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great Temptations, either to corrupt or to abandon that Faith that had once been delivered to them, was to exhort and stir them up to a conftant Continuance in their Profeffion, and not to fuffer themselves, whether by the cunning Artifice of fome, or by the open Violence of Others, to be either totally frightned out of their Religion, or to be misled into any falfe Doctrines, contrary to the Truth and Purity which they had been taught.
In the Beginning of the Second Chapter, he speaks of certain falfe Teachers that were crept in amongst them, and made it their great Endeavour by any Means, to bring in damnable Herefies. And he forefaw that their wicked Industry would be likely to prove but too fatally fuccefsful; for, Many (fays he) Shall follow their pernicious Ways, by Reafon of whom, the way of Truth fhall be evil spoken of.
And in the next Chapter, he goes on to foretel the near Approach of thofe Judgments which our Saviour Chrift had fo often denounced against the Fews, and in which thofe complying Chriftians were in like Manner to be involved. And by both these Confiderations, he finally, in the Clofe of all, ftirs them up, both to a Care of themselves, and to a Conftancy in their Profeffion;
Te therefore, Beloved, feeing ye know theje Things before, beware, left ye alfo, being led away with the Error of the Wicked, fall from your own Stedfaftness.
But grow in Grace, and in the Knowledge of our
Such was the Occafion of these Words; and the Profecution of them at this Time, will engage me to explain the Nature, and to exhort you to the Practice of Two Duties, than which I know none more proper for our ferious Confideration; Growth in Grace, and Stedfaftnefs in Religion; and from both which there are but too many Seducers on every Hand, to turn us afide. I fhall purfue both in this following Order.
I. I will fhew you, what the true Nature of that Stedfaftnefs in Religion is, to which our Text here exhorts us.
II. By what Motives efpecially it was, that the Apoftle ftirr'd up the Chriftians, to whom he wrote, and that I would now crave Leave to exhort you to fuch a Stedfaftnefs.
III. How highly, both neceffary in its felf it is, but especially how advantageous to this great End, that we fhould all of us endeavour what in us lies, to grow in Grace, and in the Knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Fefus Chrift.
I. What the true Nature of that Stedfaftness in Religion is, to which our Text exhorts us, aud which I am from thence to recommend
For 'tis not every Firmness that deferves, the Name of a true and rational Stedfaftness: And a Man may as well exceed, by a perverfe, unwarrantable Refolution not to hearken to any Motives, though never fo reasonable, to change his Opinion;
as by an unfix'd and irrefolute Temper, abandon himself to every Wind of Doctrine, that fhall come to turn him afide from it.
Conftancy in Religion, is a Virtue that, like all others, must be regulated by Prudence. It must be firm, but it must be well-grounded too. And he who would go about at all Adventures, to recommend a Perfeverance in that Faith, whatever it be, in which a Man has been Born and Bred, without allowing a juft Enquiry to be made into the Grounds of it, and even a Liberty to forfake it too, fhould they prove lefs folid than they ought to be; he may indeed provide for their Security, who chance to be already in the right Way, but fhall render it utterly impoffible for thofe that are not, ever to come to the Knowledge of it.
It is not therefore fuch a blind Stedfaftnefs as this, a Conftancy in our Religion, whether it be good or bad, that either the Apoftle here means, or that I would now recommend to you. This would be to make a Plea for Obftinacy, rather than Conftancy; whilft by fuch a Rule, it would be the Duty of a Few to remain a few, a Heathen a Heathen; for a Papift or Socinian to continue all their Lives Papift or Socinian, no lefs than for one of the Church of England to be firm and ftedfaft to the Faith and Communion of it. That which I understand by a true Stedfaftnefs, is this: When a Man is upon rational and good Grounds evidently perfuaded of the Truth and Purity of his Religion, then to refolve to stick close to it, and not fuffer any base, unworthy Motives, to draw him afide from it. Our Religion muft first be well grounded, and then it will be true Stedfaftness to adhere to it. And therefore to give fuch neceffary Directions as may fuffice for the Practice of this Duty, I muft diftinctly
confider it in both its Respects, and as it ftands in the Middle between the Two Extremes of a blind Obftinacy on the one Hand, and of a weak Inftability on the other; and by either of which, the true Nature of it will become equally deftroy'd,
First then: He that will be truly fedfaft in his Religion, muft take heed that he does not miftake Obftinacy for Stedfasiness.
This is an Error fo much the rather to be remarked on this Occafion, in that a daily Experience fadly fhows us at once, both the Danger and Eafinefs of fuch a Mistake. It is a ftrange Perverseness in some Men, that they make it no less than a Mortal Sin, to have any Doubts, though never fo reasonable, of any the leaft Doctrine they have once been taught to profefs. And there is hardly an Immorality fo heinous and provoking, fo contrary to the Honour of God, and fo deftructive of Salvation, which their Spiritual Guides will not fooner over-pafs, than fuch a Scruple. Infomuch, that by the exprefs Order of the Church which Í am now fpeaking of, 'tis made a Part of Mens folemn Reception into their Communion, the very Condition of being admitted into a State of Profelitifm with them, not only to abjure for the prefent, all thofe Tenets which they are pleafed to call
See the R. Pontific. Ord. ad Reconcil. Hæret. Spondeo fub Anathematis Obligatione, Me nunquam Quorumliber fuafionibus vel quocunque alio modo ad_ Reverfurum. Et fi (quod abfit) ab hâc me unitate aliquâ Occafione vel Argumento divifero, perjurii Reatum incurrens, æternæ obligatus poenæ Inveniar. &c.
Heretical, but also to imprecate upon their Heads, all the Miferies of Eternal Torments, if ever they fuffer themselves BY ANY OCCASION OR ARGUMENTS WHATSOEVER, to be hereafter better inftructed.
This is, in good, Truth, to make a Faction of Religion; 'tis a Combination rather than a Conftancy: And what wretched Effects it has upon the Minds of those unfortunate, deluded Men, that have once fuffered themselves to be thus engaged, appears in this; that no rational Motives, no Arguments, though never fo clear, are almoft able to work upon them. The fad Vow they have made, recurs continually upon their Minds: They have Sworn to continue where they are gone, at all Adventures; and therefore they now as obftinately refolve never to return to the Truth, as they once weakly fuffered themselves to be feduced from it.
To avoid fuch an unhappy Obftinacy as this, and be conftant in our Religion upon fuch rational Grounds as may justify us before God and Man, from the Charge of a Pertinacious Firmness, we may please to obferve these following DireЄtions.
If, Let our Religion be founded in Knowledge; i. e. Let us be clearly and evidently convinced of the Truth of that to which we do adhere, and then we may be fure we cannot be justly charged with Obftinacy for our adhering to it.
He who takes up his Religion upon Truft, that receives all the Articles of his Creed by Wholefale; believes as his Church believes, but it may be knows not either what that is, or wherefore he does fo; 'tis evident that fuch a credulous Difciple as this, may be blindly obftinate, but he cannot be wifely