Page images

man, and therefore may justly claim the free Spirit for its author, Psal. li. 12. 2 Cor. iii. 17. or the Son of God for its original, according to that in John viii. 36. "If the Son shall make you free, then shall ye be free indeed."

But here it may be demanded, whether the command of God doth not move the godly soul, and set it upon its holy motions? I confess indeed that the command of God is much eyed by a godly man, and is of great weight with him, and does in some sense lay a constraint upon him; but yet I think not so much the authority of the law, as the reasonableness and goodness of it, does prevail principally with him. The religious soul does not so much eye the law under the notion of a command, as under the notion of holy, just and good, as the Apostle speaks, and so embraces it, chooses it, and longs to be perfectly conformable to it. I do not think it so proper to say that a good man loves God, and all righteousness and holiness, and religious duties, by virtue of a command to do so, as by virtue of a new nature that God hath put into him, which doth instruct and prompt him so to do. A religious soul being reconciled to the nature of God, embraces all his laws by virtue of the equitableness and perfection that he sees in them; not because they are commanded, but because they are in themselves to be desired, as David speaks: "More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and the honey-comb." In which Psalm the holy man gives us a full account why he did so love and esteem the laws and commandments of God, namely, because they are perfect, right,

pure, clean, true, sweet, and lovely. To love the Lord our God with all our heart, and strength, and mind, is not only a duty, by virtue of that first and great commandment that doth require it; but indeed the highest privilege, honour, and happiness of the soul. To this purpose may that profession of the Psalmist's be applied, "I have chosen thy precepts;" and "I have chosen the way of truth." Choosing is an act of judgment and understanding, and respects the quality of the thing, more than the authority of the command. David did not stumble into the way of truth accidentally, by virtue of his education, or acquaintance, or the like circumstance; nor was he whipped or driven into it by the mere severity of a law without him; but he chose the way of truth, as that which was indeed most eligible, pleasant, and desirable. What our blessed Saviour says concerning himself, is also true of every Christian in his measure; he makes it his meat and drink to do the will of God. Now, we know that men do not eat and drink, because physicians prescribe it as a means to preserve life; but the sensual appetite is carried out towards food, because it is good, sweet, suitable so is the spiritual appetite carried out to-wards spiritual food, not so much by the force of an external precept, as by the attractive power of that higher good which it finds suitable and sufficient for it. As for the object of this free and generous spirit of religion, it is no other than God himself principally and ultimately, and other things only, as they are subservient to the enjoyment of him. God, as the supreme good, able to fill, and perfectly satisfy all the wants and indigencies of the soul, and so to

make it wholly and eternally happy, is the proper object of the soul's most free and cheerful motions. The soul eyes God as the perfect and absolute good, and God in Christ as a feasible and attainable good, and so finds every way enough in this object, to encourage it to pursue after him, and throw himself upon him. Religion fixes upon God, as upon its own centre, as upon its proper and adequate object; it views God as the infinite and absolute good, and so is drawn to him without any external force. The godly soul is overpowered indeed, but it is only with the infinite goodness of God, which exercises its sovereignty over all the faculties of the soul; which overpowering is so far from straitening or pinching it, that it makes it truly free and generous in its motions. Religion wings the soul, and makes it take a flight freely and swiftly towards God and eternal life: it is of God, and by a sympathy that it hath with him, it carries the soul out after him, and into conjunction with him. In a word, the godly soul being loosed from self-love, emptied of self-fulness, beaten out of all self-satisfaction, and delivered from all self-confining lusts, wills, interests, and ends, and being mightily overcome with a sense of a higher and more excellent good, goes after that freely, centres upon it firmly, grasps after it continually, and had rather be that, than what itself is, as seeing that the nature of that supreme good is infinitely more excellent and desirable than its own.

Thus have I briefly explained and confirmed the freeness of this principle in the truly godly soul: I would now make some little improvement of it, but that it seems needful I should here interweave a cautionary concession or two.

him. I say enlarged, because God is such an object, as does not contract, and pinch, and straiten the soul, as all created objects do, but ennoble, ampliate, and enlarge it. The sinful soul, the more it lets out, and lays out, and spends itself upon the creature, the more it is straitened and contracted, and the native freedom of it is enslaved, debased, and destroyed: but grace does establish and ennoble the freedom of the soul, and restore it to its primitive perfection: so that a godly soul is never more large, more at rest, more at liberty, than when it finds itself delivered from all self-confining creature-loves and lusts, and under the most powerful influences and constraint of infinite love and goodness.

By this that hath been said of the free and generous spirit of true religion, we may learn what to think of the forced devotion of many pressed soldiers of Christ in his church militant; that there is a vast difference and distance between the pressed, and the impressed Christian. Though indeed the freedom of the will cannot be destroyed, yet, in opposition to a principle, many men's devotion may be said to be wrung out of them, and their obedience may be said to be constrained. I shall explain it briefly in two or three particulars.

1. Men force themselves, many times, to some things in religion, that are besides, yea, and against, their nature and genius. I need not instance in an overly conformity to the letter of the law, and some external duties which they force themselves to perform, as to hear, pray, to give alms, or the like: in all which the violent and unnatural obedience of the Pharisee may be more popular and specious, than

the true and genuine obedience of a free-born disciple of Jesus Christ. If going on hunting, and catching of venison might denominate a good and dutiful son, Esau may indeed be as acceptable to his father as Jacob; but God is not such a father as Isaac, whose affections were bribed with fat morsels, he feeds not upon the pains of his children, nor drinks the sweat of their brows. I doubt not but that an unprincipled Christian, that hath the heart of a slave, may also force himself to imitate the more spiritual part of religion, and, as it were, to act over the very temper and disposition of a son of God. Therefore we read of a semblance of joy and zeal, which was found in some, whom yet our Saviour reckons no better than "stony ground;" and of great ecstacies in some, whom yet the Apostle supposes may come to nothing, Heb. vi. and what appearance of the most excellent and divine graces of patience, and contempt of the world, many of the sourer sort of monastical Papists, and our mongrel breed of Papists, the Quakers, do make at this day, all men know: nay, some of these last sort do seem to themselves, I believe, to act over the temper and experiences of the chiefest Apostles, rejoicing with Peter, and the rest, that they are "counted worthy to suffer shame," and keeping a catalogue of their stripes with Paul; and in these things, I am confident, to use the Apostle's words, that they think themselves "not a whit behind the very chiefest Apostles" nay, they are not ashamed to lay claim. to that grace of graces, self-denial, which they have forced themselves to act over so artificially, that even a wise man might almost be deceived into a favour

« PreviousContinue »