« ForrigeFortsæt »
those controversies which concern my subject, it was with no other design, than to guard and fortify my reader against the ill influence of several errors, with which they abound. I decline all useless speculations, and labour wholly to restore religion to its native strength and beauty; so that I think this objection will not touch me, who do not propose to write a learned, but a useful book. If
any man be apprehensive, that'tis impossible to assert the doctrine of Perfection, without looking a little too favourably towards Pelagianism or Enthusiasm, or fomething of this kind; I do here assure such a one, that I advance no Perfection that raises men above the use or need of means, or invites them to neglect the word, prayer, or Sacraments, or is raised on any other foundation than the gospel of Christ. I revive not Pelagianism, nor clash with St Austin ; I need not those concessions which he makes Cæleftius in the close of his book de Perfe&tione Justitia. I am persuaded that the strength of nature is too slight a foundation to build Perfe&tion on: I contend for freedom from no other sin than actual, voluntary, and deliberate : and let concupiscence, or any unavoidable distemper, or disorder of our nature, be what it will, all that I aim at here is, the reducing, not extirpating it. And finally, how earnestly foever I exhort to Perfection, I can very well content my self with St. Austin's notion of it, namely, that it is nothing else, but a daily progress towards that pure and unspotted holiness, which we shall attain to in another life.
Thus, I think, I have sufficiently guarded this following discourse against the mifapprehensions and jealousies of all, who have any serious concern for religion, how much soever they may be swayed by some particular opinions. But after all, I do not expect that it should meet with a very obliging reception from a great part of the world. Many there are, who will ever openly rally and ridicule all attempts of this kind: and there are others, who will fecretly Night and inwardly despise them, as the vain and fond projects of well-meaning indeed, but very weak and unexperienced mortals. But this moves me little; these men are generally too much strangers to fincerity, to be competent judges of Perfection : nor do I wonder, if the corrupt and vicious part of mankind be infected with as much malice and envy against extraordinary goodness, as fome are against power and greatness. The consciousness of much baseness and corruption in one's self, is apt to make one strive to bring down all men to the same level, and to believe that there is nothing of Perfection in the world, but only a groundless or hypocritical pretension to it. This is an opinion that ill men greedily embrace, because it gives them some kind of peace, security, and confidence; whereas the contrary opinion, as it would be apt to make them ashamed of their prefent state, so would it make them fearful and apprehensive of their future one. I write not therefore to such as these, nor can be much concerned what censure they pass on a design, against which they have an inveterate and obftinate aversion.
The method I observe in this treatise is : in the first section, I consider Perfection more generally in the second, the several parts of it ; and in the last, the obstacles and impediments of our attaining it. In the two first sections, I always first fix and explain the notion of that state of virtue which I difcourse of. Next I proceed to the fruits or advantages of it, and in the last place prescribe the method by which it may be attained.
CH A P. I. Perfection a confirmed habit of holiness.
This notion conformable to reason and scripture. The nature of an habit conjidered, according to four properties of it.
OST disputes and controversies arise from false and mistaken notions of the matter under de
bate; and so I could shew it has happened here. Therefore, to prevent miftakes, and cut off all occasions of contention (which serves only to defeat the influence and success of practical discourses) I think it necessary to begin here with a plain account what it is I mean by Religious Perfection.
Religion is nothing else, but the purifying and refining nature by grace, the raising and exalting our faculties and capacities by wisdom and virtue. Religious Perfec
tion, therefore, is nothing else but the moral accomplishinent of human nature, fuch a maturity of virtue as man in this life is capable of; Conversion begins, Perfection consummates the habit of righteousness: in the one, religion is, as it were, in its infancy; in the other, in its strength and manhood; so that Perfection, in short, is nothing else, but a ripe and settled babit of true holiness. According to this notion of religious Perfection, he is a perfeet man, whole mind is pure and vigorous, and his body tame and obsequious ; whose faith is firm and steady, his love ardent and exalted, and his hope full of afsurance; whose religion has in it that ardour and constancy, and his soul that tranquillity and pleasure, which bespeaks him a child of the light, and of the day, a partaker of the Divine Nature, and raised above the corruption which is in the world through luft.
This account of religious Perfection is so natural and easy, that I fancy no man will demand a proof of it; nor should I go about one, were it not to serve some further ends than the mere confirmation of it. It has manifestly the countenance both of reason and scripture ; and how contradi&tory
soever fome ancient and latter schemes of Perfection seem to be, or really are, to one another; yet do they all agree