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and condemnation. While the devil was driven out of others, he got stronger hold of them: and, therefore, as their sin and obstinacy were greater now than ever; so the calamity and mischief, consequent to it, would be more dismal and dreadful than any that had ever befallen that nation before. As the leprosy of Naaman clave to Gehazi; so these wicked spirits, so soon as they were dislodged in one place, betook themselves to another. The pharisees were a convenient retreat for them; in their hearts they found all things to their wish, as if they had been mansions prepared on purpose to entertain them.
These arguments of our blessed Saviour were so convincing, that one of the Rtanders-by, who heard them without prejudice, felt herself so lively affected, as immediately to cry out with rapture, * Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.'
This is a natural way of extolling any one's excellency, by proclaiming the happiness of his parents. For parents know no greater felicity, that heaven can give in this world, than wise and virtuous children. And sure no instance of this kind was ever comparable to that of the mother of the Lord. All generations might well 'call her blessed,' who was honoured with a birth so wonderful. What praise, what admiration, what reverence, that is fit to be given to the most excellent of creatures, can be thought in reason loo much for her, to whom an angel was sent to acquaint her with such a conception, as nature never did or can know; for her, whose womb God himself did not abhor? The best and most deservedly conspicuous among the sons of men have yet this allay, that they arc formed of perishing and corruptible matter; such as is subject to much weakness and frailty, and must, in a little while, fall back again into that dust, from whence it was first taken. And yet, where we see a great and generous mind, that struggles bravely with the world, and distinguishes itself from the rest of mankind, and rises above the common vices and temptations of human nature, we cannot forbear admiring; we overlook that allay of infirmity, with which even the best of mortals are debased; and envy that honour, which such persons reflect back upon their ancestors. So acknowledged a truth it is, that a ' wise son is the glorv of his father, and the just joy and pride of her that hare him.' So effectually does the comfort of good children turn sorrow into triumph, and make a happy
mother not only forget, but even bless and rejoice in that travail, which is all well recompensed with exemplary goodness. And the honour of bringing into the world a useful and excellent person, and of being instrumental in adding to the number of glorified saints, is a joy which all acknowledge; but parents only can know, and feel the real charms, and sweet complacencies of it.
But, alas! what is all this, in comparison of the Virgin's happiness? For she alone had this incommunicable privilege, of having a son of perfect and unblemished virtue, a son of untainted and immortal nature; one absolutely above the reach of death and hell; one, who died only that he might conquer death, and lead into captivity that tyrant of darkness. She lived to see the flesh which he took of her, burst asunder the bands and brazen bars of the grave; she beheld him rise in triumph, and saw her own substance exalted to the right hand of the throne of God, decked with light as with a garment, and clothed with incomprehensible majesty and honour. And therefore blessed indeed was the ' womb that bare' this wonderful, this divine child ; yea blessed for ever, and, in that respect, blessed above all women, shall this mother be.
But yet, when we have said all we can or all we may upon this occasion, let us remember, that this nearness of relation to Christ had clone Mary no service, if she had not borne him in her heart to better purpose, than she did in her body. And therefore her blessedness is more owing to her receiving the faith of Christ in her heart, than it was to the conceiving his flesh, as her son. If then we would be happy, our Lord hath showed us a more effectual, and a more excellent way: he denies not the blessedness, which the zeal of this woman pronounces; but, allowing that to be as great, as it was possible for her to imagine it, yet, if compared with that of obedience to God's commands, he informs us, that even this was but little and low. For the reply he made, extenuates the one, when put into the balance with the other: he said, ' yea, rather blessed are they, that hear the word of God, and keep it.'
'By hearing the word of God,' no doubt is meant all that reverence and attention of mind, all that teachable temper and good disposition of the will, which prepare and incline men to receive it effectually: and, by keeping this word, is meant the continuing in what we have heard, and making it the rule of all our conduct; the believmg all those mysterious truths, and the observing those most holy precepts, which our Saviour hath taught us in his gospel. And this our Saviour declares to be a happy state indeed; a privilege above any the prerogatives of this present world, in which one man excels another. For every happiness is the more valuable, as it is capable of being made more general. Now the being the mother at our blessed Saviour is what all one sex are absolutely debarred from; and of what all the other sex, but one, are utterly incapable. And it would argue God a very partial, nay a very cruel being, if he should have created so many millions of men and women, and yet have provided so slenderly for them, that only one person, among that infinite number, should be able to attain the greatest honour and happiness to which human nature could ever aspire. But virtue and religious wisdom lie open, and in common, to all. Every man, with the ordinary assistance of grace, and his own faithful endeavours, may get this blessing into his possession. And no man is the less wise, or the less holy, for another's being so; but finds an addition to his own happiness, and a sensible joy, in that of others.—No other happiness is properly our own. The virtue of a child, or a parent, is ours only by reflection. We did not bestow the enjoyments of the present life upon ourselves; nor can we preserve them one moment, but by the permission of the Donor. But virtue and religion are our choice, and the treasures of our own getting: no circumstances, though ever so fortunate, can put them into our possession; none, though ever so miserable, have the power to deprive us of them.—The hearing and keeping of God's word hath the promises both of this life, and that which is to come. In the present life, 'He that heareth Christ's sayings, and doth them, is called the house built upon a rock ;' because this is the only thing that can keep such a one from being the sport of fortune, and secure his hap piness against all the uncertainty of a dangerous and unstable world. And, for the next world, all our hopes turn upon this and such-like gracious declarations: • he that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life; and shall never come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.'—That the blessed Virgin is honourable among the saints above, the Christian Church hath always thought it reasonable to believe : but the cause of all this honour, by all who have thought wisely of the matter, is not imputed to the bearing of our Saviour, in which she was purely passive; so much as in that innocence and piety, which was her own act, and rendered her meet to be chosen for the mother of God.
Let us, then, learn from hence where our happiness lies, and pursue it accordingly; let us consider the honours due to virtue and goodness, and secure them to ourselves. How should we despise the trifling advantages of this present world, in comparison of this only true and valuable one! Or, if we will still be fond of greatness and wealth, let us not suffer our eyes to be dazzled with a false show, but covet that which is substantial honour; and, where this is to be had, the wise son of Sirach hath instructed us: 'Among brethren, he that is chief, is honourable; so are they that fear the Lord, in his eyes. Whether a man be rich, noble, or poor, his glory is the fear of the Lord.' Great men, and judges, and potentates, shall be honoured, yet is there none of them greater than he that feareth the Lord.' If we will still admire a noble descent, and value ourselves upon great families, and being allied to royal blood; let us take care to contract the closest relation to the King of kings: for the Lord of lords, and the supreme Prince of heaven and earth hath said it, that 'whosoever does the will of his Father, the same is his brother, and sister, and mother.' O, incomprehensible honour of faith and obedience^ O blessed consanguinity; to be born of God; to express the image of the Lord Jesus in every thought, and word, and action; and, to be ourselves conformed to him, partakers of his holiness, and his crown.' For the being thus his brethren and children of God is no empty honour, no swelling sounding name, but gives a sure title to his royalties and possessions. For if sons, then are we heirs, heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ; inheritors of a kingdom, a kingdom not like the perishing ones, that so dazzle our eyes here upon earth, but one unspeakably happy and full of glory* that fadeth not away, for ever in the heavens.
THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT.
THE DUTY OF SELF-DENIAL.
Matt, xvi.24. Then saith Jesus to his disciples, If any man will come
after me, let him deny himself.
We arc now in that penitential season, set apart by the wisdom of the Church for the more especial observance of the duty inculcated in the text. I shall, therefore, endeavour in the following discourse, to evince, that the divine wisdom shines not forth more conspicuously in any one precept of the Gospel, than in this, whereby a man is enjoined to deny himself.
The point shall be argued from the nature of man; from the nature of religion; from the influence exerted by the body upon the soul? from the many instances of self-denial practised by the men of the world; and from the rewards annexed to the practice of it among Christians.
I. In the first place, then, be it assumed as a principle, that human nature is in a state of depravity and corruption. Man is not upright. His passions and affections do not naturally move in subordination to the higher principle within him, but are disposed to rebellion. There are in his constitution certain irregular desires, and evil propensities, which are continually breaking forth into action.
For this reason it is, that self-denial is become, as it were, the form and substance of every virtue; for so far as we deny our natural corrupt tempers, so far we seem to advance in virtue. We are so far humble, for instance, as we deny ourselves in the instances of pride; so far heavenly-minded, as we deny our earthly inclinations; so far charitable, as we deny our tempers of self-love and envy; so far temperate and pure, as we deny those appetites, which, if indulged, would render us otherwise; and thus every virtue seems to have its chief foundation in the denial of some corrupt temper of our nature. The matter lies in a narrow compass. Were we upright and