« PreviousContinue »
was at least as strict as the severest part of this discourse, till by degrees it lessened and shrunk into the licentiousness and dissolution of the present age.
67. Obj. 6. But if it be necessary to extirpate the habits of sin, and to acquire (being helped by God's grace) the contrary habits of virtue; how can it fare with old and decayed men, or with men that have a lingering, tedious, protracted sickness (for I suppose their case is very near the same), who were intemperate or unchaste all their lifetime, and until they could be so no longer; but how can they obtain the habit of chastity who cannot do any acts of chastity; or of intemperance, who have lost their stomach, and have not any inclination or temptation to the contrary? And every virtue must be cum potentiâ ad oppositum;' if it be not chosen, it is not virtue, nor rewardable. And the case is almost the same to all persons young or old, who have not opportunity of acting those graces, in the matter of which they have formerly prevaricated.
68. To this I answer many things, and they are of use in the explication of this material question. I. Old men may exercise many acts of chastity both internal and external. For if they may be unchaste, they may also be chaste: but St. Paul speaks of the άotλynkóтɛç, 'men that being past feeling, yet were given to lasciviousness ;' ávöρóπaides ävdpec, 'half men, half boys,' 'prurientes in sepulchro.' For it is not the body but the soul that is wanton; and an evil man may sin with ineffective lusts; as he that lusts after a woman whom he cannot have, sins with his soul. Now wherever these unlawful desires can be, there also they can be mortified; and an old man can love to talk of his past vanities, or not rescind them by repentance, or desire that he were young and active in wickedness; and therefore if he chooses not to do so, and therefore avoids these and the like, out of hatred of his old impurities, he does the proper works of that grace, which he also may do the easier, because then his temptations to the contrary are not so strong: but this advantage is not worth staying for so long. They that do so, venture damnation a long time together, and may also have an evil proper to that state, greater than this little advantage I instance.
II. If there were no other act of chastity to be exercised. by old persons, by reason of their disability; yet the very
accepting from the hands of God that disability, and the delighting in that circumstance of things, in which it is impos-sible to sin as formerly, must needs be pleasing to God, because it is a nolition of the former sins, and a desire of pleasing him.
III. Every act of sorrow for unchastity is an act of chastity; and if this sorrow be great and lasting, permanent and habitual, it will be productive of much good. And if to these the penitent adds penal actions and detestations of his crimes, revenge and apt expressions of his holy anger against his sin, these do produce a quality in the soul contrary to that which made him formerly consent to lust.
IV. When a vicious habit is to be extirpated, and the contrary introduced, it is not necessary that the contrary be acted by the body, but be radicated in the soul; it is necessary that the body do not sin in that instance; but it is not always required, that contrary acts be done by the body. Suppose Origen had been a lustful person before his castration, yet he might have been habitually chaste afterward, by doing spiritual acts of a corporal chastity. And there are many sins whose scene lies in the body, to which the body afterward cannot oppose a bodily act in the same instance; as he that by intemperate drinking once or oftener, falls into a loathing of wine; he that dismembers himself; and many others; for which a repentance is possible and necessary, but yet a contrary specific act cannot be opposed. In these cases it is sufficient that the habit be placed in the soul, and a perfect contrary quality superinduced, which is to be done by a frequent repetition of the acts of repentance proper to the sin.
V. There are some sins for which amends is to be made in the way of commutation, when it cannot be in the proper instance. "Redime peccata tua eleemosynis," said Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar; "Redeem thy sins with alms, and thy iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor." Our English Bibles read this, "Break off thy sins by alms," as if alms were directly contrary to pride, or lust, or gluttony, or tyranny; and the shewing mercy to the poor a direct intercision and interruption of the sin. He that gives alms that he may keep his lust, loses his soul and his money too. But he that leaves his lust, or is driven from it, and gives alms to obtain
2 Dan. iv. 27.
God's favour for his pardon, by doing something that is gracious in his eyes, this man is a good penitent; if his alms be great and proportionable, given freely and without constraint, when he can keep them, and receive and retain the temporal advantage, and be assisted by all those other acts and habits, of which his present state is capable. It cannot be said, that to give alms can, in all such cases, be sufficient; as it will be hard to say that so many acts of the contrary grace will suffice to get a habit, or obtain a pardon; but it is true, that to give alms is a proper action of repentance in such cases, and is in order to pardon. For,
VI. As there is a supreme habit of vice, a transcendent vileness, that is, a custom and readiness to do every sin as it is presented in its proper temptation, and this is worse than the habit of any one sin; so there is a transcendent habit of grace, by which a man is so holy and just and good, that he is ready to obey God in every instance. That is malice, and this is charity. When a man hath this grace habitually, although it may be so that he cannot produce the proper specific habit opposite to his sin for which he specially repents, yet his supreme habit does contain in it the specific habit virtually and transcendently. An act of this charity will not do this, but the habit will. For he that does a single act of charity, may also do a single act of malice; and he that denies this, knows not what he says, nor ever had experience of himself or any man else. For if he that does an act of charity, that is, he who by a good motion from God's Spirit, does any thing because God hath commanded, to say that this man will do every thing which is so commanded, is to say, that a good man can never fall into a great sin: which is evidently untrue. But if he that does one act in obedience to God, or in love to him (for obedience is love), will also do more, then every man that does one act to please his senses, may as well be supposed that he will do more; and then no man's life should have in it any variety, but be all of a piece, entirely good, or entirely evil. I see no difference in the instances, neither can there be, so long as a man in both states hath a power to choose. But then it will follow, that a single act of contrition, or of charity, cannot put a man into the state of the divine favour, it must be the grace or habit of charity; and that is a magazine of habits by equivalency,
and is formally the state of grace. And upon these accounts, if old men will repent, and do what they can do, and are enabled in that state, they have no cause to be afflicted with too great fears concerning the instances of their habits, or the sins of their youth. Concerning persons that are seized upon by a lingering sickness, I have nothing peculiar to say, save this only, that their case is in something better than that of old men in some things worse. It is better, because they have, in many periods of their sickness, more hopes of returning to health and long life, than old men have of returning to strength and youth, and a protracted age: and therefore their repentance, if it be hearty, hath in it also more degrees of being voluntary, and relative to a good life. But in this, their case is worse. An old man that is healthful, is better seated in the station of penitents, and because he can choose contraries, is the more acceptable if he chooses well. But the sick man, though living long in that disadvantage, cannot be indifferent in so many instances as the other may : and in this case, it is remarkable what St. Austin said; "Si autem vis agere pœnitentiam, quando jam peccare non potes, peccata te dimiserunt, non tu illa."-To abstain from sin when a man cannot sin, is to be forsaken by sin, not to forsake it.'-At the best it is bad enough: but I doubt not but if they do what they can do, there is mercy for them, which they shall find in the day of recompenses.
67. Obj. 7. But how shall any man know, whether he have performed his repentance as he ought? For if it be necessary that he get the habits of virtue, and extirpate the habits of vice; that is, if by habits God do, and we are to make judgments of our repentance, who can be certain that his sins are pardoned, and himself reconciled to God, and that he shall be saved? The reasons of his doubts and fears are these. 1. Because it is a long time before a habit can be lost, and the contrary obtained. 2. Because while one habit lessens, another may undiscernibly increase, and it may be a degree of covetousness may expel a degree of prodigality. 3. Because a habit may be lurking secretly, and for want of opportunity of acting in that instance, not betray itself, or be discovered, or attempted to be cured. For he that was not tempted in that kind where he sinned formerly, may, for aught he knows, say that he hath not sinned, only
because he was not tempted; but if that be all, the habit may be resident, and kill him secretly. These things must be accounted for.
70. I. But to him that inquires whether it be light or darkness, in what regions his inheritance is designed, and whether his repentance is sufficient, I must give rather a reproof than an answer; or at least such an answer as will tell there is no need of an answer. For indeed it is not good inquiring into measures and little portions of grace. 'Love God with all thy heart, and all thy strength;' do it heartily, and do it always. If the thing be brought to pass clearly, and discernibly, the pardon is certain, and notorious but if it be in a middle state, between ebb and flood, so is our pardon too; and if in that undiscerned state it be in the thing certain that thou art on the winning and prevailing side, if really thou dost belong unto God, he will take care both of thy intermedial comfort, and final interest. But when people are too inquisitive after comfort, it is a sign their duty is imperfect. In the same proportion also, it is not well when we inquire after a sign for our state of grace and holiness. If the habit be complete and entire, it is as discernible as light, and we may as well inquire for a sign to know when we are hungry and thirsty, when you can walk, or play on the lute. The thing itself is its best indication.
71. II. But if men will quarrel at any truth, because it supposes some men to be in such a case, that they do not know certainly what will become of them in the event of things, I know not how it can be helped; I am sure they that complain here, that is, the Roman doctors, are very fierce preachers of the certainty of salvation, or of our knowledge of it. But be they who they will, since all this uncertainty proceeds not from the doctrine, but from the evil state of things into which habitual sinners have put themselves, there will be the less care taken for an answer. But certainly it seems strange that men who have lived basely and viciously all their days, who are respited from an eternal hell by the miracles of mercy, concerning whom it is a wonderful thing that they had not really perished long before, that these men returning at the last, should complain of hard usage, because it cannot be told to them as confidently as to new-baptized innocents, that they are certain of their salvation as St. Peter