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Signs of our Purity of Intentions.

1. It is probable our hearts1818See Sect. I. of this Chapter, Rule 18. are right with God, and our intentions innocent and pious, if we set upon actions of religion or civil life with an affection proportionate to the quality of the work; that we act our temporal affairs with a desire no greater than our necessity; and that in actions of religion we be zealous, active, and operative, so far as prudence will permit; but, in all cases, that we value a religious design before a temporal, when otherwise they are in equal order to their several ends: that is, that whatsoever is necessary in order to our soul’s health be higher esteemed than what is for bodily; and the necessities, the indispensable necessities of the spirit, be served before the needs of nature, when they are required in their several circumstances; or plainer yet, when we choose any temporal inconvenience, rather than to commit a sin, and when we choose to do a duty, rather than to get gain. But he that does his recreation or his merchandise cheerfully, promptly, readily, and busily, and the works of religion slowly, flatly, and without appetite; and the spirit moves like Pharaoh’s chariots when the wheels were off; it is a sign that his heart is not right with God, but it cleaves too much to the world.

2. It is likely our hearts are pure and our intentions spotless, when we are not solicitous of the opinion and censures of men: but only that we do our duty, and be accepted of God. For our eyes will certainly be fixed there from whence we expect our reward: and if we desire that God should approve us, it is a sign we do his work, and expect him our paymaster.

3. He that does as well in private, between God and his own soul, as in public, in pulpits, in theaters, and market-places, hath given himself a good testimony that his purposes are full of honesty, nobleness, and integrity. For what Helkanah said to the mother of Samuel, ‘Am I not better to thee than ten sons?’ is most certainly verified concerning God; that he, who is to be our judge, is better than ten thousand witnesses. But he that would have his virtue published, studies not virtue, but glory. “He is not just1919Seneca, Ep. 113. that will not be just without praise: but he is a righteous man that does justice, when to do so is made infamous; and he is a wise man who is delighted with an ill name that is well gotten.” And indeed that man hath a strange2020St. Chrys. 1. ii. de Compun. Cordis. covetousness, or folly, that is not contented with this reward, that he hath pleased God. And see what he gets by it. He that does good works2121St. Greg. Moral. 8, cap. xxv. for praise or secular ends, sells an inestimable jewel for a trifle; and that which would purchase heaven for him, he parts with for the breath of the people; which, at best, is but air, and that not often wholesome.

4. It is well, also, when we are not solicitous or troubled concerning the effect and event of all our actions; but that being first by prayer recommended to him, is left at his dispose: for then, in case the event be not answerable to our desires, or to the efficacy of the instrument, we have nothing left to rest in but the honesty of our purposes; which it is the more likely we have secured, by how much more we are indifferent concerning the success. St. James converted but eight persons, when he preached in Spain; and our blessed Saviour converted fewer than his own disciples did; and if thy labours prove unprosperous, if thou beset much troubled at that, it is certain thou didst not think thyself secure of a reward for thine intention; which thou mightst have done if it had been pure and just.

5. He loves virtue for God’s sake and its own that loves and honours it wherever it is to be seen; but he that is envious or angry at a virtue that is not his own, at the perfection or excellency of his neighbour, is not covetous of the virtue, but of its reward and reputation; and then his intentions are polluted. It was a great ingenuity in Moses that wished all the people might be prophets; but if he had designed his own honour, he would have prophesied alone. But he that desires only that the work of God and religion shall go on, is pleased with it whosoever is the instrument.

6. He that despises the world, and all its appendant vanities, is the best judge, and the most secured of his intentions; because he is the farthest removed from temptation. Every degree of mortification is a testimony of the purity of our purposes; and in what degree we despise sensual pleasure, or secular honours, or worldly reputation, in the same degree we shall conclude our heart right to religion and spiritual designs.

7. When we are not solicitous concerning the instruments and means of our actions, but use those means which God hath laid before us, with resignation, indifferency, and thankfulness, it is a good sign that we are rather intent upon the end of God’s glory than our own conveniency, or temporal satisfaction. He that is indifferent whether he serve God in riches or in poverty, is rather a seeker of God than of himself; and he that will throw away a good book because it is not curiously gilded, is more curious to please his eye than to inform his understanding.

8. When a temporal end consisting with a spiritual, and pretended to be subordinate to it, happens to fail and be defeated if we can rejoice in that, so God’s glory may be secured, and the interests of religion, it is a great sign our hearts are right, and our ends prudently designed and ordered.

When our intentions are thus balanced, regulated, and discerned, we may consider, 1. That this exercise is of so universal efficacy in the whole course of a holy life that it is like the soul to every holy action, and must be provided for in every undertaking; and is, of itself alone, sufficient to make all natural and indifferent actions to be adopted into the family of religion.

2. That there are some actions, which are usually reckoned as parts of our religion, which yet, of themselves, are so relative and imperfect, that, without the purity of intention, they degenerate: and unless they be directed and proceed on to those purposes which God designed them to, they return into the family of common secular, or sinful actions. Thus, alms are for charity, fasting for temperance, prayer is for religion, humiliation is for humility, austerity or sufferance is in order to the virtue of patience; and when these actions fail of their several ends, or are not directed to their own purposes, alms are misspent, fasting is an impertinent trouble, prayer is but lip-labour, humiliation is but hypocisy, sufferance is but vexation; for such were the alms of the pharisee, the fast of Jezebel, the prayer of Judah reproved by the prophet Isaiah, the humiliation of Ahab, the martyrdom of heretics; in which nothing is given to God but the body, or the forms of religion; but the soul and the power of godliness is wholly wanting.

3. We are to consider that no intention can sanctify an unholy or unlawful action. Saul, the king, disobeyed God’s commandment, and spared the cattle of Amalek to reserve the best for sacrifice; and Saul, the pharisee, persecuted the church of God with a design to do God service; and they that killed the apostles had also good purposes, but they had unhallowed actions. When there be both truth in election, and charity in the intention;2222St. Bern. lib. de Praecpt. when we go to God in ways of his own choosing or approving, then our eye is single, and our hands are clean, and our hearts are pure. But when a man does evil that good may come of it, or good to an evil purpose, that man does like him that rolls himself in thorns that he may sleep easily; he roasts himself in the fire that he may quench his thirst with his own sweat; he turns his face to the east that he may go to bed with the sun. I end this with the saying of a wise heathen:2323Publius Mimus “He is to be called evil that is good only for his own sake. Regard not how full hands you bring to God, but how pure. Many cease from sin out of fear alone, not out of innocence or love of virtue;” and they, as yet, are not to be called innocent but timorous.


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