« VorigeDoorgaan »
always have a prophet at their needs, nor be suffered to go up to the house of the Lord to inquire of the appointed oracles.
I know, my Lord, that there are some interested persons, who add scorn to the afflictions of the church of England, and because she is afflicted by men, call her "forsaken of the Lord;" and because her solemn assemblies are scattered, think that the religion is lost, and the church divorced from God, supposing Christ (who was a man of sorrows) to be angry with his spouse when she is, like him, [for that is the true state of the error] and that he, who promised his Spirit to assist his servants in their troubles, will, because they are in trouble, take away the Comforter from them; who cannot be a comforter, but while he cures our sadnesses, and relieves our sorrows, and turns our persecutions into joys, and crowns, and sceptres. But concerning the present state of the church of England, I consider, that because we now want the blessings of external cómmunion in many degrees, and the circumstances of a prosperous and unafflicted people, we are to take estimate of ourselves with single judgments, and every man is to give sentence concerning the state of his own soul by the precepts and rules of our law-giver, not by the after-decrees and usages of the church; that is, by the essential parts of religion, rather than by the uncertain significations of any exterior adherencies: for though it be uncertain, when
a man is the member of a church, whether he be a member to Christ or no, because in the church's net there are fishes good and bad; yet we may be sure, that, if we be members of Christ, we are of a church to all purposes of spiritual religion and salvation; and, in order to this, give me leave to speak this great truth.
That man does certainly belong to God, who 1. believes and is baptized into all the articles of the Christian faith, and studies to improve his knowledge in the matters of God, so as may best make him to live a holy life. 2. He that, in obedience to Christ, worships God diligently, frequently, and constantly, with natural religion, that is of prayer, praises, and thanksgiving. 3. He that takes all opportunities to remember Christ's death by a frequent sacrament (as it can be had ;) or else by inward acts of understanding, will, and memory (which is the spiritual communion), supplies the want of the external rite. 4. He that lives chastely; 5. And is merciful; 6. And despises the world, using it as a man, but never suffering it to rifle a duty; 7. And is just in his dealing, and diligent in his calling. 8. He that is humble in his spirit, 9. And obedient to government, 10. And content in his fortune and employment. 11. He that does his duty because he loves God; 12. And especially, if, after all this, he be afflicted, and patient, or prepared to suffer affliction for the cause of God: the man that hath these
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 shew these marks, they shall not need be troubled, that others can shew 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 commonwealths, 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 per 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