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For I say unto you, That unless your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
WE have here the great doctor of souls in his sermon upon the mount applying himself to the great business of souls, their eternal happiness and salvation; a thing aimed at by all, but attained by few. And since there can be no rational direction to the end, but what is laid in the prescription of the means, he shews them the most effectual course of arriving to this happiness that is imaginable; and that is, partly by discovering those ways and means by which men come to miss of salvation; and partly by declaring those other ways by which alone it is to be attained: first he shews them how it cannot be acquired; and secondly how it may. It cannot be attained by the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees; it may be attained by such an one as does exceed it.
In order to the understanding of the words, I must premise some short explication of these three things.
I. Who and what these scribes and pharisees were.
II. What is here meant by righteousness.
III. And lastly, what by the kingdom of heaven.406
I. And first for the first, who these scribes and pharisees were. It would be both tedious, and, as to our present business, superfluous, to discourse exactly of the original and ways of the several sects that about the time of our Saviour infested the Jewish church; such as were the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and Herodians. Let it suffice us therefore to consider so much of them as may contribute to the clearing of the text; which is, that these pharisees were a powerful ruling sect amongst the Jews, professing and pretending to a greater sanctity of life and purity of doctrine than any others. Upon which account they gave denomination to their sect from pharash, a word importing separation; as that they were men who had sequestered and set apart themselves to the study and pursuit of a more sublime piety and strictness of life than the rest of mankind; as also such as gave the best interpretations of the Mosaic law, not only expounding, but also correcting and perfecting it where it was defective.
In which respect they struck in with the scribes. For pharisee is the name of a sect, scribe of an office; and signifies as much as a doctor, one whose employment it was to interpret and expound the law to the people in their synagogues. So that in short the scribes and pharisees amongst the Jews were such as owned themselves for the strictest livers and the best teachers in the world.
II. The second thing to be explained is, what our Saviour here means by righteousness. The word may have a twofold acception.
1. It may import a righteousness of doctrine; such an one as is to be the rule and measure of the righteousness of our actions.407
2. It may import a righteousness in point of practice; that is, such an one as denominates a man just or righteous; as the former properly denominates a man only sound or orthodox.
And now, according to these two senses, as righteousness is twice mentioned in the text; so it is first mentioned in one sense, and then in the other.
The righteousness called by our Saviour the righteousness of the pharisees signifies the righteousness taught by the pharisees, which is manifest from the whole drift of the chapter. In all which throughout, it is evidently Christ’s design to oppose the purity of his doctrine in the clear exposition of the law, to the corrupt and pernicious expositions that the pharisees gave of the same.
But then the other righteousness, called by our Saviour your righteousness, imports a righteousness of practice, a pious life, or a course of evangelical obedience. So that the sense of our Saviour’s words taken more at large runs thus: Unless you pursue and live up to a greater measure of piety than what the scribes and pharisees teach and prescribe you in their perverse and superficial glosses upon the law of Moses, you will find it infinitely short and insufficient to bring you to heaven. Your lives must outdo your lessons. You must step further, and bid higher, or you will never reach the price and purchase of a glorious immortality.
III. The third and last thing to be explained is, what our Saviour here means by the kingdom of heaven: for there are three several significations of it in scripture.
1. It is taken for the state and economy of the church under Christianity, opposed to the Jewish 408and Mosaic economy; in which sense that known speech both of John the Baptist and of our Saviour is to be understood, in which they told the world, that the kingdom of heaven was at hand; that is, that the Mosaic dispensation was then ready to expire and cease, and that of the Messiah to take place.
2. It is sometimes taken for the kingdom of grace, by which Christ rules in the hearts of men. In which sense those words of his to the young man are to be understood in Mark xii. 34, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. That is, Thou art not far from such a frame and disposition of spirit, as fits a man to be my disciple and subject, and so brings him under the spiritual rule of my sceptre.
3. And lastly, it is taken for the kingdom of glory, which is the prime and most eminent acception of it; and which I conceive is intended here; though I deny not but some would have it expounded in the first of these three senses.
But besides that the natural aspect of the phrase seems to favour this interpretation, the word entering into much more easily denoting a passage into another place, than merely into another state or condition; the same is yet further evident from hence, that an entrance into the kingdom of heaven is here exhibited as the end and reward that men propose to themselves as attainable by the righteousness of their lives, and consequently to commence upon the expiration of them; which therefore can be nothing else but a state of blessedness in another world.
These things premised by way of explication, we may take the entire sense of the words in these three propositions.409
1. That a righteousness is absolutely necessary to the attainment of salvation. Which is an assertion of such self-evidence, and so universally granted by all, in appearance at least, that to cast any remark upon it might at most seem ridiculous, did not so many in the world contradict their profession by their practice; and while they own designs for heaven, yet indeed live and act as if they were candidates of hell and probationers for damnation.
2. As a righteousness is necessary, so every degree of righteousness is not sufficient to entitle the soul to eternal happiness. It must be such an one as exceeds, such an one as stands upon higher ground than that which usually shews itself in the lives and conversation of the generality of mankind.
3dly, and more particularly, that righteousness that saves and lets a man into the kingdom of heaven, must far surpass the best and the greatest righteousness of the most refined and glistering hypocrite in the world.
Which proposition, as virtually containing in it both the former, shall be the subject of the following discourse. And the prosecution of it shall lie in these three things.
I. To shew the defects of the hypocrite’s righteousness, here expressed by the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, and declared for such an one as cannot save.
II. To shew those perfections and conditions by which the righteousness that saves and brings to heaven does transcend and surpass this.
III. And lastly. To shew the grounds and reason of the necessity of such a righteousness in order to a man’s salvation.410
And first, for the defects of the hypocritical, pharisaical righteousness, we may reckon several.
1. As first, that it consisted chiefly in the external actions of duty; never taking care of the inward deportment of the soul, in the regulation of its thoughts, wishes, and affections; in the due composure of which consists the very spirit and vital part of religion. The pharisees taught the Jews, that he who imbrued not his hand in his brother’s blood was no murderer, and that he who defiled not his neighbour’s bed could not be charged with a violation of that command that forbade adultery. So that it seems, according to them, a man might innocently burn with malice and revenge, lustful and impure thoughts, so long as he could keep the furnace stopped, and prevent them from breaking forth and raging in gross outward commissions.
Thus (as our Saviour told them) making clean the outside of the platter, and smoothing the surface of their behaviour, while their inward parts were full of all noisomeness, filth, and abomination. The hypocrite and the pharisee, like some beasts, are only valuable for their skin and their fine colours; so that after all their flourishes of an outward, dissembled piety, all those shows of abstinence and severity, by which they amuse the eyes of the easy, credulous world, we cannot say properly of any one of them, that he is a good man, but only a good sight; and that too, because we cannot see all of him.
Such persons are not the temples or habitations, but the sepulchres of piety; and we know that when we have seen a sepulchre, we have had the best of it: for there is none so ill a friend to his 411other senses, as to search or look into it any further. The pharisees were thought and accounted by the deluded vulgar the greatest heroes in piety, the highest and most advanced proficients in the school of religion, of all others whatsoever; so that at the same time they were both the glory and the reproach of the rest of their brethren the Jews, whom they seemed to obscure, and even to upbraid, by their vast transcendency in the ways of sanctity and devotion: and yet our Saviour gives you the very original and spring-head of all those shining performances, in Matt. xxiii. 5, where he tells you, that all their works they did to be seen of men. It was the eye of the world that they courted, and not the eye of heaven that they feared. Otherwise, surely they would have thought themselves responsible for all the villainy and hypocrisy of their hearts; for all their bosom-cabinet-concealed impurities; since all these were as open to the eye of God’s searching omniscience, and as odious to the pure eye of his holiness, as murders or robberies committed in the face of the sun, and revenged upon the actors of them by the hand of public justice.
And where these were cherished by the inward affections and approbations of the heart, demure looks, long prayers, and enlarging of phylacteries, were but pitiful, thin arts to recommend them to the acceptance of that God, who looks through appearances, and pierces into the heart, and ransacks the very bowels and entrails of the soul, rating all our services according to the frame and temper of that. For being a spirit, he judges like a spirit, and cannot be put off with dress and dissimulation, paint and varnish; and the fairest outward actions of 412duty, not springing from an inward principle of piety, are no better in the sight of him, who abominates nothing more than a foul heart couched under a fair behaviour.
2. A second fault and flaw in this righteousness was, that it was partial and imperfect, not extending itself equally to all God’s commands: some of which the pharisees accounted great ones, and accordingly laid some stress upon the observation of them; but some again they accounted but little ones, and so styled them in their common phrase, and shew as little regard to them in their practice.
Which defect, as it was eminent in them, so it is also common to every hypocrite in the world, who never comes up roundly to the whole compass of his duty, even then when he makes the most pompous show; but singles out some certain parts, which perhaps suit best with his occasions, and least thwart his corruptions, leaving the rest to those who may like them better. As the proud or unclean person may be liberal and charitable to the poor, frequent in the service of God, abhor a lie, or a treacherous action, with many other the like duties, that do not directly grate upon the darling sin that he is tender of: but what says he all this time to those precepts that charge his pride and his uncleanness? God calls upon him to be humble as well as charitable, to be pure and chaste, as well as devout; nor will it suffice him to chop and change one duty for another: he cannot clear his debts, by paying part of the great sum he owes. The obligation of the law is universal and uniform, and carries an equal aspect to every instance of religion lying within the compass of its command. Upon which account it is said, 413James ii. 10, that he that offends in one is guilty of all. For by so doing he breaks the whole chain of duty, which is as really broke and divided by the breach of one link, as if every one of them was took asunder. Nor is it otherwise in the laws of men. For surely he that is convict of murder has no cause to excuse that violation of the law upon this account, that he is no thief or traitor: the law is as really, though not as broadly violated by one transgression as by a thousand: and whosoever lives, and allows himself in the constant neglect of any one of Christ’s commands, and expects to be saved upon the stock of his obedience to the rest of them, (though even the supposition of such an obedience is absolutely impossible,) that man has a hope altogether as absurd, sottish, and ridiculous, in reference to his future salvation, as if in the forementioned case a convict murderer should think to escape the sentence and execution of death, by pleading that he never broke open an house, nor conspired the death of his prince, or bore his share in a public rebellion: how would every one hiss and explode such a defence!
David knew that there was no building any solid confidence upon a parcelled, curtailed obedience; and therefore he states his hope upon such an one as was entire and universal; Psalm cxix. 6, Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect to all thy commandments. Every disappointment certainly draws after it a shame: and whosoever hopes to stand before God’s tribunal in the strength of a righteousness maimed in any one integral part of it, will have a defeat and a disappointment cast upon his greatest expectation and his highest concernment; 414he will be lurched in that that admits of no after-game or reparation.
God exacts of every soul that looks to enter into the kingdom of heaven a perfect righteousness; perfect, I say, with a perfection of sincerity, which is a perfection of parts, though not of degrees: that is, there is no one grace or virtue but a Christian must have it before he can be saved: though such is the present state of human infirmity, that he cannot in this life attain to the highest degree of that virtue. But as an infant is a man, because he has all the parts of a man, though he has them not in that bulk and strength that those have who are grown up; so he is righteous and sincere who performs every divine precept, omitting no one of them, though his performances have not that perfection and exactness that is to be found in the obedience of a person glorified and made perfect. However, still we see that universality is required, and an equal compliance with all the divine precepts. For as it is not an handsome eye, an handsome hand, or an handsome leg, but an universal symmetry and just proportion of all the members and features of the body, that makes an handsome man; so neither is it the practice of this or that virtue, but an entire complexion of all, that must render and denominate a man righteous in the sight of God. And therefore it was infinite folly in the pharisees to be exact in other things, even to the tithing of rue and cummin, and in the mean time to lop off the force and design of a grand precept of the law, by allowing men in some cases not to pay honour to their parents; as we read in Mark vii. 10, 11, 12, 13, making it a damnable sin forsooth to deprive the priest of a 415salad, but a very allowable thing to suffer a parent to starve with hunger. But when such a deluded wretch shall brave up his accounts to God, that he prayed of ten, fasted twice a week, paid tithe of all that he had; what will he answer, when God shall reply upon him; Ay, but, friend, what have you done for your distressed father and mother? Your bowels have been shut up to your nearest kindred, and you have not relieved the poor, though recommended with the dearest relation. Then he will find, that the performance of one duty can be no recompence for the omission of another.
Men should measure their righteousness by the extent of Christ’s satisfaction for sin, which was far from being partial or imperfect; it grasped and comprehended all the sins that either were or could be committed. And if, in the application of this satisfaction to any soul, Christ should take all the sins of it upon his own score, one only excepted, that one sin would inevitably expose it to the full stroke of God’s vengeance, and sink it for ever into endless perdition.
Let a man therefore shew me any one part of the law, for the transgression of which Christ did not shed his blood; and for the pardon of which the merits of that blood must not be imputed to him, if ever it is pardoned; and I will grant, that in the general rules and obligations of obedience, that part of the law admits of an exception, and consequently obliges not his practice: but Christ knew full well how imperfect a Saviour and Redeemer the world would have found him, had he not paid a price to divine justice for every even the least and most despised deviation from the law. One peccadillo, as 416some phrase it, if not satisfied for, had been enough to crack and confound the whole system of the creation, and to have lodged the whole mass of mankind eternally in the bottomless pit.
From all which it appears, that the partial, mangled obedience that the hypocrite or the pharisee pays to the divine precepts, can entitle him to no right of entrance into the kingdom of heaven: there is no coming thither with a piece of a wedding garment, with the ragged robe of an half and a curtailed righteousness: and the righteousness of the most eminent unregenerate professor amounts to no more, who is never so clear and entire in duty, but that he has his reserves, his allowances, and exemptions from some severe, troublesome precept or other, that he is resolved to dispense with himself in the observance of; as never worshipping God but with a proviso, that he may still bow in the house of his beloved Rimmon.
3. The third defect of this pharisaical, unsound righteousness is, that it is legal; that is, such an one as expects to win heaven upon the strength of itself and its own worth. Which opinion alone were enough to embase the very righteousness of angels in the sight of God so far, as to render it not only vain, but odious; and to turn the best of sacrifices into the worst of sins. It is an affront to mercy for any one to pretend merit. It is to pull Christ down from the cross, to degrade him from his mediatorship; and, in a word, to nullify and evacuate the whole work of man’s redemption.
For, as St. Paul argues most irrefragably, if righteousness is by the law, then is Christ dead in vain: since upon this supposition there can be no 417necessity of Christ or Christianity; and the gospel itself were but a needless and a superfluous thing: for it is but for a man to set up and traffic for heaven upon his own stock; and to say to himself, I will do this, and live: my own arm shall bring salvation to me, and my righteousness shall uphold me.
But who art thou, O vain man! that durst reason thus about thy eternal state? when, if God should enter into judgment with the best of his servants, no flesh living could be justified in his sight: a sight that endures not the least unpardoned, unremitted transgression; that charges the very angels with folly. So infinitely exact, searching, and spiritual, is the eye of divine justice, and so vastly great is the prize of glory that we run for, so much higher and more valuable than our choicest and most elaborate performances!
And can we think then, that a few broken prayers, a few deeds of charity, a few fastings and abstinences, and restraints of our appetites, will carry in them such a commanding, controlling value, as to bear us through God’s tribunal, and to make the doors of heaven fly open before us, that we may even with the confidence of purchasers enter and take possession of the mansions of glory? Some perhaps may think so, who suppose they can never think too well of themselves.
But as arrogant as such a thought is, its arrogance is not greater than its absurdity. For as Job says, Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? And as our Saviour, Who can gather figs from thistles? or the grapes of a perfect righteousness from the briers and thorns of a corrupt and degenerate 418nature? Since the ruins of our faculties by original sin, let the devoutest and the sincerest Christian in the world bring me the best and the exactest duty that ever he performed, and let him sift, examine, and compare it to the rigid measures of the law, and the holiness of the divine nature, and then let him venture the whole issue of his eternal happiness upon it if he dares. Did men consider how many things go to the making of an action perfectly good, and how many such good actions are required to integrate and perfect a legal righteousness; it were impossible for them to reflect with any fondness upon the very best of their services, which are always allayed with such mixtures of weakness and imperfection.
And therefore let not any pharisee be too confident; for be his righteousness what it will, yet if he hopes to justify himself by it, he will find that persons justified in this manner are never glorified. Men may saint themselves as they please; but if they have nothing to read their saintship in but their own rubric, they may chance to find themselves condemned in heaven, after they have been canonized on earth.
And thus I have shewn the three great defects cleaving to the righteousness of the pharisee, who is here represented as the grand exemplar and standard of hypocrisy; all hypocrites more or less partaking of both the nature and defects of the pharisaical righteousness. And if we now grant, as with great truth and readiness we may, that the pharisee or hypocrite may live up to such glorious externals and visible shows of religion, as to astonish the world with an admiration of his sanctity; so that in the 419judgment and vogue of all, he shall stand heir apparent to a crown of glory and immortality; which yet in reality and truth he has no more title to, than he who acts the part of a king upon the stage has a claim to a sceptre or a kingdom: then what judgment can we pass upon the generality of men that wear the name of Christians, and upon that account seem big with expectations of a glorious eternity, yet are as much short of a pharisaical righteousness, as that is short of sincerity? Alas! they are not arrived so far as to approve themselves to the eye of the world, so far as to appear godly, or so much as to be mistaken for religious. But by an open sensuality and profaneness, their behaviour seems a constant defiance of heaven, and a confutation of their religion. It were worth the knowing by what reasonings and discourses such men support their minds and reconcile their future hopes to their present practices: for if he, whom the world judges a saint, may yet be in the gall of bitterness and a son of perdition, is it possible that such an one, whose actions proclaim him even to the world for a reprobate and a castaway, should yet indeed be a pious and a sincere person? No, assuredly; for though the piety of a man’s outward actions may very well consist with the villainy of his heart, yet it is impossible, on the other hand, for a life outwardly bad, to be consistent with an heart inwardly good; and those that set forth for heaven in the contrary persuasion and principle, when they meet with hell in their journey’s end, will find that they missed of their way.
And thus much for the first thing, which was, to shew the defects of the hypocritical, pharisaical righteousness. I proceed now to the420
Second, which is, to shew those perfections and qualities by which the righteousness that saves and brings to heaven does transcend and surpass that. Many might be recounted, but I shall insist upon four especially.
1. As first, that it is entirely the same, whether the eye of man see it or see it not. It can do its alms where there is no trumpet to sound before it, and pray fervently where there is no spectator to applaud it. It finds the same enlargements and flowings of affection when it pours forth itself before God in private, as when it bends the knee in the solemn resorts of the multitude, and the face of the synagogue. It is contented, that the eye of Omniscience is upon it, and that it is observed by him who sees in secret, as scorning to move upon the inferior motives of popular notice and observation.
For it acts by a principle that holds no intercourse with the world, even the pure abstracted love of God, which would be as active and operative, if there were no other person in the world but him alone in whose breast it is. And therefore there is no external interest that can bear any share in the heat and activity of such an one’s devotion. It needs no company to keep it warm. For he transacts with God, and with God alone: so that if he can be heard above, he cares not whether or no he is seen here below.
But it is much otherwise with the hypocrite; his devotion grows cold, if not warmed with the crowd and the throng. He designs not to be, but to appear religious. He can willingly want the inward part of a Christian, so he may be esteemed and commended for the outward. For as it is said of some 421vainglorious pretenders to science, that they desire knowledge, not that they may know, but that they may be known; so some affect the garb of the pious and the austere, who abhor the rigours of a real and a practical piety. They can be infinitely pleased with the dress and fashionable part of religion, while they hate and loathe the grim duties of self-denial and mortification. In short, they are like fire painted upon an altar; they desire not to be hot, but only to shine and glister.
And it is this worthy principle that brings so many to the worship of God, only to court the eye of some potent, earthly great one, who perhaps commands and lords it over their hopes and their fears; so that when he is present, they will be sure to be so too; and when he is absent, they can be as ready to turn their back upon heaven, and to think it below their occasions, if not also their prudence, to sacrifice business to prayer, which is a thing that they never make their business.
But what would or could such a person plead, should God arrest him in the church, and summon him to his tribunal in the midst of those his solemn mockeries of heaven, and ask him who and what it was that brought him thither to that place? Surely he could not answer that it was God; for then why should not he be there as well in the absence of the grandee his patron, unless he thought that God also was one of his retinue, and so was no where to be found out of his company?
But this very thing makes it but too, too evident, that it is a mortal eye that every such hypocrite adores; so that in all his most solemn addresses he cannot so properly be said to act the Christian, as to 422act a part. Such pharisees come to church, and frame themselves into postures of zeal and devotion, as women dress themselves, only to be stared upon and admired. If they were sure of no beholders, they would not be fine; for it is the spectator that makes the sight.
I wish all those would lay this consideration to heart who are concerned to do so, and measure the sincerity of that holiness they so much value themselves upon, by this one mark and criterion; for can they answer from their hearts, that it is purely the love of duty that engages them in duty? Is there nothing of pageantry and appearance that models and directs and gives laws to all the little designs they bring along with them to church? Does not the consideration of what such or such an one will say or think of them bring many to sermons, and, which I tremble to think of, even to the sacrament, who neither by the necessity or excellency of the duty itself would ever be induced to vouchsafe their attendance upon it; but could be contented to live without sacraments for ever, and to end their days like heathens and outlaws from all the graces of the second covenant and the mysteries of Christianity?
If there be any such that hear me, let them lay their hands upon their hearts, and assure themselves, that God loathes all their services, and detests their righteousnesses the highest affront that can be passed upon all his attributes, and consequently has assigned it its reward in the lot and portion of hypocrisy.
But now the sincere and the really holy person apprehends a beauty and a worth in the very exercise of duty, and upon that account still carries the 423reason of his devotion about him and within him; so that when he has shut to his door, and sequestered himself from the popular gaze, then chiefly he sets himself to the work of prayer and piety, and accounts his closet a temple, and his conscience an amphitheatre.
2. A second property of such a righteousness as is saving and sincere, is an active watching against and opposing every even the least sin. How small and almost indiscernible is a dust falling into the eye, and yet how troublesome, how uneasy, and afflicting is it! Why just so is the least sin in the eye of a sanctified person; the sense of it is quick and tender, and so finds the smallest invasion upon it grating and offensive. We know when David cut off the skirt of Saul’s garment, at which time he was far from any hurtful designs upon his person, yet it is said of him, that immediately upon the doing of it his heart smote him; so fearful was he, lest he might have transgressed the lines of duty, though his conscience did not directly accuse him of any such transgression. Now as solicitous as David was after this action, so cautious and timorous is every sincere person before he attempts a thing. That plea for sin, Is it not a little one? which is the language of every rotten heart, is no argument at all with him for its commission.
For he knows that there is no sin so little, but is great enough to dishonour an infinite God, and to ruin an immortal soul; none so little, but designs and intends to be great, nay the greatest, and would certainly so prove, if not cut off and suppressed by a mature prevention. Every lustful thought left to its own natural course and tendency would be incest, 424every angry thought murder, and every little grudging of discontent and murmuring would at length ripen into blasphemy and cursing; did not the sanctifying or restraining grace of God interpose between the conception and the birth of most sins, and stifle them in the womb of that concupiscence that would otherwise assuredly bring them forth, and breed them up to their full growth.
And this the new creature in every truly righteous person is sufficiently aware of, which makes him dread the very beginnings of sin, and fly even the occasions of it with horror. For he knows how easily it enters, and how hardly it is got out; how potent and artificial it is to tempt and insinuate, and how weak his heart is to withstand a suitable temptation.
He considers also how just it is with God to give those over to the highest pitch and degree of sin, who make no conscience of resisting its beginnings; and withal how frequently he does so, withdrawing the supports and influences of his grace, and leaving the soul, after every yielding to sin, more and more defenceless against the next encounter and assault it shall make upon him. All which considerations of a danger so vastly and incredibly great, are certainly very sufficient to warrant the nicest caution and fearfulness in this case, upon all accounts of prudence whatsoever.
But now if we examine the righteousness of an unsound, pharisaical professor by this property, we shall find it far from being thus affected toward sin; it easily connives at and allows the soul in all lesser excursions and declinations from the rule, readily complies with the more moderate and less impudent 425proposals of the tempter: so that such an one never comes so much as to startle, or think himself at all concerned about the security of his eternal estate, till some great and clamorous sin begins to cry aloud and ring peals of imminent approaching vengeance in his conscience; and then perhaps he looks about him a little, prays twice or thrice, dejects his countenance, and utters a few melancholy words, and so concludes the danger over, his sin atoned, his person safe, and all perfectly well again. But this is a righteousness took up upon false measures, a righteousness of a man’s own inventing, and consequently such an one as can never determine in the peace of him that has it.
But the truly pious is never at rest in his mind, but when he stands upon his guard against the most minute and inobservable encroaches of sin, as knowing them upon this account perhaps more dangerous than greater; that the enemy that is least feared, is usually the soonest felt. For as in the robbing of an house, it is the custom for the sturdiest thieves to put in some little boy at the window, who being once within the house may easily open the doors, and let them in too: so the tempter, in rifling of the soul, despairs for the most part to attempt his entrance by some gross sin of a dismal, frightful hue and appearance, and therefore he employs a lesser, that may creep and slide into it insensibly; which yet, as little as it is, will so open and unlock the bars of conscience, that the biggest and the most enormous abominations shall at length make their entrance, and seize and take possession of it.
Let no man therefore measure the smallness of his danger by the smallness of any sin; for the 426smaller the sin, the greater may be the stratagem. We may have heard of those who have been choked with a fly, a crum, or a grapestone. Such contemptible things carry in them the causes of death; and it is not impossible, though some have had swallows large enough for perjuries, blasphemies, and murders, yet that others may chance to be choked and destroyed with sinful desires, idle words, and officious lies. How many ways a soul may be ruined, few consider; those that do, will not count it scrupulosity to beware of the least and slenderest instruments of damnation. But if to be so very nice and suspicious be called by any scrupulosity, such must know, that no scrupulosity about the matters of eternity can be either absurd or superfluous, but in these affairs is only another name for care and discretion.
3. The third discriminating property of a sincere, genuine, and saving righteousness is, that it is such an one as never stops, or contents itself in any certain pitch or degree, but aspires and presses forward to still an higher and an higher perfection. As the men of the world, when they are once in a thriving way, never think themselves rich enough, but are still improving and adding to their stock; just so it is with every sanctified person in his Christian course: he will never think himself holy and humble and mortified enough, but will still be making one degree of holiness a step only to another; when he has kindled the fire in his breast, his next business is to make it flame and blaze out. If it were possible for him to assign such a precise measure of righteousness as would save him, yet he would not acquiesce in it; since it is not the mere interest of 427his own salvation, but of God’s honour, that principles and moves him in the whole course of his actions. And then he knows, that if God cannot be too much honoured, he cannot be too righteous; and that if he cannot too intently design the end, he can never too solicitously prosecute the means. It was an expression of a father, concerning the apostle Paul, that he was insatiabilis Dei cultor, an insatiable worshipper of God: so that having pitched his mind upon this object, his spiritual appetites were boundless and unlimited.
It is observed of the two nobler senses, the seeing and the hearing, that they are never tired with exerting themselves upon such things as properly affect them; for surely none ever surfeited upon music, or found himself cloyed with the sight of rare pictures. In like manner the desires of the righteous are so suited and framed to an agreeableness with the ways of God, that they find a continual freshness growing upon them in the performance of duty; the more they have prayed, the more fit and vigorous they find themselves for prayer: like a stream, which the further it has run, the more strength and force it has to run further.
Such persons are earned forth to duty, not upon designs of acquisition, but gratitude; not so much to gain something from God, as (if it were possible) to do something for him. And we all know, that the nature and genius of gratitude is to be infinite and unmeasurable in the expressions of itself. It makes a David cry out as if he even laboured and travailed to be delivered of some of those thankful apprehensions of the divine goodness that his heart was big with; Psalm cxvi. 12, What, says he, shall 428I render to the Lord for all his benefits? All that he could do or say for God seemed to him but a short and slender declaration of those aboundings of affection, that within he found and felt inexpressible.
But now if we come to try the spurious, unsound righteousness of the hypocrite by this test, how pitiful, how false, and how contemptible a thing will it appear! For he designs not to excel or to transcend in the ways of sanctity. If he can but patch up such a righteousness as shall satisfy and still his conscience, and keep it from grumbling and being troublesome, down he sits, and there takes up, as being far from the ambition of making a proficiency, or commencing any degree in the school of Christ. But, believe it, a man may be righteous in this manner long enough before he is like to be saved for being so. For the truth is, such an one does not really design to be righteous, but only to be quiet. And in this one thing you will find a never-failing mark of difference between a pharisaical hypocrite and a truly sanctified person, that the former measures his righteousness by the peace of his conscience, and the latter judges of the peace of his conscience by his righteousness.
4thly, The fourth and last property of a sincere and saving righteousness, which most certainly distinguishes it from the hypocritical and pharisaical, is humility. For I dare venture the whole truth of the gospel itself upon this challenge. Shew me any hypocrite in the world that ever was humble. For the very nature and design of hypocrisy is, to make a man a proud beggar; that is, by the most uncomely mixture of qualities, at the same time poor and vainglorious. We have the exact character of him in 429Rev. iii. 17; Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; but knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. It is the business of every hypocrite to make a show, to disguise his penury with appearances of plenty and magnificence: and upon that account it concerns him to make the utmost improvement of the little stock he has; to look upon every duty as meritorious, every prayer as not so much asking a mercy as claiming a debt from heaven, till at length, as it were, even dazzled with the false lustre of his own performances, he breaks forth into the pharisaical doxology, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men. Thus pluming and priding himself in all his services, as if in every action of piety he did God a courtesy, and passed an obligation upon his Maker.
But how does the sincere person behave himself both in and after every duty performed by him! Surely with a very different spirit. Self-abhorrence and confusion of face, like the poor publican, makes him cast down his eyes while he is lifting up his heart in prayer: and when he has exerted his very utmost zeal in the divine worship, he lays his person and his services in the dust before God, and is so far from expecting a reward for their value, that he counts it a mercy not to be condemned for their imperfection; and though God condemns him not, yet he is ready to condemn himself.
God be merciful to me a sinner, is the constant language of his heart in the conclusion of his choicest performances: for when he has done his best, he knows that it will scarce amount to so much as well: so that if there was not a gospel to qualify and 430mitigate the rigours of the law, he knows the demands of it were too high and exact to be answered upon the stock of nature, attainted with guilt, and disabled with infirmity. And knowing so much, he never expostulates the injustice or unkindness of God’s judgments, be his afflicting hand never so pressing and severe upon him. He acknowledges that severity itself cannot outdo the provocation of his sins; which, though it were possible for God to be cruel, yet had rendered it impossible for him to be unjust. And therefore he kisses the rod and embraces the scourge, and confesses the righteousness, even where he faints under the burden of an affliction. In a word, after he has done all to purge, purify, and reform himself, he is not yet pleased with himself; but in the very exercise of his graces finds those flaws, those failures and blemishes, that makes him wonder at the methods and contrivances of divine mercy; that God can be infinitely just, and yet he not infinitely miserable.
Having thus finished the second thing, and shewn those perfections and qualities by which the righteousness that saves and brings to heaven does transcend and surpass that of the hypocrite and pharisee; I descend now to the
Third and last, which is, to shew the grounds, the reasons, and causes of the necessity of such a righteousness, in order to a man’s salvation, and entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
1. The first shall be taken from the holiness of God; whose nature will never suffer him to hold so strict and intimate a communion with his creature, as he does with those whom he admits into heaven, unless the divine image and similitude, defaced by sin, 431be in some degree repaired and renewed upon him. For surely there is none who admits his swine into his parlour or his bedchamber; and the corruption of man’s nature, unmortified, and unremoved by the contrary habits of holiness, degrades a man to the same vileness, the same distance from, and unfitness for, all society with his Maker. It cannot but be the most offensive and intolerable thing to nature, for the healthful and the sound, the curious and the cleanly, to converse with sores and ulcers, rottenness and putrefaction; and yet a soul covered with the leprosy of sin is infinitely more loathsome and abominable in the most pure eyes of God. For how is it possible for truth to cohabit with hypocrisy, purity with filth, and the transcendently holy and spiritual nature of God to associate with lust and sensuality? And these are the endowments, and ornaments, and commending qualifications of every unsanctified person, every hypocrite and pharisee, let him shine with never so fair and bright a reputation in the eye of the credulous and deluded world.
But the matter stops not here. Such an one is unfit for the presence of God, not only upon the account of his impurity, but also of his enmity. For what should a sinner do in heaven, any more than a traitor or a rebel do in court? The exasperated justice of God will prey upon the unpardoned sinner wheresoever it meets him, even in the highest heaven, if it were possible for him to come thither; and whensoever it does so, it is that that makes hell; which is not so properly the name of a place as of a condition; a condition consigning the soul over to endless misery and desperation. And could we imagine a person locally in Abraham’s bosom, yet if he 432brought with him the worm of conscience, and the secret lashes of an infinite wrath, that man were properly in hell, or hell at least in him, wheresoever the place of his abode or residence might fall.
2dly, The other reason for the necessity of such a transcending righteousness, in order to a man’s entrance into heaven, shall be taken from the work and employment of a glorified person in heaven; which is the continual exercise of those graces which here on earth were begun, and there at length shall be advanced to their full perfection: as also the contemplation of God in all his attributes, together with the whole series of his astonishing actions, by which he was pleased to manifest and display forth those great attributes to the world: whether in creation, by which he exerted his omnipotence in calling forth so beautiful a fabric out of the barren womb of nothing and confusion; or in the several traces and strange meanders of his providence, in governing all those many casualties and contingencies in the world, and so steadily directing them to a certain end, by which he shews forth the stupendous heights of his wisdom and omniscience; and lastly, in the unparalleled work of man’s redemption, by which at once he glorified and unfolded all his attributes, so far as they could be drawn forth into the view of created understandings. Now a perpetual meditation and reflection upon these great subjects is the noble employment of the blessed souls in heaven.
But can any, whom the grace of God has not throughly renewed and sanctified, be prepared and fitted for such a task? No, assuredly: and therefore it is worth our observing, that those who, living dissolutely in this world, do yet wish for the rewards of 433the righteous in the other, commence all such wishes upon a vast ignorance and mistake of their own minds; not knowing how unsuitable, and consequently how irksome, the whole business of heaven would be to their unsanctified appetites and desires. For what felicity could it be to a man always accustomed to the revels and songs of the drunkards, to bear a part in the choir of saints and angels, singing forth hallelujahs to him that sits upon the throne? What pleasure could it be to the lustful, the sensual, and unclean person, to follow the Lamb, with his virgin retinue, wheresoever he goes?
Such persons deceive themselves when they wish themselves in heaven; and, in truth, know not what they desire: for however they may dread and abhor hell, yet it is impossible for them to desire heaven, did they know what they were to do there: and therefore, instead of making Balaam’s wish, that they may die the death of the righteous, they should do well to live the life of such; and to hearken to Christ commanding them to seek the kingdom of heaven, by first seeking the righteousness thereof. For it is righteousness alone that must both bring men to heaven, and make heaven itself a place of happiness to those that are brought thither.
To which, the God of heaven, and Fountain of all happiness, vouchsafe to bring us all: to whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.434
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