« AnteriorContinuar »
teous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression;' and that, if you fall, ‘the unclean spirit, that had been driven out of
shall return with seven other devils, to make your last state worse than the first.' A baffled repentance is apt to leave behind it a stupid mind, and an insensible conscience. Remember Lot's wife, who, upon looking back on the city of sin, was hardened into a pillar of salt.
The third motive to watchfulness, I shall mention, is drawn from the uncertainty of the time in which it will please God to call for you. As that time steals upon you
like a thief in the night, and you know neither the day nor the hour of your Master's coming,' you ought to watch incessantly; for should he find you off your guard, or fallen asleep, or parlying with the enemy, you are undone for ever. Death, considered merely as a natural consequence and termination of life, ought not to be dreaded. But when we regard it as the end of all trial, and the commencement of an unchangeable state, in which we shall enjoy the greatest happiness, or suffer the greatest misery, for ever, no subject can serve better to awaken our reflections. But, if you consider that the time of its arrival is altogether uncertain, and that although you may live many years, yet you may die to-morrow; nay, in a few hours or minutes, have your fate fixed for ever, you must indeed be the most thoughtless of men, if you do not stand upon your guard, and do all you can to hold yourself in readiness. When this reverser of all things, this terror of nature, this fixer of your doom, is going his rounds, and every moment seizing in your sight, perhaps at your very side, this young and hale, as well as that aged and sickly acquaintance, is it possible you can sit unconcerned all the time, as if you alone were out of his reach, or no way interested in the change he threatens you with? Can you look on death as the greatest of all terrors, and yet take no religious alarms from thence? It is true there are those, who, living like beasts, entertain the same dread of death that beasts do, and consider it only as a horrid fit of pain, which spoils eating, and drinking, and other animal amusements of the like nature. But you, who are a Christian, cannot be of this number, and therefore must carry your alarms about death to somewhat of infinitely greater consequence than dying itself.
Beside the motives to vigilance, there are many other powerful props to support him, who standeth, and prevent his falling; but he himself must apply them all.
The greatest seeming difficulty in the way of a virtuous perseverance is, that, since the corruption of our nature, we are to work out our reformation in a crowd of temptations, to cleanse ourselves in the midst of filth. But from this very consideration, a great help may be drawn for perseverance; for what can more effectually keep you on your guard, than to find yourself surrounded with enemies and snares? And will not a thorough alarm make you safer, though in the midst of many dangers, than you would be, were there few, and you at the same time careless and secure? You often see people stumbling and falling, through carelessness, upon an even road, while others, who walk circumspectly, pass safely over the roughest. But even sin itself may become its own cure in a sensible mind; for he who is not past feeling, nor deprived of his memory, may easily arm himself with reflections on the foulness and bitterness of sin, already tasted, against enticements to new acts of sin. The world and the flesh, it is true, tempt you; but have you not, after listening to their promises, found them followed with nothing but 'vanity and vexation of spirit?' And having so woful experience for your monitor, can you be stupid enough to believe them again? Have you no indignation to incense you against yourself, for so many shameful falls ? Nor no resolution to arm you against the like miserable instances of folly and weakness, for the time to come?
But to give you a sufficient command over yourself, that you may not every moment be in danger of seeing yourself bound, like a slave, by some vicious passion or habit, and carried from your intended course of virtue, or thrown headlong from the height you have already attained to, you must remember to be temperate in all things;' you must. learn to think with contempt of fleshly pleasures, of temporal possessions, of the pomps and vanities you renounced in baptism. Particularly you will reap infinite advantage from moderation in eating and drinking; the rule of which, is, to supply your body only with so much of each as is ne-: cessary for your health. You must have been very inob .
servant about yourself, if you have not found, that you are always more addicted to every sort of feshly desire and lust, after a full meal, accompanied with a considerable quantity of strong drink, than when you have contented yourself with barely satisfying the cravings of nature. Pride, anger, and incontinence, are the distinguishing vices . of the high fed. Your lusts will be sure to follow you, like dogs, as long as you feed them. Your soul is, by your religion, engaged in a war with your flesh. Knowing this, will you put weapons into the hand of your enemy? Will you supply his, garrison with provisions? A cool head, and obedient passions, are absolutely necessary to perseverance in virtue ; and you cannot but be sensible, how much intemperance clouds the understanding, and inflames the heart. Unnatural appetite, like a child, if often denied, will forget to crave; and if you have nothing but your naturab appetites to deal with, you have the less reason to apprehend a fall; for although they too are corrupt, yet they are weak and easily subdued.
But farther: As, in order to a final victory over your corruptions, without which you can never be safe, it will be necessary, not only to avoid all provocatives to vice, but also to arm yourself with the weapons of a more exalted virtue, you will find it highly useful to you, to deny yourself on some occasions, even the innocent indulgence of your desires, particularly by fasting, if your constitution will bear it. By temperance you only fight your enemy upon the confines between you and him, and are for the most part on the defensive; but by fasting you make an actual attack upon him, and carry the war into his territories, into his very camp. Temperance may moderate, but fasting will mortify, your inordinate affections. To abstain from sensual gratifications is the best preparative to the tasting of spiritual pleasures, and the enjoyment of God. In abstinence, the soul being disentangled from fleshly appetites, and shut in from outward objects, as if lightened of a heavy burden, finds itself naturally disposed to rise, on the wings of devotion and divine love, to the blessed and glorious fountain of true enjoyment. Although this Christian duty may seem somewhat irksome to you, yet as it may
be necessary to your safety in a thorough change of life, you:
cannot in prudence neglect it. It is said of the serpent, that, when it hath renewed its skin, it squeezes through some narrow passage, and rubs off the old one. If you are really become a new creature, you will think it no great hardship to wear off the old man, who still sticks to you, and may seduce you, in the severities of self-denial; which, if persevered in, will in a little time turn to pleasures of a most sweet and engaging relish.
Besides, the performance of this duty will give prodigious alacrity and force to those meditations, by which, in order farther to prevent your falling from God, it will be necessary for you to enter deep into your own breast, that you may there, by an often-repeated, and long-continued, and close examination of yourself, find out what to guard against, and on what ill-fortified quarter to place your most watchful centinels, as well as your most powerful engines of defence. Here, in your own heart, is the fountain of all your corruptions, the nest of all your enemies, the proper objects of all your apprehensions, the important field, where the great battle is to be fought, in which your eternal fate is to be decided.
Having thus taken the necessary measures within yourself, it will be then time to call in other allies to your assistance. Then fly, when you are hunted by the enemy of your soul, to the company of good men; and enter with them into serious discourse, about your temptations and dangers; call on them for advice and help; lay yourself under a rule to confess, not only your weaknesses, but your actual sins, to some person, whom you stand most in awe of for his good life, and who, by his skill in religion, may help to rouse, alarm, or encourage, you in the race that is set before you. If you do this, you will find your flagging resolutions kindling, your dying piety reviving, and a surprising reinforcement of vigour, new-edging and new-pointing all the powers of your
soul. Such is the balsam that flows from the tongue of a religious and faithful friend. We find in the holy Scriptures, that this practice of confessing their sins one to another, and asking the prayers of their pious neighbours, was very common in the apostolical times. St. James even commands it as a duty; and, to encourage us to it, tells us, in the
same verse, that, “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man prevaileth much.'
Lastly, As you will find nothing but enemies within yourself, and perpetual causes of alarm from every thing about you, which neither you, nor all the assistance man can lend you, will be able to subdue, or guard you sufficiently against, you must cast your eyes up to God, and call him into your heart, duly prepared for his reception, with all the anxiety and vehemence of a soul, that sees it is to be utterly undone without his assistance. You can do nothing of yourself; but you may do all things in him, who strengtheneth you, and whose grace is sufficient for you. And lest you should unhappily miss the occasion of receiving the divine succours, you should seek them diligently in the ordinances of God, in his house, and at his table, whither you ought constantly to repair for new supplies. Now, if God vouchsafe you his assistance (which on such application he is too gracious to refuse); and you take proper care to improve and apply the helps he lends you, you may be assured the happy work is done, and you shall never greatly fall ; you shall stand arrayed in the whole armour of God; you shall watch ; you shall stand fast in the faith ; you shall quit yourself like a man, and shall be strong in the power of the Lord, and in his might. You shall endure unto the end, and be saved;! you shall resist all temptations; and when you have been sufficiently tried, you shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.'
Who folds his hands, when the enemy is laying at him? Who sleeps, when the trumpet sounds to battle? Who feasts, or dances to soft music, or dallies with his pleasures, when his adversaries are shouting for the charge? Who slumbers on the deceitful lap of Delilah, when the Philistines are upon him? O that the battles of religion and heaven against sin and damnation were fought with that engagement of heart and spirit, with that animosity and fire, which are shewn in our wars about worldly trifles! Then should we make glorious. triumphs, and reap immortal crowns.
But alas! we either bring not our hearts with us to this spiritual warfare, or find them there among the foremost and most dangerous of our enemies. By what stratagem shall