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things a person could make shift to palliate or defend, and yet he dares not look almighty God in the face, and adventure upon them. If we look unto him, we shall be lightened; if we set him always before us, he will guide us by his eye, and instruct us in the way wherein we ought to walk.
We must often examine our actions. This care and watchfulness over our actions, must be seconded by frequent and serious reflections upon them, not only that we may obtain the divine mercy and pardon for our sins, by an humble and sorrowful acknowledgement of them; but also that we may re-enforce and strengthen our resolutions, and learn to decline or resist the temptations by which we have been formerly foiled. It is an advice worthy of a Christian, though it did first drop from a heathen pen, “ That before we betake ourselves to rest, we renew and examine all the passages of the day, that we may have the comfort of what we have done aright, and may redress what we find to have been amiss, and make the shipwrecks of one day be as marks to direct our course in another.” This may be called the very art of virtuous living, and would contribute wonderfully to advance our reformation, and preserve our innocency. But, withal, we must not forget to implore the divine assistance, especially against those sins that do most easily beset us: and though it be supposed that our hearts are not yet moulded into that spiritual frame which should render our devotions acceptable, yet, methinks, such considerations as have been proposed to deter us from sin, may also stir us up to some natural seriousness, and make our prayers against it as earnest, at least, as they are wont to be against other calamities: and I doubt not but God, who heareth the cry of the ravens, will have some regard even 10 such petitions as proceed from those natural passions which himself hath implanted in us. Besides, that those prayers against sin, will be powerful engagements on ourselves to excite us to watchfulness and care; and common ingenuity will make us ashamed to relapse into
those faults, which we have lately bewailed before God, and against which we have begged his assistance. It is fit to restrain ourselves in many lawful things.
Thus are we to make the first essay for recovering the divine life, by restraining the natural inclinations, that they break not out into sinful practices: but now I must add, that Christian prudence will teach us to abstain from gratifications that are not simply unlawful, and that not only that we may secure our innocence, which would be in continual hazard if we should strain our liberty to the utmost point; but also, that hereby we may weaken the forces of nature, and teach our appetites to obey. We must do with ourselves as prudent parents with their children, who cross their wills in many little indifferent things, to make them manageable and submissive in more considerable instances. He who would mortify the pride and vanity of his spirit, should stop his ears to the most deserved praises; and sometimes forbear his just vindication from the censures and aspersions of others, especially if they reflect only upon his prudence and conduct, and not on his virtue and inno
He who would check a revengeful humour, would do well to deny himself the satisfaction of representing unto others the injuries which he hath sustained; and if we would so take heed to our ways, that we sin not with our tongue, we must accustom ourselves much to solitude and silence, and sometimes, with the Psalmist, Hold our peace even from good, till once we have gotten some command over that unruly member. Thus, I say, we may bind up our natural inclinations, and make our appetites more moderate in their cravings, by accustoming them to frequent refusals: but it is not enough to have them under violence and restraint. We must strive to put ourselves out of love with the
world. Our next essay must be to wean our affections from created things, and all the delights and entertainments of the lower life, which sink and depress the souls
many a sin.
of men, and retard their motions towards God and heaven; and this we must do by possessing our minds with a deep persuasion of the vanity and einptiness of worldly enjoyments. This is an ordinary theme, and every body can make declamations upon it; but alas! how few understand and believe what they say! These notions float in our brains, and come sliding off our tongues, but we have no deep impression of them on our spirits, we feel not the truth which we pretend to believe. We can tell that all the glory and splendour, all the pleasures and enjoyments of the world, are vanity and nothing; and yet these nothings take up all our thoughts, and engross all our affections; they stifle the better inclinations of our soul, and inveigle us into
It may be, in a sober mood, we give them the slight, and resolve to be no longer deluded with them; but these thoughts seldom outlive the next temptation; the vanities which we have shut out at the door get in at a postern: there are still some pretensions, some hopes that flatter us; and after we have been frustrated a thousand times, we must be continually repeating the experiment: the least difference of circumstances is enough to delude us, and make us expect that satisfaction in one thing which we have missed in another: but could we once get clearly off, and come to a real and serious contempt of worldly things, this were a very considerable advancement in our way. The soul of man is of a vigorous and active nature, and hath in it a raging and inextinguishable thirst, an immaterial kind of fire, always catching at some object or other, in conjunction wherewith it thinks to be happy; and were it once rent from the world, and all the bewitching enjoyments under the sun, it would quickly search after some higher and more excellent object, to satisfy its ardent and importunate cravings; and being no longer dazzled with glittering vanities, would fix on that supreme and all-sufficient Good, where it would discover such beauty and sweetness, as would charm and overpower all its affections. The love of the world, and the love of
God, are like the scales of a balance; as the one falleth, the other doth rise: when our natural inclinations prosper, and the creature is exalted in our soul, religion is faint, and doth languish; but when earthly objects wither away and lose their beauty, and the soul begins to cool and flag in its prosecution of them, then the seeds of grace take root, and the divine life begins to flourish and prevail. It doth, therefore, nearly concern us, to convince ourselves of the emptiness and vanity of creature-enjoyments, and reason our hearts out of love with them: let us seriously consider all that our reason, or our faith, our own experience, or the observation of others, can suggest to this effect; let us ponder the matter over and over, and fix our thoughts on this truth, till we become really persuaded of it. Amidst all our pursuits and designs, let us stop and ask ourselves, For what end is all this? at what do I aim? can the gross and muddy pleasures of sense, or a heap of white and yellow earth, or the esteem and affection of silly creatures like myself, sat
a rational and immortal soul? Have I not tried these things already? will they have a higher relish, and yield me more contentment tomorrow than yesterday, or the next year than they did the last? 'There may be some little difference between that which I am now pursuing, and that which I enjoyed before; but sure my former enjoyments did show as pleasant, and promised as fair, before I attained them: like the rainbow, they looked very glorious at a distance, but when I approached I found nothing but emptiness and vapour. O what a poor thing would the life of man be, if it were capable of no higher enjoyments!
I cannot insist on this subject: and there is the less need, when I remember to whom I am writing. Yes, my dear friend, you have had as great experience of the emptiness and vanity of human things, and have at present as few worldly engagements as any that know. I have sometimes reflected on those passages of your life wherewith you have been pleased to acquaint me; and methinks, through all, I can discern a design of the divine Providence to wean your affections
from every thing here below. The trials you have had of those things which the world doats upon, have taught you to despise them; and you have found by experience, that neither the endowments of nature, nor the advantages of fortune, are sufficient for happiness; that every rose hath its thorn, and there may be a worm at the root of the fairest gourd; some secret and undiscerned grief, which may make a person deserve the pity of those who perhaps do admire or envy their supposed felicity. If any earthly comforts have got too much of your heart, I think they have been your relations and friends; and the dearest of these are removed out of the world, so that you must raise your mind towards heaven, when you would think upon them. Thus God hath provided that your heart may be loosed from the world, and that he may not have any rival in your affection, which I have always observed to be so large and unbounded, so noble and disinterested, that no inferior object can answer or deserve it.
We must do those outward actions that are
commanded. When we have got our corruptions restrained, and our natural appetites and inclinations towards worldly things in some measure subdued, we must proceed to such exercises as have a more immediate tendency to excite and awaken the divine life: and, first, let us endeavour conscientiously to perform those duties which religion doth require, and whereunto it would incline us, if it did prevail in our souls. If we cannot get our inward disposition presently changed, let us study at least to regulate our outward deportment: if our hearts be not yet inflamed with divine love, let us, however, own our allegiance to that infinite Majesty, by attending his service, and listening to his word, by speaking reverently of his name, and praising his goodness, and exhorting others to serve and obey him. If we want that charity, and those bowels of compassion which we ought to have towards our neighbours, yet