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Chapter XL.

Sundry Rules For Leading A Holy Life.

Exercise thyself unto godliness. For godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.—1 Tim. 4:7, 8.

In this apostolical sentence is contained a brief description of a Christian's life, and of the main study about which he is employed, namely, the study of godliness, or of Christian piety, which comprehends in it the whole train of Christian virtues. The apostle makes use of two motives to recommend this heavenly study, and the constant practice of it. First, says he, “Godliness is profitable unto all things.” Godliness is of most admirable service, as soon as our words and actions are influenced by it. It renders the whole life acceptable to God, and useful to our neighbor. The second motive is, because godliness is accompanied with a gracious reward both in this life, as appears from the examples of Joseph, of Daniel, and of others, as well as in that which is to come; where we shall reap without ceasing, provided we do not faint while we dwell here. Gal. 6:9. For our better encouragement in the practice of piety, let us endeavor to keep in remembrance the following rules and considerations.

I. If thou even canst not live up to that degree of holiness which the word of God requires, and which thou thyself desirest, yet thou must never cease ardently to wish for it; for such holy breathings are always acceptable to God. God does not so much regard the outward action of a man, as the heart whence the action proceeds. But after all, never neglect to crucify thy flesh, and never permit it to rule over thee.

II. In all that thou thinkest and doest, be careful to preserve the purity of thy heart. Set a watch over it, lest thou be defiled with proud thoughts, words, or actions; with wrath, or other such works of the flesh, and of the devil. Sin opens the door to the devil, and shuts the heart against God.

III. Study continually to maintain the Christian liberty of thy soul, and 138 do not suffer thyself to be enslaved, or brought into bondage, by any inordinate love of the creature, or of the things of this world, whose lord and master thou oughtest to be. Consider the value of thy soul, which certainly is of a more noble nature than this present perishing world. Why shouldest thou degrade it so far, as to subject it to the frail, base, and frivolous things of this life?

IV. Beware of the care and sorrow of this world, because it worketh death. 2 Cor. 7:10. As worldly sorrow begetteth death, so godly sorrow begetteth life, and lays up an eternal treasure! Worldly sorrow springs from avarice and envy; from excessive care; from unbelief and impatience; and other temporal sources. Godly sorrow proceeds from a knowledge of thy sins, and those eternal punishments which follow them. This sorrow produces many salutary effects in a penitent soul, and “worketh repentance to salvation, not to be repented of;” being attended with spiritual joy, and solid peace or tranquillity of mind. No loss of a temporal kind ought to afflict thee so much as the remembrance of thy sins, by which thou hast offended the infinite goodness of God.

V. If thou canst not bear thy cross with joy and cheerfulness, yet take it at least with patience and humility, and acquiesce calmly in the divine will and providence. For, truly, the will of God is always good; nor does it intend anything but thy benefit and salvation. Whatsoever, therefore, God shall be pleased to appoint thee in his wisdom, do thou gratefully accept it, and be either joyful or sorrowful, poor or rich, high or low, vile or excellent, as He orders thy lot. Let this saying always be in thy mind: “Thus it seemeth good unto God, and so it must needs be expedient and useful for me also. His will, not mine, be done.” Let not that, therefore, which pleases God, displease thee; but rather rejoice that all things are ordered according to His pleasure and thy salvation. Remember that “the Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.” Ps. 145:17. Hence it is but just that the will of God should be done, because it is always good and profitable; and that thy own will should be subdued and unaccomplished, because it is always evil and hurtful.

VI. Whenever the Lord visits thy soul with heavenly joy, accept the same with gratitude and humility. But when he is pleased to withdraw the comfortable light of his presence, then consider that the mortification of the flesh must needs be of greater profit to thee than exalted joy in the spirit. Through overmuch spiritual joy, many fall into spiritual pride. But whatever causes mortification and sorrow, is far more useful in subduing the flesh, than that which is delightful and pleasing to nature. The Lord best knows whom to lead in a pleasant and agreeable path, and who are to be brought through an unpleasant, stony, and difficult way. Always esteem it best to arrive at thy journey's end by that way which divine Wisdom has chosen for thee, however different it may be from thine own choice, or from the devices of thine own heart. Remember, that “sorrow is better than laughter;” and that “by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” And if thou wilt be wise, trust to the experience of the wise man, who tells thee furthermore, that “the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Eccl. 7:3, 4.


VII. Make an offering to God of all that thou hast, and undertakest. If thou canst not bring offerings of a high and exalted devotion, of prayer, of thanksgiving, and of other similar acts of religion, offer at least what thou hast, with a good will, and a fervent desire. Wish, at least, that it may prove acceptable unto the Lord; for to have such a desire, or to be willing to have it, is no contemptible offering, but is very agreeable to the kindness of God. In what measure thou desirest to offer up thy devotion, thy prayer, and praise; in that measure God accepts the same. He requires no more at thy hands than he himself works in thee by his grace: nor canst thou return him more than he has first conferred on thee. In the meantime, entreat the Lord Jesus, that he would graciously please to supply what is defective in thee, by his own more perfect oblation and sacrifice: because he, and he only, is the perfection of our imperfect worship and service. Say, therefore, in faith: “O my God, and my Father, I beseech thee, let my devotion, my prayer, and thanksgiving, together with all the acts of my faith and worship, be graciously accepted by thee in thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ. Esteem them, not according to what they are in themselves, but according to what they are made by the merit of the all-sufficient sacrifice offered up by thy Son. O look upon that, and upon all that he has wrought for me in the flesh; and as his most perfect works must needs be pleasing to thee, so let mine also be acceptable to thee for his sake. He, O my God, shall abundantly make up whatsoever is defective in me.” By this means, our devotion, our prayer, and thanksgiving, how imperfect, weak, and obscure soever they may be in themselves, acquire a certain lustre, worth, and dignity derived from the merit of Christ, whereby our works are rendered acceptable to the Lord. As a naked and unclean infant is offensive to every one that sees it, but becomes sweet and lovely when it is thoroughly cleansed, and covered with fine linen: in like manner, all the works which thou doest in thy natural state, are polluted with sin, and of no account before God; but no sooner art thou covered with the perfection of Christ (Isa. 61:10), than thy works are acceptable to God. As fruit, which is not valuable in itself, surprises the spectator into a love of it, when served up in vessels of precious gold: so our prayers and acts of devotion, though of no account in themselves, are exalted in Jesus Christ, in whom, as in the beloved, we are made accepted with God. Eph. 1:6.

VIII. If thy sins and manifold frailties (as they should do), make thee sad, yet let them not lead thee to despair. If they be many in number, remember that there is yet more mercy with Christ, and “plenteous redemption with him.” Ps. 130:7. If thy imperfections be ever so great, remember that Christ's merits are yet greater, and say with the royal penitent: “Have mercy upon me, O Lord, according to the multitude of thy tender mercies!” Ps. 51:1. And when, by the grace of God, thou truly repentest, and beholdest Christ Jesus, that great sacrifice for sin, then God himself repents of the evil which was to be inflicted upon thee; and absolution and remission of sin instantly follow so good and salutary a sorrow. Ezek. 18:23; 33:11. As the leper, upon his application to Christ, was immediately delivered from his evil, so is also the penitent sinner. No sooner did he 140 say, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean;” than Christ freely replied: “I will; be thou clean.” Matt. 8:2, 3. So also the merciful God, inwardly and in the spirit, makes thee clean, comforts thee, and says: “Be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven thee.” Matt. 9:2. This wonderful mercy of the Lord in cleansing and absolving thee of thy sins, as it is forcibly represented by the example of that leper, so it ought by no means to give thee an occasion to sin the more; but to love God the more, and to say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me bless his holy name.” Ps. 103:1.

IX. Let not injuries, reproaches, and revilings, provoke thee at any time to wrath, indignation, or revenge; but rather take them as so many trials of thy heart, and of the inward state of thy soul. Hereby God designs to prove thee, that it may appear what is hidden within thee, and whether meekness and humility, or wrath and pride, sway thy mind. For that which lies concealed in a man, is stirred up and made manifest by reproaches and provocations. If, therefore, thy heart be endued with meekness and lowliness, thou wilt easily bear contempt and injuries; nay, thou wilt accept them as so many paternal chastisements designed for the good of thy soul. Moreover, thou must consider, that contempt and reproaches are part of the chastisements which the Almighty sends, and thou shouldst patiently bear whatever the Lord shall be pleased to allot to thee. “Let us go forth,” says the apostle, “unto him, bearing his reproach.” Heb. 13:13. Behold with what lowliness of heart did he undergo the affronts of a profane world! And should not we submit to the same with meekness, and with an unshaken evenness of mind? Say not then, “Should I suffer these things from so contemptible a fellow as this?” but rather submit, in consideration of that patient and meek spirit which was in Christ, and displayed itself in his whole life and conduct. Lastly, consider the kindness of God towards those that suffer for his sake. So faithful is he, and so kind to those that bear any disgrace on his account, that he confers the greater marks of honor and favor upon them. Thus David, when Shimei vented his malice upon him, took it for a pledge that God would bestow a token of great honor upon him; and this accordingly came to pass. “It may be,” says he, “that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day,” and turn his curse into a blessing. 2 Sam. 16:12. Be not, therefore, at all disturbed at the evil report that wicked men may raise against thee; but rejoice rather, since the Spirit of glory rests on those that are reproached for the name of Christ. 1 Peter 4:14.

X. Study to overcome and to pacify thine enemies, by bestowing upon them tokens of love and kindness. No man will ever be reconciled by wrath, or revenge, or returning evil for evil, for victory consists in virtue, not in vice. And as one devil does not drive out another, so it cannot be expected that one evil should be subdued by another; or that enmity against thee should be extinguished by affronts and provocations offered by thee. A man that is full of sores and bruises, is not likely to be healed by the addition of more blows; and if he be so mad as to beat and to cut himself, he is to be pitied, and to be treated with the greater kindness and lenity. In like manner, if a man be full of spiritual 141 distemper, and of hatred, he is to be handled with the more love and gentleness; if, perhaps, by such lenient means as these, he may be softened into a better temper. Consider the method which God himself uses for overcoming our natural obstinacy. Does he not conquer our malice with his goodness, and our wrath with his love? And does he not invite us to repentance by many endearing marks of love and benignity? Rom. 2:4. This method is prescribed by St. Paul: “Be not,” says he, “overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Rom. 12:21. This is victory indeed.

XI. When thou observest that God has adorned thy neighbor with gifts above thee, take heed not to envy him on that account; but rather rejoice and give thanks to God for the same. Consider, that since all true believers make up together but one body, it must needs follow, that the beauty of every member is communicated to the whole body, and to every member thereof. On the other hand, when thou perceivest the misery of thy neighbor, lament over it as if it were thine own; considering that the condition of all men is equally subject to evil, and that misery and affliction are the lot of mankind. Christ hath also set thee here an example. And, truly, whoever does not commiserate and sympathize with the misery of his neighbor, let him pretend to be what he may, he is no living member of the body of Christ. For did not Christ look upon our misery as his own, and by compassionating our deplorable state, deliver us from all our miseries? This mutual love and sympathy, are inculcated by St. Paul: “Bear ye one another's burdens,” says he, “and so fulfil the law of Christ.” Gal. 6:2.

XII. As for love and hatred in relation to thy neighbor, make the following distinction. It is but fit that thou shouldest hate his vices and crimes as the very works of the devil; but then, beware of hating the person whilst thou abhorrest his sin. On the contrary, it is thy duty to bewail the case of thy neighbor, who, being carried away by so many irregular passions, enjoys no solid rest in his soul. Offer up his cause to God, and pray for him, as Christ did for his enemies, when he was nailed to the cross. Luke 23:34. Do not, therefore, hate any man, but hate his vices only; for whosoever hates a man, and seeks his ruin, can in no wise be pleasing to God; since it is the very nature of God to be kind, and to desire that “all men should be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Tim. 2:4. This was also the end for which Christ took our flesh upon him. He came into the world, “not to destroy men's lives, but to save them.” Luke 9:56.

XIII. Consider all men as being frail and imperfect, but none as more frail and imperfect than thyself; for before God, all men stand equally guilty, and there is no difference. We have all sinned, and have thereby been deprived of the image of God, and of all the glory which attended it. Rom. 3:23. How great a sinner, therefore, thy neighbor may be, never fondly persuade thyself, that thou art better before God. Remember this warning of the apostle: “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” 1 Cor. 10:12. He that makes himself the lowest of all men, is in the fairest way of being preserved, by the grace of God, unto salvation. And certain it is, that thou standest no less in need of the grace and mercy of God, than the greatest 142 of sinners. Where there is a great measure of humility, there is also a great measure of grace. Wherefore St. Paul accounted himself the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15); and it was in this order he obtained mercy, and had so much long-suffering bestowed upon him. And in another place he declares that he will glory in nothing but in “his infirmities, that the power of Christ might rest upon him.” 2 Cor. 12:9.

XIV. True illumination is always accompanied with a contempt of the things of the world. As the children of the world have their inheritance here upon earth; so the children of God have theirs laid up above in heaven. The treasures which the children of this world have chiefly at heart, are temporal honors, perishing riches, earthly splendor and glory. But the treasures of the children of God are poverty and contempt, persecution and reproach, the cross and death, trouble and sorrow. Thus did Moses prefer “the reproach of Christ before the treasures in Egypt;” and the affliction of the people of God, before the pleasures of sin. Heb. 11:25, 26.

XV. Remember, that by the name of a Christian written in heaven, is intimated that solid, practical knowledge of Christ which is grounded in faith, and by which we are transplanted into Christ. From this knowledge flow all the living virtues which the Lord will praise in the great day of retribution. Matt. 25:34, etc. He will then also bring to light all those treasures which we have laid up in heaven (1 Tim. 6:19), together with all such works as have been wrought in God. John 3:21. Never has a saint lived upon earth, but he has been particularly eminent in one virtue or other; and this virtue shall never be forgotten. Ps. 112:6. Whether it be faith, love, mercy, patience, or any other virtue in the practice of which he has been so conspicuous, it shall make up that eternal name which is written in heaven. Rev. 2:17; 3:12. This will be the note and character of the saints, and their eternal memorial before God. But of this, more shall be said in Book II.

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