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two sorts of people may be truly said to stand,' and therefore are admonished by the text,' to take heed lest they fall’ from their present virtuous life, to one of sin and wicked
As to the first, let him not repose too much confidence in his never having greatly fallen, in his present abhorrence of sin, or love of virtue. These are indeed blessed dispositions, and ought to fill him with comfort and gratitude, but not with assurance or security. He is still but a man, a very weak and fallible man, with many a dark corner in his mind, where evil dispositions lie concealed even from himself; whence they will be sure to rush out against his resolutions, when temptations come to call them forth, perhaps in an unguarded hour, when he is least prepared to receive their charge. He hath not yet sounded the depths of his own false heart, which, like the hearts of other men, 'is deceitful and desperately wicked,'insomuch that he cannot know it;' and therefore it is absolutely necessary he should be perpetually on the watch against it. There is no man who sinneth not. Who can say, I have made myself clean, I am pure from sins ? A just man falleth seven times a day,' and at every fall he is uncertain whether he shall be able to rise again, or not. Who can understand his errors? If thou shalt mark iniquity, O Lord, who shall stand ?'
But instances will as fully prove, and more strongly enforce, this point.
Adam, though formed in the utmost perfection of human nature, encouraged to duty by all the delights of paradise, and threatened, in case of disobedience, with death ; at the request of his wife, and to gratify an impious curiosity, broke the command of his Maker and Benefactor, and eat the forbidden fruit.
Noah, though saved for his righteousness from the universal deluge, soon after this prodigious deliverance, fell into the sin of drunkenness, and lay in his tent naked, and uncovered, like a beast.
Lot, who was ' vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked,' and was saved for his singular goodness from a shower of fire and brimstone, had hardly made his escape, when he got drunk, and committed incest with his own daughters.
Moses, the servant of God, so distinguished for his meekness,' believed not God, to sanctify him ;' but presumed ' to be angry with God, and spoke unadvisedly with his lips.'
David, “who followed God with all his heart,' who was the man after God's own heart,'abusing that prosperity and power, to which God had raised him from the low condition of a shepherd, debauched the wife of a man, who was exposing his life for him ; and, to hide the crime of adultery, committed murder.
Solomon, the wisest of men, who by the mere bounty of God was made greatest and happiest of princes, giving himself up to women, forsook his God, and, like a fool, adored a senseless idol.
St. Peter, notwithstanding his boasted zeal for his master, after all the warning given him, and all his professions of fidelity, not only denied but forswore his God and Saviour, just when that Saviour was going to be crucified for him.
These instances, with many more of the like nature, which might be added from Scripture, from profane history, and daily experience, may serve to humble the presumption of those, who lead the most unblamable lives, and put us on our guard. If men, who seem to have been exalted almost above the rank of human nature, who were assisted by an extraordinary influence from God, could fall so miserably low, how shall the best among us, surrounded by so many temptations, betrayed by so many weaknesses, and relying only on the ordinary supports of God's Spirit, think himself safe? Is any man so vain, as' to think he standeth'
better ground than these persons, so illustrious for their holiness? let such beware of a fall. There is no turn of mind so stupid, or so dangerous, as confidence in one's self. How many powerful armies have been betrayed to the mercy of a handful of men by pride and security? In like manner, all our other preparations for the war against our baptismal enemies, if circumspection is wanting, must be shamefully defeated.
If one, who hath, for a considerable part of his life, been able to hold on in a course of virtue, is nevertheless in so great danger of falling, how much more strictly and careful onght he to distrust and watch over himself, who by a repentance is raised from sin, and stands as yet on the brink of a gulf, out of which he was dragged with the utmost difficulty ? Let not such a person depend too confidently on the shocking remembrance of his danger, on his abhorrence of sin so grievously tried, on the pleasures he feels upon being restored to a new life, on the throes and agonies his repentance cost him, nor on the strength of his present resolutions, which are too apt to flag, and in time die away. These are, it is true, very necessary and very happy dispositions ; but, alas ! his natural corruptions, his inveterate habits, may easily prove too strong for them, if God do not powerfully assist him, and if he watch not continually with the anxiety of one, who still thinks his soul in the greatest danger. His work is but just begun; and as, on the one side, his headstrong passions are not yet half subdued, so on the other, his resolutions, which are as yet but half formed, require every moment to be reinforced and fed by keen apprehensions. He hath only just taken the field against his enemy, but by no means obtained a decisive victory. Let him therefore quicken himself with the remembrance of all his former ineffectual repentances, and baffled resolutions, and with the prospect of the great prize for which he runs. Let him keep a watchful eye upon bis enemies, and wind up his soul to a high and vehement alarm.
Let us now, in the last place, consider of some means to strengthen him that standeth.
And, first, to confirm him in his principles, it will be necessary to lay it down as a rule, as a first principle, never to consult with appetite or passion about the choice of others. These lawless subjects ought to have no vote in choosing their governors ; for, if they have, they will infallibly pitch on such as may encourage, not restrain, their irregularities. The principles of Christianity, which his reason hath already chosen, or approved of, are not to be laid aside, because the corruptions of his nature, which it is the end of those principles to correct and bridle, may bear them with some impatience. It would be very absurd in him, who hath already seen the light, to forsake it, merely because it reproves his evil deeds;' and to choose darkness, only because it hides him from himself; to desert his unerring director, speaking
to him through his reason, through his conscience, and through the word of God, and to put himself under the management of those blind guides, his passions. He would not, if he were to travel to a distant city, choose a blind madman for his guide ; or if he were to manage a ship at sea, he would not quit the rudder, and leave it to the winds and storms to direct his course. Why then will he suffer his passions to take the place of his reason, as wiser guides to happiness?
As to his reading, if he comes with sufficient abilities and candour to an inquiry about religion, he may safely peruse all that has been written on the side of libertinism, and will return the firmer Christian, when he finds, as he certainly will, that nothing but artful insinuations, senseless jests, and impudent cayils, can be brought against his religion. But if his learning and judgment are unequal to such a controversy, as it is a thousand to one they are, he had better avoid such performances; there not being one of them, that is not penned with infinite art and subtlety. Did I know a book written against Christianity, in a fair, open, and intelligible way, I would advise every Christian to read it : but, after a long acquaintance with such performances, I never yet met with one, that had the least shadow of a title to that honest character.
Nor should the Christian, who hath only knowledge enough for his own use, ever engage in conversations or disputes with persons of loose principles. He cannot reform them, and they may corrupt him. He should therefore leave them to feed the infidelity of one another with irreligious prate, as boys too often do their imagination with lewd discourse; and if he must inquire about the truth of that religion he hath already embraced, should do it in this short and easy method, which can never deceive him : 'Can I be happy without virtue? Can I be virtuous without religion? Do I know of any religion so likely to make me virtuous, as the Christian? Is there not something within me, that requires restraint and amendment? And is there not something in Christianity wonderfully fitted to restrain what is wild, and amend what is amiss in my nature ? Am I not in great fears and anxieties for want of an assurance, that I shall be pardoned the sins I have already committed? And does not Christianity set forth to me a sufficient atonement for my sins, and afford me the most comfortable hopes of forgiveness? I clearly perceive it answers all these excellent ends, and comes up to all my wants. I therefore firmly believe it came from the God of truth ; and, instead of listening to the cavils raised against it, either by the arts of bad men, or by my own foolish imaginations and corrupt passions, I will for ever rest on it as the very pillar and ground of truth, adoring, with a most grateful heart, the infinitely gracious Author and Giver. I will lodge it in my very soul, and hold it to my heart with such a strength of conviction, and such a steadiness of faith, that life and death, men and devils, shall never be able to wrest it from me.'
Being thus confirmed in your faith, you have now the strongest and surest preservative against falling into a sinful course of life, if you do not suffer that faith to be inactive and dead within you. Turn your eyes therefore continually towards the great things it sets before you, and when temptations begin to assault you, it will shew you God at your side, watching you, and bring his judgment-seat, with heaven and hell, as strongly into your view, as if you were really on your trial; for although you are not actually there, your faith will convince you, that the messengers of justice are now leading you to the bar, and that you have but a few steps to make till you shall be arraigned, and finally sentenced. A good life and heaven are not different things. They are only the inseparable parts of the same whole. You are no sooner entered heartily into the first, than you may find yourself in view of the latter; so that your faith can shew you the bright mountains and shining buildings of the new Jerusalem. Vice and hell are likewise to faith the same thing. The instant you enter upon a course of sin, you are bound over to that place of torment, and may, if faith is not entirely banished, see the smoke of the fiery furnace rising directly before you, and hear the despairing cries and lamentations of the damned. Let these thoughts be ever present with you, that a good intention or action may never offer itself to your will, without heaven to sweeten, nor a bad one, without hell to imbitter, it to you.
But, that you may watch over yourself with the greater care and circumspection, give me leave to lay before you