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PSALM xix. 13. SECOND PART.
Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins.
II. I COME now to the second, which is to as sign some of the most notable kinds of presumptuous sins.
Concerning which, I shall premise this in general; That there is no sin committible by man, as to the kind of it, but by circumstances is capable of being made a sin of presumption. Upon which account it would be infinite to set down all the several kinds; and therefore I shall only insist upon some of the greatest remark for their malignity, and such as it most concerns the souls of men to be clear and se cure from.
For a man to sin upon hopes or confidence of pardon or mercy, I cannot reckon as a particular kind of presumptuous sin; this being the general nature of presumption running through all the respective kinds and species of it. For he that presumes to offend, promises himself pardon from God’s mercy, without any warrant from God’s word.
The particular kinds therefore of presumptuous sin, that I shall cull out and insist upon, are these that follow.
1. The first is, to sin against the goodness of God, manifesting itself to a man in great prosperity. Every beam of God’s favour to a sinner in these 176 outward enjoyments, is a call to repentance upon the stock of ingenuity. And the apostle’s expostulation in Rom. ii. 4 lies full against the neglecter of it; Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffermg; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? Every breath of air that the sinner takes in, is a respite given him by mercy from sin-revenging justice. Every morsel he eats, and every drop that he drinks, is an alms, and a largess, and a repast, that he has no claim to.
But when mercy shall rise higher, and from the benefit of a bare subsistence serve his convenience, and, what is more, his abundance; when Providence shall make his increase bigger than his barns, and his incomes to upbraid the narrowness of his coffers; when it shall add a lustre to his person, and at the same time multiply and advance his family; when it shall appoint angels for his guardians, and, in a word, set an hedge about all that he has: for such a one to rise up and spurn against his Maker, to make all his plenty and greatness the drudge of his luxury and ambition; so that his sins shall outvie his substance, and the very effects of mercy be made the weapons of unrighteousness; for him therefore to sin, because he is great, and rich, and powerful, that is, because Providence has by all this obliged him not to sin; is not this the height of ingratitude, as ingratitude is the height of baseness?
Samuel upbraided David for his two great sins, by recounting what God had done for him, and how openhanded Providence had been to him, in heaping upon him all external blessings, even to the anticipation and exceeding of his desires. Behold, says 177the prophet, in the name of God, 2 Sam. xii. 8, I had given thee suck and such things: and certainly these things are mercies; those, I am sure, that enjoy them, would confess them so in the want of them. For let such a one reflect upon the thousands and the ten thousands of calamitous persons round about him, and tell me a reason why he should stand exempted from the same lot; why Providence should be so fond of him, as to make him swim in pleasure, while others are sinking under their necessities? When he sees this man roaring under pain, that man languishing under sickness, another hauled to prison for poverty and debt, another starving with cold and hunger; let him tell us what obligation he has laid upon God, that he should be healthful in his person, flourishing in his condition, full in his revenues, and sit down to a table, the very scraps of which were a feast for many persons much more holy and virtuous than himself.
But to go a little further: while he is thus provided for, (as we have observed,) not only as to convenience, but also supplied as to affluence; can he tell me, why he is all this time permitted to live, and to tread the earth? why he is not in hell, roaring in the flames, and bemoaning himself in the regions of the damned? whether his sins have not long since deserved it, and whether both the mercy and justice of God might not be glorified in his destruction? and whether many, whose sins were fewer and smaller than his, have not been cut off from the earth in wrath, and disposed of into that remediless estate of torment? Can he ascribe this reprieve to any thing but to mercy, to mere undeserved mercy, that places 178 the marks of its favour absolutely and irrespectively upon whom it pleases?
But now is there any gross sin, that such a one can commit, that is not a direct defiance to the designs of this mercy? There is not any temporal blessing that a man enjoys, that shall not be reckoned upon his eternal account. That sentence shall appear fresh and fierce against him, Son, thou receivedst thy good things. And it is not so much his having sinned that shall condemn him, as his having sinned in pomp, in plenty, and magnificence. His having sinned against the bounties and endearments of Providence; this is that, that shall rank him with those leading sinners, whose portion lies deeper in the bottomless pit than that of ordinary offenders.
2. A second sort of presumptuous sins, are sins committed under God’s judging and afflicting hand; than which there cannot be a more open and professed declaring of an opposition to God; it being little short of sending a challenge to Heaven. It is a striking of God, while God is striking us; and so, as it were, a contention who should have the last blow. For a child to commit that fault under the rod, for which the rod is upon him, shews an incorrigible disposition, and a malice too great to be chastised into amendment.
What does God send forth his arrows for, and shoot this man with sickness, another with poverty, and a third with shame, but to reclaim and to recover them? to embitter the sweet morsels of sensuality to them, and to knock off their affections from sinful pleasures? For God makes not the miseries 179of men his recreation; it is no delight to him to hear the groans and the sighs of a distressed person. It can be no diversion to the chirurgeon to hear the shrieks and the cries of him whom he is cutting for the stone; but yet he goes on with his work, for he designs nothing but ease and cure to the person whom he afflicts.
God would make men better by soft and persuasive means, he would draw them with the cords of a man; but when these prevail not, he is drove to the use of his whips and his scorpions: but if these prove ineffectual too, the man is too great a sinner to be corrected, and consequently to be saved. When a man comes three or four times out of God’s furnace with his dross about him, it is a sign of a reprobate and a castaway. God complains of the house of Israel, Ezek. xxii. 18, that they were dross in the midst of the furnace. When the flesh is so proud, that it scorns all the powers of a corrosive, it is an argument that it is incurable, and fit for no thing but to be cut off. God speaks it with a certain pathos and expostulation, and as if he were even brought to a nonplus, Esa. i. 5, Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt still more and more. Some are so obstinately bad, and confirmed in their vice, that judgments and afflictions are but thrown away upon them; and God’s shooting at them is but like shooting at a mark, which indeed receives the arrow, but does not at all feel it.
But such persons must know that their sins are rendered infinitely more daring and provoking by the distress of their condition. God throws them upon the ground, and they, instead of being humbled, rage and rave, and throw the dirt in his face. 180 This is properly a man’s hardening himself against God. The Holy Ghost speaking of a wicked prince of Judah, sets forth the height of his wickedness by this character, 2 Chron. xxviii. 22, In the time of his distress did he trespass yet more against the Lord: this is that king Ahaz. What a brand does he give him! as if he had said, This is that monster of men, that spot of nature, that prodigy of impiety. It is the property of dogs to snarl under the whip, and to fly in the face of him that strikes them.
There is never an affliction that befalls any man, but it comes with this motto written upon it by the finger of God himself; Go, sin no more, lest a worse evil come unto thee. Has any man felt the hand of God upon his body, his estate, or his family, or any concernment that is dear unto him? Why let him hear his voice also; his admonishing, his counselling voice, Sin no more, lest a worse evil happen unto thee. Has God snatched away a man’s child? God can snatch away his estate too. Has God took away his estate? he can take away his friends also. Has he bereaved him of his friends? he can likewise bereave him of his reputation. Has he blasted his reputation? he can proceed to touch him in his health, and with the most miserable of distempers to smite him with madness, phrensy, and distraction. And after all this, God has more ways to plague his rebel creature, than our poor, short apprehensions can reach unto.
But now for a man to sin against all this; to laugh at all these warning periods of Heaven; what is it but a kind of waging war with God? Well may every serious person be still putting up this prayer, 181Lord, keep me from this kind of presumption: for certainly, wheresoever it is, it places a man but a finger’s breadth from destruction.
3. A third sort of presumption is, to commit a sin clearly discovered and directly pointed at by the word of God, either written or preached. The word sometimes meets the sinner with that power and clearness, that his conscience even forces him to cry out and arraign himself; This is my sin, and I am that sinner that is preached against. He finds it not in the power of his invention, by any art or evasion, to elude or shift off the charge, it comes so home and close to his condition. It is to his sin, as a looking-glass to his face; it represents it in every shadow, lineament, and proportion: so that the preacher might be even thought to have had a correspondent in the man’s breast, and to have held intelligence with his heart: he gives him so exact and particular an account of the several ways, methods, and actings of his sin.
Now for a man to turn his back upon all these bright discoveries of his sin, to commit it, as it were, with the word yet sounding in his ears, and full and quick in his memory; it is like a man’s offending, not only against a law, but a law rubbed up, renewed, and set afresh before men’s eyes, by the king’s proclamation.
It is but too usual to see some persons, who at church feel their consciences searched and lanced, and the word even lashing their sin over the face; yet presently, like Samson after the Philistines had been upon him, to go out and shake themselves a little, and forthwith become the very same men that they were before. They are as ready for their cups, 182 for their rotten, obscene, and profane discourse; and, in a word, for all kind of lewdness; as if the preacher had not reproved their vice, but produced new arguments to encourage it; and exhorted them to persevere diligently in those blessed paths, in which they are sure to have the Devil for their leader, and their lust for their companion.
But the word of God will not be baffled and put off so: where it finds no reception, it will be sure to leave a guilt, and no man can despise it securely: the more clearly it informs, being rejected, the more fiercely it condemns. For surely we cannot imagine that the great God of heaven is so cheap in his addresses to men’s souls, as, according to his own expressions, to wait, to rise up early, and all the day long to stretch forth his hands to the sons of men, in setting out the nature and danger of sin before them; only that they may have opportunity to shew how little these things change and move them; how hardy and obstinate they can be in holding fast their vice, as it were, in spite of Heaven, and maugre all the divine warnings, threats, and admonitions.
This is none of the least degrees of presumption: for supposing that the sinner has not shook off the first principle of self-preservation; while he ventures and proceeds confidently in a sin marked out for vengeance by the voice of God himself, he must needs question either his truth, that he will not, or his power, that he cannot, make good what he says, by punishing as severely as he threatens.
4. A fourth sort of presumption is, to commit a sin against certain passages of Providence, particularly thwarting, and, as it were, lying cross to the commission of it. God is so merciful to and careful of 183some men’s souls, that when his words make no impression, he is pleased in a manner to put forth his hand, and, by some kind of force, to withhold a man from the perpetration of his intended villainy, as by dashing the opportunities of sinning with some unlooked-for accident, so that the thread and chain of all his fine contrivances is, for the present, broke.
It were infinite to recount particulars; each man may collect enough from his own observation. The drunkard’s merry meetings are put off and defeated by the interposal of emergent, unexpected business; the designs of the revengeful person, by the intervention of company, perhaps by sickness, or some other misfortune disabling him for the execution of his malicious purposes: nay, and sometimes the frustration and disappointment shall be so repeated, and withal so strange, that the sinner’s conscience can not but tell him that the finger of God is in the whole affair, and that the Almighty himself with stands him: in which case, for him still to hold on his wicked design, and to look for new opportunities to bring it to birth; to make fresh attempts, and to try other courses; it argues a man furiously and invincibly set upon offending God, and pursuing the satisfaction of his sin over all those mountains of opposition that Heaven has raised in his way.
Thus we see nothing could withhold Pharaoh and his host from following the Israelites; for in Exod. xiv. 24, 25, it is said first, that God troubled them; then, that he took off their chariot wheels, so that they drove heavily; and lastly, such a terror seized them, that they cried out, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians: yet nothing could recall Pharaoh, 184 till Moses stretched out his rod upon the sea, and it returned and swallowed up him and his whole army, so that they sunk like lead in the mighty waters.
And then for Balaam, whose story we have in the 22d of Numbers: his heart was all that time upon the rich, enticing offers of the king of Moab; yet how many rubs and repulses did God cast in his way, and with what difficulty did he go after the ways of unrighteousness: yet go after them he did, and upon that score stands recorded in scripture for as presumptuous and resolved a sinner as any is mentioned in the sacred story.
Those who break through all those mounds and hinderances that God has laid between them and the gratification of their vice, imitate Balaam’s sin, and may expect to inherit his damnation.
5. A fifth kind of presumptuous sins are, sins against the inward checks and warnings of conscience about the evil of any course or action. We may call them the checks of conscience, though I doubt not but that sometimes they are the immediate whispers of God’s Spirit in the soul; but it matters not much which they are, it coming all to one result; whether God speaks immediately by himself, or by his interpreter, for so is the conscience littering every thing in the name and authority of God: that there are such inward checks and startings of the soul at the attempt of any great sin is most certain; and I appeal to the mind of every particular person that hears me, whether lie has not often found a struggle within himself, and a kind of pull-back from the sin that he has been about to engage in, raising such questions in his heart as Joseph 185put to himself, How shall I do this great wickedness, and sin against God, and how shall I answer it at the last day? and, What if I should die before I repented of it? and, May it not, for all its present promises of pleasure, be bitterness in the latter end? I know every one (none excepted) feels something like this within himself: it is a thing of universal experience, and no man can deny it.
Now from whence and for what can all these suggestions be sent into the heart? What is the reason that there is such a kind of thing within us, ready, as it were, to catch us by the arm, and to bid us hold our hand when we are putting it forth to the commission of any sin? Surely they are the spiritual engines of God, planted by him in the soul to wield it this way and that way, to the prosecution of virtuous, and from the pursuit of vicious courses: they are the characters of every man’s duty drawn and engraven upon his heart; they are the expositors and faithful reporters of the mind of God to a man concerning the quality of every action that he is about to do.
And to thwart and trample upon them, is to presume upon God to that degree that is called a resisting of his Spirit. It is to extinguish the eternal light; and to shut our eyes, that we may the more boldly leap down this dismal precipice into the arms and embraces of our sin. However, such presumers must learn, that he who now warns us from sin in a still voice, when he comes to reprove and judge for sin will do it in thunder. And there is not one of these inward, gentle, and (as they think,) inconsiderable movings and endeavours of the conscience against sin, but shall one day come into account, 186 and be reckoned in the catalogue of its aggravations.
So that if we should imagine a sinner pleading the excuse of his sin before God, that he was pushed on to the acting of it by a clamorous, furious principle within him, his violent affections, his mouth would quickly be stopped, and all his plea cut off by this one demand; Whether he did not find another principle within him, as much protesting against that sin, as passionately dissuading and drawing him off from it, painting the evil of it before his eyes, and laying the sad consequents of it home to his heart. All this will and must be granted; and therefore he that sins against these inward checks, presumes, and, what is more, he presumes inexcusably.
6. A sixth sort of presumptuous sins are, sins against that inward taste, relish, and complacency that men have found in their attempts to walk with God, and comply with the precepts of the gospel. The former are sins against the sight, these against the taste of God’s favour. For the explication of which we must observe, that some persons, wrought up and warmed by the word into good resolutions, set forth for heaven, and intend with themselves a dereliction of the world, and a living up to those divine rules of piety taught and proposed by the Saviour of the world, the great instructor of souls. Hereupon, by reason of the native suitableness of those excellent things taught by him to the generous principles of virtue, naturally planted in every mind, a man, upon the least compliance with them, finds a strange, exalting pleasure and satisfaction arising from thence, much superior to all the poor delights of sensuality. This is called, in Matt. xiii. 20, 187 a receiving the word with joy: and it is said of Herod, in Mark vi. 20, that upon the Baptist’s preaching he did many things, and heard him gladly: and there is mention of some, in Heb. vi. 4, that had tasted of the heavenly gift.
Now this is that relish and inward complacency that I spoke of, and which I said might be sinned against. For I doubt not but God gratifies new beginners in the ways of piety with certain strictures and tastes of spiritual pleasure, in vain to be sought for any where else: they are transient discoveries of himself; the very glimpses of heaven, and drops of an overflowing bounty.
And I doubt not also, but many, who have been admitted to a participation and experience of these privileges, have yet, through the force of temptation, the entanglements of the flesh, and the deceitfulness of their own hearts, been so far turned aside, as to have all these impressions worn off their minds, and in the issue prove wretched apostates. For these are not the peculiar mercies of the elect, who are loved with an everlasting love, but kindness of a lower degree. God may drop such manna upon those that shall never enter into Canaan: many, like Moses, may have a short view of that which they shall never enjoy.
But this is that that we drive at, that every apostasy and sinful backsliding after the soul has been thus treated by God, is thereby inflamed to the nature of a great unkindness and a vast presumption. For can a man do any thing more heinous than this? After God has met him in his prayers, embraced him in sacraments, and given him hope of the pardon of his sins; after all this, to turn rebel? to hear the 188 Baptist gladly, and within a while to behead him? Can there be a viler and blacker presumption? He that only has a cordial by him, and balks the use of it, dies without remedy; but he that also tastes it, and then spits it out again, dies without pity.
And let this be observed, that if such persons, who, like Agrippa, were almost Christians, and have been, as it were, in the skirts and out-courts of heaven, chance to apostatize finally, and to perish, the consideration of this will make the worm of conscience bite much more terribly, and the everlasting flame burn ten times more violently, than if they had gone to hell at the common rate of sinning, with such as never thought of any other god but their belly, nor any religion beside their sensuality.
7. The seventh and last sort of presumptuous sins that I shall mention is, the returning to and repeated commission of the same sin; which surely is the greatest demonstration of a bold, stiff, resolved sinner that can be. Flies are accounted bold creatures, and that for a very good reason; for drive them off from a place as often as you will, yet presently they will be there again. It is not a thing so clear, but it has been disputed by divines, whether a relapse into the same sin, if a gross one, be pardonable. There is great cause to conclude, that it may and is: the contrary assertion being a limitation of mercy, where the word sets no limits to it: yet surely the case is dangerous, and those two things may be very well consistent, that a disease is curable, and yet not one of five hundred ever cured of it.
And if one, of so many sinning presumptuously in this nature, has been, by the singular grace of God, 189recovered, and in the end saved, I should think it would be but a small encouragement to any, to presume that he shall be the one picked out of so great a number. David presumed upon the goodness and justice of God broadly and foully enough in those his two great sins; and so did Peter in denying his master. But we read of no more murders or adulteries in David, or denials of Christ in Peter: and God knows, if there had, what would have been the issue of such a presumption in either of them.
This is a sinning against the common methods of nature, as well as the obligations of grace. For it is natural to all men, nay, even to most brute animals, to avoid that thing or place where they have met with some notable mischief or disaster. There is a lasting horror of it imprinted upon the spirits, that presently works and shews itself upon the sight of the hurtful thing. Some stomachs never can abide a liquor or meat wonderfully grateful to them before, after they have had some loathsome physic conveyed to them in it: now there can no reason be assigned why men should not be thus affected also as to spirituals.
A man commits a gross sin, and by it makes a great breach upon the peace of his conscience, loses all present sense and feeling of the favour of God, and perhaps, over and above, finds some outward, fierce expressions of his wrath in the discomposure of his worldly affairs, so that both within and with out the man is distempered and disordered, and in finitely at a loss how to resettle himself in his former calm condition. But at length, by divine favour, he does regain his former ground; and perhaps, within a while, his former sin also presents itself to him 190 with fresh enticements and little renewed arts of persuasion; What will the man do now? Will he let the old, stale cheat, new dressed, be acted over upon him the second time? Will he venture the loss of God’s favour once more? and try whether his pardoning mercy will hold out as long as he is pleased to abuse it? Will he have his conscience about his ears again, and break his leg, because once, by much pain and misery, he got it set in the like case?
If he does, let him know that he is incorrigibly presumptuous, he crucifies the Son of God afresh, is a professed despiser of mercy, and by this daring return to his former sin, that had so fearfully mauled and shattered him, has, to say no more, put his repentance, his recovery, and salvation, under a very great improbability. And thus much for the second branch of the first general head, which was, to assign some of the most notable kinds of presumption.191
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