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dour and warmth of a burning-glass, which, borrow-
My most honoured Lord,
RULE AND EXERCISES
HOLY LIV I N G, &c.
CONSIDERATION OF THE GENERAL INSTRUMENTS AND MEANS SERVING TO A HOLY LIFE, BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION.
It is necessary, that every man should consider, that, since God hath given him an excellent nature, wisdom and choice, an understanding soul, and an immortal spirit, having made him lord over the beasts, and but a little lower than the angels; he hath also appointed for him a work and a service great enough to employ those abilities, and hath also designed him to a state of life after this, to which he can only arrive by that service and obedience. And therefore, as every man is wholly God's own portion by the title of creation, so all our labours and care, all our powers and faculties, must be wholly employed in the service of God, and even all the days of our life; that, this life being ended, we may live with him for ever.
Neither is it sufficient, that we think of the service of God as a work of the least necessity, or of small employment, but that it be done by us as God intended it; and that it be done with great earnestness and passion, with much zeal and desire; that we refuse no labour, that we bestow upon it much time; that we use the best guides, and arrive at the end of glory by all the ways of grace, of prudence, and religion.
And indeed, if we consider how much of our lives is taken up by the needs of nature; how many years are wholly spent, before we come to any use of reason; how many years more, before that reason is useful to us to any great purposes; how imperfect our discourse is made by our evil education, false principles, ill company, bad examples, and want of experience; how many parts of our wisest and best years are spent in eating and sleeping, in necessary businesses and unnecessary vanities, in worldly civilities and less useful circumstances, in the learning arts and sciences, languages or trades ; that little portion of hours, that is left for the practices of piety and religious walking with God, is so short and trifling, that, were not the goodness of God infinitely great, it might seem unreasonable or impossible for us to expect of him eternal joys in heaven, even after the well spending those few minutes, which are left for God and God's service, after we have served ourselves and our own occasions.
And yet it is considerable, that the fruit, which comes from the many days of recreation and vanity, is very little ; and, although we scatter much, yet we gather but little profit: but from the few hours we spend in prayer and the exercises of a pious life, the return is great and profitable ; and what we sow in the minutes and spare portions of a few years, grows up to crowns and sceptres in a happy and a glorious eternity.
1. Therefore, although it cannot be enjoined, that the greatest part of our time be spent in the direct actions of devotion and religion, yet it will become, not only a duty, but also a great providence, to lay aside for the services of God and the businesses of the Spirit, as much as we can ; because God rewards our minutes with long and eternal happiness; and the greater portion of our time we give to God, the more we treasure up for ourselves; and “No man is a better merchant than he, that lays out his time upon God, and his money upon the poor.”
2. Only it becomes us to remember, and to adore God's goodness for it, that God hath not only permitted us to serve the necessities of our nature, but hath made them to become parts of our duty ; that if we, by directing these actions to the glory of God, intend them as instruments to continue our persons in his service, he, by adopting them into religion, may turn our nature into grace, and accept our natural actions as actions of religion. God is pleased to estcem it
for a part of his services, if we eat or drink; so it be done temperately, and as may best preserve our health, that our health may enable our services towards him: and there is no one minute of our lives (after we are come to the use of reason), but we are or may be doing the work of God, even then, when we most of all serve ourselves.
3. To which if we add, that in these and all other actions of our lives we always stand before God, acting, and speaka ing, and thinking in his presence, and that it matters not that our conscience is sealed with secrecy, since it lies open to God; it will concern us to behave ourselves carefully, as in the presence of our judge.
These three considerations rightly managed, and applied to the several parts and instances of our lives, will be, like Elisha, stretched upon the child, apt to put life and quickness into every part of it, and to make us live the life of grace, and do the work of God.
I shall therefore, by way of introduction, reduce these three to practice, and show how every Christian may improve all and each of these to the advantage of piety, in the whole course of his life: that if he please to bear but one of them upon his spirit, he may feel the benefit, like an universal instrument, helpful in all spiritual and temporal actions.
: Care of our Time. He that is choice of his time, will also be choice of his company, and choice of his actions : lest the first engage him in vanity and loss; and the latter, by being criminal, be a throw. ing his time and himself away, and a going back in the accounts of eternity.
God hath given to man a short time here upon earth, and yet upon this short time eternity depends : but so, that for every hour of our life (after we are persons capable of laws, and know good from evil) we must give account to the great Judge of men and angels. And this is it which our blessed Saviour' told us, that we must account for every idle word : not meaning, that every word, which is not designed to edification, or is less prudent, shall be reckoned for a sin; but that the time, which we spend in our idle talking and unprofitable discoursings, that time, which might and ought to have been employed to spiritual and useful purposes ; that is to be accounted for.
* Πυθομένου τινός, πως έστιν εσθίειν άρεστως θεούς και ει δικαίως εστίν, έφη, και ευγνωμίως, και ίσως, και εγκρατώς, και κοσμίως, ουκ έστι και αρεστώς τους θεούς ;
Arrian. Epist. I. i. c. 13.
For we must remember, that we have a great work to do, many enemies to conquer, many evils to prevent, much danger to run through, many difficulties to be mastered, many necessities to serve, and much good to do, many children to provide for, or many friends to support, or many poor to relieve, or many diseases to cure, besides the needs of nature and of relation, our private and our public cares, and duties of the world, which necessity and the providence of God have adopted into the family of religion.
And that we need not fear this instrument to be a snare to us, or that the duty must end in scruple, vexation, and eternal fears, we must remember that the life of every man may be so ordered, (and indeed must) that it may be a perpetual serving of God: the greatest trouble and most busy trade and worldly incumbrances, when they are necessary, or charitable, or profitable in order to any of those ends, which we are bound to serve, whether public or private, being a doing God's work. For God provides the good things of the world to serve the needs of nature, by the labours of the ploughman, the skill and pains of the artisan, and the dangers and traffic of the merchant : these men are, in their calling, the ministers of the Divine Providence, and the stewards of the creation, and servants of a great family of God, the world, in the employment of procuring necessaries for food and clothing, ornament and physic. In their proportions, also, a king and a priest, and a prophet, a judge and an advocate, doing the works of their employment according to their proper rules, are doing the work of God, because they serve those necessities, which God hath made, and yet made no provisions for them, but by their ministry. So that no man can complain, that his calling takes him off from religion : his calling itself and his very worldly employment in honest trades and offices is a serving of God; and, if it be moderately pursued, and ac