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of dealing with men: he had long contended with a stubborn world, and thrown down many a blessing upon them; and when all his other gifts could not prevail, he at last made a gift of himself, to testify his affection and engage theirs. i he account which we have of our Saviour's life in the gospel, doth all along present us with the story of his love; all the pains that he took, and the troubles that he endured, were the wonderful effects, and uncontrollable evidences of it. But that last, that dismal scene! Is it possible to remember it, and question his kindness, or deny him ours? Here, here it is, my dear friend, that we should fix our most serious and solemn thoughts, that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith: that we being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fulness of God.
We ought also frequently to reflect on those particular tokens of favour and love, which God hath bestowed on ourselves; how long he hath borne with our follies and sins, and waited to be gracious unto us; wrestling, as it were,
with the stubbornness of our hearts, and essaying every method to reclaim us. We should keep a register in our minds of all the eminent blessings and deliverances we have met with; some whereof have been so conveyed, that we might clearly perceive they were not the issues of chance, but the gracious effects of the divine favour, and the signal returns of our prayers. Nor ought we to imbitter the thoughts of these ihings with any harsh or unworthy suspicion, as if they were designed on purpose to enhance our guilt, and heighten our eternal damnation. No, no, my friend, God is love, and he hath no pleasure in the ruin of his creatures; if they abuse his goodness, and turn his grace into wantonness, and thereby plunge themselves into greater depths of guilt and misery, .this is the effect of their obstinate wickedness, and not the design of those benefits which he bestows.
If these considerations had once begotten in our hearts
a real love and affection towards Almighty God, that would easily lead us unto the other branches of religion, and therefore I shall need say the less of them. To beget charity we must remember that all men
are nearly related unto God. We shall find our hearts enlarged in charity towards men, by considering the relation wherein they stand unto God, and the impresses of his image which are stamped upon them. They are not only his creatures, the workmanship of his hands, but such of whom he taketh special care, and for whom he hath a very dear and tender regard; having laid the design of their happiness before the foundations of the world, and being willing to live and converse with them to all the ages of eternity. The meanest and most contemptible person whom we behold, is the offspring of heaven, one of the children of the Most High; and however unworthy he might behave himself of that relation, so long as God hath not abdicated and disowned him by a final sentence, he will have us to acknowledge him as one of his, and as such to embrace him with a sincere and cordial affection. You know what a great concernment we are wont to have for those that do anywise belong to the person whom we love; how gladly we lay hold on every opportunity to gratify the child or servant of a friend; and sure our love towards God would as naturally spring forth in charity towards men, did we mind the interest that he is pleased to take in them, and consider that every soul is dearer unto him than all the material world: and that he did not account the blood of his son too great a price for their redemption.
That they carry God's image upon them. Again, as all men stand in a near relation to God, so they have still so much of his image stamped upon them, as may oblige and excite us to love them; in some this image is more eminent and conspicuous, and we can discern the lovely traces of wisdom and goodness; and though in others it is miserably sullied and defaced, yet
it is not altogether erased, some lineaments at least do still remain. All men are endued with rational and immortal souls, with understandings and wills capable of the highest and most excellent things; and if they be at present disordered and put out of tune by wickedness and folly, this may indeed move our compassion, but ought not in reason to extinguish our love.
When we see a person in a rugged humour, and perverse disposition, full of malice and dissimulation, very foolish and very proud, it is hard to fall in love with an object that presents itself unto us under an idea so little grateful and lovely. But when we shall consider these evil qualities as the diseases and distempers of a soul, which in itself is capable of all that wisdom and goodness wherewith the best of saints have ever been adorned, and which may one day come to be raiserd unto such heights of perfection as shall render it a fit companion for the holy angels, this will turn our aversion into pity, and make us behold him with such resentments as we should have when we look upon a beautiful body that was mangled with wounds, or disfigured by some loathsome disease; and however we hate the vices, we shall not cease to love the man.
To beget purity, we should consider the dignity of
our nature. In the next place, for purifying our souls, and disentangling our affections from the pleasures and enjoyments of this lower life, let us frequently ponder the exeellency and dignity of our nature, and what a shameful and unworthy thing it is for so noble and divine a creature as the soul of man, to be sunk and immersed in brutish and sensual lust, or amused with airy and fantastical delights, and so to lose the relish of solid and spiritual pleasures; that the beast should be fed and pampered, and the man and the christian be starved in
Did we but mind who we are, and for what we were made, this would teach us in a right sense to reverence and stand in awe of ourselves; it would beget a modesty and shame-facedness, and make us very shy
and reserved in the use of the most innocent and allow able pleasures. We should meditate often on the joys of heaven.
It will be very effectual to the same purpose, that we frequently raise our minds towards heaven, and represent to our thoughts the joys that are at God's right hand, those pleasures that endure for evermore; for every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure. If our heavenly country be much in our thoughts, it will make us, as strangers and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul, and keep ourselves unspotted from this world, that we may be fit for the enjoyments and felicities of the other. But then we must see that our notions of heaven be not gross and carnal, that we dream not of a Mahometan paradise, nor rest on those metaphors and similitudes by which these joys are sometimes represented; for this might, perhaps, have quite a contrary effect; it might entangle us further in carnal affections, and we should be ready to indulge ourselves in a very liberal foretaste of those pleasures, wherein we had placed our everlasting felicity. But when we come once to conceive aright of those pure and spiritual pleasures, when the happiness we propose to ourselves is from the sight, and love, and enjoyment of God, and our minds are filled with the hopes and forethoughts of that blessed estate; O how mean and contemptible will all things here below appear in our eyes! with what disdain shall we reject the gross and muddy pleasures that would deprive us of those celestial enjoyments, or any way unfit and indispose us for them. Humility arises from the consideration of our
failings. The last branch of religion is humility, and sure we can never want matter of consideration for begetting it: all our wickednesses and imperfections, all our follies and our sins, may help to pull down that fond and overweening conceit which we are apt to entertain of our
selves. That which makes any body esteem us, is their knowledge or apprehension of some little good, and their ignorance of a great deal of evil that may be in us; were they thoroughly acquainted with us, they would quickly change their opinion. The thoughts that pass in our heart, in the best and most serious day of our life, being exposed unto public view, would render us either hateful or ridiculous: and now, however we conceal our failings from one another, yet sure we are conscious of them ourselves, and some serious reflections upon them would much qualify and allay the vanity of our spirits. Thus holy men have come really to think worse of themselves, thaa of any other person in the world: not but that they knew that gross and scandalous vices are, in their nature, more heinous than the surprisals of temptations and infirmity; but because they were much more intent on their own miscarriages, than on those of their neighbours, and did consider all the aggravations of the one, and every thing that might be supposed to diminish and alleviate the other. Thoughts of God give us the lowest thoughts of
ourselves. But it is well observed by a pious writer, that the deepest and most pure humility doth not so much arise from the consideration of our own faults and defects, as from a calm and quiet contemplation of the divine purity and goodness. Our spots never appear so clearly, as when we place them before this infinite light; and we never seem less in our own eyes, than when we look down upon ourselves from on high. O how little, how nothing do all those shadows of perfection then appear, for which we are wont to value ourselves! That humility which cometh from a view of our own sinfulness and misery, is more turbulent and boisterous; but the other layeth us full as low, and wanteth nothing of that anguish and vexation wherewith our souls are apt to boil when they are the nearest objects of our thoughts.