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there one of them, who, although he hath all the symptoms of the vice appearing upon every occasion, can look with such an impartial eye upon himself, as to believe that the imputation thrown upon him is not altogether groundless and unfair ? who, if he were told, by men of a discerning spirit and a strong conjecture, of all the evil and absurd things which that false heart of his would at one time or other betray him into, would not believe as little, and wonder as much, as Hazael did before him? Thus for instance; tell an angry person, that he is weak and impotent, and of no consistency of mind; tell him, that such or such a little accident which he may then despise and think much below a passion, shall hereafter make him say and do several absurd, indiscreet, aud misbecoming things : he may perhaps own that he hath a spirit of resentment within him, that will not let him be imposed on; but he fondly imagines, that he can lay a becoming restraint upon it when he pleaseth, although it is ever running away with him into some indecency or other.
Therefore, to bring the words of my text to our present occasion, I shall endeavour, in a farther prosecution of them, to evince the great necessity of a nice and curious inspection into the several recesses of the heart, being the surest and the shortest method that a wicked man can take to reform himself: for let us but stop the fountain, and the streams will spend and waste themselves away in a very little time ; but if we go about, like children, to raise a bank, and to stop the current, not taking notice all the while of the spring which continually feedeth it, when the next flood of temptation rises and breakech in upon it, then we shall find that we have begun at the wrong
end of our duty; and that we are very little more the better for it, than if we had sat still, and made no advances at all.
But, in order to a clearer explanation of the point, I shall speak to these following particulars ; First, by endeavouring to prove, from particular
instances, that man is generally the most ignorant
creature in the world of himself. Secondly, By inquiring into the grounds and reasons
of his ignorance. Thirdly, and lastly, By proposing several advantages,
that do most assuredly attend a due improvement in the knowledge of ourselves.
First, then, To prove that man is generally the most ignorant creature in the world of himself.
To pursue the heart of man through all the instances of life, in all its several windings and turnings, and under that infinite variety of shapes and appearances which it puttethon, would be a difficult and almost impossible undertaking; so that I shall confine myself to such as have a nearer reference to the present occasion, and do, upon a closer view, show themselves through the whole business of repentFor we all know what it is to repent ;
but whether he repenteth him truly of his sins or not, who can know it?
Now the great duty of repentance is chiefly made up of these two parts; a hearty sorrow for the follies and miscarriages of the time past, and a full purpose and resolution of amendment for the time to come. And now, to show the falseness of the heart in both these parts
First, As to a hearty sorrow for the sins and miscarriages of the time past. Is there a more usual thing than for a man to impose upon himself, by putting on a grave and demure countenance, by casting a severe look into his past conduct, and making some few pious and devout reflections upon it; and then to believe that he hath repented to an excellent purpose, without ever letting it step forth into practice, and show itself in a holy conversation ? Nay, some persons do carry the deceit a little higher; who, if they can but bring themselves to weep for their sins, are then full of an ill-grounded confidence and security; never considering, that all this may prove to be no more than the very garb and outward dress of a contrite heart, which another heart, as hard as the nether millstone, may as well put on. For, tears and sighs, however in some persons they may be decent and commendable expressions of a godly sorrow, are neither necessary nor infallible signs of a true and unfeigned repentance. Not necessary, because sometimes, and in some persons, the inward grief and anguish of the mind may be too big to be expressed by so little a thing as a tear, and then it turneth its edge inward upon the mind; and, like those wounds of the body which bleed inwardly, generally proves the most fatal and dangerous to the whole body of sin : not infallible, because a very small portion of sorrow, may make some tender dispositions melt, and break out into tears; or a man may perhaps weep at parting with his sins, as he would bid the last farewell to an old friend.
But there is still a more pleasant cheat in this affair, that when we find a deadness, and a strange kind of unaptness and indisposition to all impressions of
religion, and that we cannot be as truly sorry for our sins as we should be, we then pretend to be sorry that we are not more sorry for them; which is not more absurd and irrational, than that a man should pretend to be very angry at a thing, because he did not know how to be angry at all.
But, after all, what is wanting in this part of repentance, we expect to make up in the next : and to that purpose we put on a resolution of amendment, which we take to be as firm as a house built upon a rock; so that, let the foods arise, and the winds blow, and the streams beat vehemently upon it, nothing shall shake it into ruin or disorder. We doubt not, upon the strength of this resolve, to stand fast and unmoved amid the storm of a temptation ; and do firmly believe, at the time we make it, that nothing in the world will ever be able to make us commit those sins over again, which we have so firmly resolved against.
Thus many a time have we come to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, with a full purpose of amendment, and with as full a persuasion of putting that same purpose into practice ; and yet have we not all as often broke that purpose, and fal.ified that same persuasion, by starting aside, like a broken bow, into those very sins, which we then so solemnly and so confidently declared against.
Whereas had but any other person entered with us into a vow so solemn, that he had taken the Holy Sacrament upon it; I believe, had he but once deceived us by breaking in upon the vow, we should hardly ever after be prevailed upon to trust that man again, although we still continue to trust our own fears, against reason and against experience.
This indeed is a dangerous deceit enough, and will of course betray all those well-meaning persons into sin and folly, who are apt to take religion for a much easier thing than it is : but this is not the only mistake we are apt to run into; we do not only think sometimes that we can do more than we can do, but sometimes that we are incapable of doing so much: an errour of another kind indeed, but not less dangerous, arising from a diffidence and false humility. For how much a wicked man can do in the business of religion, if he would but do his best, is
often more than he can tell.
Thus nothing is more common than to see a wicked man running headlong into sin and folly, against his reason, against his religion, and against his God. Tell him, that what he is going to do will be an infinite disparagement to his understanding, which, at another time, he setteth no small value upon ; tell him, that it will blacken his reputation, which he had rather die for than lose ; tell him, that the pleasure of sin is short and transient, and leaveth a vexatious kind of sting behind it, which will very hardly be drawn forth; tell him, that this is one of those things for which God will most surely bring him to judgment, which he pretendeth to believe with a full assurance and
persuasion : and yet, for all this, he shutteth his eyes against all conviction, and rusheth into the sin, like a horse into battle ; as if he had nothing left to do, but, like a silly child, to wink hard, and to think to escape a certain and infinite mischief, only by endeavouring not to see it.
And now, to show that the heart hath given in a false report of the temptation, we may learn from this; that the same weak man would resist and master