|« Prev||Sermon XIII. The Practice of Religion Enforced by…||Next »|
He that walketh uprightly walketh surely.
As it were easy to evince, both from reason and experience, that there is a strange, restless activity in the soul of man, continually disposing it to operate, and exert its faculties; so the phrase of scripture still expresses the life of man by walking; that is, it represents an active principle in an active posture. And because the nature of man carries him thus out to action, it is no wonder if the same nature equally renders him solicitous about the issue and event of his actions: for every one, by reflecting upon the way and method of his own workings, will find that he is still determined in them by a respect to the consequence of what he does; always proceeding upon this argumentation; If I do such a thing, such an advantage will follow from it, and therefore I will do it. And if I do this, such a mischief will ensue thereupon, and therefore I will for bear. Every one, I say, is concluded by this practical discourse; and for a man to bring his actions to the event proposed and designed by him, is to walk surely. But since the event of an action usually follows the nature or quality of it, and the quality follows the rule directing it, it concerns a man, by all means, in the framing of his actions, not to be deceived in the rule which he proposes for the mea sure of them; which, without great and exact caution, he may be these two ways:
1. By laying false and deceitful principles.
2. In case he lays right principles, yet by mistaking 350in the consequences which he draws from them.
An error in either of which is equally dangerous; for if a man is to draw a line, it is all one whether he does it by a crooked rule, or by a straight one misapplied. He who fixes upon false principles treads upon infirm ground, and so sinks; and he who fails in his deductions from right principles, stumbles upon firm ground, and so falls; the disaster is not of the same kind, but of the same mischief in both.
It must be confessed, that it is sometimes very hard to judge of the truth or goodness of principles, considered barely in themselves, and abstracted from their consequences. But certainly he acts upon the surest and most prudential grounds in the world, who, whether the principles which he acts upon prove true or false, yet secures an happy issue to his actions.
Now he who guides his actions by the rules of piety and religion, lays these two principles as the great ground of all that he does:
1. That there is an infinite, eternal, all-wise mind governing the affairs of the world, and taking such an account of the actions of men, as, according to the quality of them, to punish or reward them.
2dly, That there is an estate of happiness or misery after this life, allotted to every man, according to the quality of his actions here. These, I say, are the principles which every religious man proposes to himself; and the deduction which he makes from them is this: That it is his grand interest and concern so to act and behave himself in this world, 351as to secure himself from an estate of misery in the other. And thus to act, is, in the phrase of scripture, to walk uprightly; and it is my business to prove, that he who acts in the strength of this conclusion, drawn from the two forementioned principles, walks surely, or secures an happy event to his actions, against all contingencies whatsoever.
And to demonstrate this, I shall consider the said principles under a threefold supposition:
1st, As certainly true;
2dly, As probable; and,
3dly, As false.
And if the pious man brings his actions to an happy end, which soever of these suppositions his principles, fall under, then certainly, there is none who walks so surely, and upon such irrefragable grounds of prudence, as he who is religious.
1. First of all therefore we will take these principles (as we may very well do) under the hypothesis of certainly true: where, though the method of the ratiocination which I have cast the present discourse into, does not naturally engage me to prove them so, but only to shew what directly and necessarily follows upon a supposal that they are so; yet to give the greater perspicuity and clearness to the prosecution of the subject in hand, I shall briefly demonstrate them thus.
It is necessary, that there should be some first mover; and, if so, a first being; and the first being must infer an infinite, unlimited perfection in the said being: forasmuch as if it were finite or limited, that limitation must have been either from itself or from something else. But not from itself, since it is contrary to reason and nature, that any being should 352limit its own perfection; nor yet from something else, since then it should not have been the first, as supposing some other thing coevous to it; which is against the present supposition. So that it being clear, that there must be a first being, and that in finitely perfect, it will follow, that all other perfection that is, must be derived from it; and so we infer the creation of the world: and then supposing the world created by God, (since it is no ways reconcileable to God’s wisdom, that he should not also govern it,) creation must needs infer providence: and then it being granted, that God governs the world, it will follow also, that he does it by means suitable to the natures of the things he governs, and to the attainment of the proper ends of government: and moreover, man being by nature a free, moral agent, and so, capable of deviating from his duty, as well as performing it, it is necessary that he should be governed by laws: and since laws require that they be enforced with the sanction of rewards and punishments, sufficient to sway and work upon the minds of such as are to be governed by them; and lastly, since experience shews that rewards and punishments, terminated only within this life, are not sufficient for that purpose, it fairly and rationally follows, that the rewards and punishments, which God governs mankind by, do and must look beyond it.
And thus I have given a brief proof of the certainty of these principles; namely, that there is a supreme governor of the world; and that there is a future estate of happiness or misery for men after this life: which principles, while a man steers his course by, if he acts piously, soberly, and temperately, I suppose there needs no further arguments 353to evince, that he acts prudentially and safely. For he acts as under the eye of his just and severe Judge, who reaches to his creature a command with one hand, and a reward with the other. He spends as a person who knows that he must come to a reckoning. He sees an eternal happiness or misery suspended upon a few days behaviour; and therefore he lives every hour as for eternity. His future condition has such a powerful influence upon his present practice, because he entertains a continual apprehension and a firm persuasion of it. If a man walks over a narrow bridge when he is drunk, it is no wonder that he forgets his caution, while he over looks his danger. But he who is sober, and views that nice separation between himself and the devouring deep, so that if he should slip, he sees his grave gaping under him, surely must needs take every step with horror, and the utmost caution and solicitude.
But for a man to believe it as the most undoubted certainty in the world, that he shall be judged according to the quality of his actions here, and after judgment receive an eternal recompence, and yet to take his full swing in all the pleasures of sin, is it not a greater phrensy, than for a man to take a purse at Tyburn, while he is actually seeing another hanged for the same fact? It is really to dare and defy the justice of Heaven, to laugh at right-aiming thunderbolts, to puff at damnation, and, in a word, to bid Omnipotence do its worst. He indeed who thus walks, walks surely; but it is because he is sure to be damned.
I confess it is hard to reconcile such a stupid course to the natural way of the soul’s acting; according 354to which, the will moves according to the proposals of good and evil, made by the understanding: and therefore for a man to run headlong into the bottomless pit, while the eye of a seeing conscience assures him that it is bottomless and open, and all return from it desperate and impossible; while his ruin stares him in the face, and the sword of vengeance points directly at his heart, still to press on to the embraces of his sin, is a problem unresolvable upon any other ground, but that sin infatuates before it destroys. For Judas to receive and swallow the sop, when his master gave it him seasoned with those terrible words, It had been good for that man that he had never been born; surely this argued a furious appetite and a strong stomach, that could thus catch at a morsel with the fire and brimstone all flaming about it, and, as it were, digest death itself, and make a meal upon perdition.
I could wish that every bold sinner, when he is about to engage in the commission of any known sin, would arrest his confidence, and for a while stop the execution of his purpose, with this short question, Do I believe that it is really true, that God has denounced death to such a practice, or do I not? If he does not, let him renounce his Christianity, and surrender back his baptism, the water of which might better serve him to cool his tongue in hell, than only to consign him over to the capacity of so black an apostasy. But if he does believe it, how will he acquit himself upon the accounts of bare reason? For does he think, that if he pursues the means of death, they will not bring him to that fatal end? Or does he think that he can grapple with divine vengeance, and endure the everlasting burnings, or arm 355himself against the bites of the never-dying worm? No, surely, these are things not to be imagined; and therefore I cannot conceive what security the presuming sinner can promise himself, but upon these two following accounts.
1. That God is merciful, and will not be so severe as his word; and that his threatenings of eternal torments are not so decretory and absolute, but that there is a very comfortable latitude left in them for men of skill to creep out at. And here it must in deed be confessed, that Origen, and some others, not long since, who have been so officious as to furbish up and reprint his old errors, hold, that the sufferings of the damned are not to be, in a strict sense, eternal; but that, after a certain revolution and period of time, there shall be a general gaol-delivery of the souls in prison, and that not for a further execution, but a final release. And it must be further acknowledged, that some of the ancients, like kind-hearted men, have talked much of annual refrigeriums, respites, or intervals of punishment to the damned, as particularly on the great festivals of the resurrection, ascension, pentecost, and the like. In which, as these good men are more to be commended for their kindness and compassion, than to be followed in their opinion; (which may be much better argued by wishes than demonstrations;) so, admitting that it were true, yet what a pitiful, slender comfort would this amount to! much like the Jews abating the punishment of malefactors from forty stripes to forty save one. A great indulgence indeed, even as great as the difference between forty and thirty-nine; and yet much less considerable would that indulgence be of a few holydays in the measures of eternity, of 356some hours’ ease, compared with infinite ages of torment.
Supposing therefore, that few sinners relieve themselves with such groundless, trifling considerations as these, yet may they not however fasten a rational hope upon the boundless mercy of God, that this may induce him to spare his poor creature, though by sin become obnoxious to his wrath? To this I answer, that the divine mercy is indeed large, and far surpassing all created measures, yet nevertheless it has its proper time; and after this life it is the time of justice; and to hope for the favours of mercy then, is to expect an harvest in the dead of winter. God has cast all his works into a certain, inviolable order; according to which, there is a time to pardon and a time to punish; and the time of one is not the time of the other. When corn has once felt the sickle, it has no more benefit from the sunshine. But,
2dly, If the conscience be too apprehensive (as for the most part it is) to venture the final issue of things upon a fond persuasion, that the great Judge of the world will relent, and not execute the sentence pronounced by him; as if he had threatened men with hell rather to fright them from sin, than with an intent to punish them for it; I say, if the conscience cannot find any satisfaction or support from such reasonings as these, yet may it not, at least, relieve itself with the purposes of a future repentance, notwithstanding its present actual violations of the law? I answer, that this certainly is a confidence of all others the most ungrounded and irrational. For upon what ground can a man promise himself a future repentance, who cannot promise himself a futurity? whose life depends upon his breath, and is so 357restrained to the present, that it cannot secure to itself the reversion of the very next minute. Have not many died with the guilt of impenitence and the designs of repentance together? If a man dies to day, by the prevalence of some ill humours, will it avail him, that he intended to have bled and purged tomorrow?
But how dares sinful dust and ashes invade the prerogative of Providence, and carve out to himself the seasons and issues of life and death, which the Father keeps wholly within his own power? How does that man, who thinks he sins securely under the shelter of some remote purposes of amendment, know, but that the decree above may be already passed against him, and his allowance of mercy spent; so that the bow in the clouds is now drawn, and the arrow levelled at his head: and not many days like to pass, but perhaps an apoplexy, or an imposthume, or some sudden, disaster, may stop his breath, and reap him down as a sinner ripe for destruction.
I conclude therefore, that, upon supposition of the certain truth of the principles of religion, he who walks not uprightly has neither from the presumption of God’s mercy reversing the decree of his justice, nor from his own purposes of future repentance, any sure ground to set his foot upon; but in this whole course acts as directly in contradiction to nature, as he does in defiance of grace. In a word, he is besotted, and has lost his reason; and what then can there be for religion to take hold of him by? Come we now to the
2d supposition, under which we shew, That the principles of religion laid clown by us might be considered, and that is, as only probable. Where we 358must observe, that probability does not properly make any alteration, either in the truth or falsity of things; but only imports a different degree of their clearness or appearance to the understanding. So that that is to be accounted probable, which has more and better arguments producible for it, than can be brought against it; and surely such a thing at least is religion. For certain it is, that religion is universal, I mean the first rudiments and general notions of religion, called natural religion, and consisting in the acknowledgment of a Deity, and of the common principles of morality, and a future estate of souls after death, (in which also we have all that some reformers and refiners amongst us would reduce Christianity itself to.) This notion of religion, I say, has diffused itself in some degree or other, greater or less, as far as human nature extends. So that there is no nation in the world, though plunged into never such gross and absurd idolatry, but has some awful sense of a Deity, and a persuasion of a state of retribution to men after this life.
But now, if there are really no such things, but all is a mere lie and a fable, contrived only to chain up the liberty of man’s nature from a freer enjoyment of those things, which otherwise it would have as full a right to enjoy as to breathe, I demand whence this persuasion could thus come to be universal? For was it ever known, in any other instance, that the whole world was brought to conspire in the belief of a lie? Nay, and of such a lie, as should lay upon men such unpleasing abridgments, tying them up from a full gratification of those lusts and appetites which they so impatiently desire to satisfy, and consequently, by all means, to remove those impediments 359that might any way obstruct their satisfaction? Since therefore it cannot be made out upon any principle of reason, how all the nations in the world, otherwise so distant in situation, manners, interests, and inclinations, should, by design or combination, meet in one persuasion; and withal that men, who so mortally hate to be deceived and imposed upon, should yet suffer themselves to be deceived by such a persuasion as is false; and not only false, but also cross and contrary to their strongest desires; so that if it were false, they would set the utmost force of their reason on work to discover that falsity, and thereby disinthrall themselves; and further, since there is nothing false, but what may be proved to be so; and yet, lastly, since all the power and industry of man’s mind has not been hitherto able to prove a falsity in the principles of religion, it irrefragably follows, (and that, I suppose, without gathering any more into the conclusion than has been made good in the premises,) that religion is at least a very high probability.
And this is that which I here contend for, That it is not necessary to the obliging men to believe religion to be true, that this truth be made out to their reason by arguments demonstratively certain; but that it is sufficient to render their unbelief unexcusable, even upon the account of bare reason, if so be the truth of religion carry in it a much greater probability, than any of those ratiocinations that pretend the contrary: and this I prove in the strength of these two considerations.
1st, That no man, in matters of this life, requires an assurance either of the good which he designs, or of the evil which he avoids, from arguments demonstratively 360certain; but judges himself to have sufficient ground to act upon, from a probable persuasion of the event of things. No man who first trafficks into a foreign country has any scientific evidence that there is such a country, but by report, which can produce no more than a moral certainty; that is, a very high probability, and such as there can be no reason to except against. He who has a probable belief, that he shall meet with thieves in such a road, thinks himself to have reason enough to decline it, albeit he is sure to sustain some less (though yet considerable) inconvenience by his so doing. But perhaps it may be replied, (and it is all that can be replied,) that a greater assurance and evidence is required of the things and concerns of the other world, than of the interests of this. To which I answer, that assurance and evidence (terms, by the way, extremely different; the first, respecting properly the ground of our assenting to a thing; and the other, the clearness of the thing or object assented to) have no place at all here, as being contrary to our present supposition; according to which, we are now treating of the practical principles of religion only as probable, and falling under a probable persuasion. And for this I affirm, that where the case is about the hazarding an eternal or a temporal concern, there a less degree of probability ought to engage our caution against the loss of the former, than is necessary to engage it about preventing the loss of the latter. Forasmuch as where things are least to be put to the venture, as the eternal interests of the other world ought to be; there every, even the least, probability or likelihood of danger, should be provided against; but where the loss can be but temporal, every small 361probability of it need not put us so anxiously to prevent it, since, though it should happen, the loss might be repaired again; or if not, could not however destroy us, by reaching us in our greatest and highest concern; which no temporal thing whatsoever is or can be. And this directly introduces the
2d consideration or argument, viz. That bare reason, discoursing upon a principle of self-preservation, (which surely is the fundamental principle which nature proceeds by,) will oblige a man voluntarily and by choice to undergo any less evil to secure himself but from the probability of an evil incomparably greater, and that also such an one, as, if that probability passes into a certain event, admits of no reparation by any after-remedy that can be applied to it.
Now, that religion, teaching a future estate of souls, is a probability, and that its contrary cannot with equal probability be proved, we have already evinced. This therefore being supposed, we will suppose yet further, that for a man to abridge himself in the full satisfaction of his appetites and inclinations, is an evil, because a present pain and trouble: but then it must likewise be granted, that nature must needs abhor a state of eternal pain and misery much more; and that if a man does not undergo the former less evil, it is highly probable that such an eternal estate of misery will be his portion; and if so, I would fain know whether that man takes a rational course to preserve himself, who refuses the endurance of these lesser troubles, to secure himself from a condition infinitely and inconceivably more miserable.
But since probability, in the nature of it, supposes that a thing may or may not be so, for any thing 362that yet appears, or is certainly determined on either side, we will here consider both sides of this probability: as,
1st, That it is one way possible, that there may be no such thing as a future estate of happiness or misery for those who have lived well or ill here; and then he who, upon the strength of a contrary belief, abridged himself in the gratification of his appetites, sustains only this evil; viz. That he did not please his senses and unbounded desires, so much as otherwise he might and would have done, had he not lived under the captivity and check of such a belief. This is the utmost which he suffers: but whether this be a real evil or no, (whatsoever vulgar minds may commonly think it,) shall be discoursed of afterwards.
2. But then again, on the other side, it is probable that there will be such a future estate; and then how miserably is the voluptuous, sensual unbeliever left in the lurch! For there can be no retreat for him then, no mending of his choice in the other world, no after-game to be played in hell. It fares with men, in reference to their future estate, and the condition upon which they must pass to it, much as it does with a merchant having a vessel richly fraught at sea in a storm: the storm grows higher and higher, and threatens the utter loss of the ship: but there is one, and but one certain way to save it, which is, by throwing its rich lading overboard; yet still, for all this, the man knows not but possibly the storm may cease, and so all be preserved. However, in the mean time, there is little or no probability that it will do so; and in case it should not, he is then assured, that he must lay his life, as 363well as his rich commodities, in the cruel deep. Now in this case, would this man, think we, act rationally, should he, upon the slender possibility of escaping otherwise, neglect the sure, infallible preservation of his life, by casting away his rich goods? No certainly, it would be so far from it, that should the storm, by a strange hap, cease immediately after he had thus thrown away his riches, yet the throwing them away was infinitely more rational and eligible, than the retaining or keeping them could have been.
For a man, while he lives here in the world, to doubt whether there be any hell or no; and there upon to live so, as if absolutely there were none; but when he dies, to find himself confuted in the flames; this, surely, must be the height of woe and disappointment, and a bitter conviction of an irrational venture and an absurd choice. In doubtful cases, reason still determines for the safer side; especially if the case be not only doubtful, but also highly concerning, and the venture be of a soul and an eternity.
He who sat at a table, richly and deliciously furnished, but with a sword hanging over his head by one single thread or hair, surely had enough to check his appetite, even against all the ragings of hunger and temptations of sensuality. The only argument that could any way encourage his appetite was, that possibly the sword might not fall; but when his reason should encounter it with another question, What if it should fall? and moreover, that pitiful stay by which it hung should oppose the likelihood that it would, to a mere possibility that it might not; what could the man enjoy or 364taste of his rich banquet, with all this doubt and horror working in his mind?
Though a man’s condition should be really in itself never so safe, yet an apprehension and surmise that it is not safe, is enough to make a quick and a tender reason sufficiently miserable. Let the most acute and learned unbeliever demonstrate that there is no hell: and if he can, he sins so much the more rationally; otherwise, if he cannot, the case remains doubtful at least: but he who sins obstinately, does not act as if it were so much as doubtful; for if it were certain and evident to sense, he could do no more; but for a man to found a confident practice upon a disputable principle, is brutishly to outrun his reason, and to build ten times wider than his foundation. In a word, I look upon this one short consideration, were there no more, as a sufficient ground for any rational man to take up his religion upon, and which I defy the subtlest atheist in the world solidly to answer or confute; namely, That it is good to be sure. And so I proceed to the
Third and last supposition, under which the principles of religion may, for argument sake, be considered; and that is, as false; which surely must reach the utmost thoughts of any atheist whatsoever. Nevertheless even upon this account also, I doubt not but to evince, that he who walks up rightly walks much more surely than the wicked and profane liver; and that with reference to the most valued temporal enjoyments, such as are reputation, quietness, health, and the like, which are the greatest which this life affords, or is desirable for. And,
1st, For reputation or credit. Is any one had in greater esteem than the just person; who has given 365the world an assurance, by the constant tenor of his practice, that he makes a conscience of his ways; that he scorns to do an unworthy or a base thing; to lie, to defraud, to undermine another’s interest, by any sinister and inferior arts? And is there any thing which reflects a greater lustre upon a man’s person, than a severe temperance, and a restraint of himself from vicious and unlawful pleasures? Does any thing shine so bright as virtue, and that even in the eyes of those who are void of it? For hardly shall you find any one so bad, but he desires the credit of being thought what his vice will not let him be; so great a pleasure and convenience is it, to live with honour and a fair acceptance amongst those whom we converse with; and a being without it is not life, but rather the skeleton or caput mortuum of life; like time without day, or day itself with out the shining of the sun to enliven it.
On the other side, is there any thing that more embitters all the enjoyments of this life than shame and reproach? Yet this is generally the lot and portion of the impious and irreligious; and of some of them more especially.
For how infamous, in the first place, is the false, fraudulent, and unconscionable person! and how quickly is his character known! For hardly ever did any man of no conscience continue a man of any credit long. Likewise, how odious, as well as infamous, is such an one! Especially if he be arrived at that consummate and robust degree of falsehood, as to play in and out, and shew tricks with oaths, the sacredest bonds which the conscience of man can be bound with; how is such an one shunned and dreaded, like a walking pest! What volleys of 366scoffs, curses, and satires, are discharged at him! so that let never so much honour be placed upon him, it cleaves not to him, but forthwith ceases to be honour, by being so placed; no preferment can sweeten him, but the higher he stands, the farther and wider he stinks.
In like manner for the drinker and debauched person: is any thing more the object of scorn and contempt than such an one? His company is justly looked upon as a disgrace: and nobody can own a friendship for him without being an enemy to himself. A drunkard is, as it were, outlawed from all worthy and creditable converse. Men abhor, loathe, and despise him, and would even spit at him as they meet him, were it not for fear that a stomach so charged should something more than spit at them.
But not to go over all the several kinds of vice and wickedness, should we set aside the consideration of the glories of a better world, and allow this life for the only place and scene of man’s happiness, yet surely Cato will be always more honourable than Clodius, and Cicero than Catiline. Fidelity, justice, and temperance will always draw their own reward after them, or rather carry it with them, in those marks of honour which they fix upon the persons who practise and pursue them. It is said of David in 1 Chron. xxix. 28. that he died full of days, riches, and honour: and there was no need of an heaven, to render him in all respects a much happier man than Saul. But in the
2d place, The virtuous and religious person walks upon surer grounds than the vicious and irreligious, in respect of the ease, peace, and quietness which he 367enjoys in this world; and which certainly make no small part of human felicity. For anxiety and labour are great ingredients of that curse which sin has entailed upon fallen man. Care and toil came into the world with sin, and remain ever since inseparable from it, both as to its punishment and effect.
The service of sin is perfect slavery; and he who will pay obedience to the commands of it shall find it an unreasonable taskmaster, and an unmeasurable exactor.
And to represent the case in some particulars. The ambitious person must rise early and sit up late, and pursue his design with a constant, indefatigable attendance; he must be infinitely patient and servile, and obnoxious to all the cross humours of those whom he expects to rise by; he must endure and digest all sorts of affronts; adore the foot that kicks him, and kiss the hand that strikes him: while, in the mean time, the humble and contented man is virtuous at a much easier rate: his virtue bids him sleep, and take his rest, while the other’s restless sin bids him sit up and watch. He pleases himself innocently and easily, while the ambitious man at tempts to please others sinfully and difficultly, and perhaps in the issue unsuccessfully too.
The robber, and man of rapine, must run, and ride, and use all the dangerous and even desperate ways of escape; and probably, after all, his sin be trays him to a gaol, and from thence advances him to the gibbet: but let him carry off his booty with as much safety and success as he can wish, yet the innocent person, with never so little of his own, envies him not, and, if he has nothing, fears him not.
Likewise the cheat and fraudulent person is put 368to a thousand shifts to palliate his fraud, and to be thought an honest man: but surely there can be no greater labour than to be always dissembling, and forced to maintain a constant disguise, there being so many ways by which a smothered truth is apt to blaze and break out; the very nature of things making it not more natural for them to be, than to appear as they be. But he who will be really honest, just, and sincere in his dealings, needs take no pains to be thought so; no more than the sun needs take any pains to shine, or, when he is up, to convince the world that it is day.
And here again to bring in the man of luxury and intemperance for his share in the pain and trouble, as well as in the forementioned shame and infamy of his vice. Can any toil or day-labour equal the fatigue or drudgery which such an one under goes, while he is continually pouring in draught after draught, and cramming in morsel after morsel, and that in spite of appetite and nature, till he be comes a burden to the very earth that bears him; though not so great an one to that, but that (if possible) he is yet a greater to himself?2525 See above, p. 19, 20.
And now, in the last place, to mention one sinner more, and him a notable, leading sinner indeed, to wit, the rebel. Can any thing have more of trouble, hazard, and anxiety in it, than the course which he takes? For, in the first place, all the evils of war must unavoidably be endured, as the necessary means and instruments to compass and give success to his traitorous designs. In which, if it is his lot to be conquered, he must expect that vengeance 369that justly attends a conquered, disarmed villain; for when such an one is vanquished, his sins are always upon him. But if, on the contrary, he proves victorious, he will yet find misery enough in the distracting cares of settling an ungrounded, odious, detestable interest, so heartily, and so justly maligned, abhorred, and oftentimes plotted against; so that, in effect, he is still in war, though he has quitted the field. The torment of his suspicion is great, and the courses he must take to quiet his jealous, suspicious mind, infinitely troublesome and vexatious.
But in the mean time, the labour of obedience, loyalty, and subjection, is no more, but for a man honestly and discreetly to sit still, and to enjoy what he has, under the protection of the laws. And when such an one is in his lowest condition, he is yet high and happy enough to despise and pity the most prosperous rebel in the world: even those famous ones of forty-one (with all due respect to their flourishing relations be it spoke) not excepted. In the
Third and last place, the religious person walks upon surer grounds than the irreligious, in respect of the very health of his body. Virtue is a friend and an help to nature; but it is vice and luxury that destroys it, and the diseases of intemperance are the natural product of the sins of intemperance. Where as, on the other side, a temperate, innocent use of the creature, never casts any one into a fever or a surfeit. Chastity makes no work for a chirurgeon, nor ever ends in rottenness of bones. Sin is the fruitful parent of distempers, and ill lives occasion good physicians. Seldom shall one see in cities, courts, and rich families, (where men live plentifully, and eat and 370drink freely,) that perfect health, that athletic soundness and vigour of constitution, which is commonly seen in the country, in poor houses and cottages, where nature is their cook, and necessity their caterer, and where they have no other doctor, but the sun and the fresh air, and that such an one, as never sends them to the apothecary. It has been observed in the earlier ages of the church, that none lived such healthful and long lives, as monks and hermits, who had sequestered themselves from the pleasures and plenties of the world, to a constant ascetic course, of the severest abstinence and devotion.
Nor is excess the only thing by which sin mauls and breaks men in their health, and the comfortable enjoyment of themselves thereby, but many are also brought to a very ill and languishing habit of body, by mere idleness; and idleness is both itself a great sin, and the cause of many more. The husband man returns from the field, and from manuring his ground, strong and healthy, because innocent and laborious; you will find no diet-drinks, no boxes of pills, nor galley-pots, amongst his provisions; no, he neither speaks nor lives French, he is not so much a gentleman, forsooth. His meals are coarse and short, his employment warrantable, his sleep certain and refreshing, neither interrupted with the lashes of a guilty mind, nor the aches of a crazy body. And when old age comes upon him, it comes alone, bringing no other evil with it but itself: but when it comes to wait upon a great and worshipful sinner, (who for many years together has had the reputation of eating well and doing ill,) it comes (as it ought to do, to a person of such quality) attended 371with a long train and retinue of rheums, coughs, catarrhs, and dropsies, together with many painful girds and achings, which are at least called the gout. How does such an one go about, or is carried rather, with his body bending inward, his head shaking, and his eyes always watering (instead of weeping) for the sins of his ill-spent youth. In a word, old age seizes upon such a person, like fire upon a rotten house; it was rotten before, and must have fallen of itself; so that it is no more but one ruin preventing another.
And thus I have shewn the fruits and effects of sin upon men in this world. But peradventure it will be replied, that there are many sinners who escape all these calamities, and neither labour under any shame or disrepute, any unquietness of condition, or more than ordinary distemper of body, but pass their days with as great a portion of honour, ease, and health, as any other men whatsoever. But to this I answer,
First, That those sinners who are in such a temporally happy condition, owe it not to their sins, but wholly to their luck, and a benign chance that they are so. Providence often disposes of things by a method beside and above the discourses of man’s reason.
Secondly, That the number of those sinners, who by their sins have been directly plunged into all the forementioned evils, is incomparably greater than the number of those, who, by the singular favour of providence, have escaped them. And,
Thirdly and lastly, That notwithstanding all this, sin has yet in itself a natural tendency to bring men under all these evils; and, if persisted in, will infallibly 372end in them, unless hindered by some unusual accident or other, which no man, acting rationally, can steadily build upon. It is not impossible but a man may practise a sin secretly, to his dying day; but it is ten thousand to one, if the practice be constant, but that some time or other it will be discovered; and then the effect of sin discovered, must be shame and confusion to the sinner. It is possible also, that a man may be an old healthful epicure; but I affirm also, that it is next to a miracle, if he be so, and the like is to be said of the several instances of sin, hitherto produced by us. In short, nothing can step between them and misery in this world, but a very great, strange, and unusual chance, which none will presume of who walks surely.
And so, I suppose, that religion cannot possibly be enforced (even in the judgment of its best friends and most professed enemies) by any further arguments than what have been produced, (how much better soever the said arguments may be managed by abler hands.) For I have shewn and proved, that whether the principles of it be certain, or but probable, nay, though supposed absolutely false; yet a man is sure of that happiness in the practice, which he cannot be in the neglect of it; and consequently, that though he were really a speculative atheist, (which there is great reason to believe that none perfectly are,) yet if he would but proceed rationally, that is, if (according to his own measures of reason) he would but love himself, he could not however be a practical atheist; nor live without God in this world, whether or no he expected to be rewarded by him in another.
And now, to make some application of the foregoing 373discourse, we may, by an easy but sure deduction, conclude and gather from it these two things:
First, That that profane, atheistical, epicurean rabble, whom the whole nation so rings of, and who have lived so much to the defiance of God, the dishonour of mankind, and the disgrace of the age which they are cast upon, are not indeed (what they are pleased to think and vote themselves) the wisest men in the world; for in matters of choice, no man can be wise in any course or practice, in which he is not safe too. But can these high assumers, and pretenders to reason, prove themselves so, amidst all those liberties and latitudes of practice which they take? Can they make it out against the common sense and opinion of all mankind, that there is no such thing as a future estate of misery for such as have lived ill here? Or can they persuade themselves, that their own particular reason, denying or doubting of it, ought to be relied upon as a surer argument of truth, than the universal, united reason of all the world besides affirming it? Every fool may believe and pronounce confidently; but wise men will, in matters of discourse, conclude firmly, and, in matters of practice, act surely: and if these will do so too in the case now before us, they must prove it, not only probable, (which yet they can never do,) but also certain, and past all doubt, that there is no hell, nor place of torment for the wicked; or at least, that they themselves, not withstanding all their villainous and licentious practices, are not to be reckoned of that number and character, but, that with a non obstante to all their revels, their profaneness, and scandalous debaucheries of all sorts, they continue virtuosoes still; and 374are that in truth, which the world in favour and fashion (or rather by an antiphrasis) is pleased to call them.
In the meantime, it cannot but be matter of just indignation to all knowing and good men, to see a company of lewd, shallow-brained huffs, making atheism and contempt of religion, the sole badge and character of wit, gallantry, and true discretion; and then over their pots and pipes, claiming and engrossing all these wholly to themselves; magisterially censuring the wisdom of all antiquity, scoffing at all piety, and, as it were, new modelling the whole world. When yet, such as have had opportunity to sound these braggers throughly, by having some times endured the penance of their sottish company, have found them in converse so empty and insipid, in discourse so trifling and contemptible, that it is impossible but that they should give a credit and an honour to whatsoever and whomsoever they speak against: they are indeed such as seem wholly incapable of entertaining any design above the present gratification of their palates, and whose very souls and thoughts rise no higher than their throats; but yet withal, of such a clamorous and provoking impiety, that they are enough to make the nation like Sodom and Gomorrah in their punishment, as they have already made it too like them in their sins. Certain it is, that blasphemy and irreligion have grown to that daring height here of late years, that had men in any sober civilized heathen nation spoke or done half so much in contempt of their false gods and religion, as some in our days and nation, wearing the name of Christians, have spoke and done against God and Christ, they would have been infallibly 375burnt at a stake, as monsters and public enemies of society.
The truth is, the persons here reflected upon are of such a peculiar stamp of impiety, that they seem to be a set of fellows got together, and formed into a kind of diabolical society, for the finding out new experiments in vice; and therefore they laugh at the dull, unexperienced, obsolete sinners of former times; and scorning to keep themselves within the common, beaten, broad way to hell, by being vicious only at the low rate of example and imitation, they are for searching out other ways and latitudes, and obliging posterity with unheard of inventions and discoveries in sin; resolving herein to admit of no other mea sure of good and evil, but the judgment of sensuality, as those who prepare matters to their hands, allow no other measure of the philosophy and truth of things, but the sole judgment of sense. And these, forsooth, are our great sages, and those who must pass for the only shrewd, thinking, and inquisitive men of the age; and such,, as by a long, severe, and profound speculation of nature, have redeemed themselves from the pedantry of being conscientious, and living virtuously, and from such old fashioned principles and creeds, as tie up the minds of some narrow-spirited, uncomprehensive zealots, who know not the world, nor understand that he only is the truly wise man, who, per fas et nefas, gets as much as he can.
But, for all this, let atheists and sensualists satisfy themselves as they are able. The former of which will find, that as long as reason keeps her ground, religion neither can nor will lose hers. And for the sensual epicure, he also will find, that there is a certain 376living spark within him, which all the drink he can pour in will never be able to quench or put out; nor will his rotten abused body have it in its power to convey any putrefying, consuming, rotting quality to the soul: no, there is no drinking, or swearing, or ranting, or fluxing a soul out of its immortality. But that must and will survive and abide, in spite of death and the grave; and live for ever to convince such wretches to their eternal woe, that the so much repeated ornament and flourish of their former speeches, (God damn ’em,) was commonly the truest word they spoke, though least believed by them while they spoke it.
2dly, The other thing deducible from the foregoing particulars, shall be to inform us of the way of attaining to that excellent privilege, so justly valued by those who have it, and so much talked of by those who have it not; which is assurance. Assurance is properly that persuasion or confidence, which a man takes up of the pardon of his sins, and his interest in God’s favour, upon such grounds and terms as the scripture lays down. But now. since the scripture promises eternal happiness and pardon of sin, upon the sole condition of faith and sincere obedience, it is evident, that he only can plead a title to such a pardon, whose conscience impartially tells him, that he has performed the required condition. And this is the only rational assurance, which a man can with any safety rely or rest himself upon.
He who in this case would believe surely, must first walk surely; and to do so, is to walk uprightly. And what that is, we have sufficiently marked out to us in those plain and legible lines of duty, requiring us to demean ourselves to God humbly and devoutly; 377to our governors obediently; and to our neighbours justly; and to ourselves soberly and temperately. All other pretences being infinitely vain in themselves, and fatal in their consequences.
It was indeed the way of many in the late times, to bolster up their crazy, doating consciences, with (I know not what) odd confidences, founded upon inward whispers of the Spirit, stories of something which they called conversion and marks of predestination: all of them (as they understood them) mere delusions, trifles, and fig-leaves; and such as would be sure to fall off and leave them naked, before that fiery tribunal, which knows no other way of judging men, but according to their works.
Obedience and upright walking are such substantial, vital parts of religion, as, if they be wanting, can never be made up, or commuted for, by any formalities of fantastic looks or language. And the great question when we come hereafter to be judged, will not be, How demurely have you looked? or. How boldly have you believed? With what length have you prayed? and, With what loudness and vehemence have you preached? But, How holily have you lived? and, How uprightly have you walked? For this, and this only (with the merits of Christ’s righteousness) will come into account before that great Judge, who will pass sentence upon every man according to what he has done here in the flesh, whether it be good, or whether it be evil; and there is no respect of persons with him.
To whom therefore be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.378
|« Prev||Sermon XIII. The Practice of Religion Enforced by…||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version