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of the world, no Christian meekness, no sincere zeal, no eminent piety in the common lives of Christians, is this, because they do not so much as intend to be exact and exemplary in these virtues.
Of the great danger and Folly of not intending to be as eminent
and exemplary as we can, in the practice of all Christian Virtues.
ALTHOUGH the goodness of God, and his rich mercies in Christ Jesus are a sufficient assurance to us, that he will be merciful to our unavoidable weaknesses and infirmities, that is, to such failings as are the effects of ignorance or surprise: yet we have no reason to expect the same mercy towards those sins which we have lived in, through a want of intention to avoid them
For instance, the case of a common swearer, who dies in that guilt, seems to have no title to the divine mercy; for this reason, because he can no more plead any weakness or infirmity in his excuse, than the man that bid his talent in the earth, could plead his want of strength to keep it out of the earth. But now,
if this be right reasoning, the case of a common swearer, that his sin is not to be reckoned a pardonable frailty, because he has no weakness to plead in its excuse; why then do we not carry this way of reasoning to its true extent? Why don't we as much condemn every one other error of life that has no more weakness to plead in its excuse than common swearing.
For if this be so bad a thing, because it might be avoided, if we did but sincerely intend it, must not then all other erroneous ways of life be very guilty, if we live in them, not through weakness and inability, but because we never sincerely intend to avoid them?
For instance, vou perhaps have made no progress in the most important Christian virtues, you have scarce
gone half way in humility and charity; now if your failure in these duties is purely owing to your want of intention of performing them in any true degree, have you not then as little to plead for yourseit, and are you not as much without all excuse as the common swearer?
Why, therefore don't you press these things bome upon your conscience? Why do you not think it as dangerous for you to live in such defects as are in your power to amend, as it is dangerous for a common swearer to live in the breach of that duty, which it is in his power to observe ? Is not negligence and a want of a sincere intention as blameable in one case as in another?
You, it may be, are as far from Christian perfection, as the common swearer is from keeping the third Commandment; are you not therefore as much condemned by the doctrines of the Gospel, as the swearer is by the third commandment?
You perhaps will say, that all people fall short of the perfection of the Gospel, and therefore you are content with your failings. But this is saying nothing to the purpose. For the question is not whether Gospel perfection, can be fully attained; but whether you come as near it as a sincere intention, and careful diligence can carry you. Whether you are not in a much lower state than you might be, if you sincerely intended and carefully laboured to advance yourself in all Christian yirtues.
If you are as forward in the Christian life as your best endeavours can make you, then you may justly hope that your imperfections will not be laid to your charge ; but if your defects in piety, humility, and charity, are owing to your negligence and want of sincere attention to be as eminent as you can in these virtues, then you leave yourself as much without excuse as he that lives in the sin of swearing, through the want of a sincere in. tention to děpart from it.
The salvation of our souls is set forth in Scripture as a thing of difficulty, that requires all our diligence, that is to be worked out with fear
and trembling, We are told, that strait is the gate and narrow is the way, that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find its
That many are called but few are chosen. And that many will miss of their salvation, who seem to have taken some pains to obtain it. As in these words, Strive to enter in at the strait gate, for many,
unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
Here our blessed Lord commands us to strive to enter in; because many will fail, who only seek to enter. By which we are plainly taught, that religion is a state of labour and striving, and that many will fail of their salvation; not because they took no care or pains about it, but because they did not take pains and care enough; they only sought, but did not strive to enter in.
Every Christian, therefore, should as well examine his life by these doctrines, as by the commandments. For these doctrines are as plain marks of our condition, as the commandments are plain marks of our duty.
For if salvation is only given to those who strive for it, then it is as reasonable for me to consider whether my course of life be a course of striving to obtain it, as to consider whether I am keeping any of the commandments.
If my religion is only a formal compliance with those modes of worship that are in fashion where I live ; if it cost me no pains or trouble, if it lays me under no rules and restraints, if I have no careful thoughts and sober redections about it, is it not great weakness to think that I am striving to enter in at the strait gate?
If I am seeking every thing that can delight my senses and regaie my appetites; spending my time and fortune in pleasures, in diversions, and worldly enjoyments, a stranger to watchings, fastings, prayers, and mortifications, how can it be said that I am working out my saivation with fear and trembling?
If there is nothing in my life and conversation that shew me to be different from the Jews and Heathens; if I use the world and worldly enjoyments, as the generality of people now do, and in all ages have done, why shouid I think that I am amongst those few, who are walking in the narrow way to heaven? And vet if the way
if none can walk in it but those that strive, is it not as necessary for me to consider whether the way I am in be narrow enough;".
or the labor I take be a sufficient striving, as to consider whether I sufficiently observe the second or third commandment.
The sum of this matter is this : From the above-mentioned, and many other passages of Scripture, it seems plain, that our salvation depends upon the sincerity and perfection of our endeavors to obtain it.
Weak and imperfect men shall, notwithstanding their frailties and defects, be received, as having pleased God, if they have done their utmost to please him.
The rewards of charity, piety, and humility, will be given to those whose lives have been a careful labour to exercise these virtues in as high a degree as they could.
We cannot offer to God the service of angels ; we cannot obey him as man in a state of perfection could; but fallen men can do their best, and this is the perfection that is required of us; it is only the perfection of our best endeavors, a careful labour to be as perfect as
But if we stop short of this, for aught we know, we stop short of the mercy of God, and leave ourselves nothing to plead from the terms of the Gospel. For God has there made no promises of mercy to the slothful and negligent.
His mercy is only offered to our frail and imperfect, but best endeavours to practice all manner of righteousness.
As the law to angels is angelical righteousness, as the law to perfect beings is strict perfection, so the law to our imperfect nature is the best obedience that our frail nature is able to perform.
The measure of our love to God seems in justice to be the measure of our love of every virtue. We are to love and practice it with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. And when W cease to live with this regard to yirtue, we live below our nature, and instead of being able to plead our infirmities, we stand chargeable with negligence.
It is for this reason that we are exhorted to work out our salvation with fear and trembling; because unless our heart and passions are eagerly bent upon the work of our salvation ; unless holy fears animate our endeav,
keep our consciences strict and tender about every part of our duty, constantly examining how we live, and how fit we are to die, we shall in all probability fall into a state of negligence, and sit down in such à course of life as will never carry us to the rewards of heaven.
And he that considers that a just God can only make such allowances as are suitable to his justice, that our works are all to be examined by fire, will find that fear and trembling are proper tempers for those that are drawing near so great a trial.
And indeed there is no probability that any one should đo all the duty that is expected from him, or make that progress in piety which the holiness and justice of God requires of him, but he that is constantly afraid of falling short of it.
Now this is not intended to possess people's minds with a scrupulous anxiety, and discontent in the service of God, but to fill them with a just fear of living in sloth and idleness, and in the neglect of such virtues as they will want at the day of judgment.
It is to excite them to an earnest examination of their lives, to such zeal, and care, and concern after Christian perfection, as they use in any matter that has gained their keart and affections.
It is only desiring them to be so apprehensive of their state, so humble in the opinion of themselves, so earnest after high degrees of piety, and so fearful of falling short of happiness, as the great apostle St. Paul was, when he thus wrote to the Philippians.
56 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect-but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” And Then he adds, “ Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded."
But now, if the apostle thought it necessary for those, who were in his state of perfection, to be thus minded; that is, thus labouring, pressing and aspiring after some degrees of holiness, to which they were not then arrived; „surely it is much more necessary for us, who are born