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PREACHED AT CHRIST-CHURCH, OXON,
BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY,
MAY 3, 1685.
For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.
IN dealing with men’s consciences, for the taking them off from sin, I know nothing of so direct and efficacious an influence, as the right stating of those general rules and principles of action, that men are apt to guide their lives and consciences by: for if these be true, and withal rightly applied, men must needs proceed upon firm and safe grounds; but if either false in themselves, or not right in their particular application, the whole course that men are thereby engaged in, being founded in sin and error, must needs lead to, and at length end in, death and confusion: there being (as the wise man tells us) a way that may seem right in a man’s own eyes, when, nevertheless, the end of that way is death.
Now as amongst these principles or rules of action, the pretences of the Spirit, and of tenderness of conscience, and the like, have been the late grand 258artifices, by which crafty and designing hypocrites have so much abused the world; so I shall now instance in another of no less note, by which the generality of men are as apt to abuse themselves; and that is a certain rule or sentence got almost into every man’s mouth, that God accepts the will for the deed. A principle (as usually applied) of less malice, I confess; but, considering the easiness, and withal the fatality of the delusion, of more mischief than the other.
And this I shall endeavour to search into, and lay open, in the following discourse.
The words hold forth a general rule or proposition delivered upon a particular occasion: which was the apostle’s exhorting the Corinthians to an holy and generous emulation of the charity of the Macedonians, in contributing freely to the relief of the poor saints at Jerusalem: upon this great encouragement, that in all such works of charity, it is the will that gives worth to the oblation, and, as to God’s acceptance, sets the poorest giver upon the same level with the richest. Nor is this all; but so perfectly does the value of all charitable acts take its measure and proportion from the will, and from the fulness of the heart, rather than that of the hand, that a lesser supply may be oftentimes a greater charity; and the widow’s mite, in the balance of the sanctuary, outweigh the shekels, and perhaps the talents of the most opulent and wealthy: the all and utmost of the one, being certainly a nobler alms, than the superfluities of the other: and all this upon the account of the great rule here set down in the text: That, in all transactions between God and man, wheresoever there is a full resolution, drift, and 259purpose of will to please God, there, what a man can do, shall, by virtue thereof, be accepted, and what he cannot do, shall not be required. From whence these two propositions, in sense and design much the same, do naturally result.
I. The first of them expressed in the words; to wit, that God accepts the will, where there is no power to perform.
II. The other of them implied; namely, that where there is a power to perform, God does not accept the will.
Of all the spiritual tricks and legerdemain, by which men are apt to shift off their duty, and to impose upon their own souls, there is none so common, and of so fatal an import, as these two; the plea of a good intention, and the plea of a good will.
One or both of them being used by men, almost at every turn, to elude the precept, to put God off with something instead of obedience, and so, in effect, to outwit him whom they are called to obey. They are certainly two of the most effectual instruments and engines in the devil’s hands, to wind and turn the souls of men by, to whatsoever he pleases. For,
1. The plea of a good intention will serve to sanctify and authorize the very worst of actions. The proof of which is but too full and manifest, from that lewd and scandalous doctrine of the Jesuits concerning the direction of the intention, and likewise from the whole manage of the late accursed rebellion. In which, it was this insolent and impudent pretence, that emboldened the worst of men to wade through the blood of the best of kings, and the loyalest of subjects; namely, that in all that risk of villainy, 260 their hearts, forsooth, were right towards God; and that all their plunder and rapine was for nothing else, but to place Christ on his throne, and to establish amongst us the power of godliness, and the purity of the gospel; by a further reformation (as the cant goes) of a church, which had but too much felt the meaning of that word before.
But such persons consider not, that though an ill intention is certainly sufficient to spoil and corrupt an act in itself materially good; yet no good intention whatsoever can rectify or infuse a moral goodness into an act otherwise evil. To come to church, is, no doubt, an act in itself materially good; yet he who does it with an ill intention, comes to God’s house upon the devil’s errand; and the whole act is thereby rendered absolutely evil and detestable before God. But on the other side; if it were possible for a man to intend well, while he does ill; yet no such intention, though never so good, can make that man steal, lie, or murder with a good conscience; or convert a wicked action into a good.
For these things are against the nature of morality; in which, nothing is or can be really good, with out an universal concurrence of all the principles and ingredients requisite to a moral action; though the failure of any one of them will imprint a malignity upon that act, which, in spite of all the other requisite ingredients, shall stamp it absolutely evil, and corrupt it past the cure of a good intention.
And thus, as I have shewn, that the plea of a good intention is used by men to warrant and patronize the most villainous and wicked actions; so, in the next place, the plea of a good will will be found equally efficacious to supersede and take off 261the necessity of all holy and good actions. For still (as I have observed) the great art of the devil, and the principal deceit of the heart, is, to put a trick upon the command, and to keep fair with God himself, while men fall foul upon his laws. For both law and gospel call aloud for active obedience, and such a piety as takes not up either with faint notions, or idle, insignificant inclinations, but such an one as shews itself in the solid instances of practice and performance. For, Do this and live, saith the law, Luke x. 28. and, If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them, says the gospel, John xiii. 17. and, Not every one that saith, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven, Matt. vii. 21. and, Let no man deceive you; he that doeth righteousness is righteous, 1 John iii. 7. with innumerable more such places. All of them terrible and severe injunctions of practice, and equally severe obligations to it.
But then in comes the benign latitude of the doc trine of good will, and cuts asunder all these hard, pinching cords; and tells you, that if this be but piously and well inclined, if the bent of the spirit (as some call it) be towards God and goodness, God accepts of this above, nay, instead of all external works; those being but the shell, or husk, this the kernel, the quintessence, and the very soul of duty. But for all this, these bents and propensities and inclinations will not do the business: the bare bending of the bow will not hit the mark without shooting the arrow; and men are not called to will, but to work out their salvation.
But what then? Is it not as certain from the 262text, that God sometimes accepts the will, as it is from those foremen turned scriptures, that God commands the deed? Yes, no doubt: since it is impossible for the Holy Ghost to contradict that in one place of scripture, which he had affirmed in another. In all the foregoing places, doing is expressly commanded, and no happiness allowed to any thing short of it; and yet here God is said to accept of the will; and can both these stand together without manifest contradiction? That which enjoins the deed is certainly God’s law; and it is also as certain, that the scripture that allows of the will is neither the abrogation, nor derogation, nor dispensation, nor relaxation of that law.
In order to the clearing of which, I shall lay down these two assertions.
(1.) That every law of God commands the obedience of the whole man.
(2.) That the will is never accepted by God, but as it is the obedience of the whole man.
So that the allowance or acceptance of the will, mentioned in the text, takes off nothing from the obligation of those laws, in which the deed is so plainly and positively enjoined; but is only an interpretation or declaration of the true sense of those laws, shewing the equity of them: which is as really essential to every law, and gives it its obliging force as much as the justice of it; and indeed, is not an other, or a distinct thing from the justice of it, any more than a particular case is from an universal rule.
But you will say, how can the obedience of the will ever be proved to be the obedience of the whole man?263
For answer to which, we are first to consider every man as a moral, and consequently as a rational agent; and then to consider, what is the office and influence of the will in every moral action. Now the morality of an action is founded in the freedom of that principle, by virtue of which, it is in the agent’s power, having all things ready and requisite to the performance of an action, either to perform or not to perform it. And as the will is endued with this freedom, so is it also endued with a power to command all the other faculties, both of soul and body, to execute what it has so willed or decreed, and that without resistance; so that upon the last dictate of the will for the doing of such or such a thing, all the other faculties proceed immediately to act according to their respective offices. By which it is manifest, that in point of action, the will is virtually the whole man; as containing in it all that, which by virtue of his other faculties he is able to do: just as the spring of a watch is virtually the whole motion of the watch; forasmuch as it imparts a motion to all the wheels of it.
Thus as to the soul. If the will bids the understanding think, study, and consider; it will accordingly apply itself to thought, study, and consideration. If it bids the affections love, rejoice, or be angry; an act of love, joy, or anger will follow. And then for the body; if the will bids the leg go, it goes; if it bids the hand do this, it does it. So that a man is a moral agent only, as he is endued with, and acts by a free and commanding principle of will.
And therefore, when God says, My son, give me thy heart, (which there signifies the will,) it is as 265much as if he had commanded the service of the whole man; for whatsoever the will commands, the whole man must do: the empire or dominion of the will over all the faculties of soul and body (as to most of the operations of each of them) being absolutely overruling and despotical. From whence it follows, that when the will has exerted an act of command upon any faculty of the soul, or member of the body, it has, by so doing, done all that the whole man, as a moral agent, can do, for the actual exercise or employment of such a faculty or member. And if so, then what is not done in such a case, is certainly not in a man’s power to do; and consequently, is no part of the obedience required of him: no man being commanded or obliged to obey beyond his power. And therefore, the obedience of the will to God’s commands, is the obedience of the whole man, (forasmuch as it includes and infers it,) which was the assertion that we undertook to prove.
But you will say, if the prerogative of the will be such, that where it commands the hand to give an alms, the leg to kneel, or to go to church, or the tongue to utter a prayer, all these things will in fallibly be done; suppose we now, a man be bound hand and foot by some outward violence, or be laid up with the gout, or disabled for any of these functions by a palsy; can the will, by its command, make a man in such a condition utter a prayer, or kneel, or go to church? No, it is manifest it cannot: but then you are to know also, that neither is vocal prayer, or bodily kneeling, or going to church, in such a case, any part of the obedience required of such a person: but that act of his will hitherto spoken of, that would have put his body upon all 265these actions, had there been no impediment, is that man’s whole obedience; and for that very cause that it is so, and for no other, it stands here accepted by God.
From all which discourse, this must naturally and directly be inferred, as a certain truth, and the chief foundation of all that can be said upon this subject: namely, that whosoever wills the doing of a thing, if the doing of it be in his power, he will certainly do it; and whosoever does not do that thing, which he has in his power to do, does not really and properly will it. For though the act of the will commanding, and the act of any other faculty of the soul or body executing that which is so commanded, be physically, and in the precise nature of things, distinct and several; yet morally, as they proceed in subordination, from one entire, free, moral agent, both in divinity and morality, they pass but for one and the same action.
Now, that from the foregoing particulars we may come to understand how far this rule of God’s accepting the will for the deed holds good in the sense of the apostle, we must consider in it these three things:
1. The original ground and reason of it.
2. The just measure and bounds of it: and,
3. The abuse or misapplication of it.
And first for the original ground and reason of this rule; it is founded upon that great, self-evident, and eternal truth, that the just, the wise, and good God neither does nor can require of man any thing that is impossible, or naturally beyond his power to do: and therefore, in the second place, the measure of this rule, by which the just extent and 266bounds of it are to be determined, must be that power or ability that man naturally has to do, or perform the things willed by him. So that where soever such a power is found, there this rule of God’s accepting the will has no place; and wheresoever such a power is not found, there this rule presently becomes in force. And accordingly, in the third and last place, the abuse or misapplication of this rule will consist in these two things:
1. That men do very often take that to be an act of the will, that really and truly is not so.
2. That they reckon many things impossible that indeed are not impossible.
And first, to begin with men’s mistakes about the will, and the acts of it; I shall note these three, by which men are extremely apt to impose upon themselves.
(1.) As first, the bare approbation of the worth and goodness of a thing, is not properly the willing of that thing; and yet men do very commonly account it so. But this is properly an act of the understanding or judgment; a faculty wholly distinct from the will; and which makes a principal part of that which in divinity we call natural conscience; and in the strength of which a man may approve of things good and excellent, without ever willing or intending the practice of them. And accordingly, the apostle, Rom. ii. 18. gives us an account of some who approved of things excellent, and yet practised, and consequently willed, things clean contrary; since no man can commit a sin, but he must will it first. Whosoever observes and looks into the workings of his own heart, will find that noted sentence, Video meliora proboque, deteriora 267 sequor, too frequently and fatally verified upon himself. The viith of the Romans (which has been made the unhappy scene of so much controversy about these matters) has several passages to this purpose. In a word, to judge what ought to be done is one thing, and to will the doing of it is quite another.
No doubt, virtue is a beautiful and a glorious thing in the eyes of the most vicious person breathing; and all that he does or can hate in it, is the difficulty of its practice: for it is practice alone that divides the world into virtuous and vicious; but otherwise, as to the theory and speculation of virtue and vice, honest and dishonest, the generality of mankind are much the same; for men do not approve of virtue by choice and free election; but it is an homage which nature commands all understandings to pay to it, by necessary determination; and yet after all, it is but a faint, unactive thing; for in defiance of the judgment, the will may still remain as perverse, and as much a stranger to virtue, as it was before. In fine, there is as much difference between the approbation of the judgment, and the actual volitions of the will, with relation to the same object, as there is between a man’s viewing a desirable thing with his eye, and his reaching after it with his hand.
(2.) The wishing of a thing is not properly the willing of it; though too often mistaken by men for such: but it is that which is called by the schools an imperfect velleity, and imports no more than an idle unoperative complacency in, and desire of the end, without any consideration of, nay, for the most part, with a direct abhorrence of the means; of 268which nature I account that wish of Balaam, in Numbers xxiii. 10. Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.
The thing itself appeared desirable to him, and accordingly he could not but like and desire it; but then it was after a very irrational, absurd way, and contrary to all the methods and principles of a rational agent; which never wills a thing really and properly, but it applies to the means, by which it is to be acquired. But at that very time that Balaam desired to die the death of the righteous, he was actually following the wages of unrighteousness, and so thereby engaged in a course quite contrary to what he desired; and consequently such as could not possibly bring him to such an end. Much like the sot that cried, Utinam hoc esset laborare, while he lay lazing and lolling upon his couch.
But every true act of volition imports a respect to the end, by and through the means; and wills a thing only in that way, in which it is to be compassed or effected; which is the foundation of that most true aphorism, That he who wills the end, wills also the means. The truth of which is founded in such a necessary connection of the terms, that I look upon the proposition, not only as true, but as convertible; and that, as a man cannot truly and properly will the end, but he must also will the means; so neither can he will the means, but he must virtually, and by interpretation at least, will the end. Which is so true, that in the account of the divine law, a man is reckoned to will even those things that naturally are not the object of desire; such as death itself, Ezek. xviii. 31. only be cause he wills those ways and courses, that naturally 269tend to and end in it. And even our own common law looks upon a man’s raising arms against, or imprisoning his prince, as an imagining or compassing of his death: forasmuch as these actions are the means directly leading to it, and, for the most part, actually concluding in it: and consequently, that the willing of the one is the willing of the other also.
To will a thing therefore, is certainly much another thing from what the generality of men, especially in their spiritual concerns, take it to be. I say, in their spiritual concerns; for in their temporal, it is manifest that they think and judge much otherwise; and in the things of this world, no man is allowed or believed to will any thing heartily, which he does not endeavour after proportionably. A wish is properly a man of desire, sitting, or lying still; but an act of the will, is a man of business vigorously going about his work: and certainly there is a great deal of difference between a man’s stretching out his arms to work, and his stretching them out only to yawn.
(3.) And lastly, a mere inclination to a thing is not properly a willing of that thing; and yet in matters of duty, no doubt, men frequently reckon it for such. For otherwise, why should they so often plead and rest in the goodness of their hearts, and the honest and well inclined disposition of their minds, when they are justly charged with an actual non-performance of what the law requires of them?
But that an inclination to a thing is not a willing of that thing, is irrefragably proved by this one argument, that a man may act virtuously against his inclination, but not against his will. He may be 270inclined to one thing, and yet will another; and therefore, inclination and will are not the same.
For a man may be naturally inclined to pride, lust, anger, and strongly inclined so too, (forasmuch as these inclinations are founded in a peculiar crasis and constitution of the blood and spirits,) and yet by a steady, frequent repetition of the contrary acts of humility, chastity, and meekness, carried thereto by his will, (a principle not to be controlled by the blood or spirits,) he may at length plant in his soul all those contrary habits of virtue: and therefore it is certain, that while inclination bends the soul one way, a well-disposed and resolved will may effectually draw it another. A sufficient demonstration, doubtless, that they are two very different things; for where there may be a contrariety, there is certainly a diversity. A good inclination is but the first rude draught of virtue; but the finishing strokes are from the will; which, if well-disposed, will by degrees perfect; if ill-disposed, will, by the super-induction of ill habits, quickly deface it.
God never accepts a good inclination, instead of a good action, where that action may be done; nay, so much the contrary, that if a good inclination be not seconded by a good action, the want of that action is thereby made so much the more criminal and in excusable.
A man may be naturally well and virtuously inclined, and yet never do one good or virtuous action all his life. A bowl may lie still for all its bias; but it is impossible for a man to will virtue and virtuous actions heartily, but he must in the same degree offer at the practice of them: forasmuch as the dictates of the will are (as we have shewn) despotical, 271and command the whole man. It being a contradiction in morality, for the will to go one way, and the man another.
And thus as to the first abuse or misapplication of the great rule mentioned in the text, about God’s accepting the will, I have shewn three notable mistakes, which men are apt to entertain concerning the ; and proved that neither a bare approbation of, nor a mere wishing, or unactive complacency in, nor lastly, a natural inclination things virtuous and good, can pass before God for a man’s willing of such things; and consequently, if men upon this account will needs take up and acquiesce in an airy, ungrounded persuasion, that they will those things which really they do not will, they fall thereby into a gross and fatal delusion: a delusion that must and will shut the door of salvation against them. They catch at heaven, but embrace a cloud; they mock God, who will not be mocked; and deceive their own souls, which, God knows, may too easily be both deceived and destroyed too.
2. Come we now in the next place to consider the other way, by which men are prone to abuse and pervert this important rule of God’s accounting the will for the deed ; and that is, by reckoning many things impossible, which in truth are not impossible.
And this I shall make appear by shewing some of the principal instances of duty, for the performance of which, men commonly plead want of power; and thereupon persuade themselves, that God and the law rest satisfied with their will.
Now these instances are four.
(1.) In duties of very great and hard labour. Labour 272is confessedly a great part of the curse; and therefore, no wonder, if men fly from it: which they do with so great an aversion, that few men know their own strength for want of trying it; and, upon that account, think themselves really unable to do many things, which experience would convince them, they have more ability to effect, than they have will to attempt.
It is idleness that creates impossibilities; and, where men care not to do a thing, they shelter themselves under a persuasion, that it cannot be done. The shortest and the surest way to prove a work possible, is strenuously to set about it; and no wonder, if that proves it possible, that, for the most part, makes it so.
Dig, says the unjust steward, I cannot. But why? Did either his legs or his arms fail him? No; but day-labour was but an hard and a dry kind of livelihood to a man that could get an estate with two or three strokes of his pen; and find so great a treasure as he did, without digging for it.
But such excuses will not pass muster with God, who will allow no man’s humour or idleness to be the measure of possible or impossible. And to manifest the wretched hypocrisy of such pretences, those very things, which upon the bare obligation of duty are declined by men as impossible, presently become not only possible, but readily practicable too, in a case of extreme necessity. As no doubt that forementioned instance of fraud and laziness, the unjust steward, who pleaded that he could neither dig nor beg, would quickly have been brought both to dig and to beg too, rather than starve. And if so, what reason could such an one produce before 273God, why he could not submit to the same hardships, rather than cheat and lie? The former being but destructive of the body, this latter of the soul: and certainly the highest and dearest concerns of a temporal life are infinitely less valuable than those of an eternal; and consequently ought, without any demur at all, to be sacrificed to them, whensoever they come in competition with them. He who can digest any labour, rather than die, must refuse no labour, rather than sin.
(2.) The second instance shall be in duties of great and apparent danger. Danger (as the world goes) generally absolves from duty: this being a case in which most men, according to a very ill sense, will needs be a law to themselves. And where it is not safe for them to be religious, their religion shall be to be safe. But Christianity teaches us a very different lesson: for if fear of suffering could take off the necessity of obeying, the doctrine of the cross would certainly be a very idle and a senseless thing; and Christ would never have prayed, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, had the bitterness of the draught made it impossible to be drunk of. If death and danger are things that really cannot be endured, no man could ever be obliged to suffer for his conscience, or to die for his religion; it being altogether as absurd, to imagine a man obliged to suffer, as to do impossibilities.
But those primitive heroes of the Christian church could not so easily blow off the doctrine of passive obedience, as to make the fear of being passive a discharge from being obedient. No, they found martyrdom not only possible, but in many cases a duty also; a duty dressed up indeed with all that 274was terrible and afflictive to human nature, yet not at all the less a duty for being so. And such an height of Christianity possessed those noble souls, that every martyr could keep one eye steadily fixed upon his duty, and look death and danger out of countenance with the other: nor did they flinch from duty for fear of martyrdom, when one of the most quickening motives to duty was their desire of it.
But to prove the possibility of a thing, there is no argument like to that which looks backwards; for what has been done or suffered, may certainly be done or suffered again. And to prove that men may be martyrs, there needs no other demonstration, than to shew that many have been so. Besides that the grace of God has not so far abandoned the Christian world, but that those high primitive in stances of passive fortitude in the case of duty and danger rivalling one another, have been exemplified and (as it were) revived by several glorious copies of them in the succeeding ages of the church.
And (thanks be to God) we need not look very far backward for some of them, even amongst our selves. For when a violent, victorious faction and rebellion had overrun all, and made loyalty to the king and conformity to the church crimes unpardonable, and of a guilt not to be expiated, but at the price of life or estate; when men were put to swear away all interest in the next world, to secure a very poor one in this; (for they had then oaths to murder souls, as well as sword and pistol for the body; nay,) when the persecution ran so high, that that execrable monster Cromwell made and published that barbarous, heathenish, or rather 275inhuman edict against the poor suffering episcopal clergy, That they should neither preach nor pray in public, nor baptize, nor marry, nor bury, nor teach school, no, nor so much as live in any gentleman’s house, who in mere charity and compassion might be inclined to take them in from perishing in the streets; that is, in other words, that they must starve and die ex officio, and being turned out of their churches, take possession only of the church yard, as so many victims to the remorseless rage of a foul, ill bred tyrant, professing piety without so much as common humanity: I say, when rage and persecution, cruelty and Cromwellism were at that diabolical pitch, tyrannizing over every thing that looked like loyalty, conscience, and conformity; so that he, who took not their engagement, could not take any thing else, though it were given him; being thereby debarred from the very common benefit of the law, in suing for or recovering of his right in any of their courts of justice, (all of them still following the motion of the high one;) yet even then, and under that black and dismal state of things, there were many thousands who never bowed the knee to Baal-Cromwell, Baal-covenant, or Baal-engagement; but with a steady, fixed, unshaken resolution, and in a glorious imitation of those heroic Christians in the tenth and eleventh chapters of the epistle to the Hebrews, endured a great fight of afflictions, were made a gazing-stock by reproaches, took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, had trial of cruel mockings; moreover of bonds and imprisonments; sometimes were tempted, sometimes were slain with the sword, wandered about in hunger and nakedness, being destitute, afflicted, tormented. 276All which sufferings surely ought to entitle them to that concluding character in the next words, of whom the world was not worthy. And I wish I could say of England, that it. were worthy of those men now. For I look upon the old church of Eng land royalists (which I take to be only another name for a man who prefers his conscience before his interest) to be the best Christians and the most meritorious subjects in the world; as having passed all those terrible tests and trials, which conquering, domineering malice could put them to, and carried their credit and their conscience clear and triumphant through, and above them all, constantly firm and immoveable, by all that they felt either from their professed enemies or their false friends. And what these men did and suffered, others might have done and suffered too.
But they, good men, had another and more artificial sort of conscience, and a way to interpret off a command, where they found it dangerous or unprofitable to do it.
“God knows my heart, (says one,) I love the king cordially: and I wish well to the church, (says another,) but you see the state of things is altered; and we cannot do what we would do. Our will is good, and the king gracious, and we hope he “will accept of this, and dispense with the rest.” A goodly present, doubtless, as they meant it; and such as they might freely give, and yet part with nothing; and the king, on the other hand, receive, and gain just as much.
But now, had the whole nation mocked God and their king at this shuffling, hypocritical rate, what an odious, infamous people must that rebellion have 277represented the English to all posterity? Where had been the honour of the reformed religion, that could not afford a man Christian enough to suffer for his God and his prince? But the old royalists did both, and thereby demonstrated to the world, that no danger could make duty impossible.
And, upon my conscience, if we may assign any other reason or motive of the late mercies of God to these poor kingdoms, besides his own proneness to shew mercy, it was for the sake of the old, suffering cavaliers, and for the sake of none else whatsoever, that God delivered us from the two late accursed conspiracies. For they were the brats and off spring of two contrary factions, both of them equally mortal and inveterate enemies of our church; which they have been, and still are, perpetually pecking and striking at, with the same malice, though with different methods.
In a word: the old, tried church of England royalists were the men, who, in the darkest and foulest day of persecution that ever befell England, never pleaded the will in excuse of the deed, but proved the integrity and loyalty of their wills, both by their deeds and their sufferings too.
But, on the contrary, when duty and danger stand confronting one another, and when the law of God says, Obey and assist your king; and the faction says, Do if you dare: for men, in such a case, to think to divide themselves, and to pretend that their will obeys that law, while all besides their will obeys and serves the faction; what is this but a gross fulsome juggling with their duty, and a kind of trimming it between God and the devil?
These things I thought fit to remark to you, not 278out of any intemperate humour of reflecting upon the late times of confusion, (as the guilt or spite of some may suggest,) but because I am satisfied in my heart and conscience, that it is vastly the concern of his majesty, and of the peace of his government, both in church and state, that the youth of the nation (of which such auditories as this chiefly consist) should be principled and possessed with a full, fixed, and thorough persuasion of the justness and goodness of the blessed old king’s cause; and of the excellent piety and Christianity of those principles, upon which the loyal part of the nation adhered to him, and that against the most horrid and inexcusable rebellion that was ever set on foot, and acted upon the stage of the world: of all which, whosoever is not persuaded, is a rebel in his heart, and deserves not the protection which he enjoys.
And the rather do I think such remarks as these necessary of late years, because of the vile arts and restless endeavours used by some sly and venomous factors for the old republican cause, to poison and debauch men from their allegiance; sometimes creeping into houses, and sometimes creeping into studies; but in both equally pimping for the faction, and stealing away as many hearts from the son, as they had formerly employed hands against the father. And this with such success, that it cannot but be matter of very sad and melancholy reflection to all sober and loyal minds, to consider, that several who had stood it out, and persevered firm and unalterable royalists in the late storm, have since (I know not by what unhappy fate) turned trimmers in the calm.
(3.) The third instance, in which men use to plead 279the will instead of the deed, shall be in duties of cost and expense.
Let a business of expensive charity be proposed; and then, as I shewed before, that, in matters of labour, the lazy person could find no hands where with to work; so neither, in this case, can the religious miser find any hands wherewith to give. It is wonderful to consider, how a command, or call to be liberal, either upon a civil or religious account, all of a sudden impoverishes the rich, breaks the merchant, shuts up every private man’s exchequer, and makes those men in a minute have nothing at all to give, who, at the very same instant, want nothing to spend. So that instead of relieving the poor, such a command strangely increases their number, and transforms rich men into beggars presently. For, let the danger of their prince and country knock at their purses, and call upon them to contribute against a public enemy or calamity; then immediately they have nothing, and their riches upon such occasions (as Solomon expresses it) never fail to make themselves wings, and to fly away. ,
Thus, at the siege of Constantinople, then the wealthiest city in the world, the citizens had nothing to give their emperor for the defence of the place, though he begged a supply of them with tears; but, when by that means the Turks took and sacked it, then those who before had nothing to give, had more than enough to lose. And in like manner, those who would not support the necessities of the old blessed king, against his villainous enemies, found that plunder could take, where disloyalty would not give; and rapine open those chests, that avarice had shut.280
But to descend to matters of daily and common occurrence; what is more usual in conversation, than for men to express their unwillingness to do a thing, by saying they cannot do it; and for a covetous man, being asked a little money in charity, to answer that he has none? Which, as it is, if true, a sufficient answer to God and man; so, if false, it is intolerable hypocrisy towards both.
But do men in good earnest think that God will be put off so? or can they imagine, that the law of God will be baffled with a lie clothed in a scoff?
For such pretences are no better, as appears from that notable account given us by the apostle of this windy, insignificant charity of the will, and of the worthlessness of it, not enlivened by deeds, James ii. 15, 16. If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them. Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Profit, does he say? Why, it profits just as much as fair words command the market, as good wishes buy food and raiment, and pass for current payment in the shops. Come to an old, rich, professing vulpony, and tell him, that there is a church to be built, beautified, or endowed in such a place, and that he cannot lay out his money more to God’s honour, the public good, and the comfort of his own conscience, than to bestow it liberally upon such an occasion; and in answer to this, it is ten to one but you shall be told, “how much God is for the inward, spiritual worship of the heart; and, that the Almighty neither dwells nor delights in temples made with hands; but hears and accepts the 281prayers of his people in dens and caves, barns and stables; and in the homeliest and meanest cottages, as well as in the stateliest and most magnificent churches.” Thus, I say, you are like to be answered. In reply to which, I would have all such sly, sanctified cheats (who are so often harping upon this string) know, once for all, that that God, who accepts the prayers of his people in dens and caves, barns and stables, when, by his afflicting providence, he has driven them from the appointed places of his solemn worship, so that they cannot have the use of them, will not, for all this, endure to be served or prayed to by them in such places, nor accept of their barn-worship, nor their hogsty-worship; no, nor yet of their parlour or their chamber-worship, where he has given them both wealth and power to build him churches. For he that commands us to worship him in the spirit, commands us also to honour him with our substance. And, never pretend that thou hast an heart to pray, while thou hast no heart to give; since he that serves mammon with his estate, cannot possibly serve God with his heart. For as in the heathen worship of God, a sacrifice without an heart was accounted ominous; so in the Christian worship of him, an heart without a sacrifice is worthless and impertinent.
And thus much for men’s pretences of the will, when they are called upon to give upon a religious account; according to which, a man may be well enough said (as the common word is) to be all heart, and yet the arrantest miser in the world.
But come we now to this old rich pretender to godliness, in another case, and tell him, that there 282is such an one, a man of a good family, good education, and who has lost all his estate for the king, now ready to rot in prison for debt; come, what will you give towards his release? Why, then answers the will instead of the deed, as much the readier speaker of the two, “the truth is, I always had a respect for such men; I love them with all my heart; and it is a thousand pities that any that have served the king so faithfully should be in such want.” So say I too, and the more shame is it for the whole nation, that they should be so. But still, what will you give? Why, then answers the man of mouth-charity again, and tells you, that “you could not come in a worse time; that money is nowadays very scarce with him; and, that therefore he can give nothing; but he will be sure to pray for the poor gentleman.”
Ah thou hypocrite! when thy brother has lost all that ever he had, and lies languishing, and even gasping under the utmost extremities of poverty and distress, dost thou think thus to lick him whole again, only with thy tongue? Just like that old formal hocus, who denied a beggar a farthing, and put him off with his blessing.
Why, what are the prayers of a covetous wretch worth? What will thy blessing go for? What will it buy? Is this the charity that the apostle here, in the text, presses upon the Corinthians? This the case, in which God accepts the willingness of the mind, instead of the liberality of the purse? No assuredly, but the measures that God marks out to thy charity are these: thy superfluities must give place to thy neighbour’s great convenience: thy convenience 283must veil to thy neighbour’s necessity: and lastly, thy very necessities must yield to thy neighbour’s extremity.
This is the gradual process that must be thy rule; and he that pretends a disability to give short of this, prevaricates with his duty, and evacuates the precept. God sometimes calls upon thee to relieve the needs of thy poor brother, sometimes the necessities of thy country, and sometimes the urgent wants of thy prince: now, before thou fliest to the old, stale, usual pretence, that thou canst do none of all these things, consider with thyself, that there is a God, who is not to be flammed off with lies, who knows exactly what thou canst do, and what thou canst not; and consider in the next place, that it is not the best husbandry in the world, to be damned to save charges.
(4.) The fourth and last duty that I shall mention, in which men use to plead want of power to do the thing they have a will to, is the conquering of a long, inveterate, ill habit or custom.
And the truth is, there is nothing that leaves a man less power to good than this does. Nevertheless, that which weakens the hand, does not therefore cut it off. Some power to good, no doubt, a man has left him for all this. And therefore, God will not take the drunkard’s excuse, that he has so long accustomed himself to intemperate drinking, that now he cannot leave it off; nor admit of the passionate man’s apology, that he has so long given his unruly passions their head, that he cannot now govern or control them. For these things are not so: since no man is guilty of an act of intemperance of any sort, but he might have forborn it; not without 284some trouble, I confess, from the strugglings of the contrary habit: but still the thing was possible to be done; and he might, after all, have forborn it. And, as he forbore one act, so he might have for born another, and after that another, and so on, till he had, by degrees, weakened, and, at length, mortified and extinguished the habit itself. That these things, indeed, are not quickly or easily to be effected, is manifest, and nothing will be more readily granted; and therefore, the scripture itself owns so much, by expressing and representing these mortifying courses, by acts of the greatest toil and labour; such as are, warfare, and taking up the cross: and by acts of the most terrible violence and contrariety to nature; such as are, cutting off the right hand, and plucking out the right eye; things infinitely grievous and afflictive, yet still, for all that, feasible in themselves; or else, to be sure, the eternal wisdom of God would never have advised, and much less have commanded them. For, what God has commanded must be done; and what must be done, assuredly may be done; and therefore, all pleas of impotence, or inability, in such cases, are utterly false and impertinent; and will infallibly be thrown back in the face of such as make them.
But you will say, Does not the scripture itself acknowledge it as a thing impossible for a man, brought under a custom of sin, to forbear sinning? In Jer. xiii. 23. Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil. Now, if this can be no more done than the former, is it not a demonstration, that it cannot be done at all?
To this I answer, that the words mentioned are 285tropical or figurative, and import an hyperbole, which is a way of expressing things beyond what really and naturally they are in themselves; and consequently the design of this scripture, in saying that this cannot be done, is no more than to shew, that it is very hardly and very rarely done; but not, in strict truth, utterly impossible to be done.
In vain therefore do men take sanctuary in such misunderstood expressions as these; and from a false persuasion, that they cannot reform their lives, break off their ill customs, and root out their old, vicious habits, never so much as attempt, endeavour, or go about it. For, admit that such an habit, seated in the soul, be, as our Saviour calls it, a strong man armed, got into possession; yet still he may be dispossessed, and thrown out by a stronger, Luke xi. 21, 22. Or be it, as St. Paul calls it, a law in our members, Rom. vii. 23. yet certainly, ill laws may be broken and disobeyed, as well as good. But, if men will suffer themselves to be enslaved, and carried away by their lusts, without resistance, and wear the devil’s yoke quietly, rather than be at the trouble of throwing it off; and thereupon, some times feel their consciences galled and grieved by wearing it, they must not from these secret stings and remorses, felt by them in the prosecution of their sins, presently conclude, that therefore their will is good, and well disposed; and consequently, such as God will accept, though their lives remain all the while unchanged, and as much under the dominion of sin as ever.
These reasonings, I know, He deep in the minds of most men, and relieve and support their hearts, 286in spite, and in the midst of their sins; but they are all but sophistry and delusion, and false propositions contrived by the devil, to hold men fast in their sins by final impenitence. For though possibly the grace of God may, in some cases, be irresistible; yet it would be an infinite reproach to his providence, to affirm, that sin either is or can be so. And thus I have given you four principal instances, in which men use to plead the will instead of the deed, upon a pretended impotence, or disability for the deed: namely, in duties of great labour; in duties of much danger; in duties of cost and expense; and lastly, in duties requiring a resistance and an extirpation of inveterate, sinful habits.
In the neglect of all which, men relieve their consciences by this one great fallacy running through them all, that they mistake difficulties for impossibilities. A pernicious mistake certainly; and the more pernicious, for that men are seldom convinced of it, till their conviction can do them no good. There cannot be a weightier or more important case of conscience for men to be resolved in, than to know certainly how far God accepts the will for the deed, and how far he does not: and withal, to be informed truly when men do really will a thing, and when they have really no power to do what they have willed.
For surely, it cannot but be matter of very dreadful and terrifying consideration to any one sober, and in his wits, to think seriously with himself, what horror and confusion must needs surprise that man, at the last and great day of account, who had led his whole life and governed all his actions by 287one rule, when God intends to judge him by an other.
To which God, the great searcher and judge of hearts, and rewarder of men according to their deeds, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.288
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