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that make men miserable in themselves, and vexatious to others, is the highest pitch to which this heathen philosophy pretends. They had some glimmering confused notions of their duty towards God, but like the thin appearance of some stars in a dark night, without efficacy.
But the gospel reveals our duty so as it may be clearly known, and strongly impressed on us. There are various duties in the compass of a christian's practice, and it is an advantage to have them reduced to some comprehensive heads, that may bring them often to our minds. The apostle gives us the bright sum of our duty: “the grace of God that brings salvation, hath appeared unto all men, teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live godly, righteously and soberly in the present world.” There is no rule more extensive and influential in the life of a christian, “ than to walk worthy of God,” becoming our relation to him as our heavenly Father, and our union with his Son as our spiritual head, and the supernatural happiness revealed in his word. We are commanded “ to walk circumspectly and exactly, not as fools but as wise." Sometimes there is a particular enumeration of our duties : “ finally brethren, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, any praise, think on these things."
From what has been said of the obligation of the evangelical rule, it is evident how destructive the doctrine of the church of Rome is, that many things prescribed in the gospel, are counsels of perfection, not universal laws. A doctrine fatally fruitful of many pernicious consequences : of spiritual pride, the poison of the soul. They depress the divine law, while they assert a more excellent holiness in uncommanded works, and they exceed the rule in matters of supererogation. It induces slothfulness : for they securely allow themselves in the neglect of their duty, and not only contradict the gospel in their practices, but supplant it in their principles. And as they relax our obligation to the precepts of the law, so by other doctrines they release men from the fear of the sanction and penalty: for the doctrine of purgatory takes away the fear of hell, and the doctrine of indulgences the fear of purgatory.
2. The gospel propounds to us examples of perfection to raise us to the best height.
(1.) We are commanded to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.” There are some attributes of God, that are not the object of our desires and imitation, but of our highest reverence and veneration. Such are his eternity, immensity, omnipotence, immutability, There are other attributes, his moral perfections, that are imitable: holiness, goodness, justice, truth ; which are purely and fully declared in his law, and visibly in the works of providence. This command, as was before explained, is to be understood, not of an equality, but resemblance. He is essentially, transcendently and unchangeably holy, the original of holiness in understanding creatures. There is a greater disproportion between the holiness of God, and the unspotted holiness of the angels, than between the celerity of the motion of the sun in the heavens, and the slow motion of the shadow upon the dial that is regulated by it. It should be our utmost aim, our most earnest endeavour to imitate the divine perfection. As wax is to the seal, so is the spirit of man to his end, the same characters are engraved in it. The soul is Godlike, when the principal leading powers, the understanding and will, are influenced by him.
The heathen deities were distinguished by their vices, intemperance, impurity, and cruelty, and their idolaters sinned boldly under their patronage. The true God commands us, “ to be holy, as God is holy; to be followers of him as dear children;" for love produces desires and endeavours of likeness.
(2.) The life of Christ is a globe of precepts, a model of perfection, set before us for our imitation. This in some respect is more proportionable to us; for in him were united the perfections of God, with the infirmities of a man.
He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” His purity was absolute, and every grace in the most divine degree was expressed in his actions. His life and death were a compounded miracle of obedience to God, and love to men. Whatever his Father ordered him to undertake, or undergo, he entirely consented to: “ he willingly took on him the form of a servant;" it was not put upon him by compulsion. In his life, humility towards men, infinite descents below him, self-denial, zeal for
the honour of God, ardent desires for the salvation and welfare of men, were as visible as the flame discovers fire. In his sufferings, obedience and sacrifice were united. The willingness of his spirit was victorious over the repugnance of the natural will in the garden ; “not my will, but thine be done,” was his unalterable choice. His patience was insuperable to all injuries : he was betrayed by a disciple for a vile price, and a murderer was preferred before him : he was scorned as a false prophet, as a feigned king, and deceitful Saviour: he was spit on, scourged, crowned with thorns, and crucified; and in the height of his sufferings never expressed a spark of anger against his enemies, nor the least degree of impatience, that might lessen the value of his obedience. Now consider, it was one principal reason of his obedience, to instruct and oblige us to conform to his pattern, the certain and constant rule of our duty. We may not securely follow the best saints, who sometimes through ignorance and infirmity, deviate from the narrow way; but our Saviour " is the way, the truth, and the life.” What he said after his washing the disciples' feet, (an action wherein there was such an admirable mixture of humility and love, that it is not possible to conceive which excelled ; for they were both in the highest perfection) “ I have given you an example, that what I have done to you, so do you," is applicable to all the kinds of virtues and graces exhibited in his practice. He instructs us to do by his doings, and to suffer by his sufferings.
“ He suffered for us, leaving an example, that we may follow his steps.” 1 Pet. 2. He levels the way, and makes it like a carpet, by going before us. Those duties which are very harsh to sensible nature, he instructs us in, by his preaching, and by his passion. How can we decline them, when performed by him, in whom the glorious Deity was personally united to the tender humanity? His life was a continual lecture of mortification. It is the observation of the natural historian, * that the tender providence of nature is admirable, in preparing medicines for us in beautiful fragrant flowers, that we might not refuse the remedy, as more distasteful than our diseases. But how astonishing is the love of God, who sent his Son for our redemption from eternal death, and in his example has sweetened those remedies that are requisite for the cure of our distempered passions! the taking up the cross, submitting to poverty and persecution, are made tolerable, by considering that in enduring them, we follow our Redeemer. Can any motive more engage and encourage our obedience, than the persuasive pattern, so commandingly exemplary, of our sovereign and Saviour? Can we be averse from our duty, when our Lawgiver teaches us obedience by his own practice? * Can any invitation be more attractive, than to do that for love to him, which he did for love to us and our salvation ? We are his subjects by the dearest titles, and our own consent; we are dedicated to his honour; and as the apostle tells the Galatians, “ if you are circumcised, you are debtors to keep the whole law;" by the same reason if we are baptized, we are obliged to obey the law of faith; to order our lives according to the doctrine and example of Christ. An unholy christian, is a contradiction so direct and palpable, that one word destroys another; as if one should say, a living carcass, or a cold calenture. We must adorn the gospel of Christ by the sacred splendour of our actions. An innocent life from gross notorious sins, is a poor perfection; we must show forth the virtues of him, “ who has called us to his kingdom and glory." Men usually observe what is eminently better, or extremely worse, in any kind : the excellent goodness of christians recommends the goodness of the gospel, and convinces infidels, that it came from the fountain of good
* Visu ipso animos invitavit etiam deliciis auxilia per miscens. Plin. l. 2?.
The primitive christians endured the fiery trial with insuperable constancy; and the most powerful argument that inspired their courage, despising life and death, was, that Christ was their leader in those terrible conflicts; he was their spectator, † when they encountered fierce beasts, and fiercer tyrants, for the defence of his truth, and glory of name; and while they were suffering for him, he was preparing immortal crowns for them This
* Dominus & deus noster quicquid docuit fecit, ut discipulus excusatus esse non possit, qui discit & nou facit. Cypr. Ep. 56. 6. 1.
+ Si vos acies vocaverit, si certaminis vestri dies venerit, militate fortiter dimnicate constanter, scientes vos sub oculis presentis domini dimicare, & confessione nominis ejus, ad ipsius gloriam pervenire. Quis non pretiosam in conspectu domioi mortem non fortiter & con-tanter excipiat, placiurus ejus oculis qui nos in confessione nominis sui de super spectans, volentes comprobat, ad juvat dimicantes, vincentes coronat. Cypre
St. Cyprian, in his pastoral letters to the christians in Africa, represents with such powerful eloquence, that kindled in their breasts a love to Christ " stronger than death.”
(3.) The angels are propounded to us as a pattern for our imitation. Our Saviour directs our desires, that “the will of God may be done in earth, as it is done in heaven.” The will of God is either decretive or preceptive: the decretive extends to all events; nothing falls out at random, nothing by rash chance and casuality, but all things come to pass “according to the counsel of his will;” by his efficiency or permission. The preceptive will of God is the rule of our duty: “This is the will of God, even your sanctification :" this is intended here ; for it is to be performed in conformity to the obedience of the angels. But it is comprehensive of our resigned submission to the will and wisdom of God in the disposals of providence, as well as to our active subjection to his commands: we are equally obliged to acknowledge and honour his sovereignty and dominion in ordering all things, as to vield obedience to his sovereignty declared in his laws. The psalmist addresses himself to the angels, as our pattern; “ Bless the Lord ye his angels that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word.” The angels are the eldest offspring of God's power, glorious, heavenly and immortal spirits. The title of angels signifies their office; their nature we do not fully know. We can tell what they are not, “not flesh nor blood ;” but negatives do not afford knowledge. It is not knowledge to declare what things are not, but what they are. Their excellency is discovered in scripture, in that the bighest degree of our perfection is expressed by likeness to the angels. The perfection of beauty in Stephen is set forth, “ They saw his face as the face of an angel.” Acts 6. 15. Excellent wisdom in David; “My lord the king is wise as an angel of God." 2 Sam. 14. 20. Perfect eloquence; “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels." I Cor. 13. 1. And the apostle, in asserting the infinite dignity of the Mediator, proves it by this argument, that he is above the angels; “ To which of the angels did he say, thou art my son ?" that is in a high and peculiar manner: now if they had not been in the highest order of creatures, the argument had not been conclusive ; yet they are infinite descents below God. “ The heavens are not clean in his sight, the stars are not pure before him. The sera