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man did not lay to his heart and preserve there, in actual, pious, and effective consideration ? Let the trumpet of God perpetually sound in your ears, “ Surgite, mortui, et venite ad judicium :" place yourselves, by meditation, every day upon your death-bed, and remember what thoughts shall then possess you, and let such thoughts dwell in your understanding for ever, and be the parent of all your resolutions and actions. The doctors of the Jews report, that when Absalom hanged among the oaks by the hair of the head, he seemed to see under him hell gaping wide ready to receive him; and he durst not cut off the hair that entangled him, for fear he should fall into the horrid lake, whose portion is flames and torment, but chose to protract his miserable life a few minutes in that pain of posture, and to abide the stroke of his pursuing enemies : his condition was sad when his arts of remedy were so vain.
Τί γάρ βροτών αν συν κακούς μεμιγμένον
A condemned man hath but small comfort to stay the singing of a long psalm ; it is the case of every vicious person. Hell is wide open to every impenitent persevering sinner, to every unpurged person.
Noctes atque dies patet atri janna Ditis m.
And although God hath lighted his candle, and the lantern of his word and clearest revelations is held out to us, that we can see hell in its worst colours and most horrid representments; yet we run greedily after baubles, into that precipice which swallows up the greatest part of mankind; and then only we begin to consider, when all consideration is fruitless.
He, therefore, is a huge fool, that heaps up riches, that greedily pursues the world, and at the same time (for so it must be) heaps up wrath to himself against the day of wrath ;” when sickness and death arrest him, then they appear unprofitable, and himself extremely miserable; and if you would know how great that misery is, you may take account of it by those fearful words and killing rhetoric
m Æn. vi. 127.
of Scripture : “ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God;" and,“ Who can dwell with the everlasting burnings?” That is, no patience can abide there one hour, where they must dwell for ever.
OF CHRISTIAN PRUDENCE.
Be ye therefore wise as serpents, und harmless as doves.
Matt. x. latter part of verse 16. When our blessed Saviour entailed a law and a condition of sufferings, and promised a state of persecution to his servants; and withal had charmed them with the bands and unactive chains of so many passive graces, that they should not be able to stir against the violence of tyrants, or abate the edge of axes, by any instrument but their own blood; being ' sent forth as sheep among wolves,' innocent and silent, harmless and defenceless, certainly exposed to sorrow, and uncertainly guarded in their persons; their condition seemed nothing else but a designation to slaughter: and when they were drawn into the folds of the church, they were betrayed into the hands of evil men, infinitely and unavoidably: and when an apostle invited a proselyte to come to Christ, it was in effect a snare laid for his life ; and he could neither conceal his religion, nor hide his person, nor avoid a captious question, nor deny his accusation, nor elude the bloody arts of orators and informers, nor break prisons, nor any thing but die. If the case stood just thus, it was wel eternity stood at the outer days of our life, ready to receive such harmless people : but surely there could be no art in the design, no pitying of human weaknesses, no complying with the condition of man, no allowances made for customs and prejudices of the world, no inviting men by the things of men, no turning nature into religion; but it was all the way a direct violence, and an open prostitution of our lives, and a throwing away our fortune into a sea of rashness and credulity.
But, therefore, God ordered the affairs and necessities of religion in other ways, and to other purposes. Although God bound our hands behind us, yet he did not tie our understandings up: although we might not use our swords, yet we might use our reason: we were not suffered to be violent, but we might avoid violence by all the arts of prudence and innocence: if we did take heed of sin, we might also take heed of men. And because in all contentions between wit and violence, prudence and rudeness, learning and the sword, the strong hand took it first, and the strong head possessed it last ; the strong man first governed, and the witty man succeeded him, and lasted longer; it came to pass, that the wisdom of the Father hath so ordered it, that all his disciples should overcome the power of the Roman legions by a wise religion; and prudence and innocence should become the mightiest guards; and the Christian, although exposed to persecution, yet is so secured that he shall never need to die, but when the circumstances are so ordered, that his reason is convinced that then it is fit he should ; fit, I say, in order to God's purposes and his own.
For he that is innocent, is safe against all the rods and the axes of all the consuls of the world, if they rule by justice; and he that is prudent, will also escape from many rudenesses and irregular violences that can come by injustice : and no wit of man, no government, no armies, can do more. For Cæsar perished in the midst of all his legions and all his honours; and against chance and irregularities there is no provision less than infinite that can give security. And although prudence alone cannot do this, yet innocence gives the greatest title to that Providence which only can, if he pleases, and will, if it be fitting. Here, then, are the two arms defensive of a Christian: prudence against the evils of men, innocence against the evils of devils and all that relates to his kingdom.
Prudence fences against persecution and the evil snares, against the opportunities and occasions of sin; it prevents surprises, it fortifies all its proper weaknesses, it improves our talents, it does advantage to the kingdom of Christ and the interests of the Gospel, it secures our condition, and instructs our choice in all the ways and just passages to felicity, it makes us to live profitably and die wisely; and without it, simplicity would turn to silliness, zeal into passion,
passion into fury, religion into scandal, conversation into a snare, civilities into temptation, courtesies into danger; and an imprudent person falls into a condition of harmless, rich, and unwary fools, or rather of birds, sheep, and beavers, who are hunted and persecuted for the spoils of their fleece or their flesh, their skins or their entrails, and have not the foresight to avoid a snare, but by their fear and undefending follies are driven thither where they die infallibly. Exalioi πολλούς εις σοφός διόλλυται 2. Every good man is encircled with many enemies and dangers; and his virtue shall be rifled, and the decency of his soul and spirit shall be discomposed, and turned into a heap of inarticulate and disorderly fancies, unless, by the methods and guards of prudence, it be managed and secured.
But in order to the following discourse and its method, we are first to consider, whether this be, or, indeed, can be, a commandment, or what is it. For can all men that give up their names in baptism, be enjoined to be wise and prudent? . It is as if God would command us to be eloquent or witty men, fine speakers, or straight-bodied, or excellent scholars, or rich men: if he please to make us so, we are so. And prudence is a gift of God, a blessing of an excellent nature, and of great leisure, and a wise opportunity, and a severe education, and a great experience, and a strict observation, and good company; all which, being either wholly or in part out of our power, may be expected as free gifts, but cannot be imposed as commandments.
To this I answer, that Christian prudence is, in very many instances, a direct duty; in some, an instance and advice, in order to degrees and advantages. Where it is a duty, it is put into every man's power; where it is an advice, it is only expected according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not: and even here, although the events of prudence are out of our power, yet the endeavours and the observation, the diligence and caution, the moral part of it, and the plain conduct of our necessary duty, (which are portions of this grace,) are such things which God will demand in proportion to the talent which he hath intrusted into our banks. There are, indeed, some Christians
a Stobæns, Floril. tit. 3. p. 17.
very unwary and unwise in the conduct of their religion; and they cannot all help it, at least not in all degrees; but yet they may be taught to do prudent things, though not to be prudent persons: if they have not the prudence of advice and conduct, yet they may have the prudence of obedience and of disciples. And the event is this : without prudence their virtue is unsafe, and their persons defenceless, and their interest is unguarded; for prudence is a handmaid waiting at the production and birth of virtue ; it is a nurse to it in its infancy, its patron in assaults, its guide in temptations, its security in all portions of chance and contingencies; and he that is imprudent, if he have many accidents and varieties, is in great danger of being none at all; or, if he be, at the best he is but a 'weak and an unprofitable servant,' useless to his neighbour, vain in himself, and as to God, the least in the kingdom :' his virtue is contingent and by chance, not proportioned to the reward of wisdom, and the election of a wise religion.
Προνοίας ουδέν ανθρώποις έφυ
Κέρδος λαβείν άμεινον, ουδε νου σοφού 6. No purchase, no wealth, no advantage, is great enough to be compared to a wise soul and a prudent spirit; and he that wants it, hath a less virtue, and a defenceless mind, and will suffer a mighty hazard in the interest of eternity. Its parts and proper acts consist in the following particulars.
1. It is the duty of Christian prudence to choose the end of a Christian, that which is perfective of a man, satisfactory to reason, the rest of a Christian, and the beatification of his spirit; and that is, to choose and desire, and propound to himself heaven, and the fruition of God, as the end of all his acts and arts, his designs and purposes. For, in the nature of things, that is most eligible and most to be pursued, which is most perfective of our nature, and is the acquiescence, the satisfaction, and proper rest of our most reasonable appetites. Now the things of this world are difficult and uneasy, full of thorns and empty of pleasures; they fill a diseased faculty or an abused sense, but are an infinite dissatisfaction to reason and the appetites of the soul; they are short and transient, and they never abide, unless sorrow, like a chain,
b Sophocl. ap. Stob. Floril. tit. 3. p. 15.