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SERM. done all we could, we must still fall much short of CXXXI.
the perfection of God's law, and the duty therein laid upon us. Alas! which of us does near so much as we can, and is not conscious to himself that it is through his own fault and neglect, that he is so unlike his heavenly Father in goodness and mercy, in righteousness and true holiness ; and that he still partakes in so great a measure of those, not only unrcasonable and brutish, but even devilish passions of malice and hatred, of rage and cruelty, of impatience and implacable revenge ; and that these ungodJike qualities do so frequently prevail upon us, and have so much dominion over us !
We are so far from being what we ought, in these and many other respects, that we are far from what we might be, if we would mind our duty with care and conscience, and make it our sincere endeavour to fubdue ourselves to a conformity to God, and to a perfect holiness in his fear.
Would we but often fet God before our eyes, and represent to ourselves those excellent and amiable perfections of the divine nature, which are so comfortable and beneficial to us, and to which we stand so infinitely obliged, his goodness and mercy and patience, upon which all our hopes of happiness do depend, and to which we are indebted, that we are not miserable past recovery ; that goodness and patience which he continually exerciseth towards us, (for we provoke him every day) and exerciseth towards us, on purpose to endear those perfections to us, from which we reap so much comfort and advantage; that by the pattern of perfection itself, and the example of him who is so much above us, so no ways obliged to us, nor tied by any interest to be concerned for us ; and who being happy in himself, neither
hopes nor fears any thing from us : I say, by an ex- Serm. ample that has all these advantages, we might be provoked to be so affected towards one another, (who have mutual obligations one to another, and mutual expectations of good or evil one from another) as we have always found God to be towards us, and as we desire he should still continue; and miserable creatures are we, whenever he ceaseth to be so: and we have reason to fear he will cease to be so, if this example of his goodness and patience towards us, do not transform us into the image of the divine per fections, and prevail upon us to imitate those excellencies, which we have so much reason to approve and admire, and be in love withal.
These considerations, taken both from ingenuity and interest, should awaken our Noth, and stir up our most resolute and vigorous endeavours after that perfection which our Saviour here requires, and make us ashamed of our lazy complaints, that our duty is fet so high, that the endeavours of our whole life cannot reach it; when yet we have hardly made one step towards it, and are so remiss and unconcerned about it, as if we could do it at any time with the greatest ease ; and at an hour's warning, before we leave the world, could fulfill this precept of our LORD, of “ being perfect, as our Father which is “ in heaven is perfect.”
And yet, let me tell you, so far as any of us are from refembling our heavenly Father in some good degree and measure, so far are we distant from heaven, and the temper of the blessed ; so far are we utterly unqualified for the blissful sight and enjoyment of God : for unless we be first like him, we cannot see him as he is: only “ the pure in heart shall see
God," and therefore " every man that has this
SERM• " hope in him,” should “purify himself even as
c he is pure."
And thus I have, as briefly as I could, dispatched the four things I propounded for the explication of this text ; namely, how we are to conceive of the divine perfections, and to give some rules to regulate and govern our opinions concerning the attributes and perfections of God; to explain the extent of this duty, and vindicate the possibility of it.
All that now remains, is to draw some ufeful inferences from this discourse which I have made ; and they shall be these two.
I. That the strongeft and surest reasonings in religion, are grounded upon the essential perfections of God.
JI. That the truest and most substantial practice of religion, consists in the imitation of God.
1. That the strongest and surest reasonings in religion, are grounded upon the essential perfections of GOD ; so that even divine revelation itself doth suppose these for its foundation, and can signify nothing to us, unless these be first known and believed. Unless we be first persuaded of the providence of God, and his particular care of mankind, why should we believe that he would make
revelation of himself to men? Unless it be naturally known to us, that God is true, what foundation is there for the belief of his word? And what signifies the laws and promises of God, unless natural light do first assure us of his sovereign authority and faithful. ness? So that the principles of natural religion are the foundation of that which is revealed; and there, fore, in reason, nothing can be admitted to be a revelation from God, which plainly contradicts his essential perfection, and, consequently, if any pretends di
vine revelation for this doctrine, that God hath from SERM,
CXXXI, all eternity absolutely decreed the eternal ruin of the greatest part of mankind, without any respect to the fins and demerits of men, I am as certain that this doctrine cannot be of Goo, as I am sure that God is good and just; because this grates upon the notion that mankind have of goodness and justice. This is that which no good man would do, and therefore cannot be believed of infinite goodness; and therefore if “ an apostle or angel from heaven” teach any doctrine which plainly overthrows the goodness and justice of God, “ let him be accursed.” For every man hath greater assurance that God is good and just, than he can have of any subtle speculations about predestination and the decrees of God.
And for the same reason I cannot believe, upon the pretended authority or infallability of any man or church in the world, that God would not have men understand their public prayers, and the lessons of scripture which are read to them. A lesson not to be understood is nonsense : a lesson is something to be learned, which how it can be without being un, derstood, is hard to comprehend.
And as little can I believe, upon the authority of any person or church whatsoever, that God should reveal his will to men in the holy scriptures, with a design to have it hid, and locked up lity of mankind in an unknown tongue. And much less can I believe (which yet is the express doctrine of the council of Trent) that the saving efficacy of the facrament depends upon the intention of thepriest, Which is to say, that though people believe, and live never so well, they may be damned by sholes and whole parishes together, at the pleasure of the priest, and for no other reason, but because he is so
from the genera
SERM. wicked as not to intend to save them. Can any CXXXI,
man believe this, that hath any tolerable notion of God's goodness? May we not in this case appeal, as Abraham did, to the goodness and justice of Gop, and expostulate with greater reason than he did, much after the same manner, “Wilt thou destroy o the righteous for the wicked ? that be far from " thee to do after this manner." To damn the righteous for the wicked, and that righteous people should lie at the mercy of a wicked priest, to be damned or saved at his pleasure, " that be far from “ thee ; shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” And can there be a greater affront to the goodness and justice of God, than to imagine he should deal with men after this manner? If this be to do right, there is no possibility of doing wrong.
And to give but one instance more : I can never believe, upon the authority of any man, of church whatsoever, that our Saviour, in the celebration of his last supper, did with his own hands give away his own natural body into the hands of his disciples, and give his blood shed, before it was shed ; that the whole doctrine of Christianity should mainly rely upon the evidence of miracles, the assurance of which depends upon the certainty of sense ; and yet that an essential part of that doctrine should overthrow the certainty of sense. I can never while I live believe these two things, that the last thing our SAVIOUR did before his death, should be to teach his disciples not to believe their own senses, as he must do if he taught them transubstantiation ; and thaç the very first thing he did after he was risen from the dead, should be to teach them the quite contrary, by appealing to the certainty of sense for the proof of his resurrection; for when they doubted of his resur