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The freedom and unconstrainedness of religion.
Again, religion may be defined by the name of life, because it is an inward, free, and self-moving principle; and those who have made progress in it, are not actuated only by external motives, driven merely by threatenings, nor bribed by promises, nor constrained by laws; but are powerfully inclined to that which is good, and delight in the performance of it. The love which a pious man bears to God and goodness, is not so much by virtue of a command enjoining him so to do, as by a new nature instructing and prompting him to it; nor doth he pay his devotions as an unavoidable tribute, only to appease the divine justice, or quiet his clamorous conscience; but those religious exercises are the proper emanations of the divine life, the natural employments of the new-born soul. He prays, and gives thanks, and repents, not only because these things are commanded, but rather because he is sensible of his wants, and of the divine goodness, and of the folly and misery of a sinful life. His charity is not forced, nor his alms extorted from him: his love makes him willing to give; and though there were no outward obligation, his heart would devise liberal things. Injustice and intemperance, and all other vices, are as contrary to his temper and constitution, as the basest actions are to the most generous spirit, and impudence and scurrility to those who are naturally modest: so that I may well say with St. John, Whosoever is born of God, doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. Though holy and religious persons do much eye the law of God, and have a great regard unto it; yet it is not so much the sanction of the law, as its reasonableness, and purity, and goodness, which do prevail with them: they account it excellent and desirable in itself, and that in keeping of it there is great reward; and that divine love wherewith they are actuated, makes them become a law unto themselves.
Quis legem det amantibus?
Major est amor lex ipse sibi.
In a word, what our blessed Saviour said of himself, is in some measure applicable to his followers, that it is their meat and drink to do their Father's will: and as the natural appetite is carried out toward food, though we should not reflect on the necessity of it for the preservation of our lives; so are they carried with a natural and unforced propension toward that which is good and commendable. It is true, external motives are many times of great use to excite and stir up this inward principle, especially in its infancy and weakness, when it is often so languid that the man himself can scarce discern it, hardly being able to move one step forward, but when he is pushed by his hopes, or his fears; by the pressure of an affliction, or the sense of a mercy; by the authority of the law, or the persuasion of others. Now, if such a person be conscientious and uniform in his obedience,
and earnestly groaning under the sense of his dulness, and is desirous to perform his duties with more spirit and vigour: these are the first motions of the divine life, which, though it be faint and weak, will surely be cherished by the influences of heaven, and grow unto greater maturity. But he who is utterly destitute of this inward principle, and doth not aspire unto it, but contents himself with those performances whereunto he is prompted by education or custom, by the fear of hell, or carnal notions of heaven, can no more be accounted a religious person, than a puppet can be called a man. This forced and artificial religion is commonly heavy and languid, like the motion of a weight forced upward; it is cold and spiritless, like the uneasy compliance of a wife married against her will, who carries it dutifully toward the husband whom she doth not love, out of some sense of virtue or honour. Hence also this religion is scant and niggardly, especially in those duties which do greatest violence to men's carnal inclinations; and those slavish spirits will be sure to do no more than is
absolutely required: it is a law that compels them, and they will be loth to go beyond what it stints them to; nay, they will ever be putting such glosses on it, as may leave themselves the greatest liberty; whereas the spirit of true religion is frank and liberal, far from such peevish and narrow reckoning; and he who hath given himself entirely unto God, will never think he doth too much for him.
Religion a divine principle. By this time I hope it doth appear, that religion is, with a great deal of reason, termed a life, or vital principle; and that it is very necessary to distinguish between it, and that obedience which is constrained and depends on external causes. I come next to give an account why I defined it by the name of divine life. And so it may be called, not only in regard to its fountain and original, having God for its author, and being wrought in the souls of men by the power of his Holy Spirit; but also in regard of its nature, religion being a resemblance of the divine perfections, the image of the Almighty shining in the soul of man: nay, it is a real participation of his nature; it is a beain of the eternal light, a drop of that infinite ocean of goodness; and they who are endued with it, may be said to have God dwelling in their souls and Christ formed within them.
What the natural life is. Before I descend to a more particular consideration of that divine life wherein true religion doth consist, it will be fit to speak a little of that natural or animal life which prevails in those who are strangers to the other. And by this I understand nothing else, but our inclination and propension toward those things which are pleasing and acceptable to nature; or self love issuing forth and spreading itself into as many branches as men have several appetites and inclinations. The root and foundation of the animal life I reckon to be sense, taking it largely, as it is opposed unto faith, and importeth our perception and sensation of things that are either grate
ful or troublesome to us. Now, these animal affections considered in themselves, and as they are implanted in us by nature, are not vicious or blameable; nay, they are instances of the wisdom of the creator furnishing his creatures with such appetites
as tend to the preservation and welfare of their lives. These are instead of a law unto the brute beasts, whereby they are directed towards the ends for which they were made. But man, being made for higher purposes, and to be guided by more excellent laws, becomes guilty and criminal when he is so far transported by the inclinations of this lower life, as to violate his duty, or neglect the higher and more noble designs of his creation. Our natural affections are not wholly to be extirpated and destroyed, but only to be moderated and overruled by a superior and more excellent principle. In a word, the difference between a religious and a wicked man is, that in the one divine life bears sway, in the other the animal life doth prevail.
The different tendencies of the natural life. But it is strange to observe, unto what different courses this natural principle will sometimes carry those who are wholly guided by it, according to the diverse circumstances that concur with it to determine them; and then not considering this, doth frequently occasion very dangerous mistakes, making men think well of themselves by reason of that seeming difference which is between them and others; whereas perhaps their actions do all the while flow from one and the same original. If we consider the natural temper and constitution of men's souls, we shall find some to be airy, frolicksome, and light, which makes their behaviour extravagant and ridiculous; whereas others are naturally serious and severe, and their whole carriage composed into such gravity as gains them a great deal of reverence and esteem. Some are of an humorsome, rugged, and morose temper, and can neither be pleased themselves, nor endure that others should be so. But all are not born with such sour and unhappy dispositions; for some persons have a certain sweetness and benignity rooted in
their natures, and they find the greatest pleasure in the endearments of society, and the mutual complacency of friends, and covèt nothing more than to have every body obliged to them. And it is well that nature hath provided this complexional tenderness to supply the defect of true charity in the world, and to incline men to do something for one another's welfare. Again, in regard of education, some have never been taught to follow any other rules, than those of pleasure or advantage: but others are so inured to observe the strictest rules of decency and honour, and some instances of virtue, that they are hardly capable of doing any thing which they have been accustomed to look upon as base and unworthy.
In fine, it is no small difference in the deportment of mere natural men, that doth arise from the strengtlr or weakness of their wit or judgment, and from their care or negligence in using them. Intemperance and Just, injustice and oppression, and all those other impieties which abound in the world, and render it so miserable, are the issues of self-love, the effect of the animal life, when it is neither overpowered by religion, nor governed by natural reason. But if it once take hold of reason, and get judgment and wit to be of its party, it will many times disdain the grosser sort of vices, and spring up unto fair imitations of virtue and goodness. If a man have but so much reason as to consider the prejudice which intemperance and inordinate lust do bring upon his health, his fortune, and his reputation, self-love may suffice to restrain him; and one may observe the rules of moral justice in dealing with others, as the best way to secure his own interest, and maintain his credit in the world. But this is not all. This natural principle, by the help of reason, may take a higher Alight, and come nigher the instances of piety and religion. It may incline a man to the diligent study of divine truths; for why should not these, as well as other speculations, be pleasant and grateful to curious and inquisitive minds? It may make men zealous in maintaining and propagating such opinions as