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SERM. It is of great use, that by comparing the Law XXVI. with our practice, and in the perfection of the one
discerning the defect of the other, we may be humbled, may be sensible of our impotency, may thence be forced to seek the helps of grace, and the benefit of mercy.
Were the rule never so low, our practice would come beneath it; it is therefore expedient that it should be high, that at least we may rise higher in performance than otherwise we should do: for the higher we aim, the nearer we shall go to the due pitch ; as he that aimeth at heaven, although he cannot reach it, will yet shoot higher than he that aimeth only at the housetop.
The height of duty doth prevent sloth and de
cay in virtue, keeping us in wholesome exercise and Phil. iii. 12. in continual improvement, while we be always climb
ing toward the top, and straining unto further attainment: the sincere prosecution of which course, as it will be more profitable unto us, so it will be no less acceptable to God, than if we could thoroughly fulfil the law ; for in judgment God will only reckon upon the sincerity and earnestness of our endeavour:
so that if we have done our best, it will be taken as 1 Cor.v.28, if we had done all. Our labour will not be lost in 1 Thess
. i. the Lord; for the degrees of performance will be Heb. vi.10. considered, and he that hath done his duty in part
shall be proportionably recompensed; according to Cor. iii. 8. that of St. Paul, Every man shall receive his own
reward according to his own work. Hence someMatt. v. 48. times we are enjoined to be perfect as our heavenly
Father is perfect, and to be holy as God is holy; Col. iv, 12. otherwhile to go on to perfection, and to press toPhilipp. iii. ward the mark; which precepts in effect do import
the same thing; but the latter implieth the former, SERM.
XXVI. although in attainment impossible, yet in attempt very profitable : and surely he is likely to write best, who proposeth to himself the fairest copy for his imitation.
In fine, if we do act what is possible, or as we can do conform to the rule of duty, we may be sure that no impossibility of this, or of any other sublime law, can prejudice us.
I say, of any other law; for it is not only this law to which this exception may be made, but many others, perhaps every one evangelical law, are alike repugnant to corrupt nature, and seem to surmount our ability.
But neither is the performance of this task so impossible, or so desperately hard, (if we take the right course, and use proper means toward it,) as is supposed: as may somewhat appear, if we will weigh the following considerations.
1. Be it considered, that we may be mistaken in our account, when we do look on the impossibility or difficulty of such a practice, as it appeareth at present, before we have seriously attempted, and in a good method, by due means, earnestly laboured to achieve it: for many things cannot be done at first, or with a small practice, which by degrees and a continued endeavour may be effected; divers things are placed at a distance, so that without passing through the interjacent way we cannot arrive at them; divers things seem hard before trial, which afterward prove very easy: it is impossible to fly up to the top of a steeple, but we may ascend thither by steps ; we cannot get to Rome without crossing the seas, and travelling through France or Germany;
SERM. it is hard to comprehend a subtile theorem in geoXXVI.
metry, if we pitch on it first; but if we begin at the simple principles, and go forward through the intermediate propositions, we may easily attain a demonstration of it: it is hard to swim, to dance, to play on an instrument; but a little trial or a competent exercise will render those things easy to us: so may the practice of this duty seem impossible, or insuperably difficult, before we have employed divers means, and voided divers impediments ; before we have inured our minds and affections to it; before we have tried our forces in some instances thereof, previous to others of a higher strain, and nearer the perfection of it.
If we would set ourselves to exercise charity in those instances, whereof we are at first capable without much reluctancy, and thence proceed toward others of a higher nature, we may find such improvement, and taste such content therein, that we may soon arise to incredible degrees thereof; and at length perhaps we may attain to such a pitch, that it will seem to us base and vain to consider our own good before that of others, in any sensible measure; and that nature which now so mightily doth contest in favour of ourselves, may in time give way to a better nature, born of custom, affecting the good of others. Let not therefore a present sense or experience raise in our minds a prejudice against the possibility or practicableness of this duty.
2. Let us consider, that in some respects, and in divers instances it is very feasible to love our neighbour no less than ourselves.
We may love our neighbour truly and sincerely, Tim. i. 6. out of a pure heart and a good conscience, and
faith unfeigned, as St. Paul doth prescribe; or, ac- SERM. cording to St. Peter's injunction, from a pure heart XXVI. love one another fervently: and in this respect we Pet. i. 22.
(Rom. xii. can do no more toward ourselves; for truth admit-9.) teth no degrees, sincerity is a pure and complete thing, exclusive of all mixture or alloy.
And as to external acts at least it is plain that charity toward others may reach self-love; for we may be as serious, as vigorous, as industrious in acting for our neighbour's good, as we can be in pursuing our own designs and interests : for reason easily can manage and govern external practice; and common experience sheweth the matter to this extent practicable, seeing that often men do employ as much diligence on the concerns of others, as they can do on their own, (being able to do no more than their best. in either case :) wherefore in this respect charity may vie with selfishness; and practising thus far may be a step to mount higher.
Also rational consideration will enable us to perform some interior acts of charity in the highest degree; for if we do but (as without much difficulty we may do) apply our mind to weigh the qualities and the actions of our neighbour, we may thence obtain a true opinion and just esteem of him; and, secluding gross folly or flattery of ourselves, how can we in that respect or instance be more kind or benign to ourselves ?
Is it not also within the compass of our ability to repress those passions of soul, the eruption whereof tendeth to the wrong, damage, and offence of our neighbour; in regard to which practice St. Paul affirmeth, that the law may be fulfilled: Love, saith Rom. xiii. he, worketh no evil to his neighbour; therefore
BARROW, voj. II.
SERM. love is the fulfilling of the law? And what more XXVI. in this respect can we perform for ourselves ?
3. We may consider, that commonly we see men inclined by other principles to act as much or more for the sake of others, as they would for themselves.
Moral honesty hath inclined some, ambition and popularity have excited others, to encounter the greatest dangers, to attack the greatest difficulties, to expose their safety, to sacrifice their lives for the welfare of their country&.
Common friendship hath often done as much, and
brutish love (that mad friendship, as Seneca calleth Sen. Ep. ix. it) commonly doeth far more: for what will not a
fond lover undertake and achieve for his minion,
although she really be the worst enemy he can have? Chrys. in yet for such a snake will he not lavish his estate, Eph. p. 797.
prostitute his honour, abandon his ease, hazard his safety, shipwreck his conscience, forfeit his salvation? What may not a Delilah obtain of her Samson, a Cleopatra of her Anthony, how prejudicial soever it be to his own interest and welfare ?
Why then may not a principle of charity, grounded on so much better reason, and backed by so much stronger motives, be conceived able to engage men to the like practice? why may not a man be disposed to do that out of a hearty good-will, which he can do out of vain conceit or vicious appetite? why shall other forces overbear nature, and the power of charity be unable to match it?
4. Let us consider, that those dispositions of soul which usually with so much violence do thwart the observance of this precept, are not ingredients of
'Αληθές δε το περί του σπουδαίου, και το των φίλων ένεκα πολλά πράττειν και της πατρίδος, κάν δέη υπεραποθνήσκειν. Αrist. Eth, ix. 8.