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a law unto themselves in these matters. i And, there. fore, the apostle faith, that God is not far from every one of us, Acts xvii. 27. and that the invisible things of God are clearly seen from the creation of the world, and those things that he hath made, Rom. i. 20. So that they who deny his eternal power and godhead, are without excuse.
II. They who are greatly careless and neglective of God, cannot say that they have kept the ways of the Lord, &c. For, two things are absolutely necessary to the state of religion ; and wherein we ought to take great care ; to wit, judgment of right, and conscience to do accordingly. The judgment of what is right and wrong ; true, and false ; good, and evil ; do require great care, diligence, and pains. Nay, let me ask you, what there is in the whole life of man that is valuable, or worthy, but doth require care, pains, industry, and diligence ? Go over the feveral employments of the world. The husbandman plows, and fows, and doth every thing neceffary to his land, before he expects a crop.
Take the merchant in the way of his trade; he walks from east to west, and sends his goods far and near, for the increase of his wealth. What diligence and care do men take, to preserve life, and to maintain themselves in health and strength, and provide for their families ? to get an estate, and to keep it? We see, in every thing that is to be done for the concerns of this life, there is care and caution to be used. And, shall there be no care, no pains, no diligence, nor industry used, to govern our faculties ; to moderate our appetites, for the several uses and purposes of religion, which is of the
highest concernment of all others ? Wherefore, in the first place, to the state of religion, and in order to uphold and maintain the same ; there must be care taken, to discern the difference between good and evil ; true and false' ; right and wrong. For these are the great points of religion. At the knowledge of these, religion begins. And this is every body's charge, according to his capacity, opportunity, and ability. And this is as necessary to preserve us from cheats and impostures, as to know our liberty. Our first work is to establish in ourselves a throne of judgment, throughly to know and understand our duty, and what is to be done, what to be avoided ; and, then, in point of practice and choice, to observe this difference. And, if this be not done, our religion is to little purpose. For it comes all to one ; not to make any difference in things, or not to observe that difference. The first thing in religion, is, to refine a man's temper : and the second, to govern his practice. If a man's religion do not this, his religion is a poor fiender thing, and of little confideration : 'tis then, only a naked profession, and fit to give him a denomination. I say, such a man's religion is but of little value : for, it hath no efficacy, but, falls short of the very principles of nature. For they do certainly and constantly attain their several effects. The sun, the moon, the stars ; fire, air, earth, and water ; these never fail to act according to their several principles, and to attain their several effects. The fun, hath not failed for fix thousand years, infomuch, that we are surer of its rising and setting, than we ourselves. Now, shall all the principles in inferior natur: Q2
throughout the whole creation, regularly, constantly, and certainly attain their effects ? And, shall there be only a failure in the principles of reason, and religion? But to proceed.
III. Whosoever doth voluntarily consent to known iniquity ; I am sure, this text cannot be verified of such a person. Men that do wittingly, and willingly consent to that which their judgment tells them, at that time, is evil, are represented in fcripture as finning with a high hand, and with a fliff neck, and to resift the holy Spirit ; and to commit the great transgreso fion, Jer. xvii. 23. Acts vii. 51. Psal. xix. 13. Now, of these, the first fort never made any entrance into religion. As for the second, if they do any thing worthy of religion, 'tis rather by chance, than of choice. As for the third, they pass into a clean contrary state.
The first of these, to wit, those that are fundamensally ignorant, they stumble at the very threshold ; because religion, in every degree, begins at some meaJure of knowledge ; for, can a blind man judge of colours ? No more can a man that is fundamentally ;gnorant be said to be religious. And, as for those that are greatly careless, and neglective ; it is uncertain what they will do, that do not act by rule, and upon consideration.
But, as for the third fort; those that give their consent to that which is evil, these pass into the contrary state, and take a course to root out of their minds the very seeds of goodness that were sown : for, fo, contrary acts are apt to do. No habit doth absolutely determine the act, tho’ it doth greatly dispose and incline to the action. Yet a habit may be utterly lost. If a man do, for a long time
forbear all acts of religion, he is wanting to that which should continue the habit. And, if there be contrary acts, the contrary habit will be begun ; and the more they are, the more will the contrary disposition be increased. So that, in time, the habit of virtue shall not only be weakened, but wholly wrought out, and the contrary habit brought in.
This is the course of things in nature. Every habit begun, is greatly weakened by a bare forbearance of acts ; for, every thing must be conserved in the way it was produced. A disposition is first introduc: ed by fome acts : and, if you do not introduce act upon act, the disposition will fail. For, things that are not brought to a state of perfection, will return back again, if they be not maintained in the same way that they were produced. Therefore, the towardliness of some persons to virtue, is, by intermiffion of acts, abated : and, when they come to put forth contrary acts, it is quite expelled. And this is the ground and foundation of Achitophel's counsel to Absalom, 2 Sam. xvi. 21. He bids hun do a lewd act that he might be confirmed in his wicked design he had against his father. Therefore, let us clofe with that good advice which Jesus, the fon of Syrach gives, Ecclef. xxi. 2. Flee from fin, as from a serpent.
The least that can be expected from religion, and conscience to God, is, that by means thereof, men be kept from giving their consent to known. iniquity, and be enabled to escape the pollutions of the world. If the creation below us, by their natural infliret, always do those things that are regular, and attain their end : shall not these higher principles of reason
and understanding do the like, and always preserve us from known evil, and determine us to that which is morally good? The principle of reason, knowledge, and judgment, is the highest principle, and transcendent to all others. The principle by which the sun doth enlighten the world, is not to be put in competition with the reason of mind and understanding : to which if we add, the aid of God's grace, which doth never fail, (for he doth prevent us with his grace;) it is a shame and reproach to us, if we vary from the rule and measure of virtue ; sin against our own light and conscience : and do worse, when we know bet
I shall now proceed to declare the purpose and intent of religion : what it aims at, and how it doth affect the subject. And that I will do, in these particulars. I will consider religion, in its motion towards God :
What it doth in the person in which it is : how it appears, and carries itself towards others, even to the whole creation ; but more especially, towards them with whom we daily converse : how religion stands affected towards the things that are without us, or about us ; either the necesaries, and conveniencies, or superfluities of life : and what religion doth, when it is finally victorious, and overcomes the world.
Of these I shall treat ; but not severally, and diftinctly. Nor will I undertake to give you a particular account of these, in the order I have now laid them; for, this would be, to make this text the whole bible. I will therefore speak of them in conjunction,