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or who mix poison with it, are not the better for it. Whoever will give religion leave to do him good, will always be an evidence of its usefulness. And it is extremely hard, to have those allege against us that there are but few such, who are continually endeavouring that there may be none; and impute that wickedness of the world to the want of efficacy in Christianity, which is so very much owing to their own profane discourse and licentious examples.
But farther : the Gospel-scheme is not completed yet; and the good it hath not done, it may do still. It hath subsisted indeed a number of years, that seems a large one, and sufficient to shew whatever is to be expected from it. But large and small are comparative terms: and what proportion its duration hitherto may bear to that which it hath to come, or how differently the power of God may be exerted in its favour hereafter from what it is now, we none of us know. But this we know certainly, that the original books in which it is contained, published at its first appearance, foretold both its past and present corruptions, and its future purity and universal happy fruits. The former of these predictions, that Christianity should be made an instrument of tyranny and superstition, bloodshed and dissoluteness, was a very amazing one: a thing which neither any sagacity could have foreseen, nor any enthusiast have believed; nor any impostor would have declared, if he had believed it. And therefore the fact, joined with the prophecy of it, far from an objection, is a proof of our religion; and shews us to be in the midst of an event; the melancholy part of which having been so remarkably signified to us before-hand, we ought by no means to judge of what will follow as we should in a common case; but firmly believe, that as
the mystery of iniquity * hath been revealed, the mystery of God † shall be accomplished likewise, and truth and virtue reign on this earth.
But then let us remember, that full enough hath been done to verify the first set of predictions; and it is high time we should begin to make good the latter. That Christ hath sent a sword on earth, no one doubts: let it now be our care to shew him in a more amiable light, as the Prince of Peace. We have sufficiently made the Gospel minister to sin : let us at last bring forth fruit by it unto holiness. Then we shall bear in our own breasts the surest, the happiest, the only beneficial proof of its efficacy; and have our conversation such amongst unbelievers, that whereas they now speak against us as evil-doers, and against our religion itself for our sakes, they may by our good works, which they shall behold, glorify Godf: thus bringing forward that blessed time, when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid : when they shall not hurt nor destroy in all his holy mountain : for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea ş.
Yet even this joyful scene will be only a faint sha dow of that eternal state of bliss, to which is reserved the complete vindication of the benefits of Christianity: and in which, however the present world were to go on, they must appear with irresistible evidence, when the righteous shall shine forth as the Sun in the kingdom of their Father I, when God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain * 2 Thess. ii. 7.
+ Rev. x. 7.
# 1 Pet. ü. 12. Isaiah xi. 6. 9. 9 Matth. xiii. 48.
** Rey, xxi. 4.
ISAIAH I. 16, 17.
Cease to do evil, learn to do well
The order, in which these words are placed, was evidently designed to teach us, that the foundation of acting right is avoiding every thing wrong. Several other parts of Scripture lay down the same rule in almost the same terms *: and many express, or imply, the same doctrine; putting repentance before faith and obedience t. Even Heathen authors, in very distant ages and countries, have given the like directions. And indeed every one must own the justness of it: but still very few appear to perceive or attend sufficiently to its importance: which, therefore, I shall endeavour to shew you,
I. More briefly, in respect of our conduct in general:
II. More at large, in respect of our behaviour to each other. I. In respect of our conduct
our conduct in general.
Psalm xxxiv. 14. . xxxvii. 27. Amos v. 15. Rom. xii. I. 1 Peter iii. 11.
't Matth. xxi. 32. Mark i. 15. Acts xx. 21. Tit. ii. 12, 13.
+ Θεραπινει και ποτιζει [ή παιδεια] τη καθαρτικη δυναμι. ειθ' όταν καθας θωσιν, ούτως αυτους εισαγει προς τας αρετάς, κ. τ. λ. Ceb. Tab. p. 35. Ed. Salm. Sapientia prima est Stultitia caruisse. Hor. Epist. i. 1. Τους αρχομενους από μοχθηροτερας αγωγης επι καλλιονα μεταβαινειν χρη πρωτον εξεμειν τον της κακοζωιας ιον, και τοτε τους της ευζωιας αγαθους τρεφεσθαι. --Η γαρ προϋπαρχουσα μοχθηρια τα προσιοντα χρηστα διαφθειρει·-εστι i takes &FAITOS TMS evapoyas xatadoggar. Simpl. in Epict. c. 6.
It is plainly the natural and rational method, to begin with removing what else will obstruct our progress, and to make unity within our own breasts our earnest care. He who hath only consistent pursuits may follow them with a prospect of success : but a mind, divided and distracted between contrary principles of action, can hope for nothing, but to be drawn backward and forward by them continually, as they chance to prevail in their turns. Things, indeed, that do but accidentally give some little hindrance to each other now and then, may be prosecuted together, and the due preference, when they interfere, be adjusted well enough. But sin and duty are so essentially opposite, that their interests can never be reconciled. They flow from different motives, proceed by different means, aim at different ends, and thwart one another perpetually. And it is to men's overlooking this obvious truth, that the miscarriage of their good intentions, the irresolution of their lives, the incoherence of their characters, in a great measure, owes its rise. Every one of us knows, in the main, what he ought to do : every one feels an approbation of it; and so far, at least, a disposition to it. But then he feels also dispositions quite adverse: and though he sees them to be unwarrantable, yet it is painful to root them out, and not pleasing even to take notice of them. So, to avoid trouble, both sorts are allowed to grow up together as they can; and which will thrive faster, soon appears. The soil, corrupt nature, is by far the most inclined to weeds: they sprout up without number and choke the good seed. Perhaps but one or two sorts of wickedness were intended to be indulged: but these have unforeseen connections with others, and those with more. Or, had they none, when men have
once yielded to do but a single thing amiss, they have no firm ground to stand upon in refusing to do a second, and a third : so gradually they lose their strength, God withdraws his help, and they fall from bad to worse. Often this ends in their present worldly ruin. But if they escape it, nay, if they escape growing continually more wicked, still they are incapable of that delightful consciousness which arises from uniform integrity of heart; they can have no true peace, while vices are struggling in their breast with one another, as well as with virtue; they condemn, they lament themselves: they make earnest resolutions to reform in this and that point; but making none to reform in all, they relapse, and go on as they did before. Many of them try hard, and no wonder, to get opinions that will quiet them in their practices : amongst which one of the most prevalent is, the notion of compensating by good deeds for evil. But how can our best actions possibly make amends for our sins, when they are only our duty*, though we had never sinned? Or if any one doth bring himself to believe this ; in proportion as he becomes more easy, he will become more profligate. He will think himself at liberty to commit any crime he pleases, provided he doth but intend to give God such or such satisfaction for it, which, perhaps, he will afterwards forget, or invent some pretence to omit. But if he doth not; as they that run these lengths quickly come to value their good deeds at as high, and their ill at as low, a rate, as they have a mind; they commonly reckon a very little of the former equivalent to a great deal of the latter. And if they are but noted for any single instance of obedience, it gives them vanity enough to esteem themselves
* Luke xvii. 10.