« EdellinenJatka »
by the presence of a blackmoor, so the beauty of holiness in a saint, though mixed with blemishes, appears complete, when compared with the foul deformity of sinners. Thus the opposition between them is expressed, “ he destroys the perfect and the wicked.” Job 9. 22. It is recorded of Noah, that “he was a just and perfect man in his generation :" Gen. 6. in an age when wickedness reigned, when chastity was expelled from the number of virtues, and modesty was censured as a vice, when impiety was arrived at the highest pitch, and the deluge was necessary to purge the world from such sinners: then the sanctity and piety of Noah shined as brightness issues from the stars. He appeared perfectly good, compared with the prodigi
2dly. In comparing the saints among themselves, some are styled perfect. There are different degrees among sinners : some are so disposed to wickednes, that they may be denominated from as many vices that possess their souls, * as the evil spirit in the man spoken of in the gospel, answered, his name was Legion, from the number of devils that possessed him. † They drive through all the degrees of sin so violently and furiously, that compared to them, other sinners seem innocent, and are far less obnoxious to judgment.
Thus there are singular saints whose graces are so conspicuous and convincing, and a universal holiness appears in their conversation, as makes them venerable among the vicious: their presence will restrain the dissolute from excesses either in words or actions, as effectually as a magistrate by the terror of his power. Other saints, though sincere, yet there is such a mixture of shades and lights in their actions, that they are in low esteem. Compare meek Moses with the passionate prophet Jonas, who justified his anger to the face of God himself, " I do well to be angry even unto death." We read of Moses, that he was s the meekest man upon the face of the earth :" of this there is recorded a very eminent effect and evidence : when Aaron and Miriam had contumeliously and seditiously spoke against him, as if he had usurped undue authority, “ hath the Lord only spoken by Moses ? hath he not also spoken by us ?” Numb. 12. 2. He might by a sharp reply have confounded them, but he was silent. Several circumstances concur to heighten the value of his victory over himself. There was a double offence, and violation of the respects due to the dignity of his person, and the nearness of the relation: this accusation was public before the congregation of Israel; in the heat of the contention, when there is a great disposition to be fired by anger, when the silent and patient bearing the indignity might be interpreted as a conviction of his guilt, yet he calmly endured their false charge. How great is the disparity between Moses and Jonah ?
* Solus habet scelerum, quicquid possedimus omaet.
Claud, in Ruffinum.
+ In ugo Cæsare multos Marios case,
3dly. In comparing some raiseil acts of grace, with lower in the same kind, there is a perfection attributed to them. * As it is in diamonds, many small ones are not of equal value with one great one, though of equal weight with it: so one act of piety, of faith, of charity, of self-denial, may for its rareness, exemplariness, and efficacy, have such a divine degree of worth in it, that it far excels many less illustrious effects of those graces. As a single act of wickedness may be so extremely evil, so enormously vicious as to exceed many crimes in its pollution and guilt of the same kind. There are some instances of this in scripture: Ahaz in the time of his distress, “ did yet trespass more against the Lord.” Judgments in their nature and God's design are fit means to soften the obdurate, as iron is made malleable by the fire : but to kick against the pricks, to be more stubborn by the infliction of wrath, that should correct men into their duty, is a wickedness so unnatural and prodigious, that it has left a brand of infamy on him for ever:.“ this is that king Ahaz," that desperate rebel against God. The idolatry of Manassah was aggravated with such open contempt of God, that made it infinitely more provoking than the secret idolatry of others. It is related, “ he set a carved image, that he had made, in the house of God, of which God had said to David, and to Solomon his son, in this house will I put my name for ever." He deposed God, and with the boldest defiance set an idol in his throne before his face.
I will produce some instances of the exercise of grace in its radiancy and power, both in doing and suffering.
Abraham received a command, “ take now thy son, thy only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt-offering." How many circumstances with respect to nature and grace, increased the difficulty of his obedience? The command was so hard, God would not permit the fulfilling it. Isaac was the object of his most ardent desires, in whom he lived more dearly than in himself; when his own life was almost expired, and was miraculously renewed in his son, the heir of the promise, in “ whose seed all the nations of the world were to be blessed :" how grievous to human affections, not only to be a spectator, but actor, the priest to offer the sacrifice! Yet “he rose early,” and “ went to the place of which God had told him.” He applied himself without relenting or delay, that would have argued unwillingness, in such a severe trial. He built an altar, bound Isaac, and laid him on the altar, and stretched out his hand to slay him, if he had not been countermanded by a call from heaven. In “ this work was his faith made perfect;" and appears in its exaltation. This was an act so pleasing to God, that he declared his approving and accepting it by a voice from heaven. His obedience to the divine command to leave his country, and go into a strange land, was the excellent effect of his faith in the promise of God, but less illustrious than the offering of his son.
* Facere plurima mediocriter & unum aliquid insigniter. Plin. Ep. 29
The self-denial of Moses was as perfect and admirable in its kind. “ When he was come to years, he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter.” When he understood the value of a crown, with the honours, and riches annexed to it: in the age of youth and strength, when the carnal appetites are vehemently inclined to pleasures, and there was an opportunity of the freest fruition: then he rather chose to suffer “ affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” It is prudent advice not to choose when the passions are in a ferment and disorder : it is like eating meat in a fever, that increases the feverish heat, and destroys the vital. A terrible temptation hinders deliberation, and a free judgment of what is our duty to choose: a pleasant temptation corrupts the mind, that we do not discern the true from the false good. Yet Moses in that time of his life, when the serisual passions are most inHamed and urgent, had his mind so clear and calm, that he deliberately, and with a full choice preferred disgrace, poverty, and persecution, before the variety of attractive delights, that
ravish the carnal senses. Such was the sovereignty of his faith, that it composed the unruly passions, and kept them in obedience.
The patience of Job, is as rare an instance, who was exposed to all the cruelty and arts of the tempter to overcome him. If we consider the nature of his afflictions, and their immediate succession like waves of the sea, that he was suddenly and unexpectedly stripped of his estate, deprived of his children, and his body was covered with loathsome and painful ulcers, that satan was confident his misery would so exasperate his spirit, that he would blaspheme God to his face, yet he blessed him with the most humble reverence and resigned submission to his sovereign will. Add another consideration, when his wife that should have been a comforter, insulted over him, and became a tempter, he repelled her with a holy zeal and constancy. The tempter neither by assaults on his body, nor by treachery in his wife, could prevail. In him “ patience had its perfect work.” It is recorded as the most celebrated instance in that kind : “ you have heard of the patience of Job, and seen the end of the Lord." I shall only add the example of the three Hebrew martyrs, who when the proud and cruel king commanded them to bow to the golden idol, or threatened to cast them into the burning furnace, with unshaken courage exposed themselves to his fury, to preserve their integrity. In them perfect love cast out fear.
4. There is a relative perfection of holiness according to the several conditions of the saints in this life. As in a garden, there
a are trees that produce different fruits, and of different degrees of goodness : the vine, the fig-tree, the apple-tree: if an appletree produce the best fruits in its kind, though not equal to the fruit of the vine, it is perfectly good. Thus in the world there are several conditions of life among men: some are in places of dignity and superiority: others of subjection and service. A servant that is faithful and diligent, “ adorns the gospel," and excels in that relation, and is equally accepted of God, as others in a higher order. He that gained two talents was esteemed as faithful, as he that gained five, because the profit resulting froin the improvement, was in proportion to the stock intrusted with him.
There is a perfection relative to the various spiritual state of christians here. St. John addresses his counsel to christians under several titles, to children, to young men, and fathers, with respect to their different ages in christianity. A child, is perfect in the quality of a child, when he has the stature, the strength, the understanding that is becoming his age, though he is distant from that complete state to which he will arrive in his mature age.
A young man has the perfection proper to his age. A new convert that has such degrees of knowledge and holiness as are suitable to the means and his time of advancement by them, is esteemed complete in that state of grace. Some are entered into the school of heaven, and are in the first lessons of christianity; others have made a higher progress in it, “ to the fulness of the stature.”
Beyond the perfection attainable here, there is an absolute perfection of holiness in the extent of its parts, and intention of degrees : it is our present duty to aspire and endeavour after this, but attained only in heaven, where every saint is renewed into the perfect image of God, and made“ glorious in holiness," the great end of our Saviour's love in dying for us. By gradations christians ascend to that consummate state, the period of perfection.