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pride into disquietness and desires of revenge; or applause doth ferment it into tumour or self-exaltation, they observe not then the distemper when it is up and most observable, because the nature of sin is to please and blind, and cheat the mind into a consent. And when the sin seems past, and they find themselves in a seeming humility and meekness, they judge of themselves as then they find themselves, as thinking that distemper is past and cured, and they are not to judge of themselves by what they were, but what they are. And by that rule every drunkard or whoremonger should judge themselves temperate, and chaste, as soon as they forbear the act of sin. And what if poverty, age, or sickness, hinder them from ever committing either of them again? For all this, the person is a drunkard or fornicator still; because the act is not pardoned, nor the heart sanctified, and the habit or corrupt inclination mortified. And thus passionate persons do judge of themselves by their milder temper, when no temptation kindleth the flame. But little doth many a one know himself, what corruption is latent in his heart, till trial shall disclose it, and draw it into sight. Jam diu diabolus (inq. Aug.) sopitum ignem sine ullis flammis occultat, donec duas faculas jungens ambas simul accendat,' &c. If these persons be not always sinning, they will not take themselves for sinners: but he that hath once sinned knowingly, in God's account continueth in the sin, till his heart be changed by true repentance.
Yet, on the other side, I would not wrong any upright soul, by persuading them to judge of themselves, as they are at the worst, in the hour of temptation; for so they will be mistaken as certainly, though not as dangerously as the other.
You may ask them, 'What is to be done in such a difficult case? If we must neither judge of ourselves as we are at the best out of temptation, nor yet as we are at the worst in the hour of temptation, when, and how then shall we judge of ourselves?'
I answer, it is one thing to know our particular sins, and their degrees, and another thing to know our state in general, whether we are justified and sanctified or not. To discern what particular sin is in us, and how apt it is to break forth into act, we must watch all the stirrings and appearings of it, in the time of the temptation: but to discern whether it be unmortified and have dominion, we must observe these rules:
1. There is no man on earth that is perfectly free from sin: and therefore it is no good consequence that sin reigneth unto death, because it is not perfectly extinguished, or because it is sometimes committed, unless in the cases after expressed.
2. No sin that is truly mortified and repented of, shall condemn the sinner: for pardon is promised to the truly penitent.
3. Whatever sin the will, according to its habitual inclination, had rather leave than keep, is truly repented of and mortified. For the will is the principal seat of sin; and there is no more sinfulness, than there is wilfulness.
4. There are some sins which cannot be frequently committed in consistency with true grace, or sincere repentance; and some which may be frequently committed in consistency with these. As where sins are known and great, or such as are easily subject to the power of a sanctified will, so that he that will reject them, may: as one such sin must have actual repentance, if actually known; so the frequent committing of such will not consist with habitual repentance. Whereas those sins, that are so small as upright persons, perhaps may not be sufficiently excited to resistance; or such as upon the sincere use of means are still unknown, or such as a truly sanctified will may not subdue, are all of them consistent with repentance and a justified state: and in this sense we reject not that distinction between moral and venial sin; that is, between sin inconsistent with a state of spiritual life, and sin consistent with it, and consequently pardoned. He that had rather leave the former sort, (the mortal sins,) will leave them; and he that truly repents of them, will forsake them. But for the other (consistent with life) we must say, that a man may possibly retain them, that yet had rather leave them, and doth truly repent of them.
5. A sin of carnal interest (esteemed good, in order to something which the flesh desireth; and so loved and deliberately kept) hath more of the will, and is more inconsistent with repentance, than a sin of mere passion or surprise, which is not so valued upon the account of such an interest.
6. They that have grace enough to avoid temptations to mortal or reigning sin, and consequently that way to avoid the sin, shall not be condemned for it, whatever a stronger temptation might have done.
7. Where bodily diseases necessitate to an act, or the
omission of an act, the will is not to be charged with that which it cannot overcome, notwithstanding an unfeigned willingness. As if a man in a frenzy or distraction should swear or curse, or blaspheme; or one in a lethargy, or potent melancholy, cannot read, or pray, or meditate, &c.
8. As frequent commissions of venial sins (or such as are consistent with true grace) will not prove the soul unsanctified; so the once committing of a gross sin by surprise, which is afterward truly repented of, will not prove the absence of habitual repentance, or spiritual life, so as the frequent committing of such sins will.
So that I conclude, in order to the detection of the sin itself, we must all take notice of ourselves as at the worst, and see what it is that temptation can do: but in order to the discovery of our state, and whether our sins are pardoned or no, we must especially observe whether their eruptions are such as will consist with true habitual repentance, and to note what temptations do with us. To this end,
Direct. 4. Observe then the workings and discoveries of the heart, and judge of its abundance, or habits, by your words and deeds. Note what you were when you had opportunity to sin, when the full cup of pleasure was held out to you, when preferment was before you, when injury or provoking words did blow the coal: if then sin appeared, judge not that you are free, and that none of the roots are latent in your hearts: or if you are sure that such dispositions are hated, repented of and mortified, yet you may hence observe what diseases of soul you should chiefly strive against, to keep them under, and prevent a new surprise or increase. It is usual for such licentiousness, such selfseeking, such ugly pride and passion, to break forth upon some special temptations, which for many years together did never appear to the person that is guilty, or to any other, that it should keep the best in fear and self-suspicion, and cause them to live in constant watchfulness, and to observe the bent and motions of their souls; and to make use afterward of such discoveries as they have made to their cost in time of trial.
And it much concerneth all true Christians, to keep in remembrance the exercise and discoveries of grace, which formerly upon trial did undoubtedly appear, and did convince them of the sincerity which afterward they are apt
again to question. Will you not believe that there is a sun in the firmament, unless it always shine upon you; or that it is hot, unless it be always summer? Will you not believe that a man can speak, unless he be always speaking? It is weakness and injurious rashness in those Christians, that upon every damp that seizeth on their spirits, will venture to deny God's former mercies, and say, that they had never special grace, because they feel it not at present: that they never prayed in sincerity, because some distemper at present discomposeth or overwhelmeth them: that their former zeal and life was counterfeit, because they are grown more cold and dull; that former comforts were all but hypocritical delusions, because they are turned now to sorrows: As much as to say, "Because I am now sick, I was never well, nor so much as alive.' O were it not for the tender compassions of our Father, and the sure performance of our Lord and Comforter, and that our peace is more in his hand than our own, (though more in our own than any others,) it could never be that a poor distempered, imperfect soul should here have any constancy of peace, considering the power of self-love and partiality on one side, and of grief and fear, and other passions on the other; and how little a thing doth shake so moveable and weak a thing, and muddy and trouble a mind so easily disturbed; and how hard it is again to quiet and compose a mind so troubled, and bring a grieved soul to reason, and make passion understand the truth, and to cause a weak, afflicted soul to judge clean contrary to what they feel! All this considered, no wonder if the peace and comfort of many Christians be yet but little, and interrupted, and uneven: and if there be much crying in a family that hath so many little ones, and much complaining where there are so many weak and poor; and many a groan where there is so much pain. To shew us the sun at midnight, and convince us of love while we feel the rod; and to give us the comfortable sense of grace, while we have the uncomfortable sense of the greatness of our sin; to give us the joyful hopes of glory, in a troubled, melancholy, dejected state: all this is a work that requireth the special help of the Almighty, and exceeds the strength of feeble worms. Let God give us never so full discoveries of his tenderest love and our own sincerity, as if a voice from heaven had witnessed it unto us, we are questioning
all if once we seem to feel the contrary, and are perplexed in the tumult of our thoughts and passions, and, bewildered and lost in the errors of our own disturbed minds. Though we have walked with God, we are questioning whether indeed we ever knew him, as soon as he seemeth to hide his face. Though we have felt another life and spirit possess and actuate us than heretofore, and found that we love the things and persons which once we loved not, and that we were quite fallen out with that which was our former pleasure, and that our souls broke off from their old delights, and hopes, and ways, and resolvedly did engage themselves to God, and unfeignedly delivered up themselves unto him; yet all is forgotten, or the convincing evidence of all forgotten, if the lively influences of heaven be but once so far withdrawn, as that our present state is clouded and afflicted, and our former vigour and assurance is abated. And thus unthankfully we deny God the praise and acknowledgment of his mercies, longer than we are tasting them, or they are still before us all that he hath done for us is as nothing, and all the love which he hath manifested to us, is called hatred; and all the witnesses that have put their hands to his acts of grace, are questioned, and his very seals denied, and his earnest misinterpreted, as long as our darkened, distempered souls are in a condition unfit for the apprehension of mercy, and usually when a diseased or afflicted body doth draw the mind into too great a participation of the affliction. And thus as we are disposed ourselves, so we judge of ourselves and of all our receivings, and all God's dealings with us. When we feel ourselves well, all goes well with us, and we put a good interpretation upon all things and when we are out of order, we complain of every thing, and take pleasure in nothing, and no one can content us, and all is taken in the worse part; as the poet said, Læta fere lætus cecini, cano tristia tristis. You shall have a merry song from a merry heart, and a sad ditty from a troubled, grieved mind.
And thus while the discoveries both of sin and grace, are at present overlooked, or afterwards forgotten, and almost all men judge of themselves by present feeling, no wonder if few are well acquainted with themselves.
But as the word and the works of God must be taken together, if they be understood, and not a sentence, part