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How the wise and pious use of an estate naturally carrieth
us to great perfection in the virtues of the Christian life, represented in the character of Miranda.
Any one pious regularity in any one part of our life, is of great advantage, not only on its own account, but as it uses us to live by rule, and think of the government of ourselves. A man of business, that has brought one part of his affairs under certain rules, is in a fair way to take the same care of the rest. So he, that has brought any one part of his life under the rules, of religion, may thence be taught to extend the same regularity to other parts of his life.
If any one think his time too precious, to be disposed of by chance; If he lay himself under a necessity of observing, how every day goes through his hands, and oblige himself to a certain order of time in his business, his retirements, and devotions; it is hardly to be imagined, how soon such a conduct would reform, improve, and perfect the whole course of his life.
He, that once knows the value and reaps the advantage of time well ordered, will not long be a stranger to the value of any thing else.
A rule, that relates even to the smallest part of our life, is of great benefit to us, merely as it is a rule. For, as the proverb saith, He, that has begun well, has half done ; so he, that has begun to live by rule, has gone a great way toward the perfection of his own life.
By rule here must be constantly understood a relig. ious rule, observed upon a principle of duty to God. For, if a man oblige himself to be moderate in his meals, only in regard to his stomach ; or abstain from drinking,
If a man,
only to avoid the head ach; or be moderate in his sleep, through fear of a lethargy; he might be exact in these rules, without being a better man for them.
But, when he is moderate in any of these things, out of a sense of Christian sobriety and self-denial, that he may offer to God a more reasonable and holy life; then the smallest rule of this kind, is the beginning of piety.
For the smallest rule in these matters is of great benefit, as it teaches some part of the government of our. selves; as it presents God often to our thoughts, and brings a sense of religion into the ordinary actions of life.
whenever he was in company, where any one swore, talked lewdly, or spoke evil of his neighbour, should make it a rule to himself, either gently to reprove him, or to leave the company as decently, as he could; he would find that this little rule, like a little leaven, would spread itself through the whole of his life.
If another should oblige himself to abstain on the Lord's day from many lawful things, as travelling, visiting, common conversation on worldly matters ; if he should devote the day, beside the public worship, to reading, devotion, instruction, and works of charity; would find such a taste of piety raised in his mind, as he was an entire stranger to before.
But the two things, which most want to be under strict rule, and which are the greatest blessings to our selves and others, when rigtitly used, are our time and our money.
These talents are continual means of doing good.
He, that is piously strict in the wise management of these, has already ascended several steps upon the ladder of Christian perfection.
Miranda, the sister of Flavia, is a sober, reasonable Christian ; as soon, as she was mistress of her time and fortune, it was her first thought, how she might best fulfil every thing, that God required of her in the use of them; and how she might make the happiest use of this short life. She depends upon the truth of wbat our blessed Lord hath said, there is but one thing needful; and there
fore makes her whole life one continual labor after it.
She has but one reason for doing or not doing, for lik- ing, or not liking any thing; and that is the will of God.
She is not so weak, as to pretend to add, what is called the fine lady, to the true Christian ; she has renounced the world, to follow Christ in the exercise of humility, charity, devotion, and heavenly affections.
While under her mother, she was forced to live in ceremony, to sit up late at night, to be in the folly of every fashion, and always visiting on Sundays ; to go loaded with finery to the holy sacrament; to hear profaneness at the play-house, and love intrigues at the opera; to dance at public places, that fops might admire the fineness of her shape, and the beauty of her motions. The remembrance of this way of life makes her exceedingly careful to atone for it by a contrary behaviour.
Miranda considers all, as due to God; and so does every thing in his name, and for his sake. This makes
her consider her fortune, as the gift of God, which is to 6 be used for the wise and reasonable ends of a Christian
and holy life. Her fortune therefore is divided between herself and other poor people, and she has only her part of relief from it. She thinks it the same folly, to indulge herself in needless expenses, as to give to other people, to spend in the same way. Therefore, as she will not give a poor man money, to go to a pup. pet show; neither will she allow herself any, to spend in the same manner; thinking it proper to be as wise berself, as she expects poor men to be. For it is a folly in a poor man, says Miranda, to waste what is given bim in trifles, while he wants meat, drink and clothes ; and is it less folly, or a less crime in me to spend that money in diversions, which might be so much better spent in imitation of the divine goodness, in works of kindness and charity to my fellow creatures ? If a poor man's necessities are a reason, why he should not waste any of his money idly ; surely the excellency of charity, which is received, as done to Christ himself is a much greater reason, why no one should ever waste
any of his money. For, if he do so, he wastes that, which is wanted for the most noble use, and which Christ himself is ready to receive at his hand. If we are angry at a poor man, when he throws away that, which should buy his own bread; how must we appear in the sight of God, if we make a wanton, idle use of that, which would buy bread and clothes for the hungry and naked, who are as dear to God, as we are, and fellow heirs of the same state of future glory? This is the spirit of Miranda, and thus she uses the gifts of God; she is only one of a certain number of poor people that are relieved out of her fortune, and she only differs from them in the blessedness of giviog.
Excepting her victuals, she never spent ten pounds a year on herself. If you saw her, you would wonder, what poor body it was, that was so surprisingly neat and clean. She has but one rule in her dress, to be always clean and in the cheapest things. Every thing about her resembles the purity of her soul, and she is always clean without, because she is always pure within.
Every morning sees her early at her prayers ; she rejoices in the beginning of every day, because it begins her pious rules of holy living, and brings the fresh pleasure of repeating them. She seems to be, as a guardian angel, to those, that dwell about her, with her watchings and prayers blessing the place, where she dwells, and making intercession with God for those, that are asleep.
Her devotions have had some intervals, and God has heard several of her private prayers, before the light is suffered to enter into her sister's rooms. Miranda does not know, what it is to have a dull halfday ; the returns of her hours of prayer, and her religious exercises, come too often, to let any considerable part of time lie heavy on her hands.
When you see her at work, you see the same wisdom, that governs all her other actions ; she is either doing something, that is necessary for herself or for others, who want to be assisted. There is scarcely a poor fam. ily in the neighbourhood, but wears something or other,
that has had the labor of her hands. Her wise and pious mind, neither wants the amusement, nor can bear with the folly of idle and impertinent work. She can admit no such folly, as this, in the day, because she is to answer for all her actions at night. When there is no wisdom, to be observed in the employment of her hands; when there is no useful or charitable work to be done; Miranda will work no more. At her table she lives strictly by this rule of holy Scripture, Whether ye eat of drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. This makes her begin and end every meal, as she begins and ends every day, with acts of devotion ; she eats and drinks only for the sake of living, and with so regular an abstinence, that every meal is an exercise of self denial; and she humbles her body, every time, she is forced to feed it. If Miranda were to run a race for her life, she would submit to a diet, that was proper for it. But, as the race, which is set before her, is a race of holiness, purity and heavenly affection, which she is to finish in a corrupt, disordered body of earthly passions ; so her every day diet has only this one end, to make her body fitter for this spiritual race.
She does not weigh her meat in scales; but she weighs it in a much better balance. So much, as gives proper strength to her body, and renders it able and willing to obey the soul, to join in psalms and prayers, and lift up eyes and bands toward heaven with greater readiness ; so much is Miranda's meal. So that Miranda will never have her eyes swell with fatness, or pánt under a heavy load of flesh, till she has changed her religion.
The holy Scriptures, especially of the New Testament, are her daily study ; these she reads with a watchful attention, constantly casting an eye upon herself, and trying herself by every doctrine. When she has the New Testament in her hand, she supposes herself at the feet of our Saviour and his apostles, and makes every thing, that she learns of them, so many laws of her life. She receives their sacred words with as much attention and reverence, as if she saw their per