unlike this, of a certain general, who, going about his camp in the night, and finding the watch fast asleep upon the ground, nails him down to the place where he lay with his own sword, using this expression withal, “I found him dead, and I left him so.” So that sleep, it seems, in such cases is some thing more than the image of death, and closes the eyes too fast ever to be opened again.
Accordingly in this spiritual warfare let us take heed, that our vigilant, active enemy find us not idle and unemployed. The soul’s play-day is always the Devil’s working-day, and the idler the man, still the busier the tempter. The truth is, idleness offers up the soul as a blank to the Devil, for him to write what he will upon it. Idleness is the emptiness, and business the fulness of the soul; and we all know that we may infuse what we will into an empty vessel, but a full one has no room for a further infusion. In a word, idleness is that which sets all the capacities of the soul wide open, to let in the evil spirit, and to give both him and all the villainies he can bring along with him a free reception and a full possession; whereas on the contrary, laboriousness shuts the doors and stops all the avenues of the mind whereby a temptation would enter, and (which is yet more) leaves no void room for it to dwell there, if by any accident it should chance to creep in; so that let but the course a man takes be just and lawful, and then the more active still the more innocent; for action both perfects nature and 469ministers to grace; whereas idleness, like the rust of the soul, by its long lying still, first soils the beauty, and then eats out the strength of it. In like manner the industry of the person tempted ever supersedes that of the tempter; so that as long as the former is employed, (as we hinted before,) the other can have but little to do, and consequently will be hardly brought to address himself to one, whose head and heart, whose eyes and ears, and all the faculties of his soul are actually taken up, and nothing at leisure to receive him; for few make visits where they are sure neither to be entertained nor let in.
Now the first, and generally the most fatal way, by which the tempter accosts a man, is by the suggestion of evil thoughts; for when the temptation is once lodged in the imagination, he knows it is in the next neighbourhood to the affections, and from the affections that it is usually no long step to the actions, and that when it once reaches them, he is pretty sure that his work is then done. But now when the mind is thus intent upon greater and better objects, and the thoughts wholly taken up with no less a concern than that last and grand one of life and death, surely it is scarce possible for his impertinent stuff (and his temptations are no better) to find either audience or admittance; for the soul thus employed is really too busy to regard what he says, any more than a man who is contriving, studying, and beating his brain how to save his head, can be presumed to mind powdering his hair, or while he knows he is eating his last meal, to play the cri tic upon tastes; no doubt whosoever is so wholly taken up, can neither attend making nor receiving 470 invitations, though the tempter, we own, is so much a courtier as to be always ready for both.
Let the wary Christian therefore remember, that he is hoc agere, that he is to keep all his hours, and, if possible, his very minutes filled up with business, and that grace abhors a vacuum in time, as much as nature does in place: and happy beyond expression is that wise and good Christian, whom when the tempter comes he shall find so doing; forasmuch as he who is thus prepared to receive the tempter, can not be unprepared to receive his Saviour; since, next to his soul, his time is certainly the most precious thing he has in the world, and the right spending of the one, the surest and most unfailing way to save the other. But,
5thly and lastly, Watching implies a constant and severe temperance, in opposition to all the jollities of revelling and intemperance. We have before observed the great analogy and resemblance between the carrying on the spiritual and the temporal war fare; and accordingly, as to this latter, we may observe further, how whole armies have been routed and overthrown, and the greatest cities and the strongest garrisons surprised and sacked, while those who should have been watching the motion of the enemy were sotting it at their cups, equally unmindful both of their danger and defence; for such debauches seldom happen either in camps or besieged towns, but their wakeful enemies quickly getting intelligence of the disorder, come upon them on a sudden, and find them, as the poet describes such, somno vinoque sepultos, that is to say, buried in a manner before dead, or rather already dead to their hands, and so scarce worthy to receive another and a nobler death 471from their enemies’ sword; for when men have once drank themselves down, the enemy can have nothing more to do but to trample upon them.
How came Ahab, with an handful of men in comparison, to overthrow the vast, insulting army of Benhadad, the king of Syria? Why, we have an account of it 1 Kings xx. he and two and thirty kings his confederates were drinking themselves drunk in their pavilions, ver. 16, as if he had drawn together such a numerous and mighty army, headed by so many princes, only for the glorious and warlike expedition of carousing in their tents, or to fight it out hand to hand in the cruel and bloody encounters of drinking healths: but their success was answerable; they fell like grass before the mower, cut down and slaughtered without resistance; and happy were those who had their brains so much in their heels, as to be sober enough to run away.
Accordingly in the management of our Christian warfare, so much resembling the other, (as I shew before,) it is remarkable, watching and sobriety are still joined together in the same precept; as Luke xxi. 34, Take heed to yourselves, says our Saviour, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and so that day come upon you unawares; which if it should, and chance to find men in such a condition, it would prove a sad conviction, that men may eat and drink their own damnation more ways than one. And the same in junction is repeated over and over by the apostles; as, Let us watch and be sober, says St. Paul, 1 Thess. v. 6. And be ye sober, and watch unto prayer, says St. Peter, 1 Pet. iv. 7. And again, Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the Devil, 472 like a roaring lion, goes about, seeking whom he may devour, 1 Pet. v. 8. Of so peculiar a force is temperance against the fiercest assaults of the Devil, and so unfit a match is a soaking, swilling swine to encounter this roaring lion. Concerning which it is further worth our observing, that, as we read of no other creature but the swine which our Saviour commissioned the Devil to enter into, so of all other brute animals there are none so remarkable for in temperance as they, did not some, I confess, of an higher species very often outdo them.
In short, he who has an enemy must watch; but there can be no such thing as watching, unless sobriety holds up the head, forasmuch as without it sleeping is not only the easiest, but the best .thing that such an one can do, as being for the time of his debauch like other beasts, always most innocent when asleep, though for the same reason also, I confess, more in danger of being caught and destroyed before he wakes.
Let that wise and circumspect Christian therefore, who would always have a watchful eye upon his enemy, with a particular caution take heed of all in temperance; and I account that intemperance, which immediately after eating and drinking unfits a man for business, whether it be that of the body or that of the mind; it renders a man equally useless to others and mischievous to himself; and we need say no more nor no worse of intemperance than this, that it lays him wretchedly open, even as open to throw out as to pour in, a kind of common shore for both; it makes his own tongue his executioner, sometimes by scandalous words, and sometimes by dangerous truths, and that which is the certain consequent of 473both, by procuring him dangerous enemies, unless possibly sometimes, to prevent a greater mischief, the brute cries Peccavi, arraigns himself, makes his folly his apology, and so forsooth proves himself no criminal, by pleading that he was a sot. But this is but one mischief of a thousand which intemperance exposes its miserable slaves to; for I look upon this vice as a kind of mother vice, and the producing cause of infinitely more, and sensuality (which is but another name for the same thing) as the very throat of hell, or rather that broad way, by which three parts of the world, at least, go to the Devil.
And therefore, as the pious and prudent Christian warrior will be sure to keep himself far enough from such a traitor as downright excess, so to this purpose let him, as much as possible, shun all jovial entertainments, banquetings, and merry-meetings, (as they are called,) if they may deserve that name, which seldom fail to bring so sad an account after them; an account which will be sure to remain, when all bills are cleared, and all reckoning at the tavern paid off; so that every experienced guide of souls may truly pronounce of all such jollities what the best guides of health observe of some meats, that it is possible indeed with great care and niceness to order and use them so, that they shall do a man no hurt, but it is certain that they can never do him good.
And we may as confidently affirm, that no wise or truly great man ever delighted in such things. The truth is, wise men slight them, as the hinderances of business, and good men dread them, as dangerous to the soul. In a word, temperance is a virtue which casts the truest lustre upon the person it is lodged in, and has the most general influence upon all other 474 particular virtues of any that the soul of man is capable of; indeed so general, that there is hardly any noble quality or endowment of the mind, but must own temperance either for its parent or its nurse; it is the greatest strengthener and clearer of reason, and the best preparer of it for religion, the sister of prudence, and the handmaid to devotion. But we need no further proof of the sovereign value of a strict and severe temperance than this, that the temperate man is always himself; his temperance gives him the constant command of his reason, and, which is yet better, keeps him under the command of his religion; it makes him always fit to converse with his God, and always fit and ready to answer the Devil, for it takes away the very matter of the temptation, and so eludes the tempter’s design, for want of materials to work upon. And for this cause no doubt it was that our Saviour, Matth. xvii. 21, told his disciples, that there were some evil spirits not to be dispossessed but by fasting as well as prayer; and I think we may rationally enough conclude, that whatsoever fasting casts out, temperance must at least keep from entering in. It is seldom that a temptation fastens upon a man to any purpose, but in the strength of some one or other of his passions; and this is a sure observation, that where temperance overrules the appetites, there reason is ablest to command the passions; and that till the former be done, the latter will be impracticable.
And thus I have shewn what is implied in the grand duty of watchfulness, the first thing prescribed in the text, to guard us against temptation; and many more particulars might (no question) be assigned as belonging to it; but I have singled out and 475insisted upon only five, which, for memory’s sake, I shall briefly repeat and sum up in a few words.
As first of all, let a man throughly possess his mind with a full and settled persuasion of the devilish and intolerable mischief designed him by temptation; for unless he believes it to be such, he neither will nor rationally can watch against it.
In the next place, let him narrowly survey and inform himself of his own spiritual strength and weakness, and compare them with the forces and advantages of his enemy, and accordingly, by supporting weakness with watchfulness, let him be sure to fortify the weak side, and the stronger will be the better able to defend itself.
And then, thirdly, let him wisely reflect both upon his own experience and that of others; and so observing by what arts, methods, and stratagems the tempter has heretofore prevailed upon either, let him apply what is past to what is present, and so judging of one by the other, use his utmost vigilance, that the same trick be not trumped upon him more than once.
And to this purpose, let him, in the fourth place, have his mind continually intent upon the great and pressing danger he is surrounded with, that no sloth, negligence, or remissness of spirit, open a passage to the tempter, and so betray him like a fool, between sleeping and waking, into the hands of his cruel enemy; but let him have his danger still in his eye, and still look his enemy in the face, and that is the likeliest way to look him out of countenance.
And, fifthly and lastly, above all, let him practise the strictest temperance against all kind of excess in the use of any of God’s creatures, which generally 476 proves fatal and pernicious to the soul, frequently destroying, but always wounding it.
And to enforce these two last particulars more especially, I shall only add this one true and important remark, to wit, that of all the sins and enormities which the soul of man is capable of being ensnared by, I hardly know any (except those two of covetousness and ambition) but directly rush in upon it through those two broad, open, hellish gates of idleness and intemperance.
And thus from watchfulness pass we now to the other great preservative and remedy against temptation prescribed in the text, which is prayer; Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation; the reason and necessity of which duty is founded upon the supposition of this great truth, that it is not in the power of man to secure or defend himself against temptation, but that something above him must do it for him, as well as very often by him; and prayer is that blessed messenger between heaven and earth, holding a correspondence with both worlds, and by an happy intercourse and sure conveyance carrying up the necessities of the one, and bringing down the bounties of the other. This is the high prerogative of prayer, and by virtue of it every tempted person has it in his power to engage omnipotence itself, and every one of the divine attributes, in his defence; and whosoever enters the lists upon these terms, having the Almighty for his second, (let the combatants be never so unequal,) cannot but come off a conqueror. A state of temptation is a state of war, and as often as a man is tempted, he is put to fight for his all: danger both provokes and teaches to pray, and prayer (if any thing can) certainly will 477deliver from it. And to convince men, how in finitely it concerns them to fence against the danger threatened, by persevering in the duty enjoined, let them assure themselves, that there is not any condition whatsoever allotted to men in this world, but has its peculiar temptation attending it, and hardly separable from it; for whether it be wealth or poverty, health or sickness, honour or disgrace, or the like, there is something deadly in every one of them, and not at all the less so for not killing the same way. Wealth and plenty may surfeit a man, and poverty starve him; but still the man dies as surely by the one as by the other. God indeed sends us nothing but what is naturally wholesome, and fit to nourish us, but if the Devil has the cooking of it, it may destroy us; and therefore the divine goodness has prescribed prayer as an universal preservative against the poison of all conditions, extracting what is healing and salutary in them from what is baneful and pernicious, and so making the very poison of one condition a specific antidote against that of another. In fine, let none wonder, that prayer has so powerful an ascendant over the tempter (as mighty as he is) when God himself is not only willing, but pleased to be overcome by it; for still it is the man of prayer, who takes heaven by force, who lays siege to the throne of grace, and who, in a word, is there by said to wrestle with God: and surely if prayer can raise a poor mortal so much above himself as to be able to wrestle with his Maker, it may very well enable him to foil the tempter. And therefore since both our Saviour himself, and his great apostle St. Paul, represent prayer without ceasing as so eminent a duty and so opportune a succour, we must 478 needs own, that there cannot be a more pressing argument for a never-ceasing prayer than never-ceasing temptations; and therefore, whatsoever our personal strengths are, (as at best they can be but little,) it is certain, that our auxiliary forces and supplies must come in from prayer: in a word, I know no one blessing so small, which can be rationally expected without it, nor any so great, but may be obtained by it.
But then, to render it thus prevalent and effectual, there are required to it these two qualifications:
1. Fervency, or importunity.
2. Constancy, or perseverance.
1. And first for fervency. Let a man be but as earnest in praying against a temptation as the tempter is in pressing it, and he needs not proceed by a surer measure. He who prays against it coldly and indifferently gives too shrewd a sign that he neither fears nor hates it; for coldness is, and always will be, a symptom of deadness, especially in prayer, where life and heat are the same thing.
The prayers of the saints are set forth in scripture at much another rate, not only by calls, but cries, cries even to a roaring and vociferation, Psalm xxxviii. 8. and sometimes by strong cries with tears, Heb. v. 7: sometimes again by groanings not to be uttered, Rom. viii. 26; things too big for vent, too high for expression. In fine, he who prays against his spiritual enemy as he ought to do, is like a man fighting against him upon his knees; and he who fights so, by the very posture of his fighting shews, that he neither will nor can run away.
Lip-devotion will not serve the turn; it undervalue the very things it prays for. It is indeed the 479begging of a denial, and shall certainly be answered in what it begs: but he who truly and sensibly knows the invaluable happiness of being delivered from temptation, and the unspeakable misery of sinking under it, will pray against it, as a man ready to starve would beg for bread, or a man sentenced to die would entreat for life. Every period, every word, every tittle of such a prayer is all spirit and life, flame and ecstasy; it shoots from one heart into another, from the heart of him who utters, to the heart of him who hears it.
And then well may that powerful thing vanquish the tempter, which binds the hands of justice, and opens the hands of mercy, and, in a word, overcomes and prevails over Omnipotence itself; for, Let me go, says God to Jacob, Gen. xxxii. 26; and, Let me alone, says God to Moses, Exodus xxxii. 10. One would think that there was a kind of trial of strength between the Almighty and them; but whatsoever it was, it shews that there was and is something in prayer, which he, who made heaven and earth, neither could nor can resist; and if this be that holy violence which heaven itself (as has been shewn) cannot stand out against, no wonder if all the powers of hell must fall before it. But,
2dly, To fervency must be added also constancy, or perseverance. For this indeed is the crowning qualification which renders prayer effectual and victorious, and that upon great reason, as being the surest test and mark of its sincerity; for, as Job observes, Job xxvii. 10, Will the hypocrite call always upon God? No, he does it only by fits and starts, and consequently his devotional fervours are but as the returning paroxysms of a fever, not as the constant, 480 kindly warmths of a vital heat: they may work high for a time, but they cannot last; for no fit ever yet held a man for his whole life.
Discontinuance of prayer by long broken intervals is the very bane of the soul, exposing it to all the sleights and practices of the tempter. For a temptation may withdraw for a while, and return again; the tempter may cease urging, and yet continue plotting: the temptation is not dead, but sleeps; and when it comes on afresh, we shall find it the stronger for having slept.
And therefore our Saviour casts the whole stress of our safety upon continual prayer, by a notable parable, intended, as St. Luke tells us, Luke xviii. 1, to shew that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; nothing being more fatally common than for men, not receiving immediate answers to their prayers, to despond and give over, and to conclude with themselves, as good not at all as to no purpose. A man perhaps labours under the tyranny of some vexatious lust or corruption, and being bitterly sensible of it, he sets upon it with watching and striving, reading and hearing, fasting and praying, and after all thinks he has got but little or no ground of it. And now what shall such an one do? Why, nothing else must or can be done in the case, but resolutely to keep on praying; for no man of sense who sows one day expects to reap the next: this is certain, that while any one prays sincerely against a temptation, he fights against it; and so long as a man continues fighting, though with his limbs all battered, and his flesh torn and broken, he is not vanquished: it is conquest, in the account of God, not to be overcome. God perhaps intends that there 481shall be war between thee and thy corruption all thy days: thou shalt live fighting and warring, but for all that, mayest die in peace; and if so, God has answered thy prayers, I say, answered them enough to save thy soul, though not always enough to comfort and compose thy mind. God fully made good his promise to the Israelites, and they really conquered the Canaanites, though they never wholly dispossessed and drove them out.
And therefore, since God will still have something remain, to exercise the very best of men in this life, if thou wouldst have thy prayer against thy sin successful, in spite of all discouragements, let it be continual; let the plaster be kept on till the sore be cured. For prayer is no otherwise a remedy against temptation, than as it is commensurate to it, and keeps pace with it: but if we leave off praying before the Devil leaves off tempting, we cannot be safe; we throw off our armour in the midst of the battle, and so must not wonder at the worst that follows,
In a word, present prayer is a certain guard against present temptation; but as to what may come, we cannot be assured that it will keep us from it, or support us under it.
And thus much briefly for that other great preservative against temptation, prayer, together with its two prevailing properties, fervency and perseverance, from which all its success must come; for it is fervency in prayer which must charge the enemy, and perseverance in prayer which must conquer him.
And now, from the foregoing particulars thus discoursed of, we may learn the true cause (and it, is worth our learning) why so many men, who doubtless 482 at sometimes of their lives resist and make head against temptation, and have many an hard struggle and conflict with their sins, yet in the issue are worsted by them, and so live and die under the power of them; and this is not from any insufficiency in watching and prayer, as means unable to compass the end they are prescribed for, but from this, that men divide between watching and prayer, and so use and rely upon these duties separately, which can do nothing but in conjunction. For watchfulness without prayer is presumption, and prayer without watchfulness is a mockery; by the first a man invades God’s part in this great work, and by the latter he neglects his own. Prayer not assisted by practice is laziness, and contradicted by practice is hypocrisy; it is indeed of mighty force and use within its proper compass, but it was never designed to supply the room of watchfulness, or to make wish instead of endeavour.
God generally gives spiritual blessings and deliverances as he does temporal, that is, by the mediation of an active and a vigorous industry. The fruits of the earth are the gift of God, and we pray for them as such; but yet we plant, and we sow, and we plough, for all that; and the hands which are sometimes lift up in prayer, must at other times be put to the plough, or the husbandman must expect no crop. Every thing must be effected in a way proper to its nature, with the concurrent influence of the divine grace, not to supersede the means, but to prosper and make them effectual.
And upon this account men deceive themselves most grossly and wretchedly, when they expect that from prayer which God never intended it for. He 483who hopes to be delivered from temptation merely by praying against it, affronts God, and deludes himself, and might to as much purpose fall asleep in the midst of his prayers, as do nothing but sleep after them. Some ruin their souls by neglecting prayer, and some perhaps do them as much mischief by adoring it, while, by placing their whole entire confidence in it, they commit an odd piece of idolatry, and make a god of their very devotions. I have heard of one, (and him none of the strictest livers,) who yet would be sure to say his prayers every morning, and when he had done, he would bid the Devil do his worst, thus using prayer as a kind of spell or charm: but the old serpent was not to be charmed thus; and so no wonder if the Devil took him at his word, and used him accordingly.
And therefore to disabuse and deliver men from so killing a mistake, I shall point out two general cases or instances, in which praying against temptation will be of little or no avail to secure men from it. As,
First, When a man prays against any sin or temptation, and in the mean time indulges himself in such things or courses as are naturally apt to promote an inch nation to that sin, such an one prays against it to no purpose. Every sin is founded in some particular appetite or inclination, and every such appetite or inclination has some particular objects, actions, or courses, by which it is fed and kept in heart. Now let no man think that he has prayed heartily against any sin, who does not do all that he can, who does not use his utmost diligence, nay, his best art and skill, to undermine and weaken his inclination to that sin. To water an ill plant every 484 day, and to pray against the growth of it, would be very absurd and preposterous. St. Paul, we know, complained of a body of death, and of a thorn in the flesh, and he prayed heartily against it. But was that all? No, he also kept under his body, and brought it into subjection, 1 Cor. ix. 27; being well assured, that unless the soul keeps under the body, the body will quickly get above the soul. If you would destroy a well intrenched enemy, cut off his provisions; and if you starve him in his strong holds, you conquer him as effectually as if you beat him in the field. But then again,
2dly, When a man prays against any sin or temptation, and yet ventures upon those occasions which usually induce men to it, he must not expect to find any success in his prayers. For would any man in his wits, who dreaded a catching distemper, converse freely with such as had it? that is, would he fly from the disease, and yet run into the infection? In like manner, do not occasions of sin generally end in the commission of sin? And if they generally end in it, must they not naturally tend to it? And if so, can men think that God ever designed prayer as an engine to counterwork or control nature, to reverse its laws, and alter the course of the universe, by suspending the natural efficiency of things, in compliance with some men’s senseless and irrational petitions?
None trifle with God, and make a sport of sin, so much as those whose way of living interferes with their prayers; who pray for such or such a virtue, and then put themselves under circumstances which render the practice of it next to impossible; who pray perhaps for the grace of sobriety, and then wait 485daily for an answer to that prayer at a merry-meeting or the tavern. But the spirit of prayer is a spirit of prudence, a spirit of caution and conduct, and never pursues the thing it prays for in a way contrary to the nature of the thing itself.
Does a man therefore pray, for instance, against the temptation of pride or ambition? Let him not thrust himself into high places and employments, which he is neither worthy of nor fit for. Or does he beg of God to free him from the sin and slavery of intemperance? Let him break off from company; let him not give up his reason, his credit, his time, and his very soul, out of complaisance, (as fools call it;) but let him make his own conscience, and not other men’s humours, the rule he lives by, and let him stick close to it. In a word, let him resolve against all the false pleasures of luxury, and then let him keep his resolution, and his resolution shall assuredly keep him.
And this is a plain, natural, and sure course, directly leading to the thing he prays for; but the contrary is both a paradox in reason, and an imposture in religion. And believe it, we shall one day give but an ill and lame account of our watching and praying, if, by an odd inversion of the command, all that we do is first to pray against a temptation, and afterwards to watch for it.
And thus I have given you two notable instances in which men pray against temptation without any success. In short, if a man cherishes and keeps up a sinful principle or inclination within, and shuns not the occasions of sin without, his prayers and his actions supplant and overthrow one another, and 486 God will be sure to answer him according to what he does, and not according to what he prays.
And therefore let us take heed of putting a cheat or fallacy upon ourselves, a fallacy, a bene conjunctis ad male divisa, by dividing between these two great duties; and dividing, we know, in some cases, is in effect destroying, and it will prove so in this. Watch fulness and prayer are indeed principal duties, and of principal acceptance with God; but God accepts them only as he commands them, and that is, both together. God has joined them by an absolute, irreversible sanction; and what God himself has so joined, let not the Devil, or our own false hearts, presume to put asunder. But let us take this both for our direction and our comfort, that proportionably as we watch, God will answer us when we pray.
To whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.487
|« Prev||A Discourse Concerning Temptation. The Seventh…||Next »|