« FöregåendeFortsätt »
Christ, and for his sake does all justice and all charity that he can; and our blessed Lord gives no other description of 'love' to God, but obedience and keeping his commandments.' Justice and charity are like the matter, religion is the form, of Christianity: but although the form be more noble and the principle of life, yet it is less discernible, less material, and less sensible; and we judge concerning the form by the matter, and by material accidents, and by actions and so we must of our religion, that is, of our love to God, and of the efficacy of our prayers, and the usefulness of our fastings; we must make our judgments by the more material parts of our duty, that is, by sobriety, and by justice, and by charity.
I am much prevented in my intention for the perfecting of this so very material consideration: I shall therefore only tell you, that to these parts and actions of a good life, or of our growth in grace, some have added some accidental considerations, which are rather signs than parts of it. Such are: 1. To praise all good things, and to study to imitate what we praise. 2. To be impatient that any man should excel us; not out of envy to the person, but of noble emulation to the excellency. For so Themistocles could not sleep, after the great victory at Marathon purchased by Miltiades, till he had made himself illustrious by equal services to his country. 3. The bearing of sickness patiently, and ever with improvement, and the addition of some excellent principle, and the firm pursuing it. 4. Great devotion, and much delight in our prayers. 5. Frequent inspirations, and often whispers, of the Spirit of God, prompting us to devotion and obedience; especially if we add to this a constant and ready obedience to all those holy invitations. 6. Offering peace to them that have injured me, and the abating of the circumstances of honour or of right, when either justice or charity is concerned in it. 7. Love to the brethren. 8. To behold our companions, or our inferiors, full of honour and fortune; and if we sit still at home and murmur not, or if we can rejoice both in their honour and our own quiet, that is a fair work of a good man. And now, 9. After all this, I will not trouble you with reckoning a freedom from being tempted, not only from being overcome, but from being tried: for though that
be a rare felicity, and hath in it much safety; yet it hath less honour, and fewer instances of virtue, unless it proceed from a confirmed and heroical grace; which is indeed a little image of heaven and of a celestial charity, and never happens signally to any, but to old and very eminent persons. 10. But some also add an excellent habit of body and material passions, such as are chaste and virtuous dreams; and suppose, that, as a disease abuses the fancy, and a vice does prejudice it, so may an excellent virtue of the soul smooth and calcine the body, and make it serve perfectly, and without rebellious indispositions. 11. Others are in love with Mary Magdalen's tears, and fancy the hard knees of St. James, and the sore eyes of St. Peter, and the very recreations of St. John; St. John; "Proh! quam virtute præditos omnia decent!" thinking "all things become a good man," even his gestures and little incuriosities. And though this may proceed from a great love of virtue, yet because some men do thus much and no more, and this is to be attributed to the lustre of virtue, which shines a, little through a man's eye-lids, though he perversely winks against the light; yet (as the former of these two is too metaphysical, so is the latter too fantastical,) he, that, by the foregoing material parts and proper significations of a growing grace, does not understand his own condition, must be content to work on still super totam materiam,' without considerations of particulars; he must pray earnestly, and watch diligently, and consult with prudent guides, and ask of God great measures of his Spirit, and "hunger and thirst after righteousness:" for he that does so, shall certainly "be satisfied." And if he understands not his present good condition, yet if he be not wanting in the downright endeavours of piety, and in hearty purposes, he shall then find that he is grown in grace, when he springs up in the resurrection of the just, and shall be engrafted upon a tree of paradise, which beareth fruit for ever, glory to God, rejoicing to saints and angels, and eternal felicity to his own pious, though undiscerning soul. "Prima sequentem, honestum est in secundis aut tertiis consistere"."
OF GROWTH IN SIN: OR, THE SEVERAL STATES AND DEGREES OF SINNERS, WITH THE MANNER HOW THEY ARE TO BE TREATED.
And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire.--Jude Epist. ver. 22, 23.
MAN hath but one entrance into the world; but a thousand ways to pass from thence. And as it is in the natural, so it is in the spiritual: nothing but the union of faith and obedience can secure our regeneration, and our new birth, and can bring us to see the light of heaven; but there are a thousand passages of turning into darkness. And it is not enough, that our bodies are exposed to so many sad infirmities and dishonourable imperfections, unless our soul also be a subject capable of so many diseases, irregular passions, false principles, accursed habits and degrees of perverseness, that the very kinds of them are reducible to a method, and make up the part of a science. There are variety of stages and descents to death, as there are diversity of torments, and of sad regions of misery in hell, which is the centre and kingdom of sorrows. But that we may a little refresh the sadnesses of this consideration; for every one of these stages of sin, God hath measured out a proportion of mercy : for, "If sin abounds, grace shall much more abound;" and "God hath concluded all under sin," not with purposes to destroy us, but "ut omnium misereatur," "that he might have mercy upon all;" that light may break forth from the deepest enclosures of darkness, and mercy may rejoice upon the recessions of justice, and grace may triumph upon the ruins of sin, and God may be glorified in the miracles of our conversion, and the wonders of our preservation, and glories of our being saved. There is no state of sin, but, if we be persons capable (according to God's method of healing) of receiving antidotes, we shall find a sheet of mercy spread over our wounds and nakedness. If our diseases be small,
almost necessary, scarce avoidable; then God does, and so we are commanded to cure them, and cover them with a veil of pity, compassion, and gentle remedies: if our evils be violent, inveterate, gangrened, and incorporated into our nature by evil customs, they must be pulled from the flames. of hell with censures, and cauteries, and punishments, and sharp remedies, quickly and rudely; their danger is present and sudden, its effect is quick and intolerable, and there are no soft counsels then to be entertained; they are already in the fire, but they may be saved for all that. So great, so infinite, so miraculous is God's mercy, that he will not give a sinner over, though the hairs of his head be singed with the flames of hell. God's desires of having us to be saved continue, even when we begin to be damned; even till we will not be saved, and are gone beyond God's method, and all the revelations of his kindness. And certainly that is a bold and a mighty sinner, whose iniquity is swelled beyond all the bulk and heap of God's revealed loving-kindness: if sin hath swelled beyond grace, and superabounds over it, that sin is gone beyond the measures of a man; such a person is removed beyond all the malice of human nature, into the evil and spite of devils and accursed spirits; there is no greater sadness in the world than this. God hath not appointed a remedy in the vast treasures of grace for some men, and some sins; they have sinned like the fallen angels, and having overrun the ordinary evil inclinations of their nature, they are without the protection of the Divine mercy, and the conditions of that grace, which was designed to save all the world, and was sufficient to have saved twenty. This is a condition to be avoided with the care of God and his angels, and all the whole industry of man. In order to which end, my purpose now is to remonstrate to you the several states of sin and death, together with those remedies which God had proportioned out to them; that we may observe the evils of the least, and so avoid the intolerable mischiefs of the greater, even of those sins which still are within the power and possibilities of recovery; lest insensibly we fall into those sins, and into those circumstances of person, for which Christ never died, which the Holy Ghost never means to cure, and which the eternal God never will pardon for there are of this kind more than commonly men imagine,
whilst they amuse their spirits with gaieties and false principles, till they have run into horrible impieties, from whence they are not willing to withdraw their foot, and God is resolved never to snatch and force them thence.
I." Of some have compassion." And these I shall reduce to four heads or orders of men and actions; all which have their proper cure proportionable to their proper state, gentle remedies to the lesser irregularities of the soul. 1. The first are those, that sin without observation of their particular state; either because they are uninstructed in the special cases of conscience, or because they do an evil, against which there is no express commandment. It is a sad calamity, that there are so many millions of men and women that are entered into a state of sickness and danger, and yet are made to believe they are in perfect health; and they do actions, concerning which they never made a question whether they were just or no, nor were ever taught by what names to call them. For while they observe that modesty is sometimes abused by a false name, and called clownishness and want of breeding; and contentedness and temperate living is suspected to be want of courage and noble thoughts; and severity of life is called imprudent and unsociable; and simplicity and hearty honesty is counted foolish and impolitic: they are easily tempted to honour prodigality and foolish dissolution of their estates with the title of liberal and noble usages. Timorousness is called caution, rashness is called quickness of spirit, covetousness is frugality, amorousness is society and gentile, peevishness and anger is courage, flattery is humane and courteous and under these false veils virtue slips away (like truth from under the hand of them that fight for her), and leaves vice dressed up with the same imagery, and the fraud not discovered till the day of recompences, when men are distinguished by their rewards. But so men think they sleep freely, when their spirits are laden with a lethargy; and they call a hectic fever the vigour of a natural heat, till nature changes those less discerned states into the notorious images of death. Very many men never consider, whether they sin or no in ten thousand of their actions, every one of which is very disputable, and do not think they are bound to consider: these men are to be pitied and instructed, they are to be called upon to use