« PoprzedniaDalej »
pleasures and advantages, which can become a wise man to desire and pursue. But still, though these are motives, which may lawfully weigh with us; yet must they never be the principal, much less the only, motives to piety and virtue. The reason is, because they can never answer our purpose, by securing the steadiness of obedience; for whatsoever does this, must be itself, what that obedience ought to be, lasting and unchangeable. But now all pleasures and advantages of this life are fickle and uncertain; and, therefore, all that stand on so slippery a foundation, must needs be liable to fall with it. If profit, or case, or honour, or applause, be our views; what shall become of us, when the face of affairs changes? when interest and duty are opposite? when men are so perverse as to hate us, and harm us, and to speak all manner of evil against us, because we are followers of that which is good? Must not a man, who looks no further than this world, if he will act upon his own principles, find himself, in such circumstances, carried to profitable wickedness, by the same arguments, which before determined him to profitable goodness? In short, on which side soever the advantage lies, he must follow it; and as oft as that shifts, his manners will not fail to change as nimbly with it. But now the will of God is immutable: the equity of his laws is rooted in the nature of things, and, therefore, this alone is a firm support for our virtue. He that acts in a due sense of such an obligation, hath something to keep him always consistent his obedience will not be fickle, because the ground of it continues the same. Neither will it be humoursome or partial; because, be the subject matter of the command what it will, still the authority of the lawgiver, which binds it upon his conscience, is, in respect of every command, the same: and thus this second qualification secures the first. For, by doing the word,' as such, we shall certainly be disposed to do all the
3. Doing the word' imports observing it, in all that spiritual sense, to which Christianity hath exalted our duty. To this effect it is, that the twenty-fifth verse hath entitled the gospel the perfect law of liberty:'-a law, that does not, like the Jewish, impose things of no intrinsic worth, such as are marks of slavery; but substantial, and rational instances of obedience. The gospel-precepts impose duties, very worthy of the most generous minds; and a service, which does not
only comport with us, but is itself a state of freedom. To what heights this carries our virtue, and how much more is required now, than was esteemed sufficient under a former imperfect dispensation, is easy to be gathered from our Saviour's sermon on the Mount. Nor hath St. James been wanting to intimate the same thing to us in the last verse of this chapter. He plainly distinguishes there, between a religion which will pass very well upon men; and that which is necessary for recommending us to God and the Father.' They see our actions only, and in regard of them, we must be cautious. He is a searcher of hearts; and, therefore, nothing can gain his approbation, which is not pure and undefiled.' To please them, we shall find it necessary to do no injustice: please him we cannot, without doing all the good we can; acts of mercy and pity; relief to the distressed, and redress to the injured, when these are in our power; condoling with them, and compassion for them, when no more is in our power :-for all this, no doubt, is intended, by visiting the fatherless and widows in their afflictions.' And so again, mortifying all our carnal appetites, getting above the temptations of sensuality and covetousness, refining all our desires, preserving chaste and holy hearts, and leading a rational and divine life; all this, and nothing less, we are to understand, by keeping' a man's self unspotted from the world.' In short, the Christian religion expects from all its professors, that they should not only eschew evil, but heartily hate and abstain from the very appearance of it that they should cleanse their hearts as well as hands; that they should do all the good they can, and do it with delight; and that they should not only obey, but study to adorn, the doctrine of their Lord in all things.
4. They only are to be esteemed doers of the word,' who proceed and persevere in their duty for thus the Apostle clearly explains himself at the twenty-fifth verse, Whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty,' and continueth therein, 'he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.' It is from hence in truth, that the surest judgement can be made of that man's sincerity: for, as the practice of religion is attended with many temporal conveniences; so they who proceed upon those false views, may for some time pass upon the world, and even upon themselves, for persons of great probity and virtue; and yet, if any diffi
culty arise, or suffering press upon them, their falseness is presently discovered. Our Lord allows none to be good ground, which does not bring forth fruit with patience, and bring it to perfection.'
I add, that the punishment of such as fall from a good course is most just, and the provocation upon some accounts more heinous, than that given by men who were never virtuous at all. For such apostasy derives a double dishonour upon religion; and seems to say, that it hath been weighed in the balance, and found wanting.' Upon this ground it is, that God declares by Ezekiel, [xviii. 26.] that he, who forsakes his righteousness, and dies in a wicked course, shall perish, without any regard to his former good works. And so again, that at what time soever the wicked man forsakes his wickedness, and doth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul, and his past sins shall never rise up any more in judgement against him. The reason, expressed in the one case, is implied in the other; because he considereth and turneth.' [Ver. 27, 28.] Of such mighty consequence it will prove, in divinity as well as law, what a man's last will shall be. For this, in both cases, revokes and undoes again all that went before; and the one makes as final and effectual a disposition of our souls, as the other does of our estates.
Thus we see the true notion of doing the word;' that it imports obedience to the word, in its full comprehension; that, as we must obey it all, so we must obey it upon a right principle; that we are to practise the word in that sense and perfection, to which the gospel hath advanced the old moral law ; and, that none are esteemed faithful in this matter,' except they who continue faithful unto the end. From whence the inference is unavoidable, that all, short of these qualifications, is a deceiving of ourselves,' and being no better than 'hearers' only. The greatness and danger of which deceit, I come now to set before you very briefly.
II. This is the second head I proposed; and in speaking to it, I shall only in general explain the reason, given by the Apostle [James i. 23, 24.] for this assertion, and then conclude.
The reason alleged is this: For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man, beholding his natural face in a glass. For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he
was.' Now, by resembling the word' to a glass, it is the Apostle's intention to convince the hearers only,' and 'not doers,' that they mistake the very end and proper use of the word.' For the use of a glass is to represent men to themselves. But the end of that representation is, not that they may sit, and contemplate, and fall into rapturous admiration of their own imagined beauty; but that they may see, and so see, as to correct whatever, upon that view, is found to be amiss. It is thus they are to take effectual care, that their persons and habit be comely and composed; which could not be taken, unless this beholding of their own image had made them sensible how matters are, and how they ought to be with them.
Such is the use and end of the word,' too. By comparing the contents of this with our own dispositions and actions, we may distinctly learn the state of our own souls: and, as that is found to agree or to disagree with the will of God, we have there, not only an opportunity of knowing ourselves, but a certain rule and model, whereby to amend ourselves. They, who will not look into this glass, are not so much as hearers: they who look carelessly, and straightway forget their form, are the hearers, without right application, and that practice which would certainly follow thereupon: for this is a glass that flatters none, who are content to hold it fairly, and take the report it gives a glass, that men are sensible enough ought not to be held in vain. But then they are more entertained with the reflections of other people's visages than their own. You shall have them very acute in discovering blemishes and imperfections, and recommending this correction upon their account; ingenious and ready to apply every smart thing they read, every sermon they hear, to their neighbours, and wonderfully pleased to think, how such a one's picture hath been drawn to the life: but in all this they can find no likeness of, no concern for, any fault or failing in the proper place. Hence it is, I mentioned a right application of the word:' for this glass is intended to show, not others to us, but every man to himself, to inform us what we are, in order to make us what we should be; not to divert us with the spots and deformities of our brethren; for this would prove the certain way to keep us, nay, and to render us yet a great deal more, what we
should not be. Such false appliers and censurers are always too busy abroad, not to overlook that at home, which, of all the rest, stands in most need of being nicely looked into. And, whoever they be, that turn this glass another way, casting off all the discoveries made by it from themselves, and becoming judges of their brother's liberty and conscience; they are the very hypocrites reproved by our Lord for employing themselves about the mote in another's eye, without regarding the beam in their own. And how religious soever they may seem, depend upon it, all their religion is vain.'
And so is theirs likewise, who reduce the Christian religion to a mere science, and place all perfection in reading, and hearing, and knowing the precepts of it; who measure their proficiency by the number of sermons they run about to attend, or the good books they are eager to peruse; or by the niceness of the points they are able to argue upon: as if the word had done its business by filling the head, though it never influence the heart at all. A sort of understanding this, to which even ignorance itself, when honest and unaffected, is infinitely preferable. For so our Lord himself pronounced [Luke xii. 47, 48.] that servant, which knew his master's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes: but he that knew not (that is, was not in a capacity of knowing) and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.' Alas! it is action only that crowns all our studies. The word is of equal service and necessity, for quickening and exciting us to what we already do, as for instructing us in what we do not yet understand. It is not said, Happy are ye, if ye know these things;' but, If ye know these things, happy are ye, if ye do them.' [John xiii. 17.] In short, to be wise in spiritual matters is no further an advantage, than as it disposes us to be good; for that alone is being wise unto salvation.' And he, in the Christian sense, knows most, who leads his life best.
So great reason have all those well-meaning people to be very jealous over their own hearts, who use a very commendable industry indeed, in learning the precepts of this law: so much it concerns them to examine, by the marks laid down under my former head, what effect they feel upon their temper and behaviour. And, therefore, so seasonable and important is the