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tray all those well-meaning persons into sin and folly who are apt to take religion for a much easier thing than it is. But this is not the only mistake we are apt to run into; we do not only think sometimes that we can do more than we can do, but sometimes that we are incapable of doing so much: an error of another kind indeed, but not less dangerous, arising from a diffidence and false humility. For how much a wicked man can do in the business of religion, if he would but do his best, is very often more than he can tell.
Thus nothing is more common than to see a wicked man running headlong into sin and folly, against his reason, against his religion, and against his God. Tell him that what he is going to do will be an infinite disparagement to his understanding, which at another time he setteth no small value upon; tell him that it will blacken his reputation, which he had rather die for than lose; tell him that the pleasure of sin is short and transient, and leaveth a vexatious kind of sting behind it, which will very hardly be drawn forth; tell him that this is one of those things for which God will most surely bring him to judgment, which he pretendeth to believe with a full assurance and persuasion : and yet for all this he shutteth his
eyes against all conviction, and rusheth into the sin like a horse into battle; as if he had nothing left to do but like a silly child to wink hard, and to think to escape a certain and infinite mischief only by endeavoring not to see it.
And now, to show that the heart hath given in a false report of the temptation, we may learn from this that the same weak man would resist and master the same powerful temptation upon considerations of infinitely less value than those which religion offereth, nay, such vile considerations, that the grace of God cannot without blasphemy be supposed to add any manner of force and efficacy to them. Thus for instance, it would be a hard matter to dress up a sin in such soft and tempting circumstances that a truly covetous man would not resist for a considerable sum of money; when neither the bopes of heaven nor the fears of hell could make an impression upon him before. But can anything be a surer indication of the deceitfulness of the heart than thus to show more courage, resolution, and activity in an ill cause than it doth in a good one? and to exert itself to better purpose when it is to serve its own pride, or lust, or revenge, or any other passion, than when it is to serve God upon motives of the gospel, and upon all the arguments that have ever been made use of to bring men over to religion and a good life? And thus having shown that man is wonderfully apt to deceive and
may as well
impose upon himself in passing through the several stages of that great duty, repentance, I proceed now, in the
Second place, To inquire into the grounds and reasons of this ignorance, and to show whence it comes to pass that man, the only creature in the world that can reflect and look into himself, should know so little of what passeth within him, and be so very much unacquainted even with the standing dispositions and complexion of his own heart. The prime reason of it is, because we so very seldom converse with ourselves, and take so little notice of what passeth within
for a man can no more know his own heart than he can know his own face any other way than by reflection ; he tell over every feature of the smaller portions of his face without the help of a looking glass, as he can tell all the inward bents and tendencies of his soul, those standing features and lineaments of the inward man, and know all the various changes that this is liable to from custom, from passion, and from opinion, without a very frequent use of looking within himself.
For our passions and inclinations are not always upon the wing, and always moving toward their respective objects, but retire now and then into the more dark and hidden recesses of the heart, where they lie concealed for awhile until a fresh occasion calls them forth again; so that not every transient oblique glance upon the mind can bring a man into a thorough knowledge of all its strength and weaknesses; for a man may sometimes turn the eye of the mind inward upon itself, as he may behold his natural face in a glass, and go away, “and straight forget what manner of man he was.” But a man must rather sit down and unravel every action of the past day into all its circumstances and particularities, and observe how every little thing moved and affected him, and what manner of impression it made upon his heart: this, done with that frequency and carefulness which the importance of the duty doth require, would in a short time bring him into a nearer and more intimate acquaintance with himself.
But when men instead of this do pass away months and years in a perfect slumber of the mind, without once awaking it, it is no wonder they should be so very ignorant of themselves, and know very little more of what passeth within them than the
very beasts which perish. But here it may not be amiss to inquire into the reasons why most men have so little conversation with themselves.
And, first, Because this reflection is a work and labor of the mind, and cannot be performed without some pain and difficulty; for
before a man can reflect on himself, and look into his heart with a steady eye, he must contract his sight, and collect all his scattering and roving thoughts into some order and compass, that he may be able to take a clear and distinct view of them; he must retire from the world for a while, and be unattentive to all impressions of sense ; and how hard and painful a thing must it needs be to a man of passion and infirmity, amid such a crowd of objects that are continually striking upon the sense and soliciting the affections, not to be moved and interrupted by one or other of them! But
Secondly, Another reason why we so seldom converse with ourselves is, because the business of the world taketh up
all our time, and leaveth us no portion of it to spend upon this great work and labor of the mind. Thus 12 or 14 years pass away before we can well discern good from evil; and of the rest, so much goes away in sleep, so much in the proper business of our callings, that we have none to lay out upon the more serious and religious employments. Every man's life is an imperfect sort of a circle, which he repeateth and runneth over every day; he hath a set of thoughts, desires, and inclinations, which return upon him in their proper time and order, and will very hardly be laid aside to make room for anything new and uncommon; so that call upon him when you please, to set about the study of his own heart, and you are sure to find him pre-engaged; either he has some business to do, or some diversion to take, some acquaintance that he must visit, or some company that he must entertain, or some cross accident hath put him out of humor, and unfitted him for such a grave employment. And thus it cometh to pass that a man can never find leisure to look into himself, because he doth not set apart some portion of the day for that very purpose, but foolishly deferreth from one day to another, until his glass is almost run out, and he is called upon to give a miserable account of himself in the other world. But,
Thirdly, Another reason why a man doth not more frequently converse with himself is, because such conversation with his own heart may discover some vice or some infirmity lurking within him, which he is very unwilling to believe himself guilty of. there be a more ungrateful thing to a man than to find that, upon a nearer view, he is not that person he took himself to be? that he had neither the courage, nor the honesty, nor the piety, nor the humility, that he dreamed he had ? that a very little pain, for instance, putteth him out of patience, and as little pleasure softeneth and disarmeth him into ease and wantonness ? that he hath been at
more pains, and labor, and cost, to be revenged of an enemy, than to oblige the best friend he hath in the world ? that he cannot bring himself to say his prayers, without a great deal of reluctancy; and when he doth say them, the spirit and fervor of devotion evaporate in a very short time, and he can scarcely hold out a prayer of ten lines, without a number of idle and impertinent, if not vain and wicked, thoughts coming into his head? These are very unwelcome discoveries that a man may make of himself; so that it is no wonde that every one who is already flushed with a good opinion of himself, should rather study how to run away from it, than how to converse with his own heart.
But further, if a man were both able and willing to retire into his own heart, and to set apart some portion of the day for that very purpose; yet he is still disabled from passing a fair and impartial judgment upon himself, by several difficulties, arising partly from prejudice and prepossession, partly from the lower appetites and inclinations. And,
First, That the business of prepossession may lead and betray a man into a false judgment of his own heart. For we may observe, that the first opinion we take up of anything or any person doth generally stick close to us; the nature of the mind being such that it cannot bút desire, and consequently endeavor, to have some certain principles to go upon, something fixed and unmovable, whereon it may rest and support itself. And hence it cometh to
that some persons are with so much difficulty brought to think well of a man they have once entertained an ill opinion of; and, perhaps that too for a very absurd and unwarrantable reason. But how much more difficult then must it be for a man, who taketh up a fond opinion of his own heart long before he hath either years or sense enough to understand it, either to be persuaded out of it by himself, whom he loveth so well, or by another, whose interest or diversion it may be to make him ashamed of himself! Then,
Secondly, As to the difficulties arising from the inferior appetites and inclinations; let any man look into his own heart, and observe in how different a light and under what different complexions any two sins of equal turpitude and malignity do appear to him, if he hath but a strong inclination to the one and none at all to the other. That which he hath an inclination to is always dressed up in all the false beauty that a fond and busy imagination can give it; the other appeareth naked and deformed, and in all the true circumstances of folly and dishonor. Thus, stealing is a vice that few gentlemen are
inclined to; and they justly think it below the dignity of a man to stoop to so base and low a sin; but no principle of honor, no workings of the mind and conscience, not the still voice of mercy, not
, the dreadful call of judgment, nor any considerations whatever, can put a stop to that violence and oppression, that pride and ambition, that revelling and wantonness, which we every day meet with in the world. Nay, it is easy to observe very different thoughts in a man of the sin that he is most fond of, according to the different ebbs and flows of his inclination to it. For as soon as the appetite is alarmed, and seizeth upon the heart, a little cloud gathereth about the head, and spreadeth a kind of darkness over the face of the soul, whereby it is hindered from taking a clear and distinct view of things; but no sooner is the appetite tired and satiated, but the same cloud passeth away like a shadow, and a new light springing up in the mind of a sudden, the man seeth much more,
both of the folly and of the danger of sin, than he did before. And thus having done with the several reasons why man,
the only creature in the world that can reflect and look into himself, is so very ignorant of what passeth within him, and so much unacquainted with the standing dispositions and complexions of his own heart: I proceed now, in the
Third and last place, to lay down several advantages, that do most assuredly attend a due improvement in the knowledge of ourselves. And,
First, One great advantage is, that it tendeth very much to mortify and humble a man into a modest and low opinion of himself. For let a man take a nice and curious inspection into all the several regions of the heart, and observe everything irregular and amiss within him: for instance, how narrow and short-sighted a thing is the understanding ! upon how little reason do we take up an opinion, and upon how much less sometimes do we lay it down again ! how weak and false ground do we often walk upon, with the biggest confidence and assurance ! and how tremulous and doubtful are we very often where no doubt is to be made! Again, how wild and impertinent, how busy and incoherent a thing is the imagination, even in the best and wisest men; insomuch, that
every man may be said to be mad, but every man doth not show it. Then as to the passions, how noisy, how turbulent, and how tumultuous are they ! how easy they are stirred and set a-going, how eager and hot in the pursuit, and what strange disorder and confusion do they throw a man into; so that he can neither think, nor speak, nor act as be should do, while he is under the dominion of any one of them.