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He that is better than the dregs of his own age, whose religion is something abovè profaneness, and whose sobriety is a step or two from downright intemperance, whose discourse is not swearing, nor yet apt to edify, whose charity is set out in piety, and a gentle yearning and saying 'God help,' whose alms are contemptible, and his devotion infrequent; yet, as things are now, he is unus è millibus,' oneof a thousand,' and he stands eminent and conspicuous in the vallies and lower grounds of the present piety; for a bank is a mountain upon a level: but what is rare and eminent in the manners of men this day, would have been scandalous, and have deserved the rod of an apostle, if it had been confronted with the fervours and rare devotion and religion of our fathers in the Gospel.
Men of old looked upon themselves as they stood by the examples and precedents of martyrs, and compared their piety to the life of St. Paul, and estimated their zeal by flames of the Boanerges, St. James and his brother; and the bishops were thought reprovable, as they fell short of the ordinary government of St. Peter and St. John; and the assemblies of Christians were so holy, that every meeting had religion enough to hallow a house, and convert it to a church; and every day of feasting was a communion, and every fasting-day was a day of repentance and alms, and every day of thanksgiving was a day of joy and alms; and religion began all their actions, and prayer consecrated them, and they ended in charity, and were not polluted with design: they despised the world heartily, and pursued after heaven greedily; they knew no ends but to serve God, and to be saved; and had no designs upon their neighbours, but to lead them to God and to felicity; till Satan, full of enyy to see such excellent days, mingled covetousness and ambition within the throngs and conventions of the church, and a vice crept into an office; and then the mutual confidence grew less, and so charity was lessened; and heresies crept in, and then faith began to be sullied; and pride crept in, and then men snatched at offices, not for the work, but for the dignity; and then they served themselves more than God and the church; till at last it came to that pass where now it is, that the clergy live lives no better than the laity, and the laity are stooped to imitate the evil customs of strangers and
enemies of Christianity; so that we should think religion in a good condition, if that men did offer up to God but the actions of an ordinary, even, and just life, without the scandal and allays of a great impiety. But because such is the nature of things, that either they grow towards perfection, or decline towards dissolution; there is no proper way to secure it but by setting its growth forward: for religion hath no station or natural periods; if it does not grow better, it grows much worse; not that it always returns the man into scandalous sins, but that it establishes and fixes him in a state of indifference and lukewarmness; and he is more averse to a state of improvement, and dies in an incurious, ignorant, and unrelenting condition.
"But grow in grace:"-That is the remedy, and that would make us all wise and happy, blessed in this world, and sure of heaven: concerning which, we are to consider, first, What the state of grace is, into which every one of us must be entered, that we may "grow" in it: secondly, The proper parts, acts, and offices of "growing in grace:" thirdly, The signs, consequences, and proper significations, by which if we cannot perceive "the growing," yet afterwards we may perceive that "we are grown," and so judge of the state of our duty, and concerning our final condition of being saved.
1. Concerning the state of grace, I consider that no man can be said to be in the state of grace, who retains an affection to any one sin. The state of pardon and the Divine favour begins at the first instance of anger against our crimes, when we leave our fondnesses and kind opinions, when we excuse them not, and will not endure their shame, when we feel the smarts of any of their evil consequents: for he that is a perfect lover of sin, and is sealed up to a reprobate sense, endures all that sin brings along with it; and is reconciled to all its mischiefs; he can suffer the sickness of his own drunkenness, and yet call it pleasure; he can wait like a slave to serve his lust, and yet count it no disparagement; he can suffer the dishonour of being accounted a base and dishonest person, and yet look confidently, and think himself no worse. But when the grace of God begins to work upon a man's spirit, it makes the conscience nice and tender; and although the sin, as yet, does not displease the man, but he can endure the flattering and alluring part,
yet he will not endure to be used so ill by his sin; he will not be abused and dishonoured by it. But because God hath so allayed the pleasure of his sin, that he that drinks the sweet, should also strain the dregs through his throat; by degrees God's grace doth irreconcile the convert, and discovers, first, its base attendants, then its worse consequents, then the displeasure of God; that here commence the first resolutions of leaving the sin, and trying if, in the service of God, his spirit and the whole appetite of man may be better entertained. He that is thus far entered, shall quickly perceive the difference, and meet arguments enough to invite him farther: for then God treats the man as he treated the spies, that went to discover the land of promise; he ordered the year in plenty, and directed them to a pleasant and a fruitful place, and prepared bunches of grapes of a miraculous and prodigious greatness, that they might report good things of Canaan, and invite the whole nation to attempt its conquest: so God's grace represents to the new converts, and the weak ones in faith, the pleasures and first deliciousnesses of religion; and when they come to spy the good things of that way that leads to heaven, they presently perceive themselves eased of the load of an evil conscience, of their fears of death, of the confusion of their shame; and God's Spirit gives them a cup of sensible comfort, and makes them to rejoice in their prayers, and weep with pleasures mingled with innocent passion and religious changes. And although God does not deal with all men in the same method, or in manners that can regularly be described, and all men do not feel, or do not observe, or cannot, for want of skill, discern, such accidental sweetnesses and pleasant grapes at their first entrance into religion; yet God to every man does minister excellent arguments, of invitation; and such, that if a man will attend to them, they will certainly move either his affections or his will, his fancy or his reason, and most commonly both. But while the Spirit of God is doing this work in man, man must also be σúvegros тoû ɛoû, a fellowworker with God;' he must entertain the Spirit, attend his inspirations, receive his whispers, obey all his motions, invite him farther, and truly renounce all confederacy with his enemy, sin; at no hand suffering any root of bitterness to spring up,' not allowing to himself any reserve of carnal
pleasure, no clancular lust, no private oppressions, no secret covetousness, no love to this world, that may discompose his duty. For if a man prays all day, and at night is intemperate; if he spends his time in reading, and his recreation be sinful; if he studies religion, and practises self-interest; if he leaves his swearing, and yet retains his pride; if he becomes chaste, and yet remains peevish and imperious: this man is not changed from the state of sin into the first stage of the state of grace, he does at no hand belong to God; he hath suffered himself to be scared from one sin, and tempted from another by interest, and hath left a third by reason of his inclination, and a fourth for shame or want of opportunity; but the Spirit of God hath not yet planted one perfect plant there: God may make use of the accidentally-prepared advantages; but as yet the Spirit of God hath not begun the proper and direct work of grace in his heart. But when we leave every sin, when we resolve never to return to the chains, when we have no love for the world but such as may be a servant of God; then I account that we are entered into a state of grace, from whence I am now to begin to reckon the commencement of this precept, "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."
2. And now the first part of this duty is,—to make religion to be the business of our lives;-for this is the great instrument which will naturally produce our growth in grace, and the perfection of a Christian. For a man cannot, after a state of sin, be instantly a saint; the work of Heaven is not done by a flash of lightning, or a dash of affectionate rain, or a few tears of a relenting pity: God and his church have appointed holy intervals, and have taken portions of our time for religion, that we may be called off from the world, and remember the end of our creation, and do honour to God, and think of heaven with hearty purposes and peremptory designs to get thither. But as we must not neglect those times, which God hath reserved for his service, or the church hath prudently decreed; nor yet act religion upon such days with forms and outsides, or to comply with customs, or to seem religious: so we must take care, that all the other portions of our time be hallowed with little retirements of our thoughts, and short conversations with God, and all along be guided with holy intention; that even our works
of nature may pass into the relations of grace, and the actions of our calling may help towards the obtaining the prize of our high calling;' while our eatings are actions of temperance, our labours are profitable, our humiliations are acts of obedience, and our alms of charity, and our marriages are chaste; and, whether we eat or drink,' sleep or wake, we may do all to the glory of God,' by a direct intuition, or by a reflex act; by design, or by supplement; by foresight, or by an after-election. And to this purpose we must not look upon religion as our trouble and our hinderance, nor think alms chargeable or expensive, nor our fastings vexatious and burdensome; nor our prayers a weariness of spirit: but we must make these, and all other the duties of religion, our employment, our care, the work and end for which we came into the world; and remember that we never do the work of men, nor serve the ends of God, nor are in the proper employment and business of our life, but when we worship God, or live like wise or sober persons, or do benefit to our brother.
I will not turn this discourse into a reproof, but leave it represented as a duty. Remember that God sent you into the world for religion; we are but to pass through our pleasant fields, or our hard labours; but to lodge a little while in our fair palaces, or our meaner cottages; but to bait in the way at our full tables, or with our spare diet; but then only man does his proper employment, when he prays and does charity, and mortifies his unruly appetites, and restrains his violent passions, and becomes like to God, and imitates his holy Son, and writes after the copies of apostles and saints. Then he is dressing himself for eternity, where he must dwell or abide, either in an excellent beatifical country, or in a prison of amazement and eternal horror and after all this, you may, if you please, call to mind how much time you allow to God and to your souls every day, or every month, or in a year, if you please, for I fear the account of the time is soon made; but the account for the neglect will be harder; and it will not easily be answered, that all our days and years are little enough to attend perishing things, and to be swallowed up in avaricious and vain attendances, and we shall not attend to religion with a zeal so great as is our revenge, or as is the hunger of one meal. Without