« PreviousContinue »
publickly taken notice of with the highest respect on all occasions, and by this affected fanctity make a property of their devout, but ignorant admirers. The project was to raise their credit and their fortunes; and therefore it was their business to appear righteous outwardly unto men, though within they were full of hypocrisy and iniquity. But the same woes, which upon this very account were with so much earnestness pronounced, even by the meek and merciful Saviour of the world, against them, are equally level'd against us, if we take not care to excel them in this material article, the sincerity of those principles, by which we do righteousness. * A good man out of the good treasure of the HEART brings forth good things, says Chrift; representing to us thereby the necessity of a sincere and righteous mind, to the production of good and righteous practices; For however otherwise the appearance may be plausible to the world, and the effect of it visible and useful, as the alms of a Pharisee may be a true relief to the poor; yet if the design, which is the act of the heart, be vicious and irregular, the whole action is sinful, and the disguise and varnish of it serves only to aggravate the guilt of the actor. But then,
(3.) In respect of the degree and measure of our righteousness, it must have a much more generous compass than that of the Scribes and Pharisees; it must be an impartial and universal righteousness. Let us not think it enough, when we are exact in some things, and negligent in others; let us not sit down contented with the first and more easy attainments and imperfect efforts in religion, with having set out well, and made some little progress in it, or with a formal use of certain means and instruments of righteousness; but grasp at every
* Matth. xii. 35,
virtue, and press forward to perfection in the extent of each particular
. And here I might enlarge upon the idle and imperfect religion of several forts of people, who never considering to what severe precepts they are obliged, and what a perfect example they are to imitate, and what mighty aids and aslistances are offered them, and what great rewards are proposed to them ; content themselves with low and common measures, such as mere nature would teach them, and such as no way answer the prophecies and descriptions of that age of righteoufness, which the Messiah, the last and great Prophet, came to instruct.
But I will content my self with a few instances.
. FIRST, There are some who think it fufficient, that they are a little more civilized than the profane and profligate world about them. Thus we find the vain-glorious Pharisee valuing himself, and dressing up his own character, as he thought, to the belt advantage, upon this, that he was better than the generality of men, that he was no extortioner, not unjust, nor lewd and debauched, as many others were; and yet he was far short of what he should have been, he was weighed in the balance, and found wanting: For the poor Publican, being a sincere and thorough penitent, went home accepted by God, when the other did not. I doubt we have a great number of Christians, who can make no better pretence to the favour of God, than this Pharisee here, yet entertain a vain con- , ceit of their being religious enough, because they are more regular and decent in their character than notoriously bad men are. 'Tis a good rule, that we should never compare our selves with those that are worse, but with such as are better than our selves : The former comparison will fill us only with pride; but the latter will thew us our defects, and teach us to improve.
SECONDLY, There are some who satisfy themselves with the observance only of the most obvious and literal sense of several precepts. Whatcver the case of the Jews was in respect of this, the Gospel of Christ has taught us a more extensive obedience. So that it is not enough now that we abstain from murder and adultery, from theft and false accusation, and the like plain and visible acts of violence and wickedness; but we must likewise lay aside all envy, and spite, and bitterness, and evilspeaking, every unclean and brutish imagination, and the very love and desire of evil.
love and desire of evil. For if we indulge our felves in these, though we abstain from the grosser actions, we are far from the measure of the christian righteousness.
THIRDLY, There are others who rely upon a present good sense and disposition of mind, exprefsing it self in sorrow and contrition, together with refolutions of better obedience ; but yet upon
the whole matter, are no better than before, never bringing forth the fruit of godly forrow, which is amendment. That they are sorry for what they have done, thews that they have done amiss; and if
so far as to make good resolutions, 'tis still in order to do better; but if these resolutions come to nothing, 'tis certain that flashy repentance of theirs will be of no service to them.
There are, fourthly, another fort of men, who reft only in the common means and helps of righteousness, who read much, and hear frequently, and pray often, which are all profitable means, and recommended to our use; not only as the instruments of obtaining good things, but also as the methods of acknowledging and reverencing Almighty God, and paying to him that obedience and praise which he requires of us. But yet how many have miscarried even here? I do not say by the too frequent exerciscs of devotion, but the depending upon thein, as
if there was nothing more to be done. Whereas in truth, so far as they are really acts of worship and obedience to God, they are still but parts of righteousness, and not the whole: But taking them (as reading and hearing more especially are) as methods appointed by God for our instruction in righteousness, it is not the bare use of, and attendance upon these, without the due effects of such instructions for pursuing practically those directions for an holy life, which they supply us with, that can denominate us righteous. And even prayer it self, though it is indeed an act of worship, and so a part of our religion, is also a means appointed, as other means are, for our advance in righteousness; and so we are only to reckon men righteous in the use of it,' as it has that influence and effect upon them: For when men pray much and often, and yet live dishonestly and viciously in the world, they are no more to be called righteous, than men are to be esteemed healthful, that use much phyfick, when they languish all the time under a visible infirmity.
But, in the fifth and last place, there are others who pick and chuse out some particular duties or virtues, wherein they will be very exact, and fancy God Almighty will excuse them as to all the rest. Thus taught the Scribes and Pharisees, * who sat in Moses seat, and were the received interpreters of the law of God amongst the Jews; they laid a mighty stress upon the religion of some one precept, to the neglect of others; and only differed in their opinion which precept should be fo recommended, as appears by that question of the Jewish doctor, † which is the great commandment in the law? And our Saviour accordingly in his answer fums up the whole law, the love of God and of our
* Matth. xxiii. 2.
| Ibid. ver. 36.
neighbour, neighbour, to obviate the mistake, and shew that one part of the law as well as another demands our faithful obedience. We must take the whole law of God before us, and have respect unto all his commands. We ought to consider 'em as the commands of God, whose authority is equally impressed upon all as upon any one. For says St. James, * He that said, "Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. He therefore who abstains from the one, in conscience of the authority of the imposer, should for that reason abstain from the other also, otherwise he does not do it in obedience to God. Some virtues are easy to some mens temper and constitution, or they have been fix'd in them by education; or the eyes of men, and the rewards of the world, and the power of laws, are so many encouragements to the practice of them. And from hence it comes to pass, that men are many times severe and superstitious in some things, and yet very careless and negligent in others. They can govern one passion, but not another; they will not be revengeful, but must be allow'd to be intemperate; or they can bridle their appetites, but not their tongue ; or they dare venture to cheat and bear false witness, though they will not kill: And so they perform only an imperfect and partial righteousness, the principle of obedience not being the spring and fountain of their religion. Others, as if they were still disciples of the Scribes and Pharisees, rather than of Christ, are very nice and punctual in little things of less concernment, and think by that to atone for folid and substantial virtues. We find it charged upon those whom our Saviour assures us we must excel in goodness, or be undone for ever, that they were exact in paying tythe, even of the smallest products, * mint, annisë,