Of the duty of man by the light of nature, but the light of scripture: the three great branches of man’s duty, to God, ourselves, our neighbour: our duty to God; of faith, the promises, of hope, of love, of fear, of trust.
1. The benefits purchased for us by Christ are such as will undoubtedly make the soul happy, for eternal happiness itself is one of them; but because these benefits belong not to us till we perform the condition required of us, whoever desires the happiness of his soul must set himself to the performing of that condition. What that is I have already mentioned in the general, that is the hearty, honest endeavor of obeying the whole will of God. But then that will of God containing under it many particulars, it is necessary we should also know what those are; that is, what are the several things that God now requires of us, our performance whereof will bring us to everlasting happiness, and the neglect to endless misery.
Of the light of nature.
2. Of these things there are some which God hath so stamped upon our souls, that we naturally know them; that is, we should have known them to be our duty, though we had never been told so by the Scripture. That this is so, we may see by those heathens, who having never heard of either Old or New Testament, do yet acknowledge themselves bound to some general duties, as to worship God, to be just, to honour their parents, and the like; and as Saint Paul saith (Rom 2:15), “Their consciences do in those things accuse or excuse them;” that is, tell them whether they have done what they should in those particulars, or no.
3. Now though Christ hath brought greater light into the world, yet He never meant by it to put out any of that natural light by which God hath set up in our souls; therefore let me here, by the way, advise you not to walk contrary even to this lesser light. I mean not to venture on any of those acts which mere natural conscience will tell you are sins.
4. It is just matter of sadness to any Christian heart, to see some in these days, who profess much of religion, and yet live in such sins as a mere heathen would abhor, men that pretending to higher degrees of light and holiness than their brethren do, yet practice contrary to all the rules of common honesty, and make it part of their Christian liberty to do so; of whose seducement it concerns all that love their souls to beware: and for that purpose let this be laid as a foundation, That that religion or opinion cannot be of God, which allows men in any wickedness.
5. But though we must not put out this light which God hath thus put in our souls, yet this is not the only way whereby God hath revealed His will; and therefore we are not to rest here, but to proceed to the knowledge of those other things which God hath by other means revealed.
The light of the Scriptures.
6. The way for us to come to know them is by the Scriptures, wherein are set down those several commands of God which he hath given to be the rule of our duty.
7. Of those, some were given before Christ came into the world: such are those precepts we find scattered throughout the Old Testament, but especially contained in the Ten Commandments and that excellent Book of Deuteronomy; others were given by Christ, who added much, both to the law implanted in us by Nature, and that of the Old Testament: and those you shall find in the New Testament, in several precepts given by Him and His apostles, but especially in that divine sermon on the Mount, set down in the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of Saint Matthew’s gospel.
8. All these should be severally spoke to, but because that would make this discourse very long, and so less fit for the meaner sort of men, for whose use alone it is intended, I choose to proceed in another manner, by summing up all these together, and so as plainly as I can to lay down what is now the duty of every Christian.
9. This I find briefly contained in the words of the apostle (Tit 2:12), “That we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world,” where the word soberly contains our duty to ourselves; righteously, our duty to our neigbour; and godly, our duty to God. These, therefore, shall be the heads of my discourse: Our Duty to God, ourselves, and our neighbour. I begin with that to God, that being the best ground-work whereon to build both the other.
Duty to God.
10. There are many parts of our duty to God; the two chief are these: First, to acknowledge Him to be God; secondly, to have no other. Under these are contained all those particulars which make up our whole duty to God, which shall be showed in their order.
11. To acknowledge Him to be God, is to believe Him to be an infinite glorious Spirit, that was from everlasting, without beginning, and shall be to everlasting, without end; that He is our Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for ever; that He is subject to no alteration, but is unchangeable; that He is no bodily substance, such as our eyes may behold, but spiritual and invisible, whom no man hath seen, nor can see, as the apostle tells us (1 Tim 3:16); that He is infinitely great and excellent, beyond all that our wit and conceit can imagine; that He hath received His being from none, and gives being to all things.
12. All this we are to believe of Him in regard of His essence and being. But besides this, He is set forth to us in the Scripture by several excellences, as that He is of infinite goodness and mercy, truth, justice, wisdom, power, all-sufficiency, majesty; that He disposes and governs all things by His providence; that He knows all things and is present in all places. These are by divines called the attributes of God, and all these we must undoubtedly acknowledge; that is, we must firmly believe all these divine excellences to be in God, and that in the greatest degree, and so that they can never cease to be in Him, He can never be other than infinitely good, merciful, true, etc.
13. But the acknowledging Him for our God signifies yet more than this. It means that we should perform to Him all those several parts of duty which belong from a creature to his God. What those are I am now to tell you.
14. The first is faith or belief, not only that forementioned of His essence and attributes, but of His word; the believing most firmly that all that He saith is perfectly true. This necessarily arises from that attribute, His truth, it being natural for us to believe whatever is said of one of whose truth we are confident. Now, the Holy Scriptures being the Word of God, we are therefore to conclude that all that is contained in them is most true.
For his Affirmation.
15. The things contained in them are of these four sorts: First, affirmations; such are all the stories of the Bible, when it is said such and such things came so and so to pass—Christ was born of a Virgin, was laid in a manger, etc. And such also are many points of doctrine; as that there are three Persons in the Godhead, that Christ is the Son of God, and the like. All things of this sort thus delivered in Scripture we are to believe most true. And not only so, but because they are all written for our instruction, we are to consider them for that purpose; that is, by them to lay that foundation of Christian knowledge on which we may build a Christian life.
16. The second sort of things contained in the Scripture are the commands, that is, the several things enjoined us by God to perform; these we are to believe to come from Him, and to be most just and fit for Him to command; but then this belief must bring forth obedience, that what we believe thus fit to be done, be indeed done by us, otherwise our belief that they come from Him serves but to make us more inexcusable.
17. Thirdly, the Scripture contains threatenings. Many texts there are which threaten to them that go on in their sins the wrath of God, and under that are contained all the punishments and miseries of this life, both spiritual and temporal, and everlasting destruction in the life to come. Now we are most steadfastly to believe that these are God’s threats, and that they will certainly be performed to every impenitent sinner. But then the use we are to make of this belief is to keep from those sins to which this destruction is threatened; otherwise our belief adds to our guilt, that will go on in spite of those threatenings.
18. Fouthly, the Scripture contains promises, and those both to our bodies and our souls; for our bodies there are many promises that God will provide for them what He sees necessary, I will name only one (Mt 6:33), “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things,” that is, all outward necessaries, “shall be added unto you.” But here it is to be observed, that we must first seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness; that is, make it our first and greatest care to serve and obey Him, before this promise even of temporal good things belong to us. To the soul there are many and high promises; as first, that of present ease and refreshment, which we find (Mt 11:29), “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, and ye shall find rest to your souls.” But here it is apparent that before this rest belongs to us, we must first have taken on us Christ’s yoke, become His servants and disciples. Finally, these are promises to the soul even of all the benefits of Christ, but yet those only to such as perform the condition required; that is, pardon of sins to those that repent of them, increase of grace to those that diligently make use of what they have already, and humbly pray for more, and eternal salvation to those that continue to their lives’ ends in hearty obedience to His commands.
19. This belief of the promises must therefore stir us up to perform the condition, and till it do so, we can in no more reason expect any good by them; and, for us to look for the benefit of them on other terms, is the same mad presumption that it would be in a servant to challenge his master to give him a reward for having done nothing of his work, to which alone the reward was promised; you can easily resolve what answer were to be given to such a servant, and the same we are to expect from God in this case. Nay, further, it is sure, God hath given these promises to no other end, but to invite us to holiness of life; yea, He gave His Son, in whom all His promises are, as it were, summed up, for this end. We usually look so much at Christ’s coming to satisfy for us, that we forget this other part of His errand. But there is nothing surer, than that the main purpose of His coming into the world was to plant good life among men.
20. This is so often repeated in Scripture, that no man that considers and believes what he reads can doubt of it. Christ Himself tells us (Mt 9:13), “He came to call sinners to repentance”; and Saint Peter (Acts 3:26) tells us that God sent His Son Jesus to bless us, in turning every one of us from our iniquities; for it seems the turning us from our iniquities was the greatest special blessing which God intended us in Christ.
21. Nay, we are taught by Saint Paul that this was the end of His very death also (Tit 2:14), “Who gave himself for our sins, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” And again (Gal 1:4),” Who gave himself for us, that he might deliver us from this present evil world,” that is, from the sins and ill customs of the world. Diverse other texts there are to this purpose, but these I suppose sufficient to assure any man of this one great truth, that all that Christ hath done for us was directed to this end, the bringing us to live Christianly; or, in the words of Saint Paul, “The tech us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world.”
22. He we know Christ is the foundation of all the promises: “In him all the promises of God and yea, and Amen” (2 Cor 1:20). And, therefore, if God gave Christ to this end, certainly the promises are to the same also. And then how great an abuse of them is it to make them serve for purposes quite contrary to what they were intended? viz., to the encouraging us in sins, which they will certainly do if we persuade ourselves they belong to us, how wickedly soever we live. The apostle teaches us another use of them (2 Cor 7:1), “Having therefore these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” When we do this, we may justly apply the promises to ourselves, and with comfort expect our parts in them. But till then, though these promises be of certain truth, yet we can reap no benefit from them, because we are not the persons to whom they are made; that is, we perform not the conditions required to give us right to them.
23. This is the faith or belief required of us towards the things God hath revealed to us in the Scripture; to wit, such as may answer the end of which they were so revealed, that is, the bringing us to good lives. The bare believing the truth of them without this is no more than the devils do, as St James tells us (Jas 2:19), only they are not so unreasonable as some of us are, for they will tremble, as knowing well this faith will never do them any good. But many of us go on confidently, and doubt not the sufficiency of our faith, though we have not the least fruit of obedience to approve it by. Let such hear Saint James’s judgment in the point (2:26), “As the body with the spirit is dead, so faith if it have not works is dead also.”
Hope and Presumption.
24. A second duty to God is hope, that is, a comfortable expectation of these good things he hath promised. But this, as I told you before faith, must be such as agrees to the nature of the promises, which being such requires a condition on our part, we can hope no further than we make that good; or if we do, we are so far upon performing by it this duty of hope, that we commit the great sin of presumption, which is nothing else but hoping where God hath given us no ground to hope. This every man doth that hopes for pardon of sins and eternal life, without the repentance and obedience to which alone they are promised. The true hope is that which purifies us, Saint John saith (1 Jn 3:3), “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure”; that is, it makes him leave his sins, and earnestly endeavor to be holy as Christ is, and that which doth not so, how confident soever it be, may well be concluded to be but that hope of the hypocrite which Job assures us shall perish.
25. But there is another way of transgressing this duty besides that of presumption, and that is by desperation, by which I mean not that which is ordinarily so called, viz., the despairing of mercy, so long as we continue in our sins, for that is but just for us to do; but I mean such a desperation as make us give over endeavor, that is, when a man that sees he is not at the present such a one as the promises belong to, concludes he can never become such, and therefore neglects all duty, and goes on in his sins. This is indeed the sinful desperation, and that which, if it be continued in, must end in destruction.
26. Now the work of hope is to prevent this, by setting before us the generality of the promises, that they belong to all that will but perform the condition. And therefore, though a man have not hitherto performed it, and so hath yet no right to them, yet hope will tell him that that right may yet be gained, if he will now set heartily about it. It is therefore strange folly for any man, be he never so sinful, to give up himself for lost, when, if he will but change his course, he shall be as certain to partake of this promises of mercy, as if he had never gone on in those former sins.
27. This Christ shews us in the parable of the prodigal (Luke xv.), where we see that son, which had run away from his father, and had consumed the portion given him in riotous living, was yet, upon his return and repentance, used with as much kindness by the father as he that had never offended, nay, with higher and more passionate expressions of love. The intent of which parable was only to show us how graciously our heavenly Father will receive us, how great soever our former sins have been, if we shall return to him with true sorrow for what is past, and sincere obedience for the time to come; nay, so acceptable a thing is it to God to have any sinner return from the error of his ways, that there is a kind of triumph in heaven for it. “There is joy in teh presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Lk xv. 10.). And now, who would not rather choose, by a timely repentence, to bring joy to heaven, to God and His holy angels, than by a sullen desperation to please Satan and his accursed spirits, especially when by the former we shall gain endless happiness to ourselves, and by the latter as endless torments?
Love, its motives.
28. A third duty to God is love. There are two common motives of love among men: the one the goodness and excellency of the person, the other His particular kindness and love to us; and both these are in the highest degree in God.
29. First, He is of infinite goodness and excellency in Himself; this you were before taught to believe of Him, and no man can doubt it that considers but this one thing, that there is nothing good in the world but what hath received all its goodness from God. His goodness is as the sea or ocean, and the goodness of all creatures but as some small streams flowing from the sea. Now you would certainly think him a madman that should say thesea were not greater than some little brook; and certainly it is no less folly to suppose that the goodness of God doth not as much (nay, infinitely more) exceed that of all creatures. Besides, the goodness of the creature is imperfect and mixed with much evil, but His is pure and entire without any such mixture. He is perfectly holy, and cannot be tainted with the least with the least impurity, neither can be the author of any of us; for though He be the cause of all the goodness in us, He is the cause of none of our sins. This Saint James expressly tells us (chap i. 13.), “Let no man say when is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempeth He any man.”
His kindness to us.
30. But secondly, God is not only thus good in Himself, but He is also wonderful good, that is, kind and merciful, to us. We are made up of two parts—a soul and a body, and to each of these God hath expressed infinite mercy and tenderness. Do but consider what was before told you of the second covenant, and the mercies therein offered, even Christ Himself and all His benefits, and also that HE offers them so sincerely and heartily, that no man can miss of enjoying them but by his own default. For He doth most really and affectionately desire we should embrace them and live, as appears by that solemn oath of His (Ezek xxxii. 11.), “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live,” whereto he adds this passionate expression, “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die?” To the same purpose you may read Ezek xviii. Consider this, I saw, then surely you cannot but say He hath great kindness to our souls. Nay, let every man but remember with himself the many calls he hath had to repentance and amendment, sometimes outward by the Word, sometimes inward by the secret whispers of God’s Spirit in his heart, which were only to woo and intreat him to avoid eternal misery, and to accept of eternal happiness; let him, I say, remember these, together with those many other means God hath used toward him for the same end, and he will have reason to confess God’s kindness, not only to men’s souls in general, but to his own in particular.
31. Neither hath he been wanting to our bodies. All the good things they enjoy, as health, strength, food, raiment, and whatever else concerns them, are merely His gifts; so that indeed it is impossible we should be ignorant of His mercies to them, all those outward comforts and refreshments we daily enjoy being continual effects and witnesses of it; and though some enjoy more of these than others, yet there is no person but enjoys so much in one kind or other, as abundantly shows God’s mercy and kindness to him in respect of his body.
32. And now surely you will think it but reasonable we should love Him, who is in all respects thus lovely. Indeed, this is a duty so generally acknowledged, that, if you should ask any man the question, Whether he loved God or no? he would think you did him great wrong to doubt of it; yet for all this, it is too plain that there are very few that do indeed love Him; and this will soon be proved to you by examining a little, what are the common effects of love which we bear to men like ourselves, and then trying whatever we can show any such fruits of our love to God.
Fruit of love, desire of pleasing.
33. Of that sort there are divers, but for shortness I will name but two. The first is a desire of pleasing, the second a desire of enjoyment. These are constantly the fruits of love. For the first, it is known by all, that he that loves any person is very desirous to approve himself to him, to do whatsoever he thinks will be pleasing to him; and according to the degree of love, so is this desire more or less; where we love earnestly, we are very earnest, and careful to please. Now, if we have indeed that love to God we pretend to, it will bring forth this fruit, we shall be careful to please Him in all things. Therefore, as you judge of the tree by its fruits, so may you judge of your love of God by this fruit of it; nay, indeed, this is the way of trial, which Christ Himself hath given us (John xiv. 15.) “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” and Saint John tell us (1 John v. 3.), “That this is the love of God, that we walk after his commandments”; and where this one proof is wanting, it will be impossible to testify our love to God.
34. But it must yet be farther considered, that this love of God must not be in a low or weak degree; for besides that the motives to it, His excellency and His kindness, are in the highest; the same commandment which bids us love God, bids us love Him with all our hearts, and with all our strength; that is, as much as is possible for us, and above anything else. And therefore to the fulfilling of this commandment, it is necessary we love Him in that degree; and if we do so, then certainly we shall have not only some slight and faint endeavours of pleasing, but such as are most diligent and earnest, such as will put us upon the most painful and costly duties, make us willing to forsake our own ease, goods, friends, yea, life itself, when we cannot keep them without disobeying God.
35. Now examine thyself by this; hast thou this fruit of love to show? Does thou make it thy constant and greatest care to keep God’s commandments? To obey Him in all things? earnestly laboring to please Him to the utmost of thy power, even to the forsaking of what is dearest to thee in this world? If thou dost, thou mayest then truly say thou lovest God. But on the contrary, if thou willfully continuest in the breach of many, nay, but of any one command of His, never deceive thyself for the love of God abides not in thee. This will be made plain to you, if you consider what the Scripture saith of such, as that they “are enemies to God by their wicked works” (Col. i. 21); that the carnal mind (and such is every one that continues willfully in sin) is in enmity with God (Rom. viii. 7); that he that “sins willfully, tramples under foot the Son of God, and doth despite unto the spirit of grace” (Heb. x. 29), and many the like. And therefore, unless you can think enmity, and trampling, and despite to be fruits of love, you must not believe you love God, whilst you go on in a wilful disobedience to Him.
Desire of enjoying.
36. A second fruit of love, I told you, desire of enjoying. This is constantly to be seen in our love to one another. If you have a friend whom you entirely love, you desire his conversation, wish to be always in his company; and thus will it be also in our love to God, if that be as great and hearty as this.
37. There is a twofold enjoying of God, the one imperfect in this life, the other more perfect and complete in the life to come: that in this life is that conversation, as I may call it, which we have with God in His ordinances, in praying and meditating, in hearing His word, in receiving the Sacrament, which are all intended for this purpose, to being us into an intimacy and familiarity with God by speaking to Him, and hearing Him speak to us.
38. Now if we do indeed love God, we shall certainly hugely value and desire these ways of conversing with Him; it being all that we can have in this life, it will make us with David esteem “one day in God’s courts better than a thousand” (Ps lxxxiv. 10). We shall be glad to have these opportunities of approaching to Him as often as it is possible, and be careful to use them diligently, to that end of uniting us still more to Him; yea, we shall come to these spiritual exercises with the same cheerfulness we would go to our dearest friend. And if indeed we do thus, it is a good proof of our love.
39. But I fear there are not many have this to show for it, as appears by the common backwardness and unwillingness of men to come to these, and their negligence and heartlessness when they are at them; and can we think that God will ever own us for lovers of Him, whilst we have such dislike to His company, that we will never come into it but when we are dragged by fear, or shame of men, or some such worldly motive? It is sure you would not think that man loved you, whom you perceive to shun your company, and be loath to come into your sight. And therefore, be not so unreasonable as to say you love God, when yet you desire to keep as far from Him as you can.
40. But besides this there is another enjoyment of God, which is more perfect and complete, and that is our perpetual enjoying of Him in heaven, where we shall be for ever united to Him, and enjoy Him not now and then only for short spaces of time, as we do here, but continually without interruption or breaking off. And certainly, if we have that degree of love to God as we ought, this cannot but be most earnestly desired by us so much, that we shall think no labour too great to compass it. The seven years that Jacob served for Rachel (Gen xxix. 20) “seemed to him but a few days, for the love that he had to her.” And surely, if we have love to God, we shall not think of service of our whole lives too dear a price for this full enjoyment of Him, nor esteem all the enjoyments of the world worth the looking on in comparison thereof.
41. If we can truly tell ourselves we do thus long for this enjoyment of God, we may believe we love Him. But I fear again there are but few that can thus approve their love. For, if we look into men’s lives, we shall see they are not generally so fond of this enjoyment, as to be at any pains to purchase it. And not only so, but it is to be doubted there are many who, if it were put to their choice, whether they would live here always to enjoy the profit and pleasure of the world, or go to heaven to enjoy God, would, like the children of Gad and Reuben, set up their rest on this side Jordan (Num xxxii.), and never desire the heavenly Canaan; so close do their affections cleave to things below, which shows clearly they have not made God their treasure, for then, according to our Saviour’s rule (Matt vi. 22), their hearts would be with Him. Nay, further yet, it is too plain that many of us set so little value on this enjoying of God, that we prefer the vilest and basest sins before Him, and choose to enjoy them, though by it we utterly lose our parts in him, which is the case of every man that continues wilfully in those sins.
42. And now I fear, according to these rules of trial, many that profess to love God will be found not to do so. I conclude all with the words of S. John (1 Jn iii.18), which, though spoken of the love of our brethren, is very fitly applicable to this love of God, “Let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”
43. A fourth duty to God is fear; this arises from the consideration both of His justice and His power. His justice is such that He will not clear the wicked, and His power such that He is able to inflict the sorest punishments upon them; and that this is a reasonable cause of fear, Christ Himself tells us (Matt x. 28), “Fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Many other places of Scriptures there are which commend to us this duty, as Psalm ii. 11, “Serive the Lord with fear”; Psalm xxxiv. 9, “Fear the Lord ye that be his saints”; Prov ix. 10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and diverse the like; and indeed all the threatenings of wrath against sinners which we meet with in the Scripture are only to this end, to work this fear in our hearts.
44. Now, this fear is nothing else but such an awful [that is, “full of awe”] regard of God, as may keep us from offending Him. This the wise man tell us (Prov xvi. 17), “The fear of the Lord is to depart from evil.” So that none can be said truly to fear God that is not thereby withheld from sin; and this is but answerable to that common fear we have towards men; whoever we know may hurt us, we will beware of provoking; and therefore, if we be not as ward of displeasing God, it is plain we fear men more than we do Him.
The folly of fearing men more than God.
45. How great a madness this is, thus to fear men above God, will soon appear, if we compare what man can do to us with that which God can. And first, it is sure, it is not in the power of man (I might say devils too) to do us any hurt unless God permit and suffer them to do it; so that, if we do but keep Him our friend, we may say with the Psalmist, “The Lord is on my side, I fear not what man can do unto me.” For, let their malice be never so great, he can restrain and keep them from hurting us; nay, He can change their minds towards us, according to that of the wiseman (Prov xvi. 7), “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.” A notable example of this we have in Jacob (Gen xxxii.), who, when his brother Esau was coming against him as an enemy, God wonderfully turned his heart, so that he met him with all the expressions of brotherly kindness, as you may read in the next chapter.
46. But secondly, suppose men were left at liberty to do thee what mischief they could; alas! their power goes but a little way; they may, perhaps, rob thee of thy goods, it may be they may take away thy liberty, or thy credit, or perchance thy life too, but that thou knowest is the utmost they can do. But now God can do all this when He pleases, and that which is infinitely more, His vengeance reaches even beyond death itself, to the eternal misery both of body and soul in hell; in comparison of which, death is so inconsiderable, that we are not to look upon it with any dread. “Fear not them that kill the body, and after that have no more than they can do,” saith Christ (Luke xii. 4), and then immediately adds, “But I will forewarn you whom you shall fear, fear him which, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell; year, I say unto you, fear him.” In which words the comparison is set between the greatest ill we can suffer from man, the loss of life, and those sadder evils God can inflict on us; and the latter are found to be the only dreadful things, and therefore God only to be feared.
47. But there is yet one thing farther considerable in this matter, which is this: it is possible we may transgress against men, and they not know it. It may, perhaps, steal my neighbor’s good, or defile his wife, and keep it so close that he shall not suspect me, and so never bring me to punishment for it; but this we cannot do with God, He knows all things, even the most secret thoughts of our hearts; and therefore, though we commit a sin never so closely, He is sure to find us, and will as surely, if we do not timely repent, punish us eternally for it.
48. And now surely it cannot but be confessed that it is much safer displeasing men than God; yet, alas! our practice is as if we believed the direct contrary, there being nothing more ordinary with us, than for the avoiding of some present danger we fear from men, to rush ourselves upon the indignation of God. And thus it is with us, when either to save our estates, or credits, or our very lives, we commit any sin, for that is plainly the choosing to provoke God rather than man.
49. But God knows this case of fear of men is not the only one wherein we venture to displease Him; for we commit many sins, to which we have none of this temptation, nor indeed any other: as for instance, that of common swearing, to which there is nothing either of pleasure or profit to invite us. Nay, many times we, who so fear the mischiefs that other men may do to us that we are ready to buy them off with the greatest sins, do ourselves bring all those very mischiefs upon us by sins of our own choosing. Thus the careless prodigal robs himself of his estate, the deceitful and dishonest man, or any that lives in open notorious sin, deprives himself of his credit, and the drunkard and glutton brings diseases on himself, to the shortening his life. And can we think we do at all fear God, when that fear hath so little power over us, that though it be backed with the many present mischiefs that attend upon sin, it is not able to keep us from them? Surely such men are far from fearing God, that they rather seem to defy Him, resolve to provoke Him, whatsoever it cost them, either in this world or the next. Yet so unreasonably partial are we to ourselves, that even such as these will pretend to this fear: you may examine multitudes of the most gross, scandalous sinners, before you shall meet with one who will acknowledge he fears not God. It is strange it should be possible for men thus to cheat themselves; but, however, it is certain we cannot deceive God, he will not be mocked, and therefore, if we will not now so fear as to avoid sin, we shall one day fear it will be too late to avoid punishment.
50. A fifth duty to God is that of trusting in Him, that is, depending and resting on Him: and that is, first, in all dangers; secondly, in all wants. We are to rest on Him in all our dangers, both spiritual and temporal. Of the first sort are all those temptations by which we are in danger to be drawn to sin. And in this respect he hath promised that if we “rest the devil he shall fell from us” (Jam iv. 7). Therefore, our duty is first to pray earnestly for God’s grace to enable us to overcome the temptation; and secondly, to set ourselves manfully to combat with it, not yielding or giving consent to it in the least degree; and whilst we do thus we are confidently to rest upon God, that His grace will be sufficient for us, that He will either remove the temptation or strengthen us to withstand it.
In all temporal.
51. Secondly, in all outward and temporal dangers we are to rest upon Him as knowing that He is able to deliver us, and that He will do so if He see it best for us, and if we be such to whom He hath promised His protection, that is, such as truly fear Him. To this purpose we have many promises in Scripture; Ps xxxiv. 7, “The angel of the Lord tarrieth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them”; and Ps xxxiv. 20, “The Lord delivereth the souls of his saints, and all that put their trust in him shall not be destitute,” and diverse the like. Also we have many examples, as that of the three children in the furnace (Daniel iii.); that of Daniel in the lions’ den (Dan vi.), and many others, all which serve to teach us this one lesson, that if we go on conscionably in performing our duty, we need not be dismayed for anything that befall us, for the God whom we serve is able to deliver us.
Not seek to deliver ourselves by any sin.
52. Therefore in all dangers we are first humbly to pray for His aid, and then to rest ourselves cheerfully on Him, and assuring ourselves that He will give such an issue as shall be most for our good. But above all things we must be sure to fix our dependence wholly on Him, and not to rely on the creatures for help; much less must we seek to deliver ourselves by any unlawful means, that is by the committing of any sin; for that is like Saul (1 Sam xviii. 7), “to go to the witch,” that is, to the devil for help; such courses do commonly deceive our hopes at the present, and instead of delivering us out of our straits, plunge us in greater, and those much more uncomfortable ones, because then we want that which is the only support, God’s favour and aid, which we certainly forfeit, when we thus seek to rescue ourselves by any sinful means. But supposing we could by such a way certainly free ourselves from the present danger; yet, alas! we are far from having gained safety by it; we have only removed the danger from that which was less considerable, and brought it upon the most precious part of us, our souls; like an unskilful physician, that to remove a pain from the finger strikes it to the heart. We are therefore grossly mistaken when we think we have played the good husband in saving our liberties or estates, our lives themselves, by a sin; we have not saved them, but madly overbought them, laid out our very souls on them: and Christ tells us how little we shall gain by such bargains (Matt xvi. 26), “What is a man profited, if we shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Let us therefore resolve never to value any thing we can possess in this world at so high a rate as to keep it at the price of the least sin; but whenever things are driven to such an issue that we must either part with some, perhaps all our worldly possessions, nay, life itself, or else commit sin, let us then remember that this is the seasons for us to perform that great and excellent duty of taking up the Cross, which we can never so properly do as in this case; for our bearing of that which we have no possible way of avoiding can b at most be said to be but the carrying of the Cross; but then only can we be said to take it up, when having a means of escaping it by a sin, we rather choose to endure the unavoidable necessity, but we willingly choose it; and this is highly acceptable with God, yea, withal so strictly required by Him, that if we fail of performing it when we are put to the trial, we are not to be accounted followers of Christ, for so Himself hath expressly told us (Matt xvi. 24), “If any man come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me”; and so again, Mark viii. 34. It were therefore a good point of spiritual wisdom for us, sometimes by some lower degrees of self-denial, to fit ourselves for this greater, when we shall be called to it. We know he that expects to run a race will beforehand be often breathing himself, that he may not be foiled when he comes to run for the prize; in like manner it will be fit for us sometimes to abridge ourselves somewhat of our lawful pleasure, or ease, or profit, so that we may get such a mastery over ourselves, as to be able to renounce all when our obedience to God requires it.
In all wants spiritual.
53. And as we are thus to trust on God for deliverance from danger, so are we likewise for supply of our wants; and those again are either spiritual or temporal. Our spiritual want is that of His grace to enable us to serve Him; without which we can do nothing; and for this we are to depend upon Him, provided we neglect not the means, which are prayer and a careful using of what he hath already bestowed on us. For when we have His promise for it, “He will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask it” (Like xi. 15), and “unto him that half shall be given” (Matt xxv. 29). That is, “to him that hath made a good use of that grace he hath already, God will give more.” We are not therefore to affright ourselves with the difficulty of those things God requires of us, us to perform, if we be not wanting to ourselves. And therefore let us sincerely do out parts, and confidently assure ourselves God will not fail of His.
54. But we have likewise temporal and bodily wants, and for the supply of them we are likewise to rely on Him. And for this also we want no promises, supposing us to be of the number of them to whom they are made, that is, God’s faithful servants: “They that fear the Lord lack nothing” (Ps xxxiv. 9); and ver. 10, “They that seek the Lord shall want no manner of thing that is good.” Again (Ps xxxiii. 18, 19), “Behold the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy, to deliver their souls from death, and to feed them in time of famine.” Examples also we have of this, as we may see in the case of Elijah and the poor widow (1 Kings xvii), and many others.
55. We are therefore to look up to Him for the provision of all things necessary for us, according to that of the Psalmist, “The eyes of all wait upon thee, O Lord, and thou givest them their meat in due season.” And our Saviour hath taught us to pray for our daily bread, thereby teaching us that we are to live in continual dependence upon God for it. Yet I mean not by this that we should so expect it from God as to give up ourselves to idleness and expect to be fed with miracles. No; our honest industry and labour is the means by which God ordinarily gives us the necessaries of this life; and therefore we must by no means neglect that. “He that will not labour, let him not eat,” says the Apostle (2 Thess iii. 10). And we may believe God will pronounce the same sentence, and suffer the slothful person to want even necessary food. But when we have faithfully used our own endeavour, then we must also look up to God for His blessing on it, without which it can never prosper to us. And having done thus, we may comfortably rest ourselves on His providence for such a measure of these outward things as He sees fittest for us.
56. But if our condition be such that we are not able to labour, and have no other means of bringing in the necessaries of life to ourselves, yet even then we are cheerfully to rest upon God, believing that He who feeds the ravens will by some means or other, though we know not what, provide for us, so long as He pleases we shall continue in this world, and never in any case torment ourselves with carking and distrustful thoughts, but as the apostle (I Pet v. 7), “Cast all our care on Him who careth for us.”
57. This is earnestly pressed by our Saviour (Matt vi.), where He abundantly shows the follow of this sin of distrust. The place is a most excellent one, and therefore, I shall set it down at large (ver. 25): “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thoughts of your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; neither for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more cloth you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, “What shall we eat? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (for after all these things do the Gentiles seek): for your heavenly Father knoweth all ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for to-morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” I might add many other texts to this purpose, but this is so full and convincing that I suppose it needless.
The benefits of trust on God.
58. All, therefore, that I shall say more concerning this duty is to put you in mind of the great benefits of it: as first, that by this trusting upon God, you engage and bind Him to provide for you. Men, you know, think themselves highly concerned not to fail those that depend and trust upon them, and certainly God doth so much more; but then, secondly, there is a great deal of ease and quiet in the practice of this duty, it delivers us from all those carkings and immoderate cares which disquiet our minds, break our sleep, and gnaw even our very heart. I doubt not but those that have felt them need not be told they are uneasy. But then, methinks, that uneasiness should make us forward to embrace the means for the removing of them, and so we see it too often doth in unlawful ones; men will cheat and steal and lie, and do anything to deliver themselves from the fear of want. But alas! they commonly prove but deceitful remedies: they brings God’s curse on us, and so are more likely to betray us to want than to keep us from it. But if you desire a certain and unfailing cure for cares, take this of relying upon God.
59. For what should cause that man to fear want that know he hath one that care for him, who is all-sufficient, and will not suffer him to want what is fit for him? If a poor man had but a faithful promise from a wealthy person, that he would never suffer him to want, it is sure he would be highly cheered with it, and would not then think fit to be as carking as he was before: and yet a man’s promise may fail us, he may either grow poor and not be able, or he may prove false and not be willing to make good his word. But we know God is subject neither to impoverishing nor deceit. And, therefore, how vile an injury do we offer to Him if we dare not trust as much upon His promise as we would that of a man! Yea, and how great a mischief do we do ourselves by loading our minds with a multitude of vexations and tormenting cares, when we may so securely cast our burden upon God! I conclude this in the words of the apostle (Phil iv. 8), “Be careful in nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”