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he standeth, take heed lest he fall;' and let him attentively listen to what our Saviour says to his disciples concerning vigilance; · Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation; and what I say unto you, I say unto you all, Watch.'
As your own strength is by no means sufficient to stand against both the treachery within, and the attack from without, we see our Saviour commands us also to pray,' that he who' neither slumbereth nor sleepeth,' may keep guard over us, and lend us his almighty grace to support us. Our eyes should be always on the Lord, that he may pluck our feet out of the net.'
Now, there is nothing so capable of keeping us on the watch, as lively and almost continual meditations on our danger; on the crown we are to receive, in case we conquer; and on the disgrace we are to suffer, if we are defeated. Besides, it is from the depth and strength of these meditations, that our prayers are to derive the greater part of their power.
Among our other meditations, none can be more useful than continual and apprehensive reflections on our own weakness, especially on the particular sin, whatever it is, that doth more easily beset us. Our enemy, like a skilful general, looks out sharply for the weakest places to assault us; and therefore, in these our greatest vigilance ought to stand sentinel, and dur firmest resolution to exert itself. When the pleasure of sin begins to close with us at these opener inlets to temptation, we must have a care of foolishly mistaking its wrestling for embracing; for its arms are the arms of Joab, who only embraces, that he may stab; its lips are the lips of Judas, who only hails and kisses, that he may betray. We, should consider, if our enemy can have hopes of prevailing over the very best of men, as he did over the royal prophet, a man after God's own heart; nay, if he could have the boldness to attempt the resolution of Christ himself; how can we, with all our miserable weaknesses about us, for a moment intermit the exercise of our spiritual weapons ? However, a due consideration of our frailty will contribute as much as any thing we can do, to arm us against temptations, so that' our strength shall be made perfect even in weakness.'
Nay, as a foolish man assists the enemy to destroy him,
80 we, if we are truly wisé, may draw very powerful succours from our spiritual adversaries, to support us against their attacks. Does not the frailty of our flesh, so subject, when indulged, to the shock of tormenting passions, and to the rage of painful and mortal distempers, furnish us with a thousand arguments for temperance, that mother of the other virtues? Do not our worldly affairs and interests call on us for sobriety and prudence, and give us a continual opportunity of exercising both? And do not the contempt and misery, into which the devil is fallen, preach up piety and virtue, to a thinking mind, with more persuasive power, than all his art can bestow on his temptations? What is it he aims at ? Is it not to make us, like himself, so many hideous and despicable spectacles of misery?
But if the temptations of our enemy have already taken possession of our hearts, or begin to rush on us with more than usual violence, it is then our business to summon all our strength; to call to God, with all the ardour of out souls, for help; and, as fast as possible, to try to stifle the sinful thought before it grows to a design; or to raise in our hearts a settled horror at the black design, if it is already formed. It is found by experience, that prayer, of all things, gives the greatest assistance on these occasions. We cannot long continue both in prayer and under temptation. Devotion and sin are too opposite to subsist for any time in the same mind. If it is habitually disposed to the former, and perseveres in it, the inclination to the latter must give way. When God is thus introduced, his awful presence will soon force the enemy to retire. God is always of a partý with the earnest suppliant in distress, and we may be sure the Almighty will not be subdued. Besides, as often as we are tempted to sin, we should remember, that we are Christians; that, by a solemn vow, we have renounced the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh; and that, if we suffer the temptation to get the better of us, we must, for so much, renounce our covenant with God, violate our solemn vow, and enter into a league with the devil. We should also remember, that we are frail and mortal men; and, looking back at the thoughts we had in our former afilictions, or dangerous sicknesses, as well as forward at those we may yet be forced to entertain, when the next terrible correction shall load us with pain, or dejection of spirits, or threaten us with death, should, in the present trial, take care not to treasure up more wrath, against that day of
If unclean imaginations assault us, we should reflect, and tremble as we reflect, on the fall of David, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire. If pride and resentment have bloated and inflamed our hearts, we should, with confusion, reflect on our vile offences, and shameful dispositions. What room for vanity towards men, when there is so much reason for humility, perhaps for fear and dejection, in the sight of God! If avarice or ambition have enslaved our affections to the riches or pomps of the world, we should consider the toil or villany, without which neither can be obtained ; and the distraction, without which neither can be kept. If unlawful pleasures entice us, we should try to damp the desires they raise in us, by supposing ourselves in the agonies of death, tortured with pain, and terrified with guilt, unable to live, and unwilling to die. When the allurements of sin have seized our corrupt affections, we should consider, that, gaily as they may smile, the wiles of Satan, and the bitterness of death and hell, are concealed under their sweets. When a sinful thought, of any kind, gains ground on us, we should awfully consider, that God, who is present with us, sees it with an angry eye, notes it severely in his book, and will call us into judgment for it. And here we should paint to our imaginations, in the most heightening colours, the terrors of the last day, when we shall stand issue, in the presence of God, of angels, and of men, for all the thoughts, words, and actions, of our whole lives, with all the glories of heaven, and the horrors of hell, full in view.
If we be not lost to faith and reflection, this alone will be sufficient to beat down our most rampant and violent inclination to sin. And, if we are not as much lost to all sense of gratitude and goodness, the consideration of God's infinite compassion towards us, and of our Saviour's wounds, which bleed afresh at our sins, will fill us with indignation at ourselves, for listening a single moment to the offers of his enemy.
If we have such thoughts as these ready, and are watchful enough to urge them home on our hearts, in the heat of our encounter with any temptation, they will soon turn the victory to our side. Then shall our spirits triumph with a joy infinitely more sweet, and more transporting, than all the delights of a sinful life, were they crowded into one moment. Then shall we lift our heads among the Christian heroes, and look down on the Alexanders and Cæsars, who shamefully submitted to those enemies we have subdued. Then shall conscience applaud, and God approve, and the angels above shall sing "Hallelujah! Thanks be to God, who giveth his servants victory! Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty. In thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all. Blessed is the man that endureth temptation ; for, when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.' Then shall the gracious captain of our salvation, who fought so hard a battle for us, consider us as having fought and conquered for his honour. Now the consciousness of this, in a grateful heart, is rapture and heaven.
O thou Almighty Being, let it please thy infinite goodness to raise in our low and stupid hearts, by the quickening motions of the Holy Spirit, an invincible ardour to pursue such triumphs, to thy eternal glory, through Christ Jesus our Redeemer, to whom, in the unity of the ever-blessed Trinity, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.
Jer. x111. 23. Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard kis spots? Then may ye
also do good, who are accustomed to do evil. By thus comparing a habit of sin with the black complexion of an Ethiopian, and the spots on the skin of a leopard, which are natural, and, without a miracle, unalterable; and by maintaining, that either may as easily change the property here mentioned, as he can betake himself to a good life, who hath been accustomed to a wicked one; the prophet seems to intimate the impossibility of breaking a sinful habit. Although it is true, that such figures, as this in my text, are never used, but when the speaker hath a mind to aggravate and stretch the force of what he says; and that they often express an extreme, when somewhat approaching near to that extreme, is all that is intended; yet that is not the case here; the comparison is strict and just. “The Ethiopian himself cannot change his skin ; the leopard cannot change his spots ; neither is it possible for him to do good, who is accustomed to do evil.' But it does not follow, that the case of an habitual sinner is therefore desperate ; for although by his own strength alone he cannot possibly reform himself, yet, with the assistance of his Maker, 'to whom all things are possible,' and who can purge the skin both of the Ethiopian and the leopard, habitually hardened as he is, he may be reclaimed.
As, however, a man may contribute to that work, which he cannot perfect; as we cannot hope for God's assistance, without using our own endeavours; and as habit, whether good or evil, is a subject of infinite importance to us; I hope we shall not mispend the time in inquiring, what it is; to what degree of power it carries its influence over our thoughts and actions; and how we may strengthen or subdue it, according as it tends to promote or hinder our happiness.
Habit then is that quality or disposition of the mind,