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former sins by repentance, and showing mercy to the poor, and that for the future we live not in the wilful commission of any known sin, nor yet in the wilful neglect of any known duty. Where it is evident, I advise to no more than what all men know themselves to be obliged to do; for I dare say, there is none of us know so little, but what if he would but live up to what he knows, he could not be but both holy and happy. Let us but avoid what we ourselves know to be sin, and do what we know to be our duty, and though our knowledge may not be so great as others, yet our piety may be greater and our condition better. But we must still remember, that one sin will keep us out of heaven as well as twenty; and therefore, if we ever desire to come thither, we must not only do some or many things, but all things, whatsoever is required of us, to the best of our knowledge. I speak not this of myself, but Christ himself hath told us the same before, even that we must keep the commandments, all the commandments, if we desire to enter into eternal life.' Not as if it was indispensably necessary to observe every punctilio and circumstance of the moral law, for then no man could be saved; but that it must be both our steadfast resolution, and our chief study and endeavour to avoid whatsoever we know to be forbidden, and to perform whatsoever we know to be commanded by God.
And though by this we shall make gress in the narrow way to life, yet there is still another step behind, before we can enter in at the strait gate, and that is to believe in Jesus Christ, as our Saviour himself has taught us. The sum of
1 Matt. xix. 16, 17.
2 Matt. xix. 21.
which duty in brief is this, that when we have done all we can in obedience to the moral law, yet we must still look upon ourselves as unprofitable servants, and not expect to be justified or saved by virtue of that obedience, but only by the merits of Christ's death and passion; humbly confiding that, in and through him, the defects of our obedience shall be remitted, our persons accepted, our natures cleansed, and our souls eternally saved. This is not only the principal, but the only thing which Paul and Silas directed the keeper of the prison to, in order to his salvation, as comprehending all the rest under it, or at least supposing them.'
Thus therefore, though obedience be the way, faith is the gate through which we must enter into life. But seeing the gate is strait as well as the way narrow, and it is as hard to believe in Christ as to observe the law, we must not think to do either by our own strength, but still implore the aid and assistance of Almighty God, and depend upon him for it. For Christ himself saith, No man can come unto me, except the Father which sent me, draw him." But we can never expect that he should draw us, unless we desire it of him; and therefore it must be our daily prayer and petition at the throne of grace, that God would vouchsafe us his especial grace and assistance, without which I cannot see how any one that knows his own heart, can expect to be saved. But our comfort is, if we do what we can, God will hear our prayers, and enable us to do what otherwise we cannot; for he never yet did, nor ever will fail any man that sincerely endeavours to serve and honour him.
1 Acts, xvi. 31.
2 John, vi. 44.
118 STRIVING TO ENTER AT THE STRAIT GATE.
Lastly, Although we are to trust in God for the answer of our prayers in this particular, yet we must not expect that he should do it immediately from himself, but we must use those means which himself hath appointed whereby to work faith, and by consequence all other graces in us. Now the Scripture tells us that faith comes by hearing.' Wherefore, if we desire to believe, so as to be saved, we must wait upon God in his public ordinances, and there expect 'such influences of his grace and Spirit whereby we may be enabled to walk in the narrow way, and enter in at the strait gate that leads to life.
Thus I have shown you in a few terms, how to do the great work which you came into the world about, even how to get to heaven. For howsoever hard it is to come hither, let us but resolve, as we have seen, to mind it before all things else, fear God and keep his commandments to the utmost of our power, believe in Christ for the pardon of our sins, and acceptance both of our persons and performances; pray sincerely to God, and wait diligently upon him for the assistance of his grace, to do what he requires from us. Let us do this, and we need not fear but our souls shall live. If we leave this undone, we ourselves shall be undone for ever. And therefore let me advise all to dally no longer in a matter of such consequence as this, but now we know the way to heaven, to turn immediately into it, and walk constantly in it. Though the way be narrow, it is not long, and though the gate be strait, it opens into eternal life. And therefore to conclude, let us remember we have now been told
1 Rom. x. 17.
THOUGHTS UPON THE IMITATION OF CHRIST. 119
how to get to heaven; it is not in my power to force men thither, whether they will or no; I can only show them the way. It is their interest as well as duty to walk in it; which if they do, I dare assure them in the name of Christ, it is not long but they will be admitted into the choir of heaven, to sing hallelujahs for evermore.
THOUGHTS UPON THE IMITATION
If we seriously consider with ourselves, that wonder of all wonders, that mystery of all mysteries, the incarnation of the Son of God, it may justly strike us into astonishment, and an admiration what should be the reason and the end of it; why the great and glorious, the almighty and eternal God, should take our weak and finite nature into his infinite and incomprehensible person? Why the Creator of all things should himself become a creature? And he that made the world be himself made into it? Why the supreme Being of all beings, that gives essence and existence to all things in the world, whose glory the heaven of heavens is not able to contain, should clothe himself with flesh and become man, of the self-same nature and substance with us, who live, and move, and have our being in him? certainly it was not upon any frivolous or ordinary account that the most high God manifested himself to the sons of men in so
wonderful and extraordinary a manner as this was. But he did it questionless upon some design that was as great and glorious as the act itself. And if we would know what his end and design in coming into the world was, the Scriptures assure us in general, that it was for the salvation of mankind whose nature he assumed. 'For this is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.' And he himself tells us, that God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life." Now for the accomplishment of this no less glorious than gracious design, there are two things which it was necessary he should do for us, whilst he was upon earth, even expiate our former sins, and direct us unto holiness for the future; both which he hath effected for us: the one by his death, and the other by his life.
For by his death he hath paid that debt which we owed to God, having made complete satisfaction to God's justice for those sins whereby we have incurred his displeasure: for death was threatened to all mankind in case of disobedience, and by consequence all mankind being disobedient, are obnoxious to it. Neither would it stand with the justice of God to falsify his word, nor yet with his glory, to put up the injuries that we have committed against him, without having satisfaction made unto him for them. But it being impossible that a finite creature should satisfy for those sins which were committed against the infinite God; hence the infinite God himself was pleased to undertake it for us,
2 John, iii. 16.
1 1 Tim. i. 25.