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Reader, stay, and read not the advices of the following section, unless thou hast a chaste spirit, or desirest to be chaste, or at least art apt to consider whether you ought or no. For there are some spirits so atheistical, and some so wholly possessed with a spirit of uncleanness, that they turn the most prudent and chaste discourses into dirty and filthy apprehensions; like choleric stomachs, changing their very cordials and medicines into bitterness, and, in a literal sense, turning the grace of God into wantonness. They study cases of conscience in the matter of carnal sins, not to avoid, but to learn ways how to offend God and pollute their own spirits; and search their houses with a sunbeam, that they may be instructed in all the corners of nastiness. I have used all the care I could in the following periods, that I might neither be wanting to assist those that need it, nor yet minister any occasion of fancy or vainer thoughts to those that need them not. If any man will snatch the pure taper from my hand and hold it to the devil, he will only burn his own fingers, but shall not rob me of the reward of my care and good intention, since I have taken heed how to express the following duties, and given him caution how to read them.
Chastity is that duty which was mystically intended by God in the law of circumcision. It is the circumcision of the heart, the cutting off all superfluity of naughtiness, and a suppression of all irregular desires in the matters of sensual or carnal pleasure. I call all desires irregular and sinful that are not sanctified: 1. by the holy institution, or by being within the protection of marriage; 2. by being within the order of nature; 3. by being within the moderation of Christian modesty. Against the first are fornication, adultery, and all voluntary pollutions of either sex. Against the second are all unnatural lusts and incestuous mixtures. Against the third is all immoderate use of permitted beds, concerning meats and drinks, there being no certain degree of frequency or intention prescribed to all persons; but it is to be ruled as the other actions of a man, by proportion to the end, by the dignity of the person in the honour and severity of being a Christian, and by other circumstances of which I am to give account.
Chastity is that grace which forbids and restrains all these, keeping the body and soul pure in that state in which it is placed by God, whether of the single or of the married life; concerning which our duty is thus described by St. Paul: ‘For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication; that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour, not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.’87871 Thess. iv. 3-5.
Chastity is either abstinence or continence. Abstinence is that of virgins or widows; continence of married persons. Chaste marriage are honourable and pleasing to God; widowhood is pitiable in its solitariness and loss, but amiable and comely when it is adorned with gravity and purity, and not sullied with remembrances of the past license, nor with present desires of returning to a second bed. But virginity is a life of angels, the enamel of the soul, the huge advantage of religion, the great opportunity for the retirements of devotion;8888Virginitas est, in arne corruptibili, incorruptionis perpetua meditatio—St. Aug. 1. de Virg. c.13. and, being empty of cares it is full of prayers; being unmingled with the world, it is apt to converse with God; and by not feeling the warmth of a too forward and indulgent nature, flames out with holy fires till it be burning like the cherubim and the most ecstasied order of holy and unpolluted spirits.
Natural virginity, of itself, is not a state more acceptable to God; but that which is chosen and voluntary, in order to the conveniences of religion and separation from worldly encumbrances, is therefore better than the married life, not that it is more holy, but that it is a freedom from cares, an opportunity to spend more time in spiritual employments. It is not allayed with businesses and attendances upon lower affairs; and if it be a chosen condition to these ends, it containeth in it a victory over lusts, and greater desires of religion and self-denial, and therefore is more excellent than the married life, in that degree in which it hath greater religion, and a greater mortification, a less satisfaction of natural desires, and a greater fulness of the spiritual: and just so is to expect that little coronet, or special reward, which God hath prepared (extraordinary and besides the great crown of all faithful souls) for those ‘who have not defiled themselves with women, but follow the virgin Lamb for ever.’8989Apoc. xiv. 4.
But some married persons, even in their marriage, do better please God than some virgins in their state of virginity: they, by giving great example of conjugal affection, by preserving their faith unbroken, by educating children in the fear of God, by patience, and contentedness, and holy thoughts, and the exercise of virtues proper to that state, do not only please God, but do in a higher degree than those virgins whose piety is not answerable to their great opportunities and advantages.
However, married persons, and widows, and virgins, are all servants of God, and co-heirs in the inheritance of Jesus, if they live within the restraints and laws of their particular estate, chastely, temperately, justly, and rigorously.
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