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and that it is practicable experience may confirm ; this point also enlarged on.
4. It will greatly conduce to the perfect observance of this rule, if we studiously contemplate ourselves, strictly examining our conscience, and seriously reflecting on our unworthiness and vileness. If we do so, what place can there be for that vanity, arrogance, partiality, and injustice, which are the sources of immoderate self-love?
5. Lastly, we may from conspicuous examples and experiments be assured that such a practice of this duty is not impossible.
OF THE LOVE OF OUR NEIGHBOR.
MATTHEW, CHAP. xx II.-VERSE 39. -
I HAVE formerly discoursed on these words, and then showed how they do import two observable particulars: first, a rule of our charity, or that it should be like in nature; then a measure of it, or that it should be equal in degree to the love which we do bear to ourselves. Of this latter interpretation I did assign divers reasons, urging the observance of the precept according to that notion: but one material point, scantiness of time would not allow me to consider; which is the removal of an exception, to which that interpretation is very liable, and which is apt to discourage from a serious application to the practice of this duty so expounded.
If, it may be said, the precept be thus understood, as to oblige us to love our neighbors equally with ourselves, it will prove unpracticable, such a charity being merely romantic and imaginary; for who doth, who can, love his neighbor in this degree ? Nature powerfully doth resist, common sense plainly doth forbid that we should do so : a natural instinct doth prompt us to love ourselves, and we are forcibly driven thereto by an unavoidable sense of pleasure and pain, resulting from the constitution of our body and soul, so that our own least good or evil are very sensible to us: whereas we have no such potent inclination to love others; we have no sense or a very faint one of what another doth enjoy or endure: doth not there
fore nature plainly suggest that our neighbor's good cannot be so considerable to us as our own especially when charity dcth clash with self-love, or when there is a competition between our neighbor's interest and our own, is it possible that we should not be partial to our own side 2 Is not therefore this precept such as if we should be commanded to fly, or to do that which natural propension will certainly hinder 2 In answer to this exception I say, first, 1. Be it so, that we can never attain to love our neighbor altogether so much as ourselves, yet may it be reasonable that we should be enjoined to do so; for Laws must not be depressed to our imperfection, nor rules bent to our obliquity; but we must ascend toward the perfection of them, and strive to conform our practice to their exactness. If what is prescribed be according to the reason of things just and fit, it is enough, although our practice will not reach it; for what remaineth may be supplied by repentance and humility in him that should obey, by mercy and pardon in him that doth command. In the prescription of duty it is just that what may be required, even in rigor, should be precisely determined, though in execution of justice or dispensation of recompense consideration may be had of our weakness; whereby both the authority of our governor may be maintained, and his clemency glorified. It is of great use that by comparing the law with our practice, and in the perfection of the one discerning the defect of the other, we may be humbled, may be sensible of our impotency, may thence be forced to seek the helps of grace, and the benefit of mercy. Were the rule never so low, our practice would come beneath it; it is therefore expedient that it should be high, that at least we may rise higher in performance than otherwise we should do: for the higher we aim, the nearer we shall go to the due pitch; as he that aimeth at heaven, although he cannot reach it, will yet shoot higher than he that aimeth only at the housetop. The height of duty doth prevent sloth and decay in virtue, keeping us in wholesome exercise and in continual improvement, while we be always climbing toward the top, and straining unto farther attainment: the sincere prosecution of which course, as it will be more profitable unto us, so it will be fio less acceptable to God, than if we could thoroughly fulfil the law: for in judgment God will only reckon on the sincerity and earnestness of our endeavor; so that if we have done our best, it will be taken as if we had done all. “Our labor will not be lost in the Lord;’ for the degrees of performance will be considered, and he that hath done his duty in part shall be proportionably recompensed; according to that of St. Paul, “Every man shall receive his own reward according to his own work.’ Hence sometimes we are enjoined to ‘be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect,” and to be “holy as God is holy: otherwhile to “go on to perfection,’ and to “press toward the mark;’ which precepts in effect do import the same thing; but the latter implieth the former, although in attainment impossible, yet in attempt very profitable: and surely he is likely to write best, who proposeth to himself the fairest copy for his imitation. In fine, if we do act what is possible, or as we can do conform to the rule of duty, we may be sure that no impossibility of this, or of any other sublime law, can prejudice us. I say, of any other law; for it is not only this law to which this exception may be made, but many others, perhaps every one evangelical law, are alike repugnant to corrupt nature, and seem to surmount our ability. But neither is the performance of this task so impossible, or so desperately hard, (if we take the right course, and use proper means toward it,) as is supposed : as may somewhat appear, if we will weigh the following considerations. 1. Be it considered that we may be mistaken in our account, when we do look on the impossibility or difficulty of such a practice, as it appeareth at present, before we have seriously attempted, and in a good method, by due means, earnestly labored to achieve it: for many things cannot be done at first, or with a small practice, which by degrees and a continued endeavor may be effected; divers things are placed at a distance, so that without passing through the interjacent way we cannot arrive at them ; divers things seem hard before trial,
which afterward prove very easy : it is impossible to fly up to the top of a steeple, but we may ascend thither by steps; we cannot get to Rome without crossing the seas, and travelling through France or Germany; it is hard to comprehend a subtile theorem in geometry, if we pitch on it first; but if we begin at the simple principles, and go forward through the intermediate propositions, we may easily attain a demonstration of it: it is hard to swim, to dance, to play on an instrument; but a little trial, or a competent exercise will render those things easy to us: so may the practice of this duty seem impossible, or insuperably difficult, before we have employed divers means, and . voided divers impediments; before we have inured our minds and affections to it; before we have tried our forces in some instances thereof, previous to others of a higher strain, and nearer the perfection of it. If we would set ourselves to exercise charity in those instances, whereof we are at first capable without much reluctancy, and thence proceed toward others of a higher nature, we may find such improvement, and taste such content therein, that we may soon arise to incredible degrees thereof; and at length perhaps we may attain to such a pitch, that it will seem to us base and vain to consider our own good before that of others, in any sensible measure; and that nature which now so mightily doth contest in favor of ourselves, may in time give way to a better nature, born of custom, affecting the good of others. Let not therefore a present sense or experience raise in our minds a prejudice against the possibility or practicableness of this duty. 2. Let us consider that in some respects and in divers instances it is very feasible to love our neighbor no less than ourselves. We may love our neighbor truly and sincerely, out of a pure heart and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned,’ as St. Paul doth prescribe; or according to St. Peter's injunction, ‘ from a pure heart love one another fervently:’ and in this respect we can do no more toward ourselves; for truth admitteth no degrees, sincerity is a pure and complete thing, exclusive of all mixture or alloy. And as to external acts at least it is plain that charity toward