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THE WAY TO PEACE AT THE LAST.
PSALM xxxvii. 38. (old translation.) Keep innocency, and take heed unto the thing that is right:
for that shall bring a man peace at the last. THAT the final event and consequence of things ought chiefly to be regarded by a rational agent is evident, because otherwise it is impossible for him to be happy.
For nothing, how agreeable and delightful soever it may be, can properly be called our happiness, unless it is durable and lasting, and will continue with us as long as our thirst after happiness continues; and make us at least as happy in the enjoyment of it hereafter, as it does at present; for at any time to see the decline, much more an end of one's happiness, is the greatest misery.
But how can any one propose a lasting happiness to himself that looks no further than the present, and makes no provision for the time to come? and this men are so generally agreed in with respect to the happiness of this world, that we meet with but few in comparison who live at all adventures, without a providential foresight and regard to the future; and he would be counted a madman that for some present satisfactions would take a course that would
entirely ruin and make him miserable for his whole life after.
Indeed, we are rather apt to be too careful about the futurities of this life, insomuch that our blessed Lord thought it needful to take us off from too much thoughtfulness that way, and give us warning of the danger of it.
But, as to the great things of the other world, which are our chief concern, and where our main interest is, the happiness or misery which will be our portion there being unspeakable and everlasting; so stupid and senseless are we, that scarce any thing appears in our conduct but careless negligence : and provided we can but enjoy the little, shortlived pleasures of this earth, we trouble our heads no further; and are as regardless of that eternal condition in which ere long we must be fixed in the world of spirits, as if there were no such thing, or that our Saviour would take care of those matters for us, without any care of our own.
But now is not this most strange perverseness and folly?
As to this world, Christ says expressly, Take, no thought for the morrow : for the morrow shall take thought
for the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereofa. And assures us that God's providence will not fail to supply us with whatever is needful for us. But for all this, as if we were afraid to trust him in these comparatively little concerns, we are full of carking cares for ourselves, even to the degree of anxious solicitude. But when he kindly enjoins us to be thoughtful and circumspect and considerate, and the things about which he
a Matt. vi. 34:
would have us be so are worthy our utmost care, and wherein all our happiness consists, then we can by no means be persuaded to it; but live at loose and random, and pretend to confide entirely in the divine mercy and goodness, as to our future state in the life to come.
Such unaccountable creatures are we, and full of inconsistencies and contradictions.
Since therefore in matters of religion, which are, of all, of the highest importance, men act at this wild rate, it is very needful to advise them better, and persuade them to make use of their reason in looking into the final consequence of things, and consider what will be in the conclusion of their life and actions, in order to their taking that course which will lead them to happiness eternal. And the Psalmist in my text has given us the best direction that can be, when he says, Keep innocency, and take heed to the thing that is right; for that shall bring a man peace at the last. Or, as it is in the new translation in our Bibles, Mark the
perfect man and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.
. In discoursing upon which excellent advice I
I. First, shew what it is to keep innocency, and take heed to the thing that is right.
II. Secondly, what is that peace at the last which a man's thus keeping innocency, &c. shall bring him; and that it will in the conclusion certainly bring him such peace; and that nothing in this world but that can do it. And,
I. First, as for what it is to keep innocency, and take heed to the thing that is right, it is the performing, to the best of our power, a sincere and en
tire duty and obedience to God, and walking justly and uprightly in our intercourse with men. For he only can be said to keep innocency, with respect to God, who makes it his hearty endeavour to serve and please him in all things to the best of his knowledge and ability; and he only takes heed to the things that are right towards men, who does no otherwise by his neighbour than he would be willing to be done by in like circumstances himself; and in no case knowingly transgresses the bounds of just and right.
And it is called keeping innocency in the text, to denote the great care we ought to take to preserve our integrity untouched, notwithstanding all the attempts that may be made upon it, by temptations from without, or corrupt inclinations within : like the faithful and courageous defending of a castle from treachery within and force without b. The heart is the chief fort to be defended in the Christian warfare, and to secure that entirely God's is our indispensable duty, and, in the most comprehensive sense of the words, the keeping innocency.
And taking heed to the thing that is right is likewise an emphatical expression, and signifies the circumspect care we ought to take not in any manner to injure one another, but to have as much regard and heed to justice and uprightness in our dealings with our neighbours as we have when they deal with us ; and be as tender of their interest as our own; and as careful not to do them any wrong as we are not to be wronged ourselves, according to the excellent command of our holy religion, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
b Prov, iv. 23; Matt. xv. 19, 20.
But how directly contrary to this is the vile practice of the world! where, for the most part, to circumvent and overreach one another is that which men chiefly employ their care and thoughts about; and he that does not take heed to himself, that he is not wronged, and cheated, and unjustly dealt by, will meet with very few that will take much heed lest they deal unjustly by him. For present gain and temporal self-interest is that which governs the world; and there are not many that look so far before them, as to think what will tend most to their spiritual interest in that future eternal state to which they draw near apace, and have the greatest regard to those things which will bring them peace at the last. And what that is, I am now in the
II. Second place to shew. By peace is meant divers things of the greatest value and esteem. As peace of conscience, quiet and serenity in a man's own breast; peace with God, the recovery of his favour, and being reconciled to him through Jesus Christ; and a freedom from strife and contention with men: and by peace at the last is meant, the enjoyment of such tranquillity of mind, favourable acceptance with God, and good-will amongst men, as the more immediate result of our good actions in the course of this life, and, at the close of it, when we are entering into the next; and that fulness of joy and happiness, that peace which passeth all understanding, which shall there be our crown and reward for ever. All which peace, the keeping innocency, and taking heed to the thing that is right, will certainly bring a man, in the consequence and conclusion of things, and nothing can do it but that. Which is what I am now to make good.
BRAGGE, vol. IV.