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The two principal rules of the spiritual life are to begin and end well: to fix and establish the main design for everlasting happiness, and from a determinate resolution and ratified purpose of heart, to pursue it with firmness and constancy: to live for heaven, and with readiness and courage to die for it, if the glory of God so require. Perseverance is indispensably necessary in all that will obtain the eternal reward. For the clearing this most important point, I will, First, Represent from scripture the idea of perseverance, that is attended with salvation. Secondly, Consider why it is so strictly required.
1. Saving perseverance includes the permanent residence of grace in the soul: it is composed of the whole chain of graces, the union of holy habits that are at first infused into a christian by the sanctifying Spirit. When eternal life is promised to faith, or love, or hope, it is upon supposal that those graces being planted in the heart, shall finally prosper. “ He that is faithful to the death, shall inherit the crown of life.” Rev. 2. “ It is love that never fails," I Cor. 13. that shall enter into heaven. “ It is hope firm unto the end," that shall be accomplished in a glorious fruition. If grace be diseased by a usurping lust, apostacy will follow, and the forfeiture of our right in the kingdom of heaven.
2. Grace must be continually drawn forth into exercise according to our several states and duties, and the various occasions that happeu in our course through the world. Those 66 who are light in the Lord, are commanded to walk as children of the light;" to signify the excellency and purity of the christian life. “ Those who live in the Spirit, must walk in the Spirit;" that is, by a conspicuous course of holiness declare the vigour and efficacy of the divine principle that is communicated to them. Paulum sepulte distat inertie celata virtus : virtue that breaks not forth into visible actions, is not worthy of the name. The mere abstaining from evil is not sufficient, but all the positive acts of the holy life are to be constantly done. In discharging both these parts of our duty, complete religion is expressed, and the power of grace consists.
3. Perseverance includes not only continuance in well-doing, but fervour and progress towards perfection. There are two fixed states, the one in heaven, the other in hell. The blessed spirits above are arrived to the height of holiness. The devil and
damned spirits are sunk to the lowest extremity of sin. But in the middle state here, grace in the saints is a rising growing light; and sin in the wicked improves every day, like poison in a serpent, that becomes more deadly by his age. We are enjoined not to remain in our first imperfections, but to “ follow holiness” to the utmost issue of our lives, to its entire consummation. For this end all the dispensations of providence must be improved, whether prosperous or amicting. And the ordinances of the gospei were appointed, that in the use of them we may be “ changed into the divine image froin glory to glory.'
4. Perseverance is required notwithstanding all temptations that may allure or terrify us from our duties; whatever affects us one way or other, while we are clothed with frail Alesh. It is the fundamental principle of christianity declared by our Saviour, “ If any man will come after me,” that is, be my disciple and servant, “ let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and fol
, low me;" even to be crucified with him, rather than wilfully forfeit his integrity and loyalty to Christ. He must by a cred fixed resolution divest himself of all things, even the most valued and desirable in the present world, and actually forsake them, nay entertain what is most distasteful, “ and resist unto blood," rather than desert his duty.
(1.) He must with unfainting patience continue in doing his duty, notwithstanding all miseries and calamities, losses, disgraces, torments, or death itself, which wicked men, and greater enemies, the powers of darkness, can inflict upon him: “ To them who by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, honour and immortality, eternal life is promised.” Rom. 2. “ He that endures to the end” (notwithstanding the most terrible sufferings to which he is exposed for Christ's) sake “ shall be saved.” Matt. 10. 22. In this a christian must be the
express image of his Saviour; “ who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despised the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God.” Disgrace and pain are evils that human nature has a most tender sense of; yet the Son of God, with a divine generosity and constancy, endured thein in the highest degrees. He was scorped as a feigned king, and a false prophet. He suffered a bloody death, and by the cross ascended to glory. And we must follow him, if we desire to be where he is.
* Natator amnem interpositum superaturus, exuitur, nec tamen hoc tan. to apparatu, quod se dispoliaverit, transnatabit, nisi totius corporis nisy torrentis impetum scindat, & laborem natationis exhauriat. Paulin,
(2.) But this is not the only trial of a christian. Prosperity is a more dangerous enemy to the soul, though adversity be more rigorous.
For the spirit is excited by perils and difficulties to seek to God for strength, and with vigilant resolute thoughts unites all its powers to oppose them; but it is made weak and careless by what is grateful to the sensual inclinations. It keeps close the spiritual armour in the open encounter of dangers that threaten its ruin, but is enticed to put it off by the caresses and blandishments of the world. It does not see its enemies under the disguise of a pleasant temptation. Thus sin insinuates itself, and by stealing steps gets into the throne without observation, A man is wounded with a pleasant temptation, as with the plague that flies in the dark, and grace is insensibly weakened. From hence it is, that adversity often reforms the vicious, and prosperity corrupts the virtuous. Now perseverance must be of proof against fire and water, against whatever may terrify or allure us from our duty.
5. Saving perseverance excludes not all sins, but total apostacy, and final impenitency, which are fatal and deadly under the new covenant. “ If the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live ? all his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned; in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, he shall die.” Ezek. 18. 24. “ If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him," saith the Lord, Heb. 10.38. These threatenings imply, there is a possibility of the saints falling away considered in themselves; but not that they are ever totally deserted by the Holy Spirit, and left under the reigning power of sin. The threatenings are intended to awaken their care, and are preservatives of them from ruin, and have a singular influence on their perseverance. A vigilant and cautious fear establishes the certainty of their hope. Indeed from the relics of weakness and corruption in the saints, they sometimes actually fall into presumptuous sins, and by rebellious relapses wound conscience, and let out much of the vital spirits, their graces and comforts. But though the divine nature in them is miserably wasted by such sins, yet it is not abolished. As after the creation of light, there was never pure and total darkness in the world. Grace does not consist in a point, but is capable of degrees. The new creature may decline in beauty and strength, yet life remain. Between a lively and a dead faith, there may be a fainting faith; as in St. Peter, for certainly our
a Saviour was heard in his prayer for him, that his “ faith should not fail” in his dreadful temptation. The saints do not by a particular fall extinguish the first living principles of obedience, faith and love; nor change their last end by an entire turning from God to the world. In short, a single act of wickedness does not reduce them into a state of unregeneracy : for it is not the matter of the sin singly considered, but the disposition of the sinner that denominates him, If grace in the saints should utterly perish, as some boldly assert, their recovery would be impossible: for the apostle tells us, that “if those who were enlightened, and had tasted of the heavenly gift,” that had been under some common workings and lower operations of the Spirit, if such “ fall away universally,” and live in a course of sin opposite to their former illuminations and resolutions, it is impossible to renew them by repentance; how much more then if those who were truly sanctified by the Holy Spirit, should entirely lose all those gracious habits planted in them. in their regeneration? But David, though guilty of adultery and murder, sins of so foul a nature as would dishonour paganism itself, and “ made the enemies of God to blaspheme,” was restored by repentance. The gospel propounds a remedy, not only for sins committed before conversion, but after it. “ If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” God does not revoke the adoption, nor reverse the justification of a believer, but upon scandalous disorders, the effects of justification are suspended with respect to the new contracted guilt, till there be sincere and actual repentance. He is not disinherited, but his right to the kingdom of heaven is eclipsed as to the comfortable sense of it, nay suspended, till by renovation he is qualified and made fit for the enjoyment of that pure inheritance. For those sins which are a just cause of excommunicating an offender from the church on earth, would exclude him from the kingdom of heaven without repentance. Our Saviour tells us, “ what is bound on earth, is ratified in heaven.” And the apostle expressly declares of those kinds of sin for which professors must be removed from the communion of saints here, that they are an exclusive bar from the kingdom of heaven. “ But I have written to you, not to keep company, if any that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one, no not to eat.” I Cor. 5. 11. “ And kuow ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived : neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God.” I Cor. 6. 9, 10. If one that is truly a child of God fall into any of these sins, till by an extraordinary repentance he is prepared for pardon, he cannot obtain it, nor have a comfortable hope of entering into heaven. For only those who are justified, are glorified.” Indeed it is not imaginable where “ the seed of God remains," the vital principle of grace, as it does in all that are born of God," but that notorious sins that cannot be concealed from the view of conscience, will cause stings and sorrows proportionable to their malignity, and consequently a hatred and forsaking of them. Now perseverance principally respects the end of our course : there may be interruptions in the way for a time; but if with renewed zeal and diligence we prosecute our blessed end, we shall not fall short of it.
Secondly. I come now to consider the second thing propounded, the reason why perseverance is requisite in all that will obtain eternal life ; and it is this, that their sincerity may be discovered by constancy in obedience under all trials, 66 Blessed is the man that endures temptation, for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him." The law required unsinning obedience as the condition of life, the gospel accepts of sincerity ; but if that be wanting, there is no promise that gives right to the reward. Now sincerity implies such an entire love of God, as makes a person submit to all duties commanded in his law, and all trials