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practised among Christians. And what is at the bottom of all this, but only a great deal of spiritual sloth and laziness, that makes them loth to put themselves upon difficulties and hazards; yea and possibly makes them fancy more difficulties and hazards in mortification than indeed there are? Prov. xxvi. 13. The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way, a lion is in the streets: it is a very unlikely thing, that a lion" should be in the street; yet this his sloth suggests to him, as an excuse to keep him from the labour of going abroad. Well, what doth this sluggard do? in the next verse, the Wise Man tells us: As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful man upon his bed: the door turns often, but gains no ground: still it is where it was. So, truly, it is with a slothful Christian, that neglects mortification for fear of difficulties: let him turn himself to whatsoever he*will, yet still he is but upon his hinges: he gains no ground upon his lusts, nor makes any progress towards heaven. Alas! heaven and happiness are not to be obtained with ease: by sitting still and wishing against lust; but by a laborious contending and struggling against it. What saith our Saviour, Matt. xi. 12? The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. There must be a holy roughness and violence used, to break through all that stands in our way; neither caring for allurements, nor fearing opposition: but, with a pious obstinacy, and (if I may so call it) frowardness, we must thrust away the one, and bear down the other. This is the Christian, who will carry heaven by force; when the whining, pusillanimous professor, who only complains of difficulty, but never attempts to conquer it, will be for ever shut out.
V. The next thing to be enquired into, is, WHAT THIS NECESSARY AND YET MUCH NEGLECTED DUTY OF MORTIFICATION IS, AND WHEREIN IT DOTH CONSIST.
An exact method would, perhaps, have called for this first; since it were in vain to press the necessity, and not to open the duty: but I know that there are few here, who, when mention is made of mortification, do not, in the general notion, apprehend it to be some earnest and constant striving against sin, so as to weaken and conquer it: which supposition is a sufficient ground for adjourning the more minute explication of this duty until now.
And herein I shall proceed,
Negatively, to shew you what it is not: which is made apparent by the many counterfeit mortifications that are in the world. Either disciplinary severity, and a pontificial rigour in tormenting, rather than subjecting the outward man; or else, at best, civil morality, are rested in as true mortification. It will be, therefore, of considerable advantage, to uncase to you those appearances of mortification, which yet indeed are not it. <
Positively, I shall endeavour to open what is necessarily required unto true mortification, and wherein that great work and duty doth consist.
i. Negatively, what it is not.
And, here, I need not tell you,
1. That mortification is not the utter and total extirpation and destruction of sin's in-being in the soul.
There are a sort of fanatics, or frantics rather, risen up among us, who, by pretending to that in this life unattainable privilege of a perfect immunity from all sin, do make mortification inconsistent with mortality; and, while they promise to themselves that liberty which God never promised them, they are become the servants of corruption. St. John frequently gives these men the plain lie: 1 John i. 8. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us: v. 10. If we say that we have not sinned, wernake God a liar, and his word is not in us: this is that, which the manifold falls, the grievous outcries, the bitter repentings, the broken bones, and the bloodied consciences, even of the best and perfectest saints on earth, have too sadly attested beyond all contradiction; unless it be from those men, to whom customariness hath made the difference between sinning and forbearing to sin unperceivable. It is, indeed, the sincere desire and endeavour of every child of God, so thoroughly to mortify corruption, that it should never more stir, nor tempt; never more move, nor break forth, unto eternity. Oh! it would be a blessed word of promise, if God should say to us concerning our lusts, as Moses did to the Israelites, "Those Egyptians, whom you have seen this day pursuing your souls, ye shall see them again no more for ever:" no, God is, if I may so say, more provident than to spoil heaven, by Forestalling that happiness, which makes it so infinitely desirable: and, therefore, he here suffers these Canaanites to be thorns in our eyes and scourges in our sides, to sweeten the place of our rest; and, when we are most victorious over them, all that we can do is but to make them subject and tributary: they have so possessed the fastnesses of GUI' souls, that there is but one mortification can drive them out; and that is our dissolution. Under the Ceremonial Law, if an earthen vessel were polluted by any unclean thing, the only way of purification prescribed, was to break it: truly, we are such earthen vessels, though mortification may scour and cleanse us from much of that filth which cleaveth to us; yet we can never be fully purified, till death breaks us to pieces. It was only sin, that brought death into the world; and it is only death, that can carry sin out of the world. So that every true Christian is another Sampson: he slays more of the uncircumcised at his death, than he did in all his lifetime before. It is true, God is many times pleased to vouchsafe eminent and signal successes, in a way of mortification; but yet these are but as it were pickeering small conquests, obtained by singling out some particular lusts: it is only death, that makes the general defeat and slaughter. And, therefore, as the weakest grace is sufficient to destroy the reign of sin; so the strongest grace, exercised in the most constant and severe course of mortification, is insufficient to destroy its residence.
That is the First thing.'
2. A harsh severity and rigour used only towards the outward man, is not true mortification.
This is that, which blind devotionists rest upon; who, by sharp penances, long fastings, and other ways of ignorant will-worship, do go the way rather to destroy themselves than their corruptions. This churlish and rugged way of mortification is altogether as incongruous, as if a man should lay a plaster upon his clothes to cure a wound in his body. Should he tell down rivers of tears for every vain thought, should he fine himself in a thousand prayers for the commission of every sin, should he fast till his skin cleaveth to his bones and his bones stare him in the face; yet all this would be as far from the mortification of sin, as it is from a satisfaction for sin: all these cannot reach that bottom and centre of the soul, in which lust sits enthroned,' and despises all the attempts and batteries that men make
against the outworks only. But I need not insist much longer on this particular: the greater light, yea I may say the greater atheism and profaneness of our days, will discharge me from that trouble. Yea, professors themselves, by neglecting that. moderation, which they should use towards the outward man, in diet, in attire, or in any other enjoyment; do omit, if not a part of, if not a means to mortification, yet certainly that sign and character, which should evidence them to all the world, to be mortified persons. The truth is, men now live, as if it nothing at all concerned their souls what their bodies do. Whatsoever these men pretend, yet it must needs be very difficult to believe that there can be humility and mortification in the one, where there is not sobriety and decency in the other.
I will not undertake to prescribe how far a true mortification must, in particular, reach the outward man; yet, in the general, take these Two rules.
(1) All that indulgence, which indisposeth to holy and spiritual duties, or hinders us from them or in them, must, by the exercise of mortification, be taken off and removed.
There must be rigour and severity used, even towards the body, if formerly we found the want thereof made us unfit for or remiss, in the duties of religion. It is fittest for your own Christian prudence, to descend unto particulars; and to examine what it is, that indisposeth you, either in hearing, or in praying, or in any other means of communion with God. Whatever it be, whether it proceed from infirmity or custom and habitude, if it be an occasion to hinder the life and spiritualness of our duties, mortification must be here set on work, though not without violence and regret unto the outward man. What saith the Apostle, 1 Cor. ix. 27? / keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: that is, he made it useful and serviceable to his soul. Where mortification is neglected, even the body, that underling and servile part of man, grows wild and unruly; rebelling against the soul, and hurrying it whither itself will.
(2) All that provision, which indulgence towards the outward man lays in for the flesh to fulfil it in the lusts thereof, must be cut off by the careful exercise of mortification.
Do you find, that the pampering of the outward man, is the strengthening of the Old Man? that outward ease, plenty, or any other conveniences, are but instruments for lust to work with, or objects for it to work upon? it is high time for mortification to be exercised; even about those things, which are lawful, when once lust turns them into food and nourishment for itself. I leave it to your own experience, to frame instances, and accordingly to proceed in mortification for the future.
These two general rules being supposed, (which it were to be wished professors were more careful in observing), whatsoever other severity men execute upon themselves, may be called cruelty and will-worship, but cannot be reckoned for true mortification.
That is the Second thing.
3. The not-breaking-forth of corruption into a scandalous life and conversation, is no evidence of true mortification.
Many men's lusts are like secret imposthumes, that breed within the breast; which are never known, till they prove their deaths. It is not necessary, that unmortified sin should be like a running sore, offensive and noisome to others: it may rankle and fester within, till it become incurable and mortal. Lust hath a large and ample dominion inwards, in the heart: there are thoughts, contrivances, desires, affections, and motions; all which may be altogether unmortified, when yet the life and conversation may be so innocent and blameless, as not to be justly chargeable with the guilt of any one notorious sin. What can we judge of such an one, but that he is a very mortified Christian? yea, but God, who knoweth the heart, yea and possibly his conscience, sees abundance of pride, uncleanness, worldliness, unbelief, contempt of God and his ways, reigning and raging within, in all that strength and power which they have gotten to themselves by so long a continuance, without the least check from mortification.
Now it may be attributed to a Threefold cause, why a lust, that is unmortified, doth not always break forth into gross and scandalous sins.
(1) To that quiet, reserved temper and disposition, that some men are of.
- Their very nature is such, that they will do nothing violently and outrageously; and) therefore, they will not sin so. Some men are rude sinners, and boisterously wicked: others are of a more calm and retired spirit; and yet, possibly, as far from being mortified as the other. Take a true Christian, who hath often sweat and toiled in the mortifying of some particular prevailing lust and corruption to which his temper inclined him, as suppose passionateness or the like, and compare him to one of a smooth, sedate, and even temper, though altogether unac