Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
~ Psalms 19:13; Romans 6:12
“This is a mystery to the major part of the world who gratify the flesh rather than mortify it.”
The Christian Soldier; or Heaven Taken by Storm, by Thomas Watson. Written in 1669. Here are various excerpts from the text.
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
~ Matthew 11:12
1. Mortification of Sin.
….the flesh is a bosom traitor; it is like the Trojan horse within the walls which doth all the mischief. The flesh is a sly enemy; at first it is dulce venenum, afterwards scorpio pungens, it kills by embracing. The embraces of the flesh are like the ivy embracing the oak; which sucks out the strength of it for its own leaves and berries: So the flesh by its soft embraces, sucks out of the heart all good, Gal. v. 17. The flesh lusteth against the spirit. The pampering of the flesh, is the quenching of God’s spirit. The flesh chokes and stifles holy motions: the flesh sides with Satan and is true to its interest. There is a party within that will not pray, that will not believe. The flesh inclines us more to believe a temptation than a promise. There needs no wind to blow to sin when this tide within is so strong to carry us thither. The flesh is so near to us, its counsels are more attractive: no chain of adamant which binds so fast as the chain of lust. Alexander, who was victor mundi, conqueror of the world, was captious vitiorum, led captive by vice. Now a man must offer mortification to his fleshly desires if he will be saved, Col. iii. 5. ‘Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth.’ The mortifying and killing sin at the root, is when we not only forbear the acts of sin, but hate the inbeing. Plurimi peccata radunt non eradicant. Bern.
Nay, where sin has received its deadly wound, and is in part abated, yet the work of mortification is not to be laid aside. The Apostle persuades the believing Romans to ‘mortify the deeds of the flesh, Rom. viii.13. In the best of saints there is something which needs mortifying; much pride, envy, and passion; therefore mortification is called crucifixion, Gal. v. 24. which is not done suddenly: every day some limb of the ‘body of death’ must drop off. Nothing harder than a rock, (saith Cyrill), yet in the clefts thereof some weed or other will fasten its roots. None stronger than a believer, yet do what he can, sin will fasten its roots in him, and spring out sometimes with inordinate desires. There is always something needs mortifying. Hence it was St. Paul did ‘beat down his body,’ by prayer, watching, and fasting, 1 Cor. ix. 27.
But, is it not said, Ephes. v. 29. ‘no man ever yet hated his own flesh?’
As flesh is taken physically for the bodily coompagnes or constitution, so it is to be cherished; but as flesh is taken theologically for the impure lustings of the flesh, so a man must hate his own flesh. The apostle saith, ‘Fleshly lusts war against the soul,’ 1 Peter ii. 11. If the flesh doth war against us, good reason we should war against the flesh.
How may one do to offer dying to himself in mortifying the flesh?
1. Withdraw the fuel that may make lust burn. Avoid all temptations. Take heed of that which doth nourish sin. He who would suppress the gout or stone, avoids those meats which are noxious. They who pray that they may not be led into temptation, must not lead themselves into temptation.
2. Fight against fleshly lusts with spiritual weapons: faith and prayer. The best way to combat with sin is, upon our knees. Run to the promise, Rom. vi. 14. ‘Sin shall not have dominion over you:’ or as the Greek word is, it shall not lord it. Beg strength of Christ, Phil. ix. 13. Samson’s strength lay in his hair; ours lies in our head, Christ. This is one way of offering dying to one’s self by mortification. This is a mystery to the major part of the world who gratify the flesh rather than mortify it.
1. We must provoke ourselves to reading of the word. What an infinite mercy it is that God hath honoured us with the Scriptures! The barbarous Indians have not the oracles of God made known to them; they have the golden mines, but not the Scriptures which are more to be desired ‘than much fine gold,’ Psalm xix. 10. Our Savior bids us ‘search the Scriptures’, John v.39. We must not read these holy lines carelessly, as if they did not concern us, or run over them hastily, as Israel ate the passover in haste; but peruse them with reverence and seriousness. The noble Bereans did ‘search the Scriptures daily,’ Acts xvii.11. The Scripture is the pandect of divine knowledge; it is the rule and touchstone of truth; out of this well we draw the water of life. To provoke to a diligent reading of the word, labor to have a right notion of Scripture.
Read the word as a book made by God Himself. It is given ‘by divine inspiration’ 2 Tim. iii.16. It is the library of the Holy Ghost. The prophets and apostles were but God’s amanuenses or notaries to write the law at his mouth. The word is of divine original, and reveals the deep things of God to us. There is a numen, or sense of deity engraven in man’s heart and is to be read in the book of the creatures; quaelibet herba Deum; but who this God is, and the Trinity of persons in the Godhead, is infinitely, above the light of reason; only God Himself could make this known. So for the incarnation of Christ; God and man hypostatically united in one person; the mystery of imputed righteousness; the doctrine of faith: what angel in heaven, who but God himself, could reveal these things to us? How this may provoke to diligence and seriousness in reading the word which is divinely inspired. Other books may be written by holy men, but this book is indicted by the Holy Ghost.
Read the word as a perfect rule of faith; it contains all things essential to salvation. “I adore the fullness of Scripture,” saith Tertullian. The word teaches us how to please God; how to order our conversation in the world. It instructs us in all things that belong either to prudence or piety. How we should read the word with care and reverence, when it contains a perfect model and platform of religion and is “able to make us wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15)!
When you read the word, look on it as a soul-enriching treasury. Search here as for a ‘vein of silver’ Prov. ii.4. In this word are scattered many divine aphorisms; gather them up as so many jewels. This blessed book helps to enrich you; it fills your head with knowledge, and your heart with grace; it stores you with promises: a man may be rich in bonds. In this field the pearl of price is hid: What are all the world’s riches compared to these? Islands of spices, coasts of pearl, rocks of diamonds? These are but the riches that reprobates may have, but the word gives us those riches which angels have.
Read the word as a book of evidences. — How carefully doth one read over his evidences! Would you know whether God is your God? search the records of Scripture, 1 John iii. 24. ‘Hereby we know that he abides in us.’ Would you know whether you are heirs of the promise? you must find it in these sacred writings. 2 Thes. Ii. 13. ‘He hath chosen us to salvation through sanctification.’ They who are vessels of grace, shall be vessels of glory.
Look upon the word as a spiritual magazine, out of which you fetch all your weapons to fight against sin and satan. 1. Here are weapons to fight against sin. The word of God is a consecrated sword that cuts asunder the lusts of the heart. When pride begins to lift up itself, the sword of the Spirit destroys this sin, 1 Peter iv. 5 ‘God resists the proud.’ When passion vents itself, the word of God, like Hercules’s club, beats down this angry fury: Eccles. V. 9. ‘Anger rests in the bosom of fools.’ When lust boils, the word of God cools that intemperate heat, Ephes. V. 5. ‘No unclean person hath any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ.’ 2. Here are weapons to fight against Satan. The word fenceth off temptation. When the devil tempted Christ, he three times wounded the old serpent with the sword of the Spirit. ‘Tis written, Matt. Iv. 7. Satan never sooner foils a Christian than when he is unarmed, and without Scripture weapons.
Look upon the word as a spiritual glass to dress yourselves by: It is a looking-glass for the blind, Psalm xix. 8. In other glasses you may see your faces; in this glass you may see your hearts, Psalm cxix. 104. ‘Through Thy precepts I get understanding. This looking-glass of the word clearly represents Christ; it sets him forth in his person, nature, offices, as most precious and eligible, Cant.vi. 16. ‘He is altogether lovely; he is a wonder of beauty, a paradise of delight. Christ who was veiled over in types, is clearly revealed in the mirror of the Scriptures.
Look upon the word as a book of spiritual receipts. Basil compares the word to an apothecary’s shop, which has all kinds of medicines and antidotes. If you find yourselves dead in duty, here is a receipt, Psalm cxix. 50. ‘Thy word hath quickened me.’ If you find your hearts hard, the word doth liquify and melt them; therefore it is compared to fire for its mollifying power, Jer. xxiii. 29. If you are poisoned with sin, here is an herb to expel it.
Look upon the word as a sovereign elixir to comfort you in distress. It comforts you against all your sins, temptations, and afflictions. What are the promises but divine cordials to revive fainting souls.
The world shews its golden apple. It is a part of our vow in baptism to fight under Christ’s banner against the world. Take heed of being drowned in the luscious delights of it. It must be a strong brain that can bear heady wine. He had need have a great deal of wisdom and grace who knows how to maintain a great estate. Riches oft send up intoxicating fumes, which make men’s heads giddy with pride. “Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked,’ Deut. xxxi. 15. It is hard to climb up the hill of God with too many golden weights. Those who want the honours of the world, want the temptations of it. The world is blandus Daemon, a flattering enemy. It is given to some, as Michal to David, for a snare. The world shews its two breasts of pleasure and profit, and many fall asleep with the breast in their mouth. The world never kisses us, except with an intent to betray us. It is a silken halter. The world is no friend to grace; it chokes our love to heavenly things: the earth puts out the fire. Naturally we love the world, Job xxxi. 24. ‘If I have made gold my hope;’ the Septuagint renders it, ‘If I have been married to my gold.’ Too many are wedded to their money; they live together as man and wife. O let us take heed of being entangled in this pleasing snare. Many who have escaped the rock of scandalous sins, yet have sunk in the world’s golden quicksands. The sin is not in using the world, but in loving it. 1 John ii. 15. ‘Love not the world.’ Believers are ‘called out of the world:’ they are in the world, but not of it, John xvii.16. As we say of a dying man, he is not a man for this world. A true saint is crucified in his affections to the world, Gal. vi. 14. He is dead to the honours and pleasures or it. What delight doeth a dead man take in pictures or music? Jesus Christ gave himself ‘to redeem us from this present evil world,’ Gal. i. 4. Living fish swim against the stream. We must swim against the world, else we shall be carried down the stream, and fall into the dead sea. Let us remember, the world is:
1. It is deceitful. Our Savior calls it, ‘The deceitfulness of riches,’ Matt. xiii. 22. The world promiseth happiness, but nothing less. It promiseth us Rachel, but puts us off with bleary-eyed Leah: it promiseth to satisfy our desires, but only increaseth them: it gives poisoned pills, but wraps them in sugar.
2. It is defiling, James i. 17. ‘Pure religion is to keep himself unspotted from the world.’ As if the apostle would intimate that the world is good for nothing but to spot. It first spots men’s consciences, and then their names. It is called filthy lucre, 1 Peter i. 7. because it makes men so filthy. They will damn themselves to get the world. Ahab would have Naboth’s vineyard, though he swam to it in blood.
3. It is perishing, Job ii. 17.The fashion of the world passeth away.’ The world is like a flower which withers while we are smelling it.
5. The fifth duty wherein we are to offer dying to ourselves, self-examination; a duty of great importance: it is a parleying with one’s own heart, Psalm lxxxvii. 7. ‘I commune with my own heart.’ David did put interrogatories to himself. Self-examination is the setting up a court in conscience and keeping a register there, that by strict scrutiny a man may know how things stand between God and his own soul. Self-examination is a spiritual inquisition; a bringing one’s self to trial. A good Christian doth as it were begin the day of Judgment here in his own soul. Self-searching is a heart-anatomy. As a Chirurgeon, when he makes a dissection in the body, discovers the intestina, the inward parts, the heart, liver, and arteries, so a Christian anatomizeth himself; he searcheth what is flesh and what is spirit; what is sin, and what is grace, Psalm lxxvii. 7. ‘My spirit made diligent search:’ As the woman in the Gospel did light a candle, and search for her lost groat, Luke xv. 8. so conscience ‘is the candle of the Lord,’ Prov. xx. 27. A Christian by the light of this candle must search his soul to see if he can find any grace there. The rule by which a Christian must try himself, is the Word of God. Fancy and opinion are false rules to go by. We must judge of our spiritual condition by the canon of Scripture. This David calls a ‘lamp unto his feet,’ Psalm cxix. 105. Let the word be the umpire to decide the controversy, whether we have grace or no. We judge of colours by the sun. So we must judge of the state of souls by the light of Scripture.
Self-examination is a great, incumbent duty; it requires self-excitation; it cannot possibly be done without offering holiness to ourselves. 1. Because the duty of self-examination in itself is difficult: 1. It is actus reflexivus, a work of self-reflection;it lies most with the heart. ‘Tis hard to look inward. External acts of religion are facile; to lift up the eye to Heaven, to bow the knee, to read a prayer; this requires no more labor than for a Catholic to tell over his beads; but to examine a man’s self, to turn in upon his own soul, to take the heart asa watch all in pieces, and see what is defective; this is not easy. — Reflective acts are hardest. The eye can see everything but itself. It is easy to spy the faults of others, but hard to find out our own.
2. Examination of a man’s self is difficult, because of self-love. As ignorance blinds, so self-love flatters. Every man is ready to think the best of himself. What Solomon saith of love to our neighbour is most true of self-love;’it hides a multitude of evil,’ Prov. x.12. A man looking upon himself in Philautae speculo, in the glass of self-love,his virtues appear greater than they are, and his sins less. Self-love make some rather excuse what is amiss than examine it.
2. As examination is in itself difficult, so it is a work which we are very hardly brought to. That which causeth a backwardness to self-examination is.
1. Consciousness of guilt.Sin clamours inwardly, and men are loathe to look into their hearts lest they should find that which should trouble them. It is little pleasure to read the hand writing on the wall of conscience.Many Christians are like tradesmen who are sinking in their estates; they are loathe to look over their books, or cast up their accounts, lest they should find their estates low: so they are loathe to look into their guilty heart, lest they should find something there which should affright them; as Moses was affrighted at the sight of the rod turned into a serpent.
2. Men are hardly brought to this duty because of foolish, presumptuous hopes: they fancy their estate to be good, and while they weigh themselves in the balance of presumption, they pass the test. Many take their salvation on trust. The foolish virgins thought they had oil in their lamps, the same as the wise, Matt. xxv. — Some are not sure of their salvation, but secure.If one were to buy a piece of land, he would not take it upon trust, but examine the title. How confident are some of salvation, yet never examine their title to Heaven.
3. Men are not forward to examine themselves, because they rest in the good opinions of others: how vain this is! Alas, one may be gold and pearl in the eye of others, yet God may judge him reprobate silver: others may think him a saint, and God may write him down in his black-book. Judas was looked upon by the rest of the Apostles as a true believer: they would have given their hands to this certificate; yet he was a traitor. Standers by can but see the outward carriage; they cannot tell what evil is in the heart. Fair streams may run on the top of a river, but vermin may lay at the bottom.
And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
~ Matthew 10:36-38
Take heed of a snare in your bosom. This is one of the Devil’s great subtleties, to hinder us from religion by our nearest relations, and to shoot us with our own rib. He tempted Adam by his wife, Gen. iii. 6. Who would have suspected the Devil there? He handed over a temptation to Job by his wife, Job ii. 9. ‘Dost thou still retain thine integrity?’ What, notwithstanding all these disasters that have befallen thee, dost thou still pray and serve God? Throw off his livery; curse God and die. Thus would the Devil have cooled Job’s pursuit for Heaven; but the shield of his faith quenched this fiery dart. Spira’s friends stood in his way to Heaven, for advising with them about Luther’s doctrine, they persuaded him to recant, and so openly abjuring his former faith, he felt a hell in his conscience. Take heed of such tempters; resolve to hold on your pursuit for Heaven, though your carnal friends dissuade you. ‘Tis better to go to Heaven with their hatred, than to Hell with their love. It was a saying of St. Hierom, if my parents should persuade me to deny Christ; if my wife should go to charm me with her embraces, I would forsake all and fly to Christ. If our dearest friends alive would lie in our way to Heaven, we must either leap over them, or tread upon them.
The rat gets into his belly and eats his entrails. Take heed of a supine, lazy temper. A slothful christian is like a fearful soldier, who has a good desire for the plunder, but is loathe to storm the castle. so he who would fain have Heaven but is loathe to take it by storm. –enerves animos odisse virtus solet. Sloth is the soul’s sleep. Many instead of working out salvation, sleep away salvation. — Such as will not labor must be put at last to beg; they must beg, as Dives, for one drop of water. An idle man (saith Solomon) ‘puts his hand in his bosom,’ Prov. xix. 24. He should have his hand to the plough, and he puts it in bosom. God never made Heaven an hive for drones. Sloth is a disease apt to grow upon men; shake it off. — A ship that is a slug, is a prey to the pirate. A sluggish soul is a prey to Satan. When the crocodile sleeps with his mouth open, the rat gets into his belly and eats his entrails. While men are asleep in sloth, the Devil enters and devours them.
Take heed of setting up your abode in the lowest pitch of grace. He that hath the least grace, may have motion. It is a pitiful thing to be contented with just so much grace as will keep life and soul together. A sick man may have life, but is not lively. Grace may live in the heart, but is sickly, and doth not flourish into lively acts. Weak grace will not withstand strong temptations, or carry us through great sufferings; it will hardly follow Christ upon the, water. Little grace will not do God much service. A tree that has but little sap, will not have much fruit. It may be said of some christians, though they are not stillborn, yet they are starvelings in grace: they are like a ship that comes with much ado to the haven. Oh, labour to grow to further degrees of sanctity. The more grace, the more strength.
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
~ 2 Peter 3:18
Take heed of consulting with flesh and blood. As good consult with the Devil as the flesh. The flesh is a bosom traitor. An enemy within the walls is worst. The flesh cries out, there is a ‘lion in the way.’ The flesh will bid thee, ‘spare thyself,’ as Peter did Christ: O be not so holy for Heaven, ‘spare thyself.’ The flesh saith as Judas, ‘What needs all this waste?’ So, why all this praying and wrestling? why dost thou waste your strength? what needs all this waste? The flesh cries out for ease; it is loathe to put its neck under Christ’s yoke. The flesh is for pleasure; it would rather be gaming, than running the heavenly race. There is a description of fleshly pleasures, Amos vi. 4,5,6. ‘That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, that chaunt to the sound of the viol; that drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments.’ These are the delights of the flesh. Such an one was he, spoken of in Beard’s theatre, that did strive to please all of his five senses at once. He did bespeak a room richly hung with beautiful pictures; he had the most delicious music; he had all the choice aromatics and perfumes; he had all the candies and curious preserves of the confectioner; he was lodged in bed with a beautiful courtezan: thus he did indulge the flesh, and swore that he would spend all his estate to live one week like a god, tho’ he were sure to be damned in hell the next day. O take heed of holding intelligence with the flesh! The flesh is a bad counsellor. St. Paul would ‘not confer with flesh and blood,’ Gal. i. 16. The flesh is a sworn enemy… Rom viii. 13. ‘If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.’ You have taken an oath in baptism to renounce the flesh.
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
~ Luke 16:19-25
Take heed of indulging any lust. Sin lived in will spoil all for Heaven. Sin enfeebles; it is like the cutting of Samson s hair, and then the strength departs. Sin is aegritudo animi, the soul’s sickness. Sickness takes a man off his legs and so dispirits him that he is unfit for any holy exercise. A sick man cannot run a race.– Sin lived in, takes a man quite off from duty, or makes him dead in it. The more lively the heart is in sin, the more dead it is in prayer. How can he be earnest with God for mercy, whose heart accuses him of secret sin? Guilt breeds fear, and that which strengthens fear, weakens holiness. Adam, having sinned, was afraid and hid himself, Gen. iii. 10. When Adam had lost his innocence, he lost his holiness. Therefore lay the axe to the root; let sin be hewn down; not only abstain from sin in the act, but let the love of sin be mortified, and let every sin be put to the sword. Many will leave all their sins but one: save one sin and lose one soul. One sin is a fetter; a man may lose the race as well by having one fetter on his leg as if he had more. I have read of a great monarch, that, fleeing from his enemy, threw away the crown of gold on his head that he might run the faster. So, that sin which you wore as a crown of gold, throw it away that you may run the faster to the heavenly kingdom.
Take heed of too much after the world. The world cools good affections. — The earth puts out the fire. The world’s silver trumpet sounds a retreat and calls men away from their pursuit after Heaven. — The world hindered the young man from following Christ, ‘he went away sorrowful’; whereupon, saith our Savior, ‘How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God?’ Luke xviii. 24. — Demas’s religion lay buried in the earth, 2 Tim iv. 10. ‘Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.’ It was a saying of Pius Quintus, ‘When I first entered into orders, I had some good hope of my salvation; when I became a cardinal, I doubted it; but since I came to be pope, I do even despair of it.’ Jonathan pursued the victory till he came to the honeycomb, and then he stood still, 1 Sam. xiv. 27. Many are holy for the kingdom of God, till gain or preferment offers itself; when they meet with this honey, then they stand still. The world blinds men s eyes that they do not see the way; and fetters their feet that they do not run in the way of God’s commandments. Mithridates, king of Pontus, being worsted by the Romans, and fearing he should not escape them, caused a great deal of silver and gold to be scattered in the ways, which while the Roman soldiers were busy gathering, he got away from them. The like stratagem Satan useth; knowing what tempting things riches are, he throws them in men’s way, that while they are eagerly gathering these, he may hinder them in their pursuit of happiness. — I have observed some who did once, Jehu like, drive on furiously in the cause of religion; when the world hath come in upon them their chariot-wheels have been pulled off, and they have ‘driven on heavily,’ — Were a man to climb up a steep rock and had weights tied to his legs, they would hinder his ascent. Men’s golden weights hinder them in climbing up this steep rock which leads to salvation. The world’s music charms men asleep, and when they are asleep, they are not fit to work. A thing cannot be carried to two extremes at once. The ship cannot go full sail to the east and west at the same time: so a man cannot be holy for Heaven and earth at once: he may have Christ and the world, but cannot love Christ and the world, 1 John ii. 15. He that is all on fire for the world, will be all ice for Heaven. Take heed of engaging your affections too far in these secular things. Use the world as your servant, but do not follow it as your master.
Though the sinner shall drink a sea of wrath, yet shall he not drink one drop of injustice.
Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.
~ Psalms 119:133
Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.
~ Psalm 119:9
This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me.
~ Psalm 119:50