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it mortify. The wounds of the conscience,
like those of the body, cannot be well cured till they are searched to the bottom; and they cannot be searched without pain. A man that is engaged in the study of himself
, must be content to know the worst of himself.
Do not therefore shut your eyes against your darling sin, or be averse to find it out. Why should you study to conceal or excuse it; and fondly cherish that viper in your bosom ?
Some men deal by their sins, as some ladies do by their persons. When their beauty is decayed, they seek to hide it from themselves by false glasses, and from others by paint. So, many seek to hide their sins from themselves by false glasses, and from others by excuses, or false colours.' But the greatest cheat they put upon themselves. They that cover their sins shall not prosper.?* It is dangerous self flattery to give soft and smoothing names to sins, in order to disguise their nature. Rather lay your hand upon your heart, and thrust it into your bosom,'t though it come out (as Moses's did) leprous as snow.
And to find out our most beloved sin, let us consider what are those worldly objects or amusements which give us the highest delight ; this, it is probable, will lead us directly to some one of our darling iniquities, if it be a sin of commission : And
what are those duties which we read, or hear of from the word of God, to * Prov. xxviii, 13.
Exod. iv. 6.
which we find ourselves most disinclined ? And this, in all likelihood, will help us to detect some of our peculiar sins of omission; which, without such previous examination, we may not be sensible of. And thus we may make a proficiency in one considerable branch of self knowledge.
The knowledge of our most dangerous temptations, 'ne
cessary to self knowledge.
VII. A MAN that rightly knows him. self, is acquainted with his peculiar temptations ; and knows when, and in what circumstances, he is in the greatest danger of transgressing.
Reader, if ever you would know yourself, you must examine this point thoroughly. And if you have never yet done it, make a pause when you have read this chapter, and do it now. Consider in what company you are most apt to lose the possession and government of yourself; on what occasions you are apt to be most vain and unguarded, most warm and precipitant. Flee that company, avoid those occasions, if you would keep your conscience clear. What is it that robs you of your time and your temper? If you have a due regard to the improvement of the one, and the preservation of the other, you will regret such a loss; and shun the occasions
of it, as carefully as you would a road beset with robbers.
But especially must you attend to the occasions which most usually betray you into your favourite vices; and consider the spring from whence they arise, and the circumstances which most favour them. They arise doubtless from your natural temper, which strongly disposes and inclines you to them. That temper then, or particular turn of desire, must be carefully watched over as a most dangerous quarter. And the opportunities and circumstances which favour those inclinations must be resolutely avoided as the strongest temptations. For the way to subdue a criminal inclination is, first, to avoid the known occasions which excite it ; and then to curb the first motions of it. And thus having' no opportunity of being-indulged, it will of itself in time lose its force, and fail of its wonted victory.
The surest way to conquer is sometimes to decline'a battle ; to weary out the enemy by keeping him at bay. Fabius Maximus did not use this stratagem more successfully against Hannibal, than a christian may against his peculiar vice, if he be but watchful of his advantages. It is dangerous to provoke an unequal enemy to the fight, or run into such a situation, where we cannot expect to escape without a disadvantageous encounter.
It is of unspeakable importance, in order to self l .owledge and self governmeiit, to be ac
not taken notice of ; so that the enemy is fre
quainted with all the accesses and avenues to sin, and to observe which way it is that we ourselves too often approach it; and to set reason and conscience to guard those passes, those usual inlets to vice, which if a man once enters, he will find a retreat extremely difficult.
· Watchfulness, which is always necessary, is chiefly so when the first assaults are made. For then the enemy is most easily repulsed we never suffer him to get within us, but upon the very first approach draw up our forces, and fight him without the gate. And this will be more manifest, if we observe by what methods and degrees temptations grow upon us.
The first thing that presents itself to the mind is a plain single thought ; this strait is improved into a strong imagination ; that again enforced by a sensible delight; then follow evil motions ; and when these are once stirred there wants nothing but the assent of the will, and then the work is finished. Now the first steps to this are seldom thought worth our care; sometimes
quently got close up to us, and even within our trenches, before we observe him. 1
As men have their particular sins, which do most easily beset them; so they have their particular temptations, which do most easily overcome them.
That may be a very great temptation to one, which is none at all to another.. And if a man does not know what are his greatest temptations, he must have been a great
stranger indeed to the business of self employ
As the subtle enemy of mankind takes care to draw men gradually into sin, so he usually draws them by degrees into temptation. As he disguises the sin, so he conceals the temptation to it ; well knowing, that were they but once sensible of their danger of sin, they would be ready to be on their guard against it. Would we know ourselves thoroughly then, we must get acquainted not only with our most usual temptations, that we be not unawares drawn into sin, but with the previous steps and preparatory circunstances, which make way for those temptations, that we be not drawn unawares into the occasions of sin ; for those things which lead us into temptations are to be considered as temptations, as well as those which immediately lead us into sin. And a man that knows himself will be aware of his remote temptations, as well as the more immediate ones ; e. g. If he find the company of a passionate man is a temptation, (as Solomon tells us it is, Prov. xxii. 24, 25.) he will not only avoid it, but those occasions that may lead him into it. And the petition in the Lord's Prayer makes it as much a man's duty to be upon his guard against temptation, as under it. Nor can a man pray from his heart that God would not lead him into temptation, if he take no care himself to avoid it.