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pect and to assist their return, and strikes them not so soon, nor so severely; but what other degrees of pardon God will allow to their infirmities, he hath no where told us. For as to the whole, it is true in all laws divine and human : “In criminibus quidem, ætatis suffragio minores non juvantur : etenim malorum mores infirmitas animi non excusatr:". “ Infirmity of mind does not excuse evil manners : and therefore in criminal actions, young persons are not excused by their age.”—“In delictis, ætate neminem excusari constat,” said Diocletian and Maximianus. The age excuses not; well may it lessen, but it does not quite extinguish, the guilt.
60. VIII. The greatness or violence of a temptation does not excuse our sin, or reconcile it to the state of
grace, and an actual consistence with God's favour. The man that is highly tempted, and so falls, cannot say, it was by an unavoidable infirmity. For God never suffers any man to be tempted above his strength; and therefore when he suffers him to fall into a great trial, he hath beforehand prepared him with great aids : and a temptation is not such a formidable thing to a considering Christian. All that it can say is nothing, but that sin is pleasant : and suppose that true ; yet so is drink to an hydropic person, and salt meats to a fantastic stomach; and yet they that are concerned, do easily abstain from these temptations, and remember that it is a greater pleasure to be in health, than with a little cold water or a broiled fish to please their palate: and therefore a temptation which can be overcome by an argument from so small an interest, cannot stand the shock of a noble and a Christian resolution and discourse. But every temptation puts on its strength as the man is. Sometimes a full meal will not prejudice 'our health; and at another time half so much would be a surfeit: and some men take cold with leaving off a half-shirt, who at another time might leave off half their clothes. The indisposition is within: and if men did not love to be tempted, it would not prevail at all. Wine is no temptation to an abstemious man, nor all the beauties of Potiphar's wife to Joseph, the devil could not prevail with such trifles; but half such an offer would overthrow all the trifling purposes of the effeminate. To say, that such a temptation is great, is to say, that you love the sin too
r L. Unicâ Cod. si adversus delictum.
well to which you are tempted. For temptations prevail only by our passions and our appetites : leave to love the sin, and the temptation is answered; but if you love it, then complain of nothing but thyself, for thou makest the temptation great, by being in love with life and sin, by preferring vanity before eternal pleasures. In the apophthegms of the Egyptian Anachorets, I read of one who had an apparition in the likeness of Christ. A vain and a proud person would have hugged himself and entertained the illusion. But he, shutting his eyes, said, 'I shall see Christ in heaven; it is enough for me to hope and to believe, while I am on earth.' This or the like did and did not prevail by our weaknesses, not by their own strength : and to pretend the strength of a temptation, is to say, we are to be excused, because we love sin too well, and are too much delighted with baser objects, and we cannot help it, because we love to die.
61. IX. The smallest instance, if it be observed, ceases to be a sin of infirmity; because by being observed, it loses its pretence and excuse, for then it is done upon the account of the will. For here the rule is general, and it sums up this whole question.
62. X. A man's will hath no infirmity, but when it wants the grace of God; that is, whatsoever the will chooses, is imputed to it for good or bad. For the will can suffer no violence; it is subject to nothing, and to no person, but to God and his laws, and therefore whenever it does amiss, it sins directly against him. The will hath no necessity, but what God and herself impose; for it can choose in despite of all arguments and notices from the understanding. For if it can despise an argument from reason, it can also despise an argument from sense; if it can refuse a good argument, it can also refuse a foolish one: if it can choose and not yield to religion, it can also choose and not yield to interest. If it can reject profit, it can reject pleasure; if it can refuse every argument, it can refuse all, and will because it will; it can as well be malicious as do unreasonably: and there could be no sin at all, if the will never did amiss, but when it were deceived: and even when the will chooses pleasure before heaven, it is not because that seems better, but be.cause it will choose against all reason, only upon its own ac
• Bibl. PP. tom. 9. p. 286.
count. For it is certain, he that chooses any thing upon that which he knows is but a seeming and a fallacious reason, may, if he please, do it without all reason : and so the will can do, against reason, in despite of powers, and hopes, and interest, and threatening. And therefore whatsoever is voluntarily chosen, let it be taken care of, that it be good; for if it be not, there can no excuse come from thence.
63. The will is the only fountain and proper principle of sin, insomuch as the fact is no sin, if it be involuntary ; but the willing is a sin, though no act follows. “ Latro est etiam antequam inquinet manus,” said Seneca ;' “Fecit enim quisquam, quantum voluit.” If he hath willed it, he hath done it before God. To this purpose is that saying of Tertullian: “Voluntas facti origo est, quæ ne tunc quidem liberatur, cum aliqua difficultas perpetrationem ejus intercepit. Ipsa enim sibi imputatur, nec excusari poterit per illam perficiendi infelicitatem, operata quod suum fuerat.” Want of power excuses every thing but the will, because this always hath power to do its own work ; and what cannot be done besides, as it is nothing to the will, so it is nothing to its excuse..To will' is the formality of sin, and therefore whatever action had its commission from thence, is not a sin of infirmity. For nothing is a sin of infirmity, but what is in some sense, involuntary.
64. The sum is this. Sin puts on its excuse, and becomes a sin of infirmity upon no account, buť upon the account of ignorance, or something analogical to it, such as are inadvertency, or surprise, which are to ignorance as acts are to habits. The 'weak brother,' in St. Paul's dialect, is • he that hath no knowledge. For since nothing leads the will but the understanding, unless it goes alone, and moves by its own act or principle; if the understanding be inculpably misled, the will may be in error, but not in sin; it is abused, but shall not be condemned. For no man can be tied to do more or better than he understands; for that would be to do more than he can. If the understanding abuse the will, there is evil in it, but no sin: but if the will abuse the understanding, then it is criminal. That is, where the man understands not, or cannot consider, or deliberate, all his actions, by being less human, are less imputable,
t Rom. xiv. 1. 10.
Δύναται γαρ ίσον το δράν το νοείν 1. But where there is no knowledge, there is no power, and no choice, and no sin. They increase and decrease by each other's measures. St. James's rule is the full measure of this discourse : "To him that knoweth to do good, and doth it not, to him it is sin." -The same with that of Philo. Το μεν γαρ αγνοία του κρείττονος διαμαρτάνοντι συγγνώμη δίδοται ο δ' εξ επιστήμης άδικών απολογίαν ουκ έχει, πρόεάλωκώς εν τωτού συνειδότος δικαστηρίω. To him that sins ignorantly, pardon is given, that is, easily: but he who sins knowingly, háth no excuse. And therefore the Hebrews use to oppose your 'sin,' to TIJU 'ignorance;' that is, the issues of a wicked from the issues of a weak mind : according to that saying of our blessed Saviour; - If ye were blind, ye should have no siny;" that is, no great or very unpardonable sin. Ignorance, where of itself it is no sin, keeps the action innocent; but as the principle is polluted, so also is the emanation.
Practical Advices to be added to the foregoing Considerations. 65. I. SINCE our weak nature is the original of our imperfections and sinful infirmities, it is of great concernment that we treat our natures so, as to make them aptly to minister to religion but not to vice. Nature must be preserved as a servant, but not indulged to as a mistress ; for she is apt to be petulant, and after the manner of women,
quæ faciunt graviora coaclæ
Imperio sexas She will insult impotently, and rule tyrannically. Nature's provisions of meat and drink are to be retrenched and moderate, that she may not be luxuriant and irregular; but she ought to be refreshed so as to be useful, and healthful, and cheerful, even in the days of expiation and sorrow. For he that fasts to kill his lust, and by fasting grows peevish, which to very many men is a natural effect of fasting, and was u Comed. vet. Gr.
x James, iv. 17. y John, X. 41.
2 Juv. 6. 135. Ruperti.
sadly experimented in St. Jerome, hath only altered the signification of his evil: and it is not easily known, whether the beast that is wanton, or the beast that is cursed, be aptest to gore; and if in such cases the first evil should be cured, yet the man is not.
66. But there are in nature some things, which are the instruments of virtue and vice too: some things, which,of themselves indeed, are culpable, but yet such which do minister to glorious events, and such, which as they are not easily corrigible, so they are not safe to be done away. “ Dabo maximæ famæ viros, et inter admiranda propositos, quos si quis corrigit delet. Sic enim vitia virtutibus immixta sunt, ut illas secum tractura sint a." If the natural
of some men be taken off, you will also extinguish their courage, or make them unfit for government. Vice and virtue sometimes go together: in these cases, that which we call vicious, is, in many degrees of it, a natural infirmity, and must be tempered as well as it can : but it neither can, nor indeed ought to be, extinguished : and therefore, as we must take care, that nature run not into extravagances; so, for the unalterable portions of infirmity, they ought to be the matter of humility and watchfulness, but not of scruple and vexation. However, we must be careful, that nature be not God's enemy; for if a vice be incorporated into our nature, that is, if our natural imperfections be changed into evil customs; it is a threefold cord, that is not easily broken: it is a legion of devils, and not to be cast out without a mighty labour, and all the arts and contentions of the Spirit of God. 67. II. In prosecution of this, propound to thyself
, as the great business of thy life, to fight against thy passions. We see that sin is almost unavoidable to young men, because passion seizes upon their first years. The days of our youth is the reign of passion; and sin rides in triumph upon the wheels of desire, which run infinitely, when the boy drives the chariot. But the religion of a Christian is an open war against passion; and by the grace of meekness, if we list to study and to acquire that, hath placed us in the regions of safety.
68. III. Be not uncertain in thy resolutions, or in choos
a A. Gellius 19. 12. et 17. 15.