[Here we continue our reprint of Chapter 2 from Richard Baxter's classic tome A Christian Directory.9 This chapter consists of twenty directions to (as Mr. Baxter says) "young Christians or beginners in religion, for their establishment and safe proceeding." Though these studies were written specifically for "young" Christians, I think that you will find (as I have), there is much in here worthy of meditation also for those who have been walking with God for many years.]--Ed.
Direction XIV - On Sinful Desires
Be very diligent in mortifying the desires and pleasures of the flesh; and keep a continual watch upon your senses, appetite, and lusts; and cast not yourselves upon temptations, occasions or opportunities of sinning, remembering that your salvation lieth on your success.
The lusts of the flesh, and the pleasures of the world, are the common enemies of God and souls, and the damnation of those souls that perish. And there is no sort more liable to temptations of this kind, than those that are in the flower of their youth and strength. When all the senses are in their vigor, and lust and appetite are in their strength and fury, how great is the danger! And how great must your diligence be if you will escape! The appetite and lust of the weak and sick are weak and sick as well as they; and therefore they are no great temptation or danger to them. The desire and pleasure of the senses do abate, as natural strength and vigor doth abate: to such there is much less need of watchfulness; and where nature hath mortified the flesh, there is somewhat the less for grace to do. There needs not much grace to keep the aged and weak from fornication, uncleanness, excessive sports and carnal mirth; and gluttony and drunkenness also are sins which youth is much more liable to. Especially some bodies that are not only young and strong, but have in their temperature and complexion a special inclination to some of these, as lust, or sport, or foolish mirth, there needeth a great deal of diligence, resolution, and watchfulness for their preservation. Lust is not like a corrupt opinion that surpriseth us through a defect of reason and vanisheth as soon as truth appeareth; but it is a brutish inclination, which though reason must subdue and govern, yet the perfectest reason will not extirpate, but there it will still dwell. And as it is constantly with you, it will be stirring when objects are presented by the sense or fantasy to allure. And it is like a torrent, or a headstrong horse, that must be kept in at first, and is [to be strongly] restrained if it once break loose and get the head. If you are bred up in temperance and modesty, where there are no great temptations to gluttony, drinking, sports, or wantonness, you may think a while that your natures have little or none of this concupiscence, and so may walk without a guard. But when you come where baits of lust abound, where women, and plays, and feasts, and drunkards are the devil's snares, and tinder, and bellows to inflame your lusts, you may then find to your sorrow that you had need of watchfulness, and that all is not mortified that is asleep or quiet in you. As a man that goeth with a candle among gunpowder, or near thatch, should never be careless, because he goeth in continual danger; so you that are young, and have naturally eager appetites and lusts, should remember that you carry fire and gunpowder still about you, and are never out of danger while you have such an enemy to watch.
And if once you suffer the fire to kindle, alas!, what work may it make, ere you are aware! "Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" (James i. 14, 15). Little knoweth the fish, when he is catching or nibbling at the bait, that he is swallowing the hook which will lay him presently on the bank. When you are looking on the cup, or gazing on alluring beauty, or wantonly dallying and pleasing your senses with things unsafe, you little know how far beyond your intentions you may be drawn, and how deep the wound may prove, how great the smart, or how long and difficult the cure. As you love your souls, observe Paul's counsel: "Flee youthful lusts" (II Tim. ii. 22). Keep at a full distance: come not near the bait. If you get a wound in your consciences, by any willful, heinous sin, O what a case will you be in! How heartless unto secret duty! afraid of God, that should be your joy; deprived of the comforts of His presence, and all the pleasure of His ways! How miserably will you be tormented, between the tyranny of your own concupiscence, the sting of sin, the gripes of conscience, and the terrors of the Lord! How much of the life of faith, and love, and heavenly zeal, will be quenched in a moment! I am to speak more afterwards of this; and therefore shall only say, at present, to all young converts that care for their salvation, "Mortify the flesh," and "always watch, and avoid temptations."