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to be fuch as I have defcribed GOD to be. And this SER M. St. Matthew calls perfection; because the goodnefs of God is his great perfection, and the glory of the divine nature, that which reflects a luftre and beauty upon all his other attributes, and takes off the terror of them. From all which it is plain, what those perfections of the divine nature are, which our SAVIOUR doth here particularly recommend to our imitation. I come now, in the
Fourth and last place, To clear the true meaning of this precept; and to fhew, that the duty here required, and intended by our SAVIOUR (when he says, "Be ye perfect, as your Father which is in "heaven is perfect") is not impoffible to us. And to this purpose, be pleased to confider thefe three or four things.
1. That our imitation of GoD is certainly reftrained to the communicable perfections of GOD, and fuch as creatures are capable of, as I have fhewn before. For it is fo far from being a duty to affect or attempt to be like GOD in his peculiar perfections, that it was, probably, the fin of the apoftate angels.
2. Our imitation of the divine perfections, which are communicable to creatures, is likewife to be reftrained to fuch degrees of these perfections, as creatures are capable of. For no creature can ever be fo perfectly good, as GoD is; nor partake of any other excellency, in that tranfcendant degree, in which the divine nature is poffeffed of it.
3. But there is no manner of inconvenience in having a pattern propounded to us of fo great perfection, as is above our reach to attain to; and there may be great advantages in it. The way to excel in any kind is, optima quæque exempla ad imitandum
SERM. proponere, "to propofe the highest and most perfect CXXXI. examples to our imitation." No man can write after too perfect and good a copy; and though he can never reach the perfection of it, yet he is like to learn more, than by one lefs perfect. He that aims at the heavens, which yet he is fure to come fhort of, is like to fhoot higher than he that aims at a mark within his reach.
Befides, that the excellency of the pattern, as it leaves room for continual improvement, fo it kindles ambition, and makes men ftrain and contend to the utmost to do better: and tho' he can never hope to equal the example before him, yet he will endeavour to come as near it as he can. So that a perfect pattern is no hindrance, but an advantage rather to our improvement in any kind.
4. If any thing can be fuppofed to be our duty, which is abfolutely beyond our power, a precept of this nature may with as much reafon be fuppofed to be fo, as any thing that can be inftanced in: beçaufe in fuch a cafe, if we do our best, and be continually preffing forward towards the mark, though we can never reach it, yet we do very commendably; and whatever the law may require to try and raise our obedience, yet in all equitable interpretation, fuch a will and endeavour will be acceptable with GOD for the deed. For if the perfection of the law do really exceed our ability, and be beyond the poffibility of our performance, the affurance we have of God's goodness will fufficiently fecure us from any danger and prejudice upon that account. And we may reasonably prefume, that to do all we can towards the fulfilling of this precept, will be as acceptable to GoD, and as beneficial to ourselves, as if our power had been greater, and we had perfectly
ly fulfilled it. If our heavenly Father, to try the rea- SERM. dinefs and chearfulness of our obedience, bid us do CXXXI, that which he knows we cannot do, though we can do fomething towards it, we may be sure that he will be very well pleased when he fees, that in obedience to him we have done all that we could. And we may in this cafe reafon as our SAVIOUR does; "If we that are evil would deal thus with our chil "dren,how much more fhall our heavenly Father?” The goodness of God fignifies very little, if it does not fignify this, that in any inftance of real and unquestionable goodness, GoD is much better than any father upon earth.
However at the worst, that wherein we fall fhort of the perfection of the law, may be supplied on our part, by an humble acknowledgment of our own weakness and imperfection, and on God's part, by mercy and forgivenefs, for the fake of the perfect obedience of our bleffed Redeemer. This is the leaft benefit we can expect in this cafe from the grace, and mercy, and equity of the gospel.
5. And laftly, which will fully clear this matter, this precept does not oblige us to come up to a perfect equality with the pattern propounded to us, but only imports a vigorous imitation of it; that we be perpetually afcending and climbing up higher, ftill advancing from one degree of goodness to another, and continually aspiring after a nearer resemblance to GOD: and this certainly is poffible to us, to endeavour to be as like GoD as we can, in this weak and imperfect state.
Whereas any equality with God, even in the communicable attributes of his goodnefs, and mercy, and patience, is not only impoffible to us in this ftate of fin and imperfection, but above the condition of
SERM. à creature, even of "the fpirits of just men made CXXXI. "perfect," and of the highest angels in glory: for their perfection is not abfolute, but in comparison with our prefent ftate. And I think there is no great reafon to doubt, but that the bleffed fpirits above, who continually behold the face of their Father, are still writing after this copy, which is here propounded to us; and endeavouring " to be per"fect, as their Father which is in heaven is perfect;" ftill afpiring after a nearer and more perfect refemblance of God, whofe goodness and mercy is fo far beyond, and before that of any creature, that they may be for ever approaching nearer to it, and yet never overtake it.
And this feems to be no inconfiderable ingredient, and enhancement of the happiness of heaven, that the holiness of good men (which is the fimilitude of GOD) is never at a stand, nor at its full growth and period; but that the glorified faints (yea and blessed angels too) may be continually growing and improving, and they themselves ftill become better and happier to all eternity. And this in my apprehenfion is no undervaluing the happiness of heaven, that it is not so perfect at first, as it fhall be afterwards; because it is granted on all hands, that the happiness of thofe good fouls, who are already in blifs, fhall be more perfect and complete at the refurrection. And why may it not then be continually increasing, and be augmented still more and more, without any flint or final period of its perfection? In this world we are apt to faint in a long course of goodness, and to be weary of well doing. But in the other ftate, when men fhall be ftrongly byaffed to goodnefs, and have nothing to pull them back, it will then be fo far from being a trouble, that methinks it fhould
fhould be a mighty pleasure to the bleffed, to find SERM. that there is no end of their doing good, and becoming better. For if conformity to God be the ground and foundation of all happiness, then our bleffedness will advance proportionably, as we grow more and more like to him. This, I confefs, were a difmal confideration, to think that in heaven we fhould be liable to relapse, to go backward, or fall from that holy and happy ftate. But this is a comfortable confideration, that our holiness and happiness shall never be at a stand, that it is fecure fo far as it goes, and that we cannot lofe what we have once attained, as we may do in this world. This, methinks, fhould be a trouble to no man, that as good and happy as he is at first, he shall still be better and better, more and more happy without end.
But be that as it will, and as GoD pleaseth (for we do but talk in the dark about our future state) this is certain, that an equality with God in any of his perfections is not to be attained by any creature, and therefore cannot be thought to be the meaning of this precept: But that which our SAVIOUR requires, is a vigorous imitation of this pattern; that we have this example of the divine perfection always before us, and that we be continually endeavouring, as much as in us lies, to bring ourselves to the nearest refemblance of God, that poffibly we can. And if this be our fincere care and study, we need not doubt but that it will find acceptance with GoD, and that he will be graciously pleased to esteem us for his children; and if there need a pardon for it, that God will forgive us where we fall fhort of the perfection of that pattern, which we can never imitate to perfection.
And happy were it for us, if this were all the ground of our fear and trouble, that when we had