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" So fight, not as one that beateth the air — 1 CoR. ix. 26.
The three elements which enter into the composition of the Spiritual Life, are Acting, Fighting, and Suffering. Of the first of these we have spoken ; and now, from the consideration of the Christian in his duties, we pass to the consideration of him in his temptations, or, in other words, we proceed to consider him as fighting. Two of the main sources whence temptations arise are the Devil and the flesh ; or, in other words, our great spiritual adversary, and the traitorous correspondence which he meets with from the heart of man. Now the heart being, according to the sure testimony of God's Word, deceitful above all things, and Satan's method of operation, too, being by stratagem rather than open violence, the first method, therefore, of meeting temptation aright must be to meet it wisely. Policy
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must be opposed by policy according to the warning of the Holy Apostle : " Lest Satan should get an advantage over us ; for we are not ignorant of his devices.'^
How then shall we fight wisely 1 This is our question in the present Chapter.
Now to fight wisely is not to figlit at a venture, but with a definite aim. " So fight I," says the Apostle, '^not as one that beateth the air." In which words he is drawing an innage from the boxing-match in the Isthmian games, and declares that in the spiritual combat, he does not wear out his strength by vain flourishes of his hands in the air, but plants each blow certainly and with a telling aim (o^Vw ttvkt^vw Jjs ovk depa 8epo)v).
We read indeed that King Ahab was shot by an arrow sent at a venture, that is, without deliberate aim : but this is told us to magnify the Providence of Almighty God, who in His designs of wrath, can direct the aimless shaft whithersoever it pleases Him ; not surely to teach us that aimless shafts are likely on com2
mon occasions to be successful. Yet what is the warfare of many earnest and well-intentioned Christians but the sending of shafts at a venture % They have a certain notion that they must resist the evil within and without them ; but then this evil presents itself in so many forms, that they are bewildered and confounded, and know not where to begin. And so it often comes to pass that their time and labour is thrown away in repressing symptoms, where they should be applying their M'hole energy to the seat of the disorder.
On the other hand, the first work of the politic spiritual warrior will be to discover his besetting sin, or sins, and having discovered it, to concentrate all his disposable force before this fortress. 9*
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Just as each individual has a certain personal configuration, distinguishing him from all other men at first sight ; just as his hair has a certain colour, his
limbs a certain make, his features a certain cast ; or just as each of us is said to be born into the world with some one defective organ, be it heart, liver, or lungs ; so in the moral constitution of each individual there is some sin or sins, which more than others is comformable to his temperament, and therefore more easily developed by his circumstances, — which expresses far more of his character than others. This bosom sin has eminently the attribute which the Apostle ascribes to all sin ; it is eminently deceitful. Its especial property is to lurk : sometimes it puts on the mask of a a virtue or a grace, not unfrequently that of some other sin ; but masked somehow or other it loves to be, and the longer Satan can keep it masked, the better it serves his purpose.
Let us give some examples of a bosom shi thus masking itself. With a very large proportion of mankind, the besetting sin is vanity. Who knows not how this detestable sin frequently apes humility, so as really to impress its possessor with the notion that he is humble? Intensely self-satisfied in his heart of hearts, he depreciates himself, his talents, his successes, his efforts in conversation. What follows 1 A natural
reaction of public sentiment in his favour. Men say to him, as in the Parable, *' Go up higher." He has been fishing for compliments, and compliments have risen to the hook. Is it not so ? For would he not have bitterly resented it in the inner man, had any of the company taken him at his word, and coolly answered to his self-depreciation, " What you say about the inferiority of your talents, and the paucity of your
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successes, is no doubt perfectly true?" True the words may have been ; but he did not say them because they were true, but because his lust of commendation craved some smooth word which might pamper it. Here is the bosom-adder of vanity coiled up in the violet-tuft of humility. To take another case. It is part of some men's character, as their friends would phrase it for them, that they cannot bear to be second. Whatever they do must be done (I do not say commendably well, for all things that are worth doing ought to be done commendably well), but
superlatively well, brilliantly, so as to throw into the shade all competitors. Accordingly, they are disposed to decline or abandon all pursuits in which they feel that they can never excel. Now what is this feeling, when we bring it into the court of conscience, and come to examine and scrutinize its ground 1 The world dignifies it with the name of honourable emulation, and accepts it as a token of a fine character. And thus much is true, and may not be denied, that there is usually some stuff in the characters, whose leading principle is such as I have described. In that singular way in which one principle hangs together with another, like bees clustering on a flower, or limpets on a weedy rock, this emulation as it is called, is somehow connected and intertwined with that energy and resolve which are the raw material from which earthly greatness is manufactured. But, judged by the mind of our Lord Jesus, which is the one standard of saintliness, how does the sentiment sound, " Because I cannot be brilliant, so as to outshine all rivals, therefore I will be nothing ? " It jars strangely, I think, with the music of those words, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them : and they that exercise
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authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so : but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he that is chief as he that doth serve." And again with those : " Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory ; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than himself." And again with that touching expression of our Lord's humility, prophetically foreseen and predicted by the Psalmist, long years before His coming in the flesh : " Lord, I am not high-minded ; I have no proud looks. I do not exercise myself in great matters which are too high for me ; but I refrain my soul and keep it low, like as a child that is weaned from his mother ; yea, my soul is even as a weaned child." Alas ! when we apply to this feeling the Ithuriel spear of God's Word and Christ's Example, we find it to be the bosom-adder of vanity again, lurking under the marigold of honourable emulation.
Again ; a bosom sin, that it may be the more easily
escape detection and eradication, will wear to a superficial observer the mask of another sin. Indolence, for example, is a sin which carries with it in its train many omissions of duty, and specially of religious duty. Prayer or Scripture reading is omitted or thrust away into a corner, and gone through perfunctorily, because we have not risen sufficiently early to give room for it. Things go cross during the day in consequence ; irritability of temper not soothed by God's Blessing, or calmed by His Presence, throws our affairs into a tangle. We trace it all up to the omission of Prayer, of which we accuse ourselves. But the fault lies deeper. It Mas not really an indisposition to Prayer which kept us from it. It was indolence which really caused the mischief.
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One of the first properties, then, of the bosom sin with which it behoves us to be well acquainted, as the first step in the management of our spiritual warfare, is its property of concealing itself In consequence of
this property, it often happens that a man, when touched upon his weak point, answers that whatever other faults he may have, this fault at least is no part of his character. This circumstance, then, may furnish one clue to the discovery ; of whatever fault you feel that, if accused of it, you would be stung and nettled by the apparent injustice of the charge, suspect yourself of that fault, — in that quarter very probably lies the black spot of the bosom sin. If the skin is in any part sensitive to pressure, there is probably mischief below the surface.
What has been said, however, requires a little modification. In very strong characters, where the bias of the will is very decided, the ruling passion can hardly help disclosing itself to its possessor and to those around him. Sensuality, for example, and an insatiable ambition proclaim themselves aloud in the ears of the conscience, and this is St. Paul's meaning when he says, " Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment." But the far more usual case is that described in the words which follow, " And some men they follow after." Their sins, their weak points, do not transpire till after a long and familiar
acquaintance with them ; they are subtle and evasive, and sometimes intertwined with the fibres of what is good in them.
It is to aid in bringing to light these secret sins that we make the following suggestions.
First, then, praying heartily for the light of God's
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Spirit to know thine own heart, observe and reason upon the results of Self-examination. When this most salutary exercise has been pursued for a certain time, you will observe that the same failures are constantly recurring, just as in Prayer the same wants daily recur ; so that though the words of our prayers may be a little varied, (and it is more free and pleasant to vary them a little,) the things that w^e pray for are always substantially the same. The conclusion is almost inevitable that there is something serious beneath these constantly recurring failures. What is it ? In what
one direction do all the phenomena point 1 To selfishness? or to indolence? or to vanity? or to want of sincerity and simplicity of character ? or to the fear of man and human respect? or to discontent ? or to worldly anxiety ? Remember always, that in the symptom, and on the surface, it may look like none of these sins, and yet be really and fundamentally one of them. Say often while engaged in the search, " Blessed Spirit, it is Thy office to convince of sin. Help me to seek the ground of my heart, and to drag into the light of day my hidden corruptions, for Jesus Christ's sake ; " and your search, if conducted in this method and spirit, will not long be fruitless.
Another plan may just be mentioned as helpful in the discovery of our bosom sin. Let us have our eye upon the occurrences which specially give us pain or pleasure : they will often be veriest trifles, — an expression of opinion, or sneer, a mere passing breath of human praise or censure, which goeth away, and cometh not again ; but yet, be it what it may, if it touches us to the quick, the probabilities are, that by tracing it to its source we shall get to the quick of our character, to that sensitive quarter of it where the bosom-adder lies
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coiled up. Whence those tears of vexation 1 whence that pang of annoyance *? whence that gleam of sunshine shooting across the heart on an otherwise gusty day 1 Let us trace them to the principles from which they arose, and we shall have made some advance towards the desired discovery.
When the discovery is made, the path of the spiritual combatant becomes clear, however arduous. Your fighting is to be no longer a flourishing of the arms in the air ; it is to assume a definite form, it is to be a combat with the bosom sin. Appropriate mortifications must be adopted, such as common sense will suggest, varying with the nature of the sin, and combined always with a heartfelt acknowledgment of our utter weakness, and with a silent but fervent prayer for the Grace of Almighty God. If indolence be the besetting sin, we must watch against slovenliness in little things, which is the mild form of the complaint ; if
selfishness, we must lay ourselves out to consider and gratify the wishes of others ; if vanity, we must secretly bless God in our heart for all mortifications of it, and particularly avoid the snare of speaking humbly of ourselves ; if discontent, we must review, in our seasons of devotion, the many bright points of our position, and seek our happiness in our work ; if human respect, we must habituate ourselves to look at our actions as we shall look at them when the judgment of God upon them will be the only matter of importance ; if sensuality, the discipline of fasting and abstinence from some innocent enjoyments must be used as far as health permits. Our Lord having implied this in the strongest possible manner when He said of a certain kind of evil spirits, " This kind goeth not out but by prayer and flisting."
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But the great matter to be attended to in each case is, that the whole forces of the will should be concentrated for a time in that one part of the field, in which
the besetting sin has intrenched itself. Thus point and definiteness will be given to Christian effort, the importance of which has been already shown ; we shall not lose our time, or waste our strength, as those who in fighting beat the air ; and we shall find doubtless, that in supplanting the besetting sin, we shall be also weakening the vitality of subordinate faults of character, which cluster together round that one nucleus.
Let me say finally, that for each one of us, no business can be of more pressing moment, of more urgent importance, than this discovery of our besetting sin. The bosom sin in Grace exactly resembles a strong current in nature, which is setting full upon dangerous shoals and quicksands. If in your spiritual computation you do not calculate upon your besetting sin, upon its force, its ceaseless operation, and its artfulness, it will sweep you on noiselessly, and with every appearance of calm, but surely and effectually, to your ruin. So may we see a gallant ship leave the dock, fairly and bravely rigged, and with all her pennons flying ; and the high sea, when she has cleft her way into it, is unwrinkled as the brow of childhood, and seems to laugh with many a twinkling smile ; and
when night falls, the moonbeam dances upon the wave, and the brightness of the day has left a delicious balminess behind it in the air, and the ship is anchored negligently and feebly, and all is then still save the gentle drowsy gurgling which tells that water is the element in which she floats ; but in the dead of the night, the anchor loses its holds, and then the current^ deep and powerful, bears her noiselessly whither it will ;
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and in the morning the wail of desperation rises from her decks, for she has flillen on the shoal, and the disconsolateness of the dreary twilight, as the breeze springs with the daybreak, and with rude impact dashes her planks angrily against the rock, contrasts strangely with the comfort and peacefulness of the past evening. Such was the doom of Judas Iscariot. Blessed with the companionship of Our Lord Himself] dignified with the Apostleship, and adorned with all the high graces which that vocation involved, he was blinded to the undercurrent of his character, which set in the di15
rection of the Mammon of unrighteousness, and which eventually ensured for him an irretrievable fall.
In conclusion, he who prays (as we should all do), " Show me myself, Lord," should take good care to add, lest self-knowledge plunge him into despair, " Show me also Thyself. ^^ The course recommended in this chapter, if honestly adopted, will probably lead us to the conclusion that our heart, which showed so fair without, is but a whited sepulchre, an Augean stable, full of corruptions and disorders, which it requires a moral Hercules to cleanse ; but, blessed be God, the Love of Christ, and the Blood of Christ, and the Grace of Christ are stronger than ten thousand depravities and corruptions, though riveted down to the soul by the chain of evil habit. And when God exhibits to the soul His Love, as mirrored in those bleeding Wounds, and the omnipotence of His free Grace, the energy which is felt there is great enough to crush any and every foe. The gentlest touch of God's finger upon the soul is like the touch of the dawn upon the dark horizon. Birds waken and trill their notes, and leaves flutter in the fresh breeze, and there is an electric thrill of joy and hope through the whole domain of nature.
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My reader, thy whole soul shall leap up at that touch ; holy affections shall lift up their hymn of praise with thee, and thy heart shall flutter with mingled awe and joy, and thou shalt know that thou hast found thy Lord.
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