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i. 12. • Is it nothing to you,
THE LIFE OF GOD
SOUL OF MAN.
My dear friend, This designation doth give you a title to all the endeavours whereby I can serve your interests; and your pious inclinations do so happily conspire with my duty, ihat I shall not need to step out of my road to gratify you; but I may at once perform an office of friendship, and discharge an exercise of my function, since the advancing of virtue and holiness (which I hope you make your greatest study) is the peculiar business of my employment. This, therefore, is the most proper instance wherein I can vent my affection, and express my gratitude towards you; and I shall not any longer delay the performance of the promise I made you to this purpose. For though I know you are provided with better helps of this nature than any I can offer you; nor are you like to meet with any thing here which you knew not hefore; yet I am hopeful, that what cometh from one whom you are pleased to honour with your friendship, and which is more particularly designed for your use, will be kindly accepted by you; and God's providence perhaps may so direct my thoughts, that something or other may prove useful to you. Nor shall I doubt your pardon, if, for moulding my discourse into the better frame, I lay a low foundation, beginning with the nature and properties of religion, and all along give such way to my thoughts in the prosecution of the subject, as may bring me to say many things which were not necessary, did I only consider to whom I am writing.
Mistakes about religion. I cannot speak of religion, but I must lament, that, among so many pretenders to it, so few understand what it means: some placing it in the understanding, in orthodox notions and opinions; and all the account they can give of their religion is, that they are of this or the other persuasion, and have joined themselves to one of those inany sects whereinto Christendom is most unhappily divided. Others place it in the outward man, in a constant course of external duties, and a model of performances: if they live peaceably with their neighbours, keep a temperate diet, observe the returns of worship, frequenting the church and their closet, and sometimes extend their hands to the relief of the poor, they think they have sufficiently acquitted themselves. Others again put all religion in the affections, in rapturous heats and ecstatic devotion; and all they aim at, is, to pray with passion, and think of heaven with pleasure, and to be affected with those kind and melting expressions wherewith they court their Saviour, till they persuade themselves that they are mightily in love with him; and from thence assume a great confidence of their salvation, which they esteem the chief of Christian graces. Thus are those things which have any resemblance of piety, and at the best are but means of obtaining it, or particular exercises of it, frequently mistaken for the whole of religion; nay, sometimes wickedness and vice pretend to that name. I speak not now of those gross impieties wherewith the heathens were wont to worship their gods: there are but too many Christians who would consecrate their vices, and hallow their corrupt affections; whose rugged humour, and sullen pride, must pags for Christian severity; whose fierce wrath, and bitter rage against their enemies, must be called holy zeal; whose petulancy towards their superiors, or rebellion against their governors, must have the name of Christian courage and resolution.
What religion is. But certainly religion is quite another thing; and they who are acquainted with it, will entertain far different thoughts, and disdain all those shadows and false imitations of it. They know by experience, that true religion is an union of the soul with God, a real participation of the divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul; or, in the Apostle's phrase, it is Christ formed within us. Briefly, I know not how the nature of religion can be more fully expressed, than by calling it a divine life. And under these terms I shall discourse of it; showing first how it is called a life, and then how it is termed divine.
The permanency and stability of religion. I choose to express it by the name of life; first, because of its permanency and stability. Religion is not a sudden start, or passion of the mind ; not though it should rise to the height of a rapture and seem to transport a man to extraordinary performances. There are few but have convictions of the necessity of doing something for the salvation of their souls, which may push them forward some steps with a great deal of seeming haste. But anon they flag and give over: they were in a hot mood, but now they are cooled: they did shoot forth fresh and high, but are quickly withered, because they had no root in themselves. These sudden fits may be compared to the violent and convulsive motions of bodies newly beheaded, caused by the agitations of the animal spirits, after the soul is departed ; which however violent and impetuous, can be of no long continuance : whereas the motions of holy souls are constant and regular, proceeding from a permanent and Jively principle. It is true, this divine life continueth not always in the same strength and vigour, but many times suffers sad decays ; and holy men find greater difficulty in resisting temptations, and less alacrity in the performance of their duties : yet it is not quite extinguished, nor are they abandoned to the power of those corrupt affections which sway and overrule the rest of the world