« PreviousContinue »
in their virtue than themselves ; and for this very thing our blessed Saviour remarks the pharisees, they were severe and fantastical advancers of themselves, and judges of their neighbours; and here, when they have mortified corporal vices, such which are scandalous and punishable by men, they keep the spiritual, and those that are only discernible by God: these men do but change their sin from scandal to danger, and that they may sin more safely, they sin more spiritually.
2. Sometimes the passions of the flesh spoil the changes of the spirit, by natural excesses, and disproportion of degrees ; it mingles violence with industry, and fury with zeal, and uncharitableness with reproof, and censuring with discipline, and violence with desires, and immortifications in all the appetites and prosecutions of the soul. Some think it is enough in all instances, if they pray hugely and fervently; and that it is religion, impatiently to desire a victory over our enemies, or the life of a child, or an heir to be born; they call it holy, so they desire it in prayer ; that if they reprove a vicious person, they may say what they list, and be as angry as they please; that when they demand but reason, they may enforce it by all means; that when they exact duty of their children, they may be imperious and without limit; that if they design a good end, they may prosecute it by all instruments; that when they give. God thanks for blessings, they may value the things as high as they list, though their persons come into a share of the honour; here the spirit is willing and holy, but the flesh creeps too busily, and insinuates into the substance of good actions, and spoils them by unhandsome circumstances; and then the prayer is spoiled for want of prudence or conformity to God's will, and discipline and government are embittered by an angry spirit ; and the father's authority turns into an uneasy load; by being thrust like an unequal burden to one side, without allowing equal measures to the other : and if we consider it wisely, we shall find, that in many good actions the flesh is the bigger ingredient, and we betray our weak constitutions, even when we do justice, or charity; and many men pray in the flesh, when they pretend they pray by the Spirit.
3. In the first changes and weak progresses of our spiritual life, we find a long weakness upon us, because we are
long before we begin, and the flesh was powerful, and its habits strong, and it will mingle indirect pretences with all the actions of the spirit; if we mean to pray, the flesh thrusts in thoughts of the world : and our tongue speaks one thing; and our hearts mean another; and we are hardly brought to say our prayers, or to undertake a fasting-day, or to celebrate a communion; and if we remember that all these holy actions should be done, and that we have many opportunities of doing them all, and yet do them very seldom, and then very coldly, it will be found at the foot of the account, that our flesh and our natural weakness prevail oftener than our spiritual strengths: οι πολύν χρόνον δεθέντες, καν λυθείεν, ου δυνάμενοι Badiger, iTooxhi ZOVT as they that are bound long in chains, feel such a lameness in the first restitutions of their liberty,' υπό της πολυχρονίου των δεσμών συνηθείας, • by reason of the longaccustomed chain and pressure, that they may stay till nature hath set them free, and the disease be taken off as well as the chain ; and when the soul is got free from her actual pressure of sins, still the wound remains, and a long habitude, and longing after it, a looking back; and upon the presenting the old object, the same company, or the remembrance of the delight, the fancy strikes, and the heart fails, and the temptations return and stand dressed in form and circumstances, and ten to one but the man dies again.
4. Some men are wise and know their weaknesses, and to prevent their startings back, will make fierce and strong resolutions, and bind up their gaps with thorns, and make a new hedge about their spirits ; and what then? This shows, indeed, that “the spirit is willing;” but the storm arises, and winds blow, and rain descends, and presently the earth trembles, and the whole fabric falls into ruin and disorder. A resolution (such as we usually make) is nothing but a little trench, which every child can step over; and there is no civil man that commits a willing sin, but he does it against his resolution : and what Christian lives, that will not say and think that he hath repented in some degree; and yet still they commit sin, that is, they break all their holy purposes as readily as they lose a dream; and so great is our weakness, that to most men the strength of a resolution is just such a restraint as he suffers, who is imprisoned in a curtain, and secured with doors and bars of the finest linen:
for though “ the spirit be strong”. to resolve, “the flesh is weak” to keep it.
5. But when they have felt their follies, and see the linenveil rent, some, that are desirous to please God, back their resolutions with vows, and then the spirit is fortified, and the flesh may tempt and call, but the soul cannot come forth, and therefore it triumphs, and acts its interest easily and certainly; and then the flesh is mortified: it may be so. But do not many of us inquire after a vow? And if we consider, it may be it was rash, or it was an impossible matter, or without just consideration, and weighing of circumstances, or the case is altered, and there is a new emergent necessity, or a vow is no more than a resolution made in matter of duty ; both are made for God, and in his eye and witness; or if nothing will do it, men grow sad and weary, and despair, and are impatient, and bite the knot in pieces with their teeth, which they cannot by disputing, and the arts of the tongue. A vow will not secure our duty, because it is not stronger than our appetite; and the spirit of man is weaker than the habits and superinduced nature of the flesh; but by little and little it falls off, like the finest thread twisted upon the traces of a chariot, it cannot hold long.
6. Beyond all this, some choose excellent guides, and stand within the restraints of modesty, and a severe monitor; and the Spirit of God hath put a veil upon our spirits; and by modesty in women and young persons, by reputation in the more aged, and by honour in the more noble, and by conscience in all, hath fortified the spirit of man, that men dare not prevaricate their duty, though they be tempted strongly, and invited perpetually; and this is a partitionwall, that separates the spirit from the flesh, and keeps it in its proper strength and retirements. But here the spirit of man, for all that it is assisted, strongly breaks from the enclosure, and runs into societies of flesh, and sometimes despises reputation, and sometimes supplies it with little arts of flattery, and self-love; and is modest as long as it can be secret ; and when it is discovered, it grows impudent ; and a man shelters himself in crowds and heaps of sinners, and believes that it is no worse with him than with other mighty criminals, and public persons, who bring sin into credit among fools and vicious persons; or else men take
false measures of fame or public honesty, and the world being broken into so many parts of disunion, and agreeing in nothing but in confederate vice, and grown so remiss in governments, and severe accounts, every thing is left so loose, that honour and public fame, modesty and shame, are now so slender guards to the spirit, that the flesh breaks in, and makes most men more bold against God than against men, and against the laws of religion than of the commonwealth.
7. When the spirit is made willing by the grace of God, the flesh interposes in deceptions and false principles. If you tempt some man to a notorious sin, as to rebellion, to deceive his trust, or to be drunk, he will answer, he had rather die than do it: but put the sin civilly to him, and let it be disguised with little excuses, such things which indeed are trifles, but yet they are colours fair enough to make a weak pretence, and the spirit yields instantly. Most men choose the sin, if it be once disputable whether it be a sin or no ? If they can but make an excuse, or a colour, so that it shall not rudely dash against the conscience with an open professed name of sin, they suffer the temptation to do its worst. If you tempt a man, you must tell him it is no sin, or it is excusable: this is not rebellion, but necessity, and self-defence; it is not against my allegiance, but it is a performing of my trust; I do it for my friend, not against my superior; I do it for a good end, and for his advantage: this is not drunkenness, but free mirth, and fair society ; it is refreshment, and entertainment of some supernumerary hours, but it is not a throwing away my time, or neglecting a day of salvation; and if there be any thing more to say for it, though it be no more than Adam's fig-leaves, or the excuses of children and truants, it shall be enough to make the flesh prevail, and the spirit not to be troubled : for so great is our folly, that the flesh always carries the cause, if the spirit can be cozened.
8. The flesh is so mingled with the spirit, that we are forced to make distinctions in our appetite, to reconcile our affections to God and religion, lest it be impossible to do our duty ; we weep for our sins, but we weep more for the death of our dearest friends, or other temporal sadnesses; we say we had rather die than lose our faith, and yet we do not
live according to it; we lose our estates, and are impatient; we lose our virtue, and bear it well enough; and what virtue is so great, as more to be troubled for having sinned, than for being ashamed, and beggared, and condemned to die? Here we are forced to a distinction : there is a valuation of price, and a valuation of sense: or the spirit hath one rate of things, and the flesh hath another; and what we believe the greatest evil, does not always cause to us the greatest trouble; which shows plainly, that we are imperfect carnal persons, and the flesh will in some measure prevail over the spirit; because we will suffer it in too many instances, and cannot help it in all.
9. The spirit is abated and interrupted by the flesh, because the flesh pretends it is not able to do those ministries which are appointed in order to religion; we are not able to fast; or, if we watch, it breeds gouts and catarrhs; or, charity is a grace too expensive, our necessities are too big to do it; or, we cannot suffer pain ; and sorrow breeds death, and therefore our repentances must be more gentle, and we must support ourselves in all our calamities : for we cannot bear our crosses without a freer refreshment, and this freedom passes on to licence; and many melancholy persons drown their sorrows in sin and forgetfulness, as if sin were more tolerable than sorrow, and the anger
of God an easier load than a temporal care: here the flesh betrays its weakness and its follies : for the flesh complains too soon, and the spirit of some men, like Adam being too fond of his Eve, attends to all its murmurs and temptations; and yet the flesh is able to bear far more than is required of it in usual duties. Custom of suffering will make us endure much, and fear will make us suffer more, and necessity makes us suffer any thing; and lust and desire make us to endure more than God is willing we should ; and yet we are nice, and tender, and indulgent to our weaknesses, till our weaknesses grow too strong for us.
And what shall we do to secure our duty, and to be delivered of ourselves, that the body of death, which we bear about us, may not destroy the life of the spirit ?
I have all this while complained, and you see not without cause; I shall afterward tell you the remedies for all this evil. In the meantime, let us have but mean opinions of