1. LASTLY, To compleat and crown all other Excellencies, nothing is so proper, so necessary as Piety and Devotion. This is the salt which seasons all Sacrifices; yea, the Altar which sanctifies the Gift, no good (how splendid soever in the sight of men) being acceptable to God, till it be thus consecrated, and have the seal of the Sanctuary upon it. This is a Vertu truly Divine, as well in its original as its end; for as it comes from Heaven, (is an afflation of the blessed Spirit) so it tends thither also, and thither raises its Votaries. This is it which sublimates and spiritualizes Humanity, defecates and refines it from all the dregs of morality; and so wings our earthly lumpish nature, that we can soar aloft to the region of Spirits, and by its raptures make som essay of that state of separation, even while we are linked to the body. This is it which combines us so with God, that we have the same interests, the same choices; nay it does in a sort communicate and enterchange properties with him; the all-Powerful God seems impotent and unable to resist its influence, whilst it invests us feeble wretches in a kind of Omnipotence, by engaging him for us who can do all things.
2. Now this Piety may be considered either in a larger, or more limited sense: in the former 'tis as wide as the whole scheme of Duty, not confined to any one act, but extended to all the commands of God. For as the animal Spirit diffuses its self into all the most distant members of the body; so this more vital Principle has as universal an influence on the mind, stamps that with such an admiration and reverence of God, such a love and complacency in him, that every act is (at least habitually) design'd to obey and glorifie him.
3. In the more limited sense, Piety is taken for our more immediate entercourse with God, in things purely divine, as Adorations, Praiers, Aspirations, and all pantings and breathings of the soul after him; and in this notion 'tis more particularly called Devotion. And this is comprehended it: the other, as a part in the whole; nay indeed, as an effect in its cause; for where Piety has not first formed and modelled the soul, there can be no true Devotion. External forms of it there may be, but that is but ceremony and pageantry, the most submissive prostrations are there but like that of Dagon before the Ark, the fall of a liveless trunk; the most elevated eyes but a kind of convulsive motion; and the most rigid mortifications, but like the cuttings and launcings of Baal's Priests. Of this the very Heathen had som notion, and therefore in their worships had many preparatory ceremonies of lustration, and purifying, as being conscious of the incongruity, that unholy Persons should be admitted to Sacred things. And accordingly Socrates has excellently (I had almost said Evangelically) defined, the best way of worshipping God, to be the doing what he commands. Indeed without this, our Devotion is meer stratagem and design: we invoke God as we use to cajole men, only to serve a present turn; and of such disingenious addresses, 'tis easie to read the event; or, if we cannot, Solomon will instruct us, Prov. 15. 8. The Praiers of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord.
4. To treat of the several branches of Piety in the first notion, is not agreeable to the intended brevity of this Treatise; nor necessary, because there are so many distinct Tracts extant on that Subject; yet I shall the more closely to adapt it to my female Readers, observe the propriety of it to women, not only as it is their greatest ornament and advantage, but especially as they have somwhat more of predisposition towards it in their native temper. God's Laws, which are the rule of Piety, have this common with mens, that they are inforced upon us by the proposall both of punishments and rewards, by that means engaging two of our most sensible passions, Fear and Love; and the female Sex being eminent for the pungency of both these, they are consequently the better prepared for the impressions of Religion.
5. This is so much acknowledged, that our masculine Atheists make an ill use of it, and are willing to think that Religion owes its force only to the impotence of the subject on which it works, that 'tis only an imposition upon the easie credulity of women, and are content to allow them the inclosure of it; wherein, tho they sufficiently shew their contemt of Piety, yet they unawares give a greater honor to that Sex then they intend, whilst they confess it more capable of an assimilation to the supreme Goodness, and of the renewal of God's Image (for to that all Piety is design'd) then their own. And therefore women have so little reason to be ashamed, that they ought to glory in the concession, and gratefully to celebrate the goodness of God to them, who, as he brings light out of darkness, so converts their natural infirmities into a means of spiritual strength, makes the impotencies and defects of their nature subservient to the operation of Grace; and by consecrating their very Passions, makes even those Gibeonites serviceable to the Tabernacle. But then 'tis to be remembred, that the greater is their obligation to comply with this design of Gods, to let their passions run in the channel he has cut for them; so to confine their Fear and Love to spiritual Objects, that they make no inordinate eruptions to any thing else, but in all their estimations of things dreadful or desirable, to give still the just deference to that which is eternal.
6. And, as Women in General have this advantage towards Piety, and obligation to it; so particularly those of Quality, who we may subpose to have generally a more early institution and instruction in it then those of a meaner rank: and besides, have afterwards more opportunities of being built up in the knowledg of their duty, and (by the help of an ingenious education) clearer apprehensions to discern it; and when they do so, have greater obligations to perform it, both in respect of God, of others, and themselves.
7. In respect of God they have the greatest tie of gratitude, not only for the common mercies which they partake with the rest of mankind, but for those peculiar, by which they are differenced from others; of which, if they want a just valu, let them ask themselves how willing they would be to part with them, how she that has fed delicatly, would like to be desolate in the street, or she that has bin brought up in Scarlet, to embrace the Dunghil, Lam. 4. 5. and according to the aversion they find to such a change, let them estimate their present enjoiment, and the thankfulness it exacts.
8. Secondly, in regard of others, their Piety backt with their secular advantages, may be of a more extensive benefit; they have many opportunities of doing good by their influence on others; or if no way else, yet the splendor of their example, will by the eminency of their conditions shine (as a light on som high Tower) more perspicuously, and guide many into the same path of Vertu. And certainly 'tis no small obligation that lies on them in this respect; for God, who does nothing without an end worthy of his wisdom, can never be thought to have selected som persons as the objects of his bounty, meerly that they may swill and glut themselves with sensual plesures. No doubtless, he who is the great Master of the universe, disposes all things for common benefit; and therefore, if He have placed som in an higher Orb then others, it is that they may have an auspicous influence on those below them; and if they fail in this, they are no longer Stars but Comets, things of ominous and unlucky abode to all about them. I might enlarge on this Subject, but having don it already in the Gentlemans Calling, I suppose it unnecessary, since that part is equally adapted to both Sexes.
9. In the last place, they have all obligation to Piety, in respect of themselves, and that in two considerations; the first, of their present danger; the second, of their final account. For their danger, 'tis evident they do not more outnumber their inferiors in any thing then in the opportunities, nay sollicitations to sin. Wealth and Honor have many snares, and which is worse, do often dispose the mind to such an heedless security, that it takes no care to avoid them: and as in the body, the diseases of repletion are far more numerous then those of emtiness, so the mind is oftner vitiated by affluence and prosperity, then by indigence and adversity. It becomes therefore those who are so surrounded with enemies to fortifie themselves: and that they can no way do, but by a sincere Piety, that whole Armor of God which the Apostle describes, Eph. 6. 13. by which alone they may repel all the darts of temtations; nay not only ward the blow, but wrest the weapon out of Satans hand, so that when he urges to them the opportunities, the impunity which their wealth and greatness gives them to be bad, they may retort his Argument, & by a wholsomer inference collect thence their great obligation to be good, and that not only upon the score of gratitude (tho that were enough to an ingenious soul) but in the second place of interest also, in respect of that account they must finally give. For tho God be not an unjust exactor to reap where he has not sowed, yet he is not so negligently profuse, as to do that which no prudent man will do, scatter his goods promiscuously, without taking notice where they fall; but as he dispences all things by particular providence, so he does it to a particular end, and will exact as particular an account how that end has bin complied with.
10. It is a smart exprobration of Gods to Israel, Ezek, 16, 17, 18, 19. that she had sacrilegiously emploied his silver and gold, his oil, his flower and hony which he had given her in the service of her Idols, by which as we may see he takes notice how we dispose of our temporal possessions, so it shews us how the enditement will proceed against all those who so pervert their use: with what confusion must they appear at the great Audit who can give no other account of their receits, but that they consumed them upon their lusts, waged war against God with his own tresure, and bin as well thieves as rebels? What a Luciferian fall will they have from their honors, who have endevored to undermine Gods? thought themselves too great to pay him homage, and by their prophane and vicious example, induced a contemt of him? In short what a retaliation of inversions will there then be? those that have turned Gods grace into wantonness, converted his bounty into the fuel of their pride and luxury, shall then have their glory turned into sham, their riots and excesses into the want of a drop of water, and shall retain nothing of their greatness, but the guilt, the grating remembrance of having abused those temporal blessings, which if well managed might have received them into everlasting habitations. How necessary then is it for all who have receiv'd so much upon account, to be often reflecting on it, examining what charges, the great owner has imposed upon so ample an income? what God requires of them for whom he hath don so much? And this is particularly the business of Piety, which in all the forementioned respects, is as the usefullest, so the noblest accomplishment of greatness
11. And such it hath bin accounted till this prophane Age of ours, which has removed all the boundaries of the former, reverst even the instincts of nature, and will not leave us so much of Religion as had the very worst of Heathens. For how erroneous soever their were in the choice of their Deities, they alwaies honored and reverenc'd those they chose, committed most of their enormities in obedience not in affront to them: did not assign the votaries as Jeroboam did his Priests of the meanest of the people, but thought themselves dignified by their service, but esteemed it an infamy not to be pious. But alas now we adaies make other estimates, Religion is so abject so contemtible a thing, as is thought fit to influence none that are great either in parts or quality: and therefore tho too many are willing to appropriate it to women, upon the first account, as the Gospel is the foolishness of preaching, 1 Cor. 1. 21. yet they make exceptions upon the latter, and are not willing to afford it any of the nobler Proselits even of that Sex.
12. I doubt not there are many Lectures read to such, to fortifie them against all impressions of piety, to raise out the common notion of a God, & in order to that to depose his Vicegerent within them, discard their conscience, that unmannerly inmate, which is still speaking what they have no mind to hear, and will be apt somtimes to question their grand principle, and tell them they have souls. And truly 'tis no wonder if the abetters of Athism take this course; for since they have no solid foundation of truth or reason, 'tis but necessary they support their Party by Autority; the countenance and applause of Great Persons, & God knows they have too much succeeded in the design. But, in the mean time, what security do they give for the truth of their pretensions? We know 'tis still required of those that will practise upon other peoples concerns, that they put in caution to secure the owner from damage, But alas, what gage can they give for a soul? Who can contrive a form of Indemnity where that is the thing hazarded?
13. 'Tis easy indeed for one of these Apostles of Sathan, to tell a Lady that she has nothing to do but to indulge to her plesure; that 'tis the extremest folly to be frighted from a present enjoiment, by a fear of I know not what future smart; that God, and Sin, and Hell, are but names, certain Mormos and Bug-bears conjur'd up by Divines, to work upon her fear, and abuse her crudelity. This, and much more of this kind may be said, and I doubt often is; but all this while the question is begg'd, and a strong affirmation must pass for proof: for I defie all the Doctors of Atheism to make any demonstration of their Tenet; and yet, though they pretend to no Demonstration themselves, Religion must be condemned meerly for the want of it: that is for not making spiritual things liable to sense, for distinguishing between belief and science; which is indeed for doing the most reasonable thing in the world, viz. the remitting every object to the trial of its proper faculty: and they who suspect it upon that account, may by the same kind of Logic wrangle us out of all our senses, may perswade us we hear nothing because the eye discerns not sounds, that we tast not, because the ear understands not gusts and vapors, and so on to the rest.
14. And yet this is the bottom of those Arguments which the great pretenders to reason make against Religion, and in the mean time have so little ingenuity as to exclaim on the light credulity of fools and women, that embrace the dictates of faith, whilst the same instant they exact a more implicit assent to their negative Articles, their no Religion. A strange magisterial confidence so to impose on this Age, what is so universally contradictory to all former, and to the common verdict of mankind. For 'tis observable through all the successions of men, that there were never any society, any collective body of Atheists; a single one perhaps might here and there be found (as we sometimes see monsters or mishapen births) but for the generality they had alwaies such instincts of a Deiety, that they never thought they ran far enough from Atheism; but rather choose to multiply their Gods, to have too many then none at all: nay were apt to descend to the adoration of things below themselves, rather then to renounce the power above them. By which we may see that the notion of a God is the most indelible character of natural reason, and therefore whatever pretence our Atheists make to ratiocination and deep discourse, it is none of that primitive fundamental reason coetaneous with our humanity; but is indeed a reason fit only for those who own themselves like the beasts that perish.
15. But admit we could be more bountiful to them, and allow their opinion an equal probability with our Faith, yet even this could never justifie any body in point of prudence, that should adhere to them. Common discretion teaches us that where two propositions have an equal appearance of truth, there is no rational inducement to prefer one before the other, till we have examined the consequences, and find somthing in the one which may over-poise and outweigh the contrary. Now in all things that concern practice, there are no motives so considerable, either to invite or avert, as advantage or danger.
16. Let us apply this to the present case, and examine the pretensions of the Atheist and the Christian in both respects. But first we are to remember, that both advantage and danger are to be viewed under a double notion, either as present or as future. The former is the Atheists most proper subject, and indeed all he can pertinently speak to, who professes himself only a man of this world. Here he wil tell us that the disbelief of God and another life, is the great enfranchiser of mankind, sets us at liberty from that thraldom, those Bonds wherewith our superstitious fears had fetter'd us, that it supersedes all those nice and perplexing inquiries of lawful and unlawful, and reduces all our inquisitions only to this one, how we shall most please our selves. The glutton need not put a knife to his throat, but is only to put an edge upon his Palate. The drunkard need not refrain his cups, but only take care that the be filled with the most delicious liquor. The wanton need not pull out his eye, but only contrive to possess what that temts him to desire; and in a word none of our appetites need be restrain'd, but satisfied. And this uncontrol'd licentiousness, this brutish liberty, is that summum bonum, that supreme happiness which they propose to themselves, and to which they invite others.
17. On the other side the Christian is not without his claim to a present advantage, tho of a far differing nature: he is not so preposterous as to think it a preferment to sink below his kind; to aspire to an assimilation with meer animals, which is the utmost the former amounts to, but he proposes to himself the satisfaction of a man; those delights which may entertain his reason not his sense; which consist in the rectitude of a well inform'd mind. His Religion is the perfectest Scheme of Morality, and makes him a Philosopher without the help of the Schools, it teaches him the art of subduing his appetites, calming his passions, and in a word makes him Lord of himself; and by that gives him all the plesures which result from such a soveraignty, Nor is he totally void even of the plesures of sense, which in many instances are greater to him then to those that most court them. Temperance cooks his coursest diet to a greater gust, then all their studied mixtures; chastity makes one lawful embrace more grateful to him, then all the nauseating variety of their unbounded lusts; and contentment swells his mite into a talent, makes him richer then the Indies would do if he desired beyond them. Nor is it a contemtible benefit that his moderation gives him an immunity from those sensitive pains which oft bring up the rear of inordinate sensual plesures. So that his condition even set in the worst light in that very particular wherein the Atheist most triumphs over him, is not so deplorable as 'tis represented.
18. But if it were, he has plesures that would infinitly overwhelm that smart, and that not only in his reason (as hath bin said before) but in his more sublime diviner part, such irradiations from above, such antepasts of his future bliss, such acquiescence in a calm & serene conscience, as is very cheaply bought with all he can suffer here. I know the profane laugh at these things as Chimera's and the illusions of a prepossessed fancy (& truly if they were so, they might yet come in balance with many of their plesures which are as much owing to opinion and imagination:) but if we consider what supports they have given under the heaviest pressures, how they enabled the primitive Martyrs, not only to suffer, but even to court all that is formidable to humane nature, we cannot think that a meer phantastic imaginary joy could deceive the sense of such real, such acute torments. And tho in this great declination of zeal, there be perhaps few that can pretend to those higher degrees of spiritual raptures, yet certainly were the votes of all devout persons collected, they would all concur in this testimony, that even in the common offices of Piety, the ordinary discharge of a good conscience, there is an infinitly greater complacence, a higher gust and relish then in all the plesures of sense. But of this the most irrefragable witnesses are those who from great voluptuaries have turned devotes, and I dare appeal to their experience, whether of the two states is the most plesant. I wish those who will not believe this on others words, would themselves make the trial, and till they do so they are notoriously unjust to pronounce that a fiction, of whose reality they refuse to make proof.
19. By what hath bin said, some estimate may be made which bids fairest) the Atheist or Christian) as to present temporal felicity: but alas what an allay, what a damp is it to felicity to say 'tis themporal, yet we may give it a term below that, and say 'tis momentary. For since our life is so, nothing that depends on that can be otherwise, and yet in this shallow bottom the irreligious embark their all. For, as to all future advantage, 'tis their Principle to disclaim it, they discern no reward for blameless souls, Wisd. 2. 22. So that in this particular the Christian does not compare with, but triumph over them. He knows that if his earthly house of this Tabernacle be dissolved, he hath a building of God; an House not made with hands, eternal in the Heavens, 2 Cor. 5. 1. That when he parts with his life, he does not resign his happiness, but shall receive it infinitly improved both in degree and duration. And now certainly 'tis visible enough which opinion proposes the fairer hopes, and consequently which (supposing but an equal probability of truth) is the most inviting.
20. But som spirits there are so ignoble, that the most glorious Prize cannot animate them; that like a swine, the muscles of whose eies, they say, permit him not to look upwards, is not concerned in all the felicities above, but would at a venture resign his share in those, so he may securely enjoy his husk and draff. But yet even these who are uncapable of the more generous resentments, may be apt enough to the more servile; and danger may fright, tho glory cannot allure them. It concerns such therefore to compare the mischiefs which each Opinion threatens to their opposits, and from thence make an estimate which is safest to be chosen. And here let the Atheist himself cast up the account of the dangers consequent to Christianity, and it can all amount but to this, the deprivation (or rather moderation) of som present sensual plesures, or the incurring of som present sensitive pains; the former in the daily exercise of Temperance, and mortification; the latter, (more rarely and ostner in purpose then act) the suffering for Righteousness sake. And both these the Christian ballances, nay out-weighs by two more important present hazards on the other side. To the former, he opposes the danger of being enslaved to the brutish part of a mans self, a thing so deplorable even in the judgment of humanity, that all Writers of Ethics have uniformly declared no servility to be so sordid and intolerable as that of the vicious man to his Passions and Lusts. To the latter, he confronts the mischief of being a slave to every man else; for such he certainly is, whom the fear of suffering can baffle out of any thing he thinks just and honest. For if all the men in the World could successively have the power to afflict him, they would also have to command and rule him; and what can be more abject, more below the dignity of human nature, then to have a spirit alwaies prepared for such a servitude? Besides, even the utmost sufferings which Christianity can at any time require, is outvied daily by the effects of luxury and rage; and for one that has opportunity to be a Martyr for his God thousands become so to their Vices.
21. If from the present we look forward to future dangers, the Atheist must here be perfectly silent; he cannot say that the Christian after this life shall be in any worse estate then himself, since he concludes they shall both be the same nothing. But the Christian threatens him with a more dismal state, he allows him indeed a being, yea an eternal one; but it is only such as qualifies him for a misery as eternal; the worm that never dies, the fire unquenchable, where all the excesses of his short plesures shall be revenged with more excessive, endless torments: his senses which were here the only organs of his felicity, shall then be (tho not the only) the very sensible mediums of his wretchedness; and that conscience which he here suspended from its office, shall then take our its arrears, and return all its stifled admonitions in perpetual horrors, and desperate upbraidings. I need not now sure ask on which side the greater danger lies.
22. To conclude, the result of all is, that the transitory plesures of the Atheist are over-poised even by the present satisfactions of the Pious And the eternity of unbounded, unconceivable joies he expects hereafter, comes in ex abundanti, having nothing on the other side that offers at a competition with it. And at the very same rate of Proportion we have seen the dangers also are so, that we can easily compute the utmost mischief our Christianity can do us, if it should be false; but the damage of the other is inestimable, both for the penalty of loss, and sense. I may now appeal to common prudence to judg of the vast inequality, and to pronounce, that sure there had need be som great evidence of truth on the Atheists side, to preponderate all these disadvantages. Indeed, nothing much below a demonstration can justify the choice of so dangerous Principles; I am sure an equal probability can never do it, where the danger is so unequal; and were the veriest Atheist consulted in a secular case of the like circumstances, he would certainly pronounce him a mad man that should make such an election. How desperate a phrensy then is it to do it, without so much as that equal probability: nay indeed, without any probability at all? And yet this madness sets up for the monopoly not of Wit only, but Reason too; and by confidence and clamor, seeks to run down those Arguments it can never confute.
23. I may be thought here to have made too long a digression from my proper Subject, but I cannot confess it so; for since my present business is to recommend Piety, I can no way do that so effectually as by shewing its consonancy to right reason, especially considering the busie industry is now used to represent it under another form, and to alienate from it those persons whose Greatness may give it any luster or repute in the World; of which sort I suppose there are few more frequently attaqued then Women of Quality, that converse among those who call themselves the wits of the Age; who living in so infectious an air, had need of som antidotes about them; and if what I have now offered, appear not forcible enough, (for it pretends not to the tith of what may be said on the Subject) yet it may at least do them this service, to put them in mind of what they need, and send them to the fuller dispensatories of others.
24. And that is the thing. I should earnestly beg of them, that they would be so just to their own interest, as not to combine with seducers against themselves; but if they have bin so unhappy as to lend one ear to them, yet at least not to give up both to be forced in a slavish submission to their dictates, but hear what may be said on the other side. And sure 'tis but a low composition for God thus to divide with Sathan, yet 'tis that of which his Emissaries are so jealous that 'tis one of their grand Maxims, that none who professes Divinity is to be advised with; and therefore by all Arts they are to be rendred either ridiculous, or suspected; to which methinks may by applied that Fable (which Demosthenes once recited to the Athenians, when Alexander demanded of them to deliver up their Orators) of the Wolves and the Sheep, who coming to a Treaty, the first Article of the Wolves was, that the sheep should give up their mastives which guarded them: the resemblance is too obvious to need a minute application.
25. But this is manifestly to reverse all former Rules, and to trust a man rather in any Faculty then his own, and would never have prevailed in any thing but where the soul is concern'd, that poor despicable thing whereon alone we think fit to make experiments. 'Tis sure, that if any should dispute their title to an earthly Possession, they would not so tamely resign it, nor would trust their own selves in its defence, but would consult their ablest Lawyers, and, by them, sift out every circumstance that might establish their claim. Why should they then suffer themselves to be talk'd out of an Heavenly Inheritance, without so much as once proposing their doubts to those whose study and profession it is to resolve them? But as in all other ills, so in this, prevention is better than cure; and therefore to those that are yet untainted, the securest course will be to stop both ears against all profane insinuations. and to use those who temt them to be disloial to their God, that spiritual adultery, as they should do those who solicit them to the carnal, not so much as to enter parly, but with the greatest indignation detest and reject them. 'Tis the saying of the Wise man, Prov. 25. 23. that an angry countenance driveth away a back-biting tongue. And certainly, would great Persons look severely on such defamers of Religion, they would give som check to that impudence of profaneness which has given it such a vogue in the World.
26. And sure this is much their Duty to do, if they own any relation to that God who is so dishonored. They would think it a very disingenious thing to sit by to hear a Friend or Benefactor reviled, and express no displesure; and is God so friendless among them, that only his traducers and blasphemers can be patiently heard? Among the Jews, at the hearing of any Blasphemy, they rent their clothes; but I fear we have som of our nice Dames that would be much more concern'd at a rip in their garment, then at the rending and violating Gods sacred Name; and could more patiently behold the total subversion of Religion, then the disorder or misplacing of a lock or riband. But 'tis to be hoped there are not many so impious, and those that are not, will surely think themselves obliged with all their power, to discountenance all the Fautors of irreligion, whether they be the solemn sedater sort that would argue, or the jollier that would rallery them out of their Faith.
27. But when they have thus provided against the assaults of others, and secured the speculative part of Religion, they have only established a Judicatory against themselves, stored up matter of Conviction and Accusation, if they answer it not in the practic. I must therefore after this long excursion, return to my first Point, and beseech them seriously to weigh the obligations they have to Piety in the general notion of it, as it comprehends all the duties of a Christian life, of which as I intend not to speak particularly; so I know not where to find a better summary, then that which S. James has drawn up, Chap. 1. vers. 27. Pure Religion and undefiled before God even the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
28. But besides this general, there is (as I said before) another more restrained notion of Piety, as it relates to our more immediat entercourse with God in divine Ordinances and Worship, in which respect it commonly passes under the name of Devotion, and thus consider'd it has a great propriety to the female Sex. For Devotion is a tender Plant, that will scarce root in stiff or rocky ground, but requires a supple gentle soil, and therefore the feminine softness and pliableness is very apt and proper for it. And accordingly there have bin very eminent growths of it in that Sex. I need not heap up examples of former Ages, but rather perswade this to leave som at least to the following; and the more considerable the persons are the more conspicuous will be the example, which seems the more to adapt it to those I now speak to. Devotion in a Cloister is as recluse as the Votary, a light rather under a bushel then on a candlestick: and in an obscure Cottage 'tis either not observed, or else thought to be but the effect of destitution and secular wants a reserve rather then a choice: but when those who are in the eies of the world, the most eminent Actors on the Theater of human life, shall chuse the part of a Saint, when those who want none of the divertisments or blandishments of earth, shall have their conversation in Heaven, this recommends it to the Spectators, as the true and greatest object of human choice; since 'tis chosen by those who know the utmost pretence of all its competitors.
29. Nor is devotion only more excellent in them in regard of its effects, but 'tis also more necessary in respect of their obligation. Devotion is an abstraction from the world, and therefore cannot in any eminent degrees, be practised by those whose necessities or business do much entangle them in it. So that from such, a far less proportion will be accepted, then from those whose plenty and ease give them no other want but that of emploiment. And certainly if there be any of whom that can truly be said; women of quality are the persons: for they in this respect exceed even men of the like rank, for the men are often engaged in public emploiments, and must lend most of their time to the use of others; or however all have the care of their own privat affairs, the managery of their fortunes to employ them. But of women the utmost that is ordinarily required, is but a little easie inspection within their own walls, the oversight of a few children, and servants, and even from this how many are by their condition of life exemted? and how many more do by their niceness and delicacy exemt themselves? And surely so perfect a vacancy is neither happy nor safe. And therefore God who projects we should be both, never design'd it for any of mankind: but where he gives so much liberty from secular, he expects a greater diligence in spiritual emploiments.
30. And indeed 'tis an amazing thing to see, that any into whom he has breathed the breath of life, on whom he has stamped the image of his own eternity, can think those immortal souls were given them only to serve the mean and abject uses of their corruptible bodies, (for which the soul of the dullest Animal would have don as well;) that eating and drinking, sleep and recreations, which are only useful to the supporting us in this world, are the only things for which we were sent hither. And yet if we may mesure their opinions by their practice, this seems to be the perswasion of many of our female Gentry, who look upon it as a degrading, a kind of attainder of their blood, to do any thing but please their senses. An error sure of the most pernicious consequence imaginable. We know a Lady of plesure is in one sense a very scandalous Epithet, and truly 'tis no very laudable one in the other, nay which is worse, they are often coincident, and fall in with each other. She whose sole universal aim is plesure, will not think her self much out of her road, in the pursuit of any particular. And she that thinks she lives for no other purpose, will so often be at a loss for innocent plesure, that she is almost under a necessity to call in the nocent, to serve the very end (as she supposes) of her being. Aut indeed were they sure to confine themselves to such as are harmless in their kind, yet the excess of them renders them sinful, and the doting pursuit denominates them lovers of Plesures more then lovers of God, a character so black that the Apostle compleats his Catalogue of the worst vice; of the worst times with it, 1 Tim. 3. 4.
31. It is therefore the great goodness of God to design a rescu for those whose condition exposes them to that danger, and by exacting a liberal expence of time in their devotion, divert them from lavishing both it and their souls together. Neither does he by this defeat their aim of a plesant life, but rather assist it: for whereas sensual delights are vagrant, and must be chased through a hundred turnings and wild Mazes, the spiritual are fixt, and one may alwaies know where to find them. How often are the voluptuous in pain to know which plesure to choose? like a surfeited stomac the greater variety is set before it, the more it nauseats all. What difficulties hath a Lady many times to resolve whether an afternoon shall be spent at the Court, or at the Theater; whether in dancing or at cards, in giving or receiving visits, as not knowing which will best please her? But she that knows the delights of devotion, knows withall that there is no other fit to come in competition with it; and so is not distracted in her choice, nor need go farther then her Closet for the most agreable entertainment. I know this will sound a little incredible to those that know no other use of Closets then as a conservatory of gauds and baubles; that aspire to no plesure there above that of children, the playing with the Pictures and Popets that adorn it. Nor indeed do I pretend that such shall find those satisfactions I speak of. Those whose errand is to Beelzebub the God of flyes, must not expect to be treated by the God of Israel. An ingenious man will scorn to obtrude himself on those who desire not his company, and sure God will not make himself more cheap. Those that will meet him in their Closets, must come with that design, resort thither as to an Oratory; nay more then so, they must come frequently. Spiritual joies know not the way to a place where they are not often invited: and as men seek for each other not in places where they seldom or never come, but where they daily frequent; so God contrives, not to meet us in that place where we appear rarely and accidentally, but where we usually resort.
32. I shall not need to branch out devotion into the several parts, that being don already in a multitude of other Treatises, of which if they please to consult any one, they cannot want a Directory for their worship, whether privat or public. Only let me observe the order and connexion of those two, that they are neither to be sever'd, nor yet to be ranged preposterously. The privat must not justle out the public, for God expects his solemn homage: and their hudling it up in privat, as it may give men Ground to suspect they pay none at all; so neither God nor man can collect any thing better from it, then that they are ashamed of the Deity they pretend to serve. On the other side the public must as little swallow up the privat, and where it does, there may be ajust doubt of its sincerity, Many attractives there may be to Church besides that of Piety, and indeed where that is really the motive, it teaches so much reverence to that awful presence they are to approch, as not to come without some preparation. What solicitude, what critical niceness will a Lady have for her dress, when she is to appear at a solemn meeting at Court, and shall she take no care how sordidly, how undecently she appear when the King of Kings gives audience? Shall many hours, days, nay perhaps weeks, be taken up in contriving for the one, and shall there never be a minute allotted for the other? This were sure very unequal, and yet this is the case where the devotion of the Closet does not prepare for that of the Church. If the mind be not tuned first there, it will be very ill qualified for that harmony of souls, which is the only thing God regards in our public offices. So that were there no other use of privat devotion, but as it relates to the public, that were enough to speak the necessity of it.
33, But indeed 'tis not only a needful preparative to that sacred commerce, but to our civil. The World is but a larger sort of Pesthouse, in every corner of it we meet with infectious airs, and those that converse in it had need of this Antidote. How many temtations does every place, every hour, every interview, present to the shocking even of that moral integrity which a sober Heathen would judg fit to preserve; much more of that strict Piety our Christianity exacts.
34. 'Twas the observation that Origen made of himself, that the day in which he so shamefully fell by sacrificing to Idols, he had ventured out in the morning before he had compleated his usual praiers; the Devil finding him so unarmed took advantage to assault him, as knowing he had then but a single impotent man to wrastle with, who had forfeited, by not invoking, the protection of God. And indeed since praier is the most powerfull exorcism to eject him, we may well conclude the omission of it is a likely means to invite him: for if God have not the prepossession, if we do not by hearty praier surrender our souls to him in the morning, they are then all the day after like that emty house mention'd in the Gospel, a fit receptacle for as many evil spirits as please to inhabit there. Nor are these spiritual the only dangers that attend us, we are liable to a multitude of secular ones also: our persons, our fortunes, our reputations, every thing wherein we can receive a benefit, renders us equally capable of a prejudice. What multitudes of accidents are there to which we lie open, and nothing to guard us from them but the divine Providence? which if we neglect to solicit we are sure very unworthy of its defence. And this is a consideration that methinks should bring even the most sensual persons upon their knees: for tho too many may be found that despise the former danger, and can contentedly enough expose their souls, yet such are usually the most tender of their temporal concerns it being commonly the excessive love of those which makes them neglect the other. She that fears not the fall into sin, will yet fear the tumbling into a precipice, and tho she care not for the spotting of her innocence, would be very loth any accident should blemish her face, disparage her fame, or impoverish her fortune, and yet from any or all of these she is utterly unable to guard her self. So that if Piety will not, yet interest me thinks should render her an homager to that omnipotent power, from whence alone she can derive her safety.
35. And now methinks a Duty that is thus bound on with the cords of a man, with human as well as divine perswasives, should not easily be shaken off. I wish I could say it never is, but I fear there are some of those I now speak to, who neglect it in spight of all these inducements; who tho they can pretend nothing serious enough to own the name of business, do yet suffer a succession of I know not what impertinencies to divert them. And indeed were the expence of some Ladies daies calculated, we should find every hour so full of emtiness, so overladen with vanities that 'tis scarce imaginable where an office of devotion should croud in.
36. The morning is divided between sleep and dressing, nor would the morning suffice, but that they are fain to make a new computation to mesure it not by the Sun, but by their time of dining, which is often as late as the stationary hours of the Primitive Fasts, tho upon a far differing motive. The afternoons being by this means reduced, are too short for those many divertisements that await them, and must therefore borrow as much of the night as they lent to the morning. And when the meer fatigues of plesure send a Lady to her rest, 'tis not imaginable that she will permit Devotion to induce a yet greater, and more disagreeable lassitude; so that the whole round of her time seems to be a kind of magic circle, wherein nothing that is holy must appear. And indeed 'tis none of the highest stratagems of Sathan thus to forestal their time; and by a perpetual supply of diversions, insensibly steal from them the opportunities of divine offices; an artifice by which I presume he prevails on som, who would startle at his grosser and more apparent temtations.
37. Nor needs he more then the success of this project; for if this habitual neglect of Piety should not finally end in great and criminal commissions, (as 'tis naturally very apt to do) yet his interest is sufficiently secured by such a customary omission, which amounts to no less then the living without God in the World: a state so hopeless, that when the Apostle recollects to the Ephesians the wretchedness of their Gentile State, he does it in those very words, Eph. 2. 12. And sure, those that live so under Christianity, are not in a better, but worse condition, by how much contemt of God is more unpardonable then ignorance.
38. It therefore infinitly concerns those who are in danger of so fatal a snare, to look about them, and endevor to countermine Sathan, and be as industrious to secure their duty, as he is to supplant it; and to this purpose, one of the usefullest expedients I know, is to be aforehand with him; I mean, to make their Devotions the first business of the day; by which I intend not only those Ejaculations wherewith we all should open our eyes, but their more set and solemn Praiers; a Practice so highly expedient to the persons forementioned, that it falls little short of necessary; and that upon several reasons.
39. First, in relation to one of the great ends of Morning Praier, which is to supplicate the guidance and protection of God for the whole day. Now if this be not don till som Ladies Dressings be finished, 'twill be half a mockery, a most preposterous request, as to the greatest part of the day, which will be past before; and besides absurdity, there is danger in it; for all the preceding time is as it were outlawed by it, put from under the Divine Protection. Alas, are God's safeguards to be only meridional, to shine out only with the noon-day Sun; Do they suppose Satan keeps their hours, and stirs not abroad till the afternoon, that there is no danger either of corporal or spiritual mischiefs before that time of the day? Certainly, if the noise of the harp and the viol which Isa. mentions, Chap. 5. 12. do not drown it, they may often hear a morning as well as evening Passing-bell; with how many others does the glass of life run out, whilst they are at their looking-glasses? How many bodies are maimed and wounded in the time they are trimming and decking theirs? And who made them differ from others, 1 Cor. 4. 7? Or what tenure have they in the safety of one moment, save what they owe to God's Providence? And what rational expectation can they have of that, when they do not invoke it?
40. Nor are the spiritual dangers less, but rather much more; & they must be very slight observers of themselves, if they do not discern that snares may be laid for them in their recesses in their chambers, as well as in places of the most public resort. Indeed, were there no other than what relates to their dress, and curiosity thereof, it were enough to evidence their danger; scarce any part of that but carrying a temtation in it: to Pride, if it hit right, and please their fancy, to Anger and Vexation, if it do not. They had need therefore to put on their armor before their ornaments, by a prepossession of Praier and Meditation to secure their vitals, lest by an internal death of Grace, their bodies (in their utmost luster) prove but the painted Sepulchers of their Souls.
41. In the second place, this appears requisit in opposition to the indecency and incongruity of the contrary. How inverted an estimate do they make of things that postpone the interests of their souls, to the meanest member of their bodies, paying supererrogating attendance to the one, before the other comes at all into their care. But what is yet worse, how vile a contumely is offered to the Majesty of God, who is used as they do their dunning Creditors, posted off with an excuse of no lesure yet to speak with him; whilst in the mean time all the factors for their vanity can have ready access, and full audience. God must attend till their Tailor, their Shoomaker please to dismiss them, and at the best, can be allowed only to bring up the rear of a whole shole of Artificers.
42. But thirdly, 'tis very doubtful whether he shall obtain so much from them; for it may often happen that he shall be quite precluded: so numerous are the parts of a modish equipage, and so exact a symmetry is required in the whole, that 'tis the business of many hours to compleat it; when as 'twas said of the Roman Ladies, a counsel must be called about the placing of an hair that sits irregularly, when one thing after another shall be tried, and again rejected, as not exact, or not becoming; time all the while insensibly steals away, and tho that will not stay for them, yet dinner doth, and then their bellies begin to murmur to pay any longer attendance on their backs, and claim the next turn; and between these two competitors, 'tis odds devotion will be quite excluded, or reduced only to a grace before meat: (and well if that, considering how unfashionable even that is grown) in the mean time what a wretched improvidence is it, to reduce the one necessary business of the day to such uncertainties, nay almost to a certain disappointment.
43. Yet suppose this hazard were only imaginary, and a Lady were infallibly sure not to lose the time for her Praiers; yet in the fourth place, she will be likely by such preceding diversions to lose much of her zeal in them, so that if they be said at all, they will scarce be said in a due manner. There is alas such a repugnancy in our nature to any thing spiritual, that we cannot close in an instant; but as a benummed, frozen body will need som rubbing and chafing before it can be fit for motion; so our more frozen souls require som previous incitations before they can with any vigor exert themselves in Devotion. Now sure the dressing time (I mean such a dressing as we now suppose) is not very proper for such preparations. 'Tis; on the contrary, extreme apt to indispose and unfit them; for when the fancy is possest with so many little images of vanity, they will not easily be ejected. That ranging faculty is, God knows, too apt to bring in even the remotest diversions; but when it has such a stock ready at hand, how will it pour them in upon the mind, to the great allaying, if not utter extinguishing of Devotion.
44. When all these considerations are put together, 'twill sure appear wholsom counsel, that such persons should not trust so important a duty to so many casualties, but in the first place secure a time for that, repair to their Oratory before their dressing room, and by an early consecration of themselves to God, defeat Sathan's claim, and discourage his attemts for the rest of the day. We know there is a natural efficacy in a good beginning, towards the producing a good ending: but in spiritual things the influence is yet greater, because it draws in Auxiliaries from above, and engages the yet farther assistances of Grace. Upon which account I am apt to believe, that where this Duty is sincerely and fervently performed in the morning, it will not totolly be neglected in the succeeding parts of the day. 'Twill be easy to discern the same obligation, the same advantage of closing the day with God, that there was to begin it; and when those two boundaries are secured, when those are lookt upon as strict duty, and constantly observed, 'tis not unlikely but their Piety may grow generous, and with David, Ps. 55. 17. add to the evening and morning a noon-day office; for where Devotion is real, 'tis apt to be progressive; and the more we converse with God, the more we shall desire to do so. Thus we see how this little cloud like that of Elijah, 1 King. 18. 44. may over-spread the Heavens, and this handful of first-fruits may hallow the whole day.
45. Nay indeed, when it has advanced thus far, 'twill probably go farther, 'twill not keep it self only on the defensive part, but invade its opposits, get daily ground of those vanities by which it was before opprest. For when a Lady has in her Closet washt her cheeks with penitential tears, she cannot sure when she comes out think them prepared for the varnish of the paint and fucus. When she has attentively examined her Conscience, that impartial mirror, and there discern'd all the blemishes of her nobler part, she will sure with somwhat a more cold concern consult her looking-glass. And when she has bin pious vows and resolutions put on the Lord Jesus Christ, Rom. 13. 14. 'twill be impossible for her to be very anxiously careful about her garments. This devout temper of her mind will by a holy leger-demain shuffle the Romances out of her hand and substitute the Oracles of Truth; will not let her dream away her time in phantastic scenes, and elaborate nothing, but promt her to give all diligence to make her Calling and Election sure. In a word, when she once understands what it is to spend one hour devoutly, she will endeavor to rescue all the rest from trifles, and impertinent entertainments; and employ them to purposes more worthy the great end of her being. Thus may she almost insensibly wind her self out of the snare, disintangle her self from those temtations wherewith she was enwrapt; and by having her heart so set at liberty, may run the waies of God's Commandments, Ps. 119.
46. But Privat Devotion, tho of excellent effect, cannot commute for the omission of public, nor indeed can it long maintain its vigor, unless somtimes cherished by the warmth of Christian Assemblies; and if God please to visit them in their Closets, they are (even by their own Laws of Civility) obliged to return his Visits, and attend him in his house, I fear too many adapt the instance in the formality too, and come as unconcernedly to him as they do to one another. 'Tis true, those that pay him a cordial reverence at Home, will certainly do it at the Church; and therefore by the little we see performed by som there, we may doubt God sees as little in their Retirements. But what speak I of an hearty Reverence, when 'tis visible that there are those who pay none at all? How rare a sight is it for som Ladies to appear at Church? How many times (I had almost said hundreds) do we see their Coaches stand at the Play-house, for once at God's? They seem to own no distinction of daies, unless it be, that Sunday is their most vacant season to take Physic, or to lie a-bed; and if such do ever come to Church; Devotion is like to be the least part of their errand; some new garment perhaps or dress is to be shew'd, and that thought the place where the most critical Judges of those things will be most at lesure to observe them; or if they come not to teach new fashions, it may be they come to learn; and such documents will be surer to be put in practice then any in the Sermon. Possibly they expect to see some friend or acquaintance there, and as if Christ were to be served (as he was born) in an Inn, make his house the common rendezvous in which to meet their Associates. If they have any more ingenious attractives, 'tis commonly that of curiosity, to hear some new celebrated Preacher, and that rather for his Rhetoric then his Divinity; and this Motive (tho the best of the set) is but like that which prevail'd with those Jews St. John mentions, who came to Jesus that they might see Lazarus, Jo. 12.
47. I shall not rank among these Motives, that of Hipocrisie and seeming Holiness; for from that all the rest do acquit them. Indeed 'tis the only sin which this Age has seemed to reform, and that too only by way of Antiperistasis, not by the Vertu but the Iniquity of the Times. Religion is grown so unfashionable, so contemtible; that none can now be temted to put on so ridiculous a disguise. And altho as to single persons I confess Hypocrisie one of the deepest Guilts, such as has a peculiar portion assign'd it by Christ in the place of torment, Mat. 24. 51. yet as to Communities, I cannot but think it better to have a face of Religion then profaneness. The example of the former may work beyond it self, and the form of Godliness in some may produce the power of it in others; but a pattern of Profaneness, the farther it operates the worse, and all the progress it can make, is from one wickedness to another, so that I fear as St. Bernard wisht for his Feaver again, so the Church may ere long for her Hypocrites.
48. But to recal my self from this digression, let us a little enquire how those whom the foremention'd Motives bring to Church behave themselves there, and that is indeed with great conformity to the ends of their coming, their errand is not to be Suppliants, neither do they put themselves in the posture, kneeling is impertinent for them who mean not to pray, but as the Apostle describes the Idolatrous service of the Israelites, They sate down to eat and drink and rose up to play; so these sit down to talk and laugh with their Pew-fellows, and rise up to gape and look about them. When they should be confessing their sins to Almighty God, they are apologizing (perhaps) to one another for the omission of a ceremonious visit, or some other breach of civility; when they should be observing the goings of God in the Sanctuary, Psa. 68. they are inquiring when this Lady came to Town, or when that goes out; nay perhaps the Theater is brought into the Temple, the last Play they saw is recollected, and Quotations enough brought thence to vie with the Preacher. 'Tis impossible to reckon up all their Topics of discourse, nay it were indeed scandalous for one that reproves them to pretend to know, by how many impertinencies (to say no worse) they profane that holy Place and Time.
49. But that all seeing eye in whose presence they are, keeps an exact account, and will charge them not only with the principal but the product; not only with their own irreverences, but with those which by their example or incouragement they have occasion'd in others, nay farther even with that scandal which redounds to Christianity by it. For when one that is to chuse a Religion, shall read the Precepts of Pythagoras enjoining that the Gods must not be worshipt in passing by, as it were accidentally, but with the greatest solemnity and intention, when they shall consider the care of Numa in instituting Officers, who at Sacrifices, and all divine Services, should call upon the people to keep silence and advert to Devotion, or but the practice of the present Mahometans, who permit none to sit in their Moschos, nor to pray without prostration. When I say this is considered, and compar'd with the scandalous indecency observable in our churches, he will certainly exclude Christianity from all competition in his choice; not allow that the name of a Religion, whose very Worship appears so profane, and whose Votaries mock the God they pretend to serve.
50. Yet how severe soever the charge may lie against some, I am far from including all under it. I know there are many Ladies whose examples are reproches to the other Sex, that help to fill our congregations when Gentlemen desert them, & to who somtimes we alone own that our Churches are not furnished like the Feast in the Parable, Luke 14. 21. meerly out of the high waies and hedges, with the poor and the maimed, the halt and the blind; yet som even of these may be liable to some irregularity, which may be the effects of inadvertence or misperswasion, tho not of contemt or profaneness.
51. And first 'tis observable in some who com constantly, that yet they come not early, so that a considerable part of Praiers is past ere they enter the Church. This first causes some disturbance to others, the successive entry of new comers keeping the Congregation in a continual motion and agitation, which how unagreable it is to Devotion, Numa a Heathen Prince may teach us, who Plutarch tells us took a particular care, that in the time of divine Worship, no knocking, clapping, or other noise should be heard; as well knowing how much the operations of the intellect are obstructed by any thing that importunes the Senses. What would he have said, should he come into one of our City Congregations, where often during the whole time of Praier, the clapping of Pew-doors does out-noise the Reader.
52. But besides the indecency of the thing, and the interruption it gives to others, 'tis very injurious to themselves; a kind of partial excommunication of their own inflicting; which excludes them from part of the divine Offices, and from that part too, which is of the most universal concern, I mean the confession of sins, which the wisdom of our Church has fitly placed in the beginning of her Service, as the necessary introduction to all the rest. For considering how obnoxious we all are to the wrath and vengeance of God, our first business is to deprecate that by an humble confession of our guilt. Would any Malefactor that had forfeited his life to Justice, come boldly to his Prince, and without taking notice of his crimes, importune him to bestow the greatest favors & dignities upon him? Yet 'tis the very same abrupt impudence in us, to supplicate the divine Majesty before we attemt to atone him, to ask good things from him before we have acknowledged the ill we have doe against him. And to such God may justly make such a return as Augustus did to one that entertained him much below his greatness, I knew not before that we were such familiars.
53. It will much better become them to anticipate the time, to wait at the posts of his doors, Pro. 8. and contrive to be there before the Service begins, that so by previous recollection they may put their minds in a fit posture of address at the public Audience: which (by the way) speaks it to be no very laudable custom which almost universally prevails, that those few who do come early, spend the interval before service, in talking with one another, by which they do not only lose the advantage of that time for preparation, but convert it into the direct contrary, do thereby actually unfit and indispose themselves. God knows our hearts even in their most composed temper, are too apt to create diversions; we need not start game for them to chase, and by prefacing our Praier with secular discourse, make a gap for the same thoughts to return upon us in them. Besides in relation to the place, it has a spice of profaneness, 'tis the bringing the Moabite and Ammonite into the Temple, Deut. 23. 3. a kind of invasion on Gods propriety, by introducing our worldly concerns or divertisments into the house which is called by his name, solemnly dedicated to him, and therefore dedicated that it might be his peculiar. So that with a little variation, we may to such apply the expostulatory reproof of the Apostle to the Corinthians, 1 Cor. 11. 22. what, have ye not houses to talk and converse in, or despise ye the Church of God? But this is I confess a reproof that will not reach to many, there being so few of the better sort that come early enough to talk before Service, and as for those who talk at it, we have already rankt them under another Classis. Yet give me leave to add that those fall not much short of that degree of profaneness, who come late only because they are loth to rise, or to abate any thing of the curiosity of their dress. For she that prefers her sloth or her vanity before Gods Service, is like (how decently soever she behave her self) to give but an unsignificant attendance at it.
54. But I guess this may in many proceed from another cause, which tho less ill in their intention, is not so in respect either of its unreasonableness or its effects, and that is an unequal estimate they make of the parts of Gods Service. This last Age has brought in such a partiality for Preaching, that Praier seems comparatively (like Sarah to Hagar) despicable in their eyes: so that if they can but come time enough to the Sermon, they think they have discharged the weightier part of the Law, and of their own duty. This misperswasion, tho it have too generally diffused it self through both Sexes, yet seems to have bin very especially imbibed by the female. And besides the evidence that Sunday gives; the week-daies afford no less. Let there be a Lecture tho at the remotest part of the Town, what hurrying is there to it, but let the Bell tole never so loud for the Canonical hours of Common Praier, 'twill not call the nearest of the Neighbor-hood. I speak not of those who are at defiance with our Service, and have listed themselves in separate Congregations (for I intend not to trace them through their wild mazes) but of those who yet own our Church, and object not to its Offices, but only have suffered their valu for them to be insensibly undermined by their greater zeal for Preaching. God sure intends a Harmony in all sacred Ordinances, and would not have set up a party against another, but mutually assist each others operation upon us: thus Praier disposes us to receive benefit by preaching, and preaching teaches us how to pray aright, and God grant we may long enjoy the public opportunities of both. Yet since this Age has brought them to a competition, I must take leave to say, that if we come impartially to weigh Praier and Preaching, the Ballance will incline another way then it seems with many to do, and we shall find Praier the more essential part of Religion.
55. The end of Preaching is twofold, either to teach us what we know not, or to excite us to practise what we already know: now in relation to the first of these ends, I suppose there is a wide difference between Preaching at the first promulgation of the Gospel, and now: 'twas then the only way of revealing to the World the whole mystery of our Salvation, so that the Apostles inference was then irrefragable, How shall they believe on him of whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a Preacher? Ro. 10. 14. But where Christianity is planted, and the New Testament received, we have therein the whole doctrine of Christ; nay we have not only the matter but the very form of many of those Sermons which Christ and his Apostles preached; so that unless we think them not sufficiently gifted, we cannot but acknowledg, we have in them amply instruction both for Faith and Manners; enough, as the Apostle speaks, to make us wise unto Salvation, 2 Tim. 3. 15. And the reading of those being a considerable part of our Churches Service, we have the most genuine Preaching even before the Minister ascends the Pulpit. Besides, for the help of those whose youth or incapacity disables them from making collections thence for themselves, our Church has epitomiz'd the most necessary Points of Belief and Practice in the Catechism, not (as the Roman) to preclude their farther search, but to supply them in the interim till they are qualified for it; and by that early infusion of Christian Principles, to secure them of that knowledg which is simply necessary to their Salvation.
56. Now sure, to people in this state, Preaching is not of so absolute necessity in respect of instruction, as it was to those who from Heathenism and Idolatry were to be brought first to the Knowledg, and then to the Faith of Christ. We seem therefore now more generally concern'd in the other end of Preaching, the exciting us to Practice; for alas, there are few of us who stumble on sin for want of light, but either through heedlesness, and want of looking before us, or else by a wilful prostration of our selves to it; so that we often need to be roused out of our negligence, to be frighted out of our stubbornness, and by a close application of those truths we either forget or suppress, be animated to our Duty. And for this purpose Preaching is doubtless of excellent use, and the nauseating of it shews a very sick constitution of mind; yet sure the over-greedy desire may be a Disease also. He that eats more than he can concoct, does not so much assist as oppress nature, & those that run from sermon to sermon, that allow themselves no time to chew, much less to digest what they hear, will sooner confound their brains then better their lives. Nay, it oft betraies them to a very pernicious delusion, it diverts them from many of the practical parts of Piety, and yet gives them a confidence that they are extraordinarily Pious; and by their belief that Religion consists principally in hearing, makes them forget to try themselvs by that more infallible test of doing God's will. So that whereas God never design'd Preaching for more then a guide in their way, they make it their way, and their end too; and Hearing must, like a circle, begin and terminate in it self.
57. I am sure in secular concerns, we should think him a very unprofitable servant, that after his Lord had given him directions what to do, should be so transported with hearing his instructions, that he should desire to have it infinitly repeated, and so spend the time wherein he should do the work. And we have reason to think God will make the same judgment of those who do the like in his service.
58. One would now think that this ravenous appetite of hearing should supersede all niceness in it, yet we find it does not, but that som make a shift to be at once voracious and squemish. If this spiritual food be not artificially drest, 'tis too gross for their palats; the Phrase must be elegant, the words well accented, and the inticing words of mans wisdom which St. Paul disclaims in his Preaching, 1 Cor. 2. 4. is that which they principally regard. Nay the memory of the Preacher becomes the most material Point of his Sermon, and the first glance on his Book prejudges him. I need not add the extravagances of an uncouth tone, a furious vehemence, or phantastic gesture, wherein the soul and vital efficacy of Preaching has bin solemnly placed. Now 'tis evident all these are but trivial Accomplishments; so that those who insist so much on them, do make Preaching much less Sacred and Divine then indeed it is; and therefore cannot without absurdity lay the main stress of Religion upon it, or make that the highest of God's Ordinances, which owes all its gratefulness with them to the Endowments of men. Som may think I pursu this subject too far, but I am sure I do it not with design to derogate from the just respect due to Preaching; only I would not have it monopolize our esteem, or justle out another Duty, which is of more constant use, and indispensible necessity.
59. And such certainly is Praier, that respiration of the soul, which is so necessary, that it admits not of long intermission, and therefore seems to carry the same proportion to hearing, which breathing does to eating: we may make long intervals of feeding, and yet subsist; but if we should do so in breathing, we cannot recover it. Praier is the morning and evening Sacrifice under the Law, which God ordained should be perpetual; whereas Preaching is but like the Readings in the Synagogues on Sabbaths and Festivals. Indeed, however we have confounded the terms, 'tis Praier only that can properly be called the worship of God; 'tis that by which we pay him his solemn homage, acknowledg his soveraignty, and our own dependence. When we hear, we do no more then what every Disciple does to his Master; but when we pray, we own him as the spring and source of all the good we expect, as the Author of our Being, and the Object of our Adoration, in a word, we do by it profess him our God; it being an impress of meer natural Religion to supplicate the Deity we acknowledg.
60. And as by Praier we render the greatest Honor to God, so likewise do we procure the greatest advantages to our selves. Praier is the powerful Engin, by which we draw down Blessings; 'tis the key which lets us into the immense Storehouse of the Almighty; nay 'tis that upon which the Efficacy of Preaching depends. The Word is but a dead letter without the Spirit; and God has promised the Spirit to none but those that ask it, Luk. 11. 13, So that Praier is that which enlivens and inspirits our most sacred actions; and accordingly in Scripture she find it still a concomitant in all Ecclesiastical concerns. When an Apostle was to be substituted in the room of Judas, we find, they referred it not to the decision of lots, till God, who had the sole disposing of them, Prov. 16. 33. had bin invoked by solemn Praier, Act. 1. 24. So when Barnabas and Saul were to be separated to the Ministry, tho the appointment were by the Holy Ghost, yet that superseded not the necessity of Praier; the Apostles praied, (yea, and fasted too) before they laid their hand on them, Act. 13. 3. Nay, our Blessed Savior Himself, tho He knew what was in man, and needed no guidance but his own Omniscience in this choice: yet we find that before his Election of the twelve Apostles, he continued a whole night in Praier to God, Luk. 6. 22. doubtless, to teach us how requisit Praier is in all our important interests, which like the Pillar of Cloud and Fire to the Israelites, is our best Convoy through the Wilderness, through all the snares and temtations, through all the calamities and distresses of this World, and our most infallible Guide to the Land of Promise.
61. And sure when all these are the properties of Praier, tho privat, they will not less belong to the public; such a conspiration and union of importunate Devotion, must have a proportionable increase in its effect; and if Heaven can suffer violence by the fervor of one single Votary, with what storm, what batteries will it be scaled by a numerous Congregation? We find the Church is, by Christ, compared to an Army with banners, Cant. 6. 3. but sure never is this Army in so good array, in so invincible a posture as upon its knees. The Ecclesiastical story tells us of a Legion of Christians in Aurelius's Camp, who in that posture discomfited two assailants at once, the enemy and the drought; that breath which they sent up in Praiers, like a kindly exhalation return'd in rain, and relieved the perishing Army: and had we but the same fervor, and the same innocency, could we lift up but as pure hands as they did, there would be no Blessing beyond our reach. But the less any of us find our selves so qualified, the more need we have to put our selves among those that are.
62. There is an happy contagion in goodness; like green wood, we may perhaps be kindled by the neighboring flame; the example of anothers zeal may awake mine. However, there is som advantage in being in the company: those showers of benediction which their Praiers bring down, are so plentiful, that som drops at least may scatter upon those about them. We find Elisha for Jehoshophat's sake, endured the presence of Jehoram, whom otherwise he professes he would not have lookt towards, 2 King. 3. 14. and God may perhaps do the like in this case; and as he prospered Potiphar for Joseph's sake, Gen. 39. 23. so the Piety of fome few may redound to the benefit of all. From all these considerations I suppose may sufficiently be evinced the necessity and benefit, of public Praier, and consequently the unreasonableness of those, who upon any pretence neglect it. I shall now only beseech those to whom I speak to make the application to themselves, and to shew they do so by their more early and more assiduous attendance on it.
63. There is also another Duty to which many of these to whom I write seem to need some incitation, and that is Communicating, a part of Devotion which the looser sort scarce ever think in season till their death beds, as if that Sacrament like the Romanists Extreme Unction, were only fit for exspiring souls, but to such we may apply the words of the Angel to the woman, Lu. 24. 5. Why siek ye the living among the dead? Why think ye that the Sun of Righteousness is only to shine in the shades of death, or that Christ is never to give us his flesh, till we are putting off our own; 'Tis one principal end of that Sacrament to engage and enable us to a new life; how preposterous then is it, how utterly inconsistent with that end to defer it to the hour of death 'Tis true 'tis a good Viaticum for such as are in their way towards bliss, but it is too bold a hope, to fancy that it shall in an instant bring them into that way, who have their whole life posted on in the contrary: the roads to Heaven and Hell lie sure too far asunder to be within distance of one step, nor can it with any safety be presumed that once receiving at their death, shall expiate so many wilful neglects of it in their life.
64. But I shall suppose these total Omissions are not a common guilt: yet with many others the fault differs only in degree, they do not wholly omit, but yet come so infrequently as if they thought it a very arbitrary matter whether they come or no. And this truly is observable in many who seem to give good attendance on other parts of divine Worship, for indeed 'tis a sad spectacle to see, that let a Church be never so much crouded at Sermon, 'tis emtied in an instant when the Communion begins, people run as it were frighted from it, as if they thought with those in Malachy, that the table of our Lord is polluted, Mal. 1. 12. that some pest or infection would thence break forth upon them. A strange indignity to the Majesty, and ingratitude to the love of our Redeemer. Let a King, or but some great man make a public entertainment, how hard is it to keep back the pressing multitude: many Officers are necessary to repel the uninvited guests, and yet here there needs more to drive us to it, tho the Invitation be more general, and the Treat infinitly more magnificent.
65. I know this fault (like many other) shrouds it self under a fair disguise, and this barbarous neglect pretends to the humblest veneration. People say 'tis their great reverence they have for the Sacrament that keeps them at so great a distance; but sure that is but a fictitious reverence which discards obedience; and when Christ commands our coming, our drawing back looks more like stubborness and rebellion, then awe and respect. I suppose we pretend not to exceed the Primitive Christians in humility and godly fear, and yet they communicated daily, and therefore sure our reverence is of a much differing make from theirs, if it produce such contrary effects. Indeed 'tis to be feared that many put a great cheat upon themselves in this matter. The Eucharist is justly accounted the highest of divine Ordinances, and those who think of no preparation in other, yet have some general impressions of the necessity of it in this; but the uneasiness of the task discourages them, they dare not come without a wedding garment, and yet are loth to be at the pains to put it on, so that all this goodly pretext of reverence, is but the Devil in Samuels Mantle, is but sloth clad in the habit of humility.
66. And to this temtation of sloth, there is another thing very subservient, and that is the easie and slight opinion which is commonly taken of sins of Omission, many are startled at great Commissions think them to carry a face of deformity and horror, who in the mean time look on Omissions only as privations and meer nothings, as if all the affirmative Precepts were only things of form, put in by God rather to try our inclinations, then to oblige our performance; and so were rather overtures and proposals which we may assent to or not, then injunctions which at our peril we must obey. A fancy no less absurd then impious. That God should be content so to compound with his creatures (and like a Prince overpower'd by his vassals) consent to remit all their homage, absolve them from all positive Duty, so they would be but so civil as not to flie in his face, or to commit outrage on his Person. But this wild imagination needs no other confutation, then that form of inditement our Savior gives us as the Model of that which shall be used at the last day, Mat. 25. where the whole Process lies against sins of Omission, and yet the sentence is as dismal and irreversible, as if all the Commissions in the World had bin put into the Bill.
67. And certainly of all Omissions none is like to be more severely charged then this of communicating, which is not only a disobedience, but an unkindness, which strikes not only at the Autority but the Love of our Lord, when he so affects a union with us that he creates Mysteries only to effect it, when he descends even to our sensuality, and because we want spiritual appetites, puts himself within reach of our natural; and as he once veil'd his Divinity in flesh, so now veils even that flesh under the form of our corporal nourishment, only that he may the more indissolvably unite, yea incorporat himself with us. When I say he does all this, we are not only impious but inhuman if it will not attract us. Nay farther, when he does all this upon the most endearing memory of what he has before don for us, when he presents himself to our imbraces in the same form wherein he presented himself to God for our expiation, when he shews us those wounds which our iniquities made, those stripes by which we were healed, that death by which we are revived, shall we to compleat the Scene of his Passion, force him also to that pathetic complaint, Lam. 1. 12. Have ye no regard all ye that pass by? Shall we instead of smiting our breasts (as did other witnesses of his sufferings) turn our backs? If we can habitually do this, 'tis to be feared the next degree will be to wag our heads too, and we shall have the profaneness to deride, what we have not the Piety to commemorate.
68. And this seems to be no improbable fear, for in Religion there are gradual declinations as well as advances, coldness and tepidity will (if not stopt in its progress) quickly grow to lothing and contemt. And indeed to what can we more reasonably impute the great overflowings of profaneness among us, then to our ill-husbanding the means of Grace? Now certainly of all those means there is none of greater energy and power then the blessed Sacrament.
69. Were there no other benefit derived from it save that which the preparation implies, 'twere very consider able. It brings us to a recollection, fixes our indefinit purposes of searching and trying our waies, which else perhaps we should infinitly defer, stops our carreer in sin, and by acquainting us with our selves, shews us where our danger lies, and how we are to avert it, what breaches are made in upon our souls, and how we must repair them, all which are with many seldom thought of, but when the time of communicating approches. We live so far off from our selves, know so little what is don in us that we answer the description the Prophet makes of the surprize of Babylon, of which the King knew nothing till post after post run to inform him that his City was taken at one end, Jer. 51. 31. we often lie secure while the enemy is within our walls, and therefore they are friendly alarms which the Sacrament gives us to look to our defence. But if when the Trumpet sounds none will prepare himself to the Battel, if when the Minister give warning of a Sacrament, and the preparation it requires, we go our waies, and with Gallio care for none of these things, or with Felix, Acts 24. 26. put it off to a convenient time, we wilfully expose our selves, and 'tis but just Christs dreadful menace should be executed upon us, that we die in our sins, who will frustrate such an opportunity of a rescu from them.
70. But 'tis not only this remoter and accidental advantage (this preventing Grace) which the Holy Eucharist affords, it contains yet greater and more intrinsic benefits, is a Spring of assisting Grace also, 'tis a Magazine of Spiritual Artillery to fortifie us against all assaults of the Devil, the great Catholicon for all the Maladies of our Souls, that which if duly received, will qualifie us to make St. Pauls boast, Phil. 4. 13. I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me. In a word 'tis to us whatever we need, Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, and Redemtion, because it possesses us of him who is so, 1 Cor. 1. 31. so that whenever we neglect it, we manifestly betray our own interest, and do implicitly chose death whilst we thus run from life.
71. Thus we see there is a concurrence of all forts of Arguments for this Duty, oh that some (at least) of them may prevail! If we are not tractable enough to do it in obedience yet let us be so ingenious as to do it for Love, for Gratitude, or if for neither of those, let us be at least so wise as to do it for interest, and advantage. I know people are apt to pretend business, the Farm and the Oxen must excuse their coming to the Feast, but alas what business can there be of equal necessity or advantage with this? Yet even that Apology is superseded to those I now speak to, who as I observed before have lesure more then enough, so that it would be one part of the benefit, its taking up some of their time: let me therefore earnestly beseech them, not to grudg a few of their vacant hours to this so happy an emploiment.
72. Did any of their near Friends and Relations invite them to an interview, they would not think him too importune, tho he repeated the summons weekly, nay, daily, but would punctually observe the meeting: And when their Savior much seldomer entreats their company, shall he not obtain it? must he never see them but at two or three solemn times of the year? and shall they wonder at any intervening invitation (as the Shunamites husband did at her going to the Prophet when it was neither new Moon nor Sabbath, 2 Ki. 4. 23.) and tell him 'tis not yet Easter or Christmas, this were not only to be irreligious but rude; and methinks those who stand so much upon the particulars of Civlity to one another, should not then only lay aside their good manners when they are to treat with their Redeemer. Certainly he is not so unpleasant company that they need shun his converse: if he do appear so to any, 'tis that shunning that is the cause of it. He does not open his tresures to strangers: they that come now and then for form sake, no wonder if their entertainment, be as cold as their address. They that would indeed tast how sweet the Lord is, Psa. 34. 8. must by the frequency of their coming shew the heartiness of it, and then they would indeed find it a feast of fat things, as the Prophet speaks.
73. In a word, let them but make experiment, resolve for a certain time (be it a year or thereabouts) to omit no opportunity, (and withall no due preparation) of communicating, I am a little confident they will afterwards need no other importunity but that of their own longings: the expiration of that definit time will prove the beginning of an indefinit, and their resolutions will have no other limit but their lives. For certainly there is not in all the whole mystery of Godliness, in all the Oeconony of the Gospel, so expedite, so infallible a means of growth in Grace, as a frequent and worthy participation of this blessed Sacrament; I cannot therefore more pertinently close this Section, then with this exhortation to it, by which they will not only compleat all their Devotions, crown and hallow the rest of their Oblations to God, but they will be advanced also in all parts of practical Piety for tho this and other sacred Offices be perform'd in the Church, the efficacy of them is not circumscribed within those walls, but follows the devout soul through all the occurrences of human life.
74. She that has intently consider'd the presence of God in the Sanctuary, has learn'd so much of his ubiquity, that she will not easily forget it in other places, and she that remembers that will need no other guard to secure her innocence, no other incentive to animate her endeavors, since she is view'd by him who is equally powerful to punish or reward, who regards not the persons of the mighty, nor can be awed into the connivance of a crime. Indeed a serious advertence to the divine Presence, is the most certain curb to all disorderly appetites, as on the contrary the not having God before their eies, is in Scripture the comprehensive description of the most wretchless profligated state of sin. It concerns therefore all those who aspire to true Piety to nurish that awful sense in their hearts, as that which will best enable them to practice the Apostles advice, 2 Cor. 7. 1. To cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God.
75. I am sensible that this Section is spun out to a length very unproportionable to the former; but as the principal wheel in an artificial movement may be allowed a bulk somwhat answerable to its use, so upon the same account, the size of this is not unjustifiable; the Piety which this designs to recommend being the one necessary thing, which must influence all other endowments. We know the course resemblance Solomon makes of a fair woman without discretion, that she is like a jewel of gold in a swines snout, Prov. 11. 12. but even that discretion (if any such could be) without Piety were but the adding one jewel more, exposing another valuable thing to the same despicable ridiculous use. But to speak truly there is no real discretion, where there is no Religion: & therefore Solomon seems in this place to understand by it that practical Wisdom, which in the sacred Dialect (his writings especially) is equivalent to the fear of the Lord. 'Tis true, there may be a rallying wit to scoff and abuse, a serpentine Wiliness to undermine and deceive, but that sort of Wisdom (like that of Achitophel) finally converts into foolishness, does very often appear to do so in this life, but most certainly in the next, because it builds upon a false bottom, prefers temporal things before eternal. And as neither beauty or wit (the two celebrated accomplishments of women) so will neither Greatness and Honor give any advantage without Piety, 'twill only (as hath bin already observed) make them more exemplary sinners, inflame the account, and so expose them to a greater degree of condemnation, for sure 'tis not their Sex that will rescu them from the dismal denunciation of the Wise man. Wisd. 6. 6. Mighty men shall be mightily tormented, I conclude all with another irrefragable maxim of the same Author, Whether one be Rich, Noble, or Poor, their Glory is the Fear of the Lord.