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When others inquire what says such a neighbour, and such a friend? the good man goes and consults the sacred oracles : his question is, what says God?
This conformity to the will of God is,
1. To what God wills not to be done, respecting what is sinful in conduct.
We must maintain the power of holiness in combating with sin ; we must not meddle with it on any account, either greater or less; we must abstain from all appearance of evil. Thou dost not spend thy time in gratifying the sensitive part, in making provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof, as some do ; thou dost not run with them to their excess of riot; thou art no drunkard, no adulterer, no reviler, no extortioner, nor unjust, &c. &c. it may be, no saint either for all that : it is possible it may be so, look to it, that it be not really so. It is not enough to be free from gross pollutions, we must labour to keep conscience clear, that the bird in the breast may be always singing. The foolish pleasure of a vain world must not charm and allure us; we must keep ourselves unspotted, having nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness; for our unholiness arises from our conformity, or adhesion to those things which are unclean, and unholy. We should consider whether such a thing we are about to meddle with, be lawful or not; and whether it be expedient or not, at such a time, in such a place, with such company, for such a one, &c. &c. and rather deny ourselves than offend others. We must maintain our ground in a vigorous resistance, and be waging war with sin every day, endeavouring by all possible methods and prescribed means to get rid of it. Be laying at the root of sin every day, not only now and then, when corruptions stir somewhat more than ordinary; for if they get strength again, thou hast new work. The heart must be cleansed from sin, and filled with grace, and this exercised and evidenced in the life; that will be the way to maintain the power of holiness.
2. Our holiness includes a conformity to the will of God, in what he wills to be done: and this respects our performance of duties. These duties are,
(1.) Such as belong to God.
Public duties of religion; holiness is inclusive of these: they that would be found walking in the way of real sanctity, must be careful to attend upon God in the public ordinances of his appointment, and institution. Surely this is one part of a holy life, to seek God where he may be found; we must wait on him in the solemn assembly, there doth he usually meet his people and bless them; those that go to meet him there do not
usually lose their labour, unless it be through their own negligence and inadvertency.
Private duties of religion belong to the way of real sanctity: we mean those which are kept up in families. Our holiness must appear, not only in God's house, but also in our own; those that live together, should serve God together. Our houses should be houses for God, nurseries of religion. There, those that are heads and governors are concerned mostly, though not only. Alas! it is matter of lamentation, that so many families are schools for Satan, where nothing is to be heard but wickedness, that there are so many families where God is not called upon.
Secret duties of religion must be performed by those who would walk in the way of holiness. There are prayer, meditation, and heart examination, which must be looked after in secret. Many duties a pious person has to perform, that none must be privy to but God and his own soul. He has much work alone; there he must look into his own heart, there he must look up to God to fetch down blessings from above.
And here take notice of one thing, these duties must all be performed, one as well as another ; we must not pick and choose those only that are suited to our humours; we need all the help heaven-ward that we can get : we often need refreshing and strengthening in our journey, and if we neglect to draw near to God in some duties, no wonder if he withdraw from us in others. It may be, sometimes, thou wantest God's company in the solemn assembly ; public ordinances are empty cisterns, thou dost find little or no advantage from them, there is little savour in the word, it doth not come warmly to thy heart; it may be, God had not thy company in the morning; thou wantest his presence in public, he did not find thee seeking him in secret upon thy knees, and therefore withdraws. So again in the evening, thou hast been negligent in thy public attendances, and when thou waitest on him in thy secret addresses, thou art left to thyself. If we would have God to meet us in one duty, we must wait on him in all, or else it will be more than we have any ground to expect if he meet us in any appointment.
(2.) Such as belong to man. The duties of our relations, belong to the way of sanctity.
Much of the power of God lies within doors; the noise and stir we may make about religion amongst others, will signify little, if those that are with us every day, and have opportunity to know us best, speak least of our holiness. He that is really holy, is concerned conscientiously to discharge relative duties. There are some who talk at a great rate abroad about religion, but they do not walk regularly at home. They that are more sincere and industrious, seldom make a great noise about what they do ; it is not usual for them to sound the trumpet of their own praise. Relative duties must be regarded, as well as those that relate to God, more immediately.
In the duties of our particular callings and dealings in the world, our holiness must appear. We must be “holy in all manner of conversation," for nothing is well done, that is not dune religiously: we must not trade, and deal, and traffic in the world as men, but as Christians. We must be found in our particular callings, for idleness is against both reason and religion ; neither must we suffer our particular callings to interfere with what is general. Our religion must not be confined to our knees, it must be brought into our shops; it must appear in our bargaining, buying and selling, and conversing with others. Our holiness must appear in every thing we do, in sacred things, in civil, yea, and natural too. Our eating and drinking must be according to divine direction ; we must do all things by rule. Our dressing and adorning come under scripture regulation, yea, onr sleeping too; we should be careful lest God find us in our bed, when he expects us on our knees. We might have branched these things into more particulars, but you may easily multiply them in your meditation, for our holiness must be universal. O how large and extensive is the work of a Christian ! We have but touched upon these things last mentioned, designing to press them in the application.
HOLINESS THE WAY OF SAFETY.
1 PETER III. 13.
And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of
that which is good ? .
We shall proceed in a few things further, which may serve, partly, by way of explication, giving us to understand the nature of true holiness a little better, and partly instead of application. We hope it may not be altogether unprofitable, nor
do very much injustice to the rules of method. From what has been said, it appears, that holiness is more than,
1. An enlightened head.
There must be an inward principle; so that there is something more required than an orthodox judgment, to constitute a real saint. À learned head, with an unholy heart and ungodly life, will not do. Many make a noise about religion, who, if they were really sounded to the bottom, would be found very shallow. If talking might pass for doing, if pretending to religion might go current for the practice of it, then we might find sundry who have their faces Zion-ward ; but, alas ! many have light in their heads, but no heat in their hearts. Some think they are far enough, if they can talk of the church, and discourse of religion in company; they have a glib tongue, and an extemporaneous wit, and they can hold an argument almost on any point in doctrine or discipline ; they can plead for such a mode of administration, such a form of churchgovernment, &c. and here you have the sum total of their evidences for heaven; though they never felt the power of divine grace overcoming their wills. Inquire of such persons about the things of nature; yea, or of scripture, as to the notional part, their answer is quick and ready : but ask them any thing of religion, where experience is concerned, to give an answer, and then they are nonplussed; you talk as strangely as Nicodemus thought Christ did, when discoursing about the great mystery of regeneration ; you are got
out of their element,
and they are ready to say with those in Ezekiel, “ Doth he not speak parables ?” Or, it may be worse, with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, “ What will this babbler say?" How will some poor, yet sincere Christians in their rustic coats, who in many things can scarcely speak sense, when they come to the experimental part of Christianity, puzzle and confound the profoundest doctors and rabbies of the day, notwithstanding all their sublimated notions.
Sirs, parts are not piety, whatever you may fancy; there are many learned heads in hell, and others going thither. Thou mayest dive into the intricacies of nature, and be able to give a philosophical account of most difficulties that occur; thou mayest be acquainted with the notional part of the gospel, and be able to unriddle the mysteries of salvation ; thou mayest have the bible in thy head, so as to command every verse almost at thy finger's end ; thou mayest be admired for thy acquirements and attainments, the trumpet of thy fame may be sounded through the country where thou livest, and yet thou mayest be a learned ignoramus, and go with a lighted candle in thy hand to hell. Many can discourse long and learnedly on the heavens, but know nothing of God in the heavens ; they are quicksighted in natural things, but in spiritual, fools. Holiness is more than,
2. Faint and feeble wishes.
There is a great deal of difference between wishings and wouldings, and doing. If some cold, faint desires, without suitable and sincere endeavours, would carry us to heaven, it would not be long before some persons were there ; if a few good wishes would storm the kingdom above, we should talk no more of a holy life. But let none dream away their days with this groundless imagination, that a sick-bed's “ Lord have mercy upon me!". Or a Balaam's “O that I might die the death of the righteous !” will carry their souls into eternal bliss. Oh! how dull and stupid are many in the great business of eternity, and loth to stir; yet they can wish as well as any, and if that would suffice, they would not be sparing; words are cheap, and we might have enow of them. Their usual language is, * O that this were working! O that they had grace! O that they could live as such, or such! Whereas they never endeavour to do it. Sometimes upon their miscarriages you shall hear a heartless petition, God forgive me! upon some surprising and unexpected news of danger, then, God bless us ! But according to their usage it is so far from being prevalent, that it is really a taking God's name in vain. Faint and feeble desires, without any impression of holiness upon the heart and expression of it in the life, will leave the soul in horror at last: those that are cold wishers and woulders, but will not be workers, must burn in a hot hell. The way to heaven is up hill, and requires pains; there must be active and unwearied diligence, or else we fall short : whereas it is an easy matter to tumble down into perdition. Holiness is more than,
3. Mere morality. Holiness and harmlessness are really two distinct things. Morality is of use, as far as it goes, and it is to be desired that there were more of it in the world, yet it is not sufficient. It is to be feared this will be the bane of many souls, they have lived soberly and honestly in the world, they mean nobody any harm, and yet are going but a more smooth and unsuspected way to everlasting misery. Thou must get further than thy good meanings, or else thou art as near to heaven as ever thou art like to be. Thou sayest thou meanest well; but I say, good meaners are but meanly good. Thou dost not shew much in thy life, but thou hast a good honest heart thou sayest: alas!
O utinam hoc esset laborare !