« PreviousContinue »
I Pelieve, &c.
OF THE VIRTUE AND REASONABLENESS OF
JI PETER, CHAP, 1.-VERSE 1.
to them that have obtained like precious faith with us.
The Holy Scripture recommendeth faith (that is, a hearty and firm persuasion concerning the principal doctrines of our religion, from divine revelation taught by our Lord and his Apostles) as a most precious and honorable practice; as a virtue of the first magnitude, very commendable in itself, very acceptable to God, very beneficial to us; having most excellent fruits growing from it, most noble privileges annexed to it, most ample rewards assigned for it.
It is in a special manner commanded, and obedience to that command is reckoned a prime instance of piety: “This is his commandment, that we should believe; this is the work of God,
believe on him whom he hath sent.' It is the root of our spiritual life ; for, ' He that cometh to God must believe;' and,' Add to your faith virtue,' saith St. Peter, supposing faith to precede other virtues.
It is the principal conduit of divine grace; for
By it we are regenerated, and become the sons of God; • Ye all,' saith St. Paul,' are the sons of God by faith in Christ Jesus.'
By it we abide in God,' and do possess him, saith St. John.
By it • Christ dwelleth in us,' saith St. Paul.
By it we obtain God's Spirit : * Did ye,' saith St. Paul, receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith ?
By it we are justified, or acquitted from guilt, and condemnation for sin : for, Being justified by faith we have peace with God.'
By it our · hearts are purged,' saith St. Paul; "our souls are purified,' saith St. Peter.
By it we are freed from the dominion of sin ; according to that of our Saviour; • If ye abide in my word,-ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.'
It procureth freedom of access to God; . We have,' saith St. Paul, boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.'
It is the shield, whereby we resist temptations; and the weapon, whereby we overcome the world.
In fine, it is that, which being retained in a good conscience,' and maintained by virtuous practice, doth keep us in a state of salvation, and will assuredly convey us into eternal life and felicity; for, ' by grace we are saved, through faith.'
That faith should be thus highly dignified, hath always appeared strange to the adversaries of our religion; and hath suggested to them matter of obloquy agaiust it: they could not apprehend why we should be commanded, or how we can be obliged to believe; as if it were an arbitrary thing, depending on our free choice, and not rather did naturally follow the representation of objects to our mind: they would not allow that an act of our understanding, hardly voluntary, as being extorted by force of arguments, should deserve such reputation and such recompenses; for if, argued they, a doctrine be propounded with evident and cogent reason, what virtue is there in believing it, seeing a man in that case cannot avoid believing, is therein merely passive, and by irresistible force subdued ? if it be propounded without such reason, what fault can it be to refuse assent, or to suspend his opinion about it? can a wise
man then do otherwise ? is it not in such a case simplicity, or fonď credulity, to yield assent ? yea, is it not deceit or hypocrisy to pretend the doing so ? may not justly then all the blame be charged rather on the incredibility of the doctrine, or the infirmity of reasons enforcing it, than on the incredulity of the person who doth not admit it? whence no philosophers ever did impose such a precept, or did assign to faith a place among the virtues.
To clear this matter, and to vindicate our religion from such misprisions, and that we may be engaged to prize and cherish it; shall endeavor to declare that Christian faith doth worthily deserve all the commendations and the advantages granted thereto: this I shall do by considering its uature and ingredients, its rise and causes, its efficacy and consequences.
I. As to its nature; it doth involve knowlege, knowlege of most worthy and important truths, knowlege peculiar and not otherwise attainable, knowlege in way of great evidence and assurance,
1. Truth is the natural food of our soul, toward which it hath a greedy appetite, which it tasteth with delicious complacency, which being taken in and digested by it doth render it lusty, plump, and active : truth is the special ornament of our mind, decking it with a graceful and pleasant lustre; truth is the proper wealth of reason, whereof having acquired a good stock, it appeareth rich, prosperous, and mighty: what light is without, that is truth within, shining on our inward world, illustrating, quickening, and comforting all things there, exciting all our faculties to action, and guiding them in it. All knowlege therefore, which is the possession of truth, is much esteemed; even that which respecteth objects mean, and little concerning us, (such as human sciences are conversant about; natural appearances, historical events, the properties, proportions, and powers of figure, of motion, of corporeal force,) doth bear a good price, as perfective of rational nature, enriching, adorning, invigorating our mind; whence Aristotle doubteth not on all those habitual endowments, which so accomplish our understanding, to bestow the name of virtues ;
that with him being the virtue of each thing, which anywise perfecteth it, and disposeth it for action suitable to its nature.' And if ignorance, error, doubt, are defects, deformities, infira mities of our soul, then the knowlege which removeth them doth imply the perfection, beauty, and vigor thereof. Faith therefore, as implying knowlege, is valuable.
2. But it is much more so, in regard to the quality of its objects, which are the most worthy that can be, and most use. ful for us to know; the knowlege whereof doth indeed advance our soul into a better state, doth ennoble, enrich, and embellish our nature; doth raise us to a nearer resemblance with God, and participation of his wisdom ; doth infuse purest delight and satisfaction into our hearts ; doth qualify and direct us unto practice most conducible to our welfare ; it is a knowlege, enlightening the eyes, converting the soul, rejoicing the heart; sweeter than honey, and the honeycomb; more precious than rubies; which giveth to our head an ornament of grace,
and a crown of glory. For,
Thereby we understand the nature, or the principal attributes of God, of whom only the Christian doctrine doth afford a completely true and worthy character, directive of our esteem, our worship, our obedience, our imitation of him; whereby our demeanor toward him may become him, and please him.
By it we are fully acquainted with the will and intentions of God, relating both to our duty and our recompense ; what he requireth from us, and what he designeth for us; on what terins he will proceed with us in way of grace, of mercy, of justice.
By it we are informed concerning ourselves, what our frame is, whence our original, to what ends we are designed, wherein our felicity doth consist, and how it is attainable.
It enableth us rightly to distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong; what is worthy of us, and pleasing to God, what misbecoming us, and offensive to him; both absolutely and comparatively, according to the degrees of each case respectively.
It prescribeth us an exact rule of life, comprising all our duties toward God, our neighbor, ourselves; to observe which will be most decent, and exceedingly profitable to us,
• Arist. Etb. ii. 6.
It teacheth us from what principles, and on what grounds we should act, that our practice should be truly good and laudable.
It proposeth the most valid inducements to virtue, tendering the favor of God and eterpal bliss in reward thereof, menacing divine wrath and endless woe on its neglect.
It discovereth the special aids dispensed to us for the support of our weakness against all temptations and discouragements incident to us through the course of our life.
The knowlege of these things is plainly the top of all knowlege whereof we are capable; not consisting in barren notion, not gratifying idle curiosity, not serving trivial purposes, but really bettering our souls, producing most goodly and wholesome fruits, tending to ends most noble and worthy : this indeed is the highest philosophy; the true culture and medicine of our soul; the true guide of life, and mistress of action ; the mother of all virtues; the best invention of God, and rarest gift of heaven to men : for these commendations, by Pagan sages ascribed to their philosophy, do in truth solely belong to that knowlege which by faith we do possess : their philosophy could not reach such truths; it could not so much as aim at some of them; it did but weakly attempt at any: it did indeed pretend to the knowlege of divine and human things, (this being its definition, current among them,) but it had no competent means of attaining either in any considerable measure; for divine things (the nature of him who · dwelleth in light which no man can approach unto;' the intentions of him, who worketh all things after the counsel of his will;' the
ways of him, which are more discosted from our ways, than heaven from earth ;' the depths of God, which none but his own Spirit can search out,' or discover) do lie beyond the sphere of natural light, and inquisition of our reason; and as for human things, the chief of them have such a connection with divine things, that who were ignorant of the one could nowise descry the other; wherefore those candidates of knowlege, notwithstanding their lofty pretences, were fain to rest in a low form, employing their studies on inferior things, the obscurity of nature, the subtilty of discourse, and moral precepts of life; such precepts, as their glimmering light and common experience