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while he was in the world. He had none of those sins and imperfections which may justly humble the best of men; but he was so entirely swallowed up with a deep sense of the infinite perfections of God, that he
appeared as nothing in his own eyes, I mean, so far as he was a creature. He considered those eminent perfections which shined in his blessed soul, as not his own, but the gifts of God; and therefore assumed nothing to himself for them, but with the profoundest humility renounced all pretences to them. Hence did he refuse that ordinary compellation of good master, when addressed to his human nature, by one whom it seems was ignorant of his divinity: Why callest thou me good ? there is none good, but God only: As if he had said, The goodness of any creature (and such only thou takest me to be) is not worthy to be named or taken notice of; it is God alone who is originally and essentially good. He never made use of his miraculous power for vanity or ostentation. He would not gratify the curiosity of the Jews with a sign from heaven, some prodigious appearance in the air: nor would he follow the advice of his countrymen and kindred, who would have had all his great works performed in the eyes of the world, for gaining him the greater fame. But when his charity had prompted him to the relief of the miserable, his humility made him many times enjoin the concealment of the miracle; and when the glory of God, and the design for which he came into the world, required the publication of them, he ascribed the honour of all to his Father, telling them, that of himself he was able to do nothing.
I cannot insist on all the instances of humility in his deportment towards men; his withdrawing himself when they would have made him a king, his subjection, not only to his blessed mother, but to her husband, during his younger years; and his submission to all the indignities and affronts which his rude and malicious enemies did put upon him. The history of his holy life, recorded by those who conversed with him, is full of such passages as these.
And indeed the serious and attentive study of it, is the best way to get right measures of hu
mility, and all the other parts of religion which I have been endeavouring to describe.
But now, that I may lessen your trouble of reading a long letter, by making some pauses in it, let me here subjoin a prayer that might be proper when one who had formerly entertained some false notions of religion, begins to discover what it is.
INFINITE and eternal Majesty, author and fountain of being and blessedness, how little do we poor sinful creatures know of thee, or the way to serve and please thee! We talk of religion, and pretend unto it; but alas! how few are there that know and consider what it means! How easily do we mistake the affections of our nature, and the issues of self-love for those divine graces which alone can render us acceptable in thy sight! It may justly grieve me, to consider, that I should have wandered so long, and contented myself so often with vain shadows and false images of piety and religion: yet I cannot but acknowledge and adore thy goodness, who hast been pleased in some measure to open mine eyes, and let me see what it is at which I ought to aim. I rejoice to consider what mighty improvements my nature is capable of, and what a divine temper of spirit doth shine in those whom thou art pleased to choose, and causest to approach unto thee. Blessed be thine infinite mercy, who sentest thine own Son to dwel among men, and to instruct them by his example as well as his laws, giving them a perfect pattern of what they ought to be. O that the holy life of the blessed Jesus may be always in my thoughts, and before mine eyes, till I receive a deep sense and impression of those excellent graces that shined so eminently in him; and let me never cease my endeavours, till that new and divine nature prevail in my soul and Christ be formed within me.'
The excellency and advantage of religion. And now, my dear friend, having discovered the nature of true religion, before I proceed any further, it
will not perhaps be unfit to fix our meditations a little on the excellency and advantages of it; that we may be excited to the more vigorous and diligent prosecution of those methods whereby we may attain so great a felicity. But alas! what words shall we find to express that inward satisfaction, those hidden pleasures which can never be rightly understood, but by those holy souls who feel them? A stranger intermeddleth not with their joy. Holiness is the right temper, the vigorous and healthsul constitution of the soul. Its faculties had formerly been enfeebled and disordered, so that they could not exercise their natural functions; it had wearied itself with endless tossings and rollings, and was never able to find any rest: now, that distemper being removed, it feels itself well; there is a due harmony in its faculties, and a sprightly vigour possesseth every part. The understanding can discern what is good, and the will can cleave unto it: the affections are not tied to the motions of sense, and the influence of external objects; but they are stirred by more divine impressions, are touched by a sense of invisible things.
The excellency of divine love. Let us descend, if you please, into a nearer and more particular view of religion, in those several branches of it which were named before. Let us consider that love and affection wherewith holy souls are united to God, that we may see what excellency and felicity is involved in it. Love is that powerful and prevalent passion, by which all the faculties and inclinations of the soul are determined, and on which both its perfection and happiness depend. The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love. He who loveth mean and sordid things, doth thereby become base and vile; but a noble and well-placed affection, doth advance and improve the spirit into a conformity with the perfections which it loves. The images of these do frequently present themselves unto the mind, and, by a secret force and energy, insinuate into the very constitution of the soul, and mould and fashion it unto their
own likeness. Hence we may see how easily lovers or friends do slide into the imitation of the persons whom they affect, and how, even before they are aware, they begin to resemble them, not only in the more considerable instances of their deportment, but also in their voice and gesture, and that which we call their mein and air. And certainly we should as well transcribe the virtues and inward beauties of the soul, if they were the object and motive of our love. But now, as all the creatures we converse with have their mixture and alloy, we are always in hazard to be sullied and corrupted by placing our affections on them. Passion doth easily blind our eyes, so that we first approve, and then imitate the things that are blameable in them. The true way to improve and ennoble our souls, is, by fixing our love on the divine perfections, that we may have them always before us, and derive an impression of them on ourselves, and beholding with open face, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, we may be changed into the same image, from glory to glory. Be who with a generous and holy ambition hath raised his eyes towards that uncreated beauty and goodness, and fixed his affection there, is quite of another spirit, of a more excellent and heroic temper than the rest of the world; and cannot but infinitely disdain all mean and unworthy things; will not entertain any low or base thoughts which might disparage his high and noble pretensions. Love is the greatest and most excellent thing we are masters of; and therefore it is folly and baseness to bestow it unworthily. It is indeed the only thing we can call our own. Other things may be taken from us by violence; but none can ravish our love. If any thing else be counted ours, by giving our love we give all, so far as we make over our hearts and wills, by which we possess our other enjoyments. It is not possible to refuse him any thing, to whom by love we have given ourselves. Nay, since it is the privilege of gifts to receive their value from the mind of the giver, and not to be measured by the event, bat by the desire; he who loveth may in some sense be said not only to bestow all that he hath, but all things
else which may make the beloved person happy, since he doth heartily wish them, and would readily give them, if they were in his power. In which sense it is that one makes bold to say, That divine lore doth in a manner give God unto himself, by the complacency it takes in the happiness and perfection of his nature. But though this may seem too strained an expression, certainly love is the worthiest present we can offer unto God; and it is extremely debased when we bestow it another way.
When this affection is misplaced, it doth often vent itself in such expressions as point at its genuine and proper object, and insinuate where it ought to be placed. The flattering and blasphemous terms of adoration, wherein inen do sometimes express their passion, are the language of that affection which was made and designed for God; as he who is accustomed to speak to some great person, doth, perhaps, unawares, accost another with those titles he was wont to give to him. But certainly that passion which accounteth its object a Deity, ought to be bestowed on him who really is so. Those unlimited submissions, which would debase the soul if directed to any other, will exalt and ennoble it when placed here. 'i hose chains and cords of love are infinitely more glorious than liberty itself; this slavery is more noble than all the empires in the world.
The advantages of divine love. . Again, as divine love doth advance and elevate the soul, so it is that alone which can make it happy. The highest and most ravishing pleasures, the most solid and substantial delights, that human nature is capable of, are those which arise from the endearments of a well-placed and successful affection. That which imbitters love, and makes it ordinarily a very troublesome and hurtful passion, is the placing it on those who have not worth enough to deserve it, or affection and gratitude to require it, or whose absence may deprive us of the pleasure of their converse, or their miseries occasion our