1. He must offer violence to himself -- This self-violence consists in two things:
1. Mortification of sin.
2. Provocation to duty.
1. Offering violence to one's self, in a spiritual sense, consists in mortification of sin: Self is the flesh; this we must offer violence to. Hierom,, Chrysostom, and Theophilact, do all expound taking Heaven by force, the mortifying of the flesh; the flesh is a bosom traitor; it is like the Trojan horse within the walls which doth all the mischief. The flesh is a sly enemy; at first it is dulce venenum, afterwards scorpio pungens, it kills by embracing. The embraces of the flesh are like the ivy embracing the oak; which sucks out the strength of it for its own leaves and berries: So the flesh by its soft embraces, sucks out of the heart all good, Gal. v. 17. The flesh lusteth against the spirit. The pampering of the flesh, is the quenching of God's spirit. The flesh chokes and stifles holy motions: the flesh sides with Satan and is true to its interest. There is a party within that will not pray, that will not believe. The flesh inclines us more to believe a temptation than a promise. There needs no wind to blow to sin when this tide within is so strong to carry us thither. The flesh is so near to us, its counsels are more attractive: no chain of adamant which binds so fast as the chain of lust. Alexander, who was victor mundi, conqueror of the world, was captious vitiorum, led captive by vice. Now a man must offer violence to his fleshly desires if he will be saved, Col. iii. 5. 'Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth.' The mortifying and killing sin at the root, is when we not only forbear the acts of sin, but hate the inbeing. Plurimi peccata radunt non eradicant. Bern.
Nay, where sin has received its deadly wound, and is in part abated, yet the work of mortification is not to be laid aside. The Apostle persuades the believing Romans to 'mortify the deeds of the flesh, Rom. viii.13. In the best of saints there is something which needs mortifying; much pride, envy, and passion; therefore mortification is called crucifixion, Gal. v. 24. which is not done suddenly: every day some limb of the 'body of death' must drop off. Nothing harder than a rock, (saith Cyrill), yet in the clefts thereof some weed or other will fasten its roots. None stronger than a believer, yet do what he can, sin will fasten its roots in him, and spring out sometimes with inordinate desires. There is always something needs mortifying. Hence it was St. Paul did 'beat down his body,' by prayer, watching, and fasting, 1 Cor. ix. 27.
But, is it not said, Ephes. v. 29. 'no man ever yet hated his own flesh?'
As flesh is taken physically for the bodily coompagnes or constitution, so it is to be cherished; but as flesh is taken theologically for the impure lustings of the flesh, so a man must hate his own flesh. The apostle saith, 'Fleshly lusts war against the soul,' 1 Peter ii. 11. If the flesh doth war against us, good reason we should war against the flesh.
How may one do to offer violence to himself in mortifying the flesh?
1. Withdraw the fuel that may make lust burn. Avoid all temptations. Take heed of that which doth nourish sin. He who would suppress the gout or stone, avoids those meats which are noxious. They who pray that they may not be led into temptation, must not lead themselves into temptation.
2. Fight against fleshly lusts with spiritual weapons: faith and prayer. The best way to combat with sin is, upon our knees. Run to the promise, Rom. vi. 14. 'Sin shall not have dominion over you:' or as the Greek word is, it shall not lord it. Beg strength of Christ, Phil. ix. 13. Samson's strength lay in his hair; ours lies in our head, Christ. This is one way of offering violence to one's self by mortification. This is a mystery to the major part of the world who gratify the flesh rather than mortify it.
2. The second thing in offering violence to a man's self consists, is, in provocation to duty. Then we offer holy violence to ourselves when we excite and provoke ourselves to that which is good. This is called in Scripture, a 'stirring up ourselves to take hold of God,' Isa. lxiv. 7. Consider,
1. What absolute need there is to stir ourselves up to holy duties.
In respect to the sluggishness of our hearts to that which is spiritual; blunt tools need whetting; a dull creature needs spurs. Our hearts are dull and heavy in the things of God, therefore we have need to spur them on and provoke them to that which is good. -- The flesh hinders from duty: when we would pray, the flesh resists; when we should suffer, the flesh draws back. How hard it is sometimes to get the consent of our hearts to seek God! Jesus Christ went more willingly to the cross than we do to the throne of grace. Had not we need then provoke ourselves to duty? If our hearts are so unstrung in religion, we had need prepare and put them in tune.
The exercises of God's worship are contrary to nature; therefore there must be a provoking of ourselves to them. The motion of the soul to sin is natural, but its motion towards Heaven is violent. The stone moves easily to the centre; it hath an innate propenseness downward; but to draw up a millstone into the air is done by violence, because it is against nature: so to lift up the heart to Heaven in duty is done by violence and we must provoke ourselves to it.
2. What it is to provoke ourselves to duty.
1. It is to awaken ourselves, and shake off spiritual sloth. Holy David awakens his tongue and heart when he went about God's service, Psalm lvii. 9. 'Awake up my glory, I myself will awaken early.' He found a somnolency and dullness in his soul, therefore did provoke himself to duty. 'I myself will awake early.' Christians, though they are raised from the death of sin, yet often they fall asleep.
Provoking ourselves to duty, implies an uniting, and rallying together all the powers of our soul, setting them on work in the exercises of religion. A man saiyh to his thoughts, be you fixed on God in this duty; and to his affections, do you serve the Lord without distraction? Matters of religion must be done with intenseness of spirit.
3. The third thing is to shew the several duties of Christianity, wherein we must provoke and offer violence to ourselves. I shall name seven.