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THE NATURE AND NECESSITY OF HOLY RESOLUTION.
Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne chastisement, I will not offend any more: that which I see not, teach thou me; if I have done iniquity, I wilt do no more.—Job xxxiv. 31, 32.
THESE words are a description of the temper and behaviour of a true penitent, his confession of sins, and resolution of amendment. Concerning resolution, I have shewn what it is in general: what is the special object or matter of this kind of resolution: what is implied in a sincere resolution of leaving our sins, and returning to God and our duty: that in this resolution the very essence and formal nature of repentance doth consist: and have offered some considerations, to convince men of the necessity and fitness of this resolution, and to keep them steadfast to it. As,
1. That this resolution is nothing but what, under the influence of God’s grace, is in our power.
2. The things themselves, which we are to resolve upon, are the strongest arguments that can be for such a resolution.
3. How unreasonable it is for men to be unresolved in a case of so great moment.
4. How much this resolution will tend to the settling of our minds, and making our lives comfort able. I proceed to the considerations which remain.432
5. Then be pleased to consider, that a strong and vigorous resolution would make the whole work of religion easy to us; it would conquer all difficulties which attend a holy and religious course of life, especially at our first entrance into it: because resolution brings our minds to a point, and unites all the strength and force of our souls in one great design, and makes us vigorous and firm, courageous and constant in the prosecution of it: and without this it is impossible to hold out long, and to resist the strong propensions and inclinations of our corrupt nature, which, if we be not firmly resolved, will return, and by degrees gain upon us; it will be impossible to break through temptations, and to gainsay the importunity of them: when the devil and the world solicit us, we shall not be able to say them nay, but shall be apt to yield to them.
There are many who have had faint wishes, and cold desires, and half purposes, of leading a new and better life: but having not taken up a firm resolution in the case, having not determined themselves by a severe purpose, a little thing sways them, and brings them back to their former course; it is no hard matter to divert them and engage them another way; they are “shaken with every wind” of temptation, every little blast of opposition and persecution turns them back, and carries them to the ways of sin: whereas resolution fixeth a man’s spirit, and makes it most steadfast and unmoveable, and sets him upon a rock, which, “when the winds blow, and the rain falls, and the floods come,” abides firm against all impressions.
If I would give the most probable and useful advice to engage and continue a man in a good course, I would commend to him a deliberate and firm 433resolution. David proved this way with very happy success; (Psal. cxix. 106.) “I have sworn (says he) and will perform it, (hat I will keep thy righteous judgments.” This was a security to him against all assaults, and nothing could turn him from his course afterwards; not the dangers he was exposed to, (ver. 109.) “My soul is continually in my hand, yet do I not forget thy law;” not the snares of wicked men that were laid for him, (ver. 110.) “The wicked have laid a snare for me, yet I erred not from thy precepts.” By virtue of this resolution, he could rise up in defiance of all those that would have tempted him to any sinful action: (ver. 115.) “Depart from me, ye evil doers, for I will keep the commandments of my God.”
When a man is thus resolved upon a holy course he is not easily diverted from it, and is able to resist the importunity and flattery of temptations, and to say to them, as men are wont to do, when they are fully and firmly resolved upon any thing, “Let me alone, I am not to be moved, it is in vain to urge me, I am resolved to the contrary.” Thus stiff and resolute men can be in other cases, where there is not near that cause and reason for it; and if we would but take up a generous resolution to break off our sins, and to live better lives, this would be the way to conquer that listlessness and unwillingness which hinders us from engaging in a good course, and is the cause of so many lame excuses and unreasonable delays. It is the want of resolution, and the weakness of our resolutions, which is the true reason why we are not more equal, and constant, and uniform in the ways of religion; but are religious only by fits and starts, in a heat, and during some present trouble and conviction of mind. 434“The double-minded man is unstable (says St. James) in all his ways.” When a man is of several minds, he is easily moved one way or other.
6. And lastly, Consider the infinite danger of remaining unresolved. The evil day may overtake you, while you are deliberating whether you should avoid it or not. A state of sin is liable to so many hazards, hath so many dangers continually threatening it, and hanging over it, that it is the most imprudent thing in the world to linger in it. It is like Lot’s staying in Sodom, when the Lord was going to destroy it, when fire and brimstone were just ready to be rained down from heaven upon it. Whilst men are lingering in a sinful state, if “the Lord be not merciful to them,” they will be consumed. Therefore it concerns thee, sinner, to determine thyself speedily, and to make haste out of this dangerous condition, “to escape for thy life, lest some evil overtake thee,” and lest death, finding thee unresolved, determine thy case for thee, and put it out of all doubt, and past all remedy.
How many have been cut off in their irresolution! and because they would not determine what to do, God hath concluded their case for them, and “sworn in his wrath that they should not enter into his rest.” It may be thou promisest thyself the space of many years to resolve in: “Thou fool, this night thy soul” may “be required of thee;” and whilst thou art unresolved what to do, God is resolving what to do with thee, and putting a period to his patience and long expectation of thy repentance: and thou knowest not how soon God may do this, and make an immutable determination concerning thee. And woe unto thee, when God hath resolved thus!
Suppose thou shouldest be snatched out of the 435world, and hurried before the dreadful tribunal of God, in this doubtful and unresolved state. And this is possible enough; because thou hast no certain tenure of thy life, thou art at no time secured from the stroke of death: nay, it is probable enough, because thou art every moment liable to ten thousand accidents, any one of which may snap in sunder the thread of thy life. And suppose this should happen to thee, what dost thou imagine would become of thee? Wouldest not thou then wish a thousand times that thou hadst resolved in time? How glad wouldest thou then be, that it were possible for thee to retrieve and call back but one of those “days without number,” which thou hast so vainly trifled away, that thou mightest resolve upon the things of thy peace! but thou wouldest not do it in that thy day, which God afforded thee to this purpose; thou hast let the opportunity slip out of thy hands, and it will never be in thy power again, but “the things of thy peace will be” for ever “hid from thine eyes.”
Why wilt thou then be so foolish, as to run thyself upon the evident hazard of losing heaven, and being miserable for ever? Why wilt thou make work for a sadder and longer repentance, than that which thou dost now so carefully decline? This was the case of the foolish virgins in the parable, (Matt. xxv.) who made account to be ready “to meet the bridegroom” at his coming, but took no care in time to get oil into their lamps. They thought the bride groom would tarry yet a while longer, and therefore “they slumbered and slept” in great security; but at midnight, when “the cry was made, Behold the bridegroom cometh;” then they arose, and in a great hurry and confusion went about “trimming their lamps;” they were resolved then, they would have 436begged or bought oil; and would have been at any pains or cost for it: but then it was too late; for the door was suddenly shut against them, and no importunity could prevail to have it opened to them.
Canst thou be contented to have the door shut against thee, and when thou shalt cry, “Lord open unto me,” to have him return this answer, “Depart from me, I know thee not?” If thou canst not, resolve to prevent this in time.
Didst thou but see, and know, and feel what the miserable do in hell, thou couldest not linger thus, thou couldest not continue so long unresolved. Why the time will come, when thou wilt reflect severely upon thyself, and say, That I should ever be so stupid and sottish, to be unresolved in a matter of such infinite concernment to me! How often was I admonished and convinced of the necessity of changing my course? How many inward motions had I to that purpose? How often did my own reason and conscience, and the Holy Spirit of God, by his frequent and friendly suggestions, put me upon this? How often was I just upon the brink of resolving? I resolved to resolve; but still I delayed it till death seized upon me unresolved: and now the opportunity is lost, and never to be recovered again! I would not in time resolve to be wise and happy; and now, by the sentence of the just and unchangeable God, it is resolved that I must be miserable to all eternity!
How should these considerations quicken us, who have yet these opportunities in our hands; which those who neglected and trifled them away, would now purchase at any rate! I say, how should these considerations which I have proposed, move us to 437take up a present resolution in the matter! Consider these things, sinner, and lay them seriously to heart, and say to thyself, Fool that I have been, to be unresolved so long; not to determine myself in a matter of such mighty consequence; to continue so long in suspense, whether I had best go to heaven or hell, and which was most advisable, to be happy or miserable for ever! Blessed be God, that hath been pleased to exercise so much patience and long-suffering towards me, that hath spared me so long, when he might have taken me away, and cut me off unresolved! My soul lies at stake, and, for aught I know, all eternity depends upon my present and speedy resolution. And now, by God’s grace, I will not delay one moment more, I will hang no longer between heaven and hell.—I shall now, in the
Second place, Offer some considerations to persuade those that have taken up this good resolution, to pursue it, and to promote it to practice and execution, and to keep firm and steadfast to it. And to this end, be pleased to consider these three things:
1. What an argument it is of vanity and inconstancy, to change this resolution, whilst the reason of it stands good, and is not changed. I suppose that thou wert once resolved to leave thy sins, and to return to God and thy duty? Why dost thou not pursue this resolution? Why dost thou not persist in it? Surely there appeared to thee some reason why thou didst take it up; and if the reason remain, and appear still the same to thee that it did, how comes it to pass that thou hast altered thy mind, and changed thy purpose? Either the case is the same it was, when thou tookest up this resolution, 438or it is not. If it be altered, then thou hast reason to change thy resolution: if it be not, thou hast the same reason to continue in it, that thou hadst to take it up. Shew then, if thou canst, wherein it is changed? Wert thou mistaken before about the nature of sin, and the pernicious consequences of it; or about the nature of God and goodness? Hast thou any thing now to plead for sin, which thou didst not know or consider before? Art thou now satisfied that sin is not so evil and unreasonable a thing as thou didst once apprehend, or that it does not threaten thee with so much danger as thou didst fear? Hath God altered his opinion of it, or is he become more favourable to it than he was? Hast thou received any news lately from heaven by any good hands, that God hath reversed his threatenings against sin, or that he hath adjourned the judgment of the world, sine die, without any set time? That he hath set the devils at liberty, and released them from their chains of darkness, and hath quenched and put out the fire of hell? Or art thou satisfied that there is no such being as God in the world, or that he is not so good as thou didst apprehend him to be, or that he will not reward those that diligently serve him? Hast thou found upon trial, that holiness and virtue are but empty names, and there is nothing in them? That there is not that pleasure and peace in keeping the commandments of God which thou wert told of? I am sure thou canst not with reason pretend any thing of all this. Thy reason, and conscience, and experience cannot speak one word on the behalf of sin, or give any testimony against God and his holy ways. And if the case be the same it was, nothing but thine own vanity and fickleness, or 439some worse reason, could move thee to alter thy purpose.
2. Let it be farther considered, that if we be not constant to our resolution, all we have done is lost. If thou repentest of thy repentance, it will not prove a “repentance to salvation.” As good to have stayed in Sodom, as to look back after thou art come out of it. Thus God tells us by the prophet, (Ezek. xxxiii. 12, 13.) “Therefore, thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: neither shall the righteous be able to live in the day that he sinneth. When I say to the righteous, he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered: but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.” So that, whatever we have done in the work of repentance, what resolutions soever we have taken up; if afterwards we give over and let them fall, all that we have done is lost, and will come to nothing.
3. Let us consider, in the last place, that if we be not constant to our resolution, we shall not only lose all that we have done, but we shall thereby render our condition much worse. “Remember Lot’s wife,” who, after she was escaped out of Sodom, looked back, and was made a particular and lasting monument of God’s wrath and displeasure; which seems to be meant by that expression of her being “turned into a pillar of salt;” that is, “a lasting monument.” (Prov. xiv. 14.) “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.” “Shall be filled with his own ways;” this expression doth signify a most heavy and dreadful curse upon those who fall off from their good purpose and resolution, 440that they shall have sorrow and trouble enough upon it. For so likewise, (Prov. i. 26, 27.) where God threatens wilful and obstinate sinners with the heaviest judgments, that he would “laugh at their calamity, and mock when their fear comes, when their fear comes as desolation, and their destruction as a whirlwind, and fear and anguish cometh upon them;” he adds, as the sum of all other judgments, that “they shall eat the fruit of their own ways, and be filled with their own devices.” (Heb. x. 38.) “But if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him;” which words are a μείωσις, and signify a great deal more than seems to be expressed. “My soul shall have no pleasure in him;” that is, let such an one expect the effects of God’s fiercest wrath and displeasure. For so the Hebrews are wont to express things that are great and unspeakable, when they cannot sufficiently set them forth; by saying less, they say more. So, (Psal. v. 4.) where it is said, u Thou art not a God that hast pleasure in wickedness;” the Psalmist means, and would have us to understand it so, that God is so far from taking any pleasure in the sins of men, that he bears the most violent hatred and displeasure against them. So, when the apostle here says, “If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him;” he means, that it is not to be expressed how God will deal with such persons, and how severely his justice will handle them. To the same purpose is that declaration, (2 Pet. ii. 20, 21.) “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better 441for them, not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” The condition of all impenitent sinners is very sad; but of apostates much worse: not only because the sins which they commit afterwards are much greater, receiving a new aggravation, which the sins of those who are simply impenitent are not capable of; but likewise because such persons are usually more wicked afterwards. For they that break loose from severe purposes and resolutions of a better course, do by this very thing in a great measure sear and conquer their consciences, and then no wonder if afterwards “they give up themselves to commit all iniquity with greediness.” When, after long abstinence men return to sin again, their lusts are more fierce and violent; like a man who, after long fasting, returns to his meat with a more raging appetite. This our Saviour sets forth to us in the parable of the unclean spirit’s returning again and taking possession of the man, after he had left him: (Matt. xii. 43-45.) “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out: and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and the end of that man is worse than his beginning.” The moral of which is, that when a man hath once left his sins, if afterward he entertain thoughts of returning to them again, sin will return upon him with redoubled force and strength, and his heart will be so much the more prepared and disposed for the entertaining of more and greater vices; and 442his leaving his sins for a time, will he but like a running back, that he may leap with greater violence into hell and destruction.
Besides that, such persons do the greatest injury to God and the holy ways of religion that can be, by forsaking them after they have owned and approved them. For it will not be so much regarded, what wicked men, who have always been so, talk against God and religion; because they do not talk from experience, but “speak evil of the things which they know not:” whereas those who forsake the ways of religion after they have once engaged in them, do disparage religion more effectually, and reproach it with greater advantage; because they pretend to speak from the experience they have had of it, they have tried both the ways of sin and the ways of religion, and, after experience of both, they return to sin again: which, what is it but to proclaim to the world that the ways of sin and vice are rather to be chosen than the ways of holiness and virtue; that the devil is a better master than God, and that a sinful and wicked life yields more pleasure and greater advantages than are to be had in keeping the commandments of God? And this must needs be a high provocation, and a heavy aggravation of our ruin. Let these considerations prevail with us to pursue his holy resolution, after we have taken it up, and to persist in it. There remains only the
VI. Sixth and last particular which I proposed to be spoken to; viz. To add some directions for the maintaining and making good of this resolution of repentance and amendment; and they shall be these three:
1. Let us do all in the strength of God, considering 443our necessary and essential dependance upon him, and that without him and the assistance of his grace we can do nothing. “We are not (as the apostle tells us) sufficient of ourselves, as of ourselves,” that is, without the assistance of God’s Holy Spirit, to think any thing that is good, much less to resolve upon it. “It is God that worketh in us both to will and to do, of his good pleasure;” that is, of his own goodness, as the same apostle speaks, (Phil. ii. 13.) It is God that upholds us in being, and from whom we have all our power as to natural actions; but as to spiritual things, considering the great corruption and depravation of human nature, we stand in need of a more especial and immediate assistance.
If we know any thing of ourselves, we cannot but know what foolish and ignorant creatures we are, how weak and impotent, how averse and opposite to any thing that is good. And therefore it is wise counsel in all cases, but chiefly in spiritual matters, which Solomon gives, (Prov. iii. 5, 6.) “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not to thy own understanding. Acknowledge him in all thy ways, and he shall direct thy steps.” Let us then address ourselves to God, in the words of the holy prophet: (Jer. x. 23.) “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself, and that it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” And let us beg of him, that he would consider our case, commiserate our weakness, and pity our impotency, and that he would join his strength to us, and grant us the assistance of his grace and Holy Spirit, to put us upon sincere resolutions of a new life, and to keep us constant and steadfast to them; “to open the eyes of our minds, and to turn us from 444darkness to light, and from the power of Satan and our lusts unto God; that we may repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance, that so we may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified through faith that is in Christ.”
And for our encouragement in this matter, God hath bid us to apply ourselves to him; and he hath promised not to be wanting to us, in words as express and universal as can well be devised: (Jam. i. 5, 6.) “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask it of God, who giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth no man but let him ask in faith, nothing wavering;” that is, not doubting but that God is both able and willing to give what he asks. And, (Luke xi. 9-13.) “I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened. If a son should ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Of if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” To encourage our faith, our Saviour useth such an argument as may give us the greatest assurance. We are commonly confident, that our earthly parents will not deny us those things that are good and necessary for us, though they may be otherwise evil: “How much more then shall our heavenly Father,” who is essentially and infinitely good, give his Holy Spirit to us? And if this be not enough, St. Matthew 445useth a larger expression, “How much more shall your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him?” If there be any thing that is good, and we stand in need of it, and earnestly pray to God for it, we may be confident that he will give it us.
2. We ought to be very watchful over ourselves, considering our weakness and wavering, and instability and fickleness, the treachery and deceitfulness of our own hearts, and the malice of Satan. It will be a great while before the habits of sin be so weakened and subdued as that we shall have no propension to return to them again; so that our hearts will be often endeavouring to return to their former posture, and, like a deceitful bow, which is not firmly strung, to start back. And besides the deceitfulness of sin and our own hearts, the devil is very malicious, and his malice will make him vigilant to watch all advantages against us; and his great design will be to shake our resolution; for if that stand, he knows his kingdom will fall, and therefore he raiseth all his batteries against this fort, and labours by all means to undermine it; and nothing will be matter of greater triumph to him than to gain a person that was revolted from him, and resolved to leave his service. If, therefore, thou expectest God’s grace and assistance to keep thee steadfast to thy resolution, do not neglect thyself, but “keep thy heart with ail diligence,” and watch carefully over thyself; for because “God worketh in us both to will and to do,” therefore he expects that “we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” lest, by our own carelessness and neglect, we should miscarry.
3. Let us frequently renew and reinforce our 446resolutions, more especially when we think of coming to the sacrament, and approaching the holy table of the Lord. Nothing is more apt to beget in us good resolutions, and to strengthen them, than to consider the dreadful sufferings of the Son of God for our sins, which are so lively set forth and represented to us in this holy sacrament; which, as it is, on God’s part, a seal and confirmation of his grace and love to us; so, on our part, it ought to be a solemn ratification of our covenant with God, “to depart from iniquity,” and “to walk before him in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives.”447
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