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ever this world can afford will seem empty and insipid, and in comparison as nothing.
For who that often has his conversation in heaven by prayer and meditation, and the vigorous sallies of a truly devotional soul, and thereby has had a delicious foretaste of those rivers of most pure and ineffable joys that for ever encircle its glorious inhabitants, but must despise the paltry counterfeit felicities he meets with here, and nauseate those tainted puddles of brutal enjoyments, which ignorant worldlings so greedily suck in! And the greatest splendours here below, to one that has often contemplated the glories of the city of God above, will appear but as a shadow; and, like obscurer objects to one that has been fixing his eyes upon the sun, be scarce discernible, much less charming and delightful. In short, a man whose treasure is in heaven, as every good Christian's is, can never find room in his heart for the trifles of this earth, much less be so over-enamoured of them as to part with truth and a good conscience to attain them. Those only are guilty of this great crime who have no apprehension, no thoughts, no desires of the glorious inheritance of the saints in light, but have centred all their happiness here below. And therefore that petition of David is very remarkable, where he begs of God to incline his heart to his testimonies, and not to covetousnessd; thereby intimating that a too great fondness for the world would very much endanger his religion, and lead him into vice and error, and every evil way both of speculation and practice: and to which St. Paul exactly agrees, when he tells us, that the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some have coveted after, they have erred from the faith.
d Psalm cxix. 36.
But, fourthly, a sincerely holy life is the best preservative against the infection of heretical and false opinions in religion, because it gives us a commanding sway over our passions; the unruliness and predominancy of which facilitates the entertainment of error more than any one thing besides. For it both obscures men's notions and apprehensions of things, and turns their judgments according to the measure of their fears and desires, and renders them easy to be wrought upon by the threats and promises of those who take that method to incline men to their party or persuasion.
It has been observed of passion in general, that one shall seldom meet with a passionate wise man; and the observation might easily be made good. And it may be as truly observed, that men of strong passions are seldom either orthodox or constant and courageous Christians. Too much heat and eagerness of temper will not give men leave to examine things with that calm sedateness of mind, which is necessary to the finding out of truth; and makes them apt to be positive and resolute in what they happen to espouse, more out of opposition and humour, than the force of evidence; thinking, that when once engaged, they must, right or wrong, go through : which shews more of stomach and heat, and impatience of contradiction, and pride, than reason, and love of truth. And too much timorousness likewise sometimes renders men so over scrupulous and doubtful, as never to fix at all; and too often ends in scepticism and a firm belief of nothing.
ei Tim. vi. jo.
Or if at length they happen to determine aright, and seem to be settled in their notions and opinions; yet, when danger threatens men of their persuasion, they are soon scared out of it, and ready to give up reason and religion, truth and faith, and every thing, rather than run the hazard of suffering in their defence.
And as for greedy, unlimited desires of worldly affluence and greatness, whatever will advance their fortunes and bring gain shall be esteemed truth and godliness by them that are this way inclined; and the advancement of their temporal interest will make them readily embrace the greatest absurdities and contradictions, and most impious, pernicious doctrines in the world.
Now true religion and sincere piety, teaching us to restrain and mortify our inordinate affections, and to curb our passions into due obedience to reason, prevents all these ill consequences of the exorbitancy of them, and renders the mind in a fit disposition and temper to pursue and find out truth; and then to hold it fast, and never to part with it for any worldly considerations whatever that can be offered to the contrary. But when people are enslaved to their passions, they become unstable in all their ways, and tossed to and
fro with every wind of doctrine ; sometimes inclined one way, and sometimes another, as those affections are moved, by which they are turned and guided in every thing.
But, in the last place, a life of sincere piety and Christian obedience does best secure the purity of a Christian's faith, because it assures us of the peculiar assistance of God's holy Spirit, that great enlightener of the faithful; without whose directing influence we shall but grope in the dark, and have but very imperfect understanding in the mystery of godliness, and be in continual danger of losing that little which we have. Thus our Lord says expressly, He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and manifest myself unto himf. And in the 26th verse he tells his disciples, that the Holy Ghost shall teach them all things, and guide them into all truth. And St. John agreeably, in his first Epistle, ch. ii. 27, having before cautioned those he writes to, against such as endeavoured to seduce them, he tells them, that the anointing they had received from him, that is Christ, by which he means the influences of the Holy Spirit upon their minds, this anointing teacheth you all things. And with such instruction how can it be but that a sincerely pious Christian, that readily embraces it, and makes that good use of it which his divine Teacher does design he should, must grow more and more fixedly wise to salvation, and preserve his faith uncorrupted till the coming of our Lord Jesus.
But, on the contrary, wickedness of life drives far away that heavenly Instructor, and provokes him to leave men to themselves, and give them up to a reprobate and injudicious mind; and then, be their pretences never so high, as those of the vile Gnostics were, to extraordinary light and knowledge, and greater penetration and deeper reach than others, the light they fancy to be in them is really but darkness, the most deplorable ignorance and most fatal delusion.
f John xiv. 21.
And now, having thus endeavoured to prove that a life of sincere piety and religion is the best guard and surest preservative of the purity of a Christian's faith, and that a wicked, vicious life is the ready way to corrupt it; because the former naturally clears and brightens our understandings, and renders us more capable of apprehending rightly the exalted truths of the gospel, gives us true notions both of God and ourselves, renders us indifferent to the world, enables us to command our passions, and procures us the peculiar assistance of the divine Spirit of God to be our instructor in all necessary saving truth: whereas the latter, on the direct contrary, naturally blinds our understanding, vitiates our notions both of God and ourselves, fastens us down to this earth, enslaves us to our passions, makes us hated of God and under his curse, and deprives us of the secret instructions of his blessed Spirit, who will have nothing to do with those wretches who live in open defiance of religion, and in constant violation of the laws of God: I shall now only briefly exhort you, as you desire to be preserved blameless till the day of retribution, and then to give an account of your faith with joy, always to be careful to maintain good works, and to hold the belief of the doctrines of religion in purity of life, and such a conversation as becomes the gospel of Christ. Corruption of faith often ends in utter atheism and infidelity; and corruption of manners generally leads to the corruption of faith; as sincere holiness of life is the great security of its steadiness and purity. And therefore, to conclude all, since we live in so unbelieving an age, when the very first principles of religion are openly struck at and ban