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avoiding the enchantments which allure to vice? Will men, I say, readily, for the sake of an imaginary or insensible thing, (a goodly name only, for all they see,) which representeth no more of benefit attending it, cross the bent of their natural inelinations, forfeit their present ease, reject certain fruitions of pleasure, waive occasions of getting to themselves protit, honor, and power, goods so manifestly substantial and grateful to nature ? will they undergo contentedly the difficulties, encounter the dangers, sustain the pains, the disgraces, the losses commonly incident to virtue ? No surely, when it cometh to earnest trial, it will hardly seem reason or wisdom so to do. But the Christian doctrine, as it compriseth, and in an inferior order urgeth also such grounds and arguments, so it doth exhibit others far more solid and forcible : it commendeth goodness to us, not only as agreeable to man's imperfect and fallible reason, but as conformable to the perfect goodness of God, as the dictate of his infallible wisdom, as the resolution of his most holy will; as enjoined by his unquestionable authority, as our indispensable duty, and only way to happiness: the principles, from which it willeth us to act, are love, reverence, and gratitude to God, hearty good-will toward men, and a sober regard to our own true welfare; the ends which it prescribeth are God's honor, public edification, and the salvation of our own souls: it stirreth us to good practice, by minding us that we shall thereby resemble the Supreme Goodness, shall express our gratitude toward that great Benefactor, unto whom we owe all that we have; shall discharge our duty, pay due honor, perform faithful service to our Almighty Lord and King ; that we shall thereby surely decline the wrath and displeasure of God, shall surely obtain his favor and mercy, with all sorts of blessings needful or profitable for us ; that we shall not only avoid regrets and terrors of conscience here, but escape endless miseries and torments; we shall not only procure present comfort and peace of mind, but shall acquire crowns of everlasting glory and bliss. These surely are the truest and firmest grounds on which a right estimation of virtue can subsist; these are motives incomparably most effectual to the embracing thereof; these are the purest fountains whence it can spring, the noblest marks whither it can aim; a virtue so grounded, so reared, is certainly most sound and genuine, most firm and stable, most infinitely beneficial. But farther,
7. It is a peculiar advantage of Christianity, (which no other law or doctrine so much as pretendeth to,) that it not only clearly teacheth us and strongly persuadeth us to so excellent a way of life, but provideth also sufficient help and ability to practise it; without which (such is the frailty of our nature, as experience proveth, that) all instruction, all exhortation, all encouragement, would avail little. Other laws, for want of this, are in effect ‘ministries of condemnation,' racks of conscience, parents of guilt and of regret; reading hard lessons, but not assisting to do after them; imposing heavy burdens, but not enabling to bear them : our law is not such; it is not a dead letter, but hath a quickening spirit accompanying it; it not only soundeth through the ear, but stampeth itself on the heart of him that sincerely doth embrace it; it always carrieth with it a sure guide to all good, and a safe guard from all evil: if our mind be doubtful or dark, it directeth us to a faithful oracle, where we may receive counsel and information : if our passions are unruly, if our appetites are outrageous, if temptations be violent, and threaten to overbear us, it leadeth us to a full magazine, whence we may furnish ourselves with all manner of arms to withstand and subdue them : if our condition, in respect to all other means, be disconsolate or desperate, it sendeth us to a place where we shall not fail of refreshment and relief; it offereth, on our earnest seeking and asking, the wisdom and strength of God himself for our direction, our aid, our support and comfort, in all exigencies. To them, who with due fervency and constancy ask it, God hath in the gospel promised to 'grant his holy Spirit,' to guide them in their ways, to admonish them of their duty, to strengthen them in obedience, to guard them from surprises and assaults of temptation, to sustain them, and cheer them in afflictions. This advantage, as it is proper to our religion, so it is exceedingly considerable ; for what would the most perfect rule or way signify, without as well a power to observe it, as a light to discern it? and how came man, (so ignorant, so impotent, so inconstant a creature ; so easily deluded by false appearances, and transported with disorderly passions ; so easily shaken
and unsettled by any small assault,) either alone without some guidance perceive, or by himself without some assistance prosecute, what is good for him, especially in cases of intricacy and difficulty ? how should he who hath frequent experience of his own weakness, not be utterly disheartened and cast into despair either of standing fast in a good state, or of recovering himself from a bad one; of rescuing himself from any vicious inclination, or attaining any virtuous habit, if he did not apprehend such a friendly power vigilantly guarding bim, ready on all occasions to succor and abet him ? this consideration it is, which only can nourish our hope, can excite our courage, can quicken and support our endeavor in religious practice, by assuring us that there is no duty so hard, which by the grace vouchsafed us we may not achieve ; that there is no enemy so mighty, which by the help afforded us we cannot master ; so that, although we find ourselves • able to do nothing of ourselves, yet we can do all things by Christ that strengtheneth us.'
8. Another peculiar excellency of our religion is this, that it alone can appease and satisfy a man's conscience, breeding therein a well-grounded hope and a solid comfort ; healing the wounds of bitter remorse and anxious fear, which the sense of guilt doth inflict : « There is no man,' as King Solomon said, and all men know, who sinneth not;' who doth not find himself in thought, word, and deed, frequently thwarting the dictates of reason, violating the laws of piety and justice, transgressing the bounds of sobriety; who consequently doth not in his own judgment condemn himself of disorder, and of offence committed against the world's great Lawgiver and Governor, the just Patron of right and goodness ; who thence doth not deem himself obnoxious to God's wrath, and is not fearful of deserved punishment from him : which fear must needs be fostered and augmented by considering, that as past facts are irrevocable, so guilt is indelible, and punishment, except by the voluntary remission of him that is offended, inevitable; as also that there are no visible means of removing or abating such guilt by any reparation or amends that he can make, who is more apt to accumulate new offences, than able to compensate for what he hath committed : now in such a case, some man
indeed may frame to himself hopes of mercy; may from the experience of God's forbearance to punish, and continuance of his bounty to sinners, presume that God is placable, and will not be rigorous in his proceedings with him; may hopefully guess that in favor God will admit his endeavors at repentance, will accept the compensations be offereth in lieu of his duty, may suffer his guilt to be atoned by the sacrifices he presenteth; yet can no man on such presumptions ground a full confidence that he shall find mercy; he cannot however be satisfied on what terms mercy will be granted, in what manner it shall be dispensed, or how far it shall extend; God never having exhibited any express declarations or promises to those purposes ; no man therefore can otherwise than suspect himself to be in a bad state, or esteem himself secure from the pursuits of justice and wrath; as he knoweth that “sin lieth at the door,' so he cannot know but that vengeance may lie near it; hence common reason, as well as the Jewish law, is a ministry of death, and a killing letter, carrying nothing in the looks or language thereof but death and ruin; hence is a man (if at least he be not besotted into a careless stupidity) shut up in an irksome bondage of spirit, under the grievous tyranny, if not of utter despair, yet of restless suspicion about his condition ; which as it quencheth in his mind all steady peace and joy, so it dampeth his courage and alacrity, it enervateth his care and industry to do well, he doubting what success and what acceptance his undertakings may find; it also cooleth in him good affections towards God, whom that he hath offended he knoweth, and questioneth whether he can be able to reconcile.
From this unhappy plight our religion thoroughly doth rescue us, assuring us that God Almighty is not only reconcilable, but desirous, on good terms, to become our friend, himself most frankly proposing overtures of grace, and soliciting us to close with them; iton our compliance tendereth, ander God's own hand and seal, a full discharge of all guilts and debts, however contracted; it receiveth a man into perfect favor and friendship, if he doth not himself wilfully reject them, or resolve to continue at distance, in estrangement and enmity toward God. It proclaimeth that, if we be careful to amend, God will not be • extreme to mark what we do amiss ;' that iniquity, if we do not incorrigibly affect and cherish it, “shall not be our ruin ;' that although by our infirmity we fall often, yet by our repentance we may rise again, and by our sincerity shall stand upright; that our endeavors to serve and please God (although imperfect and defective, if serious and sincere) will be accepted by him: this is the tenor of that great covenant between heaven and earth, which the Son of God did procure by his intercession, did purchase by his merits of wonderful obedience and patience, did ratify and seal by his blood; did publish to mankind, did confirm by miraculous works, did solemnise by holy institutions, doth by the evangelical ministry continually recommend to all men; so that we can nowise doubt of its full accomplishment on God's part, if we be not deficient on ours : so to our inestimable benefit and unspeakable comfort doth our religion ease their conscience, and encourage them in the practice of their duty, who do sincerely embrace it, and firmly adhere thereto.
9. The last advantage which I shall mention of this doctrine is this; that it propoundeth and asserteth itself in a manner very convincing and satisfactory : it propoundeth itself in a style and garb of speech as accommodate to the general capacity of its hearers, so proper to the authority which it claimeth, becoming the majesty and sincerity of divine truth; it expresseth itself plainly and simply, without any affectation or artifice, without ostentation of wit or eloquence, such as men study to insinuate and impress their devices by: it also speaketh with an imperious and awful confidence, such as argueth the speaker satisfied both of his own wisdom and authority ; that he doubieth not of what he saith himself, that he knoweth his hearers obliged to believe him ; its words are not like the words of a wise man, who is wary and careful that he slip not into mistake, (interposing therefore now and then his may-be’s and perchances,) nor like the words of a learned scribe, grounded on semblances of reason, and backed with testimonies; nor as the words of a crafty sophister, who by long circuits, subtile fetches, and sly trains of discourse doth inveigle men to his opinion ; but like the words of a king, carrying with them authority and power uncontrollable, commanding forthwith attention, assent, and obedience ; this you are to believe, this you are to do, on