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it is worth our notice, “ that the most deep and pure humility doth not so much arise from the consideration of our faults and defects, (though that also may have its own place,) as from a calm contemplation of the divine perfections. By reflecting on ourselves, we may discover something of our own sinfulness and misery; and thereby be filled with a kind of boisterous and turbulent grief and indignation: but, by fixing our eyes on the infinite greatness and holiness of God, we are most fully convinced of our own meanness. This will sink us to the very bottom of our beings, and make us appear as nothing in our own sight, when beheld from so great a height. And this is really the greatest elevation of the soul; and there is nothing in the world so noble and excellent as the sublimity of humble minds.
Another objection against the excellency of a religious temper, is, That the love of enemies, and pardon of injaries, which it includeth, is utterly inconsistent with the principles of honour. Now, though it be highly unreas onable to examine the laws of our Saviour by such rules as this, yet we shall consider the matter a little. Nor shall we seek to elude or qualify this precept, as some do, by such glosses and evasions as may suit with their own practices: nay, we shall freely profess, that there is no salvation without the observation of it. A man had even as well abandon Christianity, and renounce his baptism, as obstinately refuse to obey it. But if we have any value for the judgment of the wisest man and a great king, he will tell us, that it is the honour of man to cease from strife; and he that is slow to wrath, is of great understanding. The meek and lowly person liveth above the reach of petty injuries; and blunts the edge of the greatest by his patience and constancy; and hath compassion towards those who offend him: being more sorry for the prejudice they do themselves, than for that which they intended him. And let all the world judge whether it be more generous to pity and love even those who hate us, and to pardon the greatest offences, than peevishly to quarrel on every petty occasion, and make men fear our passion, hate our humour, and aban
don our society? So that what is here brought as an objection against religion, might with reason enough have been brought as an instance of its nobleness.
Having thus illustrated and confirmed what is asserted in the text, that the righteous is more excellent than his neighbour; let us improve it as a check to that profane and atheistical spirit of drollery and scoffing at religion, which hath got abroad in the world. Alas! do men consider what it is which they make the butt of their scoffs and reproaches? Have they nothing else to exercise their wit and vent their jests upon, but that which is the most noble and excellent thing in the world? What design can they propose unto themselves by this kind of impiety? Would they have religion banished from the face of the earth, and forced to retire for shame? What a goodly world should we then have of it! what a fine harmony and order of things! Certainly the earth would then become a kind of hell, with tumults and seditions, rapinės and murders, secret malice, and open frauds, by every vice and every calamity. 'Tis only some little remainders of piety and virtue in the world that keep it in any tolerable condition, or make it possible to be inhabited. And must not those be wretched persons, and woful enemies to mankind, who do what they can to reduce the world to such a miserable condition? But let them do what they will; they but kick against the pricks. Religion hath so much native lustre and beauty, that, notwithstanding all the dirt they study to cast upon it; all the melancholy and deformed shapes they dress it in, it will attract the eyes and admiration of all sober and ingenuous persons: and while these men study to make it ridiculous, they shall but make themselves so.
And 0! that they would consider how dear they are to pay for those dull and insipid jests wherewith they persecute religion, and those who practise it or recommend it! what thoughts they are like to have of them when sickness shall arrest, and death threaten them, when the physicians shall have forsaken them, and the poor despised minister is called in, and they expecting comfort from him they were wont to mock, and per
haps it is little he can afford them. Othat they were wise, and understood this, that they would consider their latter end!
There are others who have not yet arrived to this height of profaneness, to laugh at all religion; but do vent their malice at those who are more conscientious and severe than themselves, under presumption that they are hypocrites and dissemblers. Bat besides that in this they may be guilty of a great deal of uncharitableness, it is to be suspected that they bear some secret dislike to piety itself, and hate hypocrisy more for its resemblance of that, than for its own viciousness; otherwise whence comes it that they do not express the same animosity against other vices?
Hitherto also may we refer those expressions which sometimes drop from persons not so utterly debauched, but which yet are blasphemous and profane; that this man is too holy, and that man too religious, as if it were possible to exceed in these things. What! can a man approach too near to God? Can he be too like his maker?" Is it possible to be over-perfect or over-happy? I confess a man may overact some parts of religion, and be too much in some particular exercises of it, neglecting other as necessary duties. But this is not an excess of piety, but a defect of discretion. And reason would teach us rather to pardon men's infirmities for their pious inclinations, than to blame piety for their infirmities.
Let me therefore entreat you all, especially those whose birth and fortunes render them more conspicuous in the world, to countenance holiness, which you see is so excellent; and beware that you do not contribute to that deluge of wickedness that overfloweth the earth, by scoffing at the most serious things in the world. And, if I obtain this, I shall make bold to beg one thing more, but it is in your own favours; that you would also abandon every kind of impiety in your own practice, since in it every vile ruffian may vic and contend with you. In other cases you forsake modes and customs when they become common. Wickedness is now the
most vulgar and ordinary thing in the world. Shift, I beseech you, the fashion, and embrace piety and virtue; wherein none but excellent persons shall rival yon. Learn to adore your nature: and think it not below you to stand in awe of him who can rend the heavens, and make the foundations of the earth shake; who needs but to withdraw his mercies to make you miserable, or his assistance to reduce you to nothing. Study to ennoble your souls with solid knowledge and true wisdom; with an eminent greatness of mind, and contempt of the world; a great liberty and freedom of spirit; an undaunted magnanimity and courage; and extensive charity and goodness; a venerable temper and purity; an amiable meekness and humility; so shall you render yourselves honourable, and more excellent than your neighbours in this world; and be partakers of immortal honour and glory in the world to come. Amen.
THE INDISPENSABLE DUTY OF LOVING OUR
LUKE VI. 27. But I say unto you which hear, love your enemies.
WHILE we travel through the wilderness of this world, much of the comfort of our pilgrimage depends on the good correspondence, and mutual services and endearments of our fellow-travellers. Therefore, our blessed Saviour, whose precepts are all intended for our perfection and felicity, fitted to procure to us both the good things of this world, and that which is to come, has taken especial care to join and unite the minds of men in the strictest bonds of friendship and love. He hath been at great pains by his precepts and by his example, by earnest persuasions and powerful motives, to smooth our rugged humours, and calm our passions,
and take off the roughness and asperity from our natures, which hinders us from joining and cementing together. Now, were we to converse with none bat such as are Christians in earnest, we should find it no hard matter to live in concord and love; we should meet with no occasion of quarrel and contention; and should only be obliged to love our friends, because all men would be such. But well did our Saviour know, that his part was to be small in the world; that many would oppose the profession, and many more would neglect the practice of that religion which he taught; and that his followers, besides common injuries incident to others, were to meet with much enmity and hatred for their Master's sake; and therefore, that, amidst all these storms, they might maintain that constant serene tranquillity, that amiable sweetness and benignity of spirit, without which they could neither be like him, nor happy in themselves, he was pleased to enjoin such an ardent affection and charity towards all men, as no neglect can cool, no injury can extinguish. To love those who have obliged us, is that which nature might teach, and wicked men practice; to favour those who have never wronged us, is but a piece of common humanity: but our religion requires us to extend our kindness even to those who have injured and abused us, and who continue to do and wish us mischief; and that we never design any other revenge against our most bitter and inveterate enemies, than to wish them well, and do them all the good we can, whether they will or not: for unto those that hear him our Saviour saith, love your enemies.
But, alas! how little is this minded by the greater part of those who call themselves Christians. Other precepts are broken and slighted, but this is industriously baffled and discredited by us. In other cases we acknowledge our fault, but study to qualify and excuse it by the frailty of our nature, or violence of a temptation: (we are all sinners; it is a fault indeed, but who can help it?) Now, though these excuses, God knows, are very frivolous, and will be of no force in the great day