We have all enemies in our own souls that never sleep, whatever we may do. There are no irons on their heels. They never procrastinate. They never say to their master, A little more slumber. Now, could you name any hateful enemy entrenched in your own heart, of which you have of yourself said far more than that? And, if so, what have you done, what are you at this moment doing, to cast that enemy out? Have you any armour on, any weapons of offence and precision, against that enemy? And what success and what defeat have you had in unearthing and casting out that enemy? What fort do you hold? On what virtue, on what grace are you posted by your Lord to keep for yourself and for Him? And with what cost of meat and drink and sleep and amusement do you lose it or keep it for Him? Alexander used to leave his tent at midnight and go round the camp, and spear to his post the sentinel he found sleeping.
There is nothing we are all so slothful in as secret, particular, importunate prayer. We have an almighty instrument in our hand in secret and exact prayer if we would only importunately and perseveringly employ it. But there is an utterly unaccountable restraint of secret and particularising prayer in all of us. There is a soaking, stupefying sloth, that so fills our hearts that we forget and neglect the immense concession and privilege we have afforded us in secret prayer. Our sloth and stupidity in prayer is surely the last proof of our fall and of the misery of our fallen state. Our sloth with a gold mine open at our feet; a little more sleep on the top of a mast with a gulf under us that hath no bottom,--no language of this life can adequately describe the besottedness of that man who lies with irons on his heels between Simple and Presumption.
The greatest theologian of the Roman Catholic Church has made an induction and classification of sins that has often been borrowed by our Protestant and Puritan divines. His classification is made, as will be seen, on an ascending scale of guilt and aggravation. In the world of sin, he says, there are, first, sins of ignorance; next, there are sins of infirmity; and then, at the top, there are sins of presumption. And this, it will be remembered, was the Psalmist's inventory and estimate of sins also. His last and his most earnest prayer was, that he might be kept back from all presumptuous sin. Now you know quite well, without any explanation, what presumption is. Don't presume, you say, with rising and scarce controlled anger. Don't presume too far. Take care, you say, with your heart beating so high that you can scarcely command it, take care lest you go too far. And the word of God feels and speaks about presumptuous sin very much as you do yourself. Now, what gave this third man who lay in fetters a little beyond the cross the name of Presumption was just this, that he had been at the cross with his past sin, and had left the cross to commit the same sin at the first opportunity. Presumption presumed upon his pardon. He presumed upon the abounding grace of God. He presumed upon the blood of Christ. He was so high on the Atonement, that he held that the gospel was not sufficiently preached to him, unless not past sin only and present, but also all future sin was atoned for on the tree before it was committed. There is a reprobate in Dante, who, all the time he was repenting, had his eye on his next opportunity. Now, our Presumption was like that. He presumed on his youth, on his temptations, on his opportunities, and especially on his future reformation and the permanence and the freeness of the gospel offer. When he was in the Interpreter's House he did not hear what the Interpreter was saying, the blood was roaring so through his veins. His eyes were so full of other images that he did not see the man in the iron cage, nor the spider on the wall, nor the fire fed secretly. He had no more intention of keeping always to the way that was as straight as a rule could make it, than he had of cutting off both his hands and plucking out both his eyes. When the three shining ones stripped him of his rags and clothed him with change of raiment, he had no more intention of keeping his garments clean than he had of flying straight up to heaven on the spot. Now, let each man name to himself what that is in which he intentionally, deliberately, and by foresight and forethought sins. Have you named it? Well, it was for that that this reprobate was laid by the heels on the immediately hither side of the cross and the sepulchre. Not that the iron might not have been taken off his heels again on certain conditions, even after it was on; but, even so, he would never have been the same man again that he was before his presumptuous sin. You will easily know a man who has committed much presumptuous sin,--that is to say, if you have any eye for a sinner. I think I would find him out if I heard him pray once, or preach once, or even select a psalm for public or for family worship; even if I heard him say grace at a dinner-table, or reprove his son, or scold his servant. Presumptuous sin has so much of the venom and essence of sin in it that, forgiven or unforgiven, even a little of it never leaves the sinner as it found him. Even if his fetters are knocked off, there is always a piece of the poisonous iron left in his flesh; there is always a fang of his fetters left in the broken bone. The presumptuous saint will always be detected by the way he halts on his heels all his after days. Keep back Thy servant, O God, from presumptuous sin. Let him be innocent of the great transgression.
Dr. Thomas Goodwin says somewhere that the worm that dieth not only comes to its sharpest sting and to its deadliest venom when it is hatched up under gospel light. The very light of nature itself greatly aggravates some of our sins. The light of our early education greatly aggravates others of our sins. But nothing wounds our conscience and then exasperates the wound like a past experience of the same sin, and, especially, an experience of the grace of God in forgiving that sin. Had we found young Presumption in his irons before his conversion, we would have been afraid enough at the sight. Had we found him laid by the heels after his first uncleanness, it would have made us shudder for ourselves. But we are horrified and speechless as we see him apprehended and laid in irons on the very night of his first communion, and with the wine scarcely dry on his unclean lips. Augustine postponed his baptism till he should have his fill of sin, and till he should no longer return to sin like a dog to his vomit. Now, next Sabbath is our communion day in this congregation. Let us therefore this week examine ourselves. And if we must sin as long as we are in this world, let it henceforth be the sin of ignorance and of infirmity.
So the three reprobates lay down to sleep again, and Christian as he left that bottom went on in the narrow way singing:
'O to grace how great a debtor Daily I'm constrained to be Let that grace, Lord, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee.'
THE THREE SHINING ONES AT THE CROSS
'Salvation shall God appoint for walls.'--Isaiah.