FIVE DISCOURSES On so many Very Important Points OF Practical Religion.

Never before Printed.

By John Kettlewell, late a Minister of the Church of England.

With a Preface giving some Ac­count of the Author's Life.

LONDON, Printed for A. and J. Churchil at the Black Swan in Pater-Noster-Row. 1696.

The Preface.

THE following Sermons are all that the Reverend Author left finish'd for the Press; those which had not his last Hand, were by his particular Order forbid to be Printed; so that the Reader may be assu­red, that as he is not imposed upon by im­perfect Copies, made entire by the care and diligence of Friends; so neither must he expect any other Remains of this kind, than those which are now offer'd to his cha­ritable perusal.

And if Discourses, compos'd upon the weightiest Subjects, handled with great Clearness, and strength of Judgment, ani­mated with a true Spirit of Piety, stood in need of any Recommendation, the Name of the Worthy Mr. Kettlewell might go far to procure them a favourable recepti­on: For such was the Lustre of his Emi­nent Sanctity, that all Parties paid a due Veneration to his Character; and how wide soever they differ'd in other Mat­ters, they own'd the Perfection of his Christian Morals: Indeed, his great Pie­ty, useful Learning, and solid Judgment, [Page] rendred him a publick Blessing, and a pe­culiar Ornament of the Church and Age wherein he lived; and the wise Improve­ment he made of such valuable Talents, will cause his Light to shine bright to Po­sterity, and future Generations shall call him Blessed.

It must be confess'd, that he has given the World a perfect Image of his own Mind in his admirable Writings, the du­rable Monuments of his true Worth: But because 'tis much easier to prescribe wise Rules for the Conduct of others, than to make use of them in the government of our own Lives; and that to act reasonably, is of greater value than to write well: I have good grounds to hope, that a very skilful Artist will set this Pattern of Pri­mitive Christianity in its true Light, and convey him down to Posterity in his full proportion, that the World may know how carefully he practised those Duties he preached to others, and confirm'd his Do­ctrines by the powerful Attractive of a sutable Example, which will make his Name to live, and be mentioned with Reverence in the Records of Church-History.

I know his great Modesty thought the Day of Judgment soon enough to lay open the several Particularities of his Life; [Page] Where every Work shall be made mani­fest, whether it be good, or whether it be evil: And all his Care was, how to stand before the impartial Scrutiny of that Dreadful Tribunal; yet as a Work of this nature, may be a just Tribute to the Me­mory of one so truly Great, if Wisdom and Piety, Learning and Vertue, and a large beneficent Mind, may be allowed to con­stitute the Character: So, moreover, it may prove very advantagious to Christi­ans in general, especially to those who have the great Honour to attend at the Altar, and are dedicated to the more immediate Service of God, by furnishing them with so compleat a Model for their Direction, Examples being allowed to have a mighty Force in forming us to a right Temper of Mind, by a lively Representation in pra­ctice of the Possibility and Easiness of those Precepts which are so agreeable to our best Reason, and which our Holy Religion re­quires of us.

Now the Example of this Faithful Ser­vant of God was fitted for Vniversal Imitation, we find no Affectations of Sin­gularity in indifferent Things, no Stress laid upon some particular Duties to the prejudice and neglect of others; but he had a respect to all God's Commands; his Life was of a piece, and he distin­guish'd [Page] himself by nothing so much as so­lid and substantial Piety; his Conversa­tion gave frequent Instances of a profound Humility, and admirable Meekness of Spirit, and sweetness of Disposition; an unspotted Integrity, and a blameless Sin­cerity; an universal Charity, and a par­ticular Concern for the Necessities of the Poor; a great Tenderness for the Affli­cted, and an extreme Desire to do Good to all the World: There was remarkable in Him, a great Love of Devotion; an en­tire Submission to the Will of God, and a true Contempt of the World, by not suf­fering it to allure or affright Him from his Duty; a mighty Patience under all Afflictions, and so perfect an Abhorrence of all Sin, that he started even at the very Appearance of it; the Flame of prudent Zeal burnt bright in his Mind; and as nothing gave him a greater Con­cern, than the hazard Men expose them­selves to, by the neglect of their Eter­nal Salvation, so his chief Sollicitude and Care was always to search and contrive Means to prevent their Everlasting Ruin; and his Thoughts were employ'd how to rescue Souls from those Snares which are laid for them by the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.

[Page]Though his Intellectual Faculties im­proved by the Advantages of a Learned Education, might place him in the first Rank of considerable Men; yet what he valued more in others, and upon which account he was really more valuable him­self, were his Moral Accomplishments, his Pious Temper, and Disposition of Mind, his true Christian Spirit: For Learning, and Great Parts, separated from Meek­ness and Humility, are like a dangerous Weapon in the Hands of a Mad-man, who uses it indifferently against himself and others; and the Compiler of his Life will have no great difficulty to find variety of Instances to justifie this part of his Character; for he showed out of a good Conversation his Works with Meekness of Wisdom.

I cannot forbear upon this Occasion to mention his controversial Writings, which bear evidence in this Case, and are a ge­nuine Proof of what was so very commen­dable in him; He never treats his Adver­saries with ill Language, Scorn or Con­tempt, nor with personal Reflections, or in­jurious Surmises; nor because he thought they erred in one Point, did he ever en­deavour to make them Guilty of all; nor does he consecrate any unchristian heat un­der a pretence of defending Truth; a dan­gerous [Page] Rock whereupon many Learned, and otherways good men have fatally split; as if while a Zeal was express'd in matters of Belief, the weighty matters of Practice might be neglected, and if while we shew our selves warmly concern'd for God's Ho­nour, we were exempted from all Christian Rules in the Prosecution of it; but the Wrath of Man worketh not the Righte­ousness of God; it being a very irregular Method to defend his Cause, by the breach of many of his Precepts, and as improper to expect to convince a Man's Reason, when we provoke his Indignation by any uncivil Treatment. The Suggestions of a Hea­then in this Particular are very pertinent, who advises, To give way to falshood with Mildness. Whereby as his Commen­tator, [...]. Py­tha. Carm. Hierocles affirms, He doth not mean we should embrace it, but only give it a patient Hearing, and not to count it such a strange thing, if Men fall off sometimes from Truth And that excellent Moralist, a little before admo­nishes those who are able to destroy Er­rour, not to do it vehemently nor in­solently.

Moreover Plutarch, that great Orna­ment of Moral, [...]. Hiero. p. 145. as well as Historical Lear­ning, makes the way of managing a Dis­course with modesty and mildness of [Page] Temper, neither suffering our selves to engage with Vehemency and Passion, Tom. 2. p. 80. nor to be hot and concern'd in urging an Argument, nor to rail and give bad Words, even tho' we are non-plush'd, to be a true sign of a great Proficient in Vertue. De fin. Bon. & Mal. lib. And the celebrated Roman Ora­tor, gives it as his Opinion, That Disputes accompanied with Reproaches, and op­probrious Language, with Passion, and obstinate Contention, are unworthy of that Man that makes Profession of Phi­losophy.

I am sure the Precepts of our Blessed Saviour are full to that Purpose, Quae cum legimus quem Philosophum non contemnimus? And that perfect Model of Piety hath set an Example of great Meekness, in instructing those that oppo­sed themselves, and exercised an abun­dance of Patience, in bearing with the In­firmities of Men, and above all recom­mends the Pattern of his Meekness, as the surest method of acquiring a Likeness to him, to which Purpose he was pleased to be represented by a Lamb; and the Spirit that taught Christianity came down in the shape of a Dove.

How charitable and beneficial a Mind he had, appeared in the whole Course of his Life, which was spent in prosecuting the [Page] noblest Ends of making others Happy; ei­ther by his pious Conversation, or charita­ble Offices, by his judicius Writings, or pro­fitable Sermons, which were always adap­ted to the necessities of his Flock, and gave warning of those Dangers which threatned them: He was ready upon all Occasions to supply the wants of the Poor according to his Abilities; and the assistance he gave the Sick in his Parish by some skill he had that way, was made use of as a favourable Opportunity to instill his heavenly Instru­ctions, and served as a Vehicle to convey Nourishment to their precious Souls; no­thing could set bounds to his large Mind, but that Period which will set bounds to all things; for his Inclinations of doing good were particularly conspicuous at his Death in that considerable Settlement he made for ever upon the Poor of the Parish where he was born in Yorkshire. I call it considerable, because Five and twenty Pounds yearly Revenue in that County ve­ry well justifies it; besides it will more deservedly appear so, when the Reader shall know 'twas near half of his Estate; the remainder was Dedicated to the assistance of those Relations, whose Circumstances most requred his Help: but since God had not Blessed him with Children, he gladly adopted the poor Members of Christ, as [Page] Heirs to his paternal Inheritance; and in­stead of entertaining the least repining thought for want of Issue, he thanked God for the opportunity that was put in­to his hands, of testifying his Love and Devotion towards him. And I believe there never was a Settlement of that kind made with greater Piety and Prudence; the Qualifications of those who are to re­ceive benefit by it, are strict Obligations to the Vertues of a Christian Life; he has laid down such Rules for the managing of it, as in humane Probability may at­tain their End; and has provided for all those Difficulties which might threaten to render it ineffectual; which was all the la­bour of his own Brain, and received only its form from the skilful in the Law; 'tis pos­sible the World may see the whole at length, since it may serve to direct those whose hearts God shall touch with such charitable Dispositions. Thus while the World lasts he will be clothing the Naked, feeding the Hungry, visiting the Sick, (having made a yearly allowance for their Necessi­ties) instructing the Ignorant, and power­fully perswading the Poor to apply them­selves to the Service of God, by making it the means of their support to obey him. Happy Soul! Thy joy of doing Good will be still encreasing by the Blessed fruit thy [Page] Zeal will bring forth even after thy Death; and if in this Life where we see through a Glass darkly, and where our best Services are allayed with the Infir­mities of our frail Nature, a good Man often thinks no Pleasure comparable to that of Glorifying God; what an unconcei­vable Happiness must it be in the next Life, where all the Excellencies of the Divine Being shall be clearly discovered, and where Love is pure without the least mixture, and inflam'd to its utmost Ca­pacity; to find that he still glorifies him whom he Loves, and continues to make him yet loved by others? And this his charitable Temper appeared not only in his Actions, but also in his Discourse, which was govern'd by favourable Interpretati­ons of what others either did or said; and where things were apprehended by him, so apparently wicked and unrighteous, that they would not admit of his Candor, there he shewed his Charity in judging fa­vourably of those Dispositions of mind wherewith they were done, ascribing them, if he could lay hold of any Colour and Pretence, to the most excusable Princi­ples.

He excelled in all the suffering Ver­tues which are the peculiar Beauties of Christianity, and which the wise and [Page] good Providence of God, called upon him to exercise; as Patience, Meekness, Trust in God, dependance upon him for Suc­cour, Self-denial, cheerfully taking up the Cross, forgiving Injuries, and doing good to those that despitefully used him; and had he alwaies lived in a calm we could not have formed so just an Idea of his worth; for we must be in a suffering state, and exposed to the weight of many and great afflictions, before we can be as­sured how patiently and contentedly, how cheerfully and couragiously we can undergo them; and agreeable to this 'tis remark­able that Plato to finish his Character of a Righteous man, makes him pass through a scene of sufferings to justifie the principle of his vertue; fleeting pains of this short life well recompenced with everlasting joys.

His conduct in the work of the Ministry sufficiently evidenc'd to the world, how truly he answered that important demand in Ordination; Whether he trusted he was inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon him that Office and Mini­stration?

The constant application of his time and pains to the discharge of his Pastoral Du­ties; the great neglect he always shewed in solliciting Preferments, and his readi­ness and chearfulness in parting with that [Page] Station he was placed in, when he appre­hended the keeping of it inconsistent with the peace of his mind, is a clear proof that the only design he aimed at by engaging in the Sacred Function, was the Service of his Blessed Master, and the Salvation of the Souls of Men; and that he espoused his Profession as a happy Instrument of doing good, rather than of being rich and great.

The last scene of his Life, his Sickness and Death still maintained the character of strict Piety and Christian Devotion; and when I shall tell the Reader that his admirable Book of Death made Comfor­table, the last effort of his Charity for the salvation of his Brethren, was the subject-matter of his own practice, and the con­stant exercise of his devout mind under that tedious and lingering sickness, which put a period to his days; he may be satis­fied, that he died the death of the Righte­ous, and that his latter end was like his.

'Tis true, Good men alwaies die well, because qualified for that happy state upon which they enter; though the circumstan­ces of their death be never so sudden, and though the nature of their Disease deprives us of their edifying example in the exer­cise of death-bed vertues; yet when God gives time, and the advantage of an un­disturb'd understanding, the pious soul is [Page] carefull to make use of such Blessings, for the securing a happy Eternity.

In order to this purpose our dying Saint, whose lamp was never without oil, thought his sickness a proper season to trim it, and to provide for the Bridegroom's coming; he prudently settled all his tem­poral affairs, and after his large Legacy for charitable uses, he acknowledg'd the kindness of his particular Friends by some gratefull Remembrance, and rewarded the services of his Inferiors by decent Gratu­ities. As to the concerns of his Soul, he carefully reflected upon all the Actions of his past Life; diligently examined his Writings, whether they afforded any mat­ter for Repentance, (a practice highly ne­cessary to be imitated, by those who have been ingaged in Controversie) he heartily be­wailed all his Miscarriages, and made those solemn professions of his Faith, which the Church requires, and which have a great Tendency to strengthen and confirm those that survive: he freely forgave all the world, and was ready and willing to make Compensation for any wrong that could be charged upon him; he dayly joyned in the publick Prayers of the Church, and frequently received the Blessed Sacra­ment, once as the Viaticum of a dying Christian, with the benefit of Absolution [Page] from an eminent Bishop of our Church; the remnant of his strength he manag'd for the exercise of his private devotions, up­on which account he excused himself from receiving the frequent visits that would have been made him by many of his ac­quaintance: he bore his languishing condi­tion without the least shadow of discon­tent, and though his mind was eagerly bent upon Heaven, he never betrayed the least desire for the removal of his pains, till God's appointed time should come, and was willing to bear yet longer those pres­sures under which he lay, if God thought fit to continue them, even though they de­layed that happiness he so earnestly desi­red, and so comfortably expected, which answers S. Augustin's character of a good Christian, Qui patienter vivit, & delec­tabiliter moritur.

No words can furnish us with a clearer Idea of his true Christian firmness of mind, than those which fell from his own mouth upon the immediate approach of death, when he expressed himself in this manner: I am entring upon my last la­bour, the Lord gave and he is now ta­king away, blessed be the Name of the Lord; for I thank my God I am going without any distrust, without the least misgiving, to a place of rest and joy and [Page] everlasting bliss; there is no life like to a happy death. I have endeavoured even from my youth, to approve my self a faithfull servant to my Great Ma­ster: I have taken some pains in writing several Books; I have seriously conside­red them, and am fully satisfied (look­ing on those about him) that you may find in them the way to Heaven; the Christian duties contained therein have been my practice as well as study, and now I find the advantage of it, and therefore be carefull to read them often and seriously and live suitably thereunto, that when you come to the condition I am now in, you may die with comfort as you see me do: I have some little pain indeed, but my pain is nothing so extraordinary as my hopes; for I have earnestly repented of all my sins, and verily believe, that through the tender mercies of my God, and merits of my Blessed Saviour Jesus Christ, I shall be carried up into Abraham's bosome. Af­ter which he made this short Prayer. I wait, O God, for that everlasting rest which I want at present, but shall not long; I am ready when thou my God calls for me, yet can stay with pa­tience till thou pleasest, for thy time is the best time, and thy pleasure the best [Page] pleasure. Such a carefull and wise provi­sion had he made for his last hours, as to be able to look death in the face, not only without amazement, but even with a great degree of joy and consolation.

In short, he was Learned without Pride; Wise and Judicious without Cunning; he served at the Altar without either Cove­tousness or Ambition; he was Devout without Affectation, sincerely Religious without Moroseness, Courteous and Affable without Flattery or mean Compliances; Just without Rigour, Charitable without Vanity, and heartily zealous for the Inte­rest of Religion without Faction. May we that survive imitate the pattern of his piety, that we may attain that happiness which he now possesses as the reward of it, and in consort with him and all those bles­sed Souls who have departed this life in the faith and fear of God, sing Allelujahs to the King of Saints, salvation and glo­ry, honour and power to him that sit­teth on the throne, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.



  • Discourse I. STating the Notion of Christian Salva­vation, and shewing it chiefly to consist in a Deliverance from our Sins, Pag. 1

    On Matt. 1.21. ‘Thou shalt call his Name Jesus; for he shall save his People from their Sins.’

  • Discourse II. Shewing that this Deliverance, and entire Obedience is neither impossible nor ex­tream Difficult, if sincere Christians set about it as they ought, p. 35

    On Philip. 4.13. ‘I can do all things thro' Christ which strengtheneth me.’

  • [Page]Discourse III. How to form such a Purpose of sincere Re­pentance, and intire Obedience, as will be effectual for this Purpose, Pag. 77

    On Acts 11.23. ‘And exhorted them all, that with purpose of Heart, they would cleave unto the Lord.’

  • Discourse. IV. How to take the truest Wisdom of world­ly Men in their Managements, and ap­ply them with admirable Vse and Ad­vantage in the Improvement, and Per­fection of Holy Obedience, p. 103

    On Luk. 16.8. ‘For the Children of this world are wiser in their Generation, than the Children of Light.’

  • Discourse V. About the Return of Prayers; or when we may, when we may not Promise our selves the particular Things we ask for, p. 143

    On Matt. 7.7, 8. ‘Ask and it shall be given you, for every one that asketh recei­veth.’

DISCOURSE I. Stating the Notion of the Chri­stian Salvation, and shewing it chiefly to consist in a deliverance from our Sins.

‘On Matt. 1.21. Thou shalt call his Name Jesus: For he shall save his People from their sins.’

SINCE all men, who make any Pretence to Sobriety and Religi­on, profess themselves most ear­nestly desirous of Salvation; and the great Errand of our blessed Lord in­to the world was to purchase it, and make a tender of it to them; it may well seem strange to us, as once it did to the Apostles, that yet for all this, there are but few who shall be saved. For the far greater number of the Chri­stian world, are impenitently wicked; [Page 2] they live all their days in a course of Sin, and die without amendment; and such men the Scripture assures us, in the last Judgment will not be forgiven: so, that notwithstanding all the noise that is made about Salvation, the greatest part have very little, or no share in it; it is but sel­dom found, tho' it be often talked of, and the generality of men seem to be as far from it, as if the Gospel had never come abroad to bring them to it.

Now one chief Reason, why so many men do at last miss of Salvation, after they have put forth such eager desires, and spent such zealous Pains upon it, is because they mistake its Nature, and understand not truly wherein it doth consist. They take it to be something else than what it is▪ and so are apt usu­ally to hope well of it, and, to think they have attained to it, when as, alas! they are yet in a lost state, and at a very great distance from it; for altho' that Salvation which Christ dearly pur­chased, and which the Gospel comes to promote in us, be a Salvation from sin, as we shall see presently; yet that which men ordinarily talk off, and expect by him is nothing less. They think to be pardon'd without Obedience, and to be [Page 3] saved from Punishment, whilst they per­severe in the Practice of their Sins. For if we come to the most profligate Sin­ner, altho' it be upon his Death-bed, when he is going out of the world with all his sins, and unmortified Lusts about him; yet even he, who is thus lost in sin, will still talk of his Saviour Christ, and hopes to be saved by him notwith­standing.

To prevent or redress such dangerous mistakes in a matter of so high moment, I intend in discoursing upon these words,

  • First, To represent to you what that Salvation is, which Christ has purchased for us. And,
  • Secondly, To note some particular Uses and Improvements of it.

First, I shall represent to you what that Salvation is, which Christ has pur­chas'd for us.

To save, is, to deliver from evil and danger; and may be extended to as ma­ny evils, as men may be delivered from. Thus every where in David's Psalms, the Deliverance of the righteous out of afflictions and troubles, is called Psal. 37.37. Act. 27.31. 2 King. 13.5. his Salvation; and Gideon is said to have sa­ved [Page 4] Israel when he rescued them out of the hands of the Midianites, Jud. 6.14.

Now as for those evils which Christ came to save us from, in our Delive­rance from which consists our Christian Salvation, they are not the temporal evils and afflictions of this Life. His King­dom was not of this world; nor is his Pro­tection always from the evils of it; he himself was a man of sorrows, and his Church must expect to be like him, and to live under Persecutions. But they are,

  • First, Our sins; and consequent up­on them,
  • Secondly, Those eternal Punishments, which are due unto us for them. Upon these accounts it is, that he is Christ the Saviour; he shall be called Jesus, or a Sa­viour saith the Angel, because he shall save his people from their sins.

As for the latter of these, viz. the De­liverance from eternal Death, and Hell­torments, which are the Punishment that is due unto our Sins; this Christ has undoubtedly purchased for all those that are his. There remains no Condem­nation to them that are in Christ Jesus; [Page 5] saith the Apostle, Rom. 8.1. but they are passed over from death unto life, Joh. 5.24. God who should in anger exact those Punishments, is reconciled to them by the death of his Son, Rom. 5.10. so that now they are no longer under his severity as an offended Lord, but can look upon him as their Protector, and Patron, having received the Spirit of A­doption, whereby they can call him Abba, i. e. Father, Rom. 8.15.

And as for this Deliverance, from the worm of Conscience, and Pangs of Soul, from the eternal Pains of Hell, and the Horrors of Darkness, we are generally apt to think it a Deliverance indeed, and such as we have all great need of; for who is willing to live with ever­lasting burnings? Who would be con­tent to roar in never ending Tortures? There is no man who believes there is such a place as Hell, but whensoever he seriously considers of it, most earnestly desires to be secured from it; and there­fore among all those, who are not A­theistical or desperately loose and in­considerate, we see there are few or none, who will not make some profession and perform some outward and easie Acts of Religion, that thereby they may quiet [Page 6] their own Consciences, with some con­fidence, altho' never so groundless, of their share in this Salvation. But then,

Secondly, As for those other evils which Christ came to save us from, viz. Our sins; men are not ordinarily so fully perswaded of their illness, nor think they have any great need to be saved from them. For their sins they dearly love and take delight in; and therefore they do not look upon it as a Salvation, but as a spoil, to have them taken from them. And yet it is most certain, that this was the great Salvation which Christ designed us, and which he be­came man to procure for us; he shall be called Jesus, saith the Angel▪ because he shall save his People from their sins.

Our greatest Evils are our sins, and Christ's saving is his reforming, and re­ducing the hearts of the sinful and disobe­dient to the Obedience of the Just: He saves when he makes the bold, irreligious man awful, and the proud man humble; when he possesseth the hearts of the peevish and contentious, of the envious and re­vengeful, with Meekness and Patience, Charity and Peace. He delivers the co­vetous man from his unsatiable love of riches, the carnal mind from its intem­perate [Page 7] desire of sensual Pleasures. In one word he saves us from our own Self-will, and makes us to become entirely re­sign'd to the will of God.

This reformation of our hearts and lives, by rescuing us from all sinful Lusts and wicked Practices was the great De­liverance which Christ was sent to effect for us, as might be evidenced from the blessing promised to Abraham; which as St. Peter expounds it, did principally in­tend it; Act. 3.25, 26. from the Pre­dictions of Prophets concerning the Messiah, which clearly foretold it, Ezek. 11.19, 20. Isa. 62.25. Jer. 32.39. from the Covenant promised to be made with the house of Israel in those days; whereof Jeremiah speaks, which in plain terms ex­presses it; Jer. 31.33. from the Decla­rations of Christ and his Apostles, who every where proclaim, that the end of his coming was to call Sinners to repen­tance, Mat. 9.13. To turn men from dark­ness to light, Act. 26.18. To redeem us from all iniquity, and purifie unto himself a pecu­liar people zealous of good works, Tit. 2.14. and that his Gospel appears bringing Sal­vation in teaching us, that denying all un­godliness and worldly Lusts, we should live soberly, godly, and righteously in this pre­sent [Page 8] world, Tit. 2.11, 12. All these are so many direct Arguments, and clear Proofs of Christ's design to save men, by ma­king them better, and that his Delive­rance was to consist chiefly in their Re­formation, and in rescuing them from the Bondage of their sins.

But in regard the Gospel of Christ is the great means of working this Delive­rance, and the power of God as St. Paul calls it, to Salvation, I shall rather chuse at present to insist more particularly up­on such parts of it, as are peculiarly sit­ted for this design, which will be the best way of demonstrating this Doctrine. And those are chiefly Three; the Pre­cepts, the Promises, the Threatnings, which are declared to us therein.

First, I shall consider the Precepts of the Gospel; and that the great Salvation which these are designed to promote a­mong us is this Deliverance from our sins, is plain from hence, because they do most fully, and indispensibly ex­act it. Never did any Laws of for­mer Legislators, extend the compass of Vertue so wide, and advance it to such a pitch, as the Laws of Christ do; they require a more full Obedience, and a [Page 9] more perfect reformation, than before that time the world had ever heard of; they teach Vertue in the highest degrees, and require Obedience in all imaginable In­stances; representing plainly the Nature of several sins, and discovering clearly an irregularity, and Sinfulness in seve­ral Actions, which the Gentiles, nay e­ven the Jews themselves never dreamed of.

1. They represent the Nature of se­veral sins, and discover an irregularity in several Actions, which by the bare Light, and Law of Nature the Gentiles never saw: They discern'd no evil in worship­ping of Images, and inferiour Deities, in idolatrous Rites, and superstitious Ob­servances; they knew no sin in hating of an Enemy, in cursing and reproach­ing of him, in returning his Affronts, and revenging his Injuries; Uncleanness and Lasciviousness, Fornication and Whoredoms were held generally among them to be as lawful as their Meats and Drinks; in these Actions as in several others, they had no sense of sin, nor any fears of punishment; these things as the Psalmist says, God afterwards shew'd to Jacob and declared to Israel, but as for the heathen Nations, they have not [Page 10] known them, Psalm 147.19, 20. but as for the Sinfulness of all these things, and the dreadful Sentence which shall be de­nounced upon all, who continue in these Practices, the Law of Christ is express and peremptory. He that looks upon a woman, saith our Saviour, to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her al­ready in his heart, Matt. 5.28. The works of the flesh, saith St. Paul, are manifest, Adultery, Fornication, Vncleanness, Las­civiousness; of the which I tell you, that they who do such things, shall not inherit the Kingdom of God, Gal. 5.19, 21. He who hates his Brother, saith St. John, by the Sentence of our Law, is a Murderer, 1 Joh. 3.15. and he who is angry with him without a cause; especially, if he suffer his anger to transport him into reproach­ful words, and contumelious Expressi­ons, such as Fool, and Racha, or empty Fellow, He is liable, says our Saviour, to Hell fire, Matt. 5.22. Render to no man evil for evil, says our Religion, but love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you; and pray for them, that despitefully use you; that so you may be perfect, and the true Children of your Father which is in Hea­ven, who is kind even to the unthankful, [Page 11] and the evil, Matt. 5.44, 45, 48. and as for the guidance and direction of all religious Worship, we are forbid to give that to any Creature whatsoever, whe­ther Saint or Angel; Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve, Matt. 4.10.

As for all those Sins then, which the Law of Nature did not discover at all, or but very darkly, to the Heathens of old; they are almost plainly discovered to us Christians by the Law of Christ; we are shew'd Sin more plainly, and taught it more fully, because we must be reformed from it, more perfectly than ever they were.

2. The Laws of Christ discover an Irregularity, and Sinfulness in several Actions, which the Jews discern'd not under the Law of Moses; altho' they had a more perfect way to walk by, than the Heathens had, yet even their Obedience fell much short of that pitch which ours must attain to; for in several things, as the marrying of many Wives, the put­ting away their Wives for every cause, the praying against their Enemies, and reta­liating of their Injuries; the Law it self was indulgent to them, by reason of the hardness of their hearts. And as for o­ther [Page 12] things, whose Sinfulness the Law did really discover to them; they were still kept in a general Ignorance of them, thro' the corrupt Glosses, and perverse Interpretations of their Wise Men. Of these our Saviour has given us several Instances; for as for the main, and most substantial Duties of the Law; such as Justice, Mercy, and the like; they had made them needless, by an Opinion of the sufficiency, either of their Sacrifices, for which the Prophets are often reprov­ing them, or of some cheap exterior Performances. Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, says our Saviour, for they pay tythe of Mint, Anise and Cummin; but o­mit the weightier Matters of the Law, as Judgment, Mercy and Faith; whereas these things chiefly, ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone, Matt. 23.23. They had taken off all Duty to Pa­rents requir'd in the Fifth Command­ment, by an unrighteous Vow, or Oath called Corban, of their own devising. Ye say, says our Saviour, in opposition to what God has said in the Fifth Com­mandment; That if a man shall say to his Father or Mother, it is Corban, i. e. a gift by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him [Page 13] no more to do any thing for his Father or Mother, Mark 7.11, 12. They had evacua­ted the Obligation, and cancelled in great part the reverence that is due to Oaths; by their corrupt Casuistry about them: Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, says Christ, which say, whosoever shall swear by the Temple, it is nothing; or whosoever shall swear by the Altar, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the Gold of the Tem­ple, or the gift upon the Altar, he is bound by his Oath to become a Debtor, Matt. 23.16, 18. They had undermin'd all Obligati­ons of Conscience to Obedience towards the Roman Governours, because they were Foreigners and Heathens, and by a proud conceit of their own Freedom and Pri­vileges, as they were Abraham's Chil­dren. For upon this account, it was they came to Christ, with that captious Que­stion, Master, what thinkest thou, is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar or not? hoping by his Answer to have matter to accuse him, either of Disloyalty to Cae­sar if he denied, or of betraying the Free­doms, and Privileges of the Jewish Na­tion if he affirm'd it, Matt. 23.15, 16, 17.

Thus defective was the Sense of Du­ty, which even the Jews themselves were generally guided by under Moses's [...] [Page 18] if they were admitted into it, be a place of Pleasure to them. Thus for instance, if a man is wholly given up to Lust and Intemperance; if his greatest Pleasure be in Revellings and Drunkenness, in Luxu­ry and Wantonness, in Licentiousness, Mirth and Riotous, Entertainments, he would as soon be condemned to Absti­nence and Fasting, and other Religious Severities, and Self-denials here on earth, as to undergo the very same in Heaven. For there he must needs starve his eager desire, and languish in the pain of an unsatisfied Appetite, the place it self af­fording no such things, as would content them: In the Resurrection from the dead, says our Saviour, they neither Marry, nor are given in Marriage: That is a Fools wish, and a Mahometan's Paradise; they neither eat nor drink to sustain them, since they cannot die any more; being in these respects not like men on Earth, but equal to the Angels of God in Heaven, Luk. 20.35, 36. Again, if a man is tur­bulent and factious, apt to set Friends at odds, and to enflame Enmities; if his whole delight is to stir up strife, and to engage Parties; in Heaven he must live alone, for he will find no Abettors, nor Encouragers, nor after all his Labour [Page 19] procure so much as one adherent in that most peaceable and quiet place.

Again, if a man is ill natur'd and en­vious; if he mourns because others rejoyce, and grieves at the prosperity of his Neigh­bours; to place him in Heaven, where even the meanest Souls, whom he most contemned on Earth, are Crown'd with immortal Happiness, would be the readi­est way both infinitely to heighten, and to perpetuate his Torments.

Again, if a Man's heart is full of ha­tred and malice, if he delights in doing mischief, and is glad at his Soul when he can work his spite, and revenge an inju­ry; what should he do in Heaven, where there is nothing else but Mercy, For­giveness and Love. There are none there, but who have loved, not only their Friends, but even their Enemies: they have sought the good of all the World, and have hazarded; yea, when it was needful, laid down their own Lives to confirm, or bring others to the truth and make them happy. This was the Gallantry of their Vertue then, and it is their immortal Honour and Delight now; they still reflect upon it, and al­ways rejoyce in it; and then to make such a man as this a constant Witness of [Page 20] that joy, is to confute and reproach, to shame and torment him for evermore.

Again, if a man is proud and ambiti­ous, if he give himself up to assume state, and expect attendance; if his highest aim be to be above his Brethren, and to have them submit and pay a defe­rence, to bow and cringe to him; what de­light should he take in Heaven, where he would find every Saint raised to Honour, whilst he stands off at a distance, only as a Looker on; for all the Saints in Heaven, yea, even the very meanest whom he accounted unworthy to come into his Presence here on Earth, are Christ's Brethren, and God's Heirs; they are set upon a Throne, and Crown'd with an unspeakable and immortal weight of Glory. And this all the Saints about them, whether higher or lower in Hap­piness and Honour, according as the de­grees of their Faith and Obedience in this World have been, are infinitely pleased with. For whilst they were here on Earth, they were wont to esteem others bet­ter than themselves, Phil. 2.3. And to look every man not so much upon his own things, as the things of others, 1 Cor. 10.24. And this temper they carried to Heaven with them, where every one rejoyces [Page 21] with each other, and counts his Brothers Happiness his own: If this Man then were there, he would see all those ex­alted, whom his Pride would make low; he would see them honoured, whom he would have despised; he would grieve and envy, fret and fume alone, and find them honour'd, and himself unpitied, and contemn'd to all Eternity.

Lastly, if a man is an Enemy of God, and an hater of Religion, if it has been his Practice to vilifie God's Saints, and to deride his Ordinances, to burlesque the Holy Scriptures, or to blaspheme the Deity; what content of heart think you could it be to him, to see there is a God of utmost Majesty and Excellence, migh­ty and irresistible in power to reward his Saints, and as a flaming Fire to con­sume his Enemies? To see, that Hea­ven and Hell, which he boldly and se­curely contemn'd as fabulous, are dread­ful Realities? To see what being Reli­gious comes to, which he derided; and all good men fixt in height of Glory whom he had despised, and thence ex­pect the miserable state of those men, who had set themselves as he had done, to laugh God's Servants out of their Re­ligion; or out-brave himself out of his [Page 22] Being? Surely to such a Person, this sight of Heaven could be nothing less than the first Horrors and Amazements, the beginning and foretaste of Hell.

And thus it appears, that all the sins of Impiety towards God, of Pride, and Intemperance, of Envy, Hatred, Un­charitableness, and Unpeaceableness, which take up in a manner, the whole Compass of Transgressions, are all so many direct Hindrances, and utter In­capacities to our enjoying any Happiness in Heaven; they make us dead to all the Enjoyments, and wholly unfit for the Company of that place; For what Communication hath God with wickedness, Eccl. 13.16, 17, 18. what fellowship, saith the Apostle, hath righteousness with unrighteousness, what Communion hath light with darkness, 1 Cor. 6.14. Nay the being in Heaven with all our sins unmortified about us, would not only deprive us of all the Happiness and Pleasure of that blessed place; but it would also render it an un­easie state, and make Heaven it self be­come in part a Hell to us. For it would fill us as I have shown with shame and discontent, with remorse of mind, and grife of heart, with eternal Torment and Vexation.

[Page 23]As for this Reformation of our Lives and Natures, and Deliverance from sin, here then, it is plainly requisite and in­dispensiblely necessary, to fit and capaci­tate us for any Enjoyments of Happiness in Heaven hereafter. And this the Scri­ptures plainly affirm concerning it. St. Paul tells us, That the Vessels of mer­cy, must thro' that method of Faith and Repentance which God has prescribed, be prepared unto Glory, Rom. 9.23. And that God's delivering us from the power of darkness hath made us meet to be partakers of the Inheritance of the Saints in light, Col. 1.12, 13. And our Saviour says ex­presly, That except we put off the old man which is corrupted by sinful Lusts, and be born again, we cannot enter into the Kingdom of God, Joh. 3.3.

This then is clear both from the De­clarations of the Scripture, and the evi­dence of the thing, that a Life of Ver­tue is plainly necessary to our future Happiness; and that our being saved from sin in this World; is indispensible­ly requisite to our Salvation in the next. The eternal Life of Heaven is a Life, as I have shewn, that is after the likeness and similitude of God's; a Life of unspotted Vertue, and compleat Goodness, that im­plies [Page 24] an entire Exemption, and most ab­solute Deliverance from all manner of sin.

This Perfection and Compleatness of it we must expect in Heaven, whereas St. Paul says, The Spirits of just men are made perfect, Heb. 12.23. But as for the Life it self, we must enter upon it, and begin it here. That Life of Vertue and Reformation, which we engage upon at our becoming Christians is that very Life which never ends, but which is to grow up to full degrees, and to be eternal in the Heavens. And therefore, the Scriptures as in respect of the full Perfection and Frui­tion of it, which is to be had in the next World, they are wont to speak of it as a thing future; so in respect of that more imperfect Enjoyment, which we have of it in this World, they use sometimes to speak of it as a thing possess'd here. He that believes on me, saith our Savi­our, hath eternal Life, Joh. 6.47. And again, Whoso eateth my flesh and drink­eth my blood hath eternal life, Verse 54. St. John bids them, That believe on the name of the Son of God, know that they have eternal life, 1 Joh. 5.13. And that Grace or Goodness of Spirit, which our Saviour expressed by water, Joh. 4. and which he bid the woman of Samaria to ask [Page 25] of him, Verse 10. he tells her, Shall be a Well of water springing up to eternal life, Verse 14.

A Life of Vertue and Obedience then, is not only a necessary Qualification for our Salvation, and eternal Life in Hea­ven; but in a degree it is that very Sal­vation and eternal Life it self; our De­liverance from our sins, is not only the way to Happiness, but in an imperfect measure it is that very Happiness, whose perfection and compleat Degrees we are bid to hope for in Heaven. The Misery that befell us all in Adam, was our falling from God's image, wherein he and all his Holy Angels are infinitely Happy; and that Happiness and Salvation which is pro­mised to us in Christ, is our Restoration to it. So that as for the Promises of God, 'tis clear from them, that the great Sal­vation which they are designed for is this Deliverance from our sins; since all o­ther promised Blessings are made to de­pend upon it, since it is not possible they should be had without it; nay, since this Deliverance is the chief promis'd Mercy, and even Happiness, and eter­nal Life it self; and as to the third part of the Gospel, I proposed to speak to viz.

[Page 26] Thirdly, Those Threatnings which are contain'd therein, the Salvation which they aim at, is evidently this Delive­rance from our Sins, which are those ve­ry things they are all denounced to. The Gospel tho' it breath out nothing but Grace and Mercy to the Penitent, is yet the severest Dispensation that ever was to all incorrigible Men. For therein God declares himself an utter Enemy to all that will not be reformed, and that he will inflict a most terrible Punishment, and exemplary Vengeance on them; the Author of Grace and Mercy, Christ him­self hath spoken it, That except we re­pent we shall all perish, Luk. 13.3. And St. Paul tells us plainly, That at the last Day, God will render to all that obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indig­nation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, and that upon every soul of man, whether he be Jew or Gentile, Rom. 2.6, 8, 9, 10. Our sins then are plainly those Evils, which the Threatnings of the Gospel would fright us from; and our Delive­rance from them is that Salvation which they would enforce upon us. Their end is evidently to make us leave all evil ways, for fear least they should be in­flicted on us for our perseverance in them.

[Page 27]As for that Salvation then, which Christ came to purchase for us, from what I have deliver'd it appears, I sup­pose, most evidently what it is. The Declarations of the Prophets, of Christ and his Apostles, the prime end of the Precepts, the Promises, and the Threat­nings of the Gospel, the Nature of God, of Heaven and Happiness; in a word, the Design of our whole Religion, and Christianity, make it clear to us, that it is our Reformation; or, as the Angel expressed it, our Deliverance from our sins. He shall be called Jesus, because he shall save his people from their sins.

And thus having represented what that Salvation is, which Christ came to purchase for us, and shewn, I think clear­ly, that the great Deliverance design'd us by him, and promoted by his Gospel, is our Reformation, and a Freedom from our Sins. I proceed now,

Secondly, To note some Uses, and par­ticular Improvements of this Discourse.

1. Then from what has been discour­sed upon the Nature of the Christian Salvation we may plainly understand, what Faith, what Repentance, what Grace, [Page 28] what Preaching, what Ordinances are sa­ving. For if Salvation mainly consists in our Deliverance from our Sins, as we have evidently seen it doth; then that is a saving Faith which makes us obedi­ent; and that a saving Repentance which works our Amendment; and that is saving Grace, which enables us to a pious Pra­ctice; and that is saving Preaching, which is fitted, not to fill us with vain Delights, or learned Niceties, or abstract Specula­tions, or mysterious Notions, but to a­waken our Consciences, and reform our Lives; and those are saving Ordinances, which are powerful and proper means of our Conversion, and vertuous Per­formances. This is to be the end of all the helps of Religion, and this the Ex­cellency of all the means of Grace, that they tend strongly to make us leave our sins, and rescue us from Disobedience. Our Salvation is a Deliverance from our sins, and then any thing is saving when it delivers and frees us from them.

2. A second Use which I shall note of this Discourse, is for the Tryal of our State; to know whether we are indeed of the number of the saved or no; for if Salvation consists in our Deliverance from our sins, then they are not saved [Page 29] but lost men, who still live in them, and are enslaved to them. Is any man then a contemner, or prophaner of God, of his dreadful Name, or of his holy word? Doth he spend his time in Luxury and Wantonness, Pride and Covetousness? are his hands full of violence? or is he a stranger to the ways of Peace? In sine, if he doth not make it his business and care, to fear God and keep his Com­mandments, to be humble, chaste and temperate; to do all men Justice, and to speak the Truth, and love all, even his Enemies, and employ himself in all the instances of Duty, which must at the last and great Day be the matter of his Ac­count, he has either no share at all, or not enough, in Christ's Salvation. The chiefest Grace which they enjoy, is the Grace of forbearance. God doth not snatch some of them away in their de­plorable, nor others in their insecure Condition, but allows them time and opportunities of Reformation; and the only advice which I can give them, is to renounce their evil Courses, and to live as new men; and then they may com­fortably conclude; that they are in a safe state, and are not without their part in that Salvation which Christ came to procure for them.

[Page 30]3. A third Use and Improvement, which I shall make of this Discourse is for the directing of our Charity; in show­ing what things we ought most chiefly to desire and endeavour after for our Bre­thren. For if our greatest Happiness, and the great Salvation which Christ came to procure for us, consist in our Deliverance from our sins, and we are to love our Brethren, as Christ loved us; then 'tis plain, that the great benefit which we are to seek for them, is their vertuous Life and Reformation. Holi­ness is the greatest Kindness which they can receive, or we can endeavour to promote in them: And therefore, a­mong all those endeavours, which are very commendably used for our Brethrens good, whether in their Bodies, good Names, or Fortunes, let us still be sure to have an Eye to their highest good of all, their increase in good Living, and their Deliverance from their sins; let our greatest care be to make them better, ra­ther than richer, and more honourable than they were. For this is true Kind­ness and Love indeed to show our selves most concern'd for that whereby they will be infinitely most advantag'd.

[Page 31]This Deliverance from their Sins then, is that which above all things, we should endeavour to procure for them; and as this should be the great aim of all our Labours for their advantage, so should it be of those more especially, which are employ'd for reclaiming them from a false Religion, or establishing them in a right one. For Repentance and Refor­mation are necessary to Salvation in all Parties, and must carry men (whose o­ther errours God shall see fit to excuse, because of the Pityableness of their ig­norance) to Heaven in all the Sects of the Christian World. And therefore, if we convert a man to a Party, but not to Obedience, we win a Proselyte but half way,Jam. 5.19, 20. and have not saved a soul from death, till we have reduced him, as from errour, so from sin too. In all our endea­vours therefore of this sort, let us strive at least as much to win men to the Practice, as to the Profession of the truth. Let us seek as much to rectifie their hearts, as their understandings, and to get them over unto an entire Obedience unto Christ, and not only to an external Com­munion with our selves.

Some indeed instead of endeavouring to save, and rescue others from their sins; [Page 32] take a pride in inveagling, and insna­ring them into sin. They will Glory in making a sober man drunk; or in corrupt­ing a modest Vertue, and drawing it Cap­tive at last to Acts, and places of De­bauchery; and some set up to ridicule all Religion and Vertue, making them the Topicks of their Jests and Merry­ment, this way driving those out of all Professions, and open owning thereof, who cannot bear to be laugh'd at.

Now these men, who thus make it their business, to decoy men into sin, are not only unchristian, but base and barbarous. They betray them under a pretence of Kindness, and seek eternally to destroy them under a Mask of Friendship. They are vile Wretches and mischievous Instruments; nay I might say they are Devils, and Destroyers in the very same Sence that Christ is a Sa­viour: For he saves in rescuing, and de­livering men from their sins, and they destroy them in entangling them therein, and making them subject to them.

And these are the Uses which I think fit to draw from the foregoing Notion, and Explication of the Christian Salva­tion.

[Page 33]And God grant, that whilst we are all talking and hoping for Salvation, we may not appear at last, to have been all the while lost men; but that we may all make it our chiefest care, to get rid of all sinful habits and wicked Courses, whilst we are in this World; that so we may be qualified for the joys of Heaven, and the Conversation of blessed Spirits, and delivered from those eternal Punishments which will be inflicted on all that are irreclamably disobedient, in the World to come, Amen.

DISCOURSE II. Showing that this Deliverance, and intire Obedience, is neither im­possible, nor extreme difficult, if sincere Christians set about it as they ought.

‘On Phil. 4.13. I can do all things thro' Christ which strengthens me.’

THE things St. Paul here Glories himself able to perform, are the Duties of a Christian, even those that are the greatest Tryal of a strong, and well fixed mind, and have more than ordinary Temptation in them; such as the knowledge of our selves, and serving God in a prosperous, and trusting in him, and being content­ed in a necessitous, State. And that which gives him this Ability he confesses, is not any power of Nature derived from [Page 36] Adam, but the super-induced Grace of Christ, which aids and strengthens him. In that forlorn state, wherein Adam's sin left all mankind, subject to strong Lusts, surrounded with numerous and power­ful Temptations, and stript of all Divine aids, and super-natural Assistances, they all lay open to be made a prey, and were easie to be overcome. But since Christ has been the restorer of the World, and recover'd more Grace and Strength for us than ever Adam forfeited; they are again enabled to withstand Temptations, and perform all Duties unto God, even those which seem to have most hardship in them. I know both how to be abased, or live meanly, and how to abound in Honour and Plenty; every where, and in all places, I am instructed both to be full without forgetting God, and to be hungry without repining at him; both to abound, and still be humble and tempe­rate, and to suffer need, and at the same time praise and trust God, and rest con­tented; I can do all things thro' Christ that strengthens me, Verse 12, 13.

By this performance of all Duties, we are not to understand such a perfection of Obedience to them, as is intermixed with no Escapes; for so Christ doth not [Page 37] enable any of his Servants in this World, no not St. Paul himself. To live without all sin is not to be expected from any mor­tal man, but only from the strength of an Angel, or a just Soul made perfect in Heaven. Some sins of ignorance, or forgetfulness, hast and surprize, such as Paul's Speech to Ananias, Acts 23.3. will adhere to the best men whilst they have earthly Bodies about them: And Christ, who being in our Nature has a fellow-feeling of all our Infirmities, when he comes to sit as our Judge will make fair allowances for them, Heb. 5.2.

But it implies such a perfection of O­bedience, as admits of no damning Sins, that is, of no sins which are wilfully in­curred, against knowledge, or it may be against Checks and loud Alarms of Con­science; and which are also persisted in without true Repentance, and Amend­ment of the same. These sins deprive us of the favour of God, and destroy a Soul; and therefore, Christ must strengthen men against all these, before he proves a Saviour to them. And this strength St. Paul says he found, as all other Christians will, who will make the Ex­periment as he did, and not be wanting to themselves, or fail to make use of it. [Page 38] Tho' they will not be strengthned a­gainst all involuntary surprizes; yet, if they are as careful to employ this Grace as Christ is ready to afford it, they will be strengthned against all wilful Breaches of any Commandments, or at least a­gainst all impenitent continuance in the same, when at any time they have wil­fully broken any. I can do all things thro' Christ that strengthens me.

My design from these words, is to show that the Grace of Christ is ready to enable all Christians to obey his Laws; who are not wanting in their own Care and good Endeavours. He earnestly de­sires the Obedience of men, and affords them aid sufficient to help it on: So that no Christian can ever fail to do his Duty, but thro' his own fault, when he either neglects, or rejects that Help and Grace, which our Saviour Christ holds out to him.

Indeed the great excuse which disobe­dient men are wont to make for them­selves is, that they would do better if they knew how to do it, and are there­fore only ill, because they cannot help it. They would plead impotence in themselves, and impracticable heights, and impossibilities in God's Command­ments. And if this were true as it [Page 39] is most false, it would be a serviceable Plea indeed, and excuse them both for being ill, and also for being idle: for if they cannot avoid being disobedient, why should they be blamed for it? And if they are not able to obey, do what they can, why should they throw away their Pains in vain Attempts, and fruitlesly endeavour after it? There is neither Du­ty, nor Discretion in attempting impos­sibilities, and labouring after that which is not to be done: so that if Obedience were impossible, every man might as innocently, and much more wisely, dis­obey at first, as at last, when he has stri­ven in vain against it; and it ought not to be censured as the fault of his Choice, but pitied as his invincible misfortune.

Now as for this impotence, and impos­sibility of performing all Duties, it is of­ten pleaded by those, who seem willing and desirous to perform them. And in regard it gives some Colour to this com­plaint, because we hear it from those; who have tryed the Hardship, and so from their own Experience are best able to judge of it, and who express a Good­will for their Duty, and so may be pre­sumed to complain of nothing but what they find. In treating of this Subject, I shall, [...]

[Page 44]2. Generally such as endeavour wrong, without using those fit means, which should make them obedient. The means and instruments of Duty, are the way that leads us to the performance of it; and in these it concerns us much to be careful, what Choice we make if we pur­sue any Vertue, without the use of any means at all; that is, as if we should set our selves to the dispatch of any bu­siness with our hands behind us; and if we use improper and unsuitable ones, like men who labour with ill Instruments in any Craft, we shall make but rugged work, and find that too to prove very toilsome and difficult; and after much time and Pains is spent, see but a very little Fruit of all. The means of Ver­tue are, as I say, the way to it: And therefore, there is much depends upon the means we use, when we would be vertuous, as upon the way we take, when we would travel to any Town or Place; we may go the straight Road to it, and that brings us thither in a short time, and without being much wearied; but if either we take a contrary path, or go much about, we shall spend much more time, and be much more tyred in going; yea forced, perhaps, at last to sit down short of our Journeys-end.

[Page 45]And this now is an ordinary fault of those Complainers, who endeavour to obey without Success, and cannot com­pass any Vertue, tho' they do take Pains for it. The reason why they fail, is be­cause they are not well directed, and their Labour is not wisely manag'd, and laid out in the use of such means, and in the practice of such Rules, as are most proper and likely to gain the Point, and introduce the Vertue which they wanted.

To illustrate this by some Instances; one man is of an irritable hasty Temper; and he complains that he has striven, but is not able to bridle and conquer his Passion; he labours, and doth what he can; but such is the distracting Variety of his business, the Crossness or Careles­ness of those he is concern'd with, or the number of his Provocations one way or other, that notwithstanding all his Care, his Passion is still too strong for him.

But I would ask that Person, who says his Labour is lost, whether he advised well upon what he did, and took the ready, and the right way to this Con­quest? Has he for instance, besides his earnest Prayers to God for Grace to ma­ster [Page 46] his Passion, avoided moreover as much, as the concerns of Life will suffer him, all unnecessary Discourse, especi­ally Disputes, with wrathful, loud, cross, or scornful Persons; has he watched o­ver himself daily at such times, and places, and in such Business and Compa­ny, wherein he was like to meet with Provocations, and particularly resolv'd within himself, not only long before; but at those very times, that he will not be transported by them? And above all Lastly, has he made this a constant Law to himself to forbear speaking, or act­ing any thing suddenly, when he feels a Passion stirr'd in him; but to turn aside, and say over the Lord's Prayer, or some devout Ejaculation to himself, which will both gain him time for Considerati­on, and likewise call God and Goodness into his mind, which will be the most effectual means of all to restrain him? If these or such like means have not been used, he has not taken the best ways he can; and if he will set himself to bridle his Nature in this way, I doubt not, but God will bless him in it, and then let him complain he cannot re­strain himself, if he find reason.

[Page 47]Again, another who has accustomed himself to Oaths, complains that he is convinced he ought, and endeavours to do it, but that he is not able to refrain swearing. But besides his fervent Pray­ers to God, has such a Complainer la­bour'd withal to possess his Conscience, with a great sense and dread of it? Has he particularly call'd to mind, and re­solved against it, not only when it was at a distance, but when he was expect­ing any Disappointment, or coming in­to the way of any Provocation, which would tempt him to it? And because men subject to this Vice, swear oft in eagerness of Spirit, and do not know it, has he desired some true Friend, to be his Monitor, to warn him of it before, or tell him when 'tis past, that afterwards he may be more careful to prevent it, or to punish himself for it? And in regard men who shun it at other times, are ge­nerally push'd on to swear in haste, thro' the surprize of a Provocation, in the ea­gerness of Sport, or thro' the suddenness of some cross Accident and Disappoint­ment: Has he taken Care lastly to speak nothing rashly, especially whilst he is in heat and eagerness of Spirit, but to bridle his Tongue, and consider what he [Page 48] is about to say before he utter it, that so if it prove to be ill he may forbear it? These and such like ways, are the proper method for curing this Sin; and if a man has labour'd against it, without them, he has sought the end without the means, and pursued the cure with­out the right Prescriptions. And there­fore, if he will correct that Errour, and begin again to labour in right ways, I question not, but, that he will succeed well, and find the effect thro' God's bles­sing.

Thus do men, who endeavour in vain for these, or for any other Vertues, plain­ly miscarry, for want of chusing right ways; the Duties are not impossible to be attain'd, if the right Course were u­sed to attain them; but it is their own neglect of means, or mistaken Choice of bad ones, which makes the Disap­pointment. And therefore, if they would labour to effect, let them be careful to pursue good things, by wise and proper methods. When they are resolved to endeavour after any Vertue, let them learn from good Books, or from their spiritual Guides, or the advice of any wise or judicious Persons, what Rules serve most to compass it: And if they [Page 49] carefully and diligently follow them, the Duty which seem'd before impossible, will prove a very possible thing. And this again would rid us of the greatest part of those Complainers who fail at last, but yet endeavour something: for most of them, when they endeavour to obey, do not endeavour wisely, or in the use of such proper and discreet Methods, a sure sit to work Obedience in them.

But if any complain still, that they have taken advice about the best Course and follow'd it; but yet all their labour has been without the desired effect: Yet are they always,

3. Such, as when they use right means, endeavour but by halves, and do not go thro' with them.

A faint Endeavourer, will never go thro' with any work, which requires ei­ther length of time, or strength of La­bour. If he put little strength to it, that will not conquer the difficulty of the Task; and if he is soon wearied, he will give over before it comes to an end. So that a man must apply himself to the same, both earnestly and long, if he would succeed when he has begun, and go on to finish and compleat it.

[Page 50]Now our obeying God, and amend­ing of our Lives, is a work of this kind. For our sins being many in number, they will require a considerable space of time, before they are all amended; and our hindrances in leaving them being great, and the Temptations strong that daily assault and draw us to them, and our own Lusts, and a treacherous Enemy in our own Bosoms, being always ready to take their parts and strike in with them, it requires a great Watchfulness, and a constant Care, and an earnest vigorous endeavour to overcome them. And this the Scripture tells us plainly we must use, if ever we expect to prevail against them; St. Peter tells us, we must give all diligence, 2 Pet. 1.5, 10. St. Paul that we must be circumspect, Eph. 5.15. Our Blessed Saviour that we must watch al­ways, and be ever standing upon our Guard, Mark 13.37. and strive to enter in at the strait gate, Luk. 13.24. which striving is call'd a warfare, 2 Cor. 10.4. and a fight, 1 Tim. 6.12. All which show the Greatness of that care, and both the Earnestness and Constancy of that endea­vour, which we must lay out upon it.

And this now is the fault of all those Strivers, who, pursuing Obedience by [Page 51] right and proper Methods, do yet miss of it at last. They endeavour but by halves, and seek it, either by too short, or too sleight Pains. They have not ei­ther the Resolution to set manfully a­bout it, or the Patience to go thorow with it; and so being either faint in their pursuit, or falling off before they are got to the end, they are not re­claim'd from their sins by all their Pains, but continue subject, and enslaved to them still.

But now when they fail on this ac­count, it is not because they cannot, but because they will not help it. They might become good, if they would be at the trouble of it, and persevere with Patience, till they have finished it; but if they will use only sleight Endeavours and short Onsets; their missing of Suc­cess, must not be charged upon the im­possibility of God's Laws, but upon their own sloth and remissness in performing them; they can and do take great and incessant Pains to be rich, or great, or compass a worldly Interest: And if they please they can labour as vigorously, and as incessantly too to be good, and do what God Commands them. And if once they would do this, it would be the best [Page 52] Demonstration, how possible a thing O­bedience is; since less Pains than this comes to, will ordinarily suffice them to that purpose.

And this will stop the mouths of all those Complainers, who have not been silenced by the two former Considera­tions. If they have not complain'd be­fore they tryed, and if in trying to be good, they took a right method; yet want they one thing still, they endea­voured but by halves, and were not vi­gorous and constant enough in their en­deavours, and that is the reason why they failed: Whereas, if they will try again, and endeavour not only wisely, but also vigorously and incessantly, they will most certainly be enabled to per­form their Duty: And their doing it actually, will be the most effectual Con­viction that 'tis possible to be done.

Having said this, to remove the pre­judice that lies against this possibility of performing the Laws of God, from the Complaints of those, who say they find it otherwise: I proceed now,

2. To shew that among Christians, there is no cause for such Complaints, and that they will be strengthned to the [Page 53] performance of all Duties, if they are not wanting to themselves.

They must be careful as I have ob­serv'd, to use their own endeavours, be­cause God that made them, will not al­so save them without themselves. And these endeavours must be in wise ways, since we must not expect God should give effects to unsuitable means, and be at the expence of Miracles, to supply for our Follies. And when we endea­vour thus wisely, we must do it also vi­gorously and incessantly; Obedience be­ing a work of time and Pains, that re­quires both the earnestness, and the con­tinuance of our Applications. These things are required on our part, and if we take care to perform that, the Grace of Christ will make up the rest, and most certainly enable us, as he did St. Paul, to do all things which he indispensibly requires of us; he will give us some strength at first, and as we employ that, according to that great Rule of Gospel Distribution, To him that hath shall be given, Matt. 25.29. he will add more, till at last we perform as much, as is in­dispensibly required, i· e. as [...] noted, ei­ther not sinning wilfully, or sincerely repenting, and amending whensoever we [Page 54] do. If they are thus careful, I say, in their own endeavours, this strength all Christians shall surely receive from the Grace of Christ to these performances, as the Apostle in the Text declares of him­self; I can do, &c.

Now that every wise, earnest, and in­cessant Endeavourer, shall be thus enabled to perform all Duties, will appear from these three things,

  • First, Because God indispensibly re­quires, and passionately exhorts us to this performance.
  • Secondly, Because he has promised this Ability, and Obedience to all who are so qualified and prepared for the same.
  • Thirdly, Because all good men here­tofore, and at this present time, do them­selves find, and experience it.

1. That they shall be thus enabled to perform all Duties, appears, because God indispensibly requires, and passionately exhorts us to this performance.

He indispensibly requires it. For now as St. Paul says, God commandeth all men every where to repent, Acts 17.30. And that of all sins, they being all lyable to the same Punishment; The wrath of God [Page 55] being revealed against all unrighteousness, Rom. 1.18. And he that offends in one point being guilty of all, Jam. 2.10. And this he requires under the strictest condition, as ever they hope to avoid the wrath to come, or to obtain everlasting Salva­tion: If the wicked turn from all his sins, and keep all my Statutes, then says God by Ezekiel, but not before, he shall sure­ly live, Ezek. 18.21. And they only that do his commandments have right to the tree of life, saith Christ, Rev. 22.14.

Now since God thus requires us to o­bey all his Laws, it must needs be pos­sible for us to obey them; for God ne­ver requires an impossible thing; what he Commands, he both desires and Psal. 5.2. Matt. 21.34. ex­pects should be performed; and there­fore, calls men to the Jam. 1.25. Jo. 13.17. performance of it; to be not only hearers, but doers of the Law, Rom. 2.13. And 'tis certain they may perform it, since he is too wise, either to desire, or expect what is not to be had.

Nay, he doth not only indispensibly require this Obedience, but Friendly and passionately exhorts us to it; Repent and turn your selves from all your transgressions, so iniquity shall not be your ruine. Cast a­way from you all your transgressions, and [...]

[Page 60]Thus have we an assurance, that God will give us all so much Grace and Strength, as will suffice to make us good, if we diligently, and discreetly apply our selves to become so. This God engages, and he doth not only per­mit, but expect that we should believe him, and take his word in this, as well as in all other Promises. He would not only have us to have faith in his mercy, for the pardon of any Sins when we re­pent of them, but likewise to have faith in his power and spirit, enabling us to overcome our sins, when we seriously strive against them. When St. Paul bids us work out our own Salvation, he gives God's working in us, as the reason, plain­ly directing us to work in that Expecta­tion, Phil. 2.11, 12. And we are kept to Salvation by the power of God thro' faith, i. e. thro' Faith in the Power, saith St. Peter, 1 Pet. 1.5. God has promised his Spirit to strengthen us against sin, as well as his mercy to pardon and forgive sin: And since he has promised both; our Duty is to believe both, and not distrust him in either of them.

And since we both may and ought to have this Confidence in God's Grace; that will perfectly answer the main Ob­jection [Page 61] against the possibility of this per­formance, which is taken from ourselves, and the reigning Power of our own Lusts. For our Lusts are not too strong for God, tho' they be too strong for us: Tho' there be great Might in corrupt Nature, yet the Grace of Christ is mightier: And therefore, having that on our side, we shall certainly be empowered to please God, let our own sinful Lusts, and the Temptations of the World, oppose themselves never so much against it. Greater is he that is in us, says St. John, Than he that is in the world, 1 Joh. 4.4. And tho' we be able to do nothing of our selves, as of our selves; yet having the same Promise we shall all be enabled, 2 Cor. 3.5. as St. Paul was, To do all things thro' Christ that strengthens us.

And as this possibility of keeping the Commandments, thro' our own Care and Pains, appears because God indispensi­bly requires and exhorts to it; and has promised his Holy Spirit and Grace, to enable all who duely labour after the same: So doth it yet farther,

3. Because good men heretofore, and at this present time, do themselves find and experience it. Whensoever they wisely, and earnestly endeavour'd, and [Page 62] did not grow weary or faint, they al­ways succeeded, and were enabled to have such regard to their whole Duty, as God required the true Servants of God in all Ages, have been endow'd with so much strength as made them intire with God, and able to perform all that he would exact of them. Caleb and Jo­shua followed the Lord wholly, Numb. 32.12. David kept my commandments, saith God, and followed me with all his heart, 1 Kin. 14.8. Zachariah and Elizabeth were both righteous before God, walking in all the ordinances and commandments of the Lord blameless, saith St. Luke, Luk. 1.6. And what is so expresly said of all these, is by plain Intimation implyed of all others. They that are Christ's, saith St. Paul, have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts, Gal. 5.24. If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin, i. e. Sin must have no more Service from it, than one would expect from a dead man, but the spirit is life because of righteousness, i. e. lives in righteous ways, Rom. 8.10. They who do no iniquity walk in his ways, Psal. 119.3.

Thus is it a constant thing in Scri­pture account, and Relations, and so it was, and is still in all following Ages, [Page 63] for God's faithful Servants to Experi­ment his Faithfulness in this grand Pro­mise, and to be sufficiently assisted to do his Will, when they diligently and duly applied· themselves to the doing of it. When they wisely and resolutely set themselves to it, and stuck to it, and call'd to him for help; he put to his Al­mighty hand, and strengthned them, to accomplish what they attempted; and God's Promise is still the same to us, as it was to them, and he to the full, as inclinable, and as able to make it good, his Ear is not grown heavy that it can­not hear, nor his arm short or feeble that it cannot help us. So that if we fol­low their Example, in wisely and faithfully endeavouring, we shall happi­ly find their Success, in acceptably, and intirely obeying too.

Nay, I add further, as the good Ex­periment this Power in themselves, viz. Of doing their Duty thro' God's assist­ance, and evidence the same by their actual performance thereof; so likewise do all the bad confess it, by repenting where they fail. For there can be no re­pentance for a Sin, where there was no possibility of avoiding it. All repentance is a blaming of our selves; and no man [Page 64] can accuse himself for want of Power, where he is not left to be his own Car­ver, but only for mis-use of it where he is. So that we can repent for nothing, but what, had we been wise and wary enough, our own hearts tell us we might have done otherwise. If any men then, in hopes to clear themselves, shall deny it in words; yet, whether they will or no, shall they all confess this Power in their Practice. When they do ill, they repent of it; and that shows, how by the Grace of God, they might have done better, since otherwise they could only be pitied, not blam'd and cen­sur'd for what they did. I come now in the

3. And last place to show, that this performance is so far from being an im­possible Task, that 'tis not extreme dif­ficult, when men set to it in earnest. By the Grace of God, and Care of pi­ous Parents, several good Souls are train'd up as soon as may be, to the keeping of their Baptismal Innocence, and perfor­mance of their solemn Engagements. They are taught to know God, and to fear him, to know good and ill; and in reverence to God, to do the good, and refuse the ill, as soon as they are capa­ble [Page 65] of knowing any thing. Now here Religion grows up with them, and cor­rupt Passions and evil Customs (which are other Peoples great Complaints and Difficulties) are stifled and prevented from the first, and never come to grow Head-strong, or have any Power to reign in them. So that what Difficulties they have to find in Religion, are chiefly the Pains and Services of religious Actions; not those Self-denials, and Mortification of corrupt Lusts and evil Habits, which create so much trouble to other Per­sons.

But the greatest part alas! have given way to their Lusts, and subjected them­selves to wicked Customs, and their work is not retaining Innocence, but recover­ing it, and rectifying and amending Transgressions; now in amending our Lives, and obeying God after we have made our selves thus averse to his Obe­dience, there is difficulty and pains at first. Our former Courses and Customs generally must be alter'd, our Friends sometimes disobliged, our temporal In­terest crossed and thwarted, and our na­tural Lusts formerly indulged, now gain-said and conquered. All this is against our inclination, which is a force upon [Page 66] any man, and that while it lasts, will make an uneasiness in Religion. But to cure this, God's Grace will be working in us, and New-molding of our Natures; and by use we shall grow perfect and in­clineable to the good things, which we set our selves to practise. So that after God's Grace, and our own vertuous u­sage, have gone on for some due time, the Case will be altered, and Religion will appear not only a reasonable and be­neficial, but likewise an agreeable thing. Divine Aids, and good Customs, will give us a new sence of all our Duties, and make them almost always fairly tolerable, and usually delightful things. And thus our Lord encourages us to his Service. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for my yoke is easie and my burden light, Matt. 11.29, 30. And St. John speaking of keeping his commandments, for our Com­forts adds, that those commandments are not grievous, 1 Joh. 5.3.

This 'tis plain our Saviour says, but how, may some reply, doth it consist with sundry Severities and Strictnesses which his Law requires? For he enjoyns us to mortifie our Lusts, the Plainfulness whereof is express'd, By cutting off right hands, and plucking out right eyes; to take [Page 67] up the cross, and patiently suffer persecu­tions; to watch and strive, and wrestle against spiritual enemies. These are all hard things, and where there are such Severities, and heavy Loads, how can we expect to find, I will not say delight, but easiness, since it seems strange to ex­pect ease, under such uneasie Impositi­ons,

But in answer to this I observe, that these and all such like places of Scripture, speak only either the Difficulties of Re­ligion in some less common Cases, as persecutions, in which the increase of Difficulty is so answered by a proportio­nable increase of Strength, as makes it a tolerable Task to encounter them: Or, the Hardships of it, at mens new en­trance on it, after they had done much to unfit themselves for it; at which time as I have said, it doth call for more Pains. Or lastly, such diligent and just Care, and watchfulness afterwards, as admits of Comfort and Delight enough to sweeten it to us.

1. The hardest things spoken of Re­ligion concern it only in some less com­mon Cases, as Persecutions. To this Case all those hard Sayings relate: It is [Page 68] hardly possible for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of heaven: i. e. To turn Christian, which was punish'd with Con­fiscation of Goods at Jerusalem; and left the Disciples no other way of saving a­ny thing, than by selling all, and having all things common; which in those days, and all others like them, was an extream Difficulty, call'd here an impossibility, in the way of rich men, Matt. 19.23, 24. If thou wilt be perfect sell all that thou hast and give to the poor; which refers I sup­pose to that particular time, and other succeeding times like it, when if he would adhere to Christ, a man could not keep his Estate, Ver. 21. If any man will come after me; he must take up his cross, Matt. 16.24. All that will live Godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer persecutions, 2 Tim. 3.12. He that will save his life, shall lose it, and he must be willing to lose it for my sake; that would expect to find it, Matt. 10.39. All which strict Sayings, do not respect the ordinary course and state of Religion, but only its state in some cer­tain Occurrences, which more seldom happen, and under great Persecutions, which were very hot in the first days; when as our Saviour told them, they could not be his Disciples, without forsa­king [Page 69] houses and lands, and parents and brethren; yea and their own lives also, Luk. 14.26, 33.

But even in these Cases and suffering times, when Religion enjoyns such hard things, yet are not they too hard for good men; the increase of Difficulty is so answered by a proportionable increase of Strength, as makes it no heavy, but a tolerable Imposition. For things are hard, or easie in relation to our Strength, according as we are more or less able to deal with them. What is hard to a strip­ling, is easie to a grown man; and what would be an intolerable burden to an In­firm, is a very supportable Load, to an Healthy, and Athletick person. And in these suffering days, when God adds to our Task, he adds also to our Strength, so that we are still well able to go thro' with it. When I am weak, says St. Paul, in distresses and persecutions of the flesh for Christ, then am I strong in Spirit to go thro' with them, 2 Cor. 12.10. As the sufferings of Christ abound in us; so proportionably our consolation aboundeth by Christ, 2 Cor. 1.5.

In extraordinary Tryals God is faith­ful, saith St. Paul, 1 Cor. 10.13. and will afford extraordinary Assistances; [Page 70] and then however hard their Case may be looked upon by others, who see only at a distance, it will appear fairly tolera­ble and supportable; nay full of Comfort to themselves; as the numerous Army of Martyrs, and Confessors have com­fortably experienced; who were enabled not only to bear, but as the Apostle says, 2 Cor. 12.10. To take pleasure in necessities and distresses, for Christ; yea, who could sing, and sometimes rejoyce, and say, they felt no Pain even in the hottest Flames. So that take even Persecutions for God and a good Conscience; for any first, or second Table Duties, which seems the hardest Case; and the greatest Hardship in that is farthest off, and men know least of it. But when good men are call'd out to suffer for righteousness sake, and adhere to their Duty inviola­bly, and rely on God, and intirely com­mit themselves to him in faithful dis­charge of the same, they find such As­sistances of Grace, as renders them strong enough for what he calls them to; they cannot only bear, but thro' the rich supplies of spiritual Comforts, the Applause of a good Conscience, and the joyful prospect of a vast increase of future recompenses, for their Surplusage [Page 71] of present Sufferings, they can take plea­sure and rejoyce therein; counting such Losses for a good Conscience, to be their greatest and truest Gain; and that God instead of being hard upon them, is therein most kind, and beneficent to them.

2. Other Hardships attributed to Re­ligion concern only mens new Entrance upon it, after they have done much to unfit themselves for it, when indeed it requires more Pains. And to this we may refer all those Scriptures, which speak of cutting off right hands, and plucking out right eyes, i. e. Casting away all evil Habits and Inclinations which are very near and dear to us, Matt. 5.29, 30. Of mortifying our members, which are upon the earth, Col. 3.5. and the like.

These are Difficulties at our first En­trance on the Amendment of evil Cour­ses, for then we throw off all sinful Lusts and Inclinations. It is very painful at the first, but use makes it easier afterwards. Custom rectifies our Inclinations, and begets a new Nature, and reconciles us to those things, whereto we were very averse before, so that the Hardship which these make in Religion, is only when we begin the work of Repentance and A­mendment. [Page 72] And tho' it be harder then; yet even at that time it is a tolerable thing. It employs our Strength, but it doth not excede it. For when we do a little, God still enables us to do more, and so carries us on by degrees, till at last we have Strength enough to Con­quer. And as we grow stronger, our Duty grows easier, till it advances at last beyond an ease, into a pleasure. So that this Difficulty is both tolerable while it continues, and besides it is soon over.

3. Other places of Scripture, deno­ting the Hardships of Religion, express only such diligent and just Care and Watchfulness thro' our whole Course, as admits of Comfort and Delight e­nough to sweeten it to us. And to this we may refer those Texts which require us to watch, Mark 13.37. And to give all diligence, 2 Pet. 1.5, 10. To Luk. 13. [...]. strive, and Heb. 4. [...]. labour and the like. Religion is not the effect of doing nothing, nor eter­nal Life a prize that can be gain'd by la­zy careless men. It requires Pains in all at first, yea much and great Pains in those who have once corrupted them­selves, by contrary Lusts, and wicked Customs: And it also requires a con­stant [Page 73] Care and Watchfulness for ever af­terwards. But this Care and Labour is moderate. It fairly comports, not only with the necessary business, but also with the prudent, convenient and moderate Diversions, and Entertainments of this Life, so that our minding it will not force us to neglect our outward Com­forts. It is reasonable in degrees, not holding us up at the utmost stretch of our Faculties: But will do our work, if it do but equal our Care and Pains, for the Interests and Enjoyments of this world, which Pains men are very well content to take without ever complain­ing of the Hardship of them. For if we are any thing near so intent upon doing our Duty, as ordinarily we are upon the getting an Estate, and will watch the Opportunities of doing good, as we do of growing rich or great; it will abundantly suffice for it. And be­sides as this Labour of Vertue, is in it self very moderate; so has it many Ac­cessory Comforts, and Considerations, which greatly sweeten and recommend it to us. It gives us at present the ap­plause of a good Conscience, and makes us pleas'd and satisfied with our selves, and cherishes our heart, with the joyful [Page 74] hope of eternal Life and Happiness. And when all the Pains we take is so plea­sing to our selves, and with this prospect, it will not only be found an ease, but a delight too.

And thus I have endeavour'd from these words, to assert this great and ne­cessary Encouragement to all attempts in Religion, viz. That by the Grace of Christ enabling them, men shall be sure to succeed in them, if they are not wanting to themselves. And that when men continue wicked, and say, they can­not help it, they urge a shameful and very false Pretence. And the sum of what I have urged against this Plea is this; They generally complain most of the impossibility of obeying God, who least endeavour to obey him; or who endeavour wrong, without using those sit means, whereby they should become obedient; or when they use right means, endeavour but by halves, and do not go thro' with their Endeavours; where­as would they endeavour diligently, and discreetly, and incessantly for this Obe­dience, as they do for other things, they might be sure to succeed, because God commands and exhorts them to it, and Promises by his Grace to help them [Page 75] therein, and good men; who have en­deavoured thus, either now or hereto­fore, have actually by such Endeavours, perform'd the same. Nay, if they will be perswaded to make the Experiment, they will find it is not only a possible, but after some time at least an agreeable Service: And that in all the parts of it, it is a tolerable, in most an easie; and in many, a most pleasurable and delight­ful thing.

God Grant, that as by his Grace assist­ing us, we have all the Power; so we may likewise have the Will and Heart to make a right use thereof; and accom­plish that Obedience, which he so sin­cerely and earnestly desires we should; and will most gladly enable us upon our honest Endeavours to perform.

DISCOURSE III. How to form such a Purpose of sin­cere Repentance, and entire Obe­dience, as will be effectual for this Purpose.

‘On Acts 11.23. And exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart, they would cleave unto the Lord.’

WHEN some of those Christi­ans, who were dispers'd a­broad, upon the Death of St. Stephen, came to Antioch, and upon their Preaching, Multitudes believed; the Church of Jerusalem sent out Barna­bas; that he should go and confirm them in the new Course of Life which they had undertaken; and in the Holy Faith which they had received, and this he doth in the words of the Text; Who when he came and had seen the Grace [Page 78] of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, &c.

By cleaving to the Lord we may un­derstand, not only adhering to God, and the Christian Religion, in opposition to the Jewish Worship, and to all false Gods, and Heathen Idols; a Point very necessary to be pressed, when they sought Converts, among Jews and Gentiles.

Not only adhering to Gospel-Truths, when they grow hazardous, a thing ve­ry requisite to be inculcated under ap­proaching Tryals, and in difficult times: But also adhering to him in Vertue and Holiness in opposition to a wicked Life; a thing most indispensibly required, and fit to be studiously urged in all times.

In adhering thus to God in a vertu­ous Course, we shall meet with many Difficulties, and be put to de [...]y our selves, and very likely others too, whom either out of some temporal Expectati­on, or Affection, we gladly would com­ply withal; and this is enough to stag­ger our Choice, and to draw our hearts off from God, unless they are fully bent upon his ways, and knit to him by a sixt Resolution and steady Purpose of Obedience. And that the Apostle calls for in this place, from those who were [Page 79] engaged in, and would go on with God's Service, He exhorted them all that with purpose of heart, they would cleave unto the Lord.

My design from these words is to shew, how to form such a Resolution of new Life, and penitential Purpose, as may both set us in, and also carry us thro' with God's Service; and this may seem most necessary to be insisted on, because the far greatest part of peniten­tial Purposes fall off before they have wrought an answerable Practice. So that 'tis highly useful to inquire what are their Defects, and how in a Point of such eternal moment, we may prevent mis­carriages.

It is not all Holy Resolution, that will overcome our Lusts, and keep us true to our Maker against all Temptations. If it is weak or wavering, the Sollici­tations of our old Friends will quickly alter, or the strength of great Tempta­tions over-power it. If it is chiefly for remote Futurities, and over-looks what is next at hand, it will allow us to be wicked for the present. If it be made only in a good Mood, and the absence of Temptations, it will not bear us out when we come under them. If it were [Page 80] rash and hasty, without a due foresight and Consideration both of the Duties and the Difficulties which we resolv'd upon, it will be quash'd, when Hard­ships come that were not expected: If this Resolution is too indulgent about means and Expediencies, and not strict enough against all occasions of Sin; it leaves open a Back-door to let in many damnable Offences; and on the other side; if it is indiscreetly rigorous in these Points, it will prove a snare to us; if it is only a transient Act, and is not frequently repeated, and renewed again, in a little time it will pass off from us. A resolution of Amendment may prove ineffective and mis-carry upon all these Grounds; as is daily seen in the good Purposes of awakened Sinners, which are ever and anon rais'd in them by Sick­ness or some affecting Providence, but vanish and come to nothing, ere they have wrought the Reformation, which they were designed for.

When our Consciences are awakened then, with a frightful sense of our Sins, and we think seriously of reforming, and leading new Lives, great Care must be taken so to fix the bent of our hearts, and to form such a penitential Purpose, [Page 81] as may take effect, and bear us out in performing what we have design'd. And this I think will be well provided for, in these Particulars.

  • First, Our Resolution of a new Life must be considerate, and well advis'd.
  • Secondly, It must be without all reserve full and perfect.
  • Thirdly, It must be adequate to all times, or a Resolution to forsake Sin, not only hereafter, but instantly, and now at pre­sent, not only when we are out of Temp­tations, but also when we are under them; not only when we cannot Act our Sins, but also when we can Act and repeat them too.
  • Fourthly, It must not only be upon the Duties, but also upon the means and helps of Duty, not only against the Sins but against the Inducements and Occa­sions, that lead to sin likewise. And that being once well form'd, it may ne­ver wear off, but last thro' all times.
  • Fifthly, It must not only be a transient Act, but oftentimes repeated, and re­newed thro' our whole Lives.

1. To form such a Resolution of a new Life as may be like to take effect, [Page 82] it must not be a rash and indeliberate Act, but well advis'd and considerate.

When some extraordinary Providen­ces, as great Losses and Dangers, or se­vere smart and Sickness, have awakened mens Consciences, and fill'd them with a great and painful Dread of God's de­served wrath; to cure that Dread they resolve without more ado, to please him by a good Life; never considering what that is, or what Pains it costs, or whe­ther it may not prove such a Remedy, as afterwards they will Fancy worse than the Disease it self. And when they are thus rash and unadvised in resolving on it, they quickly repent of such Resolu­tions, when they find it worse than they imagin'd, and meet with Hardships which they never expected.

To prevent this Sickliness in our Re­solutions of a good Life then it is ne­cessary, that we view and consider it well, what it is, and what Pains it re­quires, before we make them, and look on all sides to see, both what may dis­courage us from, and what may move us to them. And this our Saviour has plainly directed in two Similitudes; that of a Builder, who before he begins, con­siders whether he have enough to fi­nish; [Page 83] and that of a King making war, who first consults, whether he is strong enough at least to defend himself, if not to conquer; for speaking to those, who seemed desirous to become his Disciples, he instructs them first to consider, what they are going to undertake, in these two Parables. Which of you, says he, intending to build a Tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Or what King going to War, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand; so that he may proceed not to fight but seek a Peace, if he find his numbers are in that Dis­proportion, Luk. 14.28, 31.

Thus when we resolve upon a good Life, if we would have that Resolution take effect, we must consider and weigh well what we do before we make it. We must bethink our selves and attently view, what that good Life is which we resolve upon; and also what reason we have to resolve upon it; and when we have thus considered all before, there is the less cause to fear, that any thing which we meet withal afterwards, should make us alter, or recede from it.

[Page 84]We must bethink our selves and con­sider, what that good Life is which we resolve upon. It is not enough that we re­solve in the general to be good, but in our thoughts we must survey the particular Instances of Goodness, that so, if we stick at any of them, we may give it all its weight at first, and that after we have once resolved, it may not cause us to start back from it. When we return to God then, to live as he has requir'd, we must run over the several Duties where­in we stand bound to God, our Neigh­bour and our selves, and observing all the Particulars, ask our selves, whether we are willing to perform all of them for his sake. And if we resolve to do them, after we have taken such particu­lar notice of them, this Resolution is like to do some good, and we may ex­pect the desired effect from it. And when we have thus seriously considered, what a good Life is, we must next con­sider what great reason we have to re­solve upon it, and what those things are, which may either discourage us from it, or excite us to it. To Discourse particu­larly upon these, would of it self be suf­ficient, for a Sermon, and therefore up­on this Point, I shall barely mention them.

[Page 85]As for the Difficulties which may dis­courage us, they are such as these. When we enter upon a good Life, we engage in a Course, wherein for some time till use has made us Masters of it, we must undergo the Toyl of Inexpert­ness, and Act contrary to our former Customs, and lay restraint upon our na­tural Inclinations, and contend daily a­gainst the importunity of Temptations, and sometimes it may be, lose our Friends, and disserve our temporal Inte­rests; all which are uneasie, and dis­couraging Considerations.

Indeed, if by the Earliness of his Con­version, and by the advantages of his place and station (his Lot being cast in innocent Employments, and among good men) and by the vertuous bent of his natural Temper and Complexion, (an invaluable Gift, which God bestows on some Persons) a mans Soul is original­ly disposed, and timely secured to Holi­ness; he will find little trouble in these things, nor be much pain'd, or hindred by them, from the first entrance. And if he has not been blest, in all these Par­ticulars, to take off all Hardship from the first, yet will he have this to miti­gate, and sweeten all the Labour, which [Page 86] he lays out upon them; the Toyl he undergoes is for the sake of one, who has endured far more for him, and infi­nitely deserved it of him, and if there is no want in his endeavour, by the help of God he shall be sure to conquer them; and to reap a present Content of Mind, and Peace of Conscience after every Conflict with them, and in the end to gain the everlasting Joys of Heaven by them. And when he has been used to them a little while, use will take off all the Hardship, and then instead of being burden'd by the ungrateful Duties, he shall begin to like them, and take a Plea­sure therein. All which are great Abate­ments of the foresaid Difficulties, and very encouraging.

But let a good Life be difficult and uneasie as it will, when Hell fire is threatned to a wicked Life, that sure is incomparably more difficult; and a rea­son for us to resolve to be good beyond all Contradiction. For if the sight of Pain must discourage us from any Course, I am sure Hell fire has infinitely the most of it; and if Ease and Happiness may be any Inducement, the Ease and Hap­piness of Heaven, can never in any de­gree be equall'd; so that if we seriously [Page 87] consider, and look upon eternal Tor­ment as inseparably annexed to eve­ry Sin; and on endless Joys as the sure Reward of our being intirely obedient; they are an answer to all Temptations in the World, and bear down every op­posite Argument, and will make us re­solve to lead a Holy Life, be the Diffi­culties or Discouragements that attend it what they will.

Thus must our penitential Purpose be no rash and sudden Act, but deliberate and well advis'd; when we resolve to lead a Holy Life; we must seriously con­sider with our selves what an Holy Life implys, and what reason we have to re­solve upon it; attently viewing, both what may discourage us from it, and al­so what, notwithstanding that Discou­ragement, may and will induce us to it.

2. The Second Qualifications of a pe­nitential Purpose is, that it must be with­out all reserve full and perfect.

When we resolve to amend our Lives, and become good, we must not except any Duties, for God excepts none, nor reserve to our selves an allowance of any Sins, for God forbids, and most severe­ly punishes all sorts of Sin. Our Reso­lution must know no other limits but [Page 88] our Duty, and extend to every thing which God has required of us. And this compass of religious Purpose the Commandment expresly calls for, when we are enjoyn'd to love God with all our hearts, Luk. 10.27. For if we keep a secret reserve for any sin, our heart is given but by halves to God, and is not whole with him. Jehu walk'd not in the law of God with all his heart, says the Scripture, and the Proof is gi­ven, because he had a reserve in one Point, and departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, 2 Kin. 10.31. but David, says God, followed me with all his heart; which appear'd, because he did that only which is right in mine eyes, 1 Kin. 14.18. and what is said in this Case, the Psalmist expresses more universally of all others, They seek the Lord with their whole heart, who do no iniquity, Psal. 119.2, 3.

Thus must our penitential Purposes be full and intire with God, not sticking at any thing he has enjoyn'd, nor allow­ing of thing any his Law forbids us; and therefore, those Resolvers must not think they have finish'd, but only begun the work, who have not renounced all but on­ly the greatest part, and still reserve them­selves for some particular Sins; which [Page 89] are deep rooted in their natural Tem­pers, or closely interwoven with their way of Life and business; yea, or for some particular times, and Acts of any sin, resolving against it in all Cases, save only when 'tis powerfully recommended by some great Temptations; whilst they resolve thus by halves, they must needs perform and obey by halves too.

3. A Third Qualification of a peni­tential Purpose, is that it be adequate to all times, or a Resolution to forsake sin, not only hereafter, but instantly and now at present; not only when we are out of Temptations, but also when we are under them; not only when we can­not act them, but also when we can act and repeat them too.

1. It must be a Resolution to forsake sin, not only hereafter, but instantly and now at present. When mens Consciences are affrighted with the sense of their sins, and are made to see the necessity of Re­pentance, yet thinking that they may repent at any time, and desiring to en­joy the Pleasures of sin as long as they can, to please their Lusts, they will ven­ture to sin on for some time▪ and to please God too in the end; resolve afterwards to repent of them. They will fulfil [Page 90] their wicked Lusts while they are in Health, and amend when they come up­on their Sick-beds; they will enjoy all the Liberties of Vice in the vigorous days of youth, and grow severely vertu­ous when they are bowed down by the infirmities of old Age. Or if they are a­fraid to defer the work of Reformation so long, lest in the mean time Death pre­vent them; yet will they venture still to put it off a little longer, and not set a­bout it suddenly, but delay it till the next Sacrament, or till some solemn time come.

But now as to this Dilatoriness in mens penitential Purposes; so far is it from be­ing an Act of true Repentance, that in­deed 'tis only an Art and Subterfuge for mens impenitence. For whilst we re­solve only to repent hereafter, 'tis plain we intend to continue wicked still at pre­sent; nay what is more, we are in very great Danger, when that future time is come, to continue wicked then also. For if we delay it till Death or Sickness seize us, in all Likelihood, we shall neither have time, nor power for it. And if we put it off till old Age, we shall then have far greater Difficulties, and much less Strength to set about it. Nay, if we de­fer [Page 91] it to any time yet absent, besides our dying in the mean Season, which may prevent our doing what we intend, we shall find as great, or greater Hindrances then, than we do now.

If we delay it I say, till Death and Sickness seize us, in all Likelihood we shall have neither time nor power for it. Indeed, if God so please he can work Re­pentance in us, when there is the least time for it, and by the power of his Al­mighty Spirit, both begin and finish the Change in us in an instant. And that men may not quite despair in any State; one Case we have upon Record, wherein he did thus, and that was in the thief upon the Cross, who was reclaimed and converted to God, at the last moment, Luk. 23.43. So that there is no prescribing to the power of God, when he is willing to em­ploy it in extraordinary Favours, and work wonders in reclaiming, and rege­nerating us all at once; whereas his or­dinary way is to do it by more leisure­ly and gradual Motions.

But whatever there may be in those rare Cases, wherein God works by un­wonted and extraordinary Grace; yet according to ordinary Rules, and the Course of things, we are not likely to [Page 92] have either time or power sufficient to repent, if we delay it till our Death-beds. The Alteration of a whole Life, and long Course of sin, requires much time, and a vigorous and diligent Appli­cation; for ordinarily we cannot re­trench our sinful Habits, but by an op­posite Course and Usage; we cannot turn the Byass of our Natures, and the bent of our corrupt Inclinations, but by strong and frequent Exercise; the Du­ties which we are to perform, are very numerous in Particulars, and in the or­dinary way we cannot attain, and be­come habitually inclinable almost to a­ny one, till after many Actions and re­peated Tryals. When we have a whole Life to alter and reform; and must mor­tifie, many natural Lusts, and root out many habitual Sins, and acquire as ma­ny Vertues, which are not only very un­couth, but opposite and repugnant to our Inclinations; we have a long and studious work that lies upon us, and that requires both much time, and much Free­dom, and Fitness in all our Faculties, and how can we expect that upon our Death-bed? For then our time is short, and all our Faculties enfeebled and oppressed, which utterly unfits them to be held ei­ther [Page 93] much or long employ'd; so that if we delay our Repentance till Death seize us, in all Probability we shall never thorowly repent at all.

Again, if we delay our Repentance till old Age, we shall have then, far greater Difficulties, and much less Strength to set about it.

The Difficulty which we have to con­quer will then be greater. For by our continuance in sin, all those things are strengthned and confirm'd, which make our return difficult; for all our sinful Ha­bits are confirm'd by Practice, and all our natural Lusts are heightned by In­dulgence; so that our continuance doth nothing else but add to the Disease, and make it harder to be cured afterwards.

And as it heightens the Difficulties, so it impairs our Aids, and leaves us much less Strength to set about Amendment. For by every Repetition of an evil Acti­on, our Conscience of its guilt is the more extinguish'd, and the good Spi­rit of God is the more alienated from us, and provok'd the more to withdraw himself, and abandon us; and our own Conscience, and God's Grace, are the very things, which must recover us out of our sinful state, if ever we do reco­ver [Page 94] out of it: So that to defer repent­ing to old Age, is only to put it off, till we have contracted the greatest spiritual Impotence, and till sin is grown most strong and potent in us; which is not the way to reclaim us from, but to se­cure us fast in wickedness.

Nay, if we would not defer repent­ing, till our Death-bed, nor till we are grown old, but only till the next Sacra­ment, or some other time yet distant; yet even of this delay I must observe, that besides our dying in the mean Sea­son, which may prevent our doing what we intend, if we put it off to any time beyond the present, we shall find as great or greater Hindrances then, than we do now; for that which hinders us from an actual Reformation now, is only the uneasiness of the work; and if we take time only to sin more, that, as I have observ'd, is the way to increase that un­easiness, but not at all to lessen or abate it. We have no Exception against the present time, but only because it is pre­sent, and because we would have diffi­cult things always future, and far distant from us; and that Exception will lie equally against all other times, when they come to be present too. Nay, 'twill [Page 95] lie against them much more; because the longer we put off this difficult work, the harder will it be at last when we come to it; the Hardships daily grow­ing upon our hands, and encreasing by continuance in a Course of wickedness. So that when by reason of the Difficul­ty of an entire Reformation; men deferr it to a distant time, they will find to their Cost, when that time comes, that the same Difficulties are still in force; yea, have more added to them, to make them delay it, yet a little longer; and that which hindred them at first; if it be ac­knowledg'd a sufficient hindrance, will equally, nay, much more hinder them, for ever after. And this St. Austin in­geniously Confesses he found. Differens dicebam, modo, ecce modo, sine paululum; sed modo & modo, non habebant modum. When I delay'd repenting, says he, I said yet a little while, and then again a little while, and then I will repent: till at last I found, if I gave way to these little whiles, they would be infinite and last always.

Thus if men would repent in earnest, and have their holy Purposes take any good Effects, they must resolve to do it out of hand, and not delay it till their Sick-bed, or some other time yet distant. [Page 96] They are too late in all reason to have a work of that necessity and importance yet to begin; and they may well be the far­ther from it, but cannot expect to be more able or likely to begin it at another Sea­son. The present time is only that which they can call their own, and that where­in they are like to go on most easily, and surely with the work of Reformation. So that when they resolve to repent, the only wise Course is to resolve to do it instantly, and use no delays at all.

But besides this, That our penitential Purpose must not only be to repent at some time hereafter, but instantly now at present: It is necessary,

2. That it be made against our sins, not only when we are out of Tempta­tions, but also when we are under them: Not only when we cannot Act them, but also when we can act and repeat them too.

Some men are very zealous against their sins, whilst they have no Tempta­tion to them; but their Indignation is quite cold, and all their Resentment is laid aside; when once they have. They are never angry with them, but when they are at a distance, and are melted down again into Love and Compliance, [Page 97] when once they come to a second Meet­ing. Their holy Purposes are not ow­ing to any strength of their virtuous Convictions, but only to the absence of sinful Inducements; so that as soon as they return upon them, they are alto­gether, the same men, as unresolved, and unreclaimed as they were before.

And others are firmly set against some sins only, whilst they are incapacitated for them; but instantly revolt, when they are able, and prepared to return to to them again. A fit of sickness has cool'd the flames of Lust, or dull'd the edge of Appetite; and whilst they are in this impotent Estate, they can easily resolve against intemperance and un­cleanness; because they are not fit to un­dergo them, nor can take any pleasure in them; but if once their bodily Indis­position is amended, having recovered to the same Desires, they are set as much upon the same Practices as ever. Their good resolution was owing only to the weakness of Nature, and so vanishes in Course, when it becomes vigorous and strong again.

But a good resolution is made for the hour of Temptation; it is to be our strength and guard, and is then most [Page 98] especially to be put on, when our vir­tue is assaulted, and we have the greatest need of it. So that we must not only put on resolutions, whilst Dangers are at a distance, but most of all, when they are near at hand, and ready to assayl us.

Besides these Qualifications of a peni­tential Purpose hitherto insisted on, there remain two more, which I recited at first, and which I have not time now to ex­plain, and can do little more than men­tion.

4. In the Fourth place then our peni­tential Purpose and Resolution of new Life, must not only be upon the Duties, but also upon the means and helps, and not only against the sins, but against the occasions and inducements to sin like­wise.

The neglect of this resolving upon sit means and helps of living well; and against the occasions of doing ill, makes as many good Resolutions miscarry, I believe, as any other thing whatsoever. For under some great Convictions, and fright of mind men resolve to be good; but at the same time, they are not care­ful to resolve upon the right way and means of being so: They do not resolve [Page 99] in order to it, to store their minds with clear apprehensions of all particular Du­ties; to think much of Heaven and Hell, Death and Judgment, and other Mo­tives to obedience; to make choice of religious Companions, who will cherish in them a sense of good things; to shew care in keeping out of Temptations, and Watchfulness, and Circumspection, when they are under them; and call themselves daily to an account of their miscarriages; and be instant in Prayers for God's Grace; and to use other wise means and expedients, which may enable them to accomplish what they design, and effectu­ally perform that good Life which they resolve upon; and for want of resolv­ing thus wisely upon the means, as well as upon the end, all those good begin­nings and holy purposes fall to nothing. For a Man may as well resolve to be rich, without resolving to mind his Bu­siness, or resolve to be learn'd, without a diligent Application to his Studies; as resolve to be good, without resolving al­so upon the right way, and means of attaining Goodness. A bare resolution of it will not do the work, for we must not only firmly resolve; but wisely en­deavour it too.

[Page 100]And when we have thus considerate­ly resolv'd to lead new Lives, and have resolved it without reserve in all Points; and that too in all times, both at pre­sent, and for the future, in Temptati­ons and out of them; and that upon the Means, as well as upon the Duties, and against the occasions, as well as against the sins: When our penitential purpose, I say, is thus qualified in all these Particu­lars, to make it strong and persevering in all times, we must take care,

5thly, That it be not only a transient Act; but oftentimes repeated and re­newed through our whole Lives.

As for the frequency of this renewal; there can be no fixt bounds set to all tempers and states of Penitents, but that must be determin'd by the measure of their Zeal for God; and the necessities of their own Souls. When at any time they relapse into any wilful sin, they must renew their resolution particularly against it, before they come to ask Par­don for it; because God will not pardon any wilful Sin, till we have particularly repented of it. And when they come to the Holy Sacrament, which is a renewal of the whole Baptismal Covenant; it [Page 101] may be very fit and adviseable, that at some times through all their Lives, but much oftner whilst their falls are more frequent, and their state more doubtful, they renew their Vows and penitential Engagements upon all the particular heads of Duty, and against all known sins whatsoever. And to be prepared e­very day, against the sins, which they are lyable to incurr in the constant Course of Life and Conversation; they may do well to repeat their resolutions against all probable Temptations of that day e­very Morning, and lay wait for the Op­portunities of performing them in the day-time, and take a strict account of their Faculties or Performances every night. And if Repentance is thus made a design'd work, and turn'd into a daily bu­ness; it will be like to go on well and prosper in our hands. We are still sup­plying it, where it wants, and renew­ing it where it fails, and fortifying it, where it begins to falter. And if we persevere in this Course, and proceed in it, not only now and then by Fits, but always; we shall be in no danger of re­lapsing, but continue Penitents, to our Lives-end Which God of his great Mer­cy grant, &c.

DISCOURSE IV. How to take the truest Wisdom of Worldly men in their Manage­ments, and apply it with ad­mirable Use and Advantage in the Improvement and Perfection of Holy Obedience.

‘On Luk. 16.8. For the Children of this World are wiser in their Gene­ration, than the Children of Light.’

THIS is our Blessed Saviour's re­flection, on the unjust Stewards fore-cast, and provision for his present State. When he had lost the favour of his Lord; he seeks how to make Friends among his Te­nants, that they may receive him into their Houses, when he is cast out of his Lord's Service. Now tho' he is to be [Page 104] blamed for his injustice and dishonesty, yet the Lord commends him for his pru­dence and forecast, or for that in his way, or in the way of Worldly men, he had done wisely, v. 8.

And this he observes is not peculiar to him, but is common to the Children of this World. Tho' they are not care­ful more than the unjust Steward was, of innocence and honesty; yet they are wise in their worldly Managements, yea wiser in their Generation, than the Chil­dren of Light are in theirs. And tho' we are to leave their injustice with them; yet our Blessed Lord would have us learn Wisdom of Management from them.

In Discoursing upon these words, I shall shew.

  • First, Who are the Children of this World, and who are the Children of Light.
  • Secondly, What it is for the Children of this World, to be wiser in their Gene­ration.
  • Thirdly, Note those things, wherein their foresight, and discretion is more particularly imitable; and wherein we may and ought to learn Wisdom from them.

[Page 105]1. I shall show, who are the Children of this World, and who are the Children of Light.

The Children of this World, are they who give themselves up to mind world­ly Ends and Matters, and pursue them by worldly Rules and Managements, not regarding the Innocence, more than the unjust Steward did, but only the Serviceableness and Expedience of them.

The Children of Light are they, who profess to walk in Belief and Obedience, to the Religion and Commands of Jesus Christ. Whatsoever doth make manifest, saith the Apostle is Light, Eph. 5.13. and our Blessed Lord is come to manifest to us, all the Will of God, and the way to Heaven, and therefore calls himself the Light, Jo. 8.12. and chap. 9.5. and 1.7. and all who give themselves up to follow and obey him, to believe his Do­ctrine, and to walk in this way which he discovers and prescribes to us, are the Children of Light.

2. What it is for the Children of this World, to be wiser in their Generation.

Now their Generation, is that Age or [Page 106] Time wherein they live; and those men of that time, of like ends, Profes­sions and Managements, with them­selves amongst whom they live. And their being wiser in their Generation than the Children of Light are in theirs, is their managing their several worldly Ends, and Professions among one ano­ther in their time, with more true fore­cast, and Wisdom, than Christians in their day are wont to manage their Professi­on, of paying their Services, and all Ho­ly obedience unto Jesus Christ, or of do­ing their Duty in all Points unto him. I come now,

3. Which is the main Point I am to insist upon from these words, to note those things, wherein the forecast and Discre­tion of worldly men, is more particular­ly imitable by us, and wherein we may and ought to learn Wisdom from them. And this I shall note in these following Particulars.

1. 'Tis one part of their Wisdom, that they fix to themselves some certain end, and so act not loosely, and by chance, but have a certain mark to aim at.

2. That when they have once fix'd their end, they openly own and profess it.

[Page 107]3. That they are particularly care­ful, to be well skill'd in, and thorowly to understand all the Parts and Offices belonging to their Occupation or Pro­fession.

4. That having thus fix'd themselves upon their end, and made that their Pro­fession, it is the constant mark in their Eye, and daily Care and Employment of their Life, and they are still vigo­rously intending and driving it on.

5. That they carefully and timely foresee, and provide for Futurities, so as that nothing may be wanting to set on this end and profession, or fall out to its prejudice.

6. That they are ready to cast off a­ny other Cares or Concerns, when they either find, or foresee they are like to prove Impediments or Incumbrances to their main business.

7. They are studious and observant, to direct all Accidents and Occurrences, and cast about how they may pick out, any advantage from them, or make them serviceable, to their own great purpose.

8. When any thing is propos'd to them, their Eye falls in the first place upon their chief end, and they either accept or refuse the same, according as [Page 108] it may be like to serve, or disserve them in their Prosecution or Attainment thereof.

9. They are jealous of their great end, and examine nicely, and are very difficultly brought to give way to any thing, that seems to bear any colour, or may in any Likelihood turn to its pre­judice.

10. They are very active and industri­ous to engage Succours, where they are needful to their great Purposes.

1. One point of the Wisdom of the Children of this world, very fit for us to imitate and learn from them, is this, That they fix to themselves some certain end, and so act not loosely, and by chance, but have a certain mark to aim at. Each one Proposes some particu­lar thing or other to himself; so that his Actions are not loose and without a steady aim, but he has every day a fixt Point, whereto to direct them. One sets up for Pleasure, another for Power, a third for Profit, but generally all of them for one thing or other, and this makes some order and coherence in Life; their Actions are not loose, or unrela­ted to each other, but a second backs and [Page 109] promotes the former, and all concurr to carry on, and compass the end which is fixt for them.

Now this Point of their Wisdom, is very fit to be imitated by the Children of Light. Not that they must pro­pose to themselves wrong aims like them. Either such as are ill, or low and mean ones, which will be offensive to God, and unworthy of themselves, and no ways fit to recompence the pains which they lay out upon them. But, as they do, Christians must fix to them­selves some end. They must not live in their way as unthinking men, who have no design, and whose Actions are al­together uncertain, carried about here or there, as chance occasions, or undirect­ed and ungovern'd Fancy or the Hu­mour calls them. But they must always propose some spiritual aims to them­selves, and fix their mark, whereto they are to steer their Course; and to direct their labours and endeavours.

And this Mark in one word, is their doing their Duty to their Blessed Lord in all Points, and at all times, which is the only way to please God, and to preserve a good Conscience, and to love their precious and immortal Souls. This [Page 110] is the end which they are to fix them­selves upon, who profess to have here no abiding City, but to seek one to come, Heb. 13.14. who have renounced this world, and laid up their Treasures in hea­ven, Mat. 6.20. who look for the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, and would be accepted by him at his com­ing, Tit. 2.13.

2. Another Point of their Wisdom is, that when once they have fix'd their end, they openly own and pro­fess it. They espouse the same in the Face of all, by making it their Trade, their Occupation, their Employment in the World. And this way they do more publickly engage themselves, to be care­ful and constant in the Prosecution there­of, and bespeak the favour of all their Friends and well Wishers, who may be in any Capacity, to help and further them therein.

And this 'tis very fit the Children of Light should learn from them. They must not conceal and smother the Ser­vice which they bear to their ever Blessed Saviour, but be ready to make it known, and turn it into a free and avow'd Pro­fession. They must as occasion serves, give all to understand that God is their [Page 111] great fear, and that doing their Duty at all times towards him is, and shall be their chief Profession and care: And this way they will strongly and openly have engaged themselves ever after, to make good their own religious Pretences; and put a timely check upon ill men, not to tempt them with any ill thing; nor to speak, nor do any thing offensive to God, or to a good mind, if they expect to keep them Company.

And this we are call'd to, when we are call'd together in one Body, 1 Cor. 12.13. Rom. 12.5. For that is to make open and united Profession of it, as a visible Society. And when we are bid to let our light shine before Men, Mat. 5.16. To own our Saviour Christ and his laws, in an evil and adulterous Generation, Mar. 8.38. And with the mouth to make Confession to Salvation, Rom. 10.10.

3. Another is that they are particular­ly careful, to be well skill'd in, and tho­rowly to understand all the parts and Offices belonging to their Occupation or Profession. A man may be ignorant of some things without blame; and the ignorance of others may deserve Com­mendation. For 'tis both a part of Inno­cence, and a Guard to it, to be ignorant [Page 112] of the ways of doing ill. And 'tis a means of his quiet to be ignorant of o­ther mens Affairs; and not busily inqui­sitive into their Matters. And 'tis a sign of the well employ'd to be ignorant of trifles and empty things. But 'tis a shame for any Man to be ignorant of what he professes; for that is to be at a loss in his own business. And this all men are thorowly apprehensive of; and there­fore all Trades serve Apprenticeships, and are train'd up for several years, to be thorowly skill'd in all the parts of the Occupation which they profess; yea, even the ordinary Husband-man, knows very well how to order and manage his ground, when to Plow, and when to Sow, and when to Reap; and what are the fittest and properest Seasons for the Mar­ket. However ignorant they may be in other things, they are careful to know their own business, and Professions, and to be well skill'd, so as to need no Tea­chers in their own Employments.

And this is a most especial instance of Wisdom, which it necessarily behoves the Children of Light to learn from them. For one of the first things, and of the most necessary in the way of a Christian man to Heaven, is to be tho­rowly [Page 113] instructed in all those things, which God has made Articles of his Salvation. If he must at last be judged by them, it is absolutely necessary that he set him­self in the mean time carefully to ob­serve them. And if he must observe them, he must first know them; yea, and have them made familiar to his Con­science, so that it may readily remind him of them, as oft as any Opportuni­ties occurr in course of Life, for him either to keep, or break them. This knowledge of every particular Duty, which is to be a matter of our final Ac­count, as it is of prime necessity and sin­gular advantage, so will it cost pains and labour to attain it. But I know not how any truly good, and sincerely pi­ous minds, can employ themselves bet­ter. They must read good Books, where the Catalogues of such Duties are most particularly recited and explain'd; and the particular necessity of our Obser­vance of them, (that we may give up a good Account at the great day,) is shewn most particularly from the Holy Scriptures. And these they must read attently and often, till they have made themselves Masters of them, and their Consciences are ready upon any occasi­on [Page 114] to remind them thereof, as they are call'd at any time to observe them in the Course of Conversation; and when their Conscience doth thus remind them of a­ny of them in Conversation, let them by no means take off their Eye from what their Conscience tells them, is a matter of their final Account; and instead thereof, follow the Practice of other men, it may be, reputed good, or men of Note for knowledge and understanding. For tho' 'tis a sad Reflection, yet 'tis a very true one, that numbers of Christians, and those too of note and eminence for Piety and Understanding, seem in their daily converse, to make no Account at all, of a great number of those Duties, which God has declared, he will call us all to a strict Account for. And therefore ha­ving themselves happily attain'd this par­ticular knowledge of all necessary Du­ties, let them stick to their own know­ledge on every occasion, and follow it without disputing; and not once think of leaving the same, to follow the ge­neral neglect of many of these things, which he may every where observe in other men.

And this we are call'd to in Scripture, when we are bid, To understand what the [Page 115] will of the Lord is, Ep. 5.17. To be men in understanding, 1 Cor 14.20. To give all diligence to add to our virtue, or cou­rage knowledge, 2 Pet. 1.5. To be fill'd with all knowledge, Rom. 15.14. To be fill'd with the knowledge of his will, Col. 1.9.

4. Another Point of their Wisdom is, that having thus fix'd themselves upon their end, and made it their Profession, it is the constant mark in their Eye; and the daily Care and Employment of their Life, and they are still vigorously intending and driving it on. It fills their thoughts, that they can afford little room, to any thing else. It is the full Employment of their time, and they labour in it with Pleasure, and are ready to deny them­selves their necessary food, their rest, their ease, to serve the end of their Oc­cupation.

And herein it is most fit and needful for the Children of Light to imitate them. The doing their Duty faithfully, and in all Points to their Blessed Lord, which is their End and Profession, should be the constant mark in their Eye, and matter of their Care, as being the chief thing they have set themselves to mind, and daily to labour and employ them­selves. [Page 116] It is the one thing necessary which they have fix'd and propos'd to themselves, and must be their every days thought and business. For in every day, and in all Companies and Dealings, they will have Opportunities enough, to do their Duty in sundry Points, or transgress it. And therefore every day, their Eye must be kept earnestly intent, and their Care watchful, and they seriously, and vigorous­ly at work, to do the business of their Pro­fession, and discharge faithfully, as they are call'd to them, all those Duties which their Blessed Lord requires of them. And this we are call'd to in the Holy Scri­ptures, under the several Expressions of walking with God, Gen. 5.24. of walking before God, Gen. 17.1. Of setting the Lord always before us, Psal. 16.8. of being al­ways upon our watch, Mar. 13.35, 37. and walking circumspectly, or still having our Eyes intent in every Affair or time, how we may keep off from all sin, and faithfully discharge all those particular Duties, which do await us therein, Eph. 5.15.

5. Another Point of their Wisdom, is that they carefully and timely foresee, and provide for Futurities, so as that no­thing may be wanting to set on this end, [Page 117] and profession, or fall out unawares to prejudice the same. They are intent and careful, not only to use what comes, and make it serve their turn; but to look on carefully to what may come, and consider how it may be made ser­viceable to their Purpose, or how to prevent or remedy, what might likely be an hindrance; or any ways hurtful to it.

And this part of their Wisdom, in forecasting, and making provision for Futurities, I shall consider in these three Particulars.

  • First, They forethink, what means and methods to take, as most proper for their End and Profession, and fittest to serve it.
  • Secondly, Having studied and laboured diligently and constantly to compass their desired End, they are careful to se­cure their Claim and Title to it; and carefully fift and inquire into it, and take all ways they can to make it good, when a Tryal is like to be brought upon it.
  • Thirdly, They timely provide and fore­cast Supplies against streights and acci­dents, that when they come they may be as little hurt by them, as may be, or [Page 118] otherwise provide against them, the best they can.

1. They forethink what means and methods to take, as most proper for their End and Profession, and fittest to serve it; the Merchant wisely and carefully considers, what Ports 'tis fittest to send to, and when, and what Goods give greatest appearance of making the best return.

And men in all Trades consider well with themselves, where 'tis best to buy, and what things are likeliest to sell, and forecast in their own minds, what ways and methods are likeliest to make them thrive in their several Occupations. A King going to War, as our Lord ob­serves, will first very carefully consider his forces. And a Builder going to build must consider his Purse; and what it is like to cost him both in Work and Ma­terials, Luk. 14.31, 32. and Verse 28, 29. and the unjust Steward forecasting for his future support, in his way, wisely re­solves on passing false Accounts, that he may find reception among his Lords Te­nants, Luk. 16.3, 45, 8.

And this is another piece of Wisdom, most fit for the Children of Light, to [Page 119] imitate and learn from them. They must wisely consider and observe before hand, what things do most help and further, what do most tempt and en­snare, what do most obstruct and hinder them, in the way of their Profession, or in faithfully discharging all the Du­ties of a Christian. They must have carefully, and discreetly forethought with themselves against they enter upon every days Actions, and Business, what Duties they will be likely call'd to ex­ercise therein, and how they may dis­charge them to the best advantage; what Temptations also they may likely meet withal, and how likely they are to with­stand them; or how to prevent, or get seasonably out of their way, if they are like to endanger, or prove too hard for them. They must, by no means, be off-hand, and unstudied Livers; but have their Actions wisely fore-thought, and be still in a readiness, to take the best ways of going on in the work of their Profession; and sincerely discharging their Duty to their Blessed Lord in all the Points thereof.

And this wise and careful forecast, and fixing on the fittest ways to serve our Purpose, we are called to in the fore­cited [Page 120] Parables, of the Builder, and the King going to War; and in the Parable of those, who built their houses, one up­on a rock, and another upon the sand, Mat. 7.24, 26. If forecast and wise contri­vance doth not direct Actions and Un­dertakings, Folly and Shame are but too like to be the issue and event of them.

But on this Point of their Wisdom, in forecasting, and fixing on the properest ways and methods, I shall observe three other imitable Points of their Wisdom, concerning the execution of them. For they put them in execution,

  • I. Speedily,
  • II. With Assiduity and Diligence.
  • III. With Resoluteness.

1. They put their well chosen means of thriving in Execution speedily. They stay for nothing, but make the most of their good contrivance as soon as they can. If they have put themselves in readiness against a good Market, without more ado they take it. If they have laid in for a good Bargain, without any delay they are for making an end of it. Where they have prepa­red an advantage, they are for the first [Page 121] opportunity of taking Possession of it. So that they lose nothing by delays, or by slipping their times and seasons. But earnestly desiring to accomplish their Ends, they are still in a readiness hastily to accomplish any wise means, which will make them Masters of it.

Now in this they should be followed by the Children of Light. For it is not for them, after once they are wisely and well resolved upon their Duty, either a good Life at large, or the Amendment and Improvement of some particular part thereof, to use delays, and put it off from one Duty to another. They must not be on and off in this great work, as men who are uncertain; nor slow as men who are unwilling. Delays shew nothing but the inability, or insincerity of their own Purposes, and are a loud call for themselves, to renew and make them better. But they must execute their wise Purposes of holy Living without more ado. They must lose no time, but be eager of growing more perfect in it the next day, than they were the day foregoing; they must make no stops, but still earnestly push on; and not cease, till they have made themselves Masters of the Grace, or good Improvements, [Page 122] which they had propos'd to themselves.

And this we are call'd to in the Holy Scriptures, when 'tis said, To day if ye will hear his voice, Psal. 95.7, 8. and I made hast and delayed not to keep thy com­mandments, Psal. 119.60. work, whilst it is day, for the night cometh when no man can work, Joh. 9.4. And in this great and most important business, no day is to be neglected, because no man knows, but it may be his last.

2. They put their well chosen ways of thriving in Execution with Assiduity and Diligence. The Tradesman will stick to his Shop from morning till night. And men of other Occupations will be constantly attending, and ready to take all advantages in the way of their busi­ness. And this they do with Good-will, with great Diligence, and Vigour of Ap­plication. They will spare no pains, they will miss no advantages, they are not slothful, but push on with all their might, and shew how they can bestir themselves to gain their Purposes.

And this 'tis extremely fit the Chil­dren of Light should learn from them. 'Tis not for them to be negligent or slothful, in the work and service of the Lord. It is their one thing necessary; [Page 123] the chief Point they have, or profess to mind; and therefore they must con­stantly attend upon it, and stand ever ready to perform a Duty, or avoid a Sin, as any Affairs or Accidents of Life shall give them occasion for the same. And this they must do heartily and ear­nestly, diligently laying out themselves upon it, and putting what strength they have to it, which can never be better employ'd, nor laid out in any thing, for which it shall in any comparable degree, be so happily and infinitely rewarded.

And this the Holy Scripture requires of us, when it calls us to be always up­on our watch, Mar. 13.35, 37. to attend this as the one thing necessary, Luk. 10.42. To give all diligence in it, 2 Pet. 1.5, 10. and to serve the Lord with all our mind, and with all our strength, Mar. 12.30. and the like.

3. They put these well chosen means in Execution with resoluteness; they are not discouraged by occurrent Difficulties, nor driven back by the Labour or Pains, or by the length and tediousness of their business. They are not weary of their work, but overlook troubles, and bear Self-denials, and go on with Zeal, and with­out Faintness, till they have accomplish'd [Page 124] their desired Purpose. All labour is ea­sie to them, that accomplishes their de­sire, and they will not cease labouring, till they have done their utmost, to gain what they seek for.

And this also should be imitated by the Children of Light. If they want Zeal and good Resolution, they are not like to do much; nor are sure to be con­stant in the work of good Living. But they must go on without Fear or Slack­ness; they must think no Pains too dear, to perfect themselves in any Duties. They must be ready, and willing to part with any thing else, rather than wittingly transgress their Duty in any parti­cular, or fall short of eternal Happi­ness. That is the pearl of price, which they must sell all to purchase, Mat. 13.44, 46. they must shun no troubles, or fly from any losses, which will surely be re­paid, with such an inestimable recom­pence. Nay, instead of shunning them, they have the truest cause to give thanks, and rejoyce therein.

And this the Holy Scripture requires, when it calls us to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might, Ephes. 6.10. to be terrified in nothing by our adversa­ries, Phil. 1.28. Not to put on the spirit [Page 125] of fear, but of love to God, of power, or Courage and of a sound mind, 2 Tim. 1.7. and to be always stedfast and un­moveable in the work of the Lord, 1 Cor. 15.58. To deny ourselves, and to take up the Cross, and bear it after Christ, if we would be his disciples, Mat. 16.24. and ch. 10.38.

2. Another instance of their forecast, and provision for Futurities, is, that ha­ving studied and labour'd thus to com­pass their end, they are careful to se­cure their Claim and Title to it. But more especially careful to sift and inquire into it, and to take all ways they can to make it good, when a Tryal is like to be brought upon it. If it be a Tryal for Estate, or much more for Life, how forecasting and busie are they, in inqui­ring into the merit of their cause; in collecting and clearing up Evidences; in preparing Witnesses, consulting Counsel, and making their Case as good, as it can be made against the Great Assize.

Now the Children of Light are ab­solutely inexcusable, if they learn not this Point of Wisdom from them. For the Interest which they have to secure, is not like that of worldly men, vain transitory and fading, which may soon be [Page 126] taken from them, or which they shall surely be soon taken from. But it is an eternal life, Mar. 10.30. A crown of glory that fadeth not away, 1 Pet. 5.4. a State where they need no sun to light them; where all tears are wip'd away from their eyes, and there shall be no more crying, nor sorrow, nor pain, Rev. 21.4. and 23.

Now all this most happy State de­pends upon our perfecting our Obedi­ence, to all the Laws of our Blessed Sa­viour, whilst we are here in this world. And whether we have faithfully dischar­ged the same or no, must come to a most fair and just Examination and Account, when we all come (as we all most cer­tainly shall soon come) to be tryed up­on the same at the last Judgment. And therefore, it infinitely concerns all good serious Christians, to be often and care­fully before-hand inquiring into the State of their Souls, to see whether they are fit to stand in that Tryal or no. They must pose themselves upon all those Points, upon which God will try them; at least according to the best of their knowledge they have of them, or un­der their Circumstances and Opportu­nities, are sincerely able to compass of the same; and where they find they have [Page 127] wilfully fail'd in any part of that Obe­dience, which God necessarily requires, they must instantly amend, and recover themselves into a state of Bliss, and Hap­piness. And this they must do; not on­ly once or twice; for mens spiritual State is often variable, and their Life is always uncertain, and therefore it is a thing that needs more frequent doing; especially till they come to acquire a steadiness in a safe Condition, that so they may be always ready, and if God call them unawares, they may not be surprized thereby, but go with comfort to give up their Accounts to him.

And this God requires of us, when he calls us, To give all diligence, to make our calling and election sure, 2 Pet. 1.10. and to fear least having a promise left us of en­tring into his rest, any of us should fall short of it, Heb. 4.1. and to look diligently least any man fail of the grace of God, Heb. 12.15.

3. They timely provide and fore­cast Supplies, against Straights and Ac­cidents; that when they come, they may be, as little hurt by them as may be, or otherwise provide against them the best they can. And this was the Wisdom which the Lord commended in the un­just Steward: for he was in a great [Page 128] straight, being warn'd out of his Lords Service; and makes a wise, speedy and seasonable provision for himself, by ta­king Care to be received among his Lords Tenants. And 'tis the same with men of all other Occupations. If straights or misfortunes are like to come upon them, they foresee them in time, and try all ways in due Season to prevent them; or to keep them off as long as they can, or to make them fall as light as may be, when they do come. But be it better, or worse, they are careful to make the best for themselves, which they are able to do in their present Cir­cumstances and Condition.

Now in this also, it is very fit the Children of Light should learn from them. They must have their eyes before them, and timely foresee; where they want Counsel, and there provide instru­ction; where they may be attacked on a weak side, and there contrive how to keep out of the way of Temptation; where they are like to be call'd to do their Duty; and there forecast how to do it faithfully and profitably; where they are like to meet with Difficulties, and disoblige Friends, and disserve Inte­rests, and there either wisely contrive, [Page 129] how to withdraw themselves from them, or vigorously, and steadfastly resolve to break through them, where Crosses are like to come, how they may meet and receive them with Meekness and Pa­tience. A good Christian must not want fore-sight, and be plung'd in Difficulties, and fall into Folly unawares; but must wisely and seasonably foresee what may happen, and be ready to make the best of all when it comes.

And this the Holy Scripture calls for in the Parable of the wise and foolish Vir­gins; the difference betwixt which two, lay in their fore-cast, and in making, or not making seasonable and sufficient provision for Futurities, Mat. 25.1, &c. Of the two men building their houses, one upon a rock, and the other upon the sand, Mat. 7.24, 26. Of the Builder fore-ca­sting well with himself, how to defray all Charges, and Accidents of work, and Materials, and how able he is to finish, Luk. 14.28. and the like.

6. A sixth Instance formerly noted of the Wisdom of worldly men in their Managements, is, that they are ready to cast off any Cares, or Concerns, when they either find or foresee, that they are like to prove Impediments, or [Page 130] Incumbrances in their main business. If they have grasp'd at more business than they can manage to advantage, they will ease their hands, by laying that a­side which is least for their Purpose. If some proves to be but of little Profit, and uncertain hazard, and of much Pains; they will try another way, which is like to yield better, with more ease and less uncertainties. They are ever true to their Point, and will not engage them­selves in ways, which make against it.

Now this likewise is very fit to be learnt of them by all good Christians. 'Tis not for them to engage themselves for any Inducement in any ill things, for that is absolutely contrary to all their obedient Professions. Nor in any Oc­cupations, or business which abound so much with strong Temptations, that there is no reasonable expectation, of their keeping Innocence, and faithfully discharging their Duty therein.

In their Consideration, and Choice of all these things; the first thing to be looked at and cared for, is keeping In­nocence, and whether their business is fairly consistent, with an intire discharge of their Duty in all Points. And where he can make a moderate, and reasonable [Page 131] advantage, by Innocence and Fairness, there a good man will be easie and exem­plary too in his Occupation. Nor must they give way to over-much business; Religion as our Saviour says, being eat up by the Cares of this world. Nor meddle with more, than allows them dai­ly to discharge their Duty both towards God and Man. And faithfully to at­tend, and acquit themselves in all the Duties of a Christian as they come be­fore them.

Now this the Holy Scriptures require of us, when they tell us, that the world is crucified to us in Christ Jesus; and we un­to the world, Gal. 6.14. to lay aside every weight, that oppresses us, Heb. 12.1. and not intangle our selves in any Affairs, to the hindrance of his Service, who hath chosen us to eternal Life in Heaven, 2 Tim. 2.4.

7. They are studious and observant, to direct all Accidents and Occurrences, and cast about, how they may pick out any advantage from them; or make them serviceable to their own great Pur­pose. They are quick to espy an ad­vantage, and as quick to pursue it, and let nothing pass by them neglected; if they can serve themselves thereof: And by this they bring in to themselves ma­ny [Page 132] an accidental Advantage, in the way of their several Occupations.

And this 'tis very fit the Children of Light should imitate them in. In all they do, and in all they receive, or meet withal, they should look about, and carefully consider; how they may turn it to give Praise, or to do Honour unto God; how it may be improved for the advantage and exercise of any Vertue, for the greater sleighting, and contempt of this World, and preference of the next; for the Encouragement, and Love of whatsoever is good; and for the Ha­tred, and Discouragement of whatsoever is evil. And this is to Spiritualize all the things of common Life; to turn Conversation, Business, and the acci­dents of this World into Religion; to own God as the beginning, and to make him the end of every thing. And it will produce a marvellous encrease of Goodness, Devotion, Godly care, and spiritual Heavenly living.

And this the Holy Scripture calls for, when it bids us, Whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do, to do all to the glory of God, 1 Cor. 10.31. And whatsoever we do, in word, or deed; to do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, Col. 3.17.

[Page 133]8. When any thing is proposed to them; their Eye falls in the first place upon their chief end, and they either accept or refuse the same, according as it may be like to serve, or disserve them; in their Prosecution and Attainment thereof. Their first Reflection is, how it suits with the interest of their Occu­pation; whether it may be made ser­viceable thereto; or is like to be of no use to them, or it may be a diversion, or prejudice to them, in their Prosecution of the same. And they are sure to be true to their main Interest, and listen to nothing, that would take them off from, or disserve them in it. He who sets up for Gain, will neglect Power, or Plea­sures, where they are like to cause much expence. He who pursues Pleasures, will not listen to the motions of Gain, or Bu­siness, when they are like to cost much Pains, or prove inconsistent with his Di­versions. He who is set upon Improve­ment of knowledge, will set aside world­ly Cares and Interests, when they take him from the Prosecution of his Studies. Their great End is the rule of all the rest; and they stand true and fixt to it; and rate and measure, the Desireableness of all things thereby, which are offer'd to them.

[Page 134]Now this is an excellent Point of Wisdom, for the Children of Light to learn from them. Whatsoever is offer'd to them, their Eye must fix in the first to sift, and examine the Innocence, be­fore they listen at all to any Suggestions of the worldly Expedience of it. If it is ill, or tends to ill, or would hinder them in the doing of their Duty, or expose them to transgress it; or make for the Dishonour of God, or the Disparage­ment of the way of Godliness; no Con­siderations in the World must make them listen to it; or deliberate with them­selves, whether they should or no. They must measure all Proposals, by their Usefulness to their Souls, and take God and Religion into their Consideration in the first place: And this is to act like men, who have immortal Souls, and seek immortal Happiness, and know the price of both. And this will make them not to judge, or act like other men. But they will carefully seek, what others carefully shun; and be thankful, where they complain. It will make them chuse Self-denials, and Mortifications, which are a worldly Uneasiness, when they are needful to a spiritual advantage; and refuse the Pleasures of the flesh, and [Page 135] any advantages of this World, when they are like to prove a spiritual preju­dice. Yea, to embrace any worldly Losses and Prejudices, and that with joy, when they come upon them for keeping strictly to the way of Righte­ousness; and for doing their Duty faith­fully to their Blessed Lord and Saviour, as they ought to do.

Now this also the Holy Scripture calls for, when it requires us to love God with all our heart; that is to love him, above all, Matt. 12.30. That if we regard ini­quity in our heart, the Lord will not hear us, Psal. 66.18. That if we love lands, or father, or mother, or our own lives, more than our Blessed Lord, we are un­worthy of him, Mat. 10.31. Luk. 14.26. And the like.

9. They are jealous of their great end, and examine nicely, and are very Diffi­cultly brought to give way, to any thing that seems to bear any colour, or may in any Likelihood turn to its preju­dice. They may be over-seen in lesser matters, but they are suspicious about this, which they count of price. They will fear as far, as there is any cause or pretence to fear, and resolve with great wariness, and be ready to start any pos­sible [Page 136] Detriments, and Objections, and pause on any appearance of Inconve­niencies which it may bring to them in prosecuting the same.

And this again, is an admirable and useful Point of Wisdom, for the Children of Light to take up from them. They must not be for taking the utmost Li­berties in any Duties, and coming as near the breach thereof as they can. Nor for abiding in the Neighbourhood, or within the Confines of sin, where they may be in great danger of being won at last by its Temptation. But they must keep all at the greatest distance, which may be like to damnifie, or endanger their Holy Obedience. They must care­fully preserve the Virgin innocence, the first Modesties, Fears, and Reluctancies of Conscience, against every evil thing. And not sit down by Dangers, or dwell with Temptations, or indulge small de­grees, or listen in the least to any ill Ad­vice, or bear the proposal of any evil things: But take Alarm at the remote approaches, and first appearances of sin; and keep all Temptation, that may draw on the love and practice of any sin, as far off from them as they can. They must rather wisely forbear lawful and [Page 137] safe things, than by allowing themselves therein, bring themselves into any ha­zard of others, which may bring dan­ger with them.

And this the Holy Scriptures requires at our hands, when they tell us, that we stand by faith; and must not be high minded, but fear, Rom. 11.20. Watch and pray, that ye enter not into Tempta­tion, Matt. 26.41. To abstain from all appearance of evil, 1 Thes. 5.22. And to have no fellowship with any deeds of darkness; but to reprove them, Eph. 5.11.

10. They are very active and indu­strious to engage Succours, when they are needful to their great Purposes. So the Steward was in the Text, when he had lost the Friendship of his Lord, he seeks to make Friends among his Lords Tenants. And thus the King going to war, if he finds he is too weak, seeks about to strengthen himself by assistance of other Princes; which if he cannot effect, he sends timely to offer terms and conditions of peace, Luk. 14.31, 32. Where danger appears they are careful, if they can in­gage help by any means, not to stand by themselves, but to be prepared with such helps and succours, as may give Protection from them.

[Page 138]And this also is a great and most ser­viceable piece of Wisdom, for the Chil­dren of Light to learn from them. They must strengthen themselves in e­very good and difficult work, and de­sire some good Christian Friend to be their admonisher therein; yea, they are mutually to teach and admonish one ano­ther, Col. 3.16. To exhort one another daily, Heb. 3.13. To stand fast and strive together, Phil. 1.27. To pray for one ano­ther, Jam. 1.16. And earnestly to desire each others Prayers, 1 Thes. 5.25. To pray earnestly themselves to God for his grace, Jam. 5.13. 1 Thes. 5.10. And to be liberal in Alms, which send up a sweet smell before God; and which though in the men of this World, who get Mo­ney ill, and spend it ill, it be call'd the Mammon of unrighteousness; yet in Chri­stians, who get it justly, and lay it out vir­tuously and charitably, our Blessed Lord tells us, it will make them friends in ever­lasting habitations, Luk. 16.9.

Such as these are the Instances of Wis­dom, which I thought fit, pursuant to our Lord's Direction in the Text, to note in the Managements of worldly men; and earnestly to recommend to the Children of Light from them. And 'tis [Page 139] not to be imagined what advantage they would find to themselves in the perfe­cting of their spiritual Course, if they would but wisely observe, and remem­ber these excellent Rules of their Ma­nagements, and carefully use and fol­low them, in pursuing their own infi­nitely better, and more happy Pur­poses.

For this way their Duty would conti­nually be their Mark, and in their Eyes; they would not only secretly propose, but openly profess it; they would study to be thorowly inform'd in every part thereof, that they might not be want­ing in the knowledge of their Profession; they would make it as their daily Mark, so their daily Care and Employment, and be continually driving it on; they would timely and carefully foresee, and provide for Futurities, contriving and fixing on the fittest means of improve­ment in their way, and executing them with speed, Assiduity and Resoluteness; and look oft, and inquire before hand, into the state of their Souls; to see whe­ther they are fit to give a good Account of themselves to God in the last Judg­ment; and if they are not, to supply what is wanting; and that without de­lay, [Page 140] now whilst they have time for it; and timely provide and fore-cast, against any spiritual streights and accidents; that when they come, they may not be unready, or surprized by them; they would be ready to cast off any Cares and Concerns which prove, or are like to prove an hindrance, an incumbrance, or any ways a snare to them in the way of their Holy Obedience. They would study how to direct all Accidents and Occurrences; and seek how they may spiritualize, or pick any thing out of them; for the Honour of God, and Im­provement of themselves or others, in the way of Holy Obedience and Reli­gion. When any thing were offer'd to them, their first Reflection and Inquiry would be, whether it were innocent, and lead to good, and made for the easier, and more profitable discharge of their Duty, not staying to give the least ear thereto, if it tend to the contrary; they would even be jealous about doing their Duty, and keep all Dangers far off, and not come near any thing, that may any wise lessen their Aversion to what is ill, or tempt them to the Commission of it. And they would be very studious and industrious to gain Succours, seeking out [Page 141] for all good and proper spiritual Helps, when they are needful to their Holy Obedience.

Now what a Body of Christians would these ways make, would they all govern themselves thereby, in the faithful dis­charge of their Duty, as I have direct­ed? We should hear no Complaints of the impossibility, or extreme difficulty of doing their Duty. We should see a Generation of Saints, fit to be Lights to the World, to live without any impu­table fault or blemish; and die with Comfort, and enter into everlasting joy and peace. Which God of his infinite Grace and Mercy grant unto us all, for the sake of the Son of his Love, and our only Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ the Blessed for evermore. Amen.

DISCOURSE V. About the Return of Prayers, or when we may, and when we may not, promise our selves the particular things we ask for.

‘On Matt. 7.7, 8. Ask and it shall be given you; for every one that ask­eth, receiveth.’

IF we consider all those Blessings, which God has promis'd to this Du­ty of Prayer; we shall presently be induced to conclude; that a man who can make use of it, can stand in need of nothing. For so abundantly has God engaged himself to all Supplicants, and so comprehensive the Promises, which he has made to our Prayers, that we may seem to have it in our Power, to have every thing for asking. The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, says Da­vid, [Page 144] to all that call upon him in truth, Psal. 145.18. and in another place, Thou Lord art good and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy to all that call up­on thee, Psal. 86.5. And whatever you shall ask in prayer believing, says our Sa­viour, you shall receive, Matt. 21.22.

Thus ample and munificent, full and comprehensive are those Promises, which God has made to our Prayers. If we want pardon for our sins, he bids us ask, and we shall have it. If we need strength and aid to overcome Temptations, he orders us to seek it at his hands, and we shall find it. If we want any Mercy, ei­ther spiritual, or temporal, he directs us to address our selves to him for a sup­ply, and binds himself to grant what we desire of him.

But yet notwithstanding all these rich and extensive Promises, which God has made to our Prayers; we daily see that vast numbers of men, who pray to God, are not thus better'd or supply'd by them. For how many are there in the world, who are it may be every Morning and Evening upon their knees, desiring pardon for their sins, who will yet be eternally condemn'd and punish'd for them? How many men are frequent­ly [Page 145] and importunately asking Grace, and strength to overcome Temptations, who are still ordinarily overcome by them? They pray for Sobriety, but yet they continue intemperate: they sue for Meek­ness, but still they are fierce and passio­nate: they ask for Peace, but yet they remain unruly and turbulent; they beg Humility, Contentedness, Charity and several other Vertues, and after all they rest still as proud and covetous, wrathful and contentious as ever.

Now here God's Promises are not per­form'd, and mens Prayers are not an­swered; so that 'tis certain, there must be a failure some where. Either God doth not give men what he Promises, or they do not ask as they ought to do, who shall receive. Some fault there is, either in God's Faithfulness, or our Prayers, which renders them so unsuc­cessful, and makes them so often bring down nothing to us, where they are pro­mised all.

And in this Competition, it is an easie thing to Apologize for my Maker, and to assert the Honour of his truth, and Faithfulness in this business. He is al­ways as good as his word, and not only willing, but forward to give all; Nay, [Page 146] more than he has promised, if we would but take care to ask as he requires. But all the hindrance lies in our own selves. We do not ask like men who would ob­tain; we do not sue for Pardon, as he will bestow it; nor pray for Grace, as if we desired it, or had a mind to make any use of it, and therefore after all our Prayers for God's Supplies, we are still as indigent as we were before; Ye ask and receive not, says St. James, Ye desire and cannot obtain, because you ask amiss, Jam. 4.2, 3. Whereas would we ask things, in such wise as God has promi­sed to grant them; and seek them upon such terms, as he has offer'd to bestow them. Would we ask for Pardon of our sins, only in repenting of them, and forsaking them; and for Grace and Ver­tue, in the use of good and wise Endea­vours after them; tis certain, we should not go without them. Ask, says our Sa­viour, it shall be given you; for every one that asketh in this wise receiveth.

To make my Discourse upon this sub­ject as useful as I can, I shall enquire in­to these two things.

  • First, Upon what terms we are to pray for any of God's mercies. And when that is secured,
  • [Page 147] Secondly, In what manner we ought to pray for them.

1. I shall inquire upon what terms we are to pray for any of God's mercies; and under what Conditions we must hope to receive them. God's Promises run upon Conditions, he engages to be­stow Benefits when we perform Duties, and offers the reward, after we have done the Service. And now what God promises only conditionally, we must not ask absolutely; we must not expect that he will give, till we come duly qualified, and fitted to receive; we must seek his Mercies on his own terms; and ask them only in such wise as he has undertaken to bestow them. And this is that rule which St. John prescribes to us, which he makes the great Condi­tion of our Prayers, and the measure of our Expectations. This, says he, is the confidence which we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us, 1 Joh. 5.14.

To know then when we ask any thing upon God's own terms, and sue for Mer­cies in such sort, as he has promised to bestow them; we must enquire what his Will is concerning any thing which [Page 148] we ask for, or upon what terms he will give them; and on what Conditions the Gospel bids us hope to receive them; and if we come duely prepared there­with, we may be sure upon our Prayers to receive them.

Now that Condition whereupon God has promised to forgive us any wilful Sin, i. e. any Sin against our own know­ledge, or against the Checks and Warn­ings of our own Minds and Consciences, is our sincere Repentance of it, and Care to amend and forsake it. And that Con­dition, whereupon he has promis'd to bestow upon us any Vertue, is our own serious and diligent seeking, and endea­vouring after it. And that Condition whereupon he has promised, to confer upon us any gracious Assistances of his Holy Spirit, is so far forth, as we are ho­nestly prepared to use them; and care­fully co-operate our selves, and concurr therewith; and that Condition where­upon he has engaged to give us health, or ease, or safety, or any outward Blessings, when we seek and labour after them, is so far forth as in the Wisdom of his All-seeing Providence, he sees them fit­ting for us; or conducing to the advan­tage of the World, and the benefits of [Page 149] others. Upon these terms God has pro­mised to bestow these Mercies; and if we have them to shew, when we pray, our Prayers shall certainly procure them; but if we are void of them, our Prayers can have no such effect; but after all we shall still be unrelieved and go without them. We ask what God is resolved not to grant, and seek what he has declared, we shall never find; and such Petitions can never take effect, but must needs be unsuccessful. If we ask his Pardon for any Sin, whilst we impenitently go on therein, and continue to repeat the same; he tells us plainly, if we will believe him, that we shall not be pardon'd, but that except we repent we shall surely perish. If we beg his Grace whilst we never use it, nor endeavour after those Vertues which we pray for; he assures us, that we shall be so far from being intrusted with more Grace; that we shall lose what we have received already, and that from him that hath not, shall be taken even that which he hath; these Prayers being altogether against his Will, and contrary to the Declarations of his Gospel; they cannot be heard unless God should change his mind, and give us a new Religion, and other ways of obtaining his favour, [Page 150] than those which we have received al­ready.

But in Matters of this moment to be more particular.

1. As for pardon of our Sins, God will not grant that, till we repent of them and forsake them; so that when­soever we ask Pardon of them, we must for ever renounce them, and bid adieu to them; or else accord­ing to those terms of Mercy Christ has purchased for us, we cannot hope to be forgiven. When the wicked man forsakes his way, says God by Ezekiel, and turns from the wickedness he hath committed, and doth that which is lawful and right; he shall save his soul alive; he shall surely live, and not die, Ezek. 18.27, 28. Re­pent, says St. Peter, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out. Act. 3.19. But except you repent, says our Saviour, you shall all perish, Luk. 13.3.

Thus is sincere Repentance, and for­saking sin made the great Condition of the Forgiveness of it. And therefore if any man would pray for the Pardon of his sins, according as the same is pro­mised by God, and is to be expected by us, he must first renounce the Sin, which he desires God to pardon, and pray for [Page 151] the Forgiveness of it, with true peniten­tial Purposes and Engagements, and change of mind and practice; he must not lye labouring at the Throne of Grace, and think to weary God with importunate intreaties, to pardon him without more ado, and to forgive him his Sin, whilst he continues unreclaim­ed from it. He must not pray against a dreadful Punishment, whilst he conti­nues in a wicked Practice; and seek to appease God, before he has reform'd himself. No he must fit himself for the favour before he ask it; he must first re­pent and amend, and then let him in his Prayers profess he doth, and upon these Petitions he shall be pardon'd. And up­on these terms we are taught to beg par­don in our publick Prayers; concern­ing which I must profess from my own Experience; that the more I understand of my Religion, and the further I con­sider them; the more cause I see, as for the Body of them, most thankfully to admire and approve of them. And in them when we are exhorted to confess our sins, to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same, we are taught to do it, with a penitent and obedient heart; and again when after the Confession of [Page 152] our faults, we come to sue for fa­vour, we do it only in confidence of this Profession of Repentance, desiring God that he would restore them that are penitent. And when afterwards we come to hear the comfortable words of God, in the absolution of the Minister, we are told only of his absolving those that tru­ly repent; and of his pardoning such as turn away from Sin. This I have no­ted for this end, that we may understand our own Devotions, and come to them prepared, with that full Purpose of re­forming and change of heart, which is absolutely necessary for the acceptance of them. And when we pray thus, and with penitent hearts ask for God's Par­don, he will be sure to grant it, and we shall not miss of the Mercy and Forgive­ness which we pray for.

2. As for the Assistance of God's Ho­ly Spirit, he has no where promised to grant it, nor have we any ground to ex­pect it, unless we are honestly prepar'd to make a good use of it, and carefully to co-operate our selves and concurr with it.

And as for any gracious Tempers, and virtuous Dispositions, he has not pro­mised to give, nor must we hope to re­ceive [Page 153] them, unless we our selves do se­riously and diligently seek and endea­vour after them. So that whensoever we ask for the help of God's Grace, or for any holy Dispositions or Vertues, it must be in the honest use of our own Industry and good Endeavours. God will not bestow new Grace upon us, till he sees that we have made a good use of what he has bestowed already: and we must improve the Talents which for­merly were intrusted with us, before he will think us duly qualified to receive more, as we are told in the Parable of those, who had received the Talents, Matt. 25. For this is the rule of God's Dispensation; unto every one that hath, i. e. hath made good use and improve­ment of what he had committed to him, as the good Servant had done, Ver. 20.22. shall more be given, and he shall have a­bundance: but from him that hath not; i. e. hath not been careful to use and im­prove the same, as the wicked servant had not done, who went and hid it, Ver. 25. from him shall be taken even that which he hath, Ver. 29.

As for those Prayers then which God will answer, if they be for pardon of Sins, or for Grace and vertuous Dispo­sitions, [Page 154] they must be sincerely penitent and industrious. God has promised no Pardon but upon true Repentance, nor any saving helps and assistances of his Spirit or vertuous Tempers, but up­on our honest Industry▪ and good Endea­vours. And therefore if we would ask these Mercies as God has promised to grant them, and as the Gospel bids us hope to receive them, we must pray for Forgiveness with true Repentance; and for God's Grace with sincere Purposes to make good use thereof; and for any ver­tuous Tempers, with a Preparation to take pains for them, and seriously, and carefully to endeavour afterwards to ac­quire the Vertue which we have prayed to God for. An impenitent mans Prayer for the pardon of his Sins, will be of no avail with God; for he will not forgive us our Sins, whilst we go on in them. And an idle unworking persons Prayer for any particular Grace or Vertue, is offensive to him. The only Prayers which he hears for these things, are the Prayers of sincerely, penitent and in­dustrious; and if our Prayers are qua­lified thus, they are such as he will own, and as he has bound himself, in Truth and Faithfulness, he will most cer­tainly [Page 155] answer and reward them. And then,

Thirdly, As for the Third sort of things, which men are wont to pray for, viz. Health, or Sustenance, or Safety, or any other outward Blessings; God expects in his Gift of these, as I have shew'd he does in his Gifts of Grace, and Holy and vertuous Dispositions, that they them­selves should labour after them; and be diligent in the use of wise and due means to attain them; it not being his way to heal or feed, or secure men by Miracle, but only by Blessing their own care and pains in pursuit of these Mercies. And much more doth he expect, both in spi­ritual and temporal Blessings, that they should not take any Courses, which are directly contrary to them. When they pray for Deliverance from any Sin, they must not put themselves in the way of Temptations, which are still apt to make them to fall into it: when they pray to God for Health, they must not put it a­way from themselves by Intemperance; or by any gross neglects, or abuse of their own Bodies? When they pray to him, to secure the Church or our Holy Religion; they must not put a stop to their own Prayers, by seeking a security from [Page 156] Sin, or by an unwise Compliance with any other methods, which are liker to destroy, than to secure the same. If we expect that he should hear and further our Prayers, we must shew first, that we are in earnest with him, by further­ing them ourselves; and not falling to such Courses as directly overthrow our own Petitions.

And when we do thus wisely endea­vour after any outward things, God has no where promised to grant them, nor may we hope to receive them, further than in the Wisdom of his All-seeing Providence, he sees them fit for us, and conducing to the benefit and advantage of the World, and the good of others. So that whensoever we ask them, it must be with this reserve, if in his Wis­dom he sees it fitting.

In spiritual Mercies, we are sure of the Grace or Vertue we desire, if we come duly prepared to receive them. But in temporal; the having, or not having of what we ask is uncertain, and always depends on this; if God in his Wisdom sees it fit, we should have them. Some­times outward Blessings, whether of Health, or Ease, or Plenty, are not fit for us, but would turn in the end by far [Page 157] more to our hurt than to our advantage. They would carnalize our Souls, and render us sensual and earthly minded, proud and insolent; they would make us forget God, and sleight his Service, affront those who are placed above, and oppress such as he has set below us. Pro­sperity is a state of great danger to mens Souls, it exposes them to many Vices, and puts them under a number of Temptati­ons to several instances of Disobedience; and 'tis for the Concern of every one who has pious Wisdom, and prudent Care enough; to avoid being insnared by it. The prosperity of fools, say Solo­mon instead of being a Blessing to them; doth destroy them, Prov. 1.32. When Jesuron waxed fat, saith Moses, he kick­ed against him who made him so; when he was grown thick and covered with fatness, then he forsook God that made him, and lightly esteemed the rock of his salvation, Deut. 32.15. There are but few minds, that can grapple with the Temptations, which are still solliciting persons in wealth and honours, pleasures, and affluence; but they are generally lead away into se­veral Sins, and overcome by them. And I doubt not but that several persons, whose Souls have utterly miscarried in a prospe­rous, [Page 158] might have done well, and have gone to Heaven, had it pleased God to have visited them more frequently in Crosses; and to have kept them under the most gracious and wholesome Disci­pline, of a troubled and afflicted state of things.

Outward Mercies then are not always fit for us, but would often prove a snare, and a most dangerous Temptation to us. And when they would do so, they are neither fit for us to ask, nor so long as he retains any love and kindness for us, for God to grant us. They are no fit matter in this case for God to promise, and so are no fit subject, wherein we are to hope he always should perform.

Again at other times outward Blessings are denied; tho' not so much for our own sakes, yet for the good of others, and the advantage of the World. Oft­times God sees it necessary in the World, to set out some examples of Content, and instances of Patience; that men may see both what they ought to follow, and how they may be able to perform it. And so never be discouraged with de­sponding thoughts of their being unable to bear those things with Patience, if they should be call'd to it, which they [Page 159] see are born by others like themselves with Patience every day. Example is a great Encouragement to action, it shews that a thing is feasible, and strangely animates any gallant mind, with un­daunted Courage, and great Confidence of Resolution, to pass through those Dif­ficulties, which they see Time and Pa­tience, will overcome in the pursuit of good and honourable things. And thus God set out Job and David, and abun­dance of Prophets, and righteous men in the Old Testament; and our Saviour in the New set out himself, and his Holy Apostles, and generally the whole Body of Christians in the first Ages, and great numbers in all Ages ever since; to be Patterns of meekness in afflictions unto others; and to shew men what it is to bear hard things with Patience; and to submit to his Wisdom, and own his mer­cy and goodness; in all his Disposals and Administrations of the World.

So that even when outward Blessings and Enjoyments might be trusted with us, and would be no ways prejudicial to us in our own Persons; yet doth God in his good Providence, which is to take Care, not only of us, but of all the World, see fit many times to deprive us of them, [Page 160] for the sake of others; that we may be examples to them, and that they may learn from our Sufferings, and our meek Carriage under the same, both to be thankful for their own Blessings, whilst we want, and they enjoy them, and to be ready to part with them with Pa­tience at an evil day.

And since God will not bestow upon us outward Blessings, when either they are unfit for our selves, or when he sees it proper to deprive us of them for the sake of others: whensoever these Cases happen we must not expect them. And because when this would be, God only knows but we are ignorant: whensoever we ask any outward things, we must do it with Submission, and under this conditional Reserve, if he sees them fit­ting and convenient, and leave the De­termination to the Wisdom of his un­erring Judgment. And in this way our Blessed Saviour hath lead us, in the high­est instance of this sort of Prayers; when he prayed against all the pains and hor­rors of his Sufferings, Father says he, if it be possible let this bitter cup pass from me, nevertheless, I determine nothing, but re­fer all to thy unerring Wisdom in this matter, not my will but thine be done, Matt. 26.39.

[Page 161]Thus then we see when God will grant us any outward Blessings, such as Health, or Ease, or Plenty, or the like, when we ask them for our selves. And the same return will he make to our Prayers, when we pray for Peace or Prosperity, or other outward Blessings for the publick also. For if a Nation is just and fears God, and is fit to be pro­sper'd; and if it would not abuse it, but serve God more thereby; so that it would be no ways hurtful to themselves; or if the open scandal of their Sins do not call for Justice, and require that they be made an example unto others; and if it is otherwise agreeable and consistent with the wise Ends of God's good Providence, and his Care of others; he will give this outward Prosperity to a People, that earnestly begs and prays for it, and care­fully and wisely seeks it, and endeavours after it. But if their Sins call for Scour­ges; if by Prosperity they would ju­stifie and harden themselves the more in their iniquities, and grow wanton and bold in sin, and make use thereof, only to make more Provision for their Lusts; if they have greatly dishonoured and offended God, and are not humbled for the things that provoke him; if they have hardned themselves against all other [Page 162] means of God's Providence, turning his Grace into wantonness, and his bounty and forbearance into an occasion of grea­ter Sinfulness, and are not to be reclaim­ed, but by Chastisements and severe in­flictions; or if there be a necessity in the Course of God's Government to make them an example for the terror of others; or if any other ways it would make a­gainst the wise ends of God's most Ho­ly and good Providence, then he will hold his hand; and notwithstanding all the earnest, importunate, and incessant Prayers that are made for the same, re­fuse to bestow it on them. So that in asking outward Blessings for the publick, as well as for our private Concerns; for the Kingdom we are of as well as for our selves; we must always have this con­ditional reserve, if God sees them fitting, and refer themselves to his Wisdom, whe­ther he see convenient to grant them at our Prayers or no.

And thus it appears, upon what Terms we are to pray for any of God's Mer­cies, whether spiritual or temporal; whe­ther relating to this life, or to that which is to come. If we beg Pardon for our sins, we must ask it with true Repen­tance and forsaking of them. If we de­sire Grace it must be with a full Purpose [Page 163] to make a good use thereof and if we desire any Virtues and holy Dispositions, it must be with a Preparation of mind diligently to use the means, and to put forth our best Endeavours to attain them. And if we pray for any outward world­ly thing, whether for our selves or o­thers, besides our labouring after the same in wise ways, we must expect no issue but with this reserve, if God sees them fitting, and then acquiesce in the Determination of his Wisdom, whether he see fit to hear our Prayers, by grant­ing of the same or no.

And thus having shewed, upon what Terms we are to pray for any of God's Mercies, whether spiritual or temporal, relating to this life or the next; I pro­ceed now,

Secondly, To shew in what manner we ought to pray for them. When we come to pay our Homage, and to make our suit to Almighty God; we must be careful of our Carriage, that it shew no­thing of disrespect, or a careless regard, either of him, or of those Mercies which we come to desire at his hands. God will be honoured in them that come near him; he expects they should treat him, with that awe and reverence, that humble Decency; and dutiful Submission of [Page 164] mind, which becomes them towards their Maker and Benefactor, their su­pream Lord and Sovereign. And all this awe and reverence, this Honour and humble Respect, must not only be in­wardly in their minds, but in their out­ward Carriage and Behaviour also. They must use such visible Indications as are known marks of Honour, and express their respect to God by such dutiful and decent Carriage, as they are wont to use towards their Governours, or to­wards one another. And this way of expressing their Honour and Respect to him, by such allow'd Indications of it as are signs of Honour among themselves, is what God himself appeals to; and that whereby he goes about most convincing­ly to reprove the religious Rudeness, and ill Manners of the Israelites, Mal. 1. For when they would pretend to honour God, but yet would put him off with any thing; when they would make shew of offering Sacrifice, and giving Presents to him, but yet make choice of such things to present as were not worth re­ceiving, offering to him as he Complains, the blind, the lame and the sick: He tells them plainly, he resents the Indignity, and sets them to consider whether it be any sign of Honour to make choice of [Page 165] such unmannerly, mean, and refuse things, when they have to do with God, as would pass for marks of Irreverence and Dis­esteem if they were used towards men. Offer such things as these, saith he first, to thy Governour, and see whether he will be pleased with thee; accept thy person, for such a Present; and if these Instances of ill Behaviour and rude Treatment, would by no means please, but highly provoke him; think not to honour God by that, which would vilifie and affront Men, Verse 8.

But in this matter to be more parti­cular; if we would make our Prayers in Christ's Name in such manner, as would become us to offer them, and God to hear them; we must put them up,

First, With Reverence and Humility. When we pray to God, we must know, that we poor Worms are treating with our Maker; that we most indigent and helpless Creatures are suing to our no­blest Benefactor; that we sinful Subjects are addressing our selves to the supream Lord and Sovereign of all the World. And when we have to do with a person so far above us, so unmeasurably kind and beneficial to us, and that has so ab­solute Authority and Empire over us; [Page 166] 'tis necessary that then if ever we be mindful of our distance, and make our Application with that Lowliness of mind, that decent humble Carriage, and careful reverent Deportment, as may plainly evi­dence, that we have a just Honour and Veneration for the Majesty of that God, whom we address our selves unto. And thus in all our Acts of Worship, whe­ther Prayers or Praises, or hearing of God's word, or other Acts of Religion, whether in solemn Oaths, sacred Hymns and Thanksgivings or the like, we com­pose our selves as in God's Presence, and do not behave our selves lightly and carelesly, but with a visible seriousness and reverence of Soul: We uncover our Heads, and compose our Countenances, and use decent humble Postures, such as kneeling, bowing or standing; and te­stifie in all our Deportment, that we are concern'd with that God, whom we can never Honour enough, and whom we seek to evidence our respect unto, by all the proper Signs, and most suitable In­dications, whereby we are wont to ex­press it towards men. This we are all prone to pay, as 'tis fit we should, to Persons that are placed above us; and as forward generally to exact it, of all such as are set below us.

[Page 167]And since we thus expect it, and are ashamed to neglect it towards one ano­ther; with what face can we deny it to­wards God. But if at any time we do, how justly may he take up that reproof a­gainst us, which he did against the un­mannerly, and disrespectful Israelites; offer this careless and unbecoming Car­riage to thy Governour, in any Honour which thou payest him, and see whether he will be pleased with it, and accept it of thee, Mal. 1.8.

Secondly, That our Prayers may be put up in such manner, as 'tis fit for us to offer them, or for God to hear them, we must offer them up, with due Fixedness and Attention of mind, and fervency of affe­ction.

We must offer them up with a due Fixedness and Attention of mind. We must not draw near unto God with our lips, when our hearts and minds are far from him: We must not utter words by rote, or say our Prayers as Children are wont to Con a Lesson, without any heed or Application of our minds to them; but our thoughts must go along with our words, and our minds must be intent, and set upon the Mercies which we pray for. God will not hearken to our Peti­tions, when it may be we our selves do [Page 168] not hear them; he will not attend to our Requests, when we our selves do not at­tend to them; he will not grant those Suits, which had only a form of words; but nothing of an inward Desire, and spiritual Application in them. So that if only our Tongues pray, and our Minds are straying, we might as well be silent, and not pray at all.

We must offer them up also, with a good measure of desire, and fervency of affe­ction. A cold Petitioner bespeaks a Denial, instead of a gracious Answer. He seems indifferent in making of his Suit, and so may well expect that God should be indifferent too, and less concern'd in granting it. He seems to sleight the Mer­cy, when he asks it; and so there is the less reason to expect, that he should think himself much obliged by it, or be duely thankful for it, after he has recei­ved it. But a fervent Prayer shews how eagerly we desire a Mercy, and how thankfully we are like to receive it. And this is some Encouragement, and a strong Inducement for God to bestow it on us. He is a most tender and indulgent Parent; who cannot deny us any good thing that is fit for us; when he sees we are wrought up to a due Valuation and Esteem of it, and our hearts are eager­ly [Page 169] set upon it. The fervent Prayer of a righteous man, saith St. James, availeth much, Jam. 5.16.

Thirdly, A third thing that is requi­site to an acceptable Prayer, and must recommend it to God's favour, is faith, or believing we shall receive, when we ask according to his Promise; which our Saviour makes a necessary Qualification to our being heard, Matt. 21.22. What­soever you shall ask in prayer believing, you shall receive; and if any man lack Wisdom, let him ask in faith, saith St. James, no­thing wavering, and it shall be given him, Jam. 1.5, 6. and the true meaning of this is easily understood from what I have already said concerning the Terms, whereupon God will grant us any of his Mercies. For then we are to believe we shall receive them, when we have per­form'd those Conditions, whereupon he has promised to bestow them. So that then we must hope to obtain Pardon for our Sins, when we forsake them, and ask it with true Repentance, and Refor­mation. And then we must believe, that we shall receive some Virtuous Endow­ments, when we are careful to attain, and industriously seek after them. And then we must expect to enjoy the Assi­stance of God's Grace, and Holy Spirit, [Page 170] when we are careful to concurr with, and make a good use of it. And then we must expect, upon our Endeavours after the same, to be heard for Health, or Ease, or any prosperous turns of Pro­vidence and outward things, when God in his Wisdom sees them fitting for us, and consistent either with our own good, or with the greater benefit of others.

It is these Promises of God which must guide our Expectations, and then we must hope to receive any of these Mercies from him, asking them in Christ's Name, when we come qualified with these Conditions, whereupon he has en­gaged to bestow them; to believe that he will grant what we ask of him, when we seek it not upon these Terms, 'tis not Faith but Infidelity; to expect that we should receive these Mercies any other­wise, that we should be pardoned with­out Repentance, and made Vertuous without our own Care, and good En­deavours, is not hope but Presumption. We must seek things in God's own way; and then, but not before, we shall be sure to find them.

And that we may always come thus prepared to our Prayers, that so we may obtain the Blessings which we seek for; God of his infinite Mercy Grant, &c.


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