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a readiness to obey the known will of God, is the surest and best means to enlighten the understanding to a belief of Christianity. That it is so, will appear upon a double
1st, Upon the account of God's goodness, and the method of his dealing with the souls of men; which is, to reward every degree of sincere obedience to his will, with a farther discovery of it. "I understand more than the ancients," says David, (Psalm cxix. 100.) But how did he attain to such an excellency of understanding? Was it by longer study, or a greater quickness and felicity of parts, than was in those before him? No, he gives the reason in the next words, it was "because I keep thy statutes." He got the start of them in point of obedience, and thereby outstript them at length in point of knowledge. And who in old time were the men of extraordinary revelations, but those who were also men of extraordinary piety? Who were made privy to the secrets of Heaven, and the hidden will of the Almighty, but such as performed his revealed will at an higher rate of strictness than the rest of the world? They were the Enochs, the Abrahams, the Elijahs, and the Daniels: such as the Scripture remarkably testifies of, "that they walked with God." And surely, he that walks with another, is in a likelier way to know and understand his mind, than he that follows him at a distance. Upon which account the learned Jews still made this one of the ingredients that went to constitute a prophet, that he should be perfectus in moralibus, a person of exact morals, and unblameable in his life: the gift of prophecy being a ray of such a light, as never darts itself upon a dunghill. And what I here observe occasionally of extraordinary revelation and prophecy, will, by analogy and due proportion, extend even to those communications of God's will, that are requisite to men's salvation. An honest hearty simplicity and proneness to do all that a man knows of God's will, is the ready, certain, and infallible way to know more of it. For I am sure it may be said of the practical knowledge of religion," that to him that hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly."
such, that he never deserts a sincere person, nor suffers any one that shall live (even according to these measures of sincerity) up to what he knows, to perish for want of any knowledge necessary, and what is more, sufficient to save him.
If any one should here say, Were there then none living up to these measures of sincerity amongst the heathen? and if there were, did the goodness of God afford such persons knowledge enough to save them? My answer is according to that of Saint Paul,
I judge not those that are without the church" they stand or fall to their own master: I have nothing to say of them. "Secret things belong to God:" it becomes us to be thankful to God, and charitable to men.
2d, A pious and well-disposed will is the readiest means to enlighten the understanding to a knowledge of the truth of Christianity, upon the account of a natural efficiency; forasmuch as a will so disposed will be sure to engage the mind in a severe search into the great and concerning truths of religion. Nor will it only engage the mind in such a search; but it will also accompany that search with two dispositions, directly tending to, and principally productive of, the discoveries of truth; namely, diligence and impartiality. And,
I dare not, I confess, join in that bold assertion of some, that facienti quod in se est,❘ Deus nec debet, nec potest denegare gratiam, which, indeed, is no less than a direct contradiction in the very terms; for if Deus debet, then id quod debetur non est gratia; there being a perfect inconsistency between that which is of debt, and that which is of free gift. And, therefore, leaving the non debet and the non potest to those that can bind and loose the Almighty at their pleasure, so much, I think, we may pronounce safely in this matter, that the goodness and mercy of God is
(1.) For the diligence of the search. Diligence is the great harbinger of truth; which rarely takes up in any mind till that has gone before, and made room for it. It is a steady, constant, and pertinacious study, that naturally leads the soul into the knowledge of that, which at first seemed locked up from it. For this keeps the understanding long in converse with an object; and long converse brings acquaintance. Frequent consideration of a thing wears off the strangeness of it; and shews it in its several lights, and various ways of appearance, to the view of the mind.
Truth is a great stronghold, barred and fortified by God and nature; and diligence is properly the understanding's laying siege to it: so that, as in a kind of warfare, it must be perpetually upon the watch; observing all the avenues and passes to it, and accordingly makes its approaches. Sometimes it thinks it gains a point; and presently again, it finds itself baffled and beaten off: yet still it renews the onset, attacks the difficulty afresh, plants this reasoning, and that argument, this consequence, and that distinction, like so many intellectual batteries, till at length it forces a way and passage into the obstinate enclosed truth, that so long withstood and defied all its assaults.
The Jesuits have a saying common amongst them, touching the institution of youth, (in which their chief strength and talent lies,) that vexatio dat intellectum. As when the
mind casts and turns itself restlessly from one thing to another, strains this power of the soul to apprehend, that to judge, another to divide, a fourth to remember; thus tracing out the nice and scarce observable difference of some things, and the real agreement of others, till at length it brings all the ends of a long and various hypothesis together; sees how one part coheres with and depends upon another; and so clears off all the appearing contrarieties and contradictions that seemed to lie cross and uncouth, and to make the whole unintelligible. This is the laborious and vexatious inquest that the soul must make after science. For truth, like a stately dame, will not be seen, nor shew herself at the first visit, nor match with the understanding upon an ordinary courtship or address. Long and tedious attendances must be given, and the hardest fatigues endured and digested; nor did ever the most pregnant wit in the world bring forth any thing great, lasting, and considerable, without some pain and travail, some pangs and throes before the delivery.
Now all this, that I have said, is to shew the force of diligence in the investigation of truth, and particularly of the noblest of all truths, which is that of religion. But then, as diligence is the great discoverer of truth, so is the will the great spring of diligence. For no man can heartily search after that which he is not very desirous to find. Diligence is to the understanding, as the whetstone to the razor; but the will is the hand that must apply one to the other.
What makes many men so strangely immerse themselves, some in chemical, and some in mathematical inquiries, but because they strangely love the things they labour in? Their intent study gives them skill and proficiency, and their particular affection to these kinds of knowledge puts them upon such study. Accordingly, let there be but the same propensity and bent of will to religion, and there will be the same sedulity and indefatigable industry in men's inquiry into it. And then, in the natural course of things, the consequent of a sedulous seeking is finding, and the fruit of inquiry is information.
for a man to admit a reason against the thing he loves, or to confess the force of an argument against an interest.
In this case, he prevaricates with his own understanding, and cannot seriously and sincerely set his mind to consider the strength, to poise the weight, and to discern the evidence of the clearest and best argumentations, where they would conclude against the darling of his desires. For still that beloved thing possesses, and even engrosses him, and like a coloured glass before his eyes casts its own colour and tincture upon all the images and ideas of things that pass from the fancy to the understanding; and so absolutely does it sway that, that if a strange irresistible evidence of some unacceptable truth should chance to surprise and force reason to assent to the premises, affection would yet step in at last, and make it quit the conclusion.
Upon which account, Socinus and his followers state the reason of a man's believing or embracing Christianity upon the natural goodness or virtuous disposition of his mind, which they sometimes call naturalis probitas. and sometimes animus in virtutem pronus. For, say they, the whole doctrine of Christianity teaches nothing but what is perfectly suitable to, and coincident with, the ruling principles, that a virtuous and well inclined man is acted by, and with the main interest that he proposes to himself. So that as soon as ever it is declared to such an one, he presently closes in, accepts, and complies with it, as a prepared soil eagerly takes in and firmly retains such seed or plants as particularly agree witn it.
(2.) A pious and well-disposed will gives not only diligence, but also impartiality to the understanding, in its search into religion, which is as absolutely necessary to give success to our inquiries into truth, as the former; it being scarce possible for that man to hit the mark, whose eye is still glancing upon something beside it. Partiality is properly the understanding's judging according to the inclination of the will and affections, and not according to the exact truth of things, or the merits of the cause before it. Affection is still a briber of the judgment; and it is hard
With ordinary minds, such as much the greatest part of the world are, it is the suitableness, not the evidence of a truth, that makes it to be assented to. And it is seldom that any thing practically convinces a man, that does not please him first. If you would' be sure of him, you must inform and gratify him too. But now, impartiality strips the mind of prejudice and passion, keeps it right and even from the bias of interest and desire, and so presents it like a rasa tabula, equally disposed to the reception of all truth. So that the soul lies prepared, and open to entertain it, and prepossessed with nothing that can oppose or thrust it out. For where diligence opens the door of the understanding, and impartiality keeps it, truth is sure to find both an entrance and a welcome too.
And thus I have done with the fourth and
last general thing proposed, and proved by argument, that a pious and well disposed mind, attended with a readiness to obey the known will of God, is the surest and best means to enlighten the understanding to a belief of Christianity.
Now, from the foregoing particulars, by way of use we may collect these two things,
1. The true cause of that atheism, that scepticism and cavilling at religion, that we see and have cause to lament in too many in these days. It is not from any thing weak or wanting in our religion, to support, and enable it to look the strongest arguments, and the severest and most controlling reason, in the face: but men are atheistical, because they are first vicious, and question the truth of Christianity, because they hate the practice. And, therefore, that they may seem to have some pretence and colour to sin on freely, and to surrender up themselves wholly to their sensuality, without any imputation upon their judgment, and to quit their morals, without any discredit to their intellectuals, they fly to several stale, trite, pitiful objections and cavils, some against religion in general, and some against Christianity in particular, and some against the very first principles of morality, to give them some poor credit and countenance in the pursuit of their brutish
can have no interest to be served either by atheism or infidelity.
For which cause, could we but prevail with the greatest debauchees amongst us to change their lives, we should find it no very hard matter to change their judgments. For, notwithstanding all their talk of reason and philosophy, which (God knows) they are deplorably strangers to, and those unanswerable doubts and difficulties, which, over their cups or their coffee, they pretend to have against Christianity, persuade but the covetous man not to deify his money, the proud man not to adore himself, the lascivious man to throw off his lewd amours, the intemperate man to abandon his revels, and so for any other vice that is apt to abuse and pervert the mind of man, and I dare undertake, that all their giant-like objections against Christian religion shall presently vanish and quit the field. For he that is a good man, is three-quarters of his way towards the being a good Christian, wheresoever he lives, or whatsoever he is called.
Few practical errors in the world are embraced upon the stock of conviction, but inclination: for though, indeed, the judgment may err upon the account of weakness, yet where there is one error that enters in at this door, ten are let into it through the willthat, for the most part, being set upon those things, which truth is a direct obstacle to the enjoyment of; and where both cannot be had, a man will be sure to buy his enjoyment, though he pays down truth for the purchase. For in this case, the farther from truth, the farther from trouble, since truth shews such an one what he is unwilling to see, and tells him what he hates to hear. They are the same beams that shine and enlighten, and are apt to scorch too; and it is impossible for a man engaged in any wicked way, to have a clear understanding of it, and a quiet mind in it together.
2. In the next place, we learn from hence the most effectual way and means of proficiency and growth in the knowledge of the great and profound truths of religion, and how to make us all not only good Christians, but also expert divines. It is a knowledge, that men are not so much to study, as to live themselves into; a knowledge that passes into the head through the heart. I have heard of some, that in their latter years, through the feebleness of their limbs, have been forced to study upon their knees: and I think it might well become the youngest and the strongest to do so too. Let them daily and incessantly pray to God for his grace; and if God gives grace, they may be sure that knowledge will not stay long behind, since it is the same spirit and principle that purifies the heart, and clarifies the understanding. Let all their inquiries into the deep and mysterious points of theology be begun and carried on with fervent petitions to God; that he would dispose their minds to direct all their skill and knowledge to the promotion of a good life, both in themselves and others; that he would use all their noblest speculations, and most refined notions, only as instruments, to move and set a-work the great principles of actions, the will and the affections; that he would convince them of the
But these sons of Epicurus, both for voluptuousness and irreligion also, (as it is hard to support the former without the latter,) these, I say, rest not here; but (if you will take them at their word) they must also pass for the only wits of the age, though greater arguments, I am sure, may be produced against this, than any they can allege against the most improbable article of Christianity. But heretofore the rate and standard of wit was very different from what it is nowadays. No man was then accounted a wit for speak-infinite vanity and uselessness of all that ing such things as deserved to have the tongue learning, that makes not the possessor of it a cut out that spake them; nor did any man better man; that he would keep them from pass for a philosopher, or a man of depth, for those sins that may grieve and provoke his talking atheistically; or a man of parts, for Holy Spirit (the fountain of all true light employing them against that God that gave and knowledge) to withdraw from them, them. For then the world was generally and so seal them up under darkness, blindbetter inclined; virtue was in so much repu- ness, and stupidity of mind. For where the tation, as to be pretended to at least; and heart is bent upon, and held under the power virtue, whether in a Christian or in an infidel, of, any vicious course, though Christ him
practice, are those sons of light, that shall outgrow all their doubts and ignorances, that shall ride upon these clouds, and triumph over their present imperfections, till persuasion pass into knowledge, and knowledge advance into assurance, and all come at length to be completed in the beatific vision, and a full fruition of those joys, which God has in reserve for them, whom by his grace he shall prepare for glory.
To which God, infinitely wise, holy, and just, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.
self should take the contrary virtue for his doctrine, and do a miracle before such an one's eyes, for its application, yet he would not practically gain his assent, but the result of all would end in a non persuadebis etiamsi persuaseris. Few consider what a degree of sottishness and confirmed ignorance men may sin themselves into. This was the case of the Pharisees. And no doubt but this very consideration also gives us the true reason and full explication of that notable and strange passage of Scripture, (Luke xvi. last verse,) "That if men will not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." That is, where a strong inveterate love of sin has made any doctrine or proposition wholly unsuitable to the heart, no argument or demonstration, no, nor miracle whatsoever, shall be able to bring the heart cordially to close with, and receive it. Whereas, on the contrary, if the heart be piously disposed, the natural goodness of any doctrine is enough to vouch for the truth of it for the suitableness of it will endear it to the will, and by endearing it to the will, will naturally slide it into the assent also. For in morals, as well as in metaphysics, there is nothing really good, but has a truth commensurate to its goodness.
The truths of Christ crucified are the Christian's philosophy, and a good life is the Christian's logic-that great instrumental introductive art that must guide the mind into the former. And where a long course of piety, and close communion with God, has purged the heart, and rectified the will, and made all things ready for the reception of God's Spirit, knowledge will break in upon such a soul, like the sun shining in his full might, with such a victorious light, that nothing shall be able to resist it.
If now at length some should object here, that from what has been delivered, it will follow, that the most pious men are still the most knowing, which yet seems contrary to common experience and observation, I answer, that as to all things directly conducing, and necessary to salvation, there is no doubt but they are so; as the meanest common soldier, that has fought often in an army, has a truer and better knowledge of war, than he that has read and writ whole volumes of it, but never was in any battle.
Practical sciences are not to be learned butin the way of action. It is experience that must give knowledge in the Christian profession, as well as in all others. And the knowledge drawn from experience is quite of another kind from that which flows from speculation or discourse. It is not the opinion, but the path of the just," that the wisest of men tells us, "shines more and more unto a perfect day." The obedient, and the men of
GOD'S PECULIAR REGARD TO PLACES SET APART FOR DIVINE WORSHIP.
PREACHED AT THE CONSECRATION OF A CHAPEL, 1667
AFTER the happy expiration of those times which had reformed so many churches to the ground, and in which men used to express their honour to God, and their allegiance to their prince the same way, demolishing the palaces of the one, and the temples of the other; it is now our glory and felicity, that God has changed men's tempers with the times, and made a spirit of building succeed a spirit of pulling down: by a miraculous revolution, reducing many from the head of a triumphant rebellion to their old condition of masons, smiths, and carpenters, that in this capacity they might repair what, as colonels and captains, they had ruined and defaced.
But still it is strange to see any ecclesiastical pile, not by ecclesiastical cost and influence rising above ground; especially in an age, in which men's mouths are open against the church, but their hands shut towards it; an age in which, respecting the generality of men, we might as soon expect stones to be made bread, as to be made churches.
But the more epidemical and prevailing this evil is, the more honourable are those who stand and shine as exceptions from the common practice; and may such places, built for the divine worship, derive an honour and a blessing upon the head of the builders, as great and lasting, as the curse and infamy that never fails to rest upon the sacrilegious
THE comparison here exhibited between the love God bore to Sion, the great place of his solemn worship, and that which he bore to the other dwellings of Israel, imports, as all other comparisons do in the superior parts of them, two things, difference and pre-eminence; and accordingly I cannot more commodiously and naturally contrive the prosecution of these words, than by casting the sense of them into these two propositions,
I. That God bears a different respect to places set apart and consecrated to his worship, from what he bears to all other places designed to the uses of common life.
II. That God prefers the worship paid him in such places, above that which is offered him in other places whatsoever.
I. As to the former of these, this difference of respect, borne by God to such places, from what he bears to others, may be evinced these three several ways, ·
1. By those eminent interposals of Providence, both for the erecting and preserving of such places.
2. By those notable judgments shewn by upon the violators of them. 3. Lastly, by declaring the ground and reason, why God shews such a different respect to those places, from what he manifests to others. Of all which in their order.
1. First of all then, those eminent interposals of the divine Providence for the erecting and preserving such places, will be one pregnant and strong argument to prove the difference of God's respect to them, and to others of common use.
That Providence that universally casts its eye over all the parts of the creation, is yet pleased more particularly to fasten it upon some. God made all the world that he might be worshipped in some parts of the world; and therefore, in the first and most early times of the church, what care did he manifest to have such places erected to his honour! Jacob he admonished by a vision, as by a messenger from heaven, to build him an altar; and then, what awe did Jacob express to it! "How dreadful," says he, "is this place! for surely it is no other than the house of God." What
building of the temple! David, though a man of most intimate converse and acquaintance with God, and one who bore a kingly pre-eminence over others, no less in point of piety than of majesty, after he had made such rich, such vast, and almost incredible provision of materials for the building of the temple; yet because he had dipt his hands in blood, though but the blood of God's enemies, had the glory of that work took out of them, and was not permitted to lay a stone in that sacred pile; but the whole work was entirely reserved for Solomon, a prince adorned with those parts of mind, and exalted by such a concurrence of all prosperous events, to make him glorious and magnificent, as if God had made it his business to build a Solomon, that Solomon might build him a house. To which, had not God bore a very different respect from what he bore to all other places, why might not David have been permitted to build God a temple, as well as to rear himself a palace? Why might not he, who was so pious as to design, be also so prosperous as to finish it? God must needs have set a more than ordinary esteem upon that which David, the man fter his own heart, the darling of heaven, and the most flaming example of a vigorous love to God that ever was, was not thought fit to have a hand in it.
particular inspirations were there upon
Aholiab to fit him to work about the sanctuary! The Spirit of God was the surveyor, director, and manager of the whole business. But above all, how exact and (as we may say with reverence) how nice was God about the
And to proceed, when, after a long tract of time, the sins of Israel had even unconsecrated and profaned that sacred edifice, and thereby robbed it of its only defence, the palladium of God's presence, so that the Assyrians laid it even with the ground; yet after that a long captivity and affliction had made the Jews fit again for so great a privilege, as a public place to worship God in, how did God put it into the heart, even of a heathen prince, to promote the building of a second temple! How was the work undertook and carried on amidst all the unlikelihoods and discouraging circumstances imaginable! the builders holding the sword in one hand, to defend the trowel working with the other; yet finished and completed it was, under the conduct and protection of a peculiar providence, that made the instruments of that great design prevalent and victorious, and all those mountains of opposition to become plains before Zorobabel.
And lastly, when Herod the great, whose magnificence served him instead of piety to prompt him to an action, if not in him religious, yet heroic at least, thought fit to pull down that temple, and to build one much more glorious, and fit for the Saviour of the world to appear and preach in, Josephus, in his 15th book of the Jewish Antiquities, and the 14th chapter, says, that during all the time of its building, there fell not so much as a shower to interrupt the work, but the rain still fell by night, that it might not retard the business of the day. If this were so, I am not