« PreviousContinue »
SERM. And he teaches us here how much it conXXIV. cerns us to undergo some trouble and uneafiness, and quit some present pleasure or profit
, in order to virtue and holiness. For it is better to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. So that here we have these two things,
ist, The hardship and difficulty of virtue on one fide, laid against the joys of heaven on the other. And,
2dły, The pleafures of fin in this life are compared with the torments of hell hereafter.
In each of these I carried on the comparison, and Thewed the great disproportion between them, and consequently the folly of those who take up with the present pleasures, and decline the trouble and uneasiness of virtue. From thence I proceeded to confider the two aggravations of those infernal punishments signified here, by that of their worm not dying, and their fire not being quenched.
And therefore, having already spoke to what was more exprefly contained in the words, and more immediately intended by our Saviour who spoke them ; because they seem to be of farther use and instruction to us all, I shall here make some of those observations and inferences, which follow eafily from them.
I. The first thing I shall observe to you from the words is, the great condescenfion there is to the frail condition of humanity,
even in the strictest and most severe precept ofS R M. christianity; for by our Saviour's giving the XXIV. instance of mortification and self-denial, in cutting off only one of our hands, and plucking out but one of our eyes, he well signifies here, that in order to virtue, and the the Gospel, it is not necessary that we quite extinguish all our natural inclinations and appetites, but that we moderate and restrain them within the due bounds of nature and religion. So that our business is not utterly to destroy, but to rectify them; and this seems to be the reason of that emphasis laid upon fion, as it is in St. Matthew, If thy right eye offend thee, which is an usual form of speech, to express how dear and valuable a thing is to us, and it imports thus much, that though a finful manner of gratifying our natural inclinations should appear more agreeable and pleasant to us, than what our religion hath prescribed, yet we are to check and curb them, and give way to them no farther than is consistent with the law of God.
Were it indispensably required from us, to cut off both our hands, and pluck out both our eyes, (i. e.) so to deface and abolish all the inclinations and appetites of nature, that there shall be no remains of them left, it were indeed a very hard saying, and who could bear it? This is utterly impossible to flesh and blood, for many of them are part of ourselves, and, wholly to root them out would be so far to
Serm. destroy our being; so that if this were the XXIV, meaning, we might all ask who then could be V saved ?
But the Gospel proposeth to us, only, the rectifying all those tendencies of body or mind which follow our being ; to curb and restrain them from those excelles, which they were not originally made for. So that as the Gospel is calculated for the truth and purity of reason, so it is for the first frame and disposition of nature ; though it is from God, yet it is a religion for men ; and at the same time it raises us to an imitation of the divine perfections, it doth it by condescension to the weakness and infirmities of man.
It gives way to the innocent gratification of our natural appetites and inclinations, and there is room left for an innocent enjoyment of all the blessings of this life. So that the ends both of nature and religion may be answered; and in cases.even of the greatest extremity we are to consult our health and safety; if they persecute us in one city, we may flee to another, for are we commanded not to be angry, but rot to sin when we are so, and the state of marriage is not only permitted to avoid fornication, but commended and said to be honourable in all.
And therefore tho e libertines who give way to their lusts upon that principle, and argue the unreasonableness of christianity from this to. jick, as if it's precepts were a direct contra
diction to nature, and therefore required whatS e r M.
And this is one thing which distinguishes
II. Another inference I shall make from these words is, the great necessity of mortifications and self-denials in order to a good degree of virtue and holiness; the words of the text do plainly suppose there are , some temptations so strong, and importunate, that there is no dealing with them any other way; and that they are unconquerable without using such hardships and severities to ourselves, as are here exprest, by cutting off a hand, or plucking out an eye : For though christianity doth not oblige us to any unnatural violences upon ourselves, yet, the conditi
SER M. on of our infirmity is such, and our vitious inXXIV.clinations are fo head-strong and violent, that
they will hardly ever be brought under and subdued, without some methods of severity, and such restraints as give us much uneasiness
It hath been the practice of some people, to decry all mortifications and self-denials in any instances whatsoever, which they do by magnifying the grace of God, as if this were powerful enough to renew us thoroughly in body and soul, to heal all the distempers of our corrupted nature, and set us right in all our inclinations and appetites ; and they have improv'd this notion so far as to flacken all human endeavours, and bring the necessary means of virtue and holiness into contempt, so that even fafting is looked upon as an useless work of supererogation.
I must confess if they could approve themfelves to be holy in all respects, without any thing of this nature, and found that they were strictly upright, and could acquire the virtues of meekness and charity, of temperance and chastity, and devotion, without giving themselves this needless trouble, they would effectu ally confute both us and the scripture, which frequently recommends these methods of severity and self-denial, They ase men of like infirmity with ourselves, and we trụst we have the fpirit of God as well as they, and yet our own experience sufficiently convinces us of the necessity of using those means of virtue, they