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to have any use of riches, then to endeavour most eagerly to get them; when we should be laying up treasure in heaven, to be treasuring up wrath for ourselves, and bags for we know not whom; to be unwilling to spend what we cannot keep, and to be mad on getting what we have not the wit or grace to spend : if, then, thou canst persuade any man to be so graceless, as to make his vicious disposition an apology for wickedness, let him plead the faults of his age for the excuse of his avarice: as for morosity of nature and garrulity of tongue, they are not the imperfections of the age, but of the persons: there are meek spirits, under grey hairs and wrinkled skins : there are old men, who, as that wise heathen said of old, can keep silence, even at a feast : he hath ill spent his age, that hath not attained to so good a hand over himself, as, in some meet measure, to moderate both his speech and passion.
If some Complexions both incline us more, and crave indulgence to some sins more than other, (the sanguine to lust, the choleric to rage, &c.) wherefore serves grace, but to correct them? If we must be overruled by nature, what do we professing Christianity ? Neither humours nor stars can necessitate us to evil. Whilst thou, therefore, pretendest my natural constitution, I tell thee of my spiritual regeneration; the power whereof, if it have not mortified my evil and corrupt affections, I am not, what I profess to be, a Christian.
The strongest plea for the mitigation of sin, is, Custom; the power whereof is wont to be esteemed so great, as that it hath seemed to alter the quality of the fact ; and, of sin, to make no sin. Hence the holy Patriarchs admitted many consorts into their marriage-bed, without the conscience of offending; which, if it had not been for the mediation of custom, had been justly esteemed no better than criminous. But, however where is no contrary injunction, custom may so far usurp, as to take upon it to be no less than a law itself; yet, where there is a just regulation of law, the plea of custom is so quite out of countenance, as that it is strongly retorted against itself: neither is there any more powerful reason for the abolition of an ill use, than that it is a custom ; so much the more need, therefore, to be opposed and reformed. Hence was that vehement charge of God to his Israel, After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwell, shall ye not do ; and, after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do : neither shall ye walk after their ordinances ; Lev. xvii. 3. Ye shall keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any of these abominable customs, which were committed before youi ; and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the Lord your God; v. 30. It is too true, that the bonds of custom are so strong and close, that they are not easily loosed; insomuch as custom puts on the face of another nature : Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil ; Jer. xii. 23. How stiffly did the men of Judah, after all the dreadful threatenings of the Prophet, hold to their idolatrous customs, which they had learnt in Egypt! We will burn incense to the queen of Heaven, and pour out drink-offerings to her, as we have done ; we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem ; Jer. xliv. 17. It is with ill customs, as with diseases; which, if they grow inveterate, are so much the harder to be cured: but, shall I therefore hug my malady, because I have long had it? because it will not part away with ease? Shall I bid a thief welcome, because he had wont to rob me? Shortly, then, so far is an ill custom from extenuating my sin, as that it aggravates it: neither shall I offend the less, because I offend with more; but rather double it, both, as in my act, and, as in my imitation; in following others amiss, and in helping to make up an ill precedent for others following of me.
As for the Profit that may accrue by sinning, let those carnal hearts value it, that have made the world their God: to me, the greatest gain, this way, is loss. Might I have that house-full of gold and silver, that Balaam talked of; Num. xxiv. 13 : or all those kingdoms of the earth, and the glory of them, which thou shewedst to my Saviour; what are all these to the price of a sin, when they meet with a man that hath learnt from the mouth of Christ, What profit shall it be to a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul ? Matt. xvi. 26. Mark viii. 36.
Importunity is wont to be a prevalent suitor. How many have been dragged to hell by the force of others' solicitations, who, never else, meant to have trod in those paths of death! What marvel is it, if that which moved the unjust judge to do right, against the bent of his will, be able to draw the weak sinner awry But if, in these earthly angariations, one mile, according to our Saviour's counsel, may bring on another; Matt. v. 41 : yet, in spiritual evil ways, no compulsion can prevail upon a resolved spirit. It is not the change of stations, nor the building of twice seven altars, nor the sacrificing of seven bullocks and seven rams, that can win a true prophet of God to curse Israel; Num. xxiji. 4, 29. The Christian heart is fixed upon sure grounds of his own, never to be removed. If, therefore, his father sue to him; if his mother weep, and wring, and kneel, and beseech him, by the womb that bore him and the breasts that gave him suck; if his crying children cling about his knees, and crave his yieldance to some advantageous evil, or his declining some bitter sufferings for the cause of Christ; he can shake them off, with a holy neglect, and say, What do you weeping and breaking my heart? for I am ready, not to be bound only, but also to die for the Name of the Lord Jesus ; Acts xxi. 13. None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may finish my course with joy ; Acts XX. 24. And, if any soul be so weak as to be led rather by the earnest motions of others than by his own settled determination, he shall find no other ease before the tribunal of heaven, than our first parents did in shifting the guilt of their sin, the man to the
woman, the woman to the serpent. In the mean while, that word shall ever stand with me inviolable, My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not; Prov. i. 10.
Lastly, what can be the Necessity, which may either induce to sin, or excuse for sinning? What can the world do, to make me say I must do evil ? Loss, restraint, exile, pain, death are the worst, that either malice can do, or patience suffer. These may put me hard to the question : but, when all is done, they must leave me free, either to act or endure. I need not, therefore, sin; since there is a remedy against sin,-suffering.
It is true, that we are in the hands of a most gracious and indul. gent God, who considers what we are made of, pities our infirmi. ties; and knows to put a difference, betwixt wilful rebellion and weak revolt. His mercy can distinguish of offenders; but his justice hath said, Without shall be the fearful. Finally, then, howsoever these circumstantial temperaments may receive pardon, after the fact, for the penitent, at the mercy-seat of heaven; yet none of them can be pleadable at the bar of divine justice : and, if any sinner shall hearten himself to offend out of the hopes and confidence of these favourable mitigations, the comfort that I can give him, is, that he may howl in hell with thee for his presumption.