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perdition of their own souls. How this comes about, the apostle declares in that place mentioned; they are, saith he, entangled again'; to entice and entangle, as I have shewed before from James i. 14, 15. is the proper work of indwelling sin; it is that alone which entangles the soul; as the apostle speaks, ver. 18. They are allured from their whole profession, into cursed apostacỹ, through the lusts of the flesh.
It prevails upon them through its deceit and power to an utter relinquishment of their profession, and their whole engagement unto God. And this several ways evinces the greatness of its strength and efficacy.
(1.) In that it giveth stop or control unto that exceeding greatness of power which is put forth in the word, in their conviction and reformation. We see it by experience, that men are not easily wrought upon by the word ; the most of men can live under the dispensation of it all the days of their lives, and continue as senseless and stupid as the seats they sit upon, or the flint in the rock of stone. Mighty difficulties and prejudices must be conquered, great strokes must be given to the conscience before this can be brought about. It is as the stopping of a river in his course, and turning his streams another way; the hindering of a stone in his falling downwards, or the turning away of the wild ass, when furiously set to pursue his way, as the prophet speaks, Jer. ii. 24. To turn men from their corrupt ways, sins, and pleasures; to make them pray, fast, hear, and do many things contrary to the principle of flesh, which is secretly predominant in them, willingly and gladly; to cause them to profess Christ and the gospel, it may be under some trials and reproaches; to give them light to see into sundry mysteries, and gifts for the discharge of sundry duties ; to make dead, blind, senseless men to walk, and talk, and do all the outward offices and duties of living and healthy men, with the like attendencies of conviction and reformation, are the effects and products of mighty power and strength. Indeed the power that the Holy Ghost puts forth by the word, in the staggering and conviction of sinners, in the wakening of their consciences, the enlightening of their minds, the changing of their affections, the awing of their hearts, the reforming of their lives, and compelling them to duties, is inexpressible.
But now, unto all these is there check and control given by indwelling sin. It prevails against this whole work of the Spirit by the word, with all the advantages of providential dispensations, in afflictions and mercies, wherewith it is attended. When sin is once enraged, all these things become but like the withs and cords wherewith Samson was bound before his head was shaven : cry but to it, The Philistines are upon thee, there is a subtle, a suitable temptation, now shew thy strength and efficacy, all these things become like tow that have smelt the fire. Conscience is stifled, reputation in the church of God despised, light supplanted, the impressions of the word cast off, convictions digested, heaven and hell are despised; sin makes its way through all, and utterly turns the soul from the good and right ways of God. Sometimes it doth this subtilely, by imperceptible degrees, taking off all force of former impressions from the Spirit by the word, sullying conscience by degrees, hardening the heart, and making sensual the affections by various workings, that the poor backslider in heart scarce knows what he is doing, until he be come to the very bottom of all impiety, profaneness, and enmity against God. Sometimes falling in conjunction with some vigorous temptation, it suddenly, and at once, plunges the soul into a course of alienation from God, and the profession of his ways.
(2.) It takes them off from those hopes of heaven, which upon their convictions, obedience, and temporary faith or believing, they had attained. There is a general hope of heaven, or at least of the escaping of hell, of an untroublesome immortality, in the most sottish and stupid souls in the world, who either by tradition or instruction from the word, are persuaded that there is another state of things to come after this life; but it is in unconvinced, unenlightened persons, a dull, senseless, unaffecting thing, that hath no other hold upon them, nor power in them, but only to keep them free from the trouble and perplexity of contrary thoughts and apprehensions. The matter is otherwise with them who by the word are so wrought upon as we have before declared; their hope of heaven and a blessed immortality is ofttimes accompanied with great joys and exultations, and is a relief unto them, under and against the worst of their fears and trials. It is such as they would not part withal for all the world; and upon all occasions they retreat in their minds unto it, for comfort and relief.
Now all this by the power of sin are they prevailed withal to forego. Let heaven go if it will, a blessed immor-tality with the enjoyment of God himself, sin must be served, and provision made to fulfil the lusts thereof.
If a man, in the things of this world, had such a hope of a large inheritance, of a kingdom, as wherein he is satisfied that it will not fail him, but that in the issue he shall surely enjoy it, and lead a happy and a glorious life in the possession of it many days; if one should go to him and tell him, It is true, the kingdom you look for is an ample and honourable dominion, full of all good things desirable, and you may attain it; but come, cast away all hopes and expectations of it, and come join with me in the service and slavery of such or such an oppressing tyrant. You will easily grant, he must have some strange bewitching power with him, that should prevail with a man in his wits to follow his advice. Yet thus it is, and much more so, in the case we have in hand. Sin itself cannot deny, but that the kingdom of heaven, which the soul is in hope and expectation of, is glorious and excellent, nor doth it go about to convince him that his thoughts of it are vain, and such as will deceive him, but plainly prevails with him to cast away
his hopes, to despise his kingdom that he was in expectation of, and that upon no other motive but that he may serve some worldly, cruel, or filthy and sensual lust; certainly here lies a secret efficacy, whose depths can not be fathomed.
(3.) The apostle manifests the power of the entanglements of sin in and upon apostates, in that it turns them off from the way of righteousness after they have known it ;' 2 Pet. ii. 21. It will be found at the last day an evil thing and a bitter, that men live all their days in the service of sin, self, and the world, refusing to make any trial of the ways of God whereunto they are invited; though they have no experience of their excellency, beauty, pleasantness, safety; yet, having evidence brought unto them from God himself, that they are so, the refusal of them will, I say, be bitterness in the latter end. But their condition
is yet far worse, who, as the apostle speaks, having known the way of righteousness, are by the power of indwelling sin, turned aside from the holy commandment. To leave God for the devil, after a man hath made some trial of him and his service; heaven for hell, after a man hath, had some cheering, refreshing thoughts of it; the fellowship of the saints, for an ale-house or a brothel-house, after a man hath been admitted unto their communion, and tasted of the pleasantness of it; to leave walking in pure, clear, straight paths, to wallow in mire, draughts and filth, this will be for a lamentation ; yet this doth sin prevail upon apostates unto; and that against all their light, conviction, experiences, professions, engagements, or whatever may be strong upon them to keep them up to the known ways of righteousness.
(4.) It evinces its strength in them by prevailing with them unto a total renunciation of God as revealed in Christ, and the power of all gospel truth, in the sin against the Holy Ghost. I do not now precisely determine what is the sin against the Holy Ghost; nor wherein it doth consist. There are different apprehensions of it; all agree in this; that by it an end is put to all dealings between God and man in a way of grace. It is a sin unto death. And this doth the hardness and blindness of many men's hearts bring them to; they are by them at length set out of the reach of mercy. They choose to have no more to do with God; and God swears that they shall never enter into his rest. So sin brings forth death. A man by. it is brought to renounce the end for which he was made; wilfully to reject the means of his coming to the enjoyment of God, to provoke him to his face; and so to perish in his rebellion,
I have not mentioned these things, as though I hoped by them to set out to the full the power of indwelling sin in unregenerate men : only by a few instances I thought to give a glimpse of it. He that would have a fuller view of it, had need only to open his eyes, to take a little view of that wickedness which reigneth, yea, rageth all the world
Let him consider the prevailing flood of the things mentioned by Paul to be the fruits of the flesh,' Gal. v. 19-21. that is, among the sons of men, in all places, nations, cities, towns, parishes; and then let him add thereunto but this one consideration, that the world, which is full of the steam, filth, and blood of these abominations, as to their outward actings of them, is a pleasant garden, a paradise, compared to the heart of man, wherein they are all conceived, and hourly millions of more vile abominations, which being stifled in the womb, by some of the ways! before insisted on, they are never able to bring forth to light. Let a man, I say, using the law for his light and rule, take this course, and if he have any spiritual discern
may quickly attain satisfaction in this matter. And I shewed in the entrance of this discourse, how this consideration doth fully confirm the truth proposed.
The strength of sin evidenced from its resistance unto the power
of the law.
The measure of the strength of any person, or defenced city, may be well taken from the opposition that they are able to withstand, and not be prevailed against. If we hear of a city that has endured a long siege from a potent enemy, and yet is not taken or conquered, whose walls have endured great batteries, and are not demolished, though we have never seen the place, yet we conclude it strong, if not impregnable.
And this consideration will also evidence the power and strength of indwelling sin; it is able to hold out, and not only to live, but also to secure its reign and dominion, against very strong opposition that is made unto it.
I shall instance only in the opposition that is made unto it by the law, which is ofttimes great and terrible, always fruitless; all its assaults are borne by it, and it is not prevailed against. There are sundry things wherein the law opposeth itself to sin, and the power of it. As,
(1.) It discovers it; sin in the soul is like a secret hectical distemper in the body; its being unknown and unperceived, is one great means of its prevalency. Or as traitors in a civil state, whilst they lie hid, they vigorously carry on their design. The greatest part of men in the world, know nothing of this sickness, yea, death of their