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me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord; and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his judgments were before me; and I did not put away his statutes from me. I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity.”
It is my intention to inquire, I. What is that iniquity which we may properly call
our own ? There are in every individual of our fallen race the seeds of all sin. But, as in different soils some plants will flourish more than others, so in different men are different propensities, which, growing to maturity, become prominent and characteristic features of the different individuals. There is, more or less, in every one some “ sin which more easily besets him";" and which, therefore, may be justly called his own, as having taken the fuller possession of his soul, and as serving to distinguish him from others. That may be called our own,
1. To which, from outward circumstances, we are most exposed
[This I suppose to be the precise case with David in my text. He was persecuted by Saul with most unrelenting cruelty: and was strongly tempted, both by his friends and by a regard for his own safety, to avail himself of the opportunities which were afforded him of destroying his enemy. Now, by birth and education, men are exposed to widely different temptations; as Agur intimated, when he prayed, “ Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches : feed me with food convenient for me; lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord ? or lest I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God in vain." Men also are subjected to evils incidental to their different vocations in life. Those who move in a higher sphere, under the influence of proud and ambitious thoughts, are led to seek their own advancement at the expense of others. Those of the middling classes, who are engaged in mercantile transactions, are but too prone to indulge an inordinate desire of wealth: whilst those of the lowest rank are apt to yield to the unhallowed emotions of murmuring and discontent. When John the Baptist saw persons of different vocations coming to his baptism, he particularly adverted to their respective occupations, to guard them against the evils incident to each; warning the publicans against exaction, and the soldiers against rapacity®; and thus shewing how all, in every department of life, are bound to watch against the sins to which their peculiar callings more immediately expose them. From our connexions and relations in life we also are subjected to many evils which tend to form and fix our character. Are we surrounded by those who are gay and dissipated? we are apt to contract a taste for gaiety and folly. Are our nearest relations worldly, carnal, covetous, ambitious ? we are apt to drink into their spirit, and to be greatly influenced by their example: as it is said of Joram, king of Judah, “ He walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as did the house of Ahab: for the daughter of Ahab was his wife; and he did evil in the sight of the Lord "."]
b Heb. xii. 1.
ci Sam, xxiv. 2-15. and xxvi. 6-12.
2. To which, from inward dispositions, we are most inclined
[Even in the earliest infancy there will be found widely different dispositions in children of the same parents: and as the children grow up to manhood, these form, in a very great degree, their distinctive characters through life. Doubtless these dispositions may be abated in some, and strengthened in others, according to the occasions that may arise for their nourishment or suppression: they may also vary with the different periods of their life. But, whatever be a man's leading disposition, it will expose him to temptation, and he will be likely to be betrayed into sin by means of those things which are calculated to gratify his peculiar desire. In other matters he may maintain a blameless deportment; or, if he have erred, may easily renounce his errors: but on the side of his darling lust he will be in danger of falling; even as Herod, who would obey in many respects the admonitions of John the Baptists, but, when called to put away his beloved Herodias, would rather sacrifice the life of his Monitor than comply with his advice? Let the besetting propensity be what it may, on that side will be our danger, and the sin arising from it is that which we need to guard against as most peculiarly our own.] 3. To which, from habit, we are most addicted
[Habit is, indeed, a second nature; and an Ethiopian may as easily change his skin, or a leopard his spots, as we can put away an evil to which we have been long accustomed. A man that has long yielded to fretfulness and impatience will never want occasions whereon to shew the irritability of his mind. A person who has given way to impurity, will contract such a propensity to the indulgence of it, that his very "eyes will be full of adultery, and he cannot cease from sin "," even when there are not before him any objects to call it forth; his own polluted imagination furnishing him with plenty of fuel for his unhallowed fire. “ The backslider in heart, we are told,
e Luke üi. 12-14.
? 2 Kings viii. 18.
& Mark vi. 18-28. h 2 Pet. ii. 14.
shall be filled with his own waysi:” from whence we see, that habit gives to our lusts a certain property in us, and to us a certain property in them; insomuch, that as there is a mutual indwelling between God and the believing soul, so is there also between a sinner and the lusts with which, from habit, he has obtained a more than ordinary familiarity: so true is that declaration of the Apostle, that, whatever be a man's outward temptations, he is, in fact, “drawn away of his own lust, and enticedk."]
If, from what has been said, we have any insight into our besetting sin, let us proceed to inquire, II. How far we are able to adopt the language of
the Psalmist in relation to it ? Certainly, we are all deeply interested in this matter. Let me, then, press home upon you the following inquiries :
1. How far have you discovered your besetting sin ?
[It is surprising to what an extent men in general are blinded in reference to it. All around them see it easily enough, whilst they themselves are strangers to it. All their acquaintance will say, This is a proud man; that a passionate man; that a covetous man; that an uncharitable and censorious man; that a querulous and discontented man. But, however clear men's characteristic infirmities are to others, they are hid from themselves: and in many cases men not only veil their faults under some specious name, but actually take credit to themselves for those very peculiarities as constituting their most distinguishing virtues. The proud man, who for a slight offence will shed the blood of an acquaintance, calls himself a man of honour. The ambitious man, who slaughters thousands and tens of thousands in order to extend his empire, when he has already far more than he knows well how to govern, is called a conqueror, and values himself upon that as entitling him to the admiration of mankind. And the man who is, with insatiable avidity, amassing wealth, applauds himself as prudently providing for his family. And if a man's faults be too glaring to be turned into virtues, he will extenuate them under the name of venial errors, or youthful indiscretions. But, Beloved, if this be your state, you are yet in darkness and the shadow of death. The very first step towards the knowledge of a Saviour is the knowledge of yourselves: and if you possess not that, all your other knowledge, whatever it may be, will be in vain.] 2. How far have you watched and prayed against it?
i Prov. xiv. 14.
k Jam. i. 14.
[With all our self-love, our besetting sin may be so glaring and dominant that we cannot but know it. Still, however, we may not be humbled under a sense of it, but, like King Saul, may be returning to it again and again, after all our acknowledgment of its vileness. But it is not thus with an upright soul. He will say with indignation, “What have I to do any more with idols?” And if he has been foiled in one and another attempt to subdue his lusts, he will be more and more earnest in prayer to God for grace sufficient for him, that, “ through the influences of the Holy Spirit, he may mortify the deeds of the body?," and "preserve himself unspotted," though in the midst of a polluting and ensnaring worldm.
See, also, whether you watch against the occasions that may call forth your indwelling corruption - and whether you mark the first risings of it in your soul, that you may the more effectually prevent its dominance and defilement? Our Lord's direction is, “ Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation:” and he has provided armour for us, that we may fight against sin in its first assaults. And we may be sure, that, if we be not thus habitually contending with it, we can never with truth assert that we have kept ourselves from it.] 3. How far have we actually overcome it?
["One that is born of God cannot commit sin“,” as once he did. God has said, that “sin shall not have dominion over him, because he is not under the law, but under grace." “ The man that obeys sin, is the servant of sin :” and consequently neither is, nor can be, the servant of God P. He may, it is true, still feel the workings of his besetting sin : but then it will be an intolerable burthen to him: and whilst under a sense of its working, he will cry, Oh, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of sin and death ?” he will be enabled to add, " I thank God, through Jesus Christ
n 1 John üi. 9.
i Rom. viii. 13. o Rom. vi. 14.
m Jam. i. 27.
our Lord !.". I again say, its motions may still continue : but its power is broken, and its reign destroyed; so that he is no longer the bond-slave of Satan; for “the truth has made him free: and he is free indeed."
That I may enforce this subject on your hearts and consciences, I declare before God and this assembly,
1. That only in proportion as you keep yourselves from your besetting sin, have you any evidence that you are upright before God
[David speaks of his victory over his besetting sin as his evidence of his uprightness before God: “I have been upright before God: for I have kept myself from my iniquity.” Now, I beseech you, Brethren, to try yourselves by this test. “ If you are Christ's indeed, you have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts ® ;” and if you are
- Israelites indeed, you are without
any known and allowed guile!." But I must warn you, that, if you
allow any one sin, you cannot be the servants of Jesus Christ: for if you were really his, you
would “walk as he walked 4,” and “purify yourselves even as he is puret."]
2. That only in proportion as you keep yourselves from your besetting sin, have you any hope of happiness in the eternal world
[Our blessed Lord has told us plainly, that " a right eye or a right hand retained by us will be the means of casting us into hell fire y." What a terrific thought is this ! and how fearful should it make us of self-deception! Truly, we should not be content with searching and trying ourselves, but should beg of God, also, to "search and try us, to see if there be any wicked way in us, and to lead us in the way everlasting2.” For, if we should be saved at last, "we must be sincere, and without offence till the day of Christ a."]
9 Rom. vii. 18, 19, 24, 25.
r John viii. 32.
s Gal. v. 24. x 1 John iii. 3. a Phil. i. 10.
EQUITY OF THE DIVINE PROCEDURE.
Ps. xviii. 25, 26. With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself
merciful ; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright; with the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward.