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If the writers upon Christian perfe&tion have fancied to themselves some peculiar degrees of piety, or extraordinary devotions which they call by that name, they have not done religion much service, by making Chriftian perfection to consist in any thing, but the right performance of our necessary duties.
This is the perfection which this treatise endea. vours to recommend ; a perfection, that does not confift in any fingular fate or condition of life, or in any particular set of duties, but in the holy and religious conduct of our felves in every state of life.
I'r calls no one to a cloyster, but to a right and full performance of those duties, which are neceffary for all Christians, and common to all states of life.
I CALL it perfe&ion, for two reasons : first, because I hope it contains a full representation of that height of holiness and purity, to which Christianity calls all its members : secondly, that the title may in. vite the reader to peruse it with the more diligence, as expecting to find not only a discourse upon moral virtues, but a regular draught of those holy tempers. which are the perfect measure and standard of Chris. • tian piety.
Now as perfection is here placed in the right performance of our neceffary duties, in the exercise of such holy tenpers as are equally necessary and equally practicable in all states of life ; as this is the highest degree of Christian perfection; so it is to be observ'd, that it is also the lowest degree of holiness which the gospel alloweth. So that tho' no order of men can pre. tend to go higher, yet none of us can have any security in refting in any state of piety that is lower.
And I hope this will be taken as a sign that I have hit upon the trae state of Christian perfection, if I thew it to be such, as men in cloysters and religious retirements cannot add more, and at the same time fuch, as Christians in all states of the world must not be content with less.
FOR consider, what can Christian perfection be, but such a right performance of all the duties of life, as is according to the laws of Christ? What can it be, but a living in such holy tempers, and acting with such dispositions as Christianity requires ? Now if this be perfection, who can exceed it? And yet what state, or circumstances of life, can allow any people to fall short of it ?
Let us take an instance in some one particular temper of Christianity. Let it be the love of God; Christians are to love God with all their heart and all their strength. Now can any order of Christians exceed in this temper? Or is there any order of Chris. tians who may be allowed to be defective in it?
Now what is thus true of the love of God, is equally true of all other religious duties; and consequently all those holy tempers of heart, which consti. tute the perfection of Chriftian piety, are tempers equally necessary for all Christians.
As there is but one faith and one baptism, so there is but one piety and one perfection, that is common to all orders of Chriftians. .
Is will perhaps be here objected, that this supposes that all people may be equally good; which seems as impossible in the nature of things, as to suppose that all people may be equally wise.
To this it may be answer'd, that this is neither altogether true, nor altogether false.
FOR, te instance in charity, it is true that all peo. ple may be equally charitable, if we understand by charity that habit of the mind which stands rightly 'dispos’d to all acts of charity ; in this sense all, people may be equally charitable. But if we take charity for alıns-giving, or a liberal assistance of the poor ; in this sense it is false, that all people may be equally charitable.
Now as it is the habit of the mind, that consticutes the excellency of charity ; so this is the charity
to which Christians are called, and in which they may all be equally perfect.
A GAIN, are not all people oblig'd to be equally honest, just, and true and faithful ? In these virtues all are to be eminent and exact in the same degree ; there are no abatements to be made for any rank or order of people.
Now as to the external exercise of these duties, there may be great difference. One man may have great business in the world, and be honest and faithful in it all; another may have small dealings, and be honest in them ; but provided that there be in both of them the fame justice and integrity of mind, they are equally honest, tho' their instances of honesty, as to external acts of it, are as different as great things are different from small.
But as it is the habit of the mind, which is the justice which religion requires; so in this respect all people may be equally just.
Now this may serve to thew us in what respect all people may be equally virtuous, and in what respect they cannot.
As to the external instances or acts of virtue, in these they must differ according to the difference of their circumfiances and condition in the world ; but as virtues are consider'd as habits of the mind, and principles of the heart, in this respect they may all be equal.' jy virtuous, and are all call'd to the same perfection.
A MA N cannot exercise the spirit of martyrdom, till he is brought to the stake; he cannot forgive his enemies, till they have done him wrong, till he suffers from them. He cannot bear poverty and distress, till they are brought upon him “All these acts of virtue depend upon outward causes; but yet he may have a piety and heroic spirit equal to theirs who have died for their religion. He may have that charity of mind, which prays for its enemies ; he may have that meekness and resignation to the will of God, as disposes
people to bear poverty and distress with patience, and humble submission to the divine Providence.
So that they are only the external instances and acts of virtue, which depend upon outward causes and circumstances of life ; a man cannot give, till he has something to give; but the inward piety of the heart and mind, which constitutes the state of Christian perfection, depends upon no outward circumstances. Ą man need not want charity, because he has no riches; nor be deftitute of a forgiving spirit, because he has, no persecutors to forgive.
Altho' therefore, we neither are, nor can be all in the same circumstances of life, yet we are to be all in the fame fpirit of religion ; tho we cannot be all equal in alms-giving, yet we are to be all alike in charity ; tho we are not all in the same state of persecution, yet we must be all in the same spirit that forgives and prays for its persecutors; tho' we are not all in poverty and distress, yet we must all be full of that piety of heart which produces meekness, patience, and thankfulness, in distress and poverty.
FROM these considerations it is easy to apprehend, how persons may differ in instances of goodness, and yet be equally good ; for as the perfection of piety is the perfection of the heart, so the heart may have che same perfection in all states and conditions of life. And this is that perfection which is common to all ftates, and to which all orders of Christians are equally called.
AGAIN, There may be another difference of vir. tue founded in the different abilities of persons; one may have a more enlighten'd mind than another, and so may fee farther into his duty, and be able to practise it with greater exactness ; but then as his goodness seems to confft in this, that he is true and faithful to what he knows to be his duty ;. so if another is as true and faithful to that measure of light and knowledge which God has given him, he seems to be as good a man, as he that is true and faithful to a greater light.
We can hardly reconcile it with the divine Goodo: ness, to give one man two talents, and another five, unless we suppose that he is as high in his master's favour who makes the right use of two, as he that makes the right use of five talents. : So that it still holds good, that it is the perfection of the heart that makes the perfection of every ftate of life.
It may perhaps be farther objected, that the different degrees of glory in another life supposes that good men, and such as are accepted of God, do yet differ in their degrees of goodness in this life.
I GRANT that it does.
But then this is no proof, that all men are not called to the fame goodness and the same perfection. - PERHAPS it cannot be said of the best of men that ever lived, that they perform'd their duty in fuch perfection in all instances, as they might have done.
Now as it suits with the divine Mercy to admit men to happiness, who have not been in every respect so perfect as they might have been, notwithstanding that he gave them such a rule of perfection ; so it equally suits with the divine Mercy to admit men to different degrees of happiness, on account of their dif. ferent conduct, tho' he gave them all one common rule of perfection.
Dio not God pardon frailties and infirmities, the best of men could not be rewarded. But consider now, does God's pardoning of frailties and infirmities in the beft of men prove, that the best of men were not called to any other perfection, than that to which they arrived ? Does this prove, that God did not call them to be strictly good, because he receives them to mercy with some defects in goodness ? No, most surely.
Yet this is as good an argument, as to say, that all men are not called to the same state of goodness or perfection, because they are admitted to different rewards in the other life.