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that we must not look upon ourselves in a state of common and pardonable imperfection ; but in such a state, as wants the first and most fundamental principle of Christianity, viz. an intention to please God in all our actions. If any one would ask himself, how it comes to pass, that there are any degrees of sobriety, which he neglects ; any practice of humility, which he wants; any methods of charity, which he does not follow; any rules of redeeming time, which he does not observe ; his own heart would tell him it is because he never intended to be so exact in those duties. For, whenever we fully intend it, it is as possible, to conform to all this regularity of life, as it is possible for a man, to observe times of prayer.
So that the fault does not lie here, that we desire to be good, but through the weakness of our nature fall short of it; but it is because we have not piety enough to intend to be as good, as we can, or to please God in all the actions of our life. This we see is plainly the case of him, that spends bis time in sports, when he should be at church ; it is not his want of power, but his want of intention or desire to be there.
The case is the same in every other folly of life. She, that spends her time and money in the ways and fashions of the world, does not do so, because she wants power to be wise and religious in the management of her time and money ; but because she has no intention or desire of being so. When she feels this intention, she will find it as possible, to act up to it, as to be strictly sober and chaste ; because it is her desire to be so.
This doctrine does not suppose that we have no need of divine grace, or that it is in our own power, to make ourselves perfect. It only supposes that, through the want of a sincere intention of pleasing God in all our actions, we fall into such irregularities of life, as by the ordinary means of grace we should have power to avoid.
[And that we have not that perfection, which our present state of grace makes us capable of, because we do not so much as intend to have it.]
It only teaches us that the reason, why you see no real mortification, no eminent charity, no profound hu
mility, no heavenly affection, no true contempt of the world, no Christian meekness, no sincere zeal, no emipent piety in the lives of Christians, is this, because they do not so much as intend to be exact and exemplary in these virtues.
Of the Danger and Folly of not intending to be as eminent and exemplary, as we can, in the practice of all Christian Virtues.
ALTHOUGH the goodness of God and his rich mercies in Christ are a sufficient assurance, that he will be merciful to our unavoidable weaknesses and infirmities; that is, to such failings, as are the effects of ignorance or surprise ; yet we have no reason to expect the same mercy toward those sins, which we have lived in, through want of intention to avoid them.
For instance, the case of a swearer, who dies in that guilt, seems to have no title to the divine mercy; for this reason, because he can no more plead any weakness or infirmity in his excuse, than the man, that hid bis tal. ent in the earth, could plead his want of strength to * keep it out of the earth.
If this be right reasoning in the case of a swearer, that his sin is not to be reckoned a pardonable frailty, because he has no weakness to plead in its excuse ; why then do we not carry this way of reasoning to its true extent? Why don't we as much condemn every other error of life, that has no more weakness to plead in its excuse, than common swearing.
For, if this be so bad a thing, because it might be avoided, if we did but sincerely intend it; must not then: all other erroneous ways of life be very guilty, if we live in them, not through weakness and inability, but be. cause we never sincerely intended to avoid them?
For instance, you perhaps have made no progress in the most important Christian virtues; you have scarcely gone half way in humility and charity ; now, if your failure in these duties is purely owing to your want of intention of performing them; have you not as little to plead for yourself, and are you not as much without all excuse, as the common swearer?
Why therefore don't you press these things home upon your conscience ? Why do you not think it as dangerous for you
to live in such defects, as are in your power to amend, as it is dangerous for a common swearer to live in the breach of that duty, which it is in his power to observe ? Is not negligence and want of a sincere intention as blameable in one case, as in another ?
You, it may be, are as far from Christian perfection, as the common swearer is from keeping the third Commandment; are you not therefore as much condemned by the doctrines of the Gospel, as the swearer is by the third commandment.?
You perhaps will say, that all people fall short of the perfection of the Gospel, and therefore you are content with your failings. But this is saying nothing to the purpose. For the question is not, whether Gospel perfection, can be fully attained; but, whether you come as near it, as a sincere intention, and careful diligence can carry you.
Whether you are not in a much lower state, than you might be ; if you sincerely intended and carefully labored to advance yourself in all Christian virtues.
If you are as forward in the Christian life, as your best endeavors can make you; you may justly hope that your iu perfections will not be laid to your charge ; but, if your defects in piety, humility, and charity, are owing to your negligence and want of sincere intention to be as eminent, as you can, in these virtues; then you leave yourself as much without excuse, as he, that lives in the sin of swearing, through want of a sincere intention to depart from it.
The salvation of our souls is set forth in Scripture, as a thing ot' difficulty, that requires all our diligence; that is to be worked out with fear and trembling.
We are told, that strait is the gape and narrow is the way, thut leadeth unto life, and few there be, that find it. That many are called, but few are chosen ; that many will miss of salvation, who seem to have taken some pains, to obtain it.. Strive to enter in at the strait gate, for many, I
will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. Here our blessed Lord commands us to strive to enter in ; because many will fail, who only seek to enter. Ву which we are plainly taught, that religion is a state of labor and striving, and that many will fail of salvation; not, because they took no care or pains about it; but, because they did not take pains and care enough; they only sought, but did not strive to enter in.
Every Christian therefore should as well examine his life by these doctrines, as by the commandments. For these doctrines are as plain marks of our condition, as the commandments are of our duty.
For, if salvation is only given to those, who strive for it; it is as reasonable for me to consider, whether my course of life be a course of striving to obtain it; as to consider, whether I keep any of the commandments.
If my religion is only a formal compliance with those modes of worship, that are in fashion ; if it costs me no pains or trouble ; if it lays me under no restraints ; if I haye no sober reflections about it; is it not great weakness, to think that I am striving to enter in at the strait gate?
If I am seeking every thing, that can delight my senses and regale my appetites; spending my time and fortune in pleasures, diversions, and worldly enjoyments; a stranger to watchings, prayers, and mortifications ; how can it be said, that I am working out my salvation with fear and trembling?
If there is nothing in my life and conversation, that shows me to be different from the Jews and Heathens
; if I use the world, as the generality of people do ; why should I think that I am among those few, who are in the narrow way to heaven?
Yet, if the way is parrow ; if none can walk in it, but
those that strive ; is it not as necessary for me to consider, whether the labor, I take, be a sufficient striving ; as to consider whether I sufficiently observe the second or third commandment?
The sum of the matter is this. From the above-mentioned passages of Scripture, it seems plain, that our salvation depends upon the sincerity and perfection of our endeavours to obtain it.
Weak and imperfect men, notwithstanding their frailties and defects, will be received, as having pleased God; if they have done their utmost to please him.
The rewards of charity, piety, and humility, will be given to those, whose lives have been a careful labor to exercise these virtues in as a high a degree, as they could.
We cannot offer to God the service of angels; we can. not obey him, as man in a state of perfection could; but fallen men can do their best, and this is the perfection, that is required of us ; it is only the perfection of our best endeavors, a careful labor to be as perfect, as we
But, if we stop short of this, for aught we know, we stop short of the mercy of God, and leave ourselves nothing to plead from the terms of the Gospel. For God has there made no promises of mercy to the slothful and negligent. His mercy is only offered to our frail and imperfect, but best endeavours to practise all manner of righteousness.
As the law to angels is angelical righteousness; as the law to perfect beings is strict perfection; so the law to our imperfect nature is the best obedience, that our frail nature is able to perform.
The measure of our love to God seems in justice to be the measure of our love of every virtue.
We are to love and practise it with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. When we cease to live with this regard to virtue ; we live below our nature; and, instead of being able to plead our infirmities, we stand chargeable with negligence.