Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

ther people in voluntary expressions of out ward devotion, it too often happens that such perfons are destitute of the substance and reality of religion. They are like the formal complementing fort of people in civil conversation, who commonly have very little in them, and notwithstanding all their smooth outside and appearance, they have neither that solidity nor fincerity which is in many a plain ordinary man..

II. An orthodox profession of the Christian faith. This is another form of religion, which the more knowing and inquisitive sort of men are apt to take up and rest in. And this is that which, in the Jewish religion, the Apostle calls a form of knowledge, and of the truth in the law.

And this is good as far as it goes. But then it must not rest only in the brain, but descend from thence upon the heart and life : otherways a man may have this form of godlines, and yet be a denier of the power of it. St. Paul puts this very case,' that a man may have the theory and knowledge of religion, and yet if it do not produce the fruits of a good life, it is nothing worth, i Cor. xiii. 2. Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have no charity, I am nothing. And the reason is plain, because the knowledge of religion is only in order to the practice of it; and an article or proposition of faith is an idle thing, if it do not produce such actions as the belief of such a proposition doth require.

There are many persons in the world very follicitous about an orthodox belief, and mightily concerned to know what the scriptures, but especially what the councils and fathers, have declared in such a matter ; - and they are nice and scrupulous in these things, even

to the utmost punctilios, and will, with a most unchristian passion, contend for the Christian faith: and yet perhaps all this while they can allow themselves in plain fins, and in the practice of such things as are in scripture as clearly forbidden to be done, as any thing is there commanded to be believed. Whereas religion does not consist so much in nicety and subtilty of beJief, as in integrity and innocency of life ; and the

truest

truest and most orthodox persuasion in matters of religion, is but a mere form and image, if it be not accompanied with an answerable practice; yea, like the image presented to Nebuchadnezzar in his dream, whose head was of fine gold, but the legs and feet were iron and clay.

Not but that a right belief is of great concernment in religion ; but then this belief must be prosecuted in. to the proper and genuine consequences of its upon our lives : if it be not, it is unhappy for men that they believe so well, when they live so ill. The devils have a right faith, St James tells us, they believe and tremble. And indeed none have fo much reason to tremble, as those who believe the principles of religion, and yet are conscious to themselves that they live contrary to them; because of all persons in the world they are the most inexcusable.

III. Another form of religion which many take upon them, is enthusiasm, and pretence to inspiration. And this is a very glorious form, which is apt to dazzle and amuse the ignorant, because they know not what to make of it. It seems to be something strange and extraordinary, and yet it is nothing but what every man that has confidence enough may pretend to.

There is no Christian doubts but that the Spirit of God hath heretofore inspired men in an extraordinary manner, and that he may do so again when he pleases: but since the great and standing revelation of the gospel, we have reason not to be rash in giving heed to such pretences. If those who pretend to inspiration declare nothing but what is revealed in the gospel already, their inspiration is needless ; if they declare any thing contrary thereto, we are sufficiently cautioned a-gainst them ; if any thing besides the revelation of the

gospel, but not contrary to it, then we are to expect what evidence they bring for their inspiration. For God does not inspire men for their own sakes, but for the sake of others; and another man's inspiration is nothing to me, unless he can satisfy me that he is infpired. For either I must believe every one that pretends to inspiration, or those only that can make good their pretence. Not every one, for then I yield up myself to the mercy of every confident man, to lead

me

me into what delufions he pleases. If I believe only thofe who are able to make good this pretence, then am I in no great danger; for nothing less than a miracle can give me reasonable affurance of another man's infpiration; and, I think, few or none of our modern enthufiafts have fo much as pretended to miracles. So that this form of religion is calculated only to impose upon the ignorant, but fignifies little among the steady and considerate fort of people. : Nay, if this pretence were real, yet it may be no more than a form of religion. For the Apoftle: fupposes that men may have the gift of prophecy, and yet want charity, without which they are nothing. And our Saviour tells us, that many shall plead at the day of judgment, Have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name cast out devils, and in thy name done many woxderful works? And yet these very persons, for all this, may be workers of iniquity, and such as our Lord will bid to depart from him.

IV. A great external Thew of mortification :

This the Pharisees of old did much applaud them. selves in, they falted twice a week. "And this is lilla great part of the religion of many in the Romish church; they impose strict penalties and corporal feyerities upon themselves ; abstain from several forts of meats and drinks, watch and afflict their bodies with several fort's of rigours : whereas one severe resolution of a good life, well prosecuted, is a thousand times better than all this.

For experience shews us, that men may be very severe to their bodies, and yet favourable to their lufts. The Pharisees indeed fasted often, but they were ravenous in another kind, they devoured widows' houses, It is possible that men may kill themselves by corporal austerities, and yet never mortify one luit; they may submit to a thousand penances, and yet never truly repent of one sin; they may turn pilgrims and go as far as Jerusalem to visit our Saviour's Sepulchre, and yet never know the power of his death.

Fasting may be a good inftrument of religion; if it be discreetly used; and as it may be used, there may be no religion in it. But as for those other kinds of severities, they are absurd and fuperftitious, and taken

up

up upon a great mistake of the nature of God; as if he were never well pleased, but when we do something very displeasing to ourselves; as if he were extremely delighted in the misery and torment of his creatures; and to be cruel and unmerciful to ourselves, were the only way to move his compassion towards us.'

These are barbarous and heathenish conceits of God; and the absurd practices grounded upon them are no where recommended to us in scripture, nor have any example there, but only in Baal's priests, who lanced and cut themselves, believing that to be a good way to incline their gods to hear them. These are voluntary fuperftitions, which God hath required at no man's hands. And no wise man can doubt, but that he that really mortifies his lusts, and subdues his passions, may be a good man, though he never whipt himself in all his life ; and that he that lives soberly, and righteously, and godly, may justly be accounted religious, without turning vagrant, and rambling idly up and down the world. These are such forins of religion as can have no esteem and reputation, but in a very superstitious, church and age. - V. An imperfect repentance, and partial reformation.

By an imperfect repentance, I mean a trouble and sorrow for fin, without the forsaking of it, and the amendment of our lives; or when, if men do reform in some things, they continue in the love and practice of other sins. This is not true repentance; for he that hath truly repented, is heartily troubled for all his offences against God, and resolved not to commit the like again; but he that retains any lust, and allows himself in the practice of it, is not troubled that he hath offended God, but hath left his fins for some other reason. For what. ever arguments and considerations, respecting God, will move a man to quit any one luft, ought, upon the same account, to prevail with him to abandon all. So that whatever trouble and sorrow a man may pretend for his sins, there is no surer sign of an insincere repentance, than if, after this, he continue in the habitual practice of any known fin. .

VI. The appearance, and oftentation of some particular grace and virtue.

A man

[ocr errors]

A man may be moved by the inclination of his na ture, or upon some interest and design, to the practice of some particular virtue. Some are tender and compassionate in their nature, and that excites them to chiarity; others of quiet and easy dispositions, and that makes them patient, and meek, and peaceable ; others assume one or more virtuous qualities, out of vain-glory, or to serve some other interest. The Pharisees were much in giving alms, because this is a piece of religion universally applauded, and well spoken of; and therefore though they omitted many other ne. ceffary parts of religion, yet they were so cunning that they would not be defective in this ; not out of regard to God, but themselves and their own reputation. For, as our Saviour observes, they did their alms with such circumstances of vain-glory, as quite blasted the glory of thein. They caused a trumpet to be founded before them in the synagogues, and in the streets, that they might be feen of men, and have glory of them.

Now, though the exercise of every grace and virtue be materially a substantial part of religion, yet the practice of one virtue, with the neglect of others, is a shrewd ground of suspicion that it is not virtue but design, that it is not religion but interest which prompts men to it. For if it were religion, and done with regard to God, the very same reason would oblige them to all other parts of their duty as well as that.

VII. A great zeal for fome particular party, or opinions, or circumstances of religion.

This form is frequently assumed, because men find the greatest shelter and protection under it. ' He that declares zealously for a party or opinion, and is fierce and eager against those that oppofe it, feldom fails to gain the reputation of a religious and godly man; because he hath the vote of the whole party, and a great number to cry him up. And if he be guilty of any miscarriage, unless it be very gross and visible, he shall never want those that will apologize for him, and be ready to vindicate him at all turns. Either they will not believe what is reported of him, but impute it to malice ; or they will extenuate it, and ascribe it to hu. man infirmity : but still they cannot but think he is à

re

« VorigeDoorgaan »