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from us our present comforts. It shews what glorious expectations they have, who account their sufferings here, how great soever, as light and nothing, when in the balance with that exceeding weight of glory, that massy, substantial felicity reserved in heaven for them. And as in the primitive times nothing did more recommend the Christian religion to the world as truly divine, than the constancy and patience and heroic bravery of those that suffered for it*; so now, the same patience, though exercised by other trials, must needs be a convincing argument that it is a heavenly institution, which teaches such true greatness of mind as this.
No wonder therefore if St. Paul gloried in tribulations, which tended so much to his own eternal happiness, and the glory of his great and good Creator, and most merciful Redeemer; and all good Christians have reason to do so too, upon the same accounts 2.
Having thus seen what is the design or model we are to propose to ourselves in our spiritual building, and always to have in our eye as we proceed; namely, God's honour and glory, the perfecting our own nature, and doing nothing but what is becoming the dignity of it, and the excellency of our holy profession, and what may conduce to our eternal happiness; and having counted the cost of this building, and seen what charge and pains we must be at if we would bring it to perfection ; namely, that we must deny ourselves, and contemn the world, and be ready to forsake all earthly comforts to follow our great Master in the ways of Christian virtue, and to bear with patience whatever troubles and discouragements shall be laid in our way, and with unshaken resolution to resist to the utmost whatever temptations we may meet with to leave the great work unfinished, and even to lose our very lives for his sake, when he shall please to call us to that trial of our faith; I shall now draw a few inferences froin what hath been discoursed, and so conclude.
* Nihil æque magnam apud nos admirationem occupat, quam homo fortiter miser. Seneca. y Rom. v. 3 ; 2 Cor. xi. and xii. i Pet. iii. 14. iv. 16.
And first, from hence we may learn how needful frequent and serious consideration is, to carry on this most important business of salvation with success. Indeed no business can succeed well without it, unless by some strange unusual chance; much less can we expect that of salvation should, which hath so many difficulties attending it: and though a man may happen to become rich by some lucky unthoughtof hit, and prosper in some affairs of the world he knows not how; yet no man ever did or shall arrive at heaven by chance, and save his soul before he thinks of it, or has done any thing in order to it, in the way that Christ hath directed.
For it is not so easy a matter to be a true Christian as many of us are apt to believe; and to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, quite changed and altered in the temper and disposition of our souls, according to the holy rules of the gospel, and made new creatures; to be converted, and become as little children, in contentment and humility, in meekness, and a readiness to reconciliation and forgiveness, in a freedom from guile and hypocrisy, and hurtful dissimulation, and the like; without which, our Lord hath expressly told us, we shall not enter into the kingdom of heavena. Finally, to tread in the steps of our blessed Saviour in the practice of both the active and passive virtues of his holy religion, and in all respects to live as becomes the gospel of Christ ; this is not so easily done as we may be apt to imagine; and much thought and care and circumspection, watchfulness and contrivance, and great industry and diligence, is necessary in such a work as this.
We should therefore frequently sit down, and with that seriousness which a matter of such infinite consequence requires, consider with ourselves what a mighty work we have upon our hands, and how we may most effectually apply ourselves to it, and not spend our short, uncertain life, in that thoughtless, trifling, unaccountable manner, as is but too much the way of the world.
of the world. We should often look to our great end, and bethink ourselves what are the best means to attain it; and not live so perfectly at random as too many do, making their own fancy and humour the sole rule of their actions, and studying nothing but how to gratify their sensual appetites, living in idleness, luxury, and riot, as if they had no higher principle in them than the beasts that perish.
But can any man that has the light of reason only to direct him think that he was born for such a life as this ? b Much less can any Christian that has read
a Matt. xviii. 3.
the scriptures be so besotted as to expect to save his soul at this rate ? Why are we exhorted to strive to enter in at the strait gate, and told that many shall seek to enter in, in a careless, indifferent manner, and shall not be ablec? Why does the apostle advise us to work out our salvation with fear and tremblingd? Why this, and a great deal more of the same nature every where to be met with in the holy writings, if it were not a matter of difficulty, and such as required our best endeavours to accomplish ? And if so, why is it so strangely neglected, why every thing preferred before it? Why do we defer from time to time the setting about this great, this necessary, this difficult work, and create to ourselves other vain employments on purpose to put this by; or, if we are persuaded at any time to enter upon it, break it off again, almost as soon as begune?
All this proceeds in a great measure from want of thought and serious consideration; and therefore he that thinks it worth his while to be saved must think it worth his while to consider; and make use of all his reason, his prudence, and his foresight, in contriving how he may best finish that great work, which if not finished it would have been infinitely better for him if he never had been born.
II. And this puts me in mind of another thing I would infer from the former of these parables we have been considering, namely, the necessity of perseverance in our pious endeavours; and as the apostle expresses it, of perfecting holiness in the fear of Godf. For what will laying the foundation of a building signify, though with never so much exactness, if we then leave off, and take no care to finish it? And should we go on to raise the superstructure, the higher we go, the more expense and labour will be lost, if we do not go through with it, and by giving the finishing stroke to it, make it fit
Luke xiii. 24.
d Phil. ii. 12. e Sine proposito vagantur quærentes negotia, nec quæ destinaverunt agunt, sed in quæ incurrunt. Seneca.
Without this, the builder does but expose himself to people's talk and censure, and his building will soon come to nothing. And so it is in religion: the continuing stedfast in it to the end, is that which will entitle us to the immense rewards of it. Thus our Lord, Matt. x. 22. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved. But if any man draw back, says St. Paul to the Hebrews, my soul shall have no pleasure in himh. And therefore we are so often exhorted to hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, to be stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lordi, and the like, that so our labour may not be in vain, and in due time we may reap, if we faint not. And upon this account it is that St. James says faith without works is dead, and unprofitable, being alone; it is as useless as a foundation without a building raised upon it: and accordingly St. Jude advises us to build up ourselves in our most holy faithk, not to content ourselves with having laid a good groundwork, but to complete the beauteous pile of Christian virtue, and labour continually to bring it to perfection. And whoever reflects how averse to true piety our corrupted nature is, and how rapidly the stream of our affections runs against it, and f 2 Cor. vii. 1. g Heb. iii. 14.
h Heb. x. 38. i, Cor. xv. ult.
k Jude 20.