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PREACHED AT ST. JAMES'S CHAPEL, FEBRUARY 16,
TEMPTATIONS NOT IRRESISTIBLE,
above that ye are able, but will with the temptation also
make a way to escape.- 1 CORINTH. X. 13. AMONG the various methods made use of by men, to justify or extenuate their sinful compliances, there is no plea more common in the mouths of libertines, than this; that, considering the weakness of human nature, and the strength of some temptations, it is not to be expected that we should get the better of them. The strict rules of virtue are indeed enjoined us : but in this state of frailty and infirmity, we must (say they) be sometimes allowed to deviate from them. We are solicited so powerfully by evil objects without, and pushed on so violently by evil inclinations within, that it is impossible but that both these should now and then prevail, against the best reason and the strongest resolutions. This is an opinion with which sensual men usually flatter theinselves; wish true first, and believe true afterwards. But how vain and groundless an opinion it is, the determination of the apostle, in the words of the text, may inform us ---God is faithful.
The plain purport of which words is, “ That God adjusts always, and proportions, the strength of temptations to our power of resisting them, and never lays a greater burden upon us, than he either finds or makes us able to bear.”
A very important and comfortable truth! of great use to support the truly good and pious under the various evils of life, and allurements of sense, which surround them; and to reclaim the bad, who indulge themselves in vice, upon the supposed impossibility of being entirely virtuous and blameless, from their false and carnal reasonings.
In order therefore to strengthen and encourage the one, and to convince and undeceive the other, I shall make it my business in what follows:
I. First, to explain and state this truth.
II. Secondly, to confirm it by sundry ways of proof, with which experience, reason, and revelation will furnish
And then, III. Thirdly, to apply it, in a few plain words of exhortation and reproof, such as the argument naturally suggests, and the time will permit me to make
I. First, I shall explain and state this truth.
1. That the apostle is not speaking of the powers of mere hunian nature, but of human nature divinely assisted and supported. He says not, that a man, of himself, hath strength enough to resist all inducements to sin, and to stand his ground (as the Pelagians afterwards vainly talked) but that he shall be enabled to do this, in virtue of a superior principle, and by the help of divine grace ; which, in such exigencies, shall surely be bestowed on him. God (he says) will not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able. Intimating, that we should be tempted above what we are able, if God did not interpose and help us. And again, God will, with the temptation also, make a way to escape. Which implies, that we often could not escape, unless God made a way for us. I observe,
2. From the subject of the apostle's discourse, that neither is it his intention to affirm, that we shall, by any
measure of divine grace imparted to us in this life, be so far enabled to baffle all manner of temptations, as to live perfectly spotless and sinless; but only, that we shall be preserved from falling into great and heinous, into deliberate and presumptuous sins; such as, when committed, throw us out of the favour of God, lay waste the conscience, and require a particular and solemn repentance, to render us capable of salvation. For such was that sin, which the Corinthians, at this time, were in danger of committing, a compliance with idola. ters, in partaking of their idol feasts. Alas! it cannot be otherwise, but that, in the very best of men, sins of omission and infirmity should abound. Let us stand never so much upon our guard, there will be lapses, there will be inadvertencies, there will be surprises : all, therefore, that we can in this state of imperfection depend on is, that through the grace of God we shall be preserved from such enormous offences, as are inconsistent with a sincere piety, and habitual holiness; not that we should be totally freed from human frailties and failings. Further
3. This supernatural assistance, which enables us to resist temptations, supposes our use of natural means and our concurrence with it to the best of our power. It is a co-operating cause, which acts only in proportion to our own endeavours; but imparts not its extraordinary sustaining strength and virtue, unless where we exert and make use of that ordinary strength we have. Temptations, therefore, to the most gross and grievous sins may, in some circumstances, be irresistible; if it were originally our own fault, that we were brought into those circumstances ; if, for want of that due vigilance and care, which we were obliged and able to employ, the temptation overtook us.
For instance; if a man of resolved sobriety, should be so far at any time off his guard, as to indulge himself in any unjustifiable degree of excess, he may, by that means, be inevitably betrayed into some of the ill consequences of intemperance. If a person, by nature warm and passionate, shall mix in high disputes, or engage
games of chance, it is not to be expected that he should preserve himself free from offence. His passions, will
, of course, be agitated and inflamed; his heart will now and then think, and his mouth utter perverse things, Prov. xxiii
. 33. But there is no objection from these, and such instances as these, against the doctrine laid down, which affirms all temptations to be conquerable. For this is to be understood only of such as we unavoidably fall into, not of such as we voluntarily seek. It is not supposed, that we should have power always to resist, unless we before-hand do what is in our power to shun temptation.
These are the several restrictions, under which the truth implied in the text must be understood. Which having thus explained and stated, I go on now, in the
.. II. Second place, to confirm by various ways of proof, such as experience, reason, or revelation will suggest to us.
And the first way of proving it, shall be by experience,
In vain do libertines pretend, that human nature is too weak and frail to resist what we have authentic proof, that, as weak and frail as it is, it hath oftentimes resisted. There is no temptation, either of desire, or fear of pleasure, or pain, nothing that can either allure us to sin, or scare us from our duty, but what hath been actually withstood and baffled by those holy men and women that have gone before us: and what hath been already done, may be repeated; unless human nature be a different thing now, from what it was then; which no one,
I suppose, will pretend. Can a man look up to the examples of the primitive Christians ? Can he reflect on the lives and deaths of the saints, martyrs, and confessors of old; on what they did, and what they suffered ; and pretend to say, after this, that any solicitations of sense are irresistible, or any part of virtue is impracticable ?
Were they not men of the same passions and infirmities as we are? Had they not the same sense of pleasure and pain ? Were they not surrounded with the same tempting objects? And had they any assistances, in order to stand their ground but from that Holy Spirit
, who will assist us also ? And why then should we be forced to yield to those difficulties, over which they triumphed?
Let us consider some few of those many plain instances of this kind, which are recorded in the Holy Story. The temptation of example and reigning custom, is one of the strongest that beset human nature ; and yet it hath been resisted and defied, in the utmost degree of strength, wherein it is possible for us to imagine it.
Lot lived in a great and filthy city; so filthy, that, as great as it was, ten good men could not be found there to rescue it from destruction. And yet, amidst all that bad
company, he continued untainted, and preserved his innocence. Noah lived, not only in a city, but in a world entirely debauched; when all flesh had corrupted its ways, Gen. vi. 13, and there were but seven persons besides himself left-servants of God, and lovers of righteousness. And yet, notwithstanding this universal depravation of manners, behold how untouched he stood, and what a character he bore! Noah was a just nian, and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God! ver. 9. Will any man, after this, pretend that it is impossible to withstand the influence of ill example; and to live up to strict principles of religion and virtue, among thousands, and ten times ten thousands, that neglect and deride them?
The temptations that arise from worldly interest and honour, cannot possibly press harder upon any man than they did upon Moses. He might have lived in all the splendour and luxury of the Egyptian court, and enjoyed all the advantages of it, would he but have complied with the religion and manners of the place, and forgotten his relation to a poor persecuted people: but he resolutely withstood all these charms, and, when he was