PART 1 ,
PSALM xix. 13.
Keep hack thy servant from presumptuous sins.
Let them not have dominion over me. Then
shall! be upright, and I shall be innocent from
the great transgression.
When a man, relying either upon his own strength^
or upon God's assisting him, undertakes to do
something of himself ; at the same time, not having
in himself (by the usual course of nature, and the
common aid which God affords to the actions of
his creatures in the ordinary ways of his providence)
sufficient strength to go through with it— or ex-
* Robert Sanderson, Bishop of Lincoln, was born 1587, and
died 1663.
pects to receive some extraordinary assistance from
the mercy or the power of God^ without having any
sufficient ground (either from the general promises
contained in the Scriptures^ or by a particular and
immediate revelation) to believe that God will so
assist him therein — this is presumption.
All, therefore^ who over-value themselves, or,
out of an overweening conceit of their own abili-
ties, attempt things beyond their power ; all who
persuade themselves that they can persist in a holy
course without a continual supply of grace ; or
who think they can continue in their sins as long as
they choose, and then repent of them, and forsake
them at their leisure ; or who doubt not but that
they are able by their own strength to stand out
against any temptation ; all these, 1 say, by relying
too much upon themselves, are guilty of the sin of
PRESUMPTIO. Of this wc havc a remarkable ex-
ample in the Apostle Peter ; who, in the great con-
fidence of his own strength, could not believe his
Master (though he knew him to be the God of
truth) when he foretold that he would forsake him;
but still protested. Though all men should he of-
fended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.
He that repenteth truly of his former sins, pre-
suming on God's mercy for their forgiveness ; or
that walketh uprightly in the ways of his calling,
presuming on God's power for his protection
therein ; sinneth not in so presuming. But who-
•oever trusteth to the mercy, or to the power of
God, without the warrant of a jpromise, presumeth
farther than he hath cause. And though he may
flatter himself, and call it by some better name, as
faith, or hope, or affiance in God ; yet in truth it
is no better than a groundless and a wicked 'pre-
sumption. Such was the presumption of those
sons of Sceva, who took upon them (but to their
shame and sorrow) to call (over them which had
evil spirits) the name of the Lord Jesus, in a form
of adjuration ; when they had no warrant from
God to that effect. And all those, who, pursuing
an evil course of life, still hope they shall find
mercy at the hour of death ; all those who throw
themselves into unnecessary dangers and tempta-
tions, with the expectation that God should mani-
fest his extraordinary power in their preservation ;
all those who promise to themselves the end with-
out applying themselves to the means that God
hath appointed ; (as to have learning without study,
or wealth without industry) inasmuch as they pre-
sume upon God's help without sufficient warrant,
are guilty of the sin of presumption.
The distribution of sins into sins of ignorance,
of infirmity, and of presumption, is usual, useful,
and perhaps sufficiently complete. The ground of
the distinction is la4d in the soul of man ; in which
there are three distinct and primary faculties from
which all actions flow — the understanding, the
will, and the sensual appetite or affections. If
nothing were amiss in any of these, all our actions
that proceed from them would be free from every
stain of sin. But it is a melancholy truth, that in
this state of corruption the whole soul is out of
frame, and all its faculties depraved.
Indeed, by reason of the joint concurrence of
those three faculties in their operations, there is in
most sinful actions, a mixture of ignorance, in-
firmity, and wilfulness or presumption. And hence
it is, that all sins are, in the Scriptures, indefinitely
and indifferently called, sometimes errors^ some-
times infirmities^ and sometimes rebellions.
But when we would speak more exactly of these
three differences, and so as to distinguish them from
one another by their proper appellations ; the in-
quiry must be, (on the commission of a sin) where,
principally, was the fault ? and thence it must re-
ceive the right denomination. If the understand-
ing be most in fault, by not apprehending, or not
rightly apprehending, the good it ought ; the sin
so done, though possibly it may have in it some-
what both of infirmity and presumption, is yet
properly a sin of ignorance. If the main fault be
in the affections, through some sudden passion or
perturbation of mind, blinding, corrupting, or even
but outrunning, the judgment; as oi fear, anger,
desire, joy, or any other emotion — the sin thence
arising, though perhaps joined with some degree of
ignorance or presumption, is yet properly a sin of
infirmity. But, if the understanding be compe-
tently possessed of knowledge, and not much
blinded or transported with the incursion of any
sudden, or the violence of any vehement^ perturba-
tion, so that the greatest blame must rest on the
luntowardness of the will, obstinately bent upon the
evil — the sin arising from such wilfulness, though
probably not free from all mixture of ignorance
and infirmity, is yet properly a wilful presumption-^
such a presumptuous sin as is the object of our
present attention.
Rules are soonest learnt, and best remembered,
when illustrated by apposite examples. And of
such the rich storehouse of the Scriptures affords
us the utmost variety. — Whence I shall present you
with one of each description — the men, all of thetn,
for their holiness, of the greatest reputation and
renown — the sins, all of them:, of the greatest
St. Paul, before his conversion, persecuted the
Church of God to the utmost of his power, Breath-
ing out threatenings and slaughter against the
disciples of the Lord. These feelings or affec-
tions were not excited against them by any per-
sonal provocations, but merely out of zeal to the
Jaw. And his zeal would certainly have been com-
mendable, had it not been blind. or did his will
run counter to his judgment, but was even led by
it ; for he verily thought with himself that he ought
to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus,
Indeed, his will would have been praise-worthy,
if it had not been misled. But the error was m
his understanding : his judg'ment not being con-
vinced, as yet, of the truth of the Christian rehgion.
As yet, he was fully persuaded that Jesus was an
impostor^ and Christianity a sect that was a dis-
grace and prejudice to the law of Moses. If, in-
deed, these facts had really been such as he appre-
hended them ; his affections and will, in endeavour-
ing to root out such a sect, had not only been
blameless, but even commendable. It was his erro-
neous judgment that poisoned all ; and made that,
which otherwise had been zeal, to become perse-
cution. But, the first discernible obliquity being
in the understanding, this his persecution was a
sin of ignorance, and_, under that name^ is con-
fessed and condemned by himself.
But such was not Peter's denial of his Master.
He knew well enough who he was : having so long
conversed with him, and having indeed so amply
confessed him. It is evident, then, that Peter
wanted no knowledge, either of his Master's person,
or his own duty — and thus is he deprived of all
plea of ignorance. or was the fault so much in
his willy as to make it, properlj/ speaking, a sin of
presumption. For though he did, in fact, deny his
Lord, and that, too, with fearful oaths and impre-
cations ; yet was it not done with any premeditated
apostacy. ay, he followed him rather with a con-
trary reaoluiion : and he still honoured him in his
heart, even when he denied him with his tongue^
And^ as soon as the second crowing of the cock had
brought it to his reflection, he was struck with the
deepest remorse for what he. had done, and went
out, and wept bitterly. We find no circumstance
in the whole relation, that argues any obstinacy in
his will But in his aff^ections- dihisl th^re was
his failure. Suddenly surprized by fear, when he
saw his Master so despitefully intreated before his
face, (which filled him with apprehension as to
what might befal himself, should he acknowledge
him) deprived him, as it were, of his reason for the
time ; and so forcibly directed all his thoughts to
this one point — how to decline the present danger —
that he had not a single thought so much at liberty
as to consult his judgment, whether it were a sin or
not. And consequently, as it proceeded from so
sudden an emotion of passion, Peter's denial was
properly a sin of infirmity.
But David's sin, in contriving the death of
Uriah, was of a deeper dye than either. He was
no such stranger to the law of God, as not to know
that the wilful murder of an innocent person, was
a most crying sin. And therefore nothing is more
certain than that it was not a sin of ignorance.
or yet was it a sin of infirmity, and therefore
capable of the extenuating circumstance, of being
done in the heat of anger ^ as his incontinence with
Bathsheba was committed in the ardor of licen-
tifius passion (though that extenuation can never
be allowed to pass for an excuse, except in com-
parison with this fouler crime) but, having both
time and leisure to consider what he was about,
he does it in cool blood, and with the utmost delibe-
ration. He was resolved, whatever might be the
consequence, to have it done. And therefore, in
regard to this settled purpose of his will, this sin
of David was a presumptuous sin of the highest and
most fearful nature.
By the light of these examples, we may easily
discover a sin of presumption^ from those either of
ignorance or infirmiti/. The sum, indeed, is this.
When a man is sufficiently convinced in his own
mind, that the thing he would do is unlawful, and
displeasing to God ; or when, at least, if he be not
wanting to himself, he has sufficient means to con-
vince himself of it; and when, moreover, he has
time and leisure to advise with himself, to examine
every circumstance of it, and to apply his under"
standing to a due consideration of it; and yet,
when all this is done, resolves, contrary to the dic-
tates of his own reason^ and the checks of his own
conscience^ to put his wicked intentions into ex-
ecution, and to fulfil his own perverse will, so con-
trary to the will of God; this is a wilful and a
fearful presumption.
When we advance our own will, not only against
the express will of our great God, but even against
the clear light of our own conscience ; and are not
able to give any other reason why we will do this or
that, but only because we will ; we then rush head-
long into those dreadful sins, from which David in
the text so earnestly prays to be withheld — Kee]^
hack thy servant from presumptuous sins I
Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins.
Let them not have dominion over me. Then
shall I be upright ; and I shall be innocent
from the great transgression.
With respect to presumptuous sins, we have seen
WHAT they are, in my morning's discourse ; let us
now consider, how great and mischievous they are.
And certainly were there not something in their
nature more heinous than in ordinary sins, David
would never pray against them in so especial a
manner as he does in the words of the text.
It has been already intimated, that presumptuous
sins arise from the perverseness of the will, as the
most direct and immediate cause. Indeed, it is the
will, that has the chief influence in all moral actions^
in rendering them good or bad^ better or worse.
Though, no doubt, there be many circumstances of
considerable effect in the aggravation, extenuation,
and comparison of sins one with another ; yet the
consent of the will is of so much greater importance
than all the rest, that (without taking any thing else
into consideration) every sin is so much the greater
or the less, in proportion as it is more or less volun-
tary. Hence David's sin, in murdering (though
but) his servant, was far greater than either Peter's
in denying his Master, or Paul's, in blaspheming
and persecuting his Saviour,
Presumptuous sins, moreover, not only originate
from a worse cause than others, and thence are
more sinful ; but also produce worse effects ; and
therefore are more dangerous. They harden the
heart. They almost annihilate the conscience. All
reasons, admonitions, and reproofs, are vain. For
who is so blind as he that will not see ? or who so
deaf as he that icill not hear ?
Thus is it with the wicked who are appointed to
destruction. And not much better, indeed, is it
for God's faithful servants, if they fall into any
presumptuous sin. How wretched (may we not
suppose) was the condition of David, after he had
seduced the wife, and slain the husband ! What
music, think you, could he find in his own anthems?
With what comfort or satisfaction could he say his
prayers ? Could his tongue do other than cleave to
the roof of his mouth ? And had not his right hand
well-nigh forgot her cunning? Such^ before his
repentance, was the servant of God ; lying under
the guilt of a presumptuous sin. And even after
his repentance, how hard was the struggle ere his
spirit was subdued !
Let no man fancy, therefore, that presumptuous
sins can be removed by ordinary humiliations.
The remedy must be proportioned to the malignity
of the distemper, or it will never effect the cure.
As cloth that has been deeply stained cannot be
cleaned by such ordinary washings as will fetch out
lighter spots ; so, to cleanse the heart, defiled with
these deeper pollutions, these red and scarlet sins,
and to restore it white as snow or wool ; a more
solemn and lasting course of repentance is requisite,
than for inferior transgressions. It requires more
sighs, more tears, more indignation, more revenge ;
a stronger infusion of all those sovereign ingredients
that are prescribed by St. Paul, in the seventh chap-
ter of his second Epistle to the Corinthians ; before
there can be any comfortable hope that it is par-
doned. They that have mightily offended, if they
repent not, shall be mightily tormented. And
therefore it is but reasonable that they should be
mightily humbled, when they do repent.
Presumptuous sins are generally attended with
the most serious effects. It is but seldom that a
man has sinned presumptuously, but he afterwards
has experienced the most grievous consequences;
even after the renewing of himself by repentance.
and the sealing of his pardon from God. Like a
grievous woundj that is not only difficult of cure ;
but leaves also some remembrance behind it, some
scar in the flesh after it is cured.
Firsts a presumptuous sinnner rarely escapes
without some outward affliction. Let David be
the instance. What mischief^ what misery, did he
bring upon himself, for almost the whole of his sub-
sequent life, by that single presumptuous deed in
the matter of Uriah. The prophet athan, at the
very time that he delivered to him God's gracious
pardon (the Lord hath put away thy sin) yet read
to him its bitler consequences. And, even as it was
foretold, so did it befal him. His daughter defiled
by her brother: that brother slain by another
brother : a conspiracy raised against him by his own
son : his concubines openly defiled by that same
son : himself afflicted with the untimely death of
that son who was so dear to him : reviled and
cursed to his face by a base unworthy companion.
Indeed, all his life long, but few were his hours of
peace. And even on his death-bed he was not a
little disquieted with the tidings that his two sons
were almost flying to arms resped;ing the succession.
Secondly, presumptuous sins are often scandalous;
leaving an indelible stain on the memory of the of-
fender. And David must be our instance even in
this also. There can be little pleasure in prying
into the infirmities of God's servants. It would
better become our charity, perhaps, to cast a mantle
over their nakedness ; where the fact^ by any pos-
sible construction, will bear an excuse. But since
whatsoever things were written aforetime were
written for our learnings and that it has pleased
the wisdom of God, for that end, to leave so many
of their failings upon record, as mirrors to repre-
sent to us our common frailties, and as monuments
and marks to warn us of those rocks on which
others have been shipwrecked ; we surely never can
be blamed for taking notice of them, and for making
the best use we can of them to our spiritual ad-
His fear, then, and anxiety, lest he should perish
one day hy the hands of Saul, though he had God's
promise to outlive him : his deep dissimulation with
and before Achish ; especially when he tendered his
service to him in the wars : his rash vow to destroy
abal and all that belonged to him ; who, though
he had acted with that churlishness which is so com-
mon to the covetous and unthankful, yet, in strict-
ness, had done him no wrong : his double injustice
to his loyal subject Mephibosheth (and therein also
his forgetfulness of Jonathan his old and trusty
friend) first, in giving away all his lands upon the
bare suggestion of a servant, even to the false in-
former himself^ without the least examination of the
matter; and then, in restoring to him but half
again, when he knew the suggestion to be false :
his fond affection to' his ungracious son Absalom ;
in preferring his life even to his own safety and the
public good, and in bearing his death with so much
unmanly impatience : his lenity and indulgence to
his other son Adonijah ; to whom he never said so
much even as Eli did to his sons, Why hast thou
done so ^ his carnal confidence in the multitude
of his subjects^ when he caused them to be num-
bered : These (and perhaps some other) sinful
transgressions, which do not occur at present to
my memory, are registered against David, as well
as the murder of Uriah. Yet^ as if all these were
nothing in comparison of that one ; that one alonej
is mentioned by the Holy Ghost by way of exception,
and so inserted as an exception in that glorious tes-
timony which we find given of him in the book of
Kings. David did that which was right in the
eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from any
thing that he commanded him all the days of his
life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.
That is, he turned not aside so foully, so contemp-
tuously, so presumptuously, in any other thing, as he
did in the matter of Uriah. All his ignorances, and
negligences^ and infirmities, are passed over in si-
lence : only this great presumptuous sin stands up as
a pillar or a monument erected to his perpetual shame,
and as a warning to all succeeding generations.
But presumptuous sins, besides a stain in the
name and reputation, leave also a sting in the
conscience of the sinner. Do you think that David,
in all the afflictions that afterwards befel him, and
at the apprehension of every sinful oversight into
• t
which he fell, had not with grief and shame a fresh
remembrance of the inatter of Uriah— b.s the dis-
tress which Joseph's brethren met with in Egypt
brought to their remembrance their treacherous
dealing with him, which was probably at least
twenty years after the thing was done ? Indeed,
even after their father's death, (which by a probable
computation, was nearly twenty years more,) the
remorse of the same sin wrought upon their con-
sciences afresh, and perplexed their hearts with
new fears and jealousies.
It is of the utmost importance, therefore, that
we should learn what may best be done for avoiding
and preventing both the sins themselves and their
fearful consequences. We must, first, then, seek
help from the hand of God, by praying, with
David, that the Lord would keep us back. If we
be not kept back by the hand of God, we shall soon
run into all the extremities of evil, as the horse
rusheth into the battle; committing all manner of
wickedness with all kind of greediness. This
David knew full well : and therefore durst not trust
his own heart too far ; but being jealous over him-
self with a godly jealousy, evermore made God his
refuge. His help and blessing, therefore, must be
sought by prayer.
But this is not all. We must second our prayers
by our own endeavours. Permit me, then, to pre-
scribe the following preservatives against presump-
tuous sins. 1st. Be resolutely determined never to
do any thing against the clear light of thine own
conscience. 2dly. Strive to be master of thine own
loilL The action was barbarous, but the story is
worthy to be remembered of the Sultan Amurath ;
who, with his own hand, cut off the head of the
beautiful Irene, from no dislike to her, but merely
that his nobles (who were displeased to perceive his
mind, by doating on her charms, withdrawn from
due attention to the affairs of government,) might
see, how he could command himself, and conquer
his affections. But we need not seek so far for an
example ; having one more innocent, and of a far
better man, in the Scriptures ; even David— who,
though he had longed with an earnest desire to
drink of the water of the well hy the gate of Beth-
lehem, yet, when it was brought to him by three
of his captains, would not taste a drop of it, but
(in condemnation of the inordinacy of his appe-
tite, which had exposed such worthy persons to the
hazard of their lives,) pozired it out unto the Lord.
Sdly. Beware of engaging thyself to sin. This
was the case of Herod, in taking off the Baptist's
head. It was against his conscience to do it ; for
he knew he had not deserved it: nay, he was sorry
that he had promised it to the daughter of Herodias.
Yet, for his oath's sake, and them which sat with
him at meat, he commanded it to be given her.
Lastly, Follow the advice of Solomon ; by a deter-
mined resolution to yield not to temptation : My
son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. And
boldly say, with David — Away from me, ye wicked,
for I will keep the commandments of my God.
Butj when we have done all, we must begin
again. When we have resolved and endeavoured
what we can, unless the Lord be pleased to set his
fiat to it, all our labour is but lost, As he is the
Alpha, so is he the Omega. And as we are to begin
with him, so are we to conclude with him. Pray
first ; pray last. Pray before all ; that we may
have grace to do our endeavours. Pray after all ;
that he would give a blessing to our endeavours, —
that when the world, the flesh, and the devil, shall
all conspire to drive us forward to the works of sin,
we may, by his grace and blessing, be kept back ;
and be enabled to persevere in true faith and holi^
ness all the days of our life.

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