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Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land ?
At first sight, this may seem to be a very odd question : for how could that which was Satan's act, and in which Ananias himself was passive, be imputed to Ananias as a crime? Most certainly it could not, if Satan alone had been active, and Ananias wholly passive : therefore the phrase of Satan's filling bis heart, must not be understood in such a sense as will make Ananias innocent; but in such a sense as will infer guilt on his part as well as on Satan's. Why bath Satan filled thine heart? i. e. “ Why hast thou suffered Satan to
overcome thee by his wicked instiga“ tions, and to get the dominion over “ thee? Thou wast under no necessity of
yielding to his temptations ; but, if “ thou hadít watch'd and pray'd, might« est have repelled them, and preserved “ thine integrity. How comes it to pass " then, that the devil has obcained the " victory over thee? why hast thou suf« fered him to become master of thine « affections, and to gain the consent of " thy will?” The words thus paraphrased make Ananias appear guilty of fin, and ai the same time represent the devil active and industrious in tempting him to it ; which is the thing I brought them to prove.
Thus we have seen what a great impediment the temptations which affault us from without, are to a religious life. There remains but one more to be considered : and that is, 3:
The vicious habits which men contract. Indeed this is not so universal as the other two: for some are so happy as to resist the very first motions of lin, and by that means prevent its becoming habitual. But it is otherwise with the generality of men; they have not strength and resolution enough to resist a temptation at first. Having once committed a wicked.acțion, they are easily tempted to repeat á it : and having committed it twice, they are still more easily tempted to it the third time. In short, every repetition facilitates the action : for it not only takes off from the horror of it, and makes it appear more innocent than it did before, but also renders the man so much the weaker and more unable to resist, upon the return of the temptation. The scripture seems to represent the reforming of vicious habits, as a thing impossible ; for it compares if
with things which are so; Jer. XIII. 23. Can the Æthiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ? then may ye also do good who are accustomed to do evil. I know it is generally thought that this expression is hyperbolical, and above the just meaning of the words. And supposing it is; yet in its mildest interpretation, it must signify the extreme difficulty of doing good, after men have been accustomed to do evil, and that it is next to an impossibility, tho it doth not altogether come up to it.
And now, from all that hath been said upon
the difficulty of religion, appears the necessity of a supernatural aid in order to the practice of it. If men do indeed labour under such disadvantages as these I have mentioned, being naturally prone to vice, being surrounded with a variety of temptations, and being enslaved by vicious habits ; then it is not very likely that they should of themselves, and by virtue of their own strength, run the way of God's commandments. The commandment of God is exceeding broad. It enjoins many duties with regard to God, our neighbour, and ourselves. It requires us to forbear many things which are agreeable to our
fleshly appetites, and to do many things which are contrary to them. It extends not only to our actions, but also to the springs and principles from which they flow. Now that any one should come to yield a ready obedience to such a pure and holy law as this, notwithstanding all these hindrances, is really wonderful, and can be owing to nothing less than God's enlarging the heart.
There is not in man a power superior to these impediments, no nor equal to them; and therefore he cannot overcome them by virtue of any thing that is in himself. 'Tis true, every man has a rational principle within him, which dictates to him to refuse the evil, and chuse the good. But alas! what can this rational principle do, when it comes to encounter with so many powerful enemies on the other side ; such as our fleshly appetites, the temptations of the world and the devil, and inveterate habits of vice ? I dare venture to say, that reason is not a match for any of these alone ; much less for them all together. If that could inspire us with courage and resolution enough to resist temptation, it might be expected that they who are the greatest masters of it, should
The great blefing
And this is perfectly agreeable to