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doth in a peculiar manner exert its power. This is the great ordinance of God for its mortification. For,
1. Hereby we obtain spiritual aids and supplies of strength against it. We are not more necessarily and fervently to pray that sin may be pardoned, as to its guilt, than we are that it may be subdued, as to its power. He who is negligent in the latter, is never in good earnest in the former. The pressures and troubles which we receive from the power of sin are as pungent on the mind, as those from its guilt are on the conscience. Mere pardon of sin will never give peace unto a soul, though it can have none without it. It must be mortified also, or we can have no spiritual rest. Now this is the work of prayer; namely, to seek and obtain such supplies of mortifying, sanctifying grace, as whereby the power of sin may be broken, its strength abated, its root withered, its life destroyed, and so the whole old man crucified. That which was the apostle's request for the Thessalonians, is the daily prayer of all believers for themselves, 1 Thess. v. 23.
2. A constant attendance unto this duty in a due manner, will preserve the soul in such a frame, as wherein sin cannot habitually prevail in it. He that can live in sin, and abide in the ordinary duties of prayer, doth never once pray as he ought. Formality, or some secret reserve or other, vitiates the whole. A truly gracious praying frame (wherein we pray always) is utterly inconsistent with the love of, or reserve for, any sin. To pray well, is to pray always; that is, to keep the heart always in that frame which is required in prayer;
and where this is, sin can have no rule, no, nor quiet harbour in the soul.
3. It is the soul's immediate conflict against the power of sin. Sin in it is formally considered as the soul's enemy, which fights against it. In prayer the soul sets itself to grapple with it, to wound, kill, and destroy. It is that whereby it applies all its spiritual engines unto its utter ruin ; herein it exerciseth a gracious abhorrency of it, a clear self-condemnation on the account of it, and engageth faith on all the promises of God, for its conquest and destruction.
It is hence evident, that if sin hath prevailed in the mind, unto a negligence of this duty, either in general, or as unto the effectual application of it, unto any especial case, where it exerts its power, it is an ill symptom of the dominion of sin in the soul.
It is certain, that unmortified sin, sin indulged unto, will gradually work out all due regard unto this duty of prayer, and alienate the mind from it, either as unto the matter or manner of its performance. We see this exemplified every day in apostate professors. They have had a gift of prayer, and were constant in the exercise of it; but the love of sin, and living in it hath devoured their gifts, and wholly taken off their minds from the duty itself, which is the proper character of hypocrites; “Will he delight himself in the Almighty? will he always call upon God?' Job xxvii. 10. He may do so for a season, but falling under the power of sin, he will not continue so to do.
Now because sin useth great deceit herein, in a gradual progress for attaining its end, and thereby securing its dominion, we may in a way of warning or caution take notice of some of its steps, that the entrances of it may be opposed; for as the entrance of God's word 'giveth light;' Psal. cxix. 130. the first puttings forth of its power on the soul gives spiritual light unto the mind, which is to be improved. So the entrance of sin, the first actings of it on the mind, towards the neglect of this duty, brings a deceiving darkness with them, which is to be opposed.
1. It will produce in the mind an unreadiness unto this duty in its proper seasons. The heart should always rejoice in the approach of such seasons, because of the delight in God, which it hath in them. To rejoice and be glad in all our approaches unto God, is every way required of us, and therefore with the thoughts of and in the approach of such seasons, we ought to groan in ourselves for such a preparedness of mind, as may render us meet for that converse with God, which we are called unto. But where sin begins to prevail, all things will be unready and out of order. Strange tergiversations will rise in the mind, either as unto the duty itself, or as unto the manner of its performance. Customariness and formality are the principles which act themselves in this case.
The body seems to carry the mind to the duty, whether it will or no, rather than the mind to lead the body in its part of it; and it will employ itself in any thing, rather than in the work and duty that lies before it.
Herein then lies a great part of our wisdom, in obviating the power of sin in us. Let us keep our hearts continually in a gracious disposition and readiness for this duty, in all its proper seasons. If you lose this ground, you will get go more backwards continually. Know, therefore, that there is no more effectual preservative of the soul from the power of sin, than a gracious readiness for, and disposition unto, this duty in private and public, according to its proper
2. In its progress, unto unreadiness it will add unwillingness; for the mind prepossessed by sin, finds it directly contrary unto its present interest, disposition, and inclination. There is nothing in it but what troubles and disquiets them; as he said of the prophet, who was not willing to hear him any more, it speaks not good but evil of them continually. Hence a secret unwillingness prevails in the mind, and an aversation from a serious engagement in it. And the attendance of such persons to it, is as if they were under a force, in a compliance with custom and convictions.
3. Sin will at length prevail unto a total neglect of this duty: this is an observation confirmed by long experience. If prayer do not constantly endeavour the ruin of sin, sin will ruin prayer; and utterly alienate the soul from it. This is the way of backsliders in heart; as they grow in-sin, they decay in prayer, until they are weary of it, and utterly relinquish it. So they speak, Mal. i. 13. “Behold, what a weariness it is! and ye have snuffed at it. They look on it as a task, as a burden, and are weary in attending unto it.
Now when I place this as an effect of the prevalency of sin, namely, a relinquishment of the duty of prayer, I do not intend that persons do wholly and absolutely, or as to all ways of it, public and private, and all seasons or occasions of it, give it over utterly. Few arise to that profligacy in sin, unto such desperate resolutions against God. It may be they will still attend unto the stated seasons of prayer, in families or public assemblies, at least drawing near to God with their lips; and they will on surprisals and dangers per
onally cry unto God, as the Scripture every where testifieth of them. But this only I intend; namely, that they will no more sincerely, immediately, and directly, apply
prayer to the mortification and ruin of that lust or corruption, wherein sin puts forth its power and rule in them: and where it is so, it seems to have the dominion. Of such a one, saith the psalmist, ' He hath left off to be wise and to do good. He setteth himself in a way that is not good; he abhorreth not evil;' Psal. xxxvi. 3, 4.
But such a relinquishment of this duty, as unto the end mentioned, as is habitual, and renders the soul secure under it, is intended. For there may, through the power of temptation, be a prevalency of this evil in believers for a season. So God complains of his people, Isa. xliii. 22. • Thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob, but hast been weary of me, 0 Israel ;' that is, comparatively, as unto the fervency and sincerity of the duty required of them. Now, when it is thus with believers for a season, through the power of sin and temptation; 1. They do not approve of themselves therein. They will ever and anon call things to consideration, and say, It is not with us as it should be, or as it was in former days; this thing is not good that we do; nor will it be peace in the latter end. 2. They will have secret resolutions of shaking themselves out of the dust of this evil state; they say in themselves,' we will go and return unto our first husband; for then it was better with us than now;' as the church did, Hos. ii. 7. 3. Every thing that peculiarly befalls them in a way of mercy or affliction, they look on as calls from God, to deliver and recover them from their backsliding frame. 4. They will receive in the warnings which are given them by the word preached, especially if their particular case be touched on, or laid open. 5. They will have 'no quiet, rest, or self-approbation, until they come thoroughly off unto a healing and recovery; such as that described, Hos. xiv. 1.4.
Thus it may be with some over whom sin hath not the dominion; yet ought the first entrance of it to be diligently watched against, as that which tends unto the danger and ruin of the soul.
Thirdly, Constant self-abasement, condemnation, and abhorrency, is another duty that is directly opposed unto the interest and rule of sin in the soul. No frame of mind is a better antidote against the poison of sin; he that walketh humbly, walketh surely.' God hath a continual regard unto
mourners, those that are of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. It is the soil where all grace will thrive and flourish. A constant due sense of sin as sin, of our interest therein by nature, and in the course of our lives, with a continual afflictive remembrance of some such instances of it, as have had peculiar aggravations issuing in a gracious self-abasement, is the soul's best posture in watching against all the deceits and incursions of sin. And this is a duty which we ought with all diligence to attend unto. To keep our souls in a constant frame of mourning and self-abasement, is the most necessary part of our wisdom, with reference unto all the ends of the life of God: and it is so far from having any inconsistency with those consolations and joys, which the gospel tenders unto us in believing, as that it is the only way to let them into the soul in a due manner. It is such mourners, and those alone, 'unto whom evangelical comforts are administered, Isa. Ivii. 18.
One of the first things that sin doth when it aims at dominion, is the destruction of this frame of mind; and when it actually hath the rule, it will not suffer it to enter: it makes men careless and regardless of this matter, yea, bold, presumptuous, and fearless : it will obstruct all the entrances into the mind of such self-reflections and considerations, as lead unto this frame: it will represent them either as need less or unseasonable ; or make the mind afraid of them, as things which tend unto its disquietment and disturbance, without any advantage. If it prevail herein, it makes way for the security of its own dominion. Nothing is more watched against than a proud, regardless, senseless, secure frame of heart, by them who are under the rule of grâce.
Fourthly, A reserve for any one known sin, against the light and efficacy of convictions, is an argument of the dominion of sin. So was it in the case of Naaman; he would do all other things, but put in an exception for that, wherein his honour and profit did depend. Where there is sincerity in convictions, it extends itself unto all sins: for it is of sin as sin, and so of every known sin equally, that hath the nature of sin in it. And to be true to convictions is the life of sincerity. If men can make a choice of what they will except and reserve, notwithstanding their being convinced of its evil, it is from the ruling power of sin. Pleas in the mind