« AnteriorContinuar »
placed in the right order; that, since many of the Divine precepts are restraints upon our natural desires, we should so deny those appetites, that covet after natural satisfactions, that they may not serve themselves by disserving God. For therefore our own wills are our greatest dangers and our greatest enemies; because they tend to courses contradictory to God. God commands us to be humble ; our own desires are to be great, considerable, and high ; and we are never secure enough from contempt, unless we can place our neighbours at our feet : here, therefore, we must deny our will, and appetites of greatness, for the purchase of humility. God commands temperance and chastity; our desires and natural promptness break the band asunder, and entertain dissolutions to the licentiousness of Apicius, or the wantonness of a Mahometan paradise, sacrificing meat and drinkofferings to our appetites, as if our stomachs were the temples of Bel, and making women and the opportunities of lust to be our dwelling, and our employment, even beyond the common looseness of entertainment: here, therefore, we must deny our own wills, our appetites of gluttony and drunkenness, and our prurient beastly inclinations, for the purchase of temperance and chastity. And every other virtue is, either directly or by accident, a certain instance of this great duty, which is, like a catholicon, purgative of all distemperatures, and is the best preparative and disposition to prayer in the world.
4. For it is a sad consideration, and of secret reason, that since prayer, of all duties, is certainly the sweetest and the easiest, it having in it no difficulty or vexatious labour, no weariness of bones, no dimness of eyes or hollow cheeks, is directly consequent to it, no natural desires of contradictory quality, nothing of disease, but much of comfort, and more of hope in it; yet we are infinitely averse from it, weary of its length, glad of an occasion to pretermit our offices ; and yet there is no visible cause of such indisposition, nothing in the nature of the thing, nor in the circumstances necessarily appendant to the duty. Something is amiss in us, and it wanted a name, till the Spirit of God, by enjoining us the duty of mortification, hath taught us to know, that immorti'fication of spirit is the cause of all our secret and spiritual indispositions : we are so incorporated to the desires of
sensual objects, that we feel no relish or gust of the spiritual. It is as if a lion should eat hay, or an ox venison; there is no proportion between the object and the appetite, till, by mortification of our first desires, our wills are made spiritual, and our apprehensions supernatural and clarified. For as à cook told Dionysius the tyrant, the black broth of Lacedæmon would not do well at Syracuse, unless it be tasted by a Spartan's palate ; so neither can the excellences of heaven be discerned, but by a spirit disrelishing the sottish appetites of the world, and accustomed to diviner banquets. And this was mystically signified by the two altars in Solomon's temple ; in the outer court whereof beasts were sacrificed, in the inner court an altar of incense: the first
representing mortification or slaying of our beastly appetites; the second, the offering up our prayers, which are not likely to become a pleasant offertory, unless our impurities be removed by the atonement made by the first sacrifices; without our spirit be mortified, we neither can love to pray, nor God love to hear us.
5. But there are three steps to ascend to this altar. The first is, to abstain from satisfying our carnal desires in the instances of sin; and although the furnace flames with vehement emissions at some times, yet to “ walk in the midst of the burning without being consumed,” like the children of the captivity: that is the duty even of the most imperfect, and is commonly the condition of those good persons, whose interest in secular employments speaks fair, and solicits often, and tempts highly; yet they manage their affairs with habitual justice, and a constant charity, and are temperate in their daily meals, chaste in the solaces of marriage, and pure in their spirits, unmingled with sordid affections in the midst of their possessions and enjoyments. These men are in the world, but they are strangers here: they have a city, but “ not an abiding one b;" they are proselytes of the house, but have made no covenant with the world. For though they desire with secular desires, yet it is but for necessaries, and then they are content"; they use the creatures with freedom and modesty, but never to intemperance and transgression; so that their hands are below, tied there by the necessities of
their life; but their hearts are above", lifted up by the abstractions of this first degree of mortification. And this is the first and nicest distinction between a man of the world and a man of God; for this state is a denying our affections nothing but the sin; it enjoys as much of the world, as may be consistent with the possibilities of heaven. A little less than this is the state of immortification, and “ a being in the flesh,” which, saith the apostle,“ cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” The flesh must first be separated, and the adherences pared off from the skin, before the parchment be fit to make a schedule for use, or to transmit a record. Whatsoever, in the sense of the Scripture, is flesh, or an enemy to the Spirit, if it be not rescinded and mortified, makes, that the laws of God cannot be written in our hearts. This is the doctrine St. Paul taught the church: “ for if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” This first mortification is the way of life, if it continues; but its continuance is not secured, till we are advanced towards life by one degree more of this death. For this condition is a state of a daily and dangerous warfare; and many inroads are made by sin, and many times hurt is done, and booty carried off: for he that is but thus far mortified, although his dwelling be within the kingdom of grace, yet it is in the borders of it, and hath a dangerous neighbourhood. If we mean to be safe, we must remove into the heart of the land, or carry the war farther off.
6. Secondly: We must not only be strangers here, but we must be dead too,“ dead unto the world :” that is, we must not only deny our vices, but our passions; not only contradict the direct immediate persuasion to a sin, but also cross the inclination to it. So long as our appetites are high and full, we shall never have peace or safety, but the dangers and insecurities of a full war and a potent enemy; we are always disputing the question, ever struggling for life: but when our passions are killed, when our desires are little and low, then grace reigns, then“ our life is hid with Christ in God;" then we have fewer interruptions in the way of righteousness; then we are not so apt to be surprised by
d 2 Cor. v. 6.
e Rom. vii. 13. "O quàm contempta res est homo, nisi super humana se erexerit!-Sen.
sudden eruptions and transportations of passions, and our piety itself is more prudent and reasonable, chosen with a freer election, discerned with clearer understanding, hath more in it of judgment than of fancy, and is more spiritual and angelical. He that is apt to be angry, though he be habitually careful, and full of observation that he sin not, may, at some time or other, be surprised, when his guards are undiligent, and without actual expectation of an enemy: but if his anger be dead in him, and the inclination lessened to the indifference and gentleness of a child, the man dwells safe, because of the impotency of his enemy, or that he is reduced to obedience, or hath taken conditions of peace. He that hath refused to consent to actions of uncleanness, to which he was strongly tempted, hath won a victory by fine force; God hath blessed him well. But an opportunity may betray him instantly, and the sin may be in upon him unawares ; unless also his desires be killed, he is betrayed by a party within. David was a holy person, but he was surprised by the sight of Bathsheba ; for his freer use of permitted beds had kept the fire alive, which was apt to be put into a flame, when so fair a beauty reflected through his eyes. But Joseph was a virgin, and kept under all his inclinations to looser thoughts ; opportunity, and command, and violence, and beauty, did make no breach upon his spirit.
7. He that is in the first state of pilgrimage, does not mutiny against his superiors, nor publish their faults, nor envy their dignities; but he that is dead to the world, sees no fault that they have; and when he hears an objection, he buries it in an excuse, and rejoices in the dignity of their persons. Every degree of mortification endures reproof without murmur; but he that is quite dead to the world, and to his own will, feels no regret against it, and hath no secret thoughts of trouble and unwillingness to the suffering, save only that he is sorry he deserved it. “ For so a dead body resists not your violence, changes not its posture you placed it in, strikes not its striker, is not moved by your words, nor provoked by your scorn, nor is troubled, when you shrink with horror at the sight of it; only it will hold the head downward in all its situations, unless it be hindered by violence :” and a mortified spirit is such, without indignation against scorn, without revenge against injuries, without mur
muring at low offices, not impatient in troubles, indifferent in all accidents, neither transported with joy nor depressed with sorrow, and is humble in all his thoughts. And thus, “ he that is dead,” saith the apostle, “ is justified from sins8.” And this is properly a state of life, in which, by the grace of Jesus, we are restored to a condition of order and interior beauty in our faculties; our actions are made moderate and humane, our spirits are even, and our understandings undisturbed.
8. For passions of the sensitive soul are like an exhalation, hot and dry, borne up from the earth upon the wings of a cloud, and detained by violence out of its place, causing thunders, and making eruptions into lightning and sudden fires. There is a tempest in the soul of a passionate man; and though every wind does not shake the earth, nor rend trees up by the roots, yet we call it violent and ill weather, if it only makes a noise and is harmless. And it is an inordination in the spirit of a man, when his passions are tumultuous and mighty; though they do not determine directly upon a sin, they discompose his peace, and disturb his spirit, and make it like troubled waters, in which no man can see his own figure and just proportions; and therefore, by being less a man, cannot be so much a Christian, in the midst of so great indispositions. For although the cause may hallow the passion, (and if a man be very angry for God's cause, it is zeal, not fury,) yet the cause cannot secure the person from violence, transportation, and inconvenience. When Elisha was consulted by three kings, concerning the success of their present expedition“, he grew so angry against idolatrous Joram, and was carried on to so great degrees of disturbance, that when, for Jehoshaphat's sake, he was content to inquire of the Lord, he called for a minstrel, who, by his harmony, might recompose his disunited and troubled spirit, that so he might be apter for divination. And sometimes this zeal goes besides the intentions of the man, and beyond the degrees of prudent or lawful; and engages in a sin, though at first it was zeal for religion. For so it happened in Moses, “ at the waters of Massah and Meribah, he spake foolishly;" and yet it was, when he was zealous for God, and extremely careful
6 Rom. vi. 7.
2 Kings, iii. 13, 14, 15.