« PreviousContinue »
O eternal God, who wert pleased in mercy to look upon us when we were in our blood, to reconcile us when we were enemies, to forgive us in the midst of our provocations of thy infinite and eternal majesty, finding out a remedy for us which mankind could never ask, even making an atonement for us by the death of thy Son, sanctifying us by the blood of the everlasting covenant and thy all-hallowing and divinest Spirit; let thy graces so perpetually assist and encourage my endeavours, conduct my will, and fortify my intentions, that I may persevere in that holy condition which thou hast put me in by the grace of the covenant, and the mercies of the holy Jesus. O let me never fall into those sins, and retire to that vain conversation, from which the eternal and merciful Saviour of the world hath redeemed me; but let me grow in grace, adding virtue to virtue, reducing my purposes to act, and increasing my acts till they grow into habits, and my habits till they be confirmed, and still confirming them till they be consummate in a blessed and holy perseverance. Let thy preventing grace dash all temptations in their approach; let thy concomitant grace enable me to resist them in the assault, and overcome them in the fight: that my hopes be never discomposed, nor my faith weakened, nor my confidence made remiss, nor my title and portion in the covenant be lessened. Or if thou permittest me at any time to fall, (which, holy Jesu, avert, for thy mercy and compassion's sake,) yet let me not sleep in sin, but recall me instantly by the clamours of a nice and tender conscience, and the quickening sermons of the Spirit, that I may never pass from sin to sin, from one degree to another; lest sin should get the dominion over me, lest thou be angry with me, and reject me from the covenant, and I perish. Purify me from all uncleanness, sanctify my spirit, that I may be holy as thou art, and let me never provoke thy jealousy, nor presume upon thy goodness, nor distrust thy mercies, nor defer my repentance, nor rely upon vain confidences; but that I may, by a constant, sedulous, and timely endeavour, make my calling and election sure, living
to thee and dying to thee; that, having sowed to the Spirit, may from thy mercies reap in the Spirit bliss, and eternal sanctity, and everlasting life, through Jesus Christ, our Saviour, our hope, and our mighty and ever-glorious Redeemer. Amen.
Upon Christ's Sermon on the Mount, and of the Eight
1. THE holy Jesus, being entered upon his prophetical office, in the first solemn sermon gave testimony that he was not only an interpreter of laws then in being, but also a Lawgiver, and an Angel of the new and everlasting covenant; which because God meant to establish with mankind by the mediation of his Son, by his Son also he now began to publish the conditions of it: and that the publication of the Christian law might retain some proportion at least, and analogy of circumstance, with the promulgation of the law of Moses, Christ went up into a mountain, and from thence gave the oracle. And here he taught all the disciples; for what he was now to speak was to become a law, a part of the condition on which he established the covenant, and founded our hopes of heaven. Our excellent and gracious Lawgiver, knowing that the great argument in all practical disciplines is the proposal of the end, which is their crown and their reward, begins his sermon, as David began his most divine collection of hymns, with "blessedness." And having enumerated eight duties, which are the rule of the spirits of Christians, he begins every duty with a beatitude, and concludes it with a reward; to manifest the reasonableness, and to invite and determine our choice to such graces which are circumscribed with felicities, which have blessedness in present possession, and glory in the consequence, which, in the midst of the most passive and afflictive of them, tells us that we are blessed, which is indeed a felicity, as a hope is good, or as a rich heir is rich, who, in the midst of his discipline, and the severity of tutors and governors, knows he is designed to, and certain of, a great inheritance.
2. The eight beatitudes, which are the duty of a Christian, and the rule of our spirit, and the special discipline of Christ, seem like so many paradoxes and impossibilities reduced to reason; and are indeed virtues made excellent by rewards, by the sublimity of grace, and the mercies of God, hallowing and crowning those habits which are despised by the world, and are esteemed the conditions of lower and less considerable people. But God "sees not as man sees," and his rules of estimate and judgment are not borrowed from the exterior splendour, which is apt to seduce children, and cozen fools, and please the appetites of sense and abused fancy; but they are such as he makes himself, excellencies which, by abstractions and separations from things below, land us upon celestial appetites. And they are states of suffering rather than states of life for the great employment of a Christian being to bear the cross, Christ laid the pedestal so low, that the rewards were like rich mines interred in the deeps and inaccessible retirements, and did choose to build our felicities upon the torrents and violences of affliction and sorrow. Without these graces we cannot get heaven; and without sorrow and sad accidents, we cannot exercise these graces. Such are,
3. First: "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Poverty of spirit is in respect of secular affluence and abundance, or in respect of great opinion and high thoughts; either of which have divers acts and offices. That the first is one of the meanings of this text is certain, because St. Luke, repeating this beatitude, delivers it plainly, "Blessed are the poor;" and to it he opposes riches. And our blessed Saviour speaks so suspiciously of riches and rich men, that he represents the condition to be full of danger and temptation: and St. James calls it full of sin; describing rich men to be oppressors, litigious, proud, spiteful, and contentious; which sayings, like all others of that nature, are to be understood in common and most frequent accidents, not regularly, but very improbable to be otherwise. For if we consider our vocation, St. Paul informs us, that "not many mighty, not many noble, are called;" but "God
• Προκοπή ψυχῆς, προκοπὴ ταπεινώσεως.
• Ver. 24.
b Luke, vi. 20.
James, ii. 6, &c. v. 1, &c.
hath chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith :" And how "hard it is for a rich man to enter into heaven," our great Master hath taught us, by saying, "It is more easy for a camel to pass through a needle's eye." And the reason is, because of the infinite temptation which riches minister to our spirits; it being such an opportunity of vices, that nothing remains to countermand the act, but a strong, resolute, unaltered, and habitual purpose, and pure love of virtue; riches, in the mean time, offering to us occasions of lust, fuel for revenge, instruments of pride, entertainment of our desires, engaging them in low, worldly, and sottish appetites, inviting us to show our power in oppression, our greatness in vanities, our wealth in prodigal expenses, and to answer the importunity of our lusts, not by a denial, but by a correspondence and satisfaction, till they become our mistresses, imperious, arrogant, tyrannical, and vain. But poverty is the sister of a good mind; it ministers aid to wisdom, industry to our spirit, severity to our thoughts, soberness to counsels, modesty to our desires; it restrains extravagancy and dissolution of appetites; the next thing above our present condition, which is commonly the object of our wishes, being temperate and little, proportionable enough to nature, not wandering beyond the limits of necessity or a moderate conveniency, or, at farthest, but to a free refreshment and recreation. And the cares of poverty are single and mean, rather a fit employment to correct our levities, than a business to impede our better thoughts; since a little thing supplies the needs of
e Nulli fortunæ minùs bene quàm optimæ creditur. Aliâ felicitate ad tuendam felicitatem est opus. - Senec.
Ωφελες, ὦ τυφλὲ πλοῦτε, μήτ ̓ ἐν γῇ, μήτ' ἐν θαλάττῃ, μήτ ̓ ἐν ἠπείρῳ φανῆναι, ἀλλὰ τάρταρόν τε νάειν καὶ ἀχέροντα· διὰ σὲ γὰρ πάντα ἐν ἀνθρώποις κακά. — Timocr. Lyr.
Ὁ δὲ πλοῦτος ἡμᾶς, καθάπες ἰατρὸς κακὸς, τυφλοῦς (βλέποντας παραλαβὼν) πάντας TOLET.
Δοῦλος Επίκτητος γενόμην, καὶ σώματι πηρὸς,
dixit Homerus de Mysis et Hippomolgis, lib. xiii. Il. Justissimos et longævos dixit qui vescebantur lacte et cibo modesto.
nature, and the earth and the fountain with little trouble minister food to us, and God's common providence and daily dispensation eases the cares, and makes them portable. But the cares and businesses of rich men are violences to our whole man; they are loads of memory, business for the understanding, work for two or three arts and sciences, employment for many servants to assist in, increase the appetite, and heighten the thirst; and, by making their dropsy bigger, and their capacities large, they destroy all those opportunities and possibilities of charity, in which only riches can be useful.
4. But it is not a mere poverty of possession which entitles us to the blessing, but a poverty of spirit; that is, a contentedness in every state, an aptness to renounce all when we are obliged in duty, a refusing to continue a possession, when we for it must quit a virtue or a noble action, a divorce of our affections from those gilded vanities, a generous contempt of the world; and at no hand heaping riches, either with injustice or with avarice, either with wrong or impotency, of action or affection. Not like Laberius, described by the poets, who thought nothing so criminal as poverty, and every spending of a sesterce was the loss of a moral virtue, and every gaining of a talent was an action glorious and heroical. But poverty of spirit accounts riches to be the servants of God first, and then of ourselves, being sent by God, and to return when he pleases, and all the while they are with us to do his business. It is a looking upon riches and things of the earth, as they do who look upon it from heaven, to whom it appears little and unprofitable. And because the residence of this blessed poverty is in the mind, it follows that it be here understood, that all that exinanition and renunciation, abjection and humility of mind, which depauperates the spirit, making it less worldly and more spiritual, is the duty here enjoined. For if a man