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If ever we would cleanse our way, it must be by taking heed thereunto according to the word of God. And that word which is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, will certainly discover many things to be sinful and heinous, which pass for very innocent in the eyes of the world: let us therefore imitate the Psalmist, who saith, Concerning the works of men, by the words of thy lips,
have kept myself from the paths of the destroyer. Let us acquaint ourselves with the strict and holy laws of our religion; let us consider the discourses of our blessed Saviour, (especially that divine sermon on the mount,) and the writings of his holy apostles, where an ingenious and unbiassed mind may clearly discern those limits and bounds by which our actions ought to be confined. And then let us never look upon any sin as light and inconsiderable; but be fully persuaded that the smallest is infinitely heinous in the sight of God, and prejudicial to the souls of men; and that, if we had a right sense of things, we should be as deeply affected with the least irregularities, as now we are with the highest crimes. We must resist the temptations of sin, by consider
ing the evils they will draw on us. But now, amongst those things which we discover to be sinful, there will be some, unto which, through the disposition of our nature, or long custom, or the endearments of pleasure, we are so much wedded, that it will be like cutting off the right hand, or pulling out the right eye, to abandon them. But must we therefore sit down and wait till all difficulties are over, and every temptation be gone? This were to imitate the fool in the poet, who stood the whole day at the river side, till all the waters should run by. We must not indulge our inclinations, as we do little children, till they grow weary of the thing they are unwilling to let go; we must not continue
our sinful practices, in hopes that the divine grace will one day overpower our spirits, and make us hate them for their own deformity.
Let us suppose the worst, that we are utterly destitute of any supernatural principle, and want that taste by which we should discern and abhor perverse things: yet sure we are capable of some considerations which may be of force to persuade us to this reformation of our lives. If the inward deformity and heinous nature of sin cannot affect us, at least we may be frighted by those dreadful consequences that attend it: that same selfish principle which pusheth us forward unto the pursuit of sinful pleasures, will make us loth to buy them at the rate of everlasting misery. Thus we may encounter self-love with its own weapons, and employ one natural inclination for repressing the exorbitances of another. Let us therefore accustom ourselves to consider seriously, what a fearful
thing it must needs be to irritate and offend that infinite Being, on whom we hang and depend every moment; who needs but to withdraw his mercies to make us miserable, or his assistance to make us nothing. Let us frequently remember the shortness and uncertainty of our lives, and how that, after we have taken a few turns more in the world, and conversed a little longer amongst men, we must all go down into the dark and silent grave, and carry nothing along with us but anguish and regret for all our sinful enjoyments; and then think what horror must needs seize the guilty soul, to find itself naked and all alone before the severe and impartial judge of the world, to render an exact account, not only of its more important and considerable transactions, but of every word that the tongue hath uttered, and the swiftest and most secret thought that ever passed through the mind. Let us sometimes represent unto vurselves the terrors of that dreadful day, when the foundations of the earth shall be shaken, and the heavens shall away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the present frame of nature be dissolved, and our eyes shall see the blessed Jesus (who came once into the world in all humility to
visit us, to purchase pardon for us, and beseech us to accept of it) now appearing in the majesty of his glory, and descending from heaven in flaming fire, to take vengeance on those that have despised his mercy, and persisted in rebellion against him: when all the hidden things of darkness shall be brought to light, and the counsels of the heart shall be made manifest: when those secret impurities and subtle frauds whereof the world did never suspect us, shall be exposed and laid open to public view, and many thousand actions which we never dreamed to be sinful, or else had altogether forgotten, shall be charged home to our consciences, with such evident convictions of guilt, that we shall neither be able to deny nor excuse them. Then shall the angels in heaven, and all the saints that ever lived on the earth, approve that dreadful sentence which shall be passed on wicked men; and those who perhaps did love and esteem them when they lived in the world, shall look upon them with indignation and abhorrence, and never make one request for their deliverance. Let us consider the eternal punishment of damned souls, which are shadowed forth in scripture by metaphors taken from those things that are most terrible and grievous in the world, and yet all do not suffice to convey unto our minds any full apprehensions of them. When we have joined together the importance of all these expressions, and added unto them whatever our fancy can conceive of misery and torment, we must still remember, that all this comes infinitely short of the truth and reality of the thing.
It is true, this is a sad and melancholy subject; there is anguish and horror in the consideration of it; but sure it must be infinitely more dreadful to endure it: and such thoughts as these may be very useful to fright us from the courses that would lead us thither; how fond soever we may be of sinful pleasures, the fear of hell would make us abstain: our most forward inclinations will startle and give back, when pressed with that question in the prophet, Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?
To this very purpose it is, that the terrors of another world are so frequently represented in holy writ, and that in such terms as are most proper to affect and influence a carnal mind: these fears can never suffice to make any person truly good, but certainly they may restrain us from much evil, and have often made way for more ingenuous and kindly impressions. We must keep a constant watch over ourselves.
But it will not suffice to consider these things once and again, nor to form some resolutions of abandoning our sins, unless we maintain a constant guard, and be continually watching against them. Sometimes the mind is awakened to see the dismal consequences of a vicious life, and straight we are resolved to reform: but, alas! it presently falleth asleep, and we lose that prospect which we had of things, and then temptations take the advantage; they solicit and importune us continually, and so do frequently engage our consent before we are aware. It is the folly and ruin of most people to live at adventure, and take part in every thing that comes in their way, seldom considering what they are ahout to say or do. If we would have our resolutions take effect, we must take heed unto our ways, and set a watch before the door of our lips, and examine the motions that arise in our hearts, and cause them to tell us whence they come, and whither they go; whether it be pride or passion, or any corrupt and vicious humour, that prompteth us to any design; and whether God will be offended, or any body harmed by it. And if we have no time for long reasonings, let us at least turn our eyes toward God, and place ourselves in his presence, to ask his leave and approbation for what we do: let us consider ourselves under the all-seeing eye of that divine Majesty, as in the midst of an infinite globe of light, which compasseth us about both behind and before, and pierceth to the innermost corners of our soul. The sense and remembrance of the divine presence is the most ready and effectual means, both to discover what is unlawful, and to restrain us from it. There are some
things a person could make shift to palliate or defend, and yet he dares not look almighty God in the face, and adventure upon them. If we look unto him, we shall be lightened; if we set him always before us, he will guide us by his eye, and instruct us in the way wherein we ought to walk.
We must often examine our actions. This care and watchfulness over our actions, must be seconded by frequent and serious reflections upon them, not only that we may obtain the divine mercy and pardon for our sins, by an humble nd sorrowful acknowledgement of them; but also that we may re-enforce and strengthen our resolutions, and learn to decline or resist the temptations by which we have been formerly foiled. It is an advice worthy of a Christian, though it did first drop from a heathen pen,
" That before we betake ourselves to rest, we renew and examine all the passages of the day, that we may have the comfort of what we have done aright, and may redress what we find to have been amiss, and make the shipwrecks of one day be as marks to direct our course in another.” This may be called the very art of virtuous living, and would contribute wonderfully to advance our reformation, and preserve our innocency. But, withal, we must not forget to implore the divine assistance, especially against those sins that do most easily beset us: and though it be supposed that our hearts are not yet moulded into that spiritual frame which should render our devotions acceptable, yet, methinks, such considerations as have been proposed to deter us from sin, may also stir us up to some natural seriousness, and make our prayers against it as earnest, at least, as they are wont to be against other calamities: and I doubt not but God, who heareth the cry of the ravens, will have some regard even to such petitions as proceed from those natural passions which himself hath implanted in us. Besides, that those prayers against sin, will be powerful engagements on ourselves to excite us to watchfulness and
and common ingenuity will make us ashamed to relapse into