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steal a morsel of dung or poison from the devil's table, while you daily feast your souls on Christ: or to steal the onions of Egypt, when you dwell in a land that floweth with milk and honey. But while you keep yourselves in the wilderness, you will be tempted to look back again to Egypt. The great cause of men's sinning, and yielding to the temptations of forbidden pleasures, is because they are negligent to live upon the pleasures of believers.
Direct. 11. Take heed of the beginnings, if ever you would escape the sin.' No man becometh stark naught at the first step. He that beginneth to take one pleasing unprofitable cup or bit, intendeth not drunkenness and gluttony in the grossest sense: but he hath set fire in the thatch, though he did not intend to burn his house; and it will be harder to quench it, than to have forborne at first. He that beginneth but with lascivious dalliance, speeches or embraces, thinketh not to proceed to filthy fornication: but he might better have secured his conscience, if he had never meddled so far with sin. Few ruinating, damning sins, began any otherwise than with such small approaches, as seemed to have little harm or danger.
Direct. 12. If ever you will escape sin, keep off from strong temptations and opportunities.' He that will be still near the fire or water, may be burnt or drowned at last. No man is long safe in the midst of danger, and at the next step to ruin. He that liveth in a tavern or alehouse, had need to be very averse to tippling. And he that sitteth at Dives' table, had need to be very averse to gulosity: and he that is in the least danger of the fire of lust, must keep at a sufficient distance, not only from the bed, and from immodest actions, but from secret company and opportunities of sin, and from a licentious, ungoverned eye and imagination. This caused Christ to say, How hard it is for the rich to be saved! because they have a stronger fleshly interest to keep them from Christ, and godliness, which must be denied; and because their sin hath plentiful provision, and the fire of concupiscence wanteth no fuel, and it is a very easy thing to them still to sin, and always a hard thing to avoid it and man's sluggish nature will hardly long either hold on in that which is hardly done, or forbear that which is still hard to forbear. Good must be made sweet and easy to us, or else we shall never be constant in it.
Direct. 13. If you find any difficulty in forsaking any disgraceful sin, cherish it not by secrecy; but, 1. Plainly confess it to your bosom friend: And, 2. If that will not serve, to others also, that you may have the greater engagements to forbear.'
I know wisdom must be used in such confessions, and they must be avoided when the hurt will prove greater than the good. But fleshly wisdom must be no counsellor, and fleshly interest must not prevail. Secrecy is the nest of sin, where it is kept warm, and hidden from disgrace: turn it out of this nest, and it will the sooner perish. God's eye and knowledge should serve turn; but when it will not, let man know it also, and turn one sin against another, and let the love of reputation help to subdue the love of lust. Opening a sin (yea, or a strong temptation to a sin) doth lay an engagement in point of common credit in the world, upon them that were before under the Divine engagements only. It will be a double shame to sin when once it is known. And as Christ speaketh of a right hand, or eye, so may I of your honour in this case; it is better go to heaven with the shame of a penitent confession, than to keep your honour till you are in hell. The loss of men's good opinion is an easy price, to prevent the loss of your salvation; Prov. xxviii. 13. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." So 1 John i. 9, 10. James v. 15, 16.
Direct. 14. Especially take heed of heinous sins, called mortal,' because inconsistent with sincerity.
Direct. 15. And take heed of those sins which yourselves or others that fear God are in greatest danger of:' of which I will speak a little more distinctly.
What Sins the best should most watchfully avoid. And wherein the Infirmities of the upright differ from the Mortal Sins.
Quest. WHAT sins are religious people who fear sin, most in danger of? And where must they set the strongest watch?'
Answ. 1. They are much in danger of those sins, the
temptations to which are near, and importunate, and constant, and for which they have the greatest opportunities : they have senses and appetites as well as others: and if the bait be great, and always as at their very mouths, even a David, a Solomon, a Noah, is not safe.
2. They are in danger of those sins which they little think of; for it is a sign that they are not forewarned and fortified; nor have they overcome that sin; for victory here is never got at so cheap a rate: especially as to inward sins. If it have not cost you many a groan, and many a day's diligence, to conquer selfishness, pride and appetite ; it is twenty to one they are not conquered.
3. They are much in danger of those sins which they extenuate, and count to be smaller than they are. For indeed their hearts are infected already, by those false and favourable thoughts. And they are prepared to entertain a nearer familiarity with them. Men are easily tempted upon a danger which seemeth small.
4. They are much in danger of those sins, which their constitutions and temperature of body doth incline them to; and therefore must here keep a double watch. No small part of the punishment of our original sin (both as from Adam, and from our nearest parents) is found in the ill complexion of our bodies: the temperature of some inclineth them vehemently to passion; and of others unto lust; and of others to sloth and dullness; and of others to gulosity, &c. And grace doth not immediately change this distemper of the complexion; but only watch over it, and keep it under, and abate it consequently, by contrary actions, and mental dispositions: therefore we shall have here incessant work, while we are in the body. Though yet the power of grace by long and faithful use, will bring the very sense, and imagination, and passions into so much calmness, as to be far less raging, and easily ruled: as a well ridden horse will obey the rider; and even dogs and other brutes will strive but little against our government: and then our work will grow more easy: For as Seneca saith, 'Maxima pars libertatis est bene moratus venter:' A good conditioned belly is a great part of a man's liberty: meaning, an ill conditioned belly is a great part of men's slavery. And the same may be said of all the senses, fantasy and passions in their respective places.
5. We are much in danger of the sins which our callings, trades and worldly interest, do most and constantly tempt us to. Every man hath a carnal interest, which is his great temptation; and every wise man will know it, and there set a double watch. The carnal interest of a preacher, is applause or preferment. The carnal interest of rulers and great men, I shall pass by; but they must not pass it by themselves. The carnal interest of lawyers and tradesmen, is their gain, &c. Here we must keep a constant watch.
6. We are much in danger of those sins, the matter of which is somewhat good and lawful, and the danger lieth only in the manner, circumstances or degree. For there the lawfulness of the matter, occasioneth men to forget the accidental evil. The whole kingdom feeleth the mischief of this, in instances which I will now pass by. If eating such or such a meat were not lawful itself, men would not be so easily drawn to gluttony. If drinking wine were not a lawful thing, the passage to drunkenness were not so open. The apprehension that a lusory lot is a lawful thing (as cards, dice, &c.) doth occasion the heinous sin of timewasting, and estate-wasting gamesters. If apparel were not lawful, excess would not be so easily endured. Yea, the goodness of God's own worship, quieteth many in its great abuse.
7. We are much in danger of those sins, which are not in any great disgrace among those persons whom we most honour and esteem. It is a great mercy to have sin lie under a common odium and disgrace: as swearing and drunkenness, and cursing, and fornication, and Popish errors, and superstition, is now amongst the forwardest professors in England: for here conscience is most awakened, and helped by the opinion of men; or if there be some carnal respect to our reputation in it sometimes, yet it tendeth to suppress the sin: and it is a great plague to live where any great sin is in little disgrace (as profanation of the Lord's day in most of the reformed churches beyond sea; and they say, tippling, if not drunkenness in Germany; and as backbiting and evil-speaking against those that differ from them, is among the professors in England, for too great a part; and also many superstitions of their own; and dividing principles and practices).
8. But especially if the greater number of godly people
live in such a sin, then is the temptation great indeed; and it is but few of the weaker sort, that are not carried down that stream. The Munster case, and the rebellion in which Munster perished in Germany, and many others; but especially abundance of schisms from the apostles' days till now, are too great evidences of men's sociableness in sinning. "We all like sheep have gone astray, and turned every one to his own way;" Isa. liii. 6. And like sheep in this, that if one that is leading, get over the hedge, all the rest will follow after; but especially if the greater part be gone. And do not think that our churches are infallible, and that the greater part of the godly cannot err, or be in the wrong: for that would be but to do as the Papists, when we have sinned by fallibility, to keep off repentance by the conceit of infallibility.
9. We are in great danger of sinning, in cases where we are ignorant for who can avoid the danger which he seeth not? And who can walk safely in the dark? Therefore we see that it is the more ignorant sort of Christians, and such as Paul calleth novices, that most err; especially when pride accompanieth ignorance, for then they fall into the special condemnation of the devil; 1 Tim. iii. 6. Study therefore painfully and patiently till you understand the truth.
10. But above all, we are in danger of those sins which are masked with a pretence of the greatest truths and duties, and use to be fathered on God and Scripture; and go under the specious titles of holiness and of free grace. For here it is the understanding chiefly that resisteth, while the very names and pretences secretly steal in, and bring them into love and reverence with the will. And the poor honest Christian is afraid of resisting them, lest it should prove a resisting God. What can be so false that a man will not plead for, if he take it to be a necessary truth of God? And what can be so bad that a man will not do, if he take it once to be of God's commanding? The aforesaid instances of the Munster and German actions, with those of the followers of David George in Holland, (who took himself to be the Holy Ghost, or the immediate prophet of his kingdom,) and Hacket and his Grundletonians; and the Familists, the Ranters, the Seekers, the Quakers, the Church-dividers, and the Kingdom and State-overturners in England, have given