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cating this difficulty, will serve many propositions in the doctrine of repentance.
Of the Possibility or Impossibility of keeping the Precepts of the Gospel.
15. IT were strange that it should be possible for all men to keep the commandments, and required and exacted of all men with the intermination or threatening of horrid pains, and yet that no man should ever do it. St. Jerome brings in Atticus thus arguing: "Da exemplum, aut confitere imbecillitatem tuam°;" and the same also was the argument of Orosius; and the reasonableness of it is a great prejudice against the contrary affirmation of St, Austin, Alipius et Evodias, Aurelius et Possidius, who, because it is no good consequence to argue ' a non esse ad non posse,' and though it is not done, yet possibly it might; conclude, that it is possible to keep the commandments; though as yet no man ever did, but he that did it for us all. But as Marcellinus said well, It is hard to say, that by a man a thing can be done, of which although there was a great necessity and a severe commandment, yet there never was any example.'-Because in men there is such infinite variety of tempers, dispositions, apprehensions, designs, fears and hopes, purposes and interests, that it were next to a miracle that not one of all mankind should do what he can, and what so highly concerns him. But because this, although it be a high probability, yet is no certain demonstration; that which St. Paul taught is certainly to be relied upon, "that the law could not do it for us," that is, could not bring us justification, "in that it was weak through the flesh;" meaning, that because we were so weak we could not fulfil the righteousness of the law, therefore we could not be justified by that covenant. “Mosi manus graves, facies cornuta, impedita lingua, lapideæ tabulæ:""Moses's hands were heavy, his face bright, his tongue stammering, and the tables were of stone;" by which is meant, that the imposition and the burden were great, but the shoul• Lib. 1. Dial. adv. Pelag.
P Rom. viii.
der is weak and crushed, and therefore was not able to bear it; and therefore much less can it stand under a bigger load, if the holy precepts of the Gospel should prove so, and we be assisted by no firmer supporters.
16. For the nature and constitution of man are such, that he cannot perpetually attend to any state of things: "Voluntas per momenta variatur, quia solus Deus immutabilis ;" Variety and change, inconstancy and repentance, are in his very nature. If he be negligent, he is soon tempted. If he be watchful, he is soon wearied. If he be not instructed, he is exposed to every abuse. If he be, yet he is ignorant of more than he knows, and may be cozened by very many things; and in what he knows or seems to know, he is sometimes confident, sometimes capricious, curious and impertinent, proud and contemptuous. The commandments are instanced in things against our natural inclinations, and are restraints upon our appetite; and although a man may do it in single instances, yet to act a part of perpetual violence and preternatural contentions, is too hard and severe an expectation, and the often-unavoidable failings of men will shew how impossible it is. It is, as St. Jerome's expression is, as if a man should hale a boat against the stream; if ever he slacken his hand, the vessel falls back and if ever we give way to our appetite in any of the forbidden instances, we descend naturally and easily. Some vices are proportionable to a man's temper, and there he falls pleasantly and with de-' sire ; Ηδὺ τὸ κατὰ φύσιν, τὸ δὲ βίαιον λυπηρὸν, said Aristotle ; "That which is natural is sweet, but that which is violent is troublesome":" to others he is indifferent, but to them he is turned by every bias. If a man be morose, he is apt to offend with sullenness and angry pretensions: but if he be compliant and gentle, he is easily cozened with fair entreaties. If he be alone, he is sad and fantastic, and woe to him that is alone:' if he be in company, it will be very hard for him to go with them to the utmost limits of permission, and not to step beyond it. No man's leisure is great enough to attend the inquiry after all the actions and particulars, for which he is to be judged; and he does many things, which he considers not whether they be sins or no; and when he does consider, he often judges wrong. For some things there are
1 St. Jerom. lib. 2. in Gal. c. 3.
Rhet. lib. 1. Holwell. p. 50.
no certain measures; and there are very many constituent or intervening things and circumstances of things, by which it is made impossible to give a certain judgment of the whole. Oftentimes a man is surprised and cannot deliberate for want of time; sometimes he is amazed, and wants order and distinction to his thoughts, and cannot deliberate for want of powers. Sometimes the case is such, that if a man determines it against his temporal interest, he determines falsely, and yet he thinks he does it safest and if he judges in compliance with his temporal regards, he cannot be confident but that he was moved, not by the prevailing reason, but by prevailing passion. If the dispute be concerning degrees, there is no certain measure to weigh them by: and yet sometimes a degree does diversify the kind, and virtue and vice are but differing degrees of the same instance: and the ways of sinning upon the stock of ignorance are as many as there are ignorances, and degrees, and parts, and vicious causes, and instances of it.
17. Concerning our infirmities, they are so many that we can no more account concerning the ways of error coming upon that stock, than it can be reckoned in how many places a lame man may stumble, that goes a long journey in difficult and uneven ways. We have beginning infant-strengths, 'which are therefore imperfect because they can grow:" "Crescere posse imperfectæ rei signum est";" and when they are most confirmed and full grown, they are imperfect still. When we can reckon all the things of chance, then we have summed up the dangers and aptnesses of man to sin upon that one principle; but so as they can, they are summed up in the words of Epiphanius'; Οὐκ ἀναιροῦμεν τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ φιλανθρωπίαν, εἰδότες τὸ κήρυγμα τῆς ἀληθείας, καὶ τὸν ἔλεον τοῦ δεσπότου, καὶ τὸ συγγνωστὸν τῆς φύσεως, τὸ εὐριπιστὸν τῆς ψυχῆς, τὸ ἀσθενὲς τῆς σαρκὸς, τὸ πολύβλυστον τῆς τῶν πολλῶν ἀνθρώπων αισθήσεως. “The condition of our nature, the inconstancy of our spirits, the infirmity of our flesh, the distraction of our senses, are an argument to make us with confidence expect pardon and mercy from the loving-kindness of the Lord, according to the preaching of truth, the Gospel of Christ."
18. But besides all this, the numbers of sin are not easily
Seneca, Ep. 67.
1 Hæres. 59.
to be told the lines of account are various and changeable, our opinions uncertain, and we are affrighted from one into another, and all changes from sin are not into virtue, but more commonly into sin. "Obsessa mens hominis et undique diaboli infestatione vallata vix occurrit singulis, vix resistit; si avaritia prostrata est, exsurgit libido"." And if we do not commit things forbidden, yet the sins of omission are innumerable and undiscernible. Businesses intervene, and visits are made, and civilities to be rendered, and friendly compliances to be entertained, and necessities to be served, and some things thought so which are not so, and so the time goes away, and the duty is left undone; prayers are hindered, and prayers are omitted; and concerning every part of time which was once in our power, no man living can give a fair
19. This moral demonstration of the impossibility of perfect and exact obedience and innocence, would grow too high, if I should tell how easily our duties are soured even when we think we walk wisely. Severity is quickly turned into ungentleness, love of children to indulgence, joy to gaiety, melancholy to peevishness, love of our wives to fondness, liberties of marriage to licentiousness, devotion to superstition, austerity to pride, feasting to intemperance, urbanity to foolish jesting, a free speech into impertinence and idle talking.
20. There were no bottom of this consideration, if we consider how all mankind sins with the tongue. "He that offends not in his tongue, he is a perfect man indeed:" but experience and the following considerations do manifest, that no man is so perfect. For,
21. Every passion of the soul is a spring and a shower, a parent and a nurse, to sin. Our passions either mistake their objects, or grow intemperate; either they put too much upon a trifle, or too little upon the biggest interest. They are material and sensual, best pleased and best acquainted with their own objects and we are to do some things, which it is hard to be told how they can be in our own power. We are commanded to be angry, to love, to hope, to desire certain things, towards which we cannot be so affected ever when we please. A man cannot love or hate upon the stock and interest of a
Zabuli. St. Cypr. de oper. et eleemos.
commandment, and yet these are parts of our duty. To mourn and to be sorrowful are natural effects of their proper apprehensions, and therefore are not properly capable of a law. Though it be possible for a man who is of a sanguine complexion, in perfect health and constitution, not to act his lust yet it will be found next to impossible not to love it, not to desire it and who will find it possible that every man, and in all cases of his temptation, should overcome his fear? But if this fear be instanced in a matter of religion, it will be apt to multiply eternal scruples; and they are equivocal effects of a good meaning, but are proper and univocal enemies to piety and a wise religion.
22. I need not take notice of the infinite variety of thoughts and sentences, that divide all mankind concerning their manner of pleasing and obeying God; and the appendant zeal by which they are furiously driven on to promote their errors or opinions, as they think, for God: and he that shall tell these men they do amiss, would be wondered at; for they think themselves secure of a good reward, even when they do horrible things. But the danger here is very great, when the instrument of serving God is nothing but opinion and passion abused by interest; especially since this passion of itself is very much to be suspected; it being temerity or rashness (for some zeal is no better); and its very formality is inadvertency and inconsideration.
23. But the case is very often so, that even the greatest consideration is apt to be mistaken: and how shall men be innocent, when besides the signal precepts of the Gospel, there are propounded to us some general measures, and as I may call them 'extraregular lines,' by which our actions are to be directed; such as are, the analogy of faith, fame, reputation, public honesty, not giving offence, being exemplary; all which, and divers others being indefinite measures of good and evil, are pursued as men please, and as they will understand them. And because concerning these, God alone can judge righteously, he alone can tell when we have observed them: we cannot; and therefore it is certain we very often do mistake.
24. Hence it is that they who mean holiness and purity, are forced to make to themselves rules and measures by way of idea or instrument, endeavouring to choose that side which