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that any man can take ; and, however inconsiderate men may complain of the restraints of religion, that it is not one jot more our duty, than it is our privilege and our happiness.
And I cannot think, that, upon fober consideration, any man could see reason to thank God to be released from any of his laws, or to have had the contrary to them injoined. Let us suppose, that the laws of God had been just the reverse of what they now are; that he had commanded us, under severe penalties, to deal falsely and fraudulently with our neighbour; to demean ourfelves ungratefully to our best friends and benefactors; to be drunk every day, and to pursue sensual pleasures, to the endangering of our health and life : how should we have complained of the unreasonableness of these faws, and have murmured at the slavery of such intole-rable impositions ? And yet now that God hath commanded us the contrary, things every way agreeable to our reason and interest, we are not pleafed neither.. What will content us? As our Saviour expoftulates in a like cafe, Whereunto fhall I liken this generation? It is like unto children playing in the market-place, and calling into their compunions, IVe have piped into you,
have 119t danced; we have mourned, and ye lave not lainentet. This is perfectly childish, to be picased with nothing ;, neither to like this, nor the contrary. We are not contented with the laws of God as they are; and yet the contrary to them we should have esteemed the greatest: grievance in the world.
And if this be true, that the laws of God, how contrary soever to our vitious inclinations, are really calculated for our benefit and advantage, it would almost be an affront to wise and considerate men to importune them to their interest, and with great
earnestnefs to persuade them to that which in all respects is so visibly for their advantage. Chuse you therefore this day whoin you. will serve; God or your lusts : and take up a speedy re-folution in a matter of so great and pressing a concernment: Chuse you this day.
Where there is great hazard in the doing of a thing, it is good to deliberate long before we undertake it : but where the thing is not only safe, but beneficial, and not O 3
only hugely beneficial, but highly necessary; when our life and our happinefs depends upon it, and all the danger lies in the delay of it; there we cannot be too sudden in our refolution, nor too speedy in the execution of it. That which is evidently safe, needs no deliberation; and that which is absolutely necessary, will admit of none.
Therefore resolve upon it out of hand: To day, whilft it is called to day, left any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of lin: in the days of your youth and health; for that is the acceptable time, that is the day of salvation: before the evil day comes, and you be driven to it by the terrible apprehension and approach of death, when men fly to God only for fear of his wrath. For the greatest Atheists and infidels, when they come to die, if they have any of that reason left which they have used so ill, have commonly right opinions about God and religion. For then the confidence, as well as the comfort of Atheism leaves them, as the devil uses to do witches when they are in distress. Then, with Nebuchadnezzar, when they are recovered from being beasts, they look up to heaven, and their understanding returns to them: then they believe a God, and cannot help it; they believe, and tremble at the thoughts of him. Thus Lucretius, one of their great authors, observes, that, when men are in distress,
Acriùs advertunt animos ad religionem : « The thoughts of religion are then more quick and ” pungent upon their minds."
Nam veræ voces tum demum pectore ab imo
Eliciuntur, & eripitur perfona, manet res : * Mens words then come from the bottom of their “ hearts; the mask is taken off, and things then ap“ pear as in truth they are." · But then perhaps it may be too late to make this choice : nay, then it can hardly be choice, but nccessity. Men do not then chuse to serve the Lord, but they are urged and forced to it by their fears. They have served their lusts all their life long, and now they would fain serve themselves of God at the hour of death. They have done what they can, by their insolent con
tempt and defiance of the Almighty, to make themfelves miserable ; and now that they can stand out no longer against him, they are contented at last to be beholden to him to make them happy. The mercies of God are vast and boundless; but yet methinks it is too great a presumption in all reason, for men to design beforehand to make the mercy of God the sanctuary and retreat of a sinful life.
To draw then to a conclusion of this discourse: If safety, or pleasure, or liberty, or wisdom, or virtue, or cven happiness itself, have any temptation in them, religion hath all these baits and allurements. What Tully says of philosophy, is much more true of the Christian religion, the wisdom and philosophy which is from above; Nunquam fatis laudari poterit; cui qui pareat, omne tempus ætatis sine molestia degere possit : “ We “ can never praise it enough; fince whoever lives ac6 cording to the rules of it, may pass the whole age of « his life (I may add, his whole duration, this life and
“ the other) without trouble.” · Philosophy hath given us feveral plausible rules for the attaining of peace and tranquillity of mind; but they fall very much short of bringing men to it. The very best of them fail us upon the greatest occasions. But the Christian religion hath effectually done all that which philosophy pretended to, and aimed at. The precepts and promises of the holy scriptures are every way fufficient for our comfort, and for our instruction in righteousness; to correct all the errors, and to bear us up under all the evils and adversities of human life; especially that holy and heavenly doctrine which is contained in the admirable sermons of our Saviour; quem cum legimus, quem philofophum non contemnimus? “ whose ex.6 cellent discourses when we read, what philosopher do 6. we not despise ? None of the philosophers could, upon sure grounds, give that encouragement to their scholars, which our Saviour does to his disciples : Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, and ye mall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burthen is light.
This is the advantage of the Christian religion fincerely believed and practised, that it gives perfect rest and tranquillity to the mind of man. It frees us from the
guilt of an evil conscience, and from the power of our lults, and from the lavish fear of death, and of the vengeance
of another world. It builds our comfort upon a rock, which will abide all forms, and remain unihaken in every condition, and will last and hold out for ever : He that heareih these sayings of mine, and doth them, (faith our Lord), I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house upon a rock.
In short, religion makes the life of man a wise design, regular, and constant to itself; because it unites all our resolutions and actions in one great end : whereas without religion the life of man is a wild, and fluttering, and inconfiltent thing, without any certain scope and design. The vitious man lives at random, and acts by chance : for he that walks by no rule, can carry on no settled and steady design. It would pity a man's heart to see how hard such men are put to it for diversion, and what a burden time is to them; and how solicitous they are to devise ways, not to spend it, but to squander it away.
For their great grievance is consideration, and to be obliged to be intent upon any thing that is serious. They hurry from one vanity and folly to another; and plunge themselves into drink, not to quench their thirit, but their guilt; and are beholden to every vain man, and to every trifling occasion, that can but help to take time off their hands. Wretched and inconsiderate men who have so vast a work before them, the happiness of all eternity to take care of and provide for, and yet are at a loss how to employ their time! So that irreligion and vice makes life an extravagant and unnatural thing, because it perverts and overthrows the natural course and order of things. For instance : According to nature, men labour to get an estate, to free themselves from temptations to rapine and injury; and that they may have whereawithal to supply their own wants, and to relieve the needs of others. But now the covetous man heaps up riches, not to enjoy them, but to have them; and starves himself in the midst of plenty, and most unnaturally cheats and robs himself of that which is his own; and makes a hard shift to be as poor and miserable with a great estate, as any man can be without it. According to the delign of nature, men should eat and drink that they may live ;
but the voluptuous man only lives that he may eat and drink. Nature in all sensual enjoyments designs pleasure, which may certainly be had within the limits of virtue : but vice rafhly pursues pleasure into the enemy's quarters; and never stops till the finner be surrounded and seized upon by pain and torment.
So that take away God and religion, and men live to no purpose, without proposing any worthy and conliderable end of life to themselves. Whereas the fear of God, and the care of our immortal souls, fixeth us upon one great design; to which our whole life, and all the actions of it, are ultimately referred. Ubi unus Deus colitur, (faith Lactantius), ibi vita, & cmnis a&tus, ad unum caput, & ad unam fummam refertur : “ When we ac“ knowledge God as the author of our being, as our so
vereign, and our judge, our end and our happiness is « then fixed;" and we can have but one reasonable design, and that is, by endeavouring to please God, to gain his favour and protection in this world, and to arrive at the blessful enjoyment of him in the other : In whose presence is fulness of joy, and at whose right hand are pleasures for evermore. To him, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, dominion and power, now and for ever.
S E R M ON
Of the difficulty of reforming vitious habits,
JEREMIAH xiii. 23. Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?
then may ye alfo do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
Onsidering the great difficulty of reclaiming those who are far
in an evil course, it is no more than needs to use all sorts of arguments to this purpose; from the conlideration of the evil of fin, and