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also: for according to the tenor of these spiritual laws, a bad intention unconsecrates the best actions, and converts even our prayers and our alms into the most loathsome cheats and dissimulations, (vid. Matt. vi. 146. 16, 17, 18.) And as they oblige our inward intentions to good ends, so they also restrain our inward concupiscence from evil objects, so far forth at least as it falls under the command and disposal of our wills. For they not only forbid us the doing of evil actions, but also the consenting to them, and even the taking pleasure in the contemplation of them; and the very affection to any bad action, if it be voluntary and consented to, is, in the construction of these laws, the same with the commission of it; for so hatred is construed murder, 1 John iii. 15. covetousness, theft or robbery, Mark vii. 22. inordinate lusting after a woman, adultery, Matt. v. 28.
in general the wicked will is, in the construction of these laws, the wicked action it chooses and consents to. Thus the laws of our Saviour (to whose all-seeing eye our inmost motions are as obvious as our most open practice) do as well take notice of our vicious affections, those internal springs and fountains of iniquity, as of the vicious actions which stream out from them; and we are as well accountable to them for harbouring the desire of sin, when we have not the convenience or opportunity to act it, for consenting to it (though we never commit it) whenever opportunity occurs, yea, and for indulging to ourselves the phantastic pleasures of sinful meditations, which are but the antepasts of the actions, and, as the twilight to a dark night, but the first approaches toward the deeds of darkness, as for the sinful actions themselves. This therefore
is the common nature of the laws of our Saviour, that they are all of them spiritual, and do in the first place lay hold upon our wills, and bind our inward man, and from thence extend their obligation to the outward actions. They begin with that which is the principle of all moral good and evil, and by rectifying the spring and wheels of our will and affections within, communicate a regular motion to the hand of our practice without.
But, for our better understanding the nature of these laws, and the obligations they devolve upon us, it will be necessary to consider them more particularly, they being all reducible under two heads; first, the law of perfection; and secondly, the law of sincerity. Both which require of us the same instances of piety and virtue, though not in the same degree, nor under the same penalty.
1. There is the law of perfection, which requires the utmost degrees of every Christian virtue which in the several states and periods of our lives we are capable of attaining to. For so we are enjoined, not only to do, but to abound in the work of the Lord; not only to have grace, but to grow in it; to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord; and to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. For the nature of God is the standard of that perfection whereunto we are obliged to aspire, and our growth in piety and virtue is never to come to a period, till we are pure as he is pure, and holy as he is holy, i.e. till we are arrived to infinite holiness, which because our finite nature can never do in any period of duration, therefore we are to be growing on to eternity. So that this law, by prescribing no limits to the degrees of our growth, hath cut out work
enough for us to employ all our faculties for ever. Not that it is a sin against it for a man to be short or defective of the utmost degree of perfection ; for it requires no more of us than what is within our present possibility, which always increases proportionably to our present improvements. When we are arrived but to one degree of virtue, it is no sin against this law of perfection that we do not thence immediately ascend to six or seven, because it is not in our power, and no law can oblige to an impossibility; but when we have acquired one, that gives us power to acquire a second, and that a third, and so on ad infinitum. Thus our obligation to be more and more perfect increases proportionably to the improvement of our power; for the end of all power either to be good or to do good, is to be good and to do good; and therefore the more power we have to be good, the better we ought to be, otherwise our power is in vain. While we are but babes in Christ, or beginners in religion, we have not that strength and power as when we are men, and have made a considerable progress; and therefore we are not then obliged to all those degrees of growth and perfection; but whatsoever degree is within our power in the different stages of our growth and progress, that we are actually and immediately obliged to; and so long as we are defective in it, we are offenders against the law of perfection. As for example, Mark xii. 30. our Saviour commands us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength ; that is, that we should always love him as much as we can : but it is as much in our power to love him still more, when we love much, as when we love him little: and so we are equally bound still to love him as much as we can, when we have ten degrees of power, as we were when we had but one. So that by this command we are obliged always to love God as much as we are able, and thereby to be always augmenting our ability to love him; and aş our ability increases, to be always loving him more and more for
Now the penalty by which this law obliges us is not eternal damnation, (and God forbid it should, for then I doubt no flesh would be saved,) but only the deprivation of some degrees of future happiness, which is no more than what is the natural consequence of all defects of goodness; for so essential is goodness to our future happiness, that proportionably as we fall short of the one, we must necessarily be defective of the other; and accordingly the scripture tells us, that proportionably to our non-improvements in this life, God will substract from our reward in the life to come : for he that soweth sparingly, saith the apostle, shall reap sparingly, and he that soweth abundantly shall reap abundantly, 2 Cor. ix. 6. And our Saviour by a parable doth expressly teach us, that our future reward shall be apportioned to the degrees of our present improvements, Luke xix. where he represents himself as a master coming to take account of his servants, among whom he had intrusted a stock of ten pounds, delivering to every one an equal share. The first, by an extraordinary diligence, had improved his pound into ten; and he is rewarded accordingly with the government of ten cities, verse 16, 17. the other had been faithful, though not altogether so diligent, and by his one pound had gained five, and accordingly he is made lord of five cities, verse 18, 19. By which he plainly declares, that by so much as we fall short of those improvements we might have made in piety and virtue, so much he will substract from our future reward. So that the sense of the law of perfection is this; As you would not incur the forfeiture of some degrees of your happiness in the other life, be sure you employ your utmost diligence in this, to improve yourselves in every grace and virtue of religion.
2. There is the law of sincerity, which requires the being and reality of all Christian graces and virtues in us, together with the proper acts and exercises of them, as we have opportunity, and doth no farther forbid those gradual defects of them, which are within our possibility to supply, than as they are the effects of our gross, continued, and wilful neglect, and so inconsistent with sincerity. Now the reality of these Christian virtues in us consists in the universal and prevailing consent and resolution of our wills to regulate our practice by them, so as not wilfully to admit of any thing that is contrary to them upon any occasion or temptation whatsoever : and so long as this resolution continues firm, and prevails in our practice, we are just in the eye and judgment of this law of sincerity, though we do not always exert it to the utmost of our possibility. He therefore who hath so submitted his will to God, as to be throughly resolved, without any reserve, to obey him, and not to do any thing that is contrary to his will, either against knowledge, or through affected ignorance, or inconsideration, hath in this resolution the real being of all Christian virtues in him: and so long as this holds, he stands uncon