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fully delaying it; and the opportunities of saving our immortal Touls, may vanish, and be for ever hid from our eyes.
The next property of wisdom is, to foresee dangers, and to take timely care to prevent them. The prudent man (faith Solomon) foreseeth the evil, and kideth himself; that is, fhelters and secures himself a. gainst it; but the simple pass on, and are prinished; that is, the evil overtakes them, and their felly is pu. nithed in their fatal ruin. Now the greatett danger is from the greatest power ; even from him who is able to fare, and to deffroy. I will tell you (says the wifdom of God) whom ye Shall fear ; fear him, who after he bath killed, can destroy both boily and soul in hell.
Again, another main point of wisdom is, to do as little as we can to be repented of, trusting rather to the wisdom of prevention, than to that of remedy. Religion first teacheth men innocency, and not to of fend; but in case we do, (as in many things we offend all), it then direcis us to repentance, as the only remedy. But this certainly is folly, to fin in hopes of repentance, that is, first to make work for repentance, and then run the hazard of it; for ve may certainly fin, but it is not certain that we fhall repent. And if it were, yet it is great folly to lay in before hand, and to make work for trouble : Nætu stultus homuncio es, qui malis veniam precari, quàm non peccare, was a wife saying of old Cato; “ Thou art (fays he) a “ Gilly man indeed, who chusest rather to ask forgive• ness, than not to offend.” If a man had the best remedy in the world, he would not make himlelf fick to try the virtue of it; and it is a known comparison, and a very fit one, that repentance is, tabula poft naufragiun, “ a plank after shipwreck.” But I am greatly afraid that thousands of souls, who have trusted to it, have perished before they could get to land, with this plank in their arms.
The last character of wisdom I shall mention is, in all things to consult the peace and satisfaction of our own minds, without which nothing else can make us happy, and this obedience to the laws of God does
naturally procure. Great peace have they (says David) that love thy lary, and nothing thall ofend them. The work of righteousness, says the prophet, fall be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness, and alurance for ever. The fear of God, and the keeping
of his commandments, is the best preservative a. gainst the troubles of a guilty conscience, and the ter. rifying apprehensions of a future judgement. And this is the great wisdom of religion, that whosoever liveth according to the rules and precepts of it, prevents the chief causes of discontent, and lays the surest foundation of a perpetual fatisfaction of mind, a jewel of inestimable price, which none knows but he that has it; and he that hath it, knows the value of it too well to part with it for the pleasures of fin, which are but for a seafon, and which always prove bittere ness in the end, and for the little sweetness which they yielded, leave a terrible sting behind them.
Thus have I briefly represented the reasonableness and wisdom of religion. It is of infinite perfection, and of a vast influence and extent; it reacheth to the whole man, the happiness of soul and body; and to our whole duration, the happiness of this world and the next; for godliness (that is true religion and piety) bath the promise of this life, and of that which is to
But now where are the effects of true religion, in the full compass and extent of it, to be found? such real effects as do in any measure bear a proportion to the power and perfection of their cause for nothing certainly is more excellent and amiable in its definition than true religion is; but alas ! how imperfect is it in the subject ? I mean in us, who ought to fhew forth the power and perfection of it in the practice and actions of our lives, the best demonstration of the excellent frame and temper of our minds.
What a conflict and struggling do the best men find between their inclination and their duty ? how hard to reconcile our practice and our knowledge, and to make our lives to agree with the reason of our minds, and the clear conviction of our consciences ?
how difficult for a man, in this dangerous and imper. fect ftute, to be in any measure either so wise or so good as he ought? how rare is it for a man to be good-na: tured, gentle, and easy to be intreated, without be. ing often betrayed into some weakness and finful compliances, especially in the bad company of our betters ? how next to impollible is it to be Itrict and severe in our lives, without being four? to govern our lives with that perpetual caution, and to maintain that evenness of temper, as not to be sometimes peevish and passionate ? and when we are so, not to be apt to say with Jonah, We do well to be an.
Therc are two precepts in the New Testament, that seem to me to be the niceit of all other, and hardelt to be put in practice. One is that of our bleffed Saviour, Be wife as ferpents, and iringcent as dores. How hard is it to hit upon the just temper of wisdom and innocency; to be wise, and hurt no body; to be innocent, without being filly? The other is that of the apostle, Be angry, and fin nof. How difficult is this, never to be angry but upon just cause ? and when the cause of our anger is just, not to be trans. ported beyond due bounds, either as to the degree of our anger, or as to the duration and continuance of it? This is so very nice a matter, that one would be almost tempted to think that this were in effect a prohibition of anger in any case: Be ye angry, and fire not; be ye so, if ye can without fin. I believe, who. soever observes it, will find that it is as easy to fuppress this passion at any time, as to give way to it, without offending in one kind or other.
But to proceed:
How hard a matter is it to be much in company, and free in conversation, and not to be infected by it? to live in the midst of a wicked world, and yet to keep ourselves free from the vices of it? to be temperate in the use of things pleasing, fo as neither to injure our health, nor to lose the use of our reason, nor to offend against conscience ! to fast often, without being conceited.of it, and bargaining as it were with
God for some greater liberties in another kind; and without censuring those who do not tie up theinselves to our strict rules either of piety or abstinence? when perhaps they have neither the same opportunities of doing it, nor the same reason to do it that we have; nay, perhaps, have a much better reason for not doing just as we do: for no man is to prescribe to others his own private method, either of fasting, or of devolion, as if he were the rule, and his example a kind of proclamation, enjoining all his neighbours the fame, days of fasting and prayer which he himself, for reafons best known to himself, thinks fit to observe.
And then how hard is it to be chearful without being vain, and grave and serious without being morofe? to be useful and instructive to others in our conversation and discourse, without assuming too much authority to ourselves? which is not the best and most effectual way of doing good to others; there being fomething in the nature of man which had rather take a hint and intimation from another to advise himself, and would rather chuse to imitate the silent good example which they fee in another, than to have either his advice or his example imposed upon them.
How difficult is it to have a mind equal to every condition, and to be content with mean and moderate things ? to be patient in adversity, and humble in prosperity, and meek upon sudden and violent provocations?, to keep our passions free from getting head of our reason, and our zeal from out-running our knowledge ? to have a will perfectly submitted and refigned to the will of God, even when it lies cross and thwart to ours, so that whatever pleases God should please us ? to be resolute, when our duty happens to be difficult and dangerous; or even to believe that to be our duty (though it certainly be fo) which is very inconvenient for us to do? to hold out and be unwearied in well doing? to be careful to preserve our lives, and yet upon a great occasion, and whenever God calls for them, to be content to lay them down?
To be wife and innocent; men in understanding, and yet in malice children? to have many great virtues, and not to want that which gives the great lustre to them all, I mean real and unaffected modesty and humility? In short,
How difficult is it, to have regard to all God's conmandments, and to hate every evil and false way? to have our duty continually in our eye, and ready to be put into practice upon every proper occasion to have God, and the confideration of another world al. ways before us, present to our minds, and operative upon our practice ? to live as those that know they must die, and to have our thoughts perpetually awake, and intent upon the great and everlasting concernments of our immortal fouls ?
These are great things indeed, easy to be talked of, but hard to be done; nay, not to be done at all, without frequent and fervent prayer to God, and the continual aids and supplies of his grace; not without an earnest endeavour on our parts, a vigorous resistance of temptations, and many a fore conflict with our own perverse wills and sensual inclinations; not without a perpetual guard and watchfulness over our lives, and our unruly appetites and paflions.
Little do unexperienced men, and those who have taken no great pains with themselves, imagine what thought and confideration, what care and attention, what resolution and firmness of mind, what diligence and patient continuance in well-doing, are requisite to make a truly good man; such a one as St Paul describes, that is, perfect and entire, and wanting no. thing;
that follows God fully, and fulfils every part of his duty, having a conscience void of offence towards God and towards nian. Who is there among us, that is either wise enough for his own direction, or good enough for the peace and satisfaction of his own mind; that is so happy as to know his duty, and to do it; as to have both the understanding and the will to do in all things as he ought?
After our best care, and all our pains and endeavours, the most of us will still find a great many defects in our lives, and cannot but discern great and