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any thing real. And, if ever you would redeem its lost credit, shew, by the strictness and holiness of your lives, that you do indeed believe the doctrine which you profess; and that you look upon it as that doctrine, by which you expect to be judged at the Last Day
(2) The disorderly conversation of professors, as it tempts wicked men to think religion to be a false and cunningly devised fable; so, at least, it tempts them to look upon it as altogether Needless.
Now what disgrace can be more foul, than to impute frivolousness to a doctrine, which calls itself the oracles of God, the only rule of holiness, and the only way to happiness ? and to make that superfluous and unnecessary, whose chief excellency consists in its usefulness and tendency to our salvation ? And yet this reproach upon the Gospel, through the licentiousness of those who profess it, will be almost unavoidable: for, if we compare the strict precepts of Christianity with the loose lives of Christians, we shall be shrewdly tempted to conclude, that certainly these men have found out an easier passage to heaven, than by the strait way and the narrow gate. And, questionless, this very thing hath been a stumbling-block, at which many have fallen, and dashed themselves to pieces : for what can they think, when, on the one hand, they hear holiness and purity so much recommended, so earnestly pressed upon us by the doctrine of Christ; and, on the other, see it so generally neglected and despised, by those who pretend themselves to be most studied and versed in that doctrine; but that, doubtless, these men do know somewhat, which perhaps they are loth to divulge, that gives them a dispensation from the practice of that godliness which they profess? and so they think that God useth them, as some tradesmen do their customers; that he asks high for heaven at first, but, when it comes to the issue, will fall of his price, and let them have it at a far easier rate than his first demands. And this, I am confident, is the very reason, why those very few, who walk strictly and holily, and demean themselves inoffensively both towards God and man, are yet so despised and hated in the world : some despise and scorn them, as a company of poor silly souls, who have less wit and more honesty by half than needs : others hate them, as a company of impertinent busy-bodies in religion, who serve only to raise the market for heaven, and readily give God all that he asks; but, generally, the world looks upon them, as too precise; and as making too much ado about that salvation, which else would come at an easier rate. Look to it, lest this disrespect and villifying of the power of godliness and practical holiness, lest the contempt and obloquy that is cast upon a severe and mortified life, be not charged upon you, who, by a vain, carnal, frothy, and light conversation, have persuaded the world, that Christ was a more strict preacher than he will be a judge, and that his laws serve rather to shew what holiness is than to exact it.
And thus I have shewn you, how that, by the unsuitable lives of professors, this Twofold Shame will befal religion itself; that wicked men will be ready to account it either False or Frivolous.
2. And, upon both accounts, consider what dreadful Consequences will follow.
(1). To bring this blemish upon religion, that it is either false or unnecessary, is, in a great measure, to evacuate the death of Christ, and to frustrate one of the great ends for which he suffered.
There were Two great and important Reasons of Christ's death:
The one was, the Satisfaction of Divine Justice, as a Redeemer.
The other, the Attestation of the Truth of his Doctrine, as a Martyr. He hạth sealed to the world, by his own blood, both the certainty and necessity of the doctrines which he taught: and therefore Christ himself tells Pilate, John xviii. 37. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. And the greatest testimony, which he gave to the truth of the Gospel, was upon the cross ; laying down his life, and shedding the last drop of his most precious blood, rather than he would disavow or recant the least article of that holy doctrine which he had delivered. And therefore we have that expression, 1 John v. 8. There are three, that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood : which, I think, may be congruously enough expounded, if we here take the first of these witnesses, the spirit, for the spirit or soul of Christ, which he breathed forth when he
gave up the ghost; and the water and blood, to be that mixed stream, which flowed out of his side when the soldier's spear opened unto us that fountain of life and salvation. These three bear witness on earth to the doctrine of Christ, that it is both true in itself, and necessary also to eternal salvation.
Now consider, you, who, by a loose and wanton conversation, give occasion to the world to suspect either the one or the other, what do you less than invalidate the death of Christ; and bring men at last to believe, that he died for that which is either false or frivolous ? which is the greatest affront and indignity, that can possibly be put upon our Lord and Saviour. Must not the world think it very strange, that Christ should willingly submit himself to so cruel and ignominious a death as that of the cross, for the confirmation of a doctrine, which few of those who profess the truth of it will yet be persuaded by all the rewards it propounds to put in practice ? must they not needs judge it a most absurd thing, to spread a religion, and then die for it too, the rules and precepts of which are either impossible or unnecessary to be observed ? And, if they look into the lives of Christians, and take notice how vastly repugnant their actions are to the rule which they profess; what else can they think, but that Christ lost his very death as well as his life, when he died to confirm such a religion, whose laws are so rigorous that they cannot be kept, or whose indulgence is so large that it cannot be out-sinned ? Is this a doctrine, worth such pain and shame, worth martyrdom and the cross, which hath so little influence
those who embrace it, to conform their lives to the principles which it teacheth? are the rewards which it promises so inconsiderable, or the punishments which it threatens so easy and gentle, or the evidence which it gives of the certainty of both so glimmering and obscure, that it cannot prevail with those who own it, to abandon their vices or their present pleasures, for future fears and hopes ? And, what! shall we think such a religion can ever bring its followers to heaven, when as it cannot bring them to virtue ? Believe it, this reflects highly upon our Lord Jesus Christ, and lays an imputation, either upon his sincerity or his wisdom, in dying for a doctrine, which ordinarily hath no more power over those who profess and own it, than only to name them Christians.
(2) Consider, that the profession of religion, without a suitable practice, tends only to harden the hearts of wicked men, and to strengthen their hands in their course of sin and profaneness.
For such is either the weakness or corruption of human nature, that we are sooner led by examples, than by precepts; and follow the herd, rather than the guide; accounting nothing a
surer mark of the right way, than the tracks of others who go before us. Now when wicked men shall see thee, who art a professor, live unanswerably to that religion thou makest shew of, will they not be ready to bless themselves in their ways, and to cry, Peace, Peace, to themselves; since thou, who thinkest well of thyself, and whom others perhaps think well of too, art in reality no better than they?“ Do not I see,” may such an one say, “ that those, who are taken for Saints, are proud, and impatient, and covetous, and revengeful? And if such men get to heaven, as they pretend they shall, why may not I? It is true, indeed, they talk of self-denial, and contempt of the world, and communion with God, and great spiritual enjoyments; but look into our lives, and mine is as harmless and innocent as theirs. If they let themselves loose to the pleasures of the world, drink till wine inflames them, discourse lewdly and lasciviously by tropes and metaphors, cozen and cheat in their bargains, and overreach the simplicity of those that trust them for their profession, why may not I; and yet be altogether as good a Christian, and in as safe a way of salvation, as they? They talk, indeed, of experiences, and acquaintance with God, and ravishing joys, and melting desires, and a road of words that I skill not: but, certainly, if God will not condemn them, though they do nothing more than I, but only talk; neither will he condemn me, for not talking as they do." And so they give themselves the reins, and boldly fly out into all manner of impieties: peither taking up the profession of religion, which they rightly judge to be of no worth without the practice of it; neither will be brought to the practice of religion, judging that needless, because they see it neglected by you who profess it. And so you make them sevenfold worse than if you yourselves were profligate and avowed sinners, denying the form of godliness, as well as the power of it. For a wicked and debauched sinner, though he may prevail upon others to draw them into the same excess of riot with himself; yet his example is not so likely to harden men in sin and to seal them up under impenitency, as the loose examples of a hypocritical professor: natural conscience will struggle, and tumultuate, and draw back, when we follow those, who pretend no other, but to go to hell: they cannot but with remorse reflect upon it, that ever they should suffer themselves to be led by such as they know to be in the ready way to damnation. But, when they see those, who pretend highly to heaven, and entertain flourishing hopes of glory and salvation; who stand sainted in every man's calendar, and whom all conclude to be of those few that shall be saved; when they see such as these indulge themselves in any way
of wickedness, they presently take heart by such an example: and, if they think not, that they may do the same with a good conscience, yet they conclude, that they may do it without any prejudice to their salvation; and so sin quietly without regret, and perish and go down to hell with good company. Well, beware, lest their sins. be not at last set upon thy score: for, though they shall die in them, as the Prophet speaks, yet certainly God will require the blood of their souls at thy hands; who, by encouraging them through thy loose example covered over with a dissembled holiness, hast only made their crimes thy guilt; and shalt be punished eternally in hell, both for thine own hypocrisy and their profaneness.
(3) The unsuitable and unholy lives of professors, must needs induce wicked men to think that their ways are better than God's.
What else can they conclude, but that certainly religion and piety is some sour, morose thing; when they see those, who pretend most to it, steal away to refresh themselves with the pleasures of sin? hath not holiness delights enough within itself to content you are not peace of conscience, calmness and serenity of mind, the love of God, the performance of duty, the consolations of the Holy Ghost, are not all these joy enough
but you must needs break the hedge, and stray into the world's common; as if you wanted pasture, or those pastures wanted verdure and refreshment? is not a whole Eden sufficient for you,
but you must likewise taste of the forbidden fruit ? What is this, but to give a most wretched occasion to wicked men, to applaud their choice, and to think it much better and wiser than yours ? what a disparagement is this to religion, that those, who embrace it, must be beholding to sin and wickedness, for all the pleasant hours they enjoy! as if to sigh and weep, to be sad and melancholy, were the only employment of a Christian's life; or as if, indeed, there were not more true content and pleasure to be found in tears and sighs, in sad and serious thoughts, than in all those impure and muddy delights, for which you forsake them. No: if ever you would adorn the Gospel and win over others unto the profession and obedience