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but they cannot conceal themselves from God and conscience, The sincere christian sees his own spots, and the sense of them inclines him to be favourable to those " who are overtaken with a fault.” To overcome our own passions, and meekly to bear the passions of others, is the effect of victorious grace. The deep shadow of humility sets a lustre upon all other graces, and makes them amiable in God's sight.
5. To prefer the testimony of an unreproaching conscience in the sight of God, before the esteem and praise of men, is an argument of excellent grace. There are many whose virtue had never appeared so bright in public view, and gone so far, had not vanity attended it: for the relish of praise, they will do praiseworthy things. Their goodness is defective in the principle; and when the spring is down, their religion is at an end. Their works appear in their true colours, to the enlightened conscience ; for no man can deliberately deceive himself. Now in many instances it is evident, that the judgment of God and of the world are opposite; “that which is highly esteemed among men, is abominable in God's sight; and what is pleasing to God, is despised by men.” Now when a person, with religious constancy, proceeds in the way of holiness, and of universal duty, though he is exposed to the imputation of folly, and consequently the scorn of the world, and will not neglect his duty to preserve his fame, but fully and finally perseveres in his obedience to God, he is a confirmed saint : for it is evident he loves goodness for its own sake, without mercenary mixtures ; and despises all temporal respects that are inconsistent with it. The apostle declares, “ it is a small thing with me to be judged by man's judgment:" his ambitious labour was to be accepted of the Lord, whose favourable testimony of his fidelity, would be his eternal honour before the glorious and immense theatre of angels and men at the great day. He chose to be among God's treasures, though despised as the offscouring of the world. The inward testimony of conscience, which is the sweetest friend or sorest enemy, is incomparably more valuable, and to be preferred before all the painted air, the vain applause of this world. It was Job's resolution, when his undiscerning and severe friends taxed him for hypocrisy, “ my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live." There is such a convincing evidence of this rule to judge men by, that the Roman philosopher says, * 'whoever despises the fame and reputation of a good man, to preserve his conscience inviolate, has attained to an heroic degree of goodness.'
6. The serious, constant and delightful performance of religious duties in secret, is a sure testimony of a holy and heavenly spirit. The duties of prayer and praise in society, are performed many times from custom, and false respects to the eyes of men; and are fashionable without the exercise of holy affections, the life of those duties. Our Saviour tells us, “ that the light of the body is the eye ; if thine eye be evil, thy whole body is full of darkness :” without purity of intention, our religion, though varnished with a specious appearance, is vain. But the exercise of religion concealed from public view, is not liable to the temptations of vanity. Our Saviour commands us to“ pray in secret, and he that sees in secret shall reward us openly.” The secrecy contributes to the free exercise of holy affections in that duty. The prophet Jeremiah tells the obstinate Jews, “if ye will not hear, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride, and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the Lord's flock is carried away into captivity.” Jer. 13. 17. His sorrow was not counterfeit or shallow, but eyes and heart were engaged; the privacy contributed to the measure.
It is true, there may be formality in secret duties; a prayer may be repeated in the closet without reverence and solemnity, without a holy heat of desires, as if the bodily service were accepted: but such worship, instead of propitiating God, provokes his displeasure. Heaven is brass to all cold petitioners, their prayers cannot pierce through it. It is observable, that secrecy is a counsellor and incentive to a vicious person to do evil: he chooses the silent and dark night as the fittest season: when he is secure no ray of light can discover what is done, he is effectually tempted to satisfy his lusts. On the contrary, a real saint chooses to serve God in secret; for then he glorifies him as God, the inspector and judge of the heart, and the privacy of his worship is to conscience an evidence of his sincerity, and of an excellent degree of grace. Constancy is requisite in the performance of religious duties in secret. Many when they feel pre
• Boni viri fawan propter conscientiam. Sen.
sent pain, or fear imminent dangers, will address their requests to God in secret; but when freed from trouble, they neglect their duty. But prayer is a duty of daily revolution; the natural life may be as well preserved without breathing, as the spiritual without prayer. And since we have always peculiar wants, and are often surprised with new necessities, which are not fit to be discovered to others, we should esteem the precept to be our privilege, to present ourselves to our heavenly Father, and to pour forth our souls into his bosom, with an assurance of his gracious hearing our requests.
Some by the constraint of natural conscience dare not omit secret devotion : but they are brought to it as a troublesome task, and are glad when it is done. These are in the state of carnal nature. But when there is a sympathy between the heart and the duty, and the sweetness of paradise is tasted in communion with God, it is an evidence that the divine nature is prevalent. Those happy souls are in heaven already: for in heaven there is an everlasting tenor of serving and praising God. In short, internal religion is the immediate and unfeigned issue of the soul, “whose praise is not of men,” that cannot by their most searching sight dive into the heart; but of God, who is the maker and searcher of the heart. Briefly, as between friends, conversation increases love, and love increases conversation, so between God and a saint, communion increases love, and love communion,
7. To forgive injuries, and overcome evil with good,” discovers a christian to be divinely excellent. Love is the brightest beam of the divine beauty, wherein God doth most delight and excel. The returning good for evil is the noblest effect of love, wherein our nearest resemblance of God consists. We have the example of it in the highest degree of perfection in our suffering Saviour. If ever any one had a right to revenge injuries, our Saviour had. His innocence was entire, nay, his beneficent goodness to his enemy was infinitely obliging: the miseries he suffered were extreme, a death equally ignominious and cruel : the dignity of his person was truly infinite. Yet in the extremity of his sufferings, when the sense of injuries is most quick and exasperating, in the midst of their scornful insultings, he earnestly prayed for their pardon; “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” Luke 23. He might have called upon the righteous judge of the world, the revenger of oppressed innocence, to have destroyed them by fire from heaven : but he addresses his request by that title that was most endearing him to God, “ Father forgive them,” it is the desire of thy son, dying in obedience to thy will, “ they know not the greatness of their guilt.” Now the more we are conformed to our meek and forgiving Saviour, the more we approach to perfection. And the more the corrupt nature in us is provoked, and fierce upon revenge, the doing good for evil is the more sure proof of excellent virtue, and clear victory over ourselves.
8. The more receptive persons are of spiritual counsel and admonition, for the preventing or recovery from sin, they are the more holy. It is David's desire, “ let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness; and let him reprove me, it shall be an excellent oil which shall not break my head.” Psal. 141. 5. There is no counsel so truly valuable, as that which proceeds from wisdom and love in matters of importance. If a friend discovers by indications and symptoms, a disease that insensibly has seized on us, does not his compassionate advice endear him to us ? How much rather should we meekly and thankfully receive a prudent and seasonable reproof of a spiritual friend, for the healing our souls, whose diseases are far more dangerous, and less discernible than those of the body. It is the most sacred and beneficial office of friendship, and like the compassionate love of the angel to Lot, in leading him out of Sodom. And as the most excellent metal gold, is most pliant and easily wrought on, so the most excellent tempers are most receptible of holy counsel.
Yet the natural man is very averse from a meek submission to reproof for sin. A vicious self-love, of which pride is the production, makes us to overvalue our reputation : now to reprove, implies a superiority, which occasions impatience and disdain. Though the duty be performed with prudence and tenderness, and respective modesty, yet it is usually very unacceptable. Men will excuse and extenuate, and sometimes defend their sins; nay, sometimes recoil with indignation upon a faithful reprover. It is as dangerous to give an admonition to some proud spirits, as it is to take a thorn out of a lion's foot. It is therefore evident, that when a just reproof is received with meekness and acceptance, there is a great love of holiness, as when one takes a very unpleasant medicine, it argues an earnest desire of health. He
is an excellent saint, that when conscience has not by its direc. tive office prevented his falling into sin, and a sincere friend endeavours to restore him, is not angry at the reproof, but sorry he deserves it.
Lastly, The deliberate desire of death, that we may arrive at the state of perfect holiness, is the effect of excellent grace, There is no desire more natural and strong, than of the enjoyment and continuance of life: there is no fear more insuperable, than of certain and inevitable death. Those who do not fear it at a distance, are struck with terrors at the aspect and approaches of it. Carnal men, whose heaven is here, at the fearful apprehensions and foresight of it, are ready to sink into despair. Nay, holy men, who have the prospect of celestial happiness beyond death, and believe that the pangs of death are throws for their deliverance to eternal life, are apt to shrink at the thoughts of their dissolution. If the change from an earthly to a heavenly state, were not by our “ being unclothed,” but “to be clothed upon with glory," (which St. Paul declares to be the desire of nature) the hopes of seeing Christ in his glory, and being transformed into his likeness, would so inflame their affections, that they would be impatient of being absent from him. But the necessity of dying, that we may ascend into his reviving presence, is so bitter, that divine grace is requisite to induce us to consent to it. St. Peter was an ardent lover of Christ, and appeals to our Saviour's omnisciency for a testimony of it, « Lord, thou that knowest all things, knowest that I love thee;" yet our Saviour immediately tells him, “ when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch out thy hands, and another shall carry thee where thou wouldest not," signifying his death, the circumstances, “ when thou art old," implies an unwillingness to die, when the natural term of life was near expiring. Yet Peter had been a spectator of our Saviour's glorious transfiguration, and of his triumphant ascent to heaven from mount Olivet. The best of us have reason to join in the language and desire of the spouse, “ draw us to thy blessed presence, and we will run after thee :" so strong is the band of natural love, that fastens the soul and body, and such a reluctancy there is against a dissolution. But St. Paul declares, “I desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ, which is far better :" he was contented to live for the service of Christ, but desirous to die to enjoy his presence in the