« PreviousContinue »
adversity and persecution, he is a rock too high for fear to reach him, too firm and solid for the cruelties of men, or the batteries of fortune, to shake him. Take him in what light you will, he does honour, not only to his own understanding and resolution, but to his religion and human nature. In a word, he wants nothing but death to make him an angel.
Having thus briefly considered the three different states, in respect to improvement and degeneracy, in one or other of which every man must be found, it is now our business carefully to examine which of them is our own, that we may have recourse to the resolutions and measures, which the situation we are in shall render necessary.
If any man finds himself wavering between virtue and vice, sometimes rising, in purity and goodness, towards a higher, and sometimes sinking, in corruption and sin, towards a lower nature than his own, he is no longer to trust himself to a state so dangerous and uncertain; but to consider, that he must quickly and unavoidably enter fully into the one course, or the other; to compare the widely different ends of each, and immediately fix his choice, before temptation and habit do it for him; and then to put on resolutions suitable to the progress he chooses, and to the dignity of a free and rational creature.
If he finds his heart already engaged in a progress downward to brutality, he is lost to himself, if he does not immediately use his utmost endeavour to rouse his mind to a sharp conflict with his corruptions. He should labour to bring himself back to that struggle he felt within him, between the angel and the brute, before he fell, which, as a fever does to the body, hath weakened his mind, and left his virtue a dying, so that he hath no other resource, but in the violence of his former disorder; which disorder, as it is, must be the first step to his cure. To reduce him to this, the grace of God, and all his own resolution, will be little enough. But, how he may awaken his stupid mind to a proper resolution, unless by considering, that the course he is in will soon confirm him a brute and a devil, is more than I can tell.
But, in case he finds reason to think he is rising, through piety and purity of heart, towards the angelic nature, he stands in little need of our advice. The joy and exultation
he feels in such a thought, must, to an understanding so well enlightened, and to a heart so happily turned as his, be sufficient to give him all possible steadiness and alacrity in such a progress.
On the whole, a thinking mind cannot possibly entertain a more true or interesting reflection than this, that, if he exercises himself in religious meditations, and virtuous actions, he shall thereby refine, improve, and adorn, his nature, till he finds himself crowned with the glory of a conque.or, and shining in the society of angels; but that if, on the contrary, he gives himself up to sensual pleasures, or to a low and worldly course of life, he must degenerate to a contemptible slave, an abject brute, an infernal devil. To what a glorious height may we rise! To what a dreadful depth may we fall! Where is our ambition? Why does it, how can it, suffer us to waste a thought on any other grandeur? Is it leading us in pursuit of worldly thrones, and worldly sceptres? Despicable objects! Senseless pursuit! What is a king, an emperor, to an angel? Where is our prudence, our caution? Why do they not alarm us with the danger of that only fall, which can make us little in the eyes of God, and scandalous in those of all his creatures? Are they employed in guarding us against the danger of falling into poverty, or of sinking from that wretched inch of worldly distinction to which we are raised? What is this to the danger of tumbling from the dignity of a rational, to the baseness of a brutal, nature? Does reason deserve the name, if it cannot call them up from apprehensions so low and childish, to an alarm so loud and terrible? Surely if reason cannot do this, it can do nothing. But I forget that I am talking to people who call themselves Christians, that is, to people who have not only reason, but faith, to assist them on this occasion. How grossly do they impose on themselves in thinking they have either, if all they have for both, cannot teach them how to distinguish between the value of a pin, and that of a crown, or between things that bear infinitely less proportion? I am at a loss, whether I should charge mankind with a want of common sense, so wildly do they wander from what they seem to admire; or with a want of ambition, so low, so pitiful, are their pursuits.
Indeed it is natural for all men to aspire, and extremely
mortifying to be degraded, not only in station, office, or honour, but more especially in being and nature. With what joy would it transport a man to be transformed, as in a moment, into an angel! How would it shock him, suddenly to change the outward shape of a man for that of a brute! And why should he not as strongly desire the former, and as deeply abhor the latter change, supposing either gradual? Or is a change of shape only so affecting? Is not so glorious a rise, so miserable a fall of mind, of nature, infinitely more interesting? The desire of happiness is the strongest of all our desires, or rather our only desire. The dread or detestation of misery, is either the strongest, or the only detestation we have. Again, there is no point, whereof our understandings are more fully convinced, than that the improvement of our nature is, in proportion, necessarily attended with happiness; and its depravity, in proportion likewise, with our misery. How comes it then to pass, that a rational being should ever act against his highest conviction, his strongest desire, his deepest detestation? The truth is, he never does, he never can; and therefore in order, at least, to a course of such actions, must be destitute of reason. With this man it is folly, gross and stupid as his own, to spend the time in arguing; but, to such as have still some use of their understandings, what hath been said on this important subject, may do some good.
God, in his infinite goodness, grant it may, for the sake of Christ Jesus our Saviour; to whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now, and for evermore. Amen.
WHO ARE IDOLATERS.
ST. MATT. iv. 10.
Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. WE are apt to be struck with horror and astonishment, when we find, in profane history as well as Scripture, that so many nations of the world worshipped a multitude of gods; that some paid divine honours to men, often to the worst of men; that others took beasts, and creeping things, and even plants, for gods; and that they sacrificed to them, feared them, put their trust in them, fought, and frequently died for them. We are amazed, that reasonable creatures should be so excessively stupid. We cannot tell how to account for it, that he, who was ingenious enough to make a most admirable image of a man, should have so little sense, as to take that image, which he himself had made out of a piece of timber, a mass of metal, or a rude stone, for a god, and fall down to worship it. We are still more surprised, that the greatest historians should write, and the wisest philosophers reason, and the most exalted poets sing, of such manufactures, as real gods.
The most ignorant among us entertains a settled contempt for folly so gross and blind; and yet the wisest either does not see, nor is not greatly offended at, the same stupid impiety in himself and others, who pass for Christians. The artful enemy of mankind, being no longer able to seduce us from the true God, by gods of wood and stone, hath nevertheless found means to keep up, even among Christians, the worship of those other idols, riches, pleasure, power, &c. by which he enslaved the heathen world as miserably, as by his Jupiters, his Baals, his Astaroths; though the worship of the former is as severely forbidden in holy Scripture.
When we speak as Christians, what is it we mean by God? Is it not that Being, on whom we absolutely depend; whom we regard as the best, the most excellent, the most
powerful of all beings; that Being, whom to enjoy is the greatest happiness, and whom to be separated from, is the greatest misery; that Being, whom all our thoughts, our hopes, and fears, are employed about; whom we love and trust to above all things; whom all our anxieties and labours are laid out for; and for whom we are willing, on all occasions, to hazard, and, on many, to sacrifice our lives?
A man may profess in words what he will, and call his God by what name he pleases; but we see by facts, a surer testimony than words, that whatsoever being any man regards in this manner, is really and truly his god; for he sets it highest in his heart, he presents it with the first-fruits of his affections, he offers it his richest sacrifices.
Christ sums all our duty to God in the love of him. When we do not love God, we fail of this duty entirely. When we love and admire any thing else more than him, we advance an inferior being above him in our hearts; and, if this inferior being should be his enemy, as the pomps of the world, or the lusts of the flesh, we then declare open war with him; we have then another master, another leader, another dependence, another love; nay, an opposite god; for that which is first and highest with us, is our god.
He who does not love God, does he not deny his perfection, his beauty, his excellence, and his goodness? He who does not trust in God, does he not deny his truth, and doubt his promises? He who does not fear God, does he not deny, or at least disbelieve, his power and justice? He who does not love, fear, and depend, on God, is an Atheist. But he who loves, fears, or depends, on any thing more than him, is an idolater in the sight of God; for the mere outward shew and ceremony of bending the knee to him, and calling him his God, will be infinitely farther from passing for real worship on the Searcher of hearts, than such complimental respects would, for real esteem, on men, who see little farther than the outsides of things.
One would be apt, at first hearing of the commandment, forbidding us to have any other, but the true God; and of this in my text, charging us to worship and serve him only; to imagine them unnecessary in this age and country, where the worship of the one true God is so universally professed, and that of other gods so utterly disowned. But