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· Watchfulness, which is always necessary, ' is chiefly so, when the first allaults are • made: for then the enemy is most easily • repulsed, if we never suffer him to get • within us, but upon
first approach 'draw up our forces, and fight him without
the gate : and this will be more manifest, • if we observe by what methods and de
grees temptations grow upon us. --The • first thing that presents itself to the mind
is a plain single thought; this streight is im
proved into a strong imagination ; that again • enforced by a sensible delight; then follow.
evil motions; and when there are once stir* red, there wants nothing but the affent of
the will, and then the work is finished. • Now the first steps to this are feldom
thought worthy of our care, and some6 times not taken notice of; whence the
enemy is frequently near us, and even within our trenches, before we observe
• him (e).'
As men have their particular fins, which most easily beset them ; so they have their particular temptations, which do moft easily overcome them. That may be a very great temptation to one, which is none at all to another. And if a man should not know
(c) Stanhope's Thomas à Kempis, pag. 22.
what are his greatest temptations, he must have been a great stranger indeed to the business of self-employment.
As the subtle enemy of mankind takes care to draw men gradually into fin, so he usually draws them by degrees into temptation. As he disguises the fin, so he conceals the temptation to it: well knowing, that were they but once sensible of the danger of fin, they would be on their guard against it. Would we know ourselves thoroughly, then, we must get acquainted not only with our most usual temptations, that we be not unawares drawn into fin, but with the previous steps and preparatory circumstances, which make way for those temptations, that we be not drawn unawares into the occasions of sin; for those things which lead us into temptations are to be considered as temptations, as well as those which immediately lead us into sin. And a man that knows himself will be aware of his remote temptations, as well as the more immediate ones ; e. g. If he find the company of a passionate man is a temptation (as Solomon tells us it is, Prov. xxii. 24, 25.) he will not only avoid it, but those occasions that may lead him into it. And the petition in the Lord's Prayer makes it as much a man's duty to be upon his guard against temptation, as under it. Nor can a
man pray from his heart that God would not lead him into temptation, if he take no care himself to avoid it.
Self-Knowledge discovers the secret Prejudices
of the Heart. VIII. NOTHER important branch of
self-knowledge is, for a man to be acquainted with his own prejudices; or those secret prepossessions of his heart, which, though so deep and latent, that he may not be sensible of them, are often so strong and prevalent, as to give a mighty but imperceptible bias to the mind.
There is no one particular that I know of wherein self-knowledge more eminently consists than it does in this. It being therefore so essential a branch of my subject, and a point to which men seldom pay an attention equal to its importance, I beg leave to treat it with a little more precision.
These prejudices of the human mind may be considered with regard to opinions, perfons,
(1.) With regard to opinions.
It is a common observation, but well expressed by a late celebrated writer, G
6 that we
• set out in life with such poor beginnings of
knowledge, and grow up under such re. ' mains of superstition and ignorance, such
influences of company and fashion, such ' insinuations of pleasure, &c. that it is no
wonder, if men acquire habits of thinking only in one way ; that these habits in time grow rigid and confirmed; whence their minds come to be overcast with thick
prejudices, scarce penetrable by any ray of • truth, or light of reason (F).
There is no man but is more attached to one particular set or scheme of opinions in philosophy, politics and religion, than he is to another; I mean, if he hath employed his thoughts at all about them. The question we should examine then is; how came we by these attachments ? Whence are we fo fond of these particular notions ? did we come fairly by them? or were they imposed upon us, and dictated to our easy belief, before we were able to judge of them ? This is most likely. For the impressions we early receive generally grow up with us, and are those we least care to part with. However, which way foever we came by them, they must be re-examined, and brought to the touchstone of sound sense, solid reason
(F) See Religion of Nature del.n. pag. 129.
and plain Scripture. If they will not bear this after-scrutiny, they must be dismissed, as ungenuine principles of truth, and as counterfeits imposed on us under the guise and femblance of it.
As Reason and Scripture must discover our prejudices to us, so they only can assist us to get rid of them. By these are we to rectify, and to these are we to conform, all our opinions and sentiments in religion, as our only standard, exclusive of all other rules, light or authority whatsoever.
Care must farther be taken that we do not make Scripture and reason bend or submit to our notions; which would rather confirm our prejudices than cure them. For whatever cannot evidently be proved, without the aid of overstrained metaphors, and the arts of fophiftry, is much to be suspected; which used to make archbishop Tillotson fay, non amo argutias in Theologia; I do not love subtleties in divinity. But,
(2.) The human mind is very apt to be prejudiced either for or against certain perfons, as well as certain sentiments. And as prejudice will lead a man to talk very unreasonably with regard to the latter, so will it lead him to act as unreasonably with regard to the former.