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vast and unlimited. A physician endeavors to recover his tient to sound and perfect health, that being the end of his art. He that seeks for honor or riches, is not content with a mediocrity of success, but drives on his affairs to the full period of his desires. An ardent lover of learning with a noble jealousy strives to excel others in knowledge. In short, no man designs and longs for a thing as his happiness, but will use all diligence to gain the present and full possession of it. Therefore it cannot be imagined that any person sincerely propounds the enjoyment of heaven as his end, but love will make him fervent and industrious to be as heavenly as is possible here. He will strive by blessed and glorious gradations, to ascend to the perfection of his aims and desires,“ to be holy as God is holy in all manner of conversation, to be pure as Christ is pure.” We have an admirable instance of this in St. Paul, who declares, Brethren, I count pot myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, Phil. 3. 13, 14. His progress was great, yet that did not make him slack in the
prosecution of his end. He labored to attain the precedent of our Saviour, to feel the power of his death and life, to apprehend Christ entirely and perfectly as Christ had apprehended him. He was very diligent to improve the divine image in his heart and life.
From hence we may discover the vanity of their hopes, that are of lukewarm affections in religion, (the abhorred character of Laodicea) who esteem it a prudent principle, as convenient for their carnal ease and interest, not to be earnest in following holiness. Vices in mediocrity are tolerable with them, only the excess is condemned. They content themselves with a mediocrity in religion, and are presumptuous and secure, as the church that said, "I am rich, and have need of nothing.” They boast as if they had found out the temperate region between the burning line and the frozen pole. They account all that is above their degrees in religion, to be furious or indiscreet zeal, and all below to be dead, cold profaneness. They censure those for hypocrisy or unnecessary strictness, who are visibly better, and stand upon proud comparisons with those who are visibly worse : and thus set off themselves by taxing others. But how easily do men deceive and damn themselves? Can we have too much of heaven upon the earth? Can we become too like God, when a perfect conformity to him is our duty and felicity ? Indeed moral virtue consists in a mediocrity, not of the habitual quality, but of the affections and actions between the vicious extremities. Fortitude consists in the mean between cowardice, and rash boldness; but how much the more confirmed the courageous habit is, so much the more a man excels in that virtue. Liber
ality consists between an indiscreet profuseness, and sordid avarice; patience between a soft delicacy, and stupid insensibility. Thus philosophic virtue glories in its beauty as pure and entire, between two vicious deformities. And the religion of many is paganism dressed up in a christian fashion. But this mediocrity only belongs to inferior virtues, that respect things of created limited goodness, and is determined according to the worth of their nature. But divine graces respect an object supremely good, and their perfection consists in their most excellent degrees, and the most intense affections and operations that are leading to it. Faith in its obedience, hope in its assurance, love in its ardor can never exceed. When the object is infinite, a mediocrity is vicious. Humility can never descend too low, nor love ascend too high : for reflecting upon our natural and moral imperfections, that we are raised from nothing, that we are defiled and debased with sin, we cannot have too low thoughts of ourselves. And since God the sovereign being, infinite in perfections, and infinitely amiable, is the object, no bounds or measure must be set to our affections, but with all our
" all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the mind, and with all the strength,” we must love him, and please him, and endeavor to be beloved of him.
There are others will acknowledge their defect, and tell you they do not pretend to eminent sanctity, to the graces of the Apostles and martyrs, nor aspire to their degrees in glory; they are content with a lower place in heaven, and less strict religion is sufficient for their purpose. This deceit is strengthened by Popery, that enervates and dissolves many of our Saviour's precepts, by teaching they are not laws obliging all christians to obedience, that will attain to eternal life, but counsels of perfection : if they are not done, it is no sin; and the performance of them meritoriously entitles to a richer crown. And though men by impure indulgencies please their sensual affections, yet by tasting purgatory in the way, they may come to heaven on easier terms, than an universal respect to God's commands, and an equal care to observe them. But death will confute all these feeble wretched pretences: for though the saints above shine with an unequal brightness, as the stars differ in glory; yet none are there but saints. And those who do not mourn under their imperfections, and unfeignedly desire and endeavor to be better, were never really good. The slothful servant that did not waste, but neglect to improve his talent, was cast into “outer darkness." There are different degrees of punishment in hell, but the least miserable there are miserable forever. In short, it is a perfect contradiction, a prodigy, for any man to think he is sincere in his choice, and prepared in his affections for the pure glorious felicity in heaven, that does not labor to “ cleanse himself from all pollutions of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God."
The choice of heaven must be early, in the prime of our days. The choice must
be constant. Saving perseverance includes the permanent residence of grace in the soul, and the exercise of it, and progress towards perfection. Perseverance is required, notwithstanding all temptations that may allure or terrify us from our duty. Saving perseverance excludes not all sins, but total apostacy and final impenitency. The sincerity of obedience is discovered by its constancy. A corrupt confidence, or a vicious dejection of spirit, the
trusting in ourselves, and distrusting God are equally pernicious to the stability of a christian.
[2.] The choice of eternal felicity must be early, in the prime of our days. The rule of our duty, and reason binds us “ to remember our Creator in our youth,” to pay him the first fruits of our time and strength. When we are surrounded with enticing objects, and the senses are entire and most capable to enjoy them, when the electing powers are in their vigor, then it is just we should live to God, obey him as our lawgiver, and prefer the fruition of him in heaven, the reward of obedience, before all the pleasures of vanity. It is very honorable and pleasing to God to give the heart to him, when the flesh and the world strongly solicit to withdraw it. It is a high endearment of the soul to him, when his excellencies are prevalent in the esteem and affections, above all the charms of the creatures. And it is an unspeakable satisfaction to the spirit of a man, to declare the truth and strength of his love to God, by despising temptations, when they are most inviting, and the appetite is eager for the enjoyment of them. But alas ! how many neglect their duty, and defer their happiness ? they think it too soon to live for heaven," before the evil days come, wherein they shall have no pleasure,” when they cannot sin and vainly presume they can repent. The danger of this I have considered in the discourse of death, and shall therefore proceed to the next head.
[3.] Our choice of heaven must be constant and lasting:
The two principal rules of the spiritual life are to begin and end well: to fix and establish the main design for everlasting happiness, and from a determinate resolution, and ratified purpose of heart, to pursue it with firmness and constancy: to live for heaven, and with readiness and courage to die for it, if the glory of God so require. Perseverance is indispensably necessary in all that will obtain the eternal reward,
For the clearing this most important point, I will,
I. Represent from scripture the idea of perseverance, that is attended with salvation.
II. Consider why it is so strictly required. 1. (1.) Saving perseverance includes the permanent residence of grace in the soul : it is composed of the whole chain of
graces, the union of holy habits that are at first infused into a christian by the sanctifying Spirit. When eternal life is promised to faith, or love, or hope, it is upon supposal that those graces being planted in the heart, shall finally prosper. He that is faithful to the death, shall inherit the crown of life, Rev. 2. It is love that never fails, 1 Cor. 13. that shall enter into heaven. “It is hope firm unto the end,” that shall be accomplished in a glorious fruition. If grace be disseised by a usurping lust, apostacy will follow, and the forfeiture of our right in the kingdom of heaven.
(2.) Grace must be continually drawn forth into exercise, according to our several states and duties, and the various occasions that happen in our course through the world. Those “who are light in the Lord, are commanded to walk as children of the light;" to signify the excellency and purity of the christian life. “Those who live in the Spirit, must walk in the Spirit;" that is, by a conspicuous course of holiness declare the vigor and efficacy of the divine principle that is communicated to them. “ Paulum sepultæ distat inertia celata virtus :" virtue that breaks not forth into visible actions, is not worthy of the name. The mere abstaining from evil is not sufficient, but all the positive acts of the holy life are to be constantly done. In discharging both these parts of our duty, complete religion is expressed, and the
consists. (3.) Perseverance includes not only continuance in well-doing, but fervor and progress towards perfection. There are two fixed states, the one in heaven, the other in hell. The blessed spirits above are arrived to the height of holiness. The Devil and damned spirits are sunk to the lowest extremity of Sin. But in the middle state here, grace in the saints is a rising growing light; and sin in the wicked improves every day, like poison in a serpent, that becomes more deadly by his age. We are injoined not to remain in our first imperfections, but to “follow holiness” to the utmost issue of our lives, to its entire consummation. For this end all the dispensations of Providence must be improved, whether prosperous or afflicting. And the ordinances of the gospel were appointed, that in the use of them we may be changed into the divine image, from glory to glory.”
(4.) Perseverance is required notwithstanding all temptations that
may allure or terrify us from our duties; whatever affects us one way or other, while we are clothed with frail flesh. It is the fundamental principle of Christianity declared by our Saviour, “ If any man will come after me,” that is, be my disciple
and servant, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me;" even to be crucified with him, rather than wilfully forfeit his integrity and loyalty to Christ. He must by a * sacred fixed resolution divest himself of all things, even the most valued and desirable in the present world, and actually forsake them, nay entertain what is most distasteful, and resist unto blood,” rather than desert his duty.
1. He must with unfainting patience continue in doing his duty, notwithstanding all miseries and calamities, losses, disgraces, torments, or death itself, which wicked men, and greater enemies, the powers of darkness, can inflict upon him. To them who by patient continuance in welldoing, seek for glory, honor and immortality, eternal life is promised, Rom. 2. He that endures to the end (notwithstanding the most terrible sufferings to which he is exposed for Christ's sake,) shall be saved, Mat. 10. 22. In this a christian must be the express image of his Saviour; “ who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despised the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God.” Disgrace and pain are evils that human nature has a most tender sense of; yet the Son of God, with a divine generosity and constancy, endured them in the highest degrees. He was scorned as a feigned king, and a false prophet. He suffered a bloody death, and by the cross ascended to glory. And we must follow him if we desire to be where he is.
2. But this is not the only trial of a christian. Prosperity is a more dangerous enemy, to the soul, though adversity be more rigorous.
For the spirit is excited by perils and difficulties to seek to God for strength, and with vigilant resolute thoughts unites all his powers to oppose them; but it is made weak and careless by what is grateful to the sensual inclinations. It keeps close the spiritual armor in the open encounter of dangers that threaten its ruin, but is enticed to put it off by the caresses and blandishments of the world. It does not see its enemies under the disguise of a pleasant temptation. Thus sin insinuates itself, and by stealing steps gets into the throne without observation. A man is wounded with a pleasant temptation, as with the plague that flies in the dark, and grace is insensibly weakened. From hence it is, that adversity often reforms the vicious, and prosperity corrupts the virtuous. Now perseverance must be of proof against fire and water, against whatever may terrify or allure us from our duty.
* Natator amnem interpositum superaturus, exuitur, nec tamen hoc tanto apparatu, quod se dispoliaverit, transnatabit
, nisi totius corporis nisi torrentis impetum scindat, et laborem natationis exhauriat. Paulin.