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dreamers, defiling the flesh,' ver. 8. They live as in a constant pleasing dream by their vile imaginations, even when they cannot accomplish their lustful desires. For such imaginations cannot be better expressed than by dreams ; wherein men satisfy themselves with a supposed acting of what they do not. Hereby do many wallow in the mire of uncleanness all their days; and for the most part are never wanting unto the effects of it, when they have opportunity and advantage. And by this means the most cloistered recluses may live in constant adulteries, whereby multitudes of them become actually the sinks of uncleanness. This is that, which in the root of it is severely condemned by our Saviour, Matt. v. 28.
(3.) Unbelief, distrust, and hard thoughts of God, are of the same kind. These will sometimes so possess the imaginations of men, as to keep them off from all delight in God, to put them on contrivances of flying from him ; which is a peculiar case, not here to be spoken unto.'
In these and the like ways may sin exercise its dominion in the soul, by the mind and its imagination. It may do so when no demonstration is made of it in the outward conversation. For, by this means, the minds of men are defiled; and then nothing is clean,' all things are impure unto them,' Titus i. 15. Their minds being thus defiled, do defile all things to them, their enjoyments, their duties, all they have, and all that they do.
But yet all failing, and sin in this kind doth not prove absolutely that sin hath not the dominion in the mind that it had before. Something of this vice and evil may be found in them that are freed from the reign of sin. And there will be so, until the vanity of our minds is perfectly cured and taken away, which will not be in this world. Wherefore I shall name the exceptions, that may be put in against the title of sin unto dominion in the soul ; notwithstanding the continuance in some measure of this work of the imagination, in coining evil figments in the heart. And,
1. This is no evidence of the dominion of sin, where it is occasional, arising from the prevalency of some présent temptation; take an instance in the case of David. I no way doubt, but that in his temptation with Bathsheba, his mind was possessed with defiling imaginations. Wherefore
on his repentance, he not only prays for the forgiveness of his sin, but cries out with all fervency, that God would create a clean heart in him,' Psal. li. 10. He was sensible not only of the defilement of his person by his actual adultery; but of his heart, by impure imaginations. So it may be in case of other temptations. Whilst men are entangled with any temptation, of what sort soever it be, it will multiply thoughts about it in the mind; yea, its whole power consists in a multiplication of evil imaginations. By them it blinds the mind, draws it off from the consideration of its duty, and enticeth it unto a full conception of sin, James i. 14. Wherefore in this case of a prevalent temptation, which may befall a true believer, the corrupt working of the imagination, doth not prove the dominion of sin.
If it be inquired, how the mind may be freed and cleared of these perplexing, defiling imaginations, which arise from the urgency of some present temptation, suppose about earthly affairs, or the like; I say, it will never be done by the most strict watch and resolution against them; nor by the most resolute rejection of them. They will return with new violence, and new pretences, though the soul hath promised itself a thousand times, that so they should not do. There is but one way for the cure of this distemper, and this is a thorough mortification of the lust that feeds them, and is fed by them. It is to no purpose to shake off the fruit in this case, unless we dig up the root. Every temptation designs the satisfaction of some lusts of the flesh or of the mind. These evil thoughts and imaginations are the working of the temptation in the mind. There is no riddance of them, no conquest to be obtained over them, but by subduing the temptation ; and no subduing the temptatation, but by the mortification of the lust, whose satisfaction it is designed unto. This course the apostle directs unto, Col. iii. 3. 5. That which he enjoins is, that we would not set our minds on the things of the earth, in opposition unto the things above; that is, that we would not fill our imaginations, and thereby our affections with them. But what is the way whereby we may be enabled so to do? that is, saith he, the universal mortification of sin, ver. 5.
For want of the wisdom and knowledge hereof; or, for want of its practice, through a secret unwillingness, to come
up unto a full mortification of sin, some are galled and perplexed, yea, and defiled with foolish and vain imaginations all their days. And although they prove not the dominion of sin, yet they will deprive the soul of that peace and comfort which otherwise it might enjoy.
But yet there is much spiritual skill and diligence required to discover, what is the true root and spring of the foolish imaginations that may at any time possess the mind. For they lie deep in the heart; that heart which is deep and deceitful, and so are not easily discoverable. There are many other pretences of them. They do not directly bespeak that pride or unclean lusts which they proceed from; but they make many other pretences, and feign other ends. But the soul that is watchful and diligent may trace them to their original. And if such thoughts are strictly examined at any time, what is their design, whose work they do, what makes them so busy in the mind, they will confess the truth, both whence they came, and what it is they aim at. Then is the mind guided unto its duty, which is the extermination of the lust, which they would make provision for.
2. Such imaginations are no evidence of the dominion of sin, in what degree soever they are, where they are afflictive, where they are a burden unto the soul, which it groans under and would be delivered from. There is a full account given by the apostle, of the conflict between indwelling sin and grace, Rom. vii. And the things which he ascribes unto sin, are not the first rising or involuntary motions of it, nor merely its inclinations and disposition: for the things ascribed unto it, as that it fights, rebels, wars, leads captive, acts as a law, cannot belong unto them; nor doth he intend the outward acting or perpetration of sin, the doing or accomplishing or finishing of it: for that cannot befall believers, as the apostle declares, 1 John iii. 9.
But it is the working of sin by these imaginations in the mind, and the engagement of the affections thereon, that he doth intend. Now this he declares to be the great burden of the souls of believers, that which makes them think their condition wretched and miserable in some sort, and which they earnestly cry out for deliverance from, ver. 24. This is the present case. These figments of the heart, these imaginations will arise in the minds of men. They will do so sometimes
to a high degree. They will impose them on us with deceit and violence, leading captive unto the law of them; where they are rejected, condemned, defied; they will return again while there is any vanity remaining in the mind, or corruption in the affections. But if the soul bé sensible of them, if it labour under them, if it look on them as those that fight against its purity, holiness, and peace, if it pray for deliverance from them, they are no argument of the dominion of sin, Yea, a great evidence unto the contrary may be taken from that firm opposition unto them, which the mind is constantly engaged in.
3. They are not a proof of the dominion of sin, when there is a prevalent detestation of the lust from whence they proceed, and whose promotion they design, maintained in the heart and mind. I confess, sometimes this cannot be discovered ; and all such various imaginations are but mere effects of the incurable vanity and instability of our minds. For these administer continual occasion unto random thoughts : but for the most part (as we observed before), they are employed in the service of some lust, and tend unto the satisfaction of it. They are that which is prohibited by the apostle, Rom. xiii. 14. 'Make no provision,' &c. And this may be discovered on strict examination. Now when the mind is fixed in a constant detestation of that sin, whereunto they lead, as it is sin against God, with a firm resolution against it, in all circumstances that may occur ; no proof can be thence taken for the dominion of sin.
4. Sometimes evil thoughts are the immediate injections of Satan, they are on many accounts most terrible unto the soul. Usually for the matter of them, they are dreadful, and ofttimes blasphemous. And as unto the manner of their entrance into the mind, it is, for the most part, surprising, furious, and invisible. ; From such thoughts many have concluded themselves to be absolutely under the power of sin and Satan. But they are by certain rules and infallible signs, discoverable from whence they do proceed. And on that discovery all pretences unto the dominion of sin in them, must disappear. And this is the first case which renders the question dubious, whether sin have the dominion in us or no.
2. It is a sign of the dominion of sin, when in any instance it hath a prevalency in our affections : yea, they are the throne of sin, where it acts its power. But this case of the affections, I have handled so at large in my
discourse of spiritual mindedness, as I shall here very briefly speak unto it, so as to give one rule only to make a judgment by, concerning the dominion of sin in them.
This is certain, that where sin hath the prevalency and predominancy in our affections; there it hath the dominion in the whole soul. The rule is given us unto this purpose, 1 John ii. 15. We are obliged to‘love the Lord our God with all our hearts and all our souls. And therefore, if there be in us a predominant love to any thing else, whereby it is preferred unto God, it must be from the prevalency of a principle of sin in us. And so it is with respect unto all other affections. If we love any thing more than God, as we do if we will not part with it for his sake, be it as a right eye, or as a right hand, unto us; if we take more satisfaction and complacency in it, and cleave more unto it in our thoughts and minds than unto God, as men commonly do in their lusts, interests, enjoyments, and relations ; if we trust more to it, as unto a supply of our wants, than unto God, as most do to the world ; if our desires are enlarged, and our diligence heightened, in seeking after and attaining other things, more than towards the love and favour of God; if we fear the loss of other things, or danger from them more than we fear God; we are not under the rule of God or his grace; but we are under the dominion of sin, which reigns in our affections.
It were endless to give instances of this power of sin in and over the affections of men. Self-love, love of the world, delight in things sensual, an over-valuation of relations and enjoyments; with sundry other things of an alike nature, will easily evidence it. And to resolve the case under consideration, we may observe,
(1.) That the prevalency of sin in the affections, so far as to be a symptom of its dominion, is discernable unto the least beam of spiritual light, with a diligent searching into, and judgment of, ourselves. If it be so with any, and they know it not, nor will be convinced of it (as it is with many), I know not what can free them from being under the