Direction 1. Labor to know God, and to be affected with his attributes, and always to live as in his sight.
No man can know sin perfectly, because no man can know God perfectly. You can no further know what sin is than you know what God is, whom you sin against; for the malignity of sin is against the will and attributes of God. The godly have some knowledge of the malignity of sin, because they have some knowledge of God who is wronged by it. The wicked have no practical knowledge of the malignity of sin, because they have no such knowledge of God. Those who fear God, will fear sinning. Those who in their hearts are bold irreverently with God, will, in heart and life, be bold with sin. The atheist, who thinks there is no God, thinks there is no sin against him. Nothing in world will tell us so plainly and powerfully of the evil of sin, as the knowledge of the greatness, wisdom goodness, holiness, authority, justice, truth, etc. of God. The sense of his presence, therefore, will revive our sense of sin’s malignity.
Direction 2. Consider well of the office, the bloodshed, and the holy life of Christ.
His office is to expiate sin, and to destroy it. His blood was shed for it. His life condemned it. Love Christ, and you will hate that which caused his death. Love him, and you will love to be made like him, and hate that which is so contrary to Christ. These two great lights will show the odiousness of darkness.
Direction 3. Think well both how holy the office and work of the Holy Spirit is, and how great a mercy it is to us.
Shall God himself, the heavenly light, come down into a sinful heart, to illuminate and purify it? And yet shall I keep my darkness and defilement, in opposition to such wonderful mercy? Though all sin against the Holy Spirit be not the unpardonable blasphemy, yet all is aggravated hereby.
Direction 4. Know and consider the wonderful love and mercy of God, and think what he has done for you; and you will hate sin, and be ashamed of it.
It is an aggravation which makes sin odious even to common reason and sincerity—that we should offend a God of infinite goodness, who has filled up our lives with mercy. It will grieve you if you have wronged an extraordinary friend: his love and kindness will come into your thoughts, and make you angry with your own unkindness. Here look over the catalogue of God’s mercies to you, for soul and body. And here observe that Satan, in hiding the love of God from you, and tempting you under the pretense of humility to deny his greatest, special mercy, seeks to destroy your repentance and humiliation, also, by hiding the greatest aggravation of your sin.
Direction 5. Think what the soul of man is made for, and should be used for—even to love, obey, and glorify our Maker; and then you will see what sin is, which disables and perverts it.
How excellent, and high, and holy a work are we created for and called to! And should we defile the temple of God? And should we serve the devil in filthiness and folly—when we should receive, and serve, and magnify our Creator?
Direction 6. Think well what pure and sweet delights a holy soul may enjoy from God, in his holy service; and then you will see what sin is, which robs him of these delights, and prefers fleshly lusts before them.
O how happily might we perform every duty, and how fruitfully might we serve our Lord, and what delight should we find in his love and acceptance, and the foresight of everlasting blessedness—if it were not for sin; which brings down the soul from the doors of heaven—to wallow with swine in the mire!
Direction 7. Bethink you what a life it is which you must live forever, if you live in heaven; and what a life the holy ones there now live; and then think whether sin, which is so contrary to it, be not a vile and hateful thing.
Either you would live in heaven, or not. If not, you are not those I speak to. If you would, you know that there is no sinning; no worldly mind, no pride, no fleshly lust or pleasures there. Oh, did you but see and hear one hour—how those blessed spirits are taken up in loving and magnifying the glorious God in purity and holiness, and how far they are from sin—it would make you loathe sin ever after, and look on sinners as insane men wallowing naked in their dung. Especially, to think that you hope yourselves to live forever like those holy spirits; and therefore hate all sin.
Direction 8. Look but to the state and torment of the damned, and think of the difference between holy angels and devils, and you may know what sin is.
Angels are pure—devils are polluted; holiness and sin do make the difference. Sin dwells in hell—and holiness in heaven. Remember that every temptation is from the devil—to make you like himself. Likewise every holy motion is from Christ—to make you like himself. Remember when you sin, that you are learning and imitating of the devil—and are so far like him, John 8:44. And the end of all is, that you may feel his pains. If hell-fire is not good—then sin is not good.
Direction 9. Look always on sin as one who is ready to die, and consider how all men will judge of it at the last.
What do men in heaven say of sin? And what do men in hell say of it? And what do men at death say of it? And what do converted souls, or awakened consciences, say of it? Is it then followed with delight and fearlessness as it is now? Is it then applauded? Will any of them speak well of it? Nay, all the world speaks evil of sin in the general now, even when they love and commit it. Will you sin when you are dying?
Direction 10. Look always on sin and judgment together.
Remember that you must answer for sin before God, and angels, and all the world; and you will the better know it.
Direction 11. Look now but upon sickness, poverty, shame, despair, death, and rottenness in the grave—and it may a little help you to know what sin is.
These are things within your sight or feeling; you need not faith to tell you of them. And by such effects, you have knowledge of the cause.
Direction 12. Look but upon some eminent, holy people upon earth; and upon the mad, profane, malignant world; and the difference may tell you in part what sin is.
Is there not an amiableness in a holy, blameless person, who lives in love to God and man, and in the joyful hopes of life eternal? Is not a beastly drunkard or whoremonger, and a raging swearer, and a malicious persecutor—a very deformed, loathsome creature? Is not the mad, confused, ignorant, ungodly state of the world a very pitiful sight? What then is the sin, which all this consists in?
Though the principal part of the cure is in turning the will to the hatred of sin, and is done by this discovery of its malignity; yet I shall add a few more directions for the executive part, supposing that what is said already has had its effect.
Direction 1. When you have found out your disease and danger, give up yourselves to Christ as the Savior and Physician of souls, and to the Holy Spirit as your Sanctifier, remembering that he is sufficient and willing to do the work which he has undertaken. It is not you that are to be saviors and sanctifiers of yourselves (unless as you work under Christ). But God who has undertaken it, takes it for his glory to perform it.
Direction 2. Yet must you be willing and obedient in applying the remedies prescribed you by Christ, and observing his directions in order to your cure. And you must not think that his remedy is too bitter, and that is too sharp; but trust his love, and skill, and care, and take it as he prescribes it, or gives it you, without any more ado. Say not, ‘It is grievous, and I cannot take it!’ For he commands you nothing but what is safe, and wholesome, and necessary. If you cannot bear his remedy—think whether you can bear the fire of hell! Are humiliation, confession, restitution, mortification, and holy diligence—worse than hell?
Direction 3. See that you take not part with sin; and wrangle not, or strive not against your Physician, or any that would do you good. Excusing sin, and persisting in sin, and extenuating it, and striving against the Spirit and conscience, and wrangling against ministers and godly friends, and hating reproof—are not the means to be cured and sanctified.
Direction 4. See that malignity in everyone of your particular sins—which you can see and say is in sin in general. It is a gross deceit of yourselves, if you will speak a great deal of the evil of sin, and see none of this malignity in your pride, and your worldliness, and your passion and peevishness, and your malice and uncharitableness, and your lying, backbiting, slandering, or sinning against conscience for worldly gain. What self-contradiction is it for a man in prayer to aggravate sin—and when he is reproved for it, to justify or excuse it! This is like him who will speak against treason, and the enemies of the king—but because the traitors are his friends and kindred, will protect, and hide and feed them.
Direction 5. Keep as far as you can from those temptations which feed and strengthen the sins which you would overcome. Lay siege to your sins, and starve them out, by keeping away the food and fuel which is their maintenance and life.
Direction 6. Live in the exercise of those graces and duties which are contrary to the sins which you are most in danger of. For grace and duty are contrary to sin, and kill it, and cure us of it—as heat cures us of cold, or health of sickness.
Direction 7. Hearken not to weakening unbelief and distrust, and cast not away the comforts of God, which are your cordials and strength. It is not a frightful, dejected, despairing frame of mind—which is fittest to resist sin; but it is the encouraging sense of the love of God, and thankful sense of grace received (with a cautious fear).
Direction 8. Be always suspicious of carnal self-love, and watch against it. For that is the fortress of sin, and the common patron of it; ready to draw you to it, and ready to justify it. We are very prone to be partial to our own sins. Our own passions, our own pride, our own censures, or backbitings, or injurious dealings, our own neglects of duty—seem small, excusable, if not justifiable things to us. Whereas we could easily see the faultiness of all these in another, especially in an enemy. But we should be best acquainted with our own selves and sins—and therefore hate our own sins most.
Direction 9. Bestow your first and chief labor to kill sin at the root. Cleanse the heart, which is the fountain; for out of the heart come the evils of the life. Know which are the master-roots; and expend your greatest care and industry to mortify these. They are especially these: 1. Ignorance. 2. Unbelief. 3. Inconsiderateness. 4. Selfishness and pride. 5. Fleshliness, in pleasing a brutish appetite, lust, or fantasy. 6. Senseless hard-heartedness and sleepiness in sin.
Direction 10. Account the world and all its pleasures, wealth, and honors, no better than indeed they are, and then Satan will find no bait to catch you. Esteem all as dung with Paul, Philippians 3:8. No man will sin and sell his soul—for that which he accounts but as dung.
Direction 11. Keep up above in a heavenly thoughts. Then your souls will be always in the light, and as in the sight of God, and taken up with those businesses and delights which put them out of relish with the baits of sin.
Direction 12. Let Christian watchfulness be your daily work. Nourish a preserving, though not a distracting and discouraging fear.
Direction 13. Take heed of the first approaches and beginnings of sin. Oh how great a matter does a little of this fire kindle! And if you fall, rise quickly by sound repentance, whatever it may cost you.
Direction 14. Make God’s word your only rule and labor diligently to understand it.
Direction 15. And in doubtful cases, do not easily depart from the unanimous judgment of the generality of the most wise and godly of all ages.
Direction 16. In doubtful cases be not passionate or rash, but proceed deliberately, and prove things well, before you fasten on them.
Direction 17. Be acquainted with that sin which you are most inclined to; and what sin also your calling or living situation leave you most open to, that there your watch may be the stricter.
Direction 18. Keep in a life of holy order, such as God has appointed you to walk in. For there is no preservation for stragglers who keep not rank and file, but forsake the order which God commands them. And this order lies principally in these points: 1. That you keep in union with the universal church. Separate not from Christ’s body upon any pretense whatever. With the regenerate church—hold spiritual communion, in faith, love, and holiness. 2. If you are not teachers, live under your particular, faithful pastors, as obedient disciples of Christ. 3. Let the most godly, if possible, be your familiar friends. 4. Be laborious in an outward calling.
Direction 19. Turn all God’s providences, whether of prosperity or adversity, against your sins. If he gives you health and wealth, remember he thereby obliges you to obedience, and calls for special service from you. If he afflicts you, remember that it is sin that he is offended at, and searches after; and therefore take it as his medicine, and see that you hinder not, but help on its work, that it may purge away your sin.
Direction 20. Wait patiently on Christ until he has finished the cure, which will not be until this trying life be finished. Persevere in attendance on his Spirit and means; for he will come in season, and will not tarry. “Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” Hosea 6:3. Though you have often said, “There is no healing.” Jeremiah 14:19. “He will heal your backslidings, and love you freely.” Hosea 14:4. “Unto you who fear his name, shall the Sun of righteousness arise, with healing in his wings.” Malachi 4:2. “Blessed are all those who wait for him.” Isaiah 30:18.
Thus I have given such directions as may help for humiliation under sin, or hatred of it, and deliverance from it.