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ments occupying an Agent or pre-eminence above other powers subordinate ; and is hurt by the junction of anything mean, or trivial.
Since then it is of the utmost consequence, as well to the right condition of our minds as the regularity of our conduct, to entertain an awful and reverential notion of the Almighty, as having power to dispose of all events, and supreme Governor over all creatures : it behoves us to ascribe to him an Attribute of Majesty, to conceive him jealous of his glory, expecting our obedience and adoration ; to remove every trifling event and mean object from our thoughts when we have him in them; and to raise our idea of him, by such images as are suitable to the highest degree, that the weakness and grossness of our faculties will admit. For as we observed before under the article of Purity, though the essence of God be incapable of actual defilement by any filthiness co-existent in the same place with it, yet the idea of him in our hearts may be polluted and rusted over by impurities adhering thereto : so although his omnipresent power cannot be degraded nor his attention engrossed by any operation, but that he may govern events seemingly the most insignificant without descending from his government of worlds and hierarchies, yet the same idea may be degraded by joining it with such minute employments; for that is far from being omnipresent, though the original it was designed to represent be so. For our attention being confined to the spot we think on, we cannot apprehend him attentive to trifles without taking off his eye from what appear, to us, the proper functions of his divine Majesty.
Nevertheless, we may safely apprehend him interposing upon extraordinary occasions, for so we see our princes and great men do without lessening their dignity : or taking care of our particular concerns, for we are always of vast importance to ourselves; and what concerns us nearly engaging the mind deeply, serves rather to elevate than depress our idea of the cause operating towards it.
6. Thus in opinions relative to the Attribute of Majesty it is more requisite to regulate them by our own nature than the divine, and carefully avoid whatever might appear injurious to it in our own apprehension, however agreeable to our esoteric reasonings. Therefore here, as before in treating of Purity, we shall often find it expedient to conceive of things otherwise than we know them to be. And we practise the like reserve with respect to those whom we esteem upon earth; we know the greatest men must change their linen, wash their hands, pare their nails, and stoop to other base offices reckoned shameful in nature : yet to dwell upon these thoughts would Jessen our reverence of their persons. So we have seen in our Chapter of Providence how the greatest events are liable to be influenced by the smallest, so that the accomplishment of them cannot be secured, if the little particles of earth, air, and vapor, the instincts of animals, or fancies of human creatures, be suffered to run at random.
A grain of dust falling in a man's eye while fighting, may prove his destruction : a few particles of rust upon a firelock, or of damp in the pan, may save a life: a wasp missing his hold in crawling up the sides of a pot, may fall in to be drank by one, whom he shall sting to death: a young lady by a lucky assortment of her Ribands, may procure entrance into a family where she shall become the mother of heroes; yet we cannot without impiety imagine God following the single atoms of terrene or aqueous matter as they float about in the air, watching his opportunity to trip up the feet of a crawling insect, or attending a giddy girl when she adjusts her dress at the toilet. We know, both from reason and authority, that of two sparrows that are sold for a farthing, not one falleth to the ground without our heavenly Father, and the hairs of our head are all numbered : yet what pious man, if upon combing his head he meets with a tangle that tears off two or three hairs, or if the cat should happen to catch his favorite sparrow, would ascribe these catastrophes to the hand of Providence? Who would not be shocked at the profaneness of one, who, upon finding only the tail of a mouse in his trap, or upon losing a flea that he had hunted after, should say, it was the Will of God they should escape?
7. It is possible indeed by frequently comparing our esoteric ideas with the exoteric, and observing how they tend ultimately to the same point, so to familiarize them to our imagination, as that we may entertain them without abating of the reverence we ought always to preserve. This I may testify upon my own experience, having by practice brought several speculations to lie easy and inoffensive in my thoughts, which would have appeared uncouth, disturbing, and perplexing to them formerly, and may still do so to other people. But this must be an effect of time and careful digestion : for imagination works by habitual associations and trains, which when running in very different courses must have many channels of communication worked between to make them coincide. In the prosecution of this attempt, great vigilance must be used not to admit anything derogatory to our idea of the divine Majesty, which we must endeavor to keep steady, solid, and connected in all its parts : and I believe, when doubts and perplexities do arise, it is owing to the fluctuation of our ideas, insinuating some speck of human passion or imbecility thereinto, unawares.
After the imagination has been thus gradually cast into a new arrangement, it will become as averse to some of the old ideas, as it was at first to the present : finding the divine Majesty debased by that partiality and favor, that indignation and abhorrence, that peremptoriness of command, earnest expectation of worship, alteration of measures upon occurrences happening, judgment of characters upon observation of their conduct; which are so necessary for raising it with the generality. For they see the best and greatest of men preferring their friends and favorites, indignant at affronts, detesting villanies, commanding merely to exercise their authority, pleased with homage, varying their schemes according to circumstances, taking their estimation of persons from their outward behavior : nor do they discern that all this springs from the imperfection of human nature; so that in their apprehension it may well join with the idea of incomparable excellence: Thus the imaginations of mankind being differently modelled, and that in great variety of forms, regard must be had not only to the general turn, but to particular characters, so as to imprbve the idea of Majesty in each, by such way as may prove" most effectual.
But an excess of coloring may be as-lurtful as a defect: when the strokes are laid on too thick they obscure, rather than illuminate the figure. By conceiving our continual Services agreeable to God, as his rightful due, we raise our idea of him : but by representing them as giving him a real pleasure, we make ourselves of importance to him, and consequently degrade him in our thoughts. By requiring an unreserved obedience to his commands without knowing their expedience, we acknowledge his sovereign authority : but by supposing they have none other fourdation than his arbitrary Will, we depreciate the grandeur of his wisdom and bounty. And in many other duties it is a very nice point to distinguish how they may be stretched to the utmost without being overstrained : for an extension beyond this point would unavoidably beget narrowness, instead of an enlargement of Mind. This then being an important as well as delicate point, it behoves all who have the guidance and instruction of others, to be cautious of urging their topics too strongly ; lest by an indiscreet zeal they leave things in worse condition than they found them, and teach men to place the glory of God in matters that would cast a discredit upon the character of an earthly creature.
8. Such indiscretion abounds to profusion among enthusiasts, who would have us keep up a glowing admiration of the divine excellencies at our work, in our play, during our meals, and for many hours of tedious devotion. But they do not consider that admiration is an extraordinary stretch of the mind which it cannot exert at
all times, nor keep up beyond a certain period, when the spirits will be exhausted, the mental eye grow languid, and if still persisting to hold an object however luminous in contemplation, will see it obscure, unstriking, and no better than common objects. Accordingly we hear them complain of frequent coolness, aridities, and desertions ; wherein they do no great honor to God in ascribing the natural defects of human weakness to a kind of turn of humor in him, who one hour shows them extraordinary favors above all mankind, and the next deserts them without any reason.
Neither would it avail for our purpose, were it practicable to retain God in our thoughts through all our little Occupations, and do everything for this service; were a man to change his coat, tie up his garters, or gather a nosegay in his garden, always to please God, it would diminish more than add to the reverence of his
For by perpetually mingling terms of Religion among our common ideas and discourses, we shall empty them of all their solemnity, and reduce them to meer Cant, a word derived from the Latin of singing, when people usually attend to the music without heeding the sense. And that your over-righteous people have served them so, appears from their introducing them by head and shoulders upon occasions, whereto they cannot be applicable. This humor prevailing generally among our forefathers in the times of both civil and religious anarchy, begot the contrary extreme, as it is called, of profane swearing, and burlesquing everything serious: though it seems to me a similar offspring, like the viper's brood, destroying its parent, only that it might have the doing of the same mischief itself
, being the like expedient for evaporating all idea from the most significant words in our language.
But the divine Majesty, when rightly apprehended, undebased with allaying mixtures, being the idea which contributes most effectually to ennoble our thoughts, to keep our conduct steady, and strengthen our dependence under unfavorable circumstances, deserves our best care and judgment to improve it. Which is perest done at those seasons when our thoughts are fresh, our minds most vigorous, and our understandings clearest, when contemplation is ready to flow spontaneously : by frequent efforts at such times we may fix a deep impression, not to start up incessantly, but upon occasion. For as a Man who has a steady loyalty to his prince, though he does not think of him every moment yet will instantly fire upon hearing anything spoken disrespectfully against him: so he that possesses an habitual reverence of the divine Majesty, though it may not operate directly upon every minute action of his life, yet whatever injurious thereto offers to his thoughts, will immediately give him an alarm. VOL. III.
HOLINESS, in its greatest latitude, implies an exemption from all tastes, desires, and trains of thought, excited in us by our corporeal appetites or the allurement of sensible objects. Now this exemption in ourselves can be no more than temporary : for our situation here upon earth renders it necessary and our duty to have continual intercourse among the things external round about us, and the constitution of our nature obliges us to attend to the calls of Bodily appetite. While busied in these occupations, our conduct is not holy, neither is it yet profane, but in a middle state of indifference between both; but we are not so tied down to external objects or the imaginations springing from thence, but that we may sometimes separate everything of that kind from our thoughts, in order to contemplate the constitution of universal nature and character of its Author, to consider ourselves as citizens of the world, inheritors of a country where nothing terrene or carnal finds place.
Now it is this separation from ordinary conjunctions that constitutes the idea of holiness : for places are holy when separated from all common uses, and reserved for our reception, when we assemble to raise our minds above sublunary scenes. Rites, ceremonies, and institutions are holy, when contrived to turn imagination out of her familiar courses, and introduce a solemnity suitable for religious purposes. Holy vestments and utensils are those employed only in sacred offices. Holy days are those set apart for the attendance upon our spiritual concerns. And men are called holy and divine, who make it their profession to study and practise the methods of leading their fellow-creatures into just notions of their Maker, and of their duties as well towards him, as themselves, and their neighbors.
Thus holiness bears a near affinity with the subjects handled in the two last Chapters: as not consisting with a mixture of anything foul or unbecoming, mean or trivial. But some things are relatively so according to times and circumstances : for many thoughts and actions would defile and debase the mind in seasons of devotion, that may be innocent and commendable at other seasons. These things indulged too much, or improperly, obscure and stupefy the faculties, but do not pervert them; they clog the mind, but do not clip its wings; as some other practices do, which