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The recompence of the reward:
PREACHED IN CHRIST CHURCH, OXON,
BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY,
SEPT. 11, 1698.
By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
THIS chapter exhibits to us a noble and victorious army of saints, together with an account of those heroic actions and exploits, which they were renowned for in their several ages; and have been since transmitted such to posterity: as, that they subdued kingdoms, wrought wonders, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire; and, in a word, triumphed over the cruellest and bitterest persecutions. And the great spring or principle, which (in spite of all their enemy’s power and their own weakness) bore them up to these high achievements, is not obscurely intimated in the person of Moses, to have been a respect to the recommence of 125reward. Thus, as it were, fastening one hand upon the promise, and turning about the world with the other.
A due consideration of which ground and motive of action, in so great a person and so authentic an example of sanctity as Moses was, may justly make us wonder at that strange proposition, or rather paradox, which has, for so long a time, passed current with too many, namely, that a Christian, in all acts of duty, ought to sequester his mind from all respect to an ensuing reward, and to commence his obedience wholly and entirely upon the love of duty itself, abstracted from all regard to any following advantages whatsoever: and that to do otherwise is to act as a slave, and not as a son; a temper of mind which will certainly embase and discommend all our services to the acceptance of Almighty God.
This is a glorious speech, I confess, and to the angels, to the cherubims and seraphims, perhaps practicable; whose natures being so different from and so much superior to ours, may (for ought we know) have as different and superior a way of acting too. But then we are to consider, that even that known and so much celebrated aphorism, which this assertion is manifestly founded upon, to wit, that virtue is its own reward, will, upon examination, be found true only in a limited sense; that is to say, in respect of a sufficiency of worth in it to deserve our choice, but not in respect of a sufficiency of power actually to engage our choice. For such a sufficiency it has not; and consequently, if taken in this sense, and applied to men in their natural estate, though under any height or elevation of piety whatsoever, it is so far from being the true and refined 126sense of the gospel, (as some pretend,) that it is really absurd in reason; and, I suppose, that to demonstrate it not to be evangelical, there needs no other course to be taken, than to prove it to be irrational. And this, by God’s assistance, I shall endeavour to do in the following discourse. The foundations of which I shall lay in these four previous propositions.
I. That the gospel, or doctrine of Christianity, does not change, and much less destroy or supersede the natural way of the soul’s acting.
II. That it is natural for the soul, in the way of inclination and appetite, to be moved only by such objects as are in themselves desirable.
III. That as it is natural for the soul to be thus moved only by things desirable, so it is equally natural to it to be moved by them only in that degree and proportion in which they are desirable: and consequently, in the
Fourth and last place, that whatsoever is proposed as a motive or inducement to any action, ought for that reason to be in an higher degree desirable, and to have in it a greater fitness to move and affect the will, than the action itself, which it is proposed as a motive to.
For otherwise it would be superfluous, and indeed no additional motive to it at all; forasmuch as the bare action, so considered, would be as strong an argument to a man to perform it, as such a motive (being but in the same degree desirable) could be to induce him to it.
Now these four propositions fully weighed and put together, will amount to a clear proof of that which I first intended to prove. For to be moved 127by rewards, belongs not to a man properly as corrupt or depraved in his nature through the fall, but simply as he is a man; a creature endued with the faculties of understanding and will: and therefore, since the gospel (as we have shewn) entrenches not upon the natural way of the soul’s working, it follows, that neither under the gospel can it be unlawful to engage in duty from a respect to a future recompence. And moreover, since it is natural to the will to be more moved by that which is in itself more desirable; and since that which is given as a motive to any action, ought to be in itself more desirable than that action; and lastly, since God proposes rewards as such motives to the actions of duty and obedience, it roundly follows, that it is not only lawful, in the matter of obedience, to have respect to the recompence of reward, but also, that according to the natural order of human acting, the soul should have respect to that in the first place; and then, being animated and enlivened thereby, should respect the works of duty and obedience in the next.
But to bring things into a narrower compass, and so both to prosecute the subject more fully, and to represent it more clearly, I shall reduce what I have to say upon it into these two propositions.
I. That in the actions of duty, considered barely as duty, or as morally good, and fit to be done, there is not a sufficient motive to engage the will of man in a constant practice of them.
II. That the proposal of a reward on God’s part, and a respect had to it on man’s, are certainly necessary to engage men in such a course of duty and obedience.128
This proposition naturally and unavoidably issues from the former; and accordingly we shall consider both of them in their order.
And first for the first of them, to wit, that duty, considered barely as duty, does not carry in it a sufficient motive to engage the will of man in the constant practice of it. And this I shall endeavour to make out by these following reasons: as, 1st, If in the soul of man its averseness to duty be much greater and stronger than its inclination to it, then duty, considered barely in itself, is not sufficient to determine the will of man to the constant performance of it; which, in my judgment, is an argument so forcible and clear, that one of greater force and clearness cannot well be desired. For unless hatred must pass for courtship, and hostility for allurement, certainly that from which the will is so averse cannot be a proper means to win upon it, or to get into its embraces. No; sooner may the fire be attracted by the centre of the earth, or the vine clasp about the bramble, than any faculty of the soul have its inclinations drawn forth by a contrary and distasteful object.
And then for the ground of this argument, to wit, that the soul has originally such an averseness to duty; this, I suppose, is but too evident to need any further probation. For that horrid proneness of man’s will to all vice, that inundation of lewdness, which with such an unresisted facility, or rather such an uncontrolled predominance, has spread itself over the whole world, is a sad, but full eviction of this fatal truth. For what mean all those hard restraints and shackles put upon us in our minority? What are those 129several arts of discipline and education, those early preventions, but so many banks, as it were, raised up to keep that sea of impurity, that swells within our nature, from pouring itself forth into actual enormities upon every occasion? How hardly is the restive, unruly will of man first tamed and broke to duty. How exceeding hardly are its native reluctancies mastered, and subdued to the sober rules of morality. Duty carries with it a grim and a severe aspect; and the very nature of it involves difficulty. And difficulty certainly is no very apt thing to ingratiate or endear itself to men’s practices or affections. Nay, so undeniable is the truth of this, that the very scene of virtue is laid in our natural averseness to things excellent and praiseworthy. For virtue is properly a force upon appetite, the conquest of an inclination, and the powerful bending of the mind to unusual choices and preternatural courses; so that indeed to live virtuously is to swim against the stream, to be above the pleasures of sense, and, in a word, to be good in spite of inclination.
And upon this account alone it is, that virtue carries so high a price in the world, and that it at tracts such a mighty esteem and value, both to itself and to him who has it, and that even from those who have it not. For if to lie abed, to fare deliciously, and to flow with all sorts of delight and plenty, were to be virtuous, there could be no more commendation due to a virtuous person, than to one who had pleased his palate, fed lustily, and slept well. But nothing easy ever did or will draw after it either applause or admiration. No, these are things which wait only upon the painful, the active, and laborious; upon those who both do and undergo such 130things, as the rest of mankind are unwilling and afraid to meddle with; and that gives them fame, and renown, and lustre in the eyes of the world round about them: for to reconcile ease and splendour together is impossible; and not only the course of Providence, but the very nature of things protests against it. And therefore the paths of virtue must needs lie through craggy rocks and precipices; its very food is abstinence; it is cherished with industry and self-denial; it is exercised and kept in heart with arduous attempts and hard ser vices; and if it were otherwise, it could neither be high, nor great, nor honourable, nor indeed so much as virtue.
But now, if this be the natural complexion of virtue and duty, by such terrifying severities to raise in the soul a kind of horror of it and aversion to it, let this be the first reason, why duty, considered barely in itself, and abstracted from all reward, is not sufficient to engage men in the practice of it. Next to which,
2. The second reason, for the proof of the same truth, is this, that those affections and appetites of the soul, which have the strongest influence upon it, to incline and bias it in all its choices, to wit, the ap petites belonging properly to the sensitive part of man’s nature, are not at all moved or gratified by any thing in duty, considered barely as duty, and therefore, as so considered, it is not a sufficient motive to induce men to the practice of it. Now this reason also, I conceive, carries its own evidence with it. For the soul of man (as the present state of nature is) generally moves as those forementioned appetites and affections shall incline it; and therefore, if that which thus inclines it be not, some way 131or other, first made sure of, all persuasions addressed immediately to the will itself, are like to find but a very cold reception.
I shah 1 not here insist upon the division of the appetites of the soul into the rational and sensitive, the superior and inferior, and much less shall I trace them into any further subdivisions: but shall only observe, that there is one general, comprehensive ap petite, or rather ratio appetendi, common to all the particular appetites, and into which the several operations of each of them are resolved, and that is, the great appetite of jucundum, or tendency of the whole soul to that which pleases. For whether they be properly the desires of the rational part, or the desires and inclinations of the sensitive, they aU concur and meet in this, that they tend to and terminate in something that may please and delight them.
But now I have already shewn, that bare duty and virtue are rather attended with difficulty and hard ship, than seasoned and set off with pleasure; and for that cause are commonly looked upon but as dry things; and consequently such as need to have some thing of relish put into them by the assignation of a pleasing reward; which may so recommend and gild the bitter pill, as to reconcile it to this great ap petite, and thereby convey and slide it into the will, as a proper object of its choice.
Nay, and I shall proceed further, and add, that duty, upon these grounds, is then most effectually proposed, when it is not only seconded with a reward, but also with a reward sensibly represented; and (so far as the nature of the thing will bear) with all the conditions of allurement and delight; that so 132it may be able to counterbalance the contrary suggestions of sense, which beat so strongly upon the imagination. Upon which account, as Moses enforced the observation of his law upon the Israelites, by rewards most suitable, and adapted to sense, as consisting of temporal promises, (though couching under them, I confess, spiritual and more sublime things;) so Christ himself, though the rewards promised by him to his followers were all of them heavenly and spiritual, yet he vouchsafed oftentimes to express them by such objects as most affected the sense. As for instance: the enjoyments of the other world are shadowed and set forth to us in the gospel, by drinking wine in the kingdom of heaven, Luke xxii. 18. and by the mirth and festivities of a marriage feast, Matt. xxii. 4. also by sitting upon thrones, Matt. xix. 28. likewise by dwelling in palaces adorned with pearls and diamonds, and all kind of precious stones, Rev. xxi. 19, 20, 21. and lastly, by the continual singing of triumphal songs, Rev. xv. 3. and xix. 1. All which are some of the most lively and exalted instances of pleasure that fall within the enjoyment of sense in this world. And this way of expression was most wisely made use of by our Saviour, for that the pleasures of the sensitive, inferior appetites, though they are not in themselves the best objects, yet are certainly the best representations and conveyances of such objects to the mind; since without some kind of sensible dress, things too fine for men’s apprehensions can never much work upon their affections.
And upon the same ground we may observe also, that those virtues are the most generally and easily 133practised, which do least thwart and oppose these appetites. As for example, veracity in speaking truth, faithfulness in not violating a trust, and justice in punishing offenders, or rendering to every one his due, are much more frequent in the world, than temperance, sobriety, and chastity, and other such virtues, as are properly conversant about abridging the pleasures of the senses.
So then, if this be the case, that the soul of man, in all its choices, is naturally apt to be determined by pleasure, and the sensitive, inferior appetites (which would draw it off from duty) are continually plying it with such suitable and taking pleasures; doubtless, there is no way for duty to prevail and get ground of them, but by bidding higher, and offering the soul greater gratifications wrapped up in a eternal reward. For when an adversary is ready to bribe the judge, and the judge is as ready to be bribed, assuredly there is no way so likely to carry the cause, as to outbribe him. The sensitive part or principle in all the pressing, enticing offers it makes to the soul, must either be gained and taken off from alluring, or be conquered and outdone in it. The former of which can never be effected; but the latter may, and that by no other means, than by representing duty as clothed with such great and taking rewards, that the soul shall stand convinced, that there will be really a greater and more satisfactory pleasure in the consequents of duty, (how hard soever it may appear at present,) than there can be in the freest and most unlimited fruition of the greatest sensual delights.
But now, should we proceed upon the contrary principle, requiring obedience without recompence, 134how lame and successless would every precept of the divine law prove, when thus proposed to us naked and stripped of all that may either strengthen or recommend it? Would not such a forlorn nakedness represent it, as coming rather to beg than to command? and to ask an alms, than to impose a duty? For suppose, that when God bids us fast and pray, abstain from all the allurements of sensual pleasure, deny ourselves, being smote upon one cheek, turn the other, and lastly, choose death, rather than commit the least known sin; suppose, I say, that God should command us all these severe things, upon no other account, but because they are excel lent actions, high strains of virtue, most pleasing to God, and upon that score both commanded by him and to be performed by us: certainly these considerations (notwithstanding all the reason and truth that is in them) would yet strike the will but very faintly: for men care not for suffering, while they think it is only for suffering-sake. And self-denial is but a sour morsel, and will hardly go down without something to sweeten it; and men, generally, have but a small appetite to pray, and a much smaller to fast, (how great soever they may have after it.) On the contrary therefore, let us, in this case, take our measures from the addresses made by our Saviour himself to the minds of men; Blessed, says he to his disciples, are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake; rejoice, and be exceeding glad. But why, I pray? Was it such matter of joy, either to be spit or trampled upon? to be aspersed by men’s tongues, or crushed under their heels? No certainly; but we have a very good reason given us 135for all this, in the next words: for great, says our Saviour, is your reward in heaven, Matth. v. 12. And again, Blessed are they that mourn. But surely not for the bare flendi voluptas; nor for any such great desirableness that there is or can be in tears or groans, any more than in that which causes them: no, but for something else, that was abundantly able to make amends for all these sadnesses, in the 5th and 6th verses of the same chapter. For such, says our Saviour, shall be comforted: which one word implies in it all the felicity and satisfaction that human nature is capable of. But now had our Saviour, in defiance of all their natural inclinations, pressed these austerities upon them, as the sole and sufficient reason and reward of themselves, surely he had done like one, who neither understood the nature of man’s will, nor the true arts of persuasion. And the case had been much the same, as if Moses, instead of giving the Israelites water, had bid them quench their thirst with the rock. Let this therefore be the second reason, why duty, considered barely as duty, and abstracted from all reward, is not sufficient to induce men to the practice of it.
3. The third and last reason that I shall allege for the same is this; that if duty, considered barely in itself, ought to be the sole motive to duty, with out any respect to a subsequent reward, then those two grand affections of hope and fear ought to have no influence upon men, so as to move or engage them to the acts of duty at all. The consequence is most clear; because the proper objects, upon which these affections are to be employed, are future rewards and future punishments; and therefore, if no regard ought to be had of these in matters of duty, 136it will follow, that neither must those affections, which are wholly conversant about rewards, have any thing to do about duty, wherein no considerations of a reward ought, upon this principle, to take place. This, I say, would be the genuine, unavoidable consequence of this doctrine.
But now, should any one venture to own such an odd and absurd paradox, in any of those sober, rational parts of Christendom, which have not depraved their judging and discerning faculties with those strange, new-found, ecstatic notions of religion, which some (who call themselves Christians, and Christians of the highest form too) have, in the late super-reforming age, taken up amongst us; how unnatural, or rather indeed how romantic, would such divinity appear! For all the world acknowledges, that hope and fear are the two great handles, by which the will of man is to be taken hold of, when we would either draw it to duty or draw it off from sin. They are the strongest and most efficacious means to bring such things home to the will, as are principally apt to move and work upon it. And the greatest, the noblest, and most renowned actions, that were ever achieved upon the face of the earth, have first moved upon the spring of a projecting hope, carrying the mind above all present discouragements, by the prospect of some glorious and future good.
And therefore he, who, to bring men to do their duty heartily and vigorously, and to the best advantages of Christianity, shall cut off all rewards from it, and so remove the proper materials which hope should exert itself upon, does just as if a man should direct another to shoot right and true, by forbidding 137him to take aim at the mark; or as if we should bring a man to a race, and first tie his legs fast, or cut them off, and then clap him on the back, and bid him run. He who takes away the incitements to duty, dashes the performance of duty, and not the performance only, but the very attempt also: for men do not use to run, only that they may run, but that they may obtain; labour itself being certainly one of the worst rewards of a man’s pains. And therefore, no wonder, if every exhortation to virtue has just so much strength in it, as there is in the argument brought to enforce it. For, if we will be but true to the first principles of nature, we shall find, that all arguments made use of to persuade the mind of man, must be founded upon something that is grateful, acceptable, and pleasing to nature; and that, in short, is a man’s easy and comfortable enjoyment of himself, in all the powers, faculties, and affections, both of his soul and body. Which said enjoyment, in the hard and dry strokes of duty and spiritual day-labour, as I may call it, I am sure is not to be found. For no man enjoys himself, while he is spending his spirits, and employing the utmost intention of his mind upon such objects, as shall both put and keep it upon the stretch; which yet, in the performance of duty, every one actually does, or at least should do. In a word, irksomeness in the whole course of an action, and weariness after it, certainly are not fruition; but the actions of bare duty are naturally accompanied with both.
Let us, therefore, here once again observe the course taken by our Saviour himself, when he would raise men up to something singular and extraordinary, and above the common pitch of duty: as in 138Mark x. 21. we find, how he answered the rich young heir, inquiring of him the way to heaven: Go, says he, and sell whatsoever thou hast, and give it all to the poor. Now certainly, had our Saviour stopped here, this had been as grinding and as stripping a command, as could have well passed upon a man; and might indeed have seemed, not so much a command to prove, as an artifice to blow him up; not so much a test, to try his obedience, as a trick (like some oaths) to worm him out of his estate. But surely, our Saviour never affected to be king of beggars, and much less to make men beggars, the better to king it over them. Nor can we imagine, that he, who was all wisdom and goodness, would have so far contradicted both, as to make it a duty to give alms, and at the same time put men into a condition fit only to receive them; or that he would have enjoined so great a paradox in practice, as to require his followers to choose poverty merely for poverty’s sake; or to sell their possessions, only to buy hunger and rags, scorn and contempt with the price of them. No; assuredly, the God of nature would never have put a man upon any thing so contrary to the first principles of nature. And therefore our Saviour did not require this young man here absolutely to quit his riches, but only to exchange them, and to part with a less estate in possession, for a greater in reversion, with a small enjoyment for a vast hope; in those following words: Do this, says he, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: so that he proposed the duty in one word, and the reward in another. And it was this alone which made our Saviour’s proposal (which looked so terribly at first) fair and rational; and which, without such a reward annexed 139to it, would, upon the strictest and most impartial discourses of reason and nature, have been thrown back as cruel and intolerable.
And again, when our Saviour preached to the world the grand evangelical duty of taking up the cross, we do not find that he made the mere burden of bearing it any argument for the taking it up; no, certainly, such arguments might have pressed hard upon their shoulders, but very little upon their reason. And therefore, in Mark x. 29, 30, There is no man, says he, that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundred fold now in this time, and in the world to come eternal life. So that we see here the antecedent smoothed over, and recommended by the consequent; duty and reward walking hand in hand; the riches of the promise still overmatching the rigours of the precept, and (as we observe in the royal diadems of Christian kings) the cross and the crown put together.
But, above all, the example of the great author and finisher of our faith himself will put the point here before us past all dispute. For are not his enduring the cross and despising the shame (and this latter as terrible a crucifixion to the mind as the other could be to the body) both of them resolved into the joy that was set before him? Heb. xii. 2. And did not our Saviour teach us by his example, as well as by his precept? At least so far, that what he did was certainly lawful to be done; though, by reason of the immense disparity of his condition and ours, not always necessary for us to do. But, however, as to the case now spoken of, it 140was manifestly the subsequent joy which baffled and disarmed the present pain, and the prospect of a glorious immortality, which carried him triumphant through all those agonies which bare mortality must otherwise have sunk under.
It has been observed, and that with great wit and reason, that in all encounters of dangerous and dreadful issue, it is still the eye which is first overcome; and being so, presently spreads a terror throughout the whole man: accordingly, on the contrary, where the eye is emboldened with the encouraging view of some vast enjoyment pressing close upon the heels of a present suffering, it diffuses such a noble bravery and courage into all the faculties, both of soul and body, as makes them overlook all dangers; and, by overlooking, conquer and get above them. In a word, let us so eye the great captain of our salvation, as to rest assured of this, that wheresoever he went before, it is both our privilege and our safety to follow; and that his example alone is enough both to justify and to glorify the imitation.
But to proceed. As we have shewn how our Saviour has sometimes thought fit to draw men to their duty by their hopes, so let us see, in the next place, how he sometimes also drives them to it by their fears: Fear not those, says he, who can but kill the body, but fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell, Matt. x. 28. And again, in Luke xii. 5, he enforces the same words, with this emphatical repetition: Yea, I say unto you, Fear him. But now, if the fear of hell influencing a man either to the practice of duty, or the avoidance of sin, were the direct way to hell, (as some with equal confidence and ignorance have affirmed,) surely our 141Saviour took the most preposterous course that could be, to prescribe the fear of hell as the surest means to escape it. For how can there be any such thing as fleeing from the wrath to come, if fear, which is the only thing that can make men flee, shall betray them into that which they flee from?
But further, to descend from the method used by Christ himself to that made use of by his apostles. What means St. Peter, to put men upon passing the time of their sojourning here in fear? 1 Pet. i. 17. and St. Paul, to press men upon working out their salvation with fear and trembling? Phil. ii. 12. For fear and trembling are certainly very senseless things, where a man is not at all the better for them. But these experienced guides, it seems, very well knew how impossible it was, where the concern was infinite and unspeakable, and the danger equal, for any man of sense and reason to shake off his fears, and retain his wits too. And therefore to me it seems none of the smallest arguments against the modern whimsey, which we are now opposing, that, both in the language of the Old Testament and the New, the whole business of religion is still comprehended and summed up in this one great thing, the fear of God. For this we may assure ourselves of, that he who fears as he should do in this world, shall have nothing either to fear or feel in the next.
And now, lastly, to set off the foregoing authorities with the manifest reason of the thing itself. It is doubtless one of the greatest absurdities that can well fall within the thoughts of man, to imagine, that God, who has cast the business of man’s salvation into so large a compass, as to share out to every 142other faculty and affection of the soul its due part and proportion in this great work, should yet wholly disinterest those two noble leading affections of hope and fear from having any thing to do in the same. For must these only lie idle and fallow, while all the other affections of the mind are employed and taken up? And has God something for us to love, and something to hate, but in the whole business of religion nothing for us to hope for, and nothing to fear? Which surely he has not, if it be absolutely unlawful for men under the gospel, in any religious performance, to act with an eye to a future recompence. And therefore, since this assertion, to wit, that duty, considered barely as duty, ought to be the sole motive to the practice of it, brings us under a necessity of asserting also, that hope and fear ought not at all to influence men in the matter of duty; which yet is most absurd: and since nothing that is absurd or false can, by genuine and just consequence, issue from what is true; it follows, that the former assertion or position, from which this latter is inferred, is most false and irrational. Which was the thing to be proved. And so
I proceed to answer such objections, as may, with any colour of argument, be alleged in opposition to the doctrine hitherto laid down and defended by us, and so conclude this first proposition: as,
1. It may be argued, that there is a certain complacency and serenity of mind attending the performance of actions pious and virtuous, and a kind of horror or remorse that follows the neglect of them, or the doing of the quite contrary; the consideration of which alone, setting aside all further hopes of a 143future reward, may be a sufficient argument to enforce the practice of duty upon any sober, rational mind whatsoever.
To this I answer, that this complacency of mind upon a man’s doing his duty, on the one side, and that remorse attending his neglect of it, or doing the quite contrary, on the other, are so far from excluding a respect to a future recompence, or being a different motive from it, that they do really imply it, and are principally founded in it; the said complacency flowing naturally from the assurance given a man by his conscience, that the honesty and goodness of his actions sets him free and safe from all that evil and punishment which the law of God awards to the transgressors of it. And the contrary remorse of mind proceeding chiefly from a dread of those punishments, which a man’s conscience assures him that the breach of the said law will render the breakers of it obnoxious to. And that this is so, is demonstrable by this one reason; that several men are differently affected, either with this complacency or remorse of mind, upon their doing the very same action; and that, because some are verily persuaded, that the said action is a sin, and so to be followed with the penal consequents of sin; and others, on the contrary, are as fully persuaded that it is no sin. For the better illustration and proof of which, we must observe, that men’s judgments concerning sin have been, and in several parts of the world still are, very different; so that what is sin with one people or nation, is not always so with another: as for instance, some account drunkenness no sin, as many of the Germans; and others have had the same thoughts of theft, as the Spartans; and of fornication, 144as most of the heathens; and some again think, that an officious lie is no sin, as the Jesuits and Socinians: whereas others, on the contrary, stand as fully persuaded, that all these are sins, (as indeed they are, and most of them very gross ones too,) and such as, unrepented of, will assuredly consign over the persons guilty of them to eternal punishment from the hands of a sin-revenging justice.
But now, upon these two so different, preconceived opinions, it will and must certainly follow, that those of the latter judgment cannot but feel that horror and remorse of mind upon the doing of these actions, which those of the contrary persuasion, to wit, that they are no sins, undoubtedly, upon the very same actions, do not feel. But now, from whence can this be? Surely, not from the bare action itself, nor from any thing naturally adherent to it; forasmuch as the action, with all that is natural to it, is the same in both those sorts of men, whose minds, after the doing of it, are so differently affected. And therefore it must needs be from the different infusions into, and prepossessions of men in their minority and first education; by which some have been taught, that a severe punishment and after-reckoning belongs to such and such actions; and by which others again have been taught, that they are actions in themselves indifferent, and to which no penalty at all is due.
I conclude, therefore, that the complacency which men find upon the performance of their duty, and the remorse which they feel upon the neglect of it, taken abstractedly from all consideration of a future reward, cannot be a sufficient motive to duty; because, indeed, so taken, they are but a mere fiction 145or chimera. For that all such complacency and remorse are founded only upon an early persuasion wrought into men’s minds of a following retribution of happiness or misery allotted to men hereafter, according to the different nature and quality of their actions here: and so much in answer to this first exception. But,
2. Some again object and argue, that there is a different spirit required under the gospel from that which was either under or before the Mosaic dispensation; and therefore, though it might be lawful and allowable enough for the church in those days, living under an inferior economy, in all acts of duty to have respect to the recompence of reward; yet in times of higher and more spiritual attainments, and under a gospel state, men ought wholly to act, and to be acted by such a filial and free spirit, as never to enter upon any duty with the least regard to an after-compensation; this being servile, legal, and mercenary; as these sons of perfection do pretend.
But to this also I answer, that the Jewish church, and the church before it, may be considered under a double character or capacity. 1. As they sustained the peculiar formality of a church so or so constituted. And, 2dly, as they were men, or rational creatures, as the rest of mankind are.
Now it must be confessed, that what belonged to them in the former capacity was undoubtedly proper and peculiar to them, and so neither does nor ought to conclude the church nowadays, being cast into a different form or constitution. Nevertheless, what belonged to them, simply as they were men, or moral agents, equally belongs to and concerns the 146church in all places and all ages of the world, and under all forms, models, and administrations whatsoever.
But now, for any one in the works of duty to proceed upon hopes of a reward, is (as I have already shewn) the result of a rational nature, endued with such faculties of mind, as, according to their natural way of acting, (especially as the state of nature now is,) will hardly or never be brought to apply heartily to duty, but in the strength of such motives; the very nature of man inclining him chiefly, if not solely, to act upon such terms and conditions; so that to do one’s duty with regard to a following recompence, concerns not men under any peculiar denomination of Jews or Christians, but simply as they are men. And to affirm the contrary, is a direct passing over to the heresy and dotage of the Sadducees, who, by mistaking and perverting that saying of Zadock, the author of their sect and name, to wit, that men ought to do virtuously without any thought of a following recompence, carried it to that height of irreligion, as to deny all rewards of happiness or misery in another world; and, consequently, a resurrection to another life after this. Such horrid and profane inferences were drawn, or rather dragged by these heretics, from one unwary and misunderstood expression.
Nevertheless, so much is and must be granted, (and no doubt Zadock himself, if there was such an one, never intended more,) that for a man, in the practice of duty, to act solely and entirely from a desire of a following recompence, exclusively to all love of the work and duty itself, is indeed servile and mercenary, and no ways suitable to that filial 147temper which ought to govern all Christian minds. But then again, we must remember, that to do one’s duty only for a reward, and not to be willing to do it without one, are very different things. And if we consider even Judas himself, it was not his carrying the bag, while he followed his master, but his following his master only that he might carry the bag, which made him a thief and an hireling. For otherwise, I cannot see why he might not have been every whit as lawfully his master’s almoner, as he was one of his apostles; and have carried his bag with the same duty with which he might have carried his cross.
But now, if we shall drive the matter so far, as to make it absolutely unchristian for a man, in the practice of duty, to have any design at all upon a future reward; why then (as I may speak with reverence) does not God, in the conversion of a sinner, new-model his very essence, cashier and lop off the natural affections of hope and fear? And why does he also promise us heaven and glory, if it be not lawful for us to pursue what he is pleased to promise? For are these promises made to quicken our endeavours, or to debase and spoil our performances? to be helps, or rather snares to our obedience? All which, if it be both absurd and impious for any one to imagine, then it will follow, that this and the like exceptions, from which such paradoxes are inferred, must needs also fall to the ground as false, and not to be defended.
But before I make an end of this first proposition, it may not be amiss to consider a little the temper of those seraphic pretenders to religion, who have presumed to refine upon it by such airy, impracticable 148notions, and have made such a mighty noise with their gospel-spirits and gospel-dispensations, their high attainments and wonderful illuminations, screwing up matters to such an height, that there is no hope of being a Christian without being something more than a man. For so, I am sure, ought he to be, who, in the doing of his duty, must not be suffered to expect or look for any reward after it; nor, in his way to heaven, so much as to think of the place which he is going to. I say, if we consider the temper of these highfliers, (who would needs impose such a new Christianity upon the world,) are they themselves all spirit and life, all Christianity sublimate? (as I may so express it;) are they nothing but self-denial and divine love? nothing but a pure ascending flame, without any mixture or communication with these lower elements? I must confess I could never yet find any such thing in this sort of men; but on the contrary have generally observed them to be as arrant worldlings, and as proud and selfish a generation of men, as ever disgraced the name of Christianity by wearing it, and far from giving any other proof, that in all their religious performances they never act with an eye to a future reward, but only this one a that having wholly fastened their eyes, their hands, and their hearts also upon this world, they cannot possibly, at the same time, place them upon another too. On the other side, therefore, not to aspire to such heights and elevations in religion, (or rather indeed above it,) since God, of his abundant goodness, has been pleased to invite, and even court us to our duty with such liberal and glorious rewards, let us neither despise his grace nor be wiser than his methods; but with arms as open 149to take, as his are to give, let us embrace the motives he has afforded us, as so many springs and wheels to our obedience. And whosoever shall piously, constantly, and faithfully do his duty with hopes of the promised recompence, shall find that God will not fail to make good that promise to him hereafter, by an humble dependance upon which he was brought to do his duty here: and so much for our first and main proposition. The
Second, which (as I shew before) was in a manner included in the first, and so scarce needs any prosecution distinct from it, is this;
That the proposal of a reward on God’s part, and a respect had to it on man’s, are undoubtedly necessary to engage men in a course of duty and obedience.
For the discussion of which, I shall briefly do these two things:
1st, I shall shew in what respect these are said to be necessary. And
2dly, I shall shew why, and upon what reasons, they ought to be accounted so.
1. And first for the necessity of them. A thing may be said to be necessary two ways. As,
1. When by the very essence or nature of it, it is such, that it implies in it a contradiction, and consequently an impossibility, even by the power of God himself, that (the said nature continuing) it should be otherwise. And thus, I shall never presume to affirm (though some I know do) that God cannot in duce a man (being a free agent) to a course of duty and obedience, without proposing a competent reward to such obedience. For I question not, but God can so qualify and determine the will of a rational agent, 150(and that without the least diminution to its natural freedom,) that the inclination and bias of it shall wholly propend to good, and that from a mere love of goodness itself, without any consideration of a further recompence. And the reason of this is, because all good, as such, is in its degree a proper object for the will to choose; and whatsoever is a proper object of its choice, is also sufficient to draw forth and determine the actings of it, unless there interpose some stronger appetibile, to rival or overmatch it in its choice: and yet even in this case also, God no doubt can so strengthen the propensity of the will to good, that it shall have no appetite to or relish for the pleasures of sense at all; and consequently shall need no proposal, either of reward or punishment, to draw it off from the choice and pursuit of those things, which the grace of God has already given it such an entire aversion to. For this, questionless, is the present condition of the angels and other glorified spirits, whose will is so absolutely determined to good, as to be without any proneness or disposition at all to evil; and what condition they are in at present, God, we may be sure, by his omnipotence, could have created man in at first, and have preserved him in ever since, had he been so pleased; so that there is nothing in the thing itself impossible. But this, I own, affects not immediately the case now before us. And therefore, in the
Second place, a thing may be said to be necessary, not absolutely, but with respect to that particular state and condition in which it is. And thus, because God has actually so cast the present condition of man, as to make his inclination to good but imperfect, and during this life to continue it so, and 151withal to place him amongst such objects as are mightily apt to draw him off from what is morally good, it was necessary, upon the supposal of such a condition, that, if God would have men effectually choose good, and avoid evil, he should suggest to them some further motives to good, and arguments against evil, than what the bare consideration of the things themselves, prohibited or commanded by him, can afford. For otherwise, that which is morally good, meeting with so faint and feeble an inclination in the will to wards it, will never be able to make any prevailing impression upon that leading faculty. From all which you see in what sense we affirm it necessary for God to propose rewards to men, thereby to engage them to their duty; namely, because of that imperfect estate which God has been pleased to leave men under in this world.
And now, in the next place, for the proof of this necessity, (which was the other thing proposed by us,) these two general reasons may be offered.
The first taken from clear evidence of scripture. And the
Second, from the constant avowed practice of all the wise lawgivers of the world.
1. And first for scripture. It has been more than sufficiently proved from thence already, how deplorably unable the heart of man is, not only to conquer, but even to contend with the difficulties of a spiritual course, without a steady view of such promises as may supply new life, spirit, and vigour to its obedience. To all which, let it suffice, at present, to add that full and notable declaration of St. Paul, in 1 Cor. xv. 19, that if in this life only we had hope in Christ, we were of all men most miserable. And 152certainly, for a man to know, that by being a Christian, he should be of all men most miserable, was as untoward an argument (should we look no further) to persuade him to be a Christian, as could well have been thought of. So that we see here how those adepti, those men of perfection before spoken of, (who scorn to be religious out of any respect to a future reward,) are already got a pitch above the third heaven; and far beyond the utmost perfection that St. Paul himself ever pretended to. But,
Secondly, the other proof of the same assertion shall be taken from the practice of all the noted law givers of the world; who have still found it necessary to back and fortify their laws with rewards and punishments; these being the very strength and sinew of the law, as the law itself is of government.
No wise ruler ever yet ventured the peace of society upon the goodness of men’s nature, or the virtuous inclination of their temper. Nor was any thing truly great and extraordinary ever almost achieved, but in the strength of some reward every whit as great and extraordinary as the action which it carried a man out to. Thus it was in the virtue of Saul’s high promises that David encountered Goliah: the giant indeed was the mark he shot, or rather slung at; but the king’s daughter and the court preferments were the mark he most probably aimed at. For we read how inquisitive he was, what should be done for him. And it is not unknown, how in the case of a scrupulous oath-sick conscience also, promise of preferment has been found the ablest casuist to resolve it; from which and the like passages, both ancient and modern, if 153we look further into the politics of the Greeks and the Romans, and other nations of remark in history, we shall find, that, whensoever the laws enjoined any thing harsh, and to the doing of which men were naturally averse, they always thought it requisite to add allurement to obligation, by declaring a noble recompence (possibly some large pension, or gainful office, or title of honour) to the meritorious doers of whatsoever should be commanded them; and when again, on the other side, the law forbad the doing of any thing which men were otherwise mightily inclined to do, they were still forced to call in aid from the rods and the axes, and other terrible inflictions, to secure the authority of the prohibition against the bent and fury of the contrary inclination. And this course, being founded in the very nature of men and things, was and is as necessary to give force and efficacy to the divine laws themselves, as to any human laws whatsoever. For in vain do we think to find any man virtuous enough to be a law to himself, or any law strong enough to enforce and drive home its own obligation; or lastly, the prerogative of any lawgiver high enough to assure to him the subjects obedience. For men generally affect to be caressed and encouraged, and, as it were, bought to their duty, (as well as from it too sometimes.) For which and the like causes, when God, by Moses, had set before his own people a large number of the most excellent, and, as one would think, self-recommending precepts on the one hand, and a black roll of the very worst and vilest of sins on the other, (sins that seemed to carry their punishment in their very commission;) yet nevertheless, in the issue, God found it needful to 154bring up the rear of all with those decretory words, in Deut. xxx. 19, Behold, I have this day set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. And what he then set before the Israelites, he now sets before us, and the whole world besides; and when we shall have well weighed the nature of the things set before us, and considered what life is and what death is, I suppose we shall need neither instruction nor exhortation, to which of the two we should direct our choice.
And now, to close up all, and to relieve your patience, you have heard the point stated and argued, and the objections against it answered; after all which, what can we so naturally infer from this whole discourse, as the infinite concern, lying upon every man, to fix to himself such a principle to act by, as may effectually bring him to that great and beatific end, which he came into the world for?
This is most certain, that no man’s practice can rise higher than his hopes. It is observed in aqueducts, that no pipe or conduit can force the current of the water higher than the spring-head itself lies, from whence the water first descends. In like manner, it is impossible for a man, who designs to himself only the rewards of this world, to act in the strength thereof, at such a rate, as shall bring him to a better. And the reason of this is, because whosoever makes these present enjoyments his whole design, accounts them absolutely the best things he can have, and accordingly he looks no further, he expects no better; and if so, it is not to be imagined, that he should ever obtain what he never so much as looked for: for no man shall come to heaven by chance.155
As for trials and temptations, (those fatal rocks which the souls of men are so apt to dash upon,) we may take this for an infallible rule concerning them; namely, that nothing in this world can support a man against such trials, as shall threaten him with the utter loss of this world. For the truth is, it would imply a contradiction to suppose that it could; and yet these are the trials which even wise men so much fear, and prepare for, and know that they shall sink under and perish by, unless borne up by something mightier and greater than the world; and therefore not to be found in it.
What further trials God may have in reserve for us, we cannot tell; only this we may reckon upon as a certain, though sad truth; that there has been a mighty growing guilt upon this nation for several years. And as great guilts naturally portend as well as provoke great judgments; so God knows how soon the black cloud, which has been so long gathering over us, may break, and pour down upon us; and how near we may be to times, in which he who will keep his conscience must expect to keep nothing else.
For nothing, certainly, can cast a more dreadful aspect upon us, than those monstrous crying immoralities lately broke in amongst us; by which, not only the English virtue, but the very English temper, seems utterly to have left us; while, to the terror of all pious minds, foreign vices have invaded us, which threaten us more than any foreign armies can.
As for our excellent church, which has been so maligned and struck at on all hands, and we of this place especially; and that by some whom we had 156 little cause to expect such stabs from, (to their just and eternal infamy be it spoke;77 See a virulent, insulting pamphlet, entitled, A Letter to a Member of Parliament, &c. page 14 and 52, printed in the year 1697, and as like the author himself, W. W. as malice can make it.) we have been moreover told, and that with spite and insolence enough, that our possessions and privileges are very precarious, (though yet, thanks be to God, and to our ancient government, confirmed to us by all that this nation calls law;) and withal, that our reign will be very short, (as no doubt, if republicans might have their will, the reign of all kings, even of king William himself, would be so too.) But still, blessed be the Almighty, we are in his hands; and whatsoever his most wise providence may bring upon us, we know upon what terms our great Lord and Master will deal with us; having so fully declared himself, as to all these critical turns and trials of our obedience, in Rev. ii. 10. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. God enable us to be the former, by a steady, unshaken hope of the latter.
To which God be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and do minion, both now and for evermore. Amen.157
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