« PreviousContinue »
SERM. So that here we have in these words,
and holiness on one side, lạid against the joys
2dly, The pleasures of fin in this life com-
And therefore, to carry on this motive of our Saviour's, and render it of as great efficacy as we can ; let us in each of these instances consider the great disproportion between the lofs there is on one hand, and the gain on the other.
1. As to the first then ; the great disproportion between the difficulties of virtue and holiness, and the advantages obtained by them will
appear, if we consider these three things. I. That since it is even possible to secure our innocency and to be virtuous and holy; let the hardships and difficulties be what they will, yet they are nothing to what is gained by them. If it had been utterly impossible for us to attain that virtue and holiness, which is necessary to qualify us for heaven and happiness, then all our reasonable wishes had been that God would only put it in our power ; nay, we had desired no more in order to obtain heaven; and whatever the difficulties were, we should appear willing to undergo them. What is it we should not be willing to do in such a case, in order to procure the everlasting joys of a future state ? Now this
with we have obtained ; it is in our power; and by the unspeakable goodness of God we are
left in the hand of our council ; life and death Serm. is before us, we have a perfect freedom of XXIII. choosing either one or the other; and the worst w we can imagine is what our Saviour supposes here, that we voluntarily undergo some paiñ and uneasiness for the prevention of a Sin.
And therefore, were we all literally to cut off our hands and feet, and that God required we should actually pluck out our eyes to preserve our innocence, yet this would be but a small and easy condition for obtaining those unspeakable joys of another life. Men will do ail this for a little health, and suffer the torture of cutting off their limbs only to prolong their life, and support a finking carcass a few years longer in this world: They will have one simb cut off after another, and die by piecemeal rather than go off all at once. What is more usual than for people to undergo the feverest methods of cure, and endure the fearing, the cutting, and burning of their flesh, in order to their health and easy living a-while longer here!
And if men will do all this for a little health, and to continue perhaps a crazy sickly
, carcass in life, only a few days longer ; then how much rather should they undergo this, to preserve that health and innocence of foul, whichi places them in a condition of entering into the kingdom of God, where there is fulness of joy, and unconceivable pleasures for evermore; nay, if we were to cut off a limb (if it were possible) every day, and pluck out an VOL. II.
Ser m.eye ; yet this would bear no proportion to that XXIII. weight of glory which shall be revealed in us.
Now though this be not required from us in any general precept, and that no one may exercise
such unnatural violence upon himself; yet (as it is with the health of the body) men may fall into such circumstances, that there is no preserving their souls in virtue and innocence, without yielding their members to be cut off, and their very eyes to be plucke out, if the enemies of religion and virtue should make use of these methods of cruelty. If we cannot keep them without à fin, without tranfgreffing some of the commands of God, or denying the faith of Chrift; we must yield them up to the tormentors: All natural affection must cease, even to the members of our own body; and we must cast them from us with indignation, for the effects of wilful and deliberate guilt upon the foul are as real, and of as fatal a consequence, as that of a spreading gangrene in the body, and will as surely prove mortal in the end; and when once it comes to this fatal cafe, there is no other method of cure.
So that then the question is often literally, as our Saviour puts it; whether it be not better to cut off their hands and feet, and pluck out their eyes, or being maimed here, or suffering a painful and violent death to enter into the kingdom of God; than by preserving their life or limbs to be cast into hell fire, where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quench
ed? And accordingly we find many who have S ER M. been actually reduced to this extremity whose XXIII. lots or rather whose great glory and happiness it was, to be thought worthy to suffer for the truth, have made the better choice; to whom this
precept of our Saviour was practicable in its strictert fense: Who having their eyes upon that recompence of reward, in the midit of racks and tortures, have rejoiced in hope of the glory of God.
If it should come to this with us, yet it is no more than what hath been done before us, by those who were tortured not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection ; they were stoned, they were såwn asunder; slain with the fword, were destitute, afflicted, tormented. The histories of the primitive church abound with examples of multitudes who underwent great variety of torments for the faith of Christ, and the preservation of a good conscience; and we need not look far back for large catalogues of martyrs who endured cutting, and racking, and burning, and all that the malice of their enemies could inflict upon them, or the body of man could suffer; and all
upon ciple, that it is better to enter into life maimeds than by sparing their life and limbs to tun the hazard of eternal death.
II. The disproportion between the difficulty of virtue and holiness here, and the joys of heaven, will hereafter appear, if we consider that the difficulty is not fa great as we imagine; for the greatest difficulty in religion M 2
Ser M. (excepting the case of persecution only) is, XXIII. the first curbing our vitious inclinations, and
breaking the force of our evil habits: This indeed is difficult to flesh and blood, for many of those inclinations are now in one sense natural to us; we are shapen in wickedness, and in fin hath our mother conceived us. The evil tendencies of our nature are part of ourselves, which is the reason why they are here exprest by cutting off a hand, or a foot, and plucking out an eye, and they are still more rivetted and confirmed by custom and habits, which are as a second nature to us; and therefore it cannot but be a matter of great difficulty; nay, it is so great, that the fcriptures express it by that of a natural impoflibility, as of the Æthiopian changing of his fkin, and the Leopard his spots : And in truth it is so hard, that is utterly impossible for us by meer natural strength to get over the first difficulty, it is too strong for all the power
of human resolution; and therefore it is, that the supernatural assistance of God's preventing grace is afforded us.
And though we have this, yet our own experience may tell us, what a mighty conflict there is between the flesh and the spirit, between the grace
of God, and our own reason on the one hand, and the law of fin in our members on the other; when we attempt to oppose and contradict the finful appetites of our body, or vitious inclination of our mind, we meet with mighty opposition and reluctances; the temp