« VorigeDoorgaan »
twelve signs of grace and predestination, does as certainly belong to God, and is his son, as surely as he is his creature.
And if my brethren in persecution, and in the bonds of the Lord Jesus, can truly show these marks, they shall not need be troubled, that others can show a prosperous outside, great revenues, public assemblies, uninterrupted successions of bishops, prevailing armies, or any arm of flesh, or less certain circumstance. These are the marks of the Lord Jesus, and the characters of a Christian : this is a good religion; and these things God's grace hath put into our powers, and God's laws have made to be our duty, and the nature of men, and the needs of com-monwealths, have made to be necessary. The other accidents and pomps of a church are things without our power, and are not in our choice: they are good to be used, when they may be had, and they help to.. illustrate or advantage it: but if any of them constitute a church in the being of a society and a government, yet they are not of its constitution, as it is Christian, and hopes to be saved.
And now the case is so with us, that we are reduced to that religion, which no man can forbid which we can keep in the midst of a persecution; by which the martyrs, in the days of our fathers, went to heaven; that, by which we can be servants of God, and receive the spirit of Christ, and make use of his comforts, and live in his love, and in
charity with all men: and they that do so, cannot perish.
My Lord, I have now described some general lines and features of that religion, which I have more particularly set down in the following pages : in which I have neither served nor disserved the interest of any party of Christians, as they are divided by uncharitable names from the rest of their brethren; and no man will have reason to be angry with me for refusing to mingle in his unnecessary or vicious quarrels; especially while I study to do him good by conducting him in the narrow way to heaven, without intricating him in the labyrinths and wild turnings of questions and uncertain talkings. I have told what men ought to do, and by what means they may be assisted ; and in most cases, I have also told them why: and yet with as much quickness, as I could · think necessary to establish a rule, and not to engage in homily or discourse. In the use of which rules, although they are plain, useful, and fitted for the best and worst understandings, and for the needs of all men, yet I shall desire the reader to proceed with the following advices.
1. They that will with profit make use of the proper instruments of virtue, must so live, as if they were always under the physician's hand. For the counsels of religion are not to be applied to the distempers of the soul, as men used to take hellebore; but they must dwell together with the spirit of a man,
and be twisted about his understanding for ever : they must be used like nourishment, that is, by a daily care and meditation; not like a single medicine, and upon
the actual pressure of a present necessity. For counsels and wise discourses, applied to an actual distemper, at the best are but like strong smells to an epileptic person; sometimes they may raise him, but they never cure him. The following rules, if they be made familiar to our natures and the thoughts of every day, may make virtue and religion become easy and habitual; but when the temptation is present, and hath already seized upon some portions of our consent, we are not so apt to be counselled, and we find no gust or relish in the precept; the lessons are the same, but the instrument is unstrung or out of tune.
2. In using the instruments of virtue, we must be curious to distinguish instruments from duties, and prudent advices from necessary injunctions; and if by any other means the duty can be secured, let there be no scruples stirred concerning any other helps : only, if they can, in that case, strengthen and secure the duty, or help towards perseverance, let them serve in that station, in which they can be placed. For there are some persons, in whom the Spirit of God hath breathed so bright a flame of love, that they do all their acts of virtue by perfect choice and without objection, and their zeal is warmer, than that it will be allayed by temptation : and to such persons mortification by philosophical instruments, as fasting, sackcloth, and other rudenesses to the body, is wholly useless; it is always a more uncertain means to acquire any virtue, or secure any duty; and if love hath filled all the corners of our soul, it alone is able to do all the work of God.
3. Be not nice in stating the obligations of religion; but where the duty is necessary, and the means very reasonable in itself, dispute not too busily, whether, in all circumstances, it can fit thy particular; but super totam materiam,”
upon the whole, make use of it. For it is a good sign of a great religion, and no imprudence, when we have sufficiently considered the substance of affairs, then to be easy, humble, obedient, apt, and credulous in the circumstances, which are appointed to us, in particular, by our spiritual guides; or, in general, by all wise men in cases not unlike. He that gives alms, does best not always to consider the minutes and strict measures of his ability, but to give freely, incuriously, and abundantly. A man must not weigh grains in the accounts of his repentance; but for a great sin have a great sorrow, and a great severity, and in this take the ordinary advices; though, it may be, a less rigour might not be insufficient: dxgoßodíralov, or arithmetical measures, especially of our own proportioning, are but arguments of want of love and of forwardness in religion; or else are instruments of scruple, and then become dangerous. Use the rule heartily and enough, and there will be no harm in thy error, if any should happen.
4. If thou intendest heartily to serve God, and avoid sin in any one instance, refuse not the hardest and most severe advice, that is prescribed in order to it, though possibly it be a stranger to thee; for whatsoever it be, custom will make it easy.
5. When many instruments for the obtaining any virtue, or restraining any vice, are propounded, observe which of them fits thy person, or the circumstances of thy need, and use it rather than the other; that by this means thou mayest be engaged to watch, and use spiritual arts and observation about thy soul. Concerning the managing of which, as the interest is greater, so the necessities are more, and the cases more intricate, and the accidents and dangers greater and more importunate; and there is greater skill required, than in the securing an estate, or restoring health to an infirm body. I wish all men in the world did heartily believe so much of this, as is true; it would very much help to do the work of God.
Thus, my Lord, I have made bold by your hand to reach out this little scroll of cautions to all those, who, by seeing your honoured names set before my book, shall, by the fairness of such a frontispiece, be invited to look into it. I must confess, it cannot but look like a design in me, to borrow your name and beg your patronage to my book, that, if there be no other worth in it, yet at least it may have the splen