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have set to the affections, the pursuit and en-Serm. joyment. The desire of eating and drinking 1. may be lawfully gratified, so far as the neceffity of life requires, but in being drunk with wine there is excess, as the apostle speaks; indulging appetite in such a measure as to oppress nature, and render us unfit for rational, manly, pious, virtuous and charitable exercises : this is finful, and ought to be denied. Natural affection to parents, to brothers and sisters, and to children is innocent, nay virtuous : and to be without it is one of the worst of characters : but it becomes criminal when it prevails to such a degree, that thro' the influence of our dearest relatives, or a solicitude for their intereft, we desert our duty to God. Here the province of felf-denial is very plain. It is to restrain our appetites, desires, and passions within due bounds, so as to preserve the supremacy of conscience; their juft share to the higher affections in forming our tempers, and their proper influence in the direction of our conduct. And if the instincts of nature are to be so far under government, our obligation must be as great with respect to propensities we have contracted, which are sometimes strong even as nature itself, taking their rife from prejudice, custom, and falsę notions, which we have imbibed thro' inattention. And, Fico
SERM. 1. Lastly, It should be our constant care, that
our thoughts do not unduely dwell on the objects of the lower appetites and passions; for the tendency of this is to strengthen our affections to them, and increase their influence on our practice. · We cannot hinder the first impressions of thefe objects, nor the first motions of our affections and desires to them: but the entertaining them in our thoughts, and meditating upon them is more voluntary. The imagination is often employed actively in colouring them, and setting them off with advantage ; in forming scenes of pleasure which heighten desire, and various projects in order to fulfil it. This might be in a great measure restrained, by a careful attention and purpose of heart to exercise our thinking powers in a better and more proper manner : but when our vain thoughts lodge within us, and the fancy, not corrected by reason, heightens the apparent agreeableness of tempting objects, the mind is thereby betrayed into a compliance with the motions of lufts beyond the bounds which God's law has set us: and this by frequent indulgence grows into habit, which becomes a strong principle of action, forming the temper, and depriving the superior powers of their just dominion.
As this is the natural progress of fin, where-Serm. by it advances to its reign in our mortal bo- I. dies, bringing the soul into the most abjectum Navery; in opposition to it, self-denial become habitual would recover us to true freedom, restoring the sovereignty of reason and conscience. And the acquiring of such a habit I would principally recommend as the very perfection of our obedience to our Saviour's command in the text. It is acquired as all other habits are, by customary practice or frequently repeated acts. Let us then arm ourselves with strong resolution, and in pursuance of it, accustom ourselves to watch over the first tendencies of appetite and passion; to examine carefully the report of the imagination concerning them ; to suspend our consent to their motions, till we have maturely weighed and compared them with the just rules of action, and seen them agreeable ; peremptorily to reject their demands when conscience gainsays, or is doubtful; and resolutely to oppose their dominion. · When this kind of discipline is habitual to us, the difficulties of self-denial are conquered, and the practice of our duty is easy. :)
Indeed, when men have long gone on in an evil course, and have been used to indulge every appetite without controul, their first
SERM. effays in the way of self-denying virtue will 1. be painful to them. The * Prophet Jeremiah
compares the impotence of mind to act wore thily, which is contracted by vicious habits, to natural impossibilities. As the Ethiopian cannot change his skin, nor the leopard bis Spots, so they who have been accustomed to do evil, cannot learn to do well: which, at least, imports a very great difficulty. But even this difficulty is not altogether unconquerable. Strong virtuous resolutions, by the assistance of divine grace, have got the better of very bad habits. The conquest however cannot be obtained without a struggle; and they who will break off their fins by repentance, and return to the paths of righteousness, must lay their account to meet with pain and uneasiness, especially at the beginning. To this imperfect state of mens minds are accommodated the Scripture representations of this duty, which describe it under the notions of mortia fying the deeds of the body and crucifying the flesh with its affections and lusts of. : Our Sams; viour uses the figurative expressions of I plucka ing out the right eye and cutting off the right band, which mean the same thing with deny, ing ourselves, only signifying, that violence : must be done to vicious and worldly inclina: :. .:.
tions* fer. xiii. 23. + Gal. v. 24. Matt. V. 29.
tions confirm’d by habit, and the reluctance Serm. arising from their prevalence in the heart muft I. be overcome, be it ever so painful. This is the disadvantage which attends our infancy in a virtuous state; and therefore the scripture account of felf-denial under the idea of mortification was well adapted to the new disciples of Chrift in the first age, as it is to others in every age, whose condition is parallel in respect of weakness.
But Christians should always be growing up to perfection in every virtue : and in order to that increafing in self-denial, which it may be expected will go on the more successfully, because it still becomes more easy. And indeed it may be very useful for Christians of the highest attainments who are zealously pressing on to perfection, by a customary severity towards their inferior appetites, to lay restraints upon their liberty, within the limits of what is strictly lawful, that they may the more effectually restore and preserve a dominion over themselves, that thereby they may be the more stedfast, abounding in the work of the Lord. This kind of discipline St. Paul used, as he tells 1 Cor. ix. 27. I keep under my body, and bring it into fubje£tion ; that is, as appears from the preceding verses, by denying myself liberty in the use of indifferent things, in order to my