« ElőzőTovább »
set forth its efficacy and puissance, than by considering the special and immediate influence it plainly hath in the production of each virtue, or on the performance of every duty: 'Add to your faith virtue,' saith St. Peter; implying the natural order of things, and that if true faith precede, virtue will easily follow.
The chief of all virtues, piety, (comprising the love of God, fear and reverence of him, confidence in him, gratitude for his favors and mercies, devotion toward him, a disposition to worship and serve him,) seemeth according to reason inevitably consequent from it; for can we believe God superexcellent in all perfection, and immensely benign toward us; can we be persuaded that in free goodness he did create us, and doth continually preserve us in being; that his bounty hath conferred on us all our endowments of soul, and all our accommodations of life; that he hath a tender desire of our welfare, from which even our most heinous offences and provocations cannot divert him; that he most wonderfully hath provided for our happiness; in order thereto, when we had rebelled and revolted from him, sending down out of his bosom, from the top of celestial glory and bliss, his only dear Son, into this base and frail state, to sustain the infirmities of our nature, the inconveniences of a poor life, the pains of a bitter and shameful death, for our recovery from sin and misery; that with infinite patience he driveth on this gracious design, continually watching over us, attracting us to good, and reclaiming us from evil by his grace, notwithstanding our frequent and stiff reluctances thereto; can, I say, we heartily believe these points, and not love him? Can the eye of faith behold so lovely beauty, so ravishing sweetness in him, and the heart not be affected? Can we apprehend so many miracles of nature, of providence, of grace performed by him for our sake, and not be thankful to him? Can we likewise believe God infinitely powerful, infinitely just, infinitely pure, and withal not dread him, not adore him? Can we believe him most able, most willing, most ready to do us good, and not confide in him? or can we take him to be most veracious, most faithful, most constant, and not rely. on his promises? Can we avow him to be our Maker, our Patron, our Lord, our Judge, and not deem ourselves much
obliged, much concerned to serve him? Can we believe that God in our need is accessible, that he calleth and inviteth us to him, that he is ever willing and ever ready to hear us, that he is by promise engaged to graut us whatever we do with humble fervency and constancy request; yet forbear to pray, or easily desist from it? Do we believe his omnipresence and omniscience; that he is with us wherever we go, doth know all we think, hear all we say, see all we do; and will not belief engage us to think honestly, to speak reverently, to act innocently and decently before him? Do we believe that God's commands do proceed from that will, to which rectitude is essential; from that wisdom, which infallibly discerneth what is just and fit; from that goodness, which will require from us nothing but what is best for us; from that unquestionable and uncontrollable authority, to which all things are subject, and must submit; will not this sufficiently engage us to obedience? Surely the real belief (such as we have about common things, apprehended by our reason or by our sense) of any such divine act or attribute, cannot fail to strike pious affection, and pious awe into us.
After piety, the next great virtue is charity, the which also is easily derived from a pure heart,' as St. Paul speaketh,' and faith unfeigned;' it representing peculiar obligations and inducements thereto, from the most peremptory commands of God, from the signal recompenses annexed to that duty, from the strict relations between Christians, from the stupendous patterns of charity set before us. Who can withhold love from him, whom he believeth his brother, in a way far uobler than that of nature, so constituted by God himself, the common Father, by spiritual regeneration, and adoption of grace; whom he believeth born of the same heavenly seed, renewed after the same divine image, quickened by the same Holy Spirit; united to him not only in blood, but in soul; resembling him, not in temper of body or lineaments of face, but in conformity of judgment and practice; partner of the one inheritance, and destinated to lead a life with him through all eternity, in peaceful consortship of joy and bliss? Who can deny him love, whom he believeth out of the same miserable case by the same price redeemed into the same state of mercy? for whom he by faith vieweth
the common Saviour divesting himself of glory, pinching himself with want, wearying himself with labor, loaded with contumelies, groaning under pain, weltering in blood, and breathing out his soul, propounding all this as an example of our charity, and demanding it from us as the most special instance of our grateful obedience to him? What greater endearments can be imagined, what more potent incentives of love, what more indissoluble bands of friendship, than are these? Can such a believer forbear to wish his neighbor well, to have complacence in his good, to sympathise with his adversities, to perform all offices of kindness to him? Can he in the need of his brother 'shut up his bowels of compassion,' or withhold his hand from relieving him? Can a man know that God requireth this practice as the noblest fruit of our faith, and most acceptable part of our obedience, which he hath promised to crown with most ample rewards; can he believe that God will recompense his labor of love' with everlasting rest, and for a small expense of present goods will bestow immense treasures in the other world, and yet abstain from charitable beneficence? Who can forbear sowing, that believeth he shall reap so plentiful a crop; or abstain from dealing in that heavenly trade, whereby he is assured to be so vast a gainer?
In like manner is faith productive of meekness, in comporting with injuries, discourtesies, neglects, and provocations of any kind for who can be fiercely angry, who can entertain any rancorous grudge or displeasure against him, whom he believeth his brother, and that on so many accounts he is obliged to love him? Who that believeth God hath pardoned him so much, and doth continually bear so many wrongs, so many indignities from him, will not in conscience and gratitude toward God, and in compliance with so great an example, bear with the infirmities of his neighbor? Who can look on the pattern of his Saviour, patiently enduring so many grievous affronts, without a disposition to imitate him, and to do the like for his sake? Who that taketh himself for a child of God, a citizen of heaven, an heir of eternal glory, can be so much concerned in any trivial accident here; can design to have his passion stirred for any worldly respect? as if his honor could be im
paired, or his interest suffer diminution by any thing said or done here below.
Again, faith is the mother of sincerity, that comprehensive virtue, which seasoneth all other virtues, and keepeth them sound for it assuring us that an all-seeing eye doth view our heart, doth encompass our paths, is present to all our closest retirements; that all things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do,' how vain must it appear to us anywise to dissemble, or prevaricate, speaking otherwise than we think, acting otherwise than we pretend, seeming otherwise than we are; concealing our real intents, or disguising them under masks of deceitful appearance! If we believe that we shall be judged, not according to the opinions of men concerning us, or our port and garb in this world, but as we are in ourselves, and according to strictest truth; that in the close of things we shall be set forth in our right colors and complexion, all varnish being wiped away; that all our thoughts, words, and deeds shall be exposed to most public censure; that hypocrisy will be a sore aggravation of our sin, and much increase our shame; how can we satisfy ourselves otherwise than in the pure integrity of our heart, and clear uprightness of our dealing?
Likewise the admirable virtue of humility, or sobriety of mind, doth sprout from faith; informing us that we have nothing of our own to boast of, but that all the good we have, we can do, we may hope for, are debts we owe to God's pure bounty and mercy; prompting us to assume nothing to ourselves, but to ascribe all the honor of our endowments, of our performances, of our advantages unto God; keeping us in continual dependence on God for the succors of his providence and his grace; representing to us our natural weakness, vileness, and wretchedness, together with the adventitious defects and disadvantages from our wilful misbehaviour, the unworthiness of our lives, the many heinous sins we have committed, and the grievous punishments we have deserved.
He who by the light of faith doth see that he came naked into the world, heir to nothing but the sad consequences of the original apostasy; that he is a worm, crawling on earth, feeding
on dust, and tending to corruption; that he liveth only by reprieve from that fatal sentence, The day thou sinnest thou shalt die;' that he was a caitiff wretch, a mere slave to sin, a forlorn captive of hell; and that all his recovery thence, or capacity of a better state, is wholly due to mercy; that he subsisteth only on alms, and hath nothing but his sins and miseries which he may call his own; he that believeth these things, what conceit can he have of himself, what confidence in his own worth, what complacency in his estate?
Faith also doth engage to the virtue of temperance; discovering not only the duty, but the necessity thereof, in regard to our state, which is a state of continual exercise and strife ; wherefore as wrestlers with many strong adversaries, as racers for a noble prize, we by good diet and constant labor must keep ourselves in heart, in temper, in breath to perform those combats; according to that of St. Paul, Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.'
Again, faith is productive of contentedness in our state: for how is it possible that he, who is fully satisfied that God appointeth his station, and allotteth his portion to each one ; that all occurrences depend on his will, and are managed by his providence, should take any thing amiss; as if it could hap better, than as infinite goodness pleaseth, and infinite wisdom determineth? How can he, that believeth God most powerful and able, most kind and willing, ever present and ready to help him, be in any case disconsolate, or despair of seasonable relief? What can discompose him, who knoweth himself, if he pleaseth, immovably happy; that his best good is secure from all attacks, and beyond the reach of any misfortune; that desiring what is best, he cannot fail of his desire; that (himself excepted) all the world cannot considerably wrong or hurt him? He that is assured, those precepts ( Be careful for nothing;' Cast all your burden on God;'Be content with such things as ye have') were not given to mock and gull us; that those declarations and promises ('There is no want to them that fear God;' No good thing will God withhold from them that walk uprightly;' There shall no evil happen to the just;' desire of the righteous shall be granted:' together for good to them who love God;'
All things work
Seek ye first the