Page images

should die "without mercy under two or three witnesses "." Now, then, since in the Gospel there is no such thing, but there is an allowance of repentance, this must needs be an easy yoke. This only is to be added, that the righteousness of the law was in abstinence from evil; the righteousness of the Gospel is in that, and in the doing all the affirmative commandments of Christ. Now this, being a new obligation, brought also with it new abilities, I mean the glorious promises of the Gospel, which whosoever believes heartily, will find himself able to do or suffer any thing for the enjoying of them; and this is that which is taught us by St. Paul: "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son," made it possible by the Spirit of grace, and by our spiritual conversation.

34. III. There is a natural possibility, and a moral: there are abilities in every man to do any thing that is there commanded, and he that can do well to-day, may do so to-morrow; in the nature of things this is true and since every sin is a breach of a law, which a man might and ought to have kept, it is naturally certain, that whenever any man did break the commandment, he might have done otherwise. In man therefore, speaking naturally and of the physical possibilities of things, there is, by those assistances which are given in the Gospel, ability to keep the commandments evangelical. But in the moral sense, that is, when we consider what man is, and what are his strengths, and how many his enemies, and how soon he falls, and that he forgets when he should remember, and his faculties are asleep when they should be awake, and he is hindered by intervening accidents, and weakened and determined by superinduced qualities, habits, and necessities, the keeping of the commandments is morally impossible. Now that this may also be taken off, there is an abatement and an allowance made for this also. Our infirmities are pitied, our ignorances excused, our unavoidable errors not imputed. These in the law were imputable, and it was lawful for the avenger of blood to kill a manslayer who sinned against his will, if he could overtake him before he got to sanctuary. These, I say, in the law were imputable, but they were not imputed: God's mercy took them off privately upon the accounts of his mercy and a general

[blocks in formation]

repentance: but in the Gospel, they are neither imputed, nor imputable they were paid for beforehand, and put on the accounts of the cross: "God winked at the times of your ignorance;" and, "The Lord had pity on me, because I did it in ignorance," said St. Paul; and so Christ prayed; "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."—" But ye did it ignorantly, as did also your rulers;" so St. Peter, and upon that account he called them to accept of mercy. And it is certain in reason, that if God forgives those sins of malice of which we repent, infinitely rather will he not impute what we cannot probably or possibly avoid. For to do otherwise, were τῆς ἀνθρωπίνης καὶ κοινῆς ἀσθενείας ἐπιλανθάνεσθαι· ἕως ἂν τις αναμαρτήτους κολάζῃ, τὸ μέτρον ὑπερβαίνει τῆς κατὰ φύσιν ἐπανορθώσεως ' : it is a severity above the measures of human sufferance and capacity, to be punished for infirmities when they do not sin wilfully; and therefore God, who remembers and pities our infirmities, will never put these into his account, especially the holy Jesus having already paid our symbol. Upon the account of these particulars it is certain, God does not exact of us an impossible commandment; that is, not in the impossible measure: for that is the meaning of those words of St. Basil, ἀσεβὲς γὰρ λέγειν ἀδύνατα εἶναι τὰ τοῦ πνεύματος παραγγέλματα — It is impious to say, the commandments of the Spirit," i. e. of the Gospel," are impossible," viz. in that sense in which they are exacted.

But now to the second inquiry: Since in justice God exacts not an impossible law, how does it consist with his wisdom to impose what, in justice, he does not exact? I answer, 1. That it was necessary the law, in its latitude and natural extension, should be given; for if, in the sanction, any limits and lessenings had been described, it had been a permission given to us to despise him in a certain degree, and could, in no sense, have been proportionable to his infinity. God commands us to "love him with all our hearts, and all our strengths;" that is, always and with all that we can: if less than this had been imposed, and we commanded to love God but to a less, and a certain proportion, besides that it would not have been possible for us to understand when we did what was commanded, it would have been either a direct lessening our opinion of God, by tempting us to suppose no more love Apud Diodor. Sicul.

Hom. 3. inter. 19.

was due to him than such a limited measure; or else a teaching us not to give him what was his due; either of which must necessarily tend to God's dishonour.

36. II. The commanding us to do all that we can, and that always, though less be exacted, does invite our greatest endeavours; it entertains the faculties and labours of the best, and yet despises not the meanest; for they can endeavour too, and they can do their best and it serves the end of many graces besides, and the honour of some of the di

vine attributes.

37. III. By this means still we are contending and pressing forward; and no man can say, he does now comprehend, or that his work is done, till he die; and therefore for ever he must grow in grace, which could not be without the proposing of a commandment, the performance of which would for ever sufficiently employ him: for by this means the commandments do every day grow more possible than at first. A lustful person thinks it impossible to mortify his lust: but when he hath long contended and got the mastery, it grows easy, and at last, in the progressions of a long piety, sin is more impossible' than duty is. "He that is born of God, sinneth not, neither indeed can he;" so St. John;and, "through Christ, that strengthens me, I can do all things," saith St. Paul. It is long before a man comes to it, but the impossibility by degrees turns into a possibility, and that into an easiness, and at last into a necessity. It is a trouble for some to commit a sin. By this also we exercise a holy fear, and work out our salvation with fear and trembling. It enlarges our care, and endears our watchfulness and caution. It cures or prevents our pride and bold challenges of God for rewards, which we never can deserve. It convinces us of the necessity of the divine aid, and makes us to rely upon God's goodness in helping us, and his mercy in pardoning us; and truly, without this we could neither be so sensible of our infirmities, nor of the excellent gifts and mercies of God: for although God does not make necessities on purpose that he may serve them, or introduce sin that he might pardon it,-yet he loves we should depend upon him; and by these rare arts of the divine economy

In epistola ad Innocentium dictum est, multos catholicos viros dixisse posse hominem esse sine peccato per gratiam Dei, non à nativitate sed à conversione.

makes us to strive to be like him, and in the midst of our finite abilities, have infinite desires, that even so we may be. disposed towards the holiness and glories of eternity.

38. IV. Although God exacts not an impossible law under eternal and insufferable pains, yet he imposes great holiness in unlimited and indefinite measures, with a design to give excellent proportions of reward answerable to the greatness of our endeavour. Hell is not the end of them, that fail in the greatest measures of perfection; but great degrees of heaven shall be their portion, who do all that they can always, and offend in the fewest instances. For as our duty is not limited, so neither are the degrees of glory and if there were not this latitude of duty, neither could there be any difference in glory; neither could it be possible for all men to hope for heaven, but now all may: the meanest of God's servants shall go thither; and yet there are greater measures for the best and most excellent services.

39. Thus we may understand, that the imposing of the divine laws, in all the periods of the world, was highly consistent with the divine justice, and an excellent, infinite wisdom, and yet in the exacting them, mercy prevailed;— because the covenant of works or of exact obedience was never the rule of life and death, since the Saviour of the world was promised, that is, since the fall of Adam, but all mankind was admitted to repentance, and washed clean in the blood of the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, and was slain from the beginning of it. Repentance was the measure of our duty, and the remedy for our evils; and the commandments were not impossible to him, that might amend what was done amiss.


How Repentance, and the Precept of Perfection evangelical, can stand together.

40. THAT the Gospel is a covenant of repentance, is evident in the whole design and nature of the thing, in the preparatory sermons made by the Baptist, by the apostles of our Lord, by the seventy-two disciples, and the exhortations

made by St. Peter at the first opening the commission, and the secret of the religion. Which doctrine of repentance; lest it should be thought to be a permission to sin, a leave to need the remedy, is charged with an addition of a strict and severe holiness, the precept of perfection. It therefore must be such a repentance as includes in it perfection, and yet the perfection is such as needs repentance. How these two are to stand together, is the subject of the present inquiry. "Be ye therefore perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" that is the charge. To be perfect as God, and yet to repent as a man, seem contrary to each other. They seem so only. For,

41. I. It does not signify perfection of degrees in the natural sense of the word. For as Philo said well, 'Aεvows αἱ τελείοτητες καὶ ἀκρότητες ενός εἰσι μόνον, " Perfections and the heights of excellences are only proper to one:"—Σopos ὁ μόνος θεὸς καὶ τέλειος μόνος, said Clemens of Alexandria; "God alone is wise, he alone is perfect."-All that we do is but little; and that little is imperfect, and that imperfection is such as could be condemned, if God did not use gentleness and mercy towards us. But,

42. II. Although perfection of degrees cannot be understood to be our duty in the periods and spaces of this life, because we are here in the state of labour and contention, of pilgrimage and progression, yet even in this life we are to labour towards it: and, "Be ye perfect," viz. with the highest degrees of holiness, is to be understood in a current and transient sense. For this precept, thus understood, hath its obligation upon our endeavour only, and not upon the event. When a general commands his army to destroy the enemy, he binds them only to a prudent, a possible, and vigorous endeavour to do it, and cannot intend the effect, but by several parts answerable to the steps of the progression. So is that in the Psalms; "Be learned, ye, that are princes of the world";" that is, Learn, and so by industry and attention arrive at knowledge. For although every man be a sinner, yet he that does not endeavour to avoid all sin, is not only guilty of the sin he commits, but the negligence also, which is the parent of the sin, is another sin, and directly criminal. So it is in the degrees of perfection; what we cannot attain

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »