« PreviousContinue »
but entertainment for little understandings and softer spirits; and although there is much fault in such imperious minds, that they will not distinguish the weakness of the writers from the reasonableness and wisdom of the religion; yet I cannot but think, the books themselves are, in a large degree, the occasion of so great indevotion; because they are (some few excepted) represented naked in the conclusions of spiritual life, without or art or learning, and made apt for persons, who can do nothing but believe and love; not for them, that can consider and love. And it is not well, that, since nothing is more reasonable and excellent in all perfections spiritual than the doctrines of the Spirit, or holy life; yet nothing is offered to us so unlearnedly as this is, so miserable and empty of all its own intellectual perfections. If I could, I would have had it otherwise in the present books; for, since the understanding is not an idle faculty in a spiritual life, but hugely operative to all excellent and reasonable choices, it were very fit, that this faculty were also entertained by such discourses, which God intended as instruments of hallowing it, as he intended it towards the sanctification of the whole man. For want of it, busy and active men entertain themselves with notions infinitely unsatisfying and unprofitable: but, in the mean time, they are not so wise; for, concerning those, that study unprofitable notions, and neglect not only that which is wisest, but that also which is of most real advantage, I cannot but think, as Aristotle did of Thales and Anaxagoras, that
They may be learned, but they are not wise; or wise, but not prudent, when they are ignorant of such things, as are profitable to them: for, suppose they know the wonders of nature, and the subtilties of metaphysics, and operations mathematical; yet they cannot be prudent, who spend themselves wholly upon unprofitable and ineffective contemplations." He is truly wise, that knows best to promote the best end, that which he is bound to desire; and is happy if he obtains, and miserable if he misses; and that is the end of a happy eternity, which is obtained by
b Διὸ ̓Αναξαγόραν, καὶ Θαλῆν, καὶ τοὺς τοιούτους, σοφοὺς μὲν, φξονίμους δ ̓ οὗ φασιν εἶναι, ὅταν ἴδωσιν ἀγνοοῦντας τὰ συμφέρονθ ̓ αὑτοῖς· καὶ περιττὰ μὲν, καὶ θαυμαστὰ, καὶ χαλεπὰ, καὶ δαιμόνια ειδέναι αὐτούς φασιν· ἄχρηστα δ ̓, ὅτι οὐ τὰ ἀνθρώπινα ἀγαθὰ (Touw. Arist. 1. vi. Eth. cap. 7. p. 244. ed. Wilk.
the only means of living according to the purposes of God, and the prime intentions of nature; natural and prime reason being now all one with the Christian religion. But then I shall only observe, that this part of wisdom, and the excellency of its secret and deep reason, is not to be discerned but by experience; the propositions of this philosophy being (as in many other) empirical, and best found out by observation of real and material events. So that I may say of spiritual learning, as Quintilian said of some of Plato's books: "Nam Plato, cùm in aliis quibusdam, tum præcipuè in Timæo, ne intelligi quidem, nisi ab iis qui hanc quoque partem disciplinæ [musica] diligenter perceperint, potest." The secrets of the kingdom of heaven are not understood truly and thoroughly but by the sons of the kingdom; and by them too, in several degrees, and to various purposes: but to evil persons the whole system of this wisdom is insipid and flat, dull as the foot of a rock, and unlearned as the elements of our mother tongue. But so are mathematics to a Scythian boor, and music to a. camel.
44. But I consider, that the wisest persons, and those who know how to value and entertain the more noble faculties of their soul, and their precious hours, take more pleasure in reading the productions of those old wise spirits, who preserved natural reason and religion in the midst of heathen darkness, (such as are Homer, Euripides, Orpheus, Pindar, and Anacreon, Eschylus and Menander, and all the Greek poets; Plutarch and Polybius, Xenophon, and all those other excellent persons of both faculties, (whose choicest dictates are collected by Stobæus,) Plato and his scholars, Aristotle, and after him Porphyry, and all his other disciples, Pythagoras and his, especially Hierocles; all the old academics and stoics within the Roman schools:) more pleasure, I say, in reading these, than the triflings of many of the later schoolmen, who promoted a petty interest of a family, or an unlearned opinion, with great earnestness; but added nothing to Christianity but trouble, scruple, and vexation. And from hence I hope, that they may the rather be invited to love and consider the rare documents of Christianity, which certainly is the great treasure-house of those excellent, moral, and perfective discourses, which,
with much pains and greater pleasure, we find respersed and thinly scattered in all the Greek and Roman poets, historians, and philosophers.
But because I have observed, that there are some principles entertained into the persuasions of men, which are the seeds of evil life, such as are-the doctrine of late repentance, the mistakes of the definition of the sins of infirmity, the evil understanding the consequents and nature of original sin, the sufficiency of contrition in order to pardon, the efficacy of the rites of Christianity without the necessity of moral adherencies, the nature of faith, and many other; I was diligent to remark such doctrines, and to pare off the mistakes so far, that they hinder not piety, and yet, as near as I could, without engaging in any question, in which the very life of Christianity is not concerned.
Hæc sum profatus—haud ambagibus
My great purpose, is to advance the necessity, and to declare the manner and parts, of a good life*; and to invite some persons to the consideration of all the parts of it, by intermixing something of pleasure with the use; others, by such parts which will better entertain their spirits, than a romance. I have followed the design of Scripture, and have given milk for babes, and for stronger men stronger meat; and in all I have despised my own reputation, by so striving to make it useful, that I was less careful to make it strict in retired senses, and embossed with unnecessary, but graceful ornaments. I pray God, pray God, this may go forth into a blessing to all that shall use it, and reflect blessings upon me all the way, that my spark may grow greater by kindling my brother's taper, and God may be glorified in us both. If the reader shall receive no benefit, yet I intended him one, and I have laboured in order to it; and I shall receive a great recompense for that intention, if he shall please to say this prayer for me," That while I have preached to others, I may not become a cast-away."
i Polynic. apud Eurip. Phoen. 504. Pors.
* 'Η παροῦσα πραγματεία οὐ θεωρίας ἕνεκά ἐστιν, ὥσπες αἱ ἄλλαι· οὐ γὰς ἵν ̓ εἰδῶμεν τί ἐστιν ἡ ἀρετὴ, σκεπτόμεθα, ἀλλ ̓ ἵν ̓ ἀγαθοὶ γινώμεθα.—Arist. Ethic. 1. ii. c. 2.
TO THE IMITATION OF
THE LIFE OF CHRIST.
HOWEVER the person of Jesus Christ was depressed with a load of humble accidents, and shadowed with the darknesses of poverty and sad contingencies, so that the Jews, and the contemporary ages of the Gentiles, and the apostles themselves, could not at first discern the brightest essence of divinity; yet as a beauty, artificially covered with a thin cloud of Cyprus, transmits its excellency to the eye, made more greedy and apprehensive by that imperfect and weak restraint; so was the sanctity and holiness of the life of Jesus glorious in its darknesses, and found confessors and admirers even in the midst of those despites, which were done him upon the contrariant designs of malice and contradictory ambition. Thus the wife of Pilate called him, "that just person;" Pilate pronounced him" guiltless;" Judas said he was "innocent;" the Devil himself called him "the Holy One of God." For however it might concern any man's mistaken ends, to mislike the purpose of his preaching and spiritual kingdom, and those doctrines, which were destructive of their complacencies and carnal securities; yet they could not deny but that he was a man of God, of exemplar sanctity, of an angelical chastity, of a life sweet, affable, and complying with human conversation, and as obedient to government as the most humble children of the kingdom. And yet he was Lord of all the world.
2. And certainly very much of this was with a design, that he might shine to all the generations and ages of the world, and become a guiding star, and a pillar of fire to us in our journey. For we, who believe that Jesus was perfect God and perfect man, do also believe, that one minute of his intolerable passion, and every action of his, might have been
satisfactory, and enough for the expiation and reconcilement of ten thousand worlds; and God might, upon a less effusion of blood, and a shorter life of merit, if he had pleased, have accepted human nature to pardon and favour: but, that the holy Jesus hath added so many excellent instances of holiness, and so many degrees of passion, and so many kinds of virtues, is, that he might become an example to us, and reconcile our wills to him, as well as our persons to his heavenly Father.
3. And indeed it will prove but a sad consideration, that one drop of blood might be enough to obtain our pardon, and the treasures of his blood running out till the fountain itself was dry, shall not be enough to procure our conformity to him; that the smallest minute of his expense shall be enough to justify us, and the whole magazine shall not procure our sanctification; that at a smaller expense God might pardon us, and at a greater we will not imitate him: for therefore "Christ hath suffered for us," saith the apostle, "leaving an example to us, that we might follow his steps." The least of our wills cost Christ as much as the greatest of our sins. And therefore he calls himself" the Way, the Truth, and the Life;" that as he redeems our souls from death to life, by becoming life to our persons; so he is the truth to our understandings, and the way to our will and affections, enlightening that, and leading these in the paths of a happy eternity.
4. When the king of Moab was pressed hard by the sons of Isaac', the Israelites and Edomites, he took the king of Edom's eldest son, or, as some think, his own son, the heir of his kingdom, and offered him as a holocaust upon the wall; and the Edomites presently raised the siege at Kir-haraseth, and went to their own country. The same, and much more, was God's design, who took not his enemy's, but his own Son, his only begotten Son, and God himself, and offered him up in sacrifice, to make us leave our perpetual fightings against Heaven; and if we still persist, we are hardened beyond the wildnesses of the Arabs and Edomites, and neither are receptive of the impresses of pity nor humanity, who neither have compassion to the suffering of Jesus, nor compliance with the designs of God, nor con