all other cases it is superstition or folly, it is sin or punishment, the ivy of religion, and the misery of an honest and a weak heart; and is to be cured only by reason and good company, a wise guide and a plain rule, a cheerful spirit and à contented mind, by joy in God according to the commandments, that is, "a rejoicing evermore."

2. But, besides this superstitious fear, there is another fear directly criminal, and it is called "worldly fear," of which the Spirit of God hath said, "But the fearful and incredulous shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death;"* that is, such fears, which make men to fall in the time of persecution, those that dare not own their faith in the face of a tyrant, or in despite of an accursed law. For though it be lawful to be afraid in a `storm, yet it is not lawful to leap into the sea; though we may be more careful for our fears, yet we must be faithful too; and we may fly from the persecution till it overtakes us; but when it does, we must not change our religion for our safety, or leave the robe of baptism in the hand of the tempter, and run away by all means. St. Athanasius, for forty-six years did run and fight, he disputed with the Arians and fled from their officers; and he that flies, may be a man worth preserving, if he bears his faith along with him, and leaves nothing of his duty behind. But when duty and life cannot stand together, he that then flies a persecution by delivering up his soul, is one that hath no charity, no love to God, no trust in promises, no just estimation of the rewards of a noble contention. "Perfect love casts out fear" (saith the Apostle ;) that is, he that loves God, will not fear to die for him, or for his sake to be poor. In this sense, no man can fear man and love God at the same time; and when St. Lawrence triumphed over Valerianus, St. Sebastian over Dioclesian, St. Vincentius over Dacianus, and the armies of martyrs over the proconsuls, accusers, and executioners, they showed their love to God by triumphing over fear, and “leading captivity captive," by the strength of their Captain, whose "garments were red from Bozrah.”

3. But this fear is also tremulous and criminal, if it be a trouble from the apprehension of the mountains and difficulties of duty, and is called pusillanimity. For some see themselves

* Rev. xxi. 8.

encompassed with temptations, they observe their frequent falls, their perpetual returns from good purposes to weak performances, the daily mortifications that are necessary, the resisting natural appetites, and the laying violent hands upon the desires of flesh and blood, the uneasiness of their spirits, and their hard labours, and therefore this makes them afraid; and because they despair to run through the whole duty, in all its parts and periods, they think it as good not to begin at all, as after labour and expense to lose the jewel and the charges of their venture. St. Augustine compares such men to children and fantastic persons, affrighted with phantasms and spectres; "terribiles visu formæ," the sight seems full of horror; but touch them, and they are very nothing, the mere daughters of a sick brain and a weak heart, an infant experience and a trifling judgment: so are the illusions of a weak piety, or an unskilful confident soul: they fancy to see mountains of difficulty; but touch them, and they seem like clouds riding upon the wings of the wind, and put on shapes as we please to dream. He that denies to give alms for fear of being poor, or to entertain a disciple for fear of being suspected of the party, or to own a duty for fear of being put to venture for a crown; he that takes part of the intemperance, because he dares not displease the company, or in any sense fears the fears of the world, and not the fear of God,-this man enters into his portion of fear betimes, but it will not be finished to eternal ages. To fear the censures of men, when God is your judge; to fear their evil, when God is your defence; to fear death, when he is the entrance to life and felicity, is unreasonable and pernicious; but if you will turn your passion into duty, and joy, and security, fear to offend God, to enter voluntarily into temptation; fear the alluring face of lust, and the smooth entertainments of intemperance; fear the anger of God, when you have deserved it; and, when you have recovered from the snare, then infinitely fear to return into that condition, in which whosoever dwells, is the heir of fear and eternal sorrow.

Thus far I have discoursed concerning good fear and bad, that is, filial and servile: they are both good, if by servile we intend initial, or the new beginning fear of penitents; a fear to offend God upon less perfect considerations: but servile fear is vicious, when it still retains the affection of slaves, and

when its effects are hatred, weariness, displeasure, and want of charity and of the same cognations are those fears, which are superstitious, and worldly.

But to the former sort of virtuous fear, some also add another, which they call angelical, that is, such a fear as the blessed angels have, who before God hide their faces, and tremble at his presence, and "fall down before his footstool," and are ministers of his anger and messengers of his mercy, and night and day worship him with the profoundest adoration. This is the same that is spoken of in the text: "Let us serve God with reverence and godly fear;" all holy fear partakes of the nature of this which divines call angelical, and it is expressed in acts of adoration, of vows and holy prayers, in hymns and psalms, in the eucharist and reverential addresses; and, while it proceeds in the usual measures of common duty, it is but human; but as it rises to great degrees, and to profection, it is angelical and Divine; and then it appertains to mystic theology, and therefore is to be considered in another place; but, for the present, that which will regularly concern all our duty, is this, that when the fear of God is the instrument of our duty, or God's worship, the greater it is, it is so much the better. It is an old proverbial saying among the Romans," Religentem esse, oportet; religiosum, nefas ;" "Every excess in the actions of religion is criminal;" they supposing, that, in the services of their gods, there might be too much. True it is, there may be too much of their undecent expressions; and in things indifferent, the very multitude is too much, and becomes an undecency and if it be in its own nature undecent or disproportionable to the end, or the rules, or the analogy, of the religion, it will not stay for numbers to make it intolerable; but in the direct actions of glorifying God, in doing any thing of his commandments, or any thing which he commands, or counsels, or promises to reward, there can never be excess or superfluity: and therefore, in these cases, do as much as you can; take care that your expressions be prudent and safe, consisting with thy other duties; and for the passions or virtues themselves, let them pass from beginning to great progresses, from man to angel, from the imperfection of man to the perfections of the sons of God; and, whenever we go beyond the bounds of nature, and grow

up with all the extension, and in the very commensuration of a full grace, we shall never go beyond the excellences of God: for ornament may be too much, and turn to curiosity; cleanness may be changed into niceness; and civil compliance may become flattery; and mobility of tongue may rise into garrulity; and fame and honour may be great unto envy; and health itself, if it be athletic, may by its very excess become dangerous: but wisdom, and duty, and comeliness, and discipline, a good mind, and the fear of God, and doing honour to his holy name, can never exceed: but if they swell to great proportions, they pass through the measures of grace, and are united to felicity in the comprehensions of God, in the joys of an eternal glory.




The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.—Matt. xxvi. 41; latter part.

[ocr errors]

FROM the beginning of days, man hath been so cross to the Divine commandments, that in many cases there can be no reason given, why a man should choose some ways, or do some actions, but only because they are forbidden. When God bade the Israelites rise and go up against the Canaanites and possess the land, they would not stir; the men were Anakims, and the cities were impregnable; and there was a lion in the way: but, presently after, when God forbade them to go, they would and did go, though they died for it. I shall not need to instance in particulars, when the whole life of man is a perpetual contradiction; and the state of disobedience is called the "contradictions of sinners;" even the man in the Gospel, that had two sons, they both crossed him, even he that obeyed him, and he that obeyed him not: for the one said he would, and did not; the other said he would

[ocr errors]

not, and did ; and so do we: we promise fair, and do nothing; and they that do best, are such as come out of darkness into light, such as said "they would not," and at last have better bethought themselves. And who can guess at any other reason, why men should refuse to be temperate? For he that refuseth the commandment, first does violence to the commandment, and puts on a preternatural appetite; he spoils his health and he spoils his understanding; he brings to himself a world of diseases and a healthless constitution; smart and sickly nights; a loathing stomach and a staring eye, a giddy brain and a swelled belly, gouts and dropsies; catarrhs and oppilations. If God should enjoin men to suffer all this, heaven and earth should have heard our complaints against unjust laws, and impossible commandments : for we complain already, even when God commands us to drink so long as it is good for us; this is one of the impossible laws: it is impossible for us to know when we are dry, or when we need drink; for if we do know, I am sure it is possible enough, not to lift up the wine to our heads. And when our blessed Saviour hath commanded us to love our enemies, we think we have so much reason against it, that God will easily excuse our disobedience in this case; and yet there are some enemies, whom God hath commanded us not to love, and those we dote on, we cherish and feast them, and as St. Paul in another case," upon our uncomely parts we bestow more abundant comeliness." For whereas our body itself is a servant to our soul, we make it an heir of all things, and treat it here already, as if it were in majority; and make that, which at the best was but a weak friend, to become a strong enemy; and hence proceed the vices of the worst, and the follies and imperfections of the best: the spirit is either in slavery or in weakness, and when the flesh is not strong to mischief, it is weak to goodness; and even to the apostles our blessed Lord said, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."


"The spirit," that is, o ow vegwus," the inward man," or the reasonable part of man, especially as helped by the Spirit of grace, that is willing; for it is the principle of all good actions, the vegynrixòv, the power of working' is from the spirit; but the flesh is but a dull instrument, and a broken arm, in which there is a principle of life, but it moves uneasily; and the flesh is so weak, that in Scripture to be "in

« VorigeDoorgaan »