Page images
[ocr errors]

getting this oil, while they were looking after it too late, the door was fhut against them; they thought to have repaired all at last, by borrowing of others, and supplying themselves that way.

And thus many deceive themselves, hoping to be supplied out of another store, when they have no grace and goodness of their own; out of the treasure of the church, from the redundant merit of the saints, and their works of supererogation; of which some believe (I know not for what reason) that there is a great stock which the Pope may dispose of, to supply those who have taken no care to get oil into their lamps. But I know not for what reason works of supererogation are supposed. The wise virgins knew not of any merit they had to spare; it was the foolish virgins only that entertained this senseless conceit. I am fure the parable insinuates the quite contrary, that the best and holiest persons (which are represented by the wife virgins) have nothing to spare for the fupply of others, who have been careless of their souls : The foolish said unto the wife, give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out ; but the wise answered, saying, not so, left there be not enough for us and you, but 30 se rather to them that sell, and buy for your felves. It seems they had no works of supererogation that they knew of, but they do ironically send them to a market that was set up somewhere, and where these things were pretended to be fold; but how they sped, the conclusion of the parable tells us, that whilst they were running about in great haste to make this purchase of the merits and good works of others, the bridegroom came, and the wife virgins that were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the rest were shut out.

And there are those likewise among ourselves, who having been careless to qualify themselves for the kingdom of God, hope to be supplied out of the infinite treasure of Christ's merits. But this also is a vain hope : for though there be merit enough in the death and sufferings of Christ to save all mankind, yet no man.can lay claim thereto, who does not perform the conditions of the gospel,


Others think, by sending for the minister when the physician hath given them over, to receive in a few hours such advice and direction, as will do their bu. finess as effectually, as if they had minded religion all their lives long; and that a few devout prayers said over them, when they are just embarking for another world, will, like a magical wind, immediately waft them over into the regions of bliss and immortality.

But let us not deceive ourselves; we may defer the business so long, till we shall get nothing by our late application to God, and crying to him, Lord, Lord, open unto us, but that severe answer, Depart from me ye workers of iniquity, I know you not whence ye are. If we would not have this our doom, let us firft seek the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, that so having our fruit unto holiness, our end may be everlasting life.



The wisdom of religion.

PSAL. cxix. 96. I have seen an end of all perfection ; but thy CO12

mandment is exceeding broad.

His psalm seems to have a great deal more of


distance from the time and age in which it was write ten we can easily understand. The main scope and design of it is very plain and obvious, namely, to magnify the law of God, and the observation of its precepts, as that wherein true religion doth mainly confist. And indeed, if we attentively read and consider it, every part of this psalm does, with great va. riety of expression, and yet very little difference of the sense, descant upon the same ground, viz. the excellency and perfection of the law of God. And


the words of the text seem to be as full and comprehensive of the sense and design of the whole psalm, as any one sentence in it: I have seen an end of all perfection ; but thy commandment is exceeding broad.

These words are variously rendered, and understood by interpreters, who yet in this variety do very much conspire and agree in the same sense. The Chaldee paraphrase renders the words thus : I have seen an end of all things, about which I have employed my care ; but thy commandment is very large. The Syriac version thus : I have seen an end of all regions and countries, (that is, I have found the compass of this habitable world to be finite and limited); but thy commandment is of a vast extent. Others explain it thus : I have seen an end of all perfection ; that is, of all the things of this world, which men value and e{teem at so high a rate; of all worldly wisdom and knowledge, of wealth, and honour, and greatness, which do all perish and pass away ; but thy law is eternal, and fill abideth the same ; or, as the scripture elsewhere expresseth it, the word of the Lord endureth for ever.

Thy law; that is, the rule of our duty natural and Tevealed, or, in a word, religion, which consists in the knowledge and practice of the laws of God, is of greater perfection than all other things which are so highly valued in this world : for the perfection of it is infinite, and of a vast influence and extent ; it reacheth to the whole man, to the happiness of body and soul; to our whole duration both in this world and the next; of this life, and of that which is to

And this will clearly appear, if we consider the reasonableness and the wisdom of religion, which consists in the knowledge of God, and the keeping of his laws.

First, The reasonableness of religion, which is able to give a very good account of itself, because it settles the mind of man upon a firm basis, and keeps it from rolling in perpetual uncertainty : whereas atheisin and infidelity wants a stable foundation ; it centres no where but in the denial of God and religion, and yet



substitutes no principle, no tenible and conftituent scheme of things in the place of them ; its whole business is to unravel all things, to unsettle the mind of man, and to thake all the common notions and received principles of mankind; it bends its whole force to pull down and to destroy, but lays no foundation to build any thing upon, in the stead of that which it pulls down.

It runs upon that great absurdity which Aristotle (who was always thought a great master of reason) does every where decry, as a principle unworthy of a philosopher, namely, a progress of causes in infinitum, and without end; that this was the cause of that, and a third thing of that, and so on without end, which amounts to just nothing; and finally re. solves an infinite number of effects into no first cause ; than which nothing can be more unskilful and bungling, and less worthy of a philosopher. But this I do not intend at present to infilt upon, having treated largely on the same subject upon another occasion * I shall therefore proceed in the

Second place, to consider the wisdom of religion, The fear of the Lord is wisdon, fo faith the pfalmist; it is true wisdom indeed, it is the beginning of wisa dom, caput fapientia, the top and perfection of all wisdom. Here true wisdom begins, and upon this foundation it is raised and carried on to 'perfection; and I thall in my following discourse endeavour to make out these two things.

1. That true wisdom begins and is founded ligion, in the fear of God, and in the keeping of his commandments,

2. That this is the perfection of wisdom; there is no wisdom without this, nor beyond it.

1. True wisdom begins and is founded in religion, and the fear of God, and regard to his laws.

This is the first principle of wisdom, and the foundation upon which the whole design of our happiness is to be built. This is, in the first place, to be su: posed, and to be taken into consideration, in all designs and actions of men : this is to govern our * Vide Ser. 1. of the first volume published by the author. VOL.V. M



whole life, and to have a main influence upon all the affairs and concernments of it. As the first principle of human society, and that which is to run through the whole frame of it, is the public good, this was always to be taken into consideration, and to give law to all laws and constitutions about it: so religion is the first principle of human wisdom, by which all our actions are to be conducted and governed ; and all wisdom which does not begin here, and lay religion for its foundation, is preposterous, and begins at the wrong end ; and is just as if in the forming of human society, every cne in the settlement of the constitution, and the fining op laws, should have an eye to his own private and particular advantage, without regard to the public good, which is the great end of society, and the rule and measure of government and laws, and in the last issue and result of things, the only way to procure the settled welfare, and to secure the lasting interests of particular persons, so far as that is consistent with the public good. And it would be a very preposterous policy to go a. bout to found human society upon any other terms, and would certainly end in mischief and confufion.

And such is all the wisdom of men, in relation to their true happiness, which does not begin with religion, and lay its foundation there ; which does not take into consideration God and his providence, and a future state of rewards and punishments after this life. All wisdom which does not proceed upon a fu!pposition of the truth and reality of these principles, will certainly end in Thame and disappointment, in misery and ruin ; because it builds house


the fand, which when it comes to be tried by Itress of weather, and assaulted by violent storms, will undoubtedly fall, and the fall of it will be great.

And this error every man commits, who pursues happiness by following his own inclination, and gratifying his irregular desires, without any consideration of God, and of the restraint which his laws have laid upon us, not for his own pleasure, but for our good : for when all things are duly considered, and



« PreviousContinue »