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Others think, by fending for the minifter, when the phyfician hath given them over, to receive in a few hours fuch advice and direction, as will do their business as effectually, as if they had minded religion all their lives long; and that a few devout prayers faid over them, when they are juft embarking for another world, will, like a magical wind, immediately waft them over into the regions of bliss and immortality..
But let us not deceive ourselves; we may defer the bufinefs fo long, till we fhall get nothing by our late application to God, and crying to him, Lord, Lord, open unto us, but that fevere answer, Depart from me ye workers of iniquity, I know you not whence ye are. If we would not have this our doom, let us firft feek the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, that fo having our fruit unto holiness, our end may be everlasting life.
The wifdom of religion.
FSAL. cxix. 96.
I have feen an end of all perfection; but thy commandment is exceeding broad.
His Pfalm feems to have a great deal more of poetical number and skill in it, than at this diftance from the time and age in which it was written, we can eafily understand: the main fcope and defign of it is very plain and obvious; namely, to magnify the law of God, and the obfervation of its precepts, as that wherein true religion doth mainly confift. And indeed, if we attentively read and confider it, every part of this Pfalm does with great variety of expreffion, and yet very little difference of the fenfe, difcant upon the fame ground, viz. the excellency and perfection of the law of God. And
the words of the text feem to be as full and comprehenfive of the fenfe and defign of the whole Pfalm, as any one sentence in it; I have seen an end of all perfection; but thy commandment is exceeding
These words are variously rendered, and underftood by interpreters, who yet in this variety do very much confpire and agree in the fame fenfe. The Chaldee paraphrafe renders the words thus, I have feen an end of all things, about which I have employed my care; but thy commandment is very large. The Syriac verfion thus, I have seen an end of all regions and countries, (that is, I have found the compafs of this habitable world to be finite and limited) but thy commandment is of a vast extent. Others explain it thus, I have feen an end of all perfection, that is, of all the things of this world, which men value and esteem at fo high a rate; of all worldly wisdom and knowledge, of wealth and honour, and greatnefs, which do all perifh and pafs away; but thy law is eternal, and still abideth the fame; or, as the fcripture elsewhere expreffeth it, the word of the Lord endureth for ever.
Thy law; that is, the rule of our duty natural and revealed; or, in a word, religion, which confifts in the knowledge and practice of the laws of God, is of greater perfection than all other things which are fo highly valued in this world: for the perfection of it is infinite, and of a vast influence and extent; it reacheth to the whole man, to the happiness of body and foul; to our whole duration both in this world, and the next; of this life, and of that which is to come. And this will clearly appear, if we confider the reasonableness and the wifdom of religion, which confifts in the knowledge of God, and the keeping of his laws.
First, The reasonableness of religion, which is able to give a very good account of itself, because it fettles the mind of man upon a firm bafis, and keeps it from rolling in perpetual uncertainty; whereas atheism and infidelity wants a ftable foundation, it centers no where but in the denial of God and religion, and yet
fubftitutes no principle, no tenable and conftituent fcheme of things in the place of them; its whole bufinefs is to unravel all things, to unfettle the mind of man, and to fhake all the common notions and received principles of mankind; it bends its whole force to pull down and to destroy, but lays no foundation to build any thing upon, in the ftead of that which it pulls down.
It runs upon that great abfurdity which Ariftotle(who was always thought a great master of reafon ) does every where decry, as a principle unworthy of a philofopher; namely, a progrefs of caufes in infinitum, and without end; that this was the cause of that, and a third thing of that, and fo on without end, which amounts to juft nothing; and finally refolves an infinite number of effects into no first cause; than which nothing can be more unskiful and bungling, and lefs worthy of a philofopher. But this I do not intend at prefent to infift upon, having treated largely on the fame fubject upon another occafion. I fhall therefore proceed in the
Second place, to confider the wifdom of religion. The fear of the Lord is wisdom, fo faith the Pfalmift; it is true wifdom indeed, it is the beginning of wifdom, caput fapientia, the top and perfection of all wifdom. Here true wifdom begins, and upon this foundation it is raifed and carried on to perfection; and I thall in my following difcourse endeavour to make out these two things.
First, That true wifdom begins and is founded in religion, in the fear of God, and in the keeping of his commandments.
Secondly, That this is the perfection of wifdom; there is no wisdom without this, nor beyond it.
Firft, True wildom begins and is founded in religion, and the fear of God, and regard to his laws. This is the first principle of wildom, and the foundation upon which the whole defign of our happiness is to be built. This is in the first place to be fuppofed, and to be taken into confideration in all the defigns and actions of men: This is to govern our whole
whole life, and to have a main influence upon all the affairs and concernments of it. As the firit principle of human fociety, and that which is to run through the whole frame of it, is the publick good; this was. always to be taken into confideration, and to give law to all laws and conftitutions about it: So religi on is the first principle of human wisdom, by which all our actions are to be conducted and governed; and all wisdom, which does not begin here, and lay religion for its foundation, is prepofterous, and begins at the wrong end; and is juft as if in the forming of human fociety, every one in the fettlement of the conftitution, and the framing of laws, fhould have an eye to his own private and particular advantage, without regard to the publick good, which is the great end of fociety, and the rule and measure of government and laws, and in the laft iffue and refult of things, the only way to procure the fettled welfare, and to fecure the lafting interefts of particular perfons, fo far as that is confiftent with the publick good. And it would be a very prepofterous policy to go about to found human fociety upon any other terms, and would certainly end in mifchief and confufion.
And fuch is all the wifdom of men, in relation to their true happiness, which does not begin with religion, and lay its foundation there: Which does not take into confideration God and his providence, and a future ftate of rewards and punishments after this life. All wisdom which does not proceed upon a fuppofition of the truth and reality of these principles, will certainly end in fhame and difappointment, in mifery and ruin; because it builds a house upon the fand, which when it comes to be tried by ftrefs of weather, and affaulted by violent ftorms, will undoubtedly fall, and the fall of it will be great.
And this error every man commits, who purfues happiness by following his own inclination, and gratifying his irregular defires, without any confideration of God, and of the reftraint which his laws have laid upon us, not for his own pleasure, but for our good. For when all things are duly confidered, and
all accounts caft up, it will appear upon a juft calculation of things, that all the restraints which the laws of God lay upon men, are highly reafonable, and greatly for their benefit and advantage, and do not abridge us of any true pleasure or happiness, but are wife and merciful provifions of heaven, to prevent our harm and mifchief; fo that we are not wife, it we act without regard to God, and his laws, and are not willing to be governed by him, who loves us better than we do ourfelves, and truly defigns our happinefs, and commands us nothing but what directly tends to it. For the laws of God are not arbitrary conftitutions, and mere inftances of fovereign will and power; but wife rules and means to procure and advance our happiness.
And in like manner, all that wifdom which men ufe to compafs their worldly defigns, of riches and greatnefs, without confideration of the providence of God, and dependence upon it for the fuccefs of our affairs, is all perfect folly and mistake. For though the defign be never fo well laid, and vigorously profecuted, and no means which human wisdom can devife for the attaining of our end, have been omitted by us; yet if we leave God out of the account, we forget that which is principal, and fignifies more to the fuccefs of any defign, than all other things put together. For if God favours our defigns, the most improbable fhall take effect; and if he blow upon them, the most likely fhall mifcarry. Whenever he pleafeth to interpofe to cross the counfels and defigns of men, the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the ftrong; neither yet bread to the wife, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favour to men of skill; but time and chance happens to all.
So that it is great folly not to confider the providence of God in all our defigns and undertakings, not to implore his favour and bleffing, without which nothing that we take in hand can profper. That which is principal to any purpofe, ought to be confidered in the first place, nothing being to be attempted either without, or againft it. And fuch is the providence of God in all human affairs; it is more