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whom neither sense, smart, nor experience, can awaken? Who, while he feels blow after blow, will not be persuaded that he is struck? But when it comes to this, destruction must convince, where danger cannot admonish.
I. 4thly, Watchfulness implies a continual, actual intention of mind upon the high concern and danger which is before us, in opposition to sloth, idleness, and remissness. Stand' (says the apostle) having your loins girt about.' [Eph. vi. 14.] The grand security of a warrior is to be always ready. While the bow is bent, it is still fit for execution; but if the enemy comes and finds that unbent, and the armour off, the man is destroyed before he can either bend the one or put on the other. For in Judges [xviii. 7.] it is said of the inhabitants of Laish, that 'they dwelt careless, and after the manner of the Zidonians, quiet and secure, and had no business with any man.' what follows? Why, some it seems were resolved to have business with them, though they would have none with others; for the children of Dan came, and in the midst of this profound quiet and security, fell upon them, burnt down their city, and put them all to the sword. In like manner when David found Saul, with his troops round about him, all asleep, [1 Sam. xxvi. 7, 8.] Abishai thereupon thus bespeaks David, 'This day hath God delivered thine enemy into thy hands: let me therefore smite him with the spear to the earth at once, and I will not smite him twice.' Accordingly, in this spiritual warfare, let us take heed, that our vigilant, active enemy find us not idle and unemployed. The idler the man, still the busier the tempter. The truth is, idleness offers up the soul as a blank to Satan, for him to write what he will upon it. Idleness is the emptiness, and business the fulness, of the soul; and we all know that we may infuse what we will into an empty vessel, but a full one has no room for a further infusion. In a word, idleness is that which sets all the capacities of the soul wide open, to let in the evil spirit; and to give both him, and all the villanies he can bring along with him, a free reception and a full possession: whereas on the contrary, laboriousness shuts the doors and stops all the avenues of the mind, whereby a temptation would enter, and (which is yet more) leaves no void room for it to dwell there, if by any accident it should chance to creep in so that let but the course a man takes, be just and lawful; and then the more active, still the more innocent; far
action both perfects nature and ministers to grace; whereas idleness, like the rust of the soul, by its long lying still, first soils the beauty, and then eats out the strength of it.
Let the wary Christian therefore remember, that he is to keep all his hours filled up with business: happy beyond expression is that wise and good Christian, whom when the tempter comes,' he shall find so doing.' For he, who is thus prepared to receive the tempter, cannot be unprepared to receive his Saviour; since, next to his soul, his time is certainly the most precious thing he has in the world; and the right spending of the one the surest and most unfailing way to save the other.
I. 5thly, and lastly, Watching implies a constant and severe temperance, in opposition to revelling and intemperance.
How came Ahab, with a handful of men in comparison, to overthrow the vast insulting army of Benhadad the king of Syria? Why, we have an account of it, [1 Kings xx.] He and two and thirty kings his confederates were drinking themselves drunk in their pavilions,' [v. 16.] as if he had drawn together such a numerous and mighty army, headed by so many princes, only for the glorious and warlike expedition of carousing in their tents. Their success was answerable; they fell like grass before the mower, cut down and slaughtered without resistance.
Accordingly in the management of our Christian warfare, so much resembling the other, it is remarkable watching and sobriety are still joined together in the same precept; [as Luke xxi. 84.] Take heed to yourselves,' (says our Saviour) lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and so that day come upon you unawares.' And the same injunction is repeated over and over by the apostles; as, Let us watch and be sober,' says St. Paul, [1 Thess. v. 6.] And be ye sober and watch unto prayer,' says St. Peter. [1 Pet. iv. 7.] And again, Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, like a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour. [1 Pet. v. 8.]
Temperance is a virtue, which casts the truest lustre upon the person it is lodged in, and has the most general influence upon all other particular virtues of any that the soul of man is capable of; indeed so general, that there is hardly any noble quality or endowment of the mind, but must own temperance
either for its parent or its nurse; it is the greatest strengthener and clearer of reason, and the best preparer of it for religion, the sister of prudence, and the handmaid to devotion. Temperance gives a man the constant command of his reason, and (which is yet better) keeps him under the command of his religion. It takes away the very matter of temptation, and so eludes the tempter's design, for want of materials to work upon. And for this cause no doubt it was that our Saviour [Matt. xvii. 21.] told his disciples, that there were some evil spirits not to be dispossessed but by fasting' as well as prayer: and I think we may rationally enough conclude, that whatsoever 'fasting casts out,' temperance must at least keep from entering in.
And thus having shewn what is implied in the grand duty of watchfulness, the first thing prescribed in the text, we pass to the second great preservative and remedy against temptation, which is prayer: watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.' The necessity of which duty is founded upon this great truth, that it is not in the power of man to secure himself against temptation, but that something above him must effect it for him. Prayer is that blessed messenger between heaven and earth, holding a correspondence with both worlds, and by a happy intercourse and sure conveyance, carrying up the necessities of the one, and bringing down the bounties of the other. This is the high prerogative of prayer; and, by virtue of it, every tempted person has it in his power to engage omnipotence itself, in his defence.
But then to render it thus effectual, there are required to it these two qualications.
1. Fervency; and 2, Perseverance,
II. 1. Let us be but as earnest in praying against a temptation as the tempter is in pressing it, and we need not proceed by a surer measure, He who prays against it coldly and indifferently, gives too shrewd a sign, that he neither fears nor hates it; for coldness is, and always will be, a symptom of deadness; especially in prayer; where life and heat are the same thing.
H, who truly and sensibly knows the invaluable happiness of being delivered from temptation, and the unspeakable misery of sinking under it, will pray against it, as a man ready to starve would beg for bread, or a man sentenced to die would
entreat for life. Every period, every word, every tittle of such a prayer, is all spirit and life, flame and ecstacy; it shoots from one heart into another, from the heart of him who utters, to the heart of him who hears it.
And then well may that powerful thing vanquish the tempter, which binds the hands of justice, and opens the hands of mercy, and in a word, overcomes and prevails over omnipotence itself; for, Let me go,' says God to Jacob, [Gen. xxxii. 26.] And 'Let me alone,' says God to Moses, [Exod. xxxii. 10.] One would think that there was a kind of trial of strength between the Almighty and them: but whatsoever it was, it shews that there was and is something in prayer, which he, who made heaven and earth, neither could nor can resist: and if this be that holy violence which heaven itself (as has been shown) cannot stand out against, no wonder if all the powers of hell must fall before it. But,
II. 2dly, To fervency must be added also constancy or
Discontinuance of prayer by long broken intervals is the very bane of the soul, exposing it to all the wiles and stratagems of the tempter. For a temptation may withdraw for a while, and return again: the tempter may cease urging, and yet continue plotting. The temptation is not dead, but sleeps; and when it comes on afresh, we shall find it the stronger for having slept.
And therefore our Saviour casts the whole stress of our safety upon continual prayer, by a parable intended [Luke xviii. 1.] to show, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; nothing being more fatally common, than for men, not receiving immediate answers to their prayers, to despond, and to conclude with themselves, as good not at all as to no purpose. A man, perhaps, labours under the tyranny of some vexatious lust or corruption; and being bitterly sensible of it, he sets by all religious exercises upon it with watching and striving, reading and hearing, fasting and praying;' and after all thinks he has got but little or no ground of it: and now what shall such a one do? Nothing else must or can be done in the case, but resolutely to persist in praying; for no man of sense who sows one day, expects to reap the next. This is certain, that while any one prays sincerely against a temptation, he fights against it; and so long as a man continues fighting,
he is not vanquished; it is conquest,' in the account of God not to be overcome.' God perhaps intends, that there shall be war between us and our corruption all our days; we shall live fighting and warring, but for all that we may die in peace: and if so, God has answered our prayers; I say, answered them, enough to save thy soul,' though not always enough to comfort and compose thy mind. God fully made good his promise to the Israelites; and they really conquered the Canaanites, though they never wholly dispossessed and drove them out.
And therefore since God will still have something remain to exercise the very best of men in this life, if thou wouldst have thy prayer against thy sin successful, in spite of all discouragements, let it be continual. For prayer is no otherwise a remedy against temptation than as it is commensurate to it, and keeps pace with it; but if we leave off praying, before the devil leaves off tempting, we cannot be safe; we throw off our armour in the midst of the battle, and so must not wonder at the worst that follows.
And hence we may learn the true cause why so many men, who doubtless at some times of their lives have many a hard conflict with their sins, yet in the issue are worsted by them, and so live and die under the power of them. This is not from any insufficiency in watching and prayer, as means unable to compass the end they are prescribed for, but from this, that men divide between watching and prayer, and so use and rely upon the duties separately, which can do nothing but in conjunction. For watchfulness without prayer is presumption, and prayer without watchfulness is a mockery: by the first, a man invades God's part in this great work; and by the latter, he neglects his own. Prayer, not assisted by practice, is laziness: and contradicted by practice is hypocrisy. He who hopes to be delivered from temptation merely by praying against it, affronts God, and deludes himself, and might to as much purpose fall asleep in the midst of his prayers, as do nothing but sleep after them. Some ruin their souls by neglecting prayer, and some perhaps do them as much mischief by adoring it, while by placing their whole entire confidence in it, they commit an odd piece of idolatry, and make a God of their very devotions.
First, when a man prays against any sin or temptation, and