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that it shall not hinder us from being merciful to the poor, compassionate to our servants and labourers, and bountiful to our power in doing good works; nor yet shut out God's service from our families and closets ; nor rob him of our frequent, affectionate thoughts, especially on the Lord's day. So for sensuality, or the pleasing of our flesh more immediately; we shall never on earth be wholly freed from inordinate motions, and temptations, and fleshly desires, and urgent inclinations and solicitations to forbidden things. But yet we may restrain our appetite by reason, so far that it brings us not to gluttony and drunkenness, and a studying for our bellies, and pampering of our flesh, or a taking care for it, and making provision to satisfy its lusts; Rom. xiii. 14. We may forbear the obeying it, in excess of apparel, in indecent, scandalous, or time-wasting recreations, in uncleanness, or unchaste speeches or behaviour, or the reading of amorous books and sonnets, or feeding our eyes or thoughts on filthy or enticing objects, or otherwise wilfully blowing the fire of lust. So also for the performance of duty. We shall never in this life be able to hear or read so diligently, and understandingly, or affectionately, as we would do ; nor to remember or profit by what we hear, as we desire. But yet we can bring ourselves to the congregation, and not prefer our ease, or business, or any vain thing before God's word and worship, or loathe or despise it, because of some weakness in the speaker. And we may in a great measure restrain our thoughts from wandering, and force ourselves to attend; and labour when we come home to recal it to mind. We cannot call on God so fervently, believingly, or delightfully, as we would; but yet we may do it as sincerely as we can, and do it constantly. We cannot instruct our children and servants, and
reprove or exhort our neighbours, with that boldness, or love, and compassion, and discretion, and meet expressions, as we would but yet we may do it faithfully and frequently as we are able.
So that you may see in all this, what sin it is that Paul speaks of, Rom. vii. when he saith, When he would do good, evil is present with him; and that he is led captive to the law of sin, and serves the law of sin with his flesh. And Gal. iv. 17. when he saith, “We cannot do the things that we would,” he speaks not of wilful sinning or gross sin, but
of unavoidable infirmities; whereby also we are too often drawn into a committing of many sins which we might avoid (for so the best do).
And because you may often read and hear of sins of infirmity, as distinguished from other sins, let me here give you notice, that this word may be taken in several senses, and that there are three several sorts of infirmity in the godly.
1. There are those sins which a man cannot avoid though he would ; which are in the gentlest sense called sins of infirmity. Here note, 1. That Adam had none such. 2. And that the reason of them is, because, 1. Our reason which should direct, and our wills themselves which should command, are both imperfect. 2. And our faculties that should be commanded and directed, are by sin grown impotent and obstinate, and have contracted a rebelling, disobedient disposition. 3. And that degree of grace, which the best attain to in this life, is not such as wholly to overcome either the imperfection of the guiding and commanding faculty, or the rebellion of the obeying faculties : otherwise if our own wills were perfect, and the rebellion of the inferior faculties cured, no man could then say, "The good that I would, I do not, and the evil that I would not, that I do.' For the will would so fully command, that all would obey, and itself being perfect, all would be perfect. And therefore in heaven it is and will be so.
I know philosophers conclude, that all acts of the inferior faculties are but acts commanded by the will; it should be so I confess. It is the office of the will to command, and the understanding to direct, and the rest to obey. But in our state of sinful imperfection, the soul is so distempered and corrupted, that the will cannot fully rule those faculties that it should rule; so that it may be said, 'I would forbear sin, but cannot.' For, 1. The understanding is become a dark, imperfect director. 2. The will is become an imperfect receiver of the understanding's directions; yea, an opposer, as being tainted with the neighbourbood of a distempered sense. 3. When the will is rectified by grace, it is but in part; and therefore when Paul, or any holy man saith, 'I would do good,' and 'I would not do evil,' they mean it not of a perfect willingness, but of a sincere ; to wit, that this is the main bent of their will, and the resolved preyalent act of it is for good. 4. When the will doth com
mand, yet the commanded faculties do refuse to obey, through an unfitness of impotency and corruption. 1. The will hath but an imperfect command of the understanding. (I mean as to the exercise of the act, in which respect it commandeth it, and not as to the specification of the act.) A man may truly and strongly desire to know more, and apprehend things more clearly, and yet cannot. 2. The will hath but an imperfect command of the fancy or thoughts; so that a man may truly say, 'I would think more frequently, more intensely, and more orderly of good, and less of vanity, and yet I cannot.' For objects and passions may force the fancy and cogitations in some degree. 3. The will hath but an imperfect command of the passions; so that a man may truly say, 'I would not be troubled, or afraid, or grieved, or disquieted, or angry, but I cannot choose, and I would mourn more for sin, and be more afraid of sinning, and of God's displeasure, and more zealous for God, and more delighted in him, and joy more in holy things, but I cannot.' For these passions lie so open to the assault of objects, (having the senses for their inlet, and the moveable spirits for their seat or instruments) that even when the will commands them one way, an object may force them in part against the will's command, as we find sensibly in cases of fear, and sorrow or anger, which we can force a man to whether he will or no. And if there be no contradicting object, yet cannot the will excite these passions to what height it shall command; for their motion depends as much (and more) on the lively manner of representing the object, and the working nature and weight of the object represented, and upon the heat and mobility of the spirits, and temperature of the body, as upon the command of the will. 4. Much less can the will command out all vicious habits, and sensual or corrupt inclinations; and therefore a true Christian may well say in respect of these, that he would be more holy, heavenly, and disposed to good, and less to evil, but he cannot. 5. As for complacency and displacency, liking or disliking, love and hatred, so far as they are passions, I have spoke of them before: but so far as they are the immediate acts of the will (willing and nilling) they are not properly said to be commanded by it, but elicited, or acted by it; (wherein, how far it hath power is a most noble ques
tion, but unfit for this place or your capacity.) And thus you see that there are many acts of the soul, beside habits, which the will cannot now perfectly command, and so a Christian cannot be what he would be, nor do the things that he would. And these are the first sort of sins of infirmity.
If you say, 'Sure these can be no sins, because we are not willing of them, and there is no more sin than there is will in it;' 1 answer, 1. We were in Adam willing of that sin which caused them. 2. We are in some degree inclining in our wills to sin, though God have that prevalent part and determination, which in comparative cases doth denominate them. 3. The understanding and will may be most heinously guilty where they do not consent, in that they do not more strongly dissent, and more potently and rulingly command all the subject faculties; and so a negation of the will's act, or of such a degree of it as is necessary to the regiment of the sensual part, is a deep guilt and great offence; and it may be said, that there is will in this sin. It is morally or reputatively voluntary, though not naturally; because the will doth not its office when it should: as a man is guilty of voluntary murder of his own child, that stands by and seeth his servant kill him, and doth not do his best to hinder him. I would this were better understood by some divines; for I think that the commonest guilt of the reason and will in our actual sins, is by omission of the exercise of their authority to hinder it; and that most sins are more brutish, as to the true efficient cause, than many imagine; and yet they are human or moral acts too, and the soul nevertheless guilty; because the commanding faculties performed not their office, and so are the moral or imputative causes, and so the great culpable causes of the fact. But I am drawn nearer to philosophy and points beyond your reach than I intended ; a fault that I must be still resisting in all my writings, being upon every occurring difficulty carried to forget my subject, and the capacity of the meanest to whom I write: but what you understand not, pass over, and go
to the next. The second kind of sins of infirmity, are, The smaller sort of sins, which we may forbear if we will; that is, If we be actually, though not perfectly, yet prevalently willing ; or if our will be determined to forbear them; or if the chief part of the will actually be for such forbearance. The first sort are called sins of infirmity in an absolute sense. These last, I call sins of infirmity in both an absolute and comparative sense : that is, both as they proceed from our inward corruption, which through the weakness of the soul having but little grace, is not fully restrained, and also as it is compared with gross sins : and so we may call idle words, and rash expressions in our haste, and such like, sins of infirmity, in comparison of murder, perjury, or the like gross sins, which we commonly call crimes or wickedness, when the former we use to call but faults. These infirmities are they which the Papists (and some learned divines of our own, as Rob. Baronius in his excellent tractate “ De peccat. Mortali et Veniali,") do call venial sins; some of them in a fair and honest sense, viz. Because they are such sins as a true Christian may live and die in, though not unrepented or unresisted, yet not subdued so far as to forsake or cease from the practice of them, and yet they are pardoned. But other Papists call them venial sins in a wicked sense, as if they needed no pardon, and deserved not eternal punishment. (And why should they call them venial if they need not pardon?) A justified man liveth in the daily practice of some vain thoughts, or the frequent commission of some other sins, which by his utmost diligence he might restrain; but he liveth not in the frequent practice of adultery, drunkenness, falsewitnessing, slandering, hating his brother, &c.
Yet observe, that though the forementioned lesser sins are called infirmities, in regard of the matter of them, yet they may be so committed in regard of the end and manner of them, as may make them crimes or gross sins. As for example, if one should use idle words wilfully, resolvedly, without restraint, reluctance or tenderness of conscience, this were gross sinning; or the nearer it comes to this, and the more wilfulness, or neglect, or evil ends there is in the smallest forbidden action, the worse it is, and the grosser. And observe (of which more anon) that the true bounds or difference between gross sins, and those lesser faults, which we call infirmities, cannot be given; (I think by any man, I am sure not by me,) either as to the act itself, to say, just what acts are gross sins, and what not; or else as to the manner of committing them; as to say, just how much of the will must go to make a gross sin; or just how far a man may