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neither are you to think your own salvation secure because you are like the generality of the world.
The foolish virgins that had provided no oil for their lamps, and so were shut out of the marriagefeast, were only thus far foolish, that they trusted to the assistance of those that were wise. But you are more foolish than they; for you trust to be saved by the folly of others; you imagine yourself safe in the negligence, vanity and irregularity of the world. You take confidence in the broad way, because it is broad; you are content with yourself, because you seem to be along with the many, though God himself has told you, that narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Lastly; One word more and I have done: think with yourself what a happiness it is that you
have it in your power to secure a share in the glories of heaven, and make yourself one of those blessed beings that are to live with God for ever. Reflect upon the glories of bright angels, that shine about the throne of heaven; think upon that fullness of joy, which is the state of Christ at the right hand of God; and remember, that it is this same state of glory and joy that lies open for you. You are less, it may be, in worldly distinctions than many others; but as to your relation to God, you have no superior upon earth. Let your condition be what it will, let your life be ever so mean, you may make the end of it the beginning of eternal glory. Be often therefore in these reflections, that they may fill you with a wise ambition of all that glory, which God in Christ hath called you to. For it is impossible to undeystand and feel any thing of this, without feeling your heart aflected with strong desires after it. The hopes and expectations of so much greatness and glory must needs awake you into earnest desires and longings after it. There are many things in human life which it would be in vain for you to aspire after; but the happiness of the next, which is the sum of all happiness, is secure and safe to you against all accidents. Here no chances or misfortunes can prevent your success; neither the treachery of friends, nor the malice of enemies, can disappoint you; it is only your own false heart that can rob you of this happiness. Be but your own true friend, and then you have nothing to fear from your enemies. Do but you sincerely labour in the Lord, and then neither height nor depth, neither life nor death, neither men nor devils, can make your labour in vain.
AM sensible that the title of this little book
will, to the generality of people, seem too high a flight; that it will be looked upon as the effect of a fanatical spirit, carrying matters higher than the sobriety of religion requireth. I have only one thing to ask of such people, that they will suspend their judgment for a while, and be content to read so small a treatise as this is, before they pass any judgment, either upon the merits of the subject, or the temper of the writer.
llad a person, some years ago, in the times of popery, wrote against the worship of images, as a worship absolutely unlawful; our ancestors would have looked upon him as a man of a very irregular spirit. Now it is possible for the present age to be as much mistaken in their pleasures, as the former were in their devotions; and that the allowed diversions of these times may be as great a contradiction to the most essential doctrines of Christianity, as the superstitions and corruptions of the former ages. All therefore that I desire, is only a little freethinking upon this subject; and that people will not as blindly reject all reason, when it examines their pleasures, as some blindly reject all reason, when it examines the nature of their devotions.
It is possible that something that is called a diversion, may be as contrary to the whole nature of religion as any invented superstition, and perhaps more dangerous to those that comply with it. As the worship of images was a great sin, though under a pretence of piety; so the entertainment of the stage may be very sinful, though it is only intended as a diversion.
For if the worship of images did not cease to be sinful, though it was intended for pious purposes; it must be great weakness to imagine, that the entertainment of the stage cannot be any great sin, because it is only used as a diversion.
Yet this is a way of reasoning that a great many people fall into: they say, diversions are lawful; that the stage is only a diversion; that people go to it without meaning any harm, and therefore there can be no sin in it.
But if these people were to hear a man say, that religion is lawful; that the worship of images was an act of religion; that he used images as a means of religious devotion, and therefore there could be no sin in it: they would mightily lament the bigotry and blindness of his mind. Yet surely this is as wise and reasonable as for a person to say, I go to a play only as to a diversion : I mean no harm; and therefore there can be no sin in it. For if practices may be exceedingly sinful, though they are intended for pious ends; certainly practices may be very abominable, though they are only used as diversions.
When therefore we condemn the blindness of some Christian countries, for conforming to such gross corruptions of religion, we should do well to remember, that they have thus much to be pleaded in their excuse, that what they do is under a notion of piety; that it is in obedience to the authority both of church and state, and that they are, at the same time, kept entire strangers to the Scriptures.
But how justly may the same blindness be charged upon us, if it should appear, that without having any of their excuses, our public stated diversions are as contrary to Scripture, and the fundamental doctrines of religion, as any of the grossest instances of superstition? If we hold it lawful to go to wicked, sinful diversious, we are as great strangers to true religion as they who are pleased with buying indulgences, and worship pieces of holy wood.
For a sinful diversion is the same absurdity in religion as a corrupt worship; and it shows the same blindness of mind, and corruption of heart, whether we sin against God in the church, or in closets, or in the playhouse. If there is any thing contrary to religion in any of these places, it brings us under the samne guilt. There may, perhaps, be this difference; that God may be less displeased with such corruptions as we comply with through a blind de· votion, than with such as we indulge ourselves in through a wantonness of mind, and a fondness for diversions.
The matter therefore stands thus: if it should appear that the stage-entertainment is entirely sinful; that it is contrary to more doctrines of Scripture than the worship of images; then it follows, that all who defend it, and take their share of it, are in the same state as they who worship images, and defend drunkenness and intemperance. For to defend, or support any sinful diversion, is the same thing as supporting or defending any other sinful practice. It therefore as much concerns us to know whether our diversions are reasonable and conformable to religion, as to know whether our religion be reasonable, and conformable to truth. For if we allow ourselves in diversions that are contrary to religion, we are in no better a state than those whose religion is contrary to truth.
I have mentioned the worship of images because it is so great a corruption in religion, so contrary to Scripture, and so justly abhorred by all the reform