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Satan now gotten by this match? One poor Corinthian is misled to an incestuous copulation : the Evil Spirit rejoiceth to have got such a prey : but how long shall he enjoy it ? Soon after, the offending soul, upon the Apostle's holy censure, is reclaimed: he is delivered over to Satan, that Satan should never possess him. The Corinthians are raised to a greater height of godly zeal than ever. Corinth had never been so rich in grace, if it had not been defiled with so foul a crime.
Say now, whether this be not, in effect, thy case. Shouldst thou ever have so much hate thy sin, if thou hadst not been drawn in to commit it? Shouldst thou have found in thyself so fervent love to thy God, if it had not been out of the sense of his great mercy in remitting it? Wouldst thou have been so wary of thy steps as now thou art, if thou hadst never slipped ? Give glory to God, my son, while thou givest shame to thyself; and bless him, for the benefit that he hath been pleased to inake of thine offend. ing him,
SECT. 5. Complaint of relapses into sin, with the remedy thereof. 6 But, alas,” thou sayest, “ my case is far worse, than it is conceived: I have been more than once miscarried into the same sin. Even after I have made profession of my repentance, I have been transported into my former wickedness. Having washed off my sin, as I thought, with my many tears; yet I have suffered my soul to be defiled with it again.”
I may not fatter thee, my son. This condition is dangerous. Those diseases, which, upon their first seizure, have, without any great peril of the patient, received cure, after a recidivation have Threatened death.
Look upon the Saints of God: thou shalt find they have kept aloof from that fire, wherewith they have been formerly burnt : thou shalt not find Noah again uncovered, through drunkenness, in his tent: thou shalt not find Judah climbing up again to Tamar's bed; thou shalt not take Peter again in the high-priest's hall, denying his Master; or, after Paul's reproof, halting in his dissimulation; Gal. ii. 11, 12, 13.
But tell me, notwithstanding; art thou truly serious with thy God? Hast thou doubled thine humiliation, for the reduplication of thine offence? Hast thou sought God so much the more instantly, with an unfeigned contrition of heart? Hast thou found thy soul wrought to so much greater detestation of thy sin, as thine acquaintance with it hath been more? Hast thou taken this occasion to lay better hold on thy Saviour, and to re-inforce the vows of thy more careful and strict obedience? Be of good cheer: this unpurposed reiteration of thy sin shall be no prejudice to thy sal. vation.
It is one thing, for a man to walk on willingly in a beaten patlı
of sin; another thing, for a man to be justled out of the way of righteousness by the violence of a temptation, which he soon recovers again by a sound repentance. The best cannot but be overtaken with sin: but, he, that is born of God, doth not commit sin ; 1 John ji. 9. He may be transported whither be meant not; but he makes not a trade of doing ill: his heart is against that, which his hand is drawn unto ; and if, in this inward strife, he be overpowered, he lies not down in a willing yieldance, but struggles up again; and, in a resumed courage and indignation, tramples on that, which formerly supplanted him.
Didst thou give thyself over to a resolved course of sinning, and, betwixt whiles, shouldst knock thy breast with a formal God forgire me, I should have no comfort in store for thee; but send thee rather to the whipping-stock of the Almighty for due correction, if possibly those seasonable stripes may prevent thine everlasting torments : but now, since what thou hatest, that thou dost ; and thou dost that, which thou wouldest not; and it is no more thou that dost it, but sin that dwells in thee; Rom. vii. 15, 16, 17: cry out as much as thou wilt on the sinfulness of thy sin; v. 13: bewail thy weakness, with a better man than thyself; Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death! v. 24: but know, that thou bast found meity with thy God: thy repeated sin may grieve, but cannot hurt thy soul.
Had we to do with a finite compassion, it might be abated by spending itself upon a frequent remission; like as some great river may be drawn dry by many small outlets : but, now that we deal with a God whose mercy is as himself, infinite, it is not the greatness or the number of our offences that can make a difference in his free remissions. That God, who hath charged our weak charity, not to be overcome with evil, but to overcome evil with good ; Rom. xii. 21: justly scorneth, that we should think his infinite and incomprehensible goodness can be checked with our evil.
It was not without a singular providence, that Peter came to our Saviour with that question in his mouth, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times ? Matt. xviii. 21: that it might fetch from that Blessed Son of God that gracious answer, for our perpetual direction and comfort; I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven ; Matt. xviii. 22. Lord, if thou wouldst have us sinful men thus indulgent to one another, in the case of our mutual offences; what limits can be set to thy mercies, in our sins against thee? Be we penitent, thou canst not but be gracious.
COMFORTS AGAINST WEAKNESS OF GRACE,
The common condition of all Saints. THOU complainest of the weakness of grace: some little stirrings thou feelest of God's Spirit within thee; but so feeble, that thou canst not find any solid comfort in them: thou seest others, thou sayest, whose breasts are full of milk, and their bones moistened with marrow; Job xxi. 24. while thou languishest under a spiritual leanness and imbecility : thou wantest that vigorous heat of holy affections, and that alacrity in the performance of holy duties, which thou observest in other Christians:
I love this complaint of thine, my son; and tell thee, that, without this, thou couldst not be in the way of being happy.
Thinkest thou, that those, whom thou esteemest more eminent in grace, make not the same moan that thou dost ? Certainly, they never had any grace, if they did not complain to have too little, Every man best feels his own wants; and is ready to pass secret censures upon himself, for that, wherein he is applauded by others,
Even the man after God's own heart can say, But I am poor and sorrowful; Ps. Ixix. 29. He was a great king, when he said so: it was not meanness in outward estate, that troubled him; but a spi. ritual neediness : for he had before, in the same heavenly ditty, professed, O God, thou knowest my foolishness, and my guiltiness is not hid from thee ; v. 5.
It was an old observation of wise Solomon; There is, that maketh himself rich, and hath nothing : there is, that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches; Prov. xiii. 7. In this latter rank, are many gracious souls; and thine, I hope, for one; who certainly had never been so wealthy in grace, if they had been conceited of greater store. Even in this sense, many a Saint may say with St. Paul, When I am weak, then I am strong: since the very complaint of weakness argues strength; and, on the contrary, an opinion of sufficient grace is an evident conviction of mere emptiness.
SECT. 2. The improvement of weak graces; and God's free distribution. But, suppose thyself so poor as thou pretendest; it is not so much, what we have, as how we improve it. How many have we known, that have grown rich out of a little: whereas, others, out of a great
stock, have run into debt and beggary! Had that servant in the Gospel, who received but one talent, employed it to the gain of a second, he had been proportionably as well rewarded, as he that with five gained ten.
In our temporal estate, we are warned by the wisest man, to take heed of making haste to be rich; Prov. xxviii. 20: and the great Apostle tells us, that he, that would be rich, falls into many temptations ; 1 Tim. vi. 9.
Surely, there is no small danger also, in affecting to be too suddenly rich in the endowments of the soul. This cannot but be accompanied, with the temptation of an unthankful distrust: for, on the one side, he, that believes, makes not haste; and, on the other, we cannot be sufficiently thankful for what we have, while we do over-eagerly reach after what we have not.
Tell me, thou querulous soul, dost thou not acknowledge what thou hast to be the gift of God? and wilt thou not allow the great Benefactor of Heaven to dispense bis own favours as he pleaseth? If he think fit rather to fill thy vessel with drops of grace, art thou discontented because he doth not pour out his Spirit upon thee in full vials? If thou have any at all, it is more than he owes thee; more than thou canst repay him. Take what thou hast, as an earnest of more; and wait thankfully upon his bounty for the rest. Is it not meet, in a free-gift, to attend the leisure of the donor? What sturdy and ill-mannered beggars are we, if we will not stay at the door, till we be served; and grudge at our alms, when it comes! Look upon the Father of the Faithful: thou shalt find him fourscore and six years childless; and, at last, after he had got an Ishmael, he inust wait fourteen years more for the promised seed; and, when he had enjoyed him not much longer than he expected him, he must then sacrifice him to the giver. Thus, thus, my sun, must our faith be exercised, in attendance both for time and measure of mercy.
God's acceptation of truth, not quantity.
How many weak bodies have we known, which, with careful attendance, have enjoyed better and longer health, than those, that have had bigger limbs, and more brawny arms!
Neither is it otherwise in the soul. Soundness of grace is health: increased degrees of grace make up the strength of that spiritual part : if thou have but this health tenderly observed, thou mayest be happy in the enjoying of thy God, although more happy in a comfortable sense of a stronger fruition.
We have to do with a God, that stands not so much upon quanrity, as truth, of grace: he knows we can have nothing, but what he gives us, and enables us to improve; and, where he sees our
wills and endeavours not wanting, he is ready to accept and crown his own gift in us. He will not break the bruised recd, nor quench the smoking flux ; Matt. xii. 20.
SECT. 4. The variety of God's gifts, and the ages and statures of grace, Thou art weak in grace :-Be not discouraged, my son: there are all ages, all statures, in Christ. Shall the child repine, that he is not suddenly grown a man? Shall the dwarf quarrel, that he is not a giant? Were there a standard of graces, less than which would not be accepted, thou hadst reason to be troubled: but it is so far from that, as that our Saviour hath encharged, Suffer little children to come to me, and forbid them not ; for of such is the kingdom of heaven ; Matt. six. 14.
In some legal oblations, it pleased God to regard time and age. The lamb for the passover and for the peace-offering, the bullock for the sin-offering of Israel, have their date assigned; Lev. iii. 7, iv. 14: and, in divers cases, he hath called for two turtle doves, or two young pigeons; Lev. i. 14. v. 7: 11. xii. 8. xv. 14. Young turtles and old doves, in the mean while, according to our Jewish Doctors, were unlawful to be offered.
But, in our spiritual sacrifices, all ages are equally accepted. He, that is eternal, regards not time: he, that is infinite and almighty, regards not statures. Even the eleventh hour carried the penny, as well as the first. And, Let the weak say, I am strong i Joel iii. 10.
SECT. 5. The safety of our leisurely progress in grace. IT troubles thee, that thou hast made so slow progress in graces ; thy desire is to heavenward; and thou checkest thyself for no more speed:
It is a happy ambition, that carries thee on, in that way to blessedness. Quicken thyself, what thou mayest, with all gracious incitations in that holy course: but know, my son, that we may not always hope to go thitherward on the spur. In that passage, there are ways, that will not admit of haste. How many have we known, that, by too much forwardness, have been cast back in their journey; whether through want of breath, or mistaking their way, or misplacing their steps! I praise thee, that it is the desire of thy soul, to run the way of God's commandments; Ps. cxix. 32: and do encourage thy holy zeal, in speeding that holy race; ever praying thou mayest so run, as that thou mayest obtain ; 1 Cor. ix, 24. But, withal, I must tell thee, that, blessed is the man, that