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ceives the figure of the seal that is applied to it, our minds receive a likeness from the impressions of examples. Therefore a prudence discreet and severe is necessary in the choice of our society. In the human life there is no mistake more dangerous than in the choice of friends with whom we are usually conversant. It is a comprehensive rule, and most useful for the guiding us safely to heaven, to select the wise and holy to be our bosom friends. As a ring touched by a loadstone draws another by an impressed virtue, so in holy society there is divine grace attractive of the hearts of others. “ He that walks with the wise, shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be afflicted :" that is the penal consequence of being corrupted by them. The sensual and luxurious, by their converse, pervert good dispositions in others, and heighten evil inclinations into habits : they are satan's instruments to draw men into his snares, more familiar devils to tempt and destroy souls. He that chooses evil company, is like one that voluntarily frequents a house infected with the plague ; who is either a fool and disyalues life, or desperate and seeks death.
4. We must consider the quality of the times we live in, to discover what sin is predominant in us. There are “ evil days" in the apostle's language, with respect to the temptations and troubles that are concomitant with them, and a wise circumspect walking" is requisite to preserve our innocence and purity. Sometimes those who are dignified with titles and powers, are leaders in sin, and their public practices are so commandingly exemplary, that they easily prevail upon many to follow them; for that is the way to insinuate into their favour, and obtain secular advantages and rewards. From hence it is that some, as if the opposite forms of religion were but different fashions of the same stuff, will put on a new livery according to the master they serve. They have a politic faith, you may coin them a Philip and Mary, or an Elizabeth, as the mintage of the times vary. But the example of the high and noble is no safe rule: a rule of gold, though of value for the matter, yet if crooked, it is useless as a rule. In some ages the poison sheds itself into the whole body of a nation, that rarely any are untainted. The old world was drowned in sensuality, and Noah only escaped. And in the next age, how did idolatry, like an overspreading leprosy infect the world, and Abraham hardly escaped. In Jeremy's time the
land mourned for onths and curses; men were turned breathing devils, and spake the language of hell before they came there. Sometimes all degrees are so corrupt, that vices pass for virtues, the rage of duelling for heroic valour, luxury and sensuatity for innocent and amiable qualities, and holiness, though a divine excellency, and the very beauty of the Deity, is despised and derided : “ thus men glory in their shame, and are ashamed of their glory.” Now there is no tyranny more violent than of a corrupt custom, no contagion more catching than of national sins. The apostle reminds the Ephesians, that in their heathen state “ they walked according to the course of the world.” We are therefore strictly commanded, “ not to be conformed to the world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds, that we may prove what is the good, the acceptable and perfect will of God.” It is the eminent effect of grace to resist the torrent of the times, and to value the conscience of our duty before all worldly respects : accordingly it is recorded to the everlasting honour of Jehoshaphat, “ that he walked in the commandments of God, and not according to the doings of Israel.”
I come to show how the peculiar sin may be discovered from its effects, and the discovery from hence is more sensible, than from the causes : for divine grace may control the efficacy of the causes, that a christian may abhor the sin to which there are strong temptations, but effects emergent from inward lusts, discover the habitual frame of the heart.
Ist. The sin that is frequently and easily committed, and difficultly retracted, is a man's peculiar sin.
(1.) Frequently. Single acts do not denominate a person, but habits that proceed from repeated acts, are characteristical. Noah's single act of drunkenness, which might proceed from his ignorance of the strength of the wine, or the weakness of his brain, did not argue his being addicted to it: but frequent relapses into that sin, denominate a man a drunkard. A train of sinful actions is from a disposition strongly bent to them. If a man be of a choleric nature, anger will be his quotidian; if of a sanguine, licentious mirth will be his tertian. It is the character of man in his unregenerate polluted state, he commits sin, it is his trade; and as any particular lust has dominion in his heart, such is the course of his life. When the inclination leads to a calling, a man applies himself continually to it; for the
work produces delight, and the delight strongly inelines him to work : thus according to the tendency of our corrupt natures is the constant practice of sin. . We may as surely judge of the active powers of the soul by the actions that proceed from them, as of the vigour of the sap in the root, by the number of the fruits of the tree. It is said of the scoffers, “ they walk after their own lusts : which implies the habitual practice of sin, the licence and pleasure they take in a carnal course.
(2.) The sin that is easily committed is our own. As the divine nature in a saint makes him fit for every good work, but especially for the exercise of that grace that is eminently regent in his heart, upon the first call of conscience, he applies himself to his duty : so the corrupt nature prepares men for evil works, and its special tendency is presently inflamed by a suitable object. This indication is clear, with respect to the sins of the desiring and angry appetites. The more quick and speedy the power of a temptation is, the more strong is the vicious inclination. When Achan saw a goodly Babylonish garment and a wedge of gold, he coveted them and took them: the immediate rise of his affection upon the presence of the object, his presumptuous sacrilege, notwithstanding the terrible interdict, was a convincing sign of his worldly mind. So it is said of the young man in the Proverbs, that was enticed by the blandishments of the harlot," he went straightway after her.” When the alluring object presently inveigles the senses, and easily obtains the consent of the will, we may truly infer what passion reigns in the heart. So a man that is soon angry, whose passion like tinder takes fire at a spark, a small occasion may understand what his nature is. A man, of “ a cool spirit,” of meek and mortified passions, is not easily incensed.
(3.) The sin that is difficultly retracted. There are principles of conscience in lapsed nature, concerning good and evil that cannot be rased out, and are improved and heightened by revealed light; from thence there is often an internal conflict between the convinced mind, and the corrupt heart : but the darling lust controls the efficacy of those principles, for nature and custom are of all things most hardly to be changed. Properties inherent in the nature of things are inseparable : thus wallowing in the mire is natural to a swine, and though washed, will return to it. When a lust is deeply rooted in nature, “ men cannot
cease from sin.” We have a sad instance of this in St. Austin, before his entire and blessed conversion. He declares in his confessions, how extreme hard it was to divorce himself from sensual delights; they were incarnated in his nature, engrafted into his affections, and the separation from them was as the flaying him alive. When he prayed for chastity, it was with a restriction, “ Make me chaste, but not too soon :" in the vigour of his age, the sinning season, he was averse to be weaned from those poisonous breasts. Until divine grace changed his nature, he could never rescue himself from the entanglements of his iniquity.
Custom in sin usually proceeds from inclination; and with as strong a sway determines the corrupt will as original nature. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, and the leopard his spots ? then may you who are accustomed to do evil do good.” Dreadful difficulty! some habitual sinners are secure and stupid, and of such depraved obstinacy, that they will not resolve to cleanse themselves from their defilements. In others there are some sparks of religious fear; but notwithstanding the stings of conscience, continue in the practice of sin. The charming lust so long indulged, is imperious and peremptory; and till omnipotent grace unbinds the charm, they are never released from the circle of confessing their sins when their desires are sated, and committing them with new heat and rapture upon the returning temptation. Though convictions be heightened into resolutions, the next temptation hinders the effect : they rescind their solemn and sacred engagements, prefidiously break double chains, the law of God with their own vows, grieve his spirit and wound their own; from hence it is evident that such sins are properly men's own.
2ly. That lust to which others are subservient, has the supremaey in the heart. In all the dominions of satan, there is some special lust that is his viceroy, and keeps possession for him. There is an order in the kingdom of darkness, one sin wants the assistance and countenance of another sometimes to disguise and palliate it, or for the doing it. The reigning sin has, as it were, its court and council, its guard and attendants. To illustrate this by its contrary, it is observable there is a concatenation of virtues, and the superior virtue is assisted by other virtues in its exercise ; 28 justice in dispensing what is due to others, is assisted by fortitude and temperance, which regulate fear and desire, that often hinder its most noble exercise : and the actions immediately Rowing from courage or temperance, are ascribed to justice, to which they are subservient ; for the end and intention constitute the kinds in the ranks of moral things, either virtues or vices. It is the observation of the philosopher, that one who does an act of robbery that he may have money to corrupt a woman, is not so much covetous as incontinent. Joseph's brethren sold him into Egypt, dipped his garment in blood to deceive their father, and thereby contracted a crimson guilt ; but cruelty and hypocrisy were subordinate to their envy: they hated him, because the father's love to them was faint in comparison to the warm beams reflected upon Joseph.
3ly. The darling corruption engrosses the thoughts. There is a natural levity and featheriness in the mind, a strange inconsistency and discurrency of the thoughts, but love will fasten them intensely upon its object. From hence it is that habitual and delightful thoughts are the best discovery of our hearts and our spiritual state. Words and actions may be overruled and counterfeit for divers reasons, but thoughts are the invisible productions of the soul, and without fear or mask, without restraint or disguise, undissemblingly discover the disposition of the heart. Thoughts are the immediate offspring of the soul ; and as the waters that immediately flow from the spring are strongest of the mineral, so the thoughts are most deeply tinctured with the affections. A saint is therefore described by his “meditating in the law of God day and night,” Psalm 1. which is the natural and necessary effect of his delight in it. * Uncounterfeit religion and holiness consist in the order of love, as St. Austin briefly and fully describes it. The will is carried to its object and end by the motion of love, and love applies the mind entirely to the object to which it is strongly inclined. When the heart is corrupt, the ordinary current of the thoughts is in the channel of our lusts. The contriving thoughts, the devices of the mind, the contemplative thoughts and inward musings are conversant about the beloved lust that engages the mind to it. Thus when covetousness is the reigning passion, the mind is in continual exercise to compass secular ends: it is full of projects how to order
Definitio brevis & vera virtutis, ordo est amoris.