« PreviousContinue »
"be perfect as our Father which is in heaven is perfect," we ought never to cease endeavouring till we are "as perfect as our Father which is in heaven is perfect." Since the gospel requires us to labour to become, by a transformation of our being, one with God, as Jesus Christ is one with God, we ought never to give over our endeavours till we do become one with God. Moreover, as we shall never in this life carry our virtue to so high a degree as to be perfect as our Father is perfect, holy as God is holy, one with God as Jesus Christ is one with God, it follows to a demonstration, that in no period of our life will our duty be 2. We ground the necessity of progressive finished; consequently, we must make con→ religion on the great end of Christianity. Form, tinual progress, if we would answer our enif it be possible, a just notion of Christianity. gagements; and consequently there is no point I say if it be possible; for we have an unaccount- fixed in the career of virtue, in which it would able reluctance to understand our own religion. be allowable to stop; and consequently, St. We have all a strange propensity to disguise Paul ought to be understood literally, when he the character of a true Christian, and to keep says of himself, "I count not myself to have ourselves ignorant of it. We have the holy apprehended; I therefore so run, not as unScriptures, and in them the gospel plan of re- certainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth demption before our eyes every day; and every the air. But I keep under my body, and bring day we throw over them a variety of preju- it into subjection, lest that by any means, when dices, which suppress the truth, and prevent I have preached to others, I myself should be us from seeing its beauty. One forms of Chris- a cast-away," Phil. iii. 13; and consequently, tianity an idea of indolence and relaxation, of all the excuses, of all the pretexts, of all the and, under pretence that the gospel speaks of sophisms, which were ever invented to palliate mercy and grace, persuades himself that he may that slowness with which we walk in the way give a loose to all his natural evil dispositions. of virtue, there are none more frivolous than Another imagines the gospel a body of discip-these-we are not saints, we cannot be perfect, line, the principal design of which was to regu- we cannot put off human nature; for it is belate society; so that provided we be pretty good cause you are not saints, it is because you are parents, tolerable magistrates, and as good not perfect, it is because you cannot put off subjects as other people, we ought all to be human nature, it is on this account, that you content with ourselves. A third thinks, to be ought to make a continual progress in Chrisa Christian is to defend with constant heat tian virtue, that the sincerity, and, so to speak, certain points which he elevates into capital the obstinacy of your efforts may make up for doctrines, essential to holiness here, and to imperfections. salvation hereafter. A fourth, more unjust than all the rest, supposes the first duty of a Christian is to be sure of his own salvation. Each wanders after his own fancy.
3. Our third class of proofs is taken from the fatal consequences of a cessation of our efforts, a suspension of our religious endeavours. Were it literally true that we could arrive at that state of perfection which the gospel requires of us; could we actually finish the morality of religion it would still follow, that we must make new efforts during our residence in this world; and that without these our past labours would be useless. A man employed in a mechanical art prepares his materials, sets about his work, and carries it on to a certain degree. He suspends his labour for a while; his work does not advance, indeed, but our artist has at least this advantage over us, when he returns to his labour, he finds his work in the same forwardness in which he left it. Heavenly exercises are not of this kind. Past labour is often lost for want of perseverance; and, it is a certain maxim in religion, that not to proceed is to draw back.
soil, you, who have hardly a spark of love to God, do you think your piety sufficient! Are you the man to leave off endeavouring to make new advances!
Perhaps you may say, the text is not to be taken literally, it is the language of humility, and resembles what St. Paul says in another place, I am the "chief of sinners;" agreeably to his own direction, that each Christian "should esteem another better than himself," and which he calls, very justly, "lowliness of mind." No such thing, my brethren, you will be convinced of the contrary by the following reflections.
It should seem, however, that the more we consult the gospel, the more fully shall we be convinced, that its design is to engage us to aspire at perfection, to transform man, to render him as perfect as he was when he came out of the hands of his Creator, "to renew him after the image of him that created him," to make him approach the nature of glorified saints, and, to say all in one word, to transform him into the divine nature. This is Christianity. This it is to be a Christian; and consequently a Christian is a man called to be "perfect as his Father which is in heaven is perfect;" to be one with God, as Jesus Christ is one with God.
This definition of a Christian and of Christianity, is justified by all we see in the gospel. For why does it every where propose perfection for our end, heaven to our hope, God for our model? Why does it teach us to consider the good things of the world as evils, and the evils of the world as benefits, human virtues as vices, and what men call vice as virtue? Why all this? All beside the matter, unless the gospel proposes to renew man, to transform him, and to make him approach the perfect Being.
From these principles we conclude this. Since the gospel requires us to endeavour to
Vice is closely connected with human propensities. Virtue, on the contrary, is directly opposite. As soon as you cease to endeavour to retain what opposes your propensities, nature takes its course. You carry within you, so to speak, a worker of iniquity, who constantly labours at the fatal work of your depravity. This workman is the old man. He every day gets forward, every day confirms you in sin, every day strengthens your attachment to sensible objects, every day ties you with
fresh bands to earthly things. If you do not oppose labour against labour, reflection against reflection, motive against motive, progress against progress, you will be defeated."
In these observations we find an answer to an objection, constantly repeated when we condemn that perpetual dissipation, that excessive gaming, and those reiterated amusements which consume the greatest part of your lives. You perpetually complain, that we overstrain matters, that we aggravate things, that the yoke of Christ is easy, and his burden is light, and that we make the one uneasy, and the other heavy. You constantly allege, that religion is not intended to put man on the rack, but to conduct him to reason: that the gospel is not contrary to a thousand pleasures which society offers us, and that, after all, the things we condemn are indifferent. I grant, religion does not condemn pleasures. I grant more, the pleasures you refer to are indifferent in their nature, that they have no bad influence, no treachery, no calumny in your conversation; no fraud, no swearing, no sordid interest in your gaming, no lax maxims, no profaneness, no immodesty in your amusements; I grant all this: Yet, after all, it is a fact, that, as the new man suspends his work, the old man advances his. It is always true, for example, that when a sermon has made some impressions on your hearts, when the lukewarm are aroused, when the impenitent are terrified, those other objects efface these impressions; and, though they may not lead you into the commission of fresh crimes, yet they make you relapse into that first state of depravity from which you seemed to be emerging.
4. A fourth source of proofs in favour of the necessity of progress is, the advances themselves which are made in the path of holiness. The science of salvation in this respect resembles human sciences. In human sciences we see a very singular phenomenon. A man of great and real learning is humble, he always speaks with caution, he pronounces always with circumspection, he determines a point trembling, and his answers to difficult questions are not unfrequently confessions of his ignorance. On the contrary, a pedant assumes the state of a superior genius; he knows every thing, and undertakes to elucidate and determine every thing. Both these men are in earnest, both are sincere. The learned man speaks very sincerely: for, as he has made great advances in literature, he knows the extent of it; he knows that nature has difficulties, Providence has depths, religion has mysteries: such a man becomes humble as he becomes able, and the more he acquires, the more he feels the need of acquiring. On the contrary, a pedant does not even know what learning is, he stops on the beach, sees a little way, takes that little for the whole, and easily persuades himself that he knows all.
Thus in the science of salvation, a man of little religion, who has only a languishing regard for God, and a few superficial ideas of virtue, soon flatters himself that he has done all his duty, employed all his love, and carried fervour to its highest degree. A man of lively and vigorous religion does not stop on the shore, he goes aboard a fast sailer, weighs an
| chor, and sets sail on that ocean of truth which religion sets before him, and he soon finds immense spaces before him; or to speak without a figure, he finds his own virtues so few in number, so limited in degree, so obstructed in their course, and so mixed in their exercise, that he easily comes into a well-grounded judgment, that all he has attained is nothing to what lies before him. As he meditates on his sins, he finds them so great, so numerous, so odious, so dangerous, that he cannot comprehend how it is that his heart does, not break, and his eyes become fountains of tears. As he meditates on the nature of this world, he finds it so vain in its occupations, so puerile in its pleasures, so void in its amusements, its friendships so deceitful, and its duration so short, that he cannot comprehend what should detain him in the world. As he meditates on the felicity of heaven, he finds it so substantial and pure, so splendid and satisfactory, that he cannot conceive what should detain him, and prevent his losing sight of the world and ascending to heaven. As he meditates on the Creator, he finds him so wise, so just, so good, so lovely, that he cannot imagine why his heart does not always burn with flames of love to him.
Such is the effect of perseverance in a path of virtue! Accordingly we find the greatest saints the most eminent for humility. Abraham durst not "take upon him to speak unto the Lord, because he was only dust and ashes," Gen. xviii. 27. Job, "though he were righteous, yet would not answer, but made supplication to his judge," chap. ix. 15.
David "could not stand, if the Lord, should mark iniquities," Ps. cxxx. 3. St. Paul did not think he had attained, Phil. iii. 12. To say all in one word, celestial intelligences, who were never embodied, the seraphim placed immediately opposite the throne of God, with two wings, ready to fly at the command of the Creator, have also four wings to cover their feet and faces, to express, that their zeal, how fervent and flaming soever, cannot equal what that God merits, whom they incessantly admire and adore.
5. Our fifth class of proofs is taken from the excellence of the ministry. St. Paul was not an ordinary Christian: he was the minister of the gospel, and the greatness of his character was to him a ground of humility and diffidence.
Although the duties of ministers, and the duties of hearers, are essentially the same; though there are not two ways to heaven, one for the pastor, and another for the flock, yet, it is certain, ministers have more motives to holiness than other men.
What would the people say, if the minister of the pulpit, and the minister of society, were two men? If the minister of the pulpit declaimed against the vanities of the world, and the minister of society were worldly? If the minister of the pulpit were a man, grave, severe, fervent as a seraph: and the minister of society were a man loose, and full of worldly vices? Certainly people would say we sported with their credulity; and many a mouth would thunder in our ears this cutting reproach, "Thou which teachest another, teachest thou
are obliged to quit it; and we die when we are just learning to live. If the famous Theophrastus, at the age of one hundred and seven years, regretted life, because he just then began to live wisely, what lamentations must other men make? What then was the design of God in placing us here? Was it that we should form and refine society? But how can a society composed of creatures transient and imperfect, be considered as a real and substantial body of bliss? If it has some solidity and reality, when considered abstractly, yet what is it in itself? What is it to you? What is it to me? What is it to any individual member? Does not one law reduce all to dust?
My brethren, there is only one way out of this labyrinth. One single answer is sufficient for all these questions. This world is a place of exercise, this life is a time of trial, which is given us that we may choose either eternal happiness or endless misery.
To this belong all the different ideas, which the Holy Spirit gives us of life. Sometimes it is a state of traffic, in which eternal reward is given for a cup of cold water only." Sometimes it is a state of tribulation, in which "light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Sometimes it is a passage way, in which we are to behave as “strangers and pilgrims." Sometimes it is an economy of visitation, in which "richness of goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, are opened to us." Sometimes it is a "race," in which "all run, but one receiveth the prize." Sometimes it is a fight, in which we cannot hope to conquer, unless we fight with courage and constancy.
Finally, The necessity of progressive sanctification appears by the end which God proposed in placing us in this world. We are of ten troubled to conceive why God lodged man, a creature so noble, in a theatre of vanity and uncertainty. What is our life of thirty, forty, or fourscore years, to the immense duration of eternity? How can we reconcile the part we act here, with the wisdom of him who placed us here; and, if I may speak so, the littleness
To this subject belongs the Scriptural estimation of life. Sometimes it speaks of life as mean and contemptible; and at other times, on the contrary, as great and invaluable. Sometimes it heaps expression upon expression, image upon image, emblem upon emblem, to make us consider it with contempt. It is " & shadow, a vanity, a flower, a grass, a vapour, a dream, a tale, a vain show, nothing" before God. And yet this "vain shadow," this
tants? What destination do you assign to man? What end do you attribute to his Creator? Why did he place him in this world? Was it to make him happy? But what! can he be made happy among objects so very disproportional to his faculties? Are not his fortune and reputation, his health and his life, a prey to all human vicissitudes? Was it to make him miserable? But how can this agree with the divine perfections; with that goodness, liberality and beneficence, which are essential to God? Was it to enable him to cultivate arts and sciences? But what relation is there between an occupation so mean and a creature so noble? Besides, would life then have been so short? Alas, we hardly make any progress in arts and sciences, before they become useless to us! Before we have well passed out of infancy and novitiate, death puts a period to our projects, and takes away from us all the fruits of learning and labour. Before we have well learned languages, death condemns us to eternal silence. Before we well know the world, we
of the world with the grandeur of its inhabi-"flower," this " vapour," this "dream," this "tale," this "show," this "nothing," the Scriptures teach us to consider as a time for us to "redeem," as an "acceptable time," as a "day of salvation," as a time after which there will be "time no longer." Why this different estimation? If you consider life in regard to itself, and with a view to the connexions we form, the pleasures we relish, the temporal occupations we follow: if you consider it in regard to sceptres and thrones, crowns and establishments the most pompous and solid, you cannot underrate life. On the contrary, if you consider it in regard to the great design of the Creator, in regard to the relation it has to eternity, in regard to that idea which we have given you of it, you cannot value it too highly. This world then is a place of exercise, life is a time of trial, given us that we might choose eternal happiness or endless misery.
not thyself? Thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that abborrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?" Rom. ii. 21.
Besides, a minister has two works to do in regard to salvation, his own soul_to save, and the souls of his people to save. Each of these becomes a reason for his own sanctification. "For their sakes I sanctify myself," said the Saviour of the world, "that they also might be sanctified," John xvii. 19. Interpreters understand by this sanctification, that separation which Jesus Christ made of himself for the salvation of his church; but may we not understand the word sanctify in the first part of the proposition, as we understand the same word in the second? "For their sakes I sanctify myself,” is as much as to say, I obey thee, not only because, being a creature, I owe thee an inviolable fidelity, but because, being the master and teacher of thy church, I ought to influence it by my own example.
Further, a minister of the gospel has extraordinary assistance, he is always with God, virtue is constantly before his eyes, and though almost all other employments in society have connected with them particular temptations to vice, the profession of a merchant to self-interest, that of a soldier to cruelty, that of a magistrate to pride, yet the ministry is itself an inducement to virtue. Such being the importance of our engagements, and the eminence of our character, who can flatter himself with having discharged all his duties? Who can venture to lift up his eyes to heaven? Who is not annihilated under a sense of his imperfections and frailties? "O Lord, enter not into judgment with thy servant," Ps. cxliii. 2.
This principle being allowed, our doctrine is supported by a new class of arguments; for be it granted that you remember nothing in your past life contrary to your profession of Chris
degree of piety, is an error; it is a heresy, which deserves as many anathemas, and ecclesiastica! thunders, as all the others which have been unanimously denounced by all Christians. My brethren, let us rectify our ideas, in or
mains nothing more for you to do. You are nearer the end than they who have not run so fast in the race as you have, but you have not yet obtained the prize. You have discharged the duties of youth, and the duties of manhood, now the duties of old age remain to be discharged. You have discharged all the duties of health, now the duties of sickness and dying remain to be discharged. This world is a place of exercise; while you are in it your exercise is not finished; life is a time of trial; as long as you live your trial remains.
tianity; be it that you resemble St. Paul in all his excellencies after conversion, and in none of the crimes which he committed before that happy period; the only conclusion which you have a right to draw is, that you have performed a part of your task, but not that there re-der to reatify our conduct. "Let us run with patience the race set before us," let us go on till we can say with St. Paul, "I have finished my course." Be not terrified at this idea of progressive religion. Some great efforts must have been made by all holy men in this place to arrive at that degree of virtue which they have obtained; but the hardest part of the work is done; henceforward what remains is easy. The way to heaven is narrow at the entrance, but it widens as we go on. The yoke of Christ is heavy at first, but it weighs little when it has been long worn.
Let us conclude. Were we to act rationally, we should always fix our minds on these truths; we should never end a day without putting this question to ourselves. What progress have I made in virtue? Have I this day approached the end of my creation? And as the time of my abode here diminishes, do I advance in proportion to the time that remains? We should require of ourselves an exact account of every day, every hour, every instant of our duration; but this is not the gospel of most Christians. What we have been proposing, seem to most hearers mere maxims of the preacher, more proper to adorn a public discourse, than to compose a system of religion. Why are not ecclesiastical bodies as rigid and severe against heresies of practice, as they are against heresies of speculation? Certainly there are heresies in morality, as well as in theology. Councils and synods reduce the doctrines of faith to certain propositional points, and thunder anathemas against all who refuse to subscribe them. They say, Cursed be he who does not believe the divinity of Christ: cursed be he who does not believe hypostatical union, and the mystery of the cross; cursed be he who denies the inward operations of grace, and the irresistible efficacy of the Holy Spirit. I wish they would make a few canons against moral heresies! How many are there of this kind among our people? Among our people we may put many who are in another class. Let me make canons. In the first I would put a heresy too common, that is, that the calling" of a Christian consists less in the practice of virtue, than in abstaining from gross vices; and I would say, if any man think that he sufficiently answers the obligations of Christianity, by not being avaricious, oppressive, and intemperate, if he do not allow that he ought to be zealous, fervent, and detached from the world, let him be accursed. In a second canon, I would put another heresy, equally general, and equally dangerous, and which regards the delay of conversion; and I would say, If any one imagine that, after a life spent in sin, a few regrets, proceeding more from a fear of death and hell, than from a principle of love to God, are sufficient to open the gates of heaven, let him be accursed. In a third canon I would put fill up the list yourselves, my brethren, and let us return to our subject. To confine one's self to a certain circle of virtues, to stop at a fixed point, to be satisfied with a given VOL. II.-3
After all there is a way of softening all the pains to which we are exposed, by continuing our efforts. St. Paul practised this art with great success; it consists in fixing the eye on the end of the race. At the end of the race, he saw two objects:-The first the prize. How easy to brave the enemies of salvation, when the eye is full of the prospect of it! How tolerable appear the pains of the present state, when the "sufferings of the present time are compared with, and weighed against, the glory that follows." Next, St. Paul saw Jesus Christ at the end of the race, another object which animated him. He was animated by the example of Christ, to finish his course with joy; he was animated by the assistances which supported him; he was animated by the promiso of Christ telling him, "He that overcometh shall sit down in my throne;" he was animated by the mercy, which he knew, how weak soever his efforts might be, would be approved at the tribunal of Jesus Christ, provided they were sincere; for Jesus himself conquered for him, and himself acquired that prize for the apostle at which he aspired; in a word, he was animated by his love; Jesus Christ is at the end of the race, and Paul loved Jesus Christ, and longed to be with him. I said, he saw two objects, the prize of victory, and Jesus Christ; but these make only one object. St. Paul's prize is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is Paul's paradise. According to him, Christ is the most desirable part of celestial felicity: Whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord; we are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord," 2 Cor. v. 6. 8. "I desire to depart, and to be with Christ," Phil. i. 23, “I press toward the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus," chap. iii. 14. This thought, that every step he took brought him nearer to Jesus Christ, this thought rendered him insensible to all the fatigue of the race, and enabled him to redouble his efforts to arrive at the end.
O flames of divine love! Shall we never know you except by the examples of the primitive Christians! O flames of divine love, which we have so often described, shall we never feel you in our own souls? Fire us, inflame us with your ardour, and make us understand that all things are easy to the man who sincerely loves God! God grant us this grace! To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
by them; and it would have been difficult to profess to fear him and avoid contempt.
It is not easy to determine the persons intended by the psalmist, nor is it necessary to confine the words to either of the senses given; they may be taken in a more extensive sense. The word king in the eastern languages, as well as in those of the western world, is not
PSALM CXIX. 46.
and will not be ashamed. MY BRETHREN,
I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, confined to kings properly so called; it is sometimes given to superiors of any rank. Ask not the reason of this, every language has its own genius, and custom is a tyrant who seldom consults reason before he issues orders; and who generally knows no law but self-will and caprice. If you insist on a direct answer to your inquiry concerning the reason of the general use of the term, I reply, the same passion for despotism which animates kings on the throne, usually inspire such individuals as are a little elevated above people around them; they consider themselves as sovereigns, and pretend to regal homage. Authority over inferiors begins this imaginary royalty, and vanity finishes it. Moreover, such as are called petty gentry, in the world, are generally more proud and absolute than real kings; the last frequently propose nothing but to exercise dominion, but the first aim both to exercise dominion and to make a parade of the exercise, lest their im aginary grandeur should pass unnoticed.
It is not only under the reign of a tyrant, that religion involves its disciples in persecution, it is in times of the greatest tranquillity, and even when virtue seems to sit on a throne. A Christian is often subject to punishments different from wheels, and racks. People united to him by the same profession of religion, having received the same baptisin, and called with him to aspire at the same glory, not unfrequently press him to deny Jesus Christ, and prepare punishments for him, if he have courage to confess him. Religion is proposed to us in two different points of view, a point of speculation, and a point of practice. Accordingly, there are two sorts of martyrdom; a martyrdom for doctrine, and a martyrdom for morality. It is for the last that the prophet prepares us in the words of the text, and to the same end I dedicate the sermon which I I understand, then, by the vague term kings, am going to address to you to-day. I come all who have any pre-eminence over the lowinto the place that affords a happy asylum for est orders of men; and these are they who exconfessors and martyrs, to utter in your hear-ercise tyranny, and inflict the martyrdom for ing these words of Jesus Christ, "Whosoever which the prophet in the text prepares us. In shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in order to comprehend this more fully, contrast this adulterous and sinful generation, of him two conditions in the life of David. Remark also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when first the state of mediocrity, or rather happy he cometh in the glory of his Father with the obscurity, in which this holy man was born. holy angels," Mark viii. 33. Educated by a father, not rich, but pious, he was religious from his childhood. As he led a country life, he met with none of those snares among his cattle which the great world sets for our innocence. He gave full scope without constraint to his love for God, and could affirm, without hazarding any thing, that God was supremely lovely. What a contrast! This shepherd was suddenly called to quit his sheep and his fields, and to live with courtiers in the palace of a prince. What a society for a man accustomed to regulate his conversation by the laws of
In order to animate you with a proper zeal for morality, and to engage you, if necessary, to become martyrs for it, we will treat of the subject in five different views.
I. We will show you the authors, or, as they may be justly denominated, the executioners, who punish men with martyrdom for morality.
THE MORAL MARTYR.
II. The magnanimity of such as expose themselves to it.
III. The horrors that accompany it.
IV. The obligation which engages men to truth, and his conduct by those of virtue! What submit to it. a place was this for him to propose those just and beautiful principles which the Holy Spirit teaches in the Scriptures, and which are many of them to be found in the writings of the psalmist! "I have seen the wicked in power, and spreading himself like a green bay-tree; yet he has passed away, and lo, he was not; I sought him, and he could not be found. Surely men of high degree are a lie, to be laid in a balance they are altogether lighter than vanity. I said, ye are gods, and all of you are the children of the Most High; but ye shall die like men. Put not your trust in a prince, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth, in that very day his thoughts perish. He that ruleth his spirit, is better than he that taketh a city. My son, the son of my womb, the son of my vows, give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings. It is not for
V. The glory that crowns it. We will explain these five ideas contained in the words of the psalmist, "I will speak of thy testimonies before kings, and will not be ashamed;" and we will proportion these articles, not to that extent to which they naturally go, but to the bounds prescribed to these ex
I. The authors, or as we just now called them, the executioners, who inflict this punishment, are to be considered. The text calls them kings; "I will speak of thy testimonies before kings." What king does the psalmist mean? Saul to whom piety was become odious or any particular heathen prince, to whom the persecution of Saul sometimes drove our prophet for refuge? The name of the God of the Hebrews was blasphemed among these barbarians; his worship was called superstition