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SERM. with success. ~ When a righteous man II.
turneth away from his righteousness, “ and committeth iniquity, and dieth in
it, all his righteousness shall be counted
as nothing; for his iniquity that he hath “ done, shall he die.”
In the third set of persons, who come within the meaning of the text, of seeking and not striving, we may reckon those, who have discarded all their frailties and sins except one, and who flatter themselves that their good behaviour in all other particulars will atone for a single deficiency. But they will find themselves miserably deceived : either the kingdom of heaven is, or is not an object worthy of being contended for; if it is not, let us us drop all concern about it; let us eat, drink, and be merry ; let us make ourselves as happy as we can in this world, without any thought of futurity ; but if the kingdom of heaven be (as indeed it is) of the most consummate and inex:
pressible importance, if it be worthy that SERM.
II. we should consider every earthly good as less than nothing in comparison of it, that alone surely ought to occupy our care and engross our affections; everything else ought to yield to it, for it is very certain that one single preference of an earthly good, if habitually indulged, will take away all chance of attaining heaven. “ Whoso“ ever shall keep the whole law (says St.
James) and yet offend in one point, he “ is guilty of all,” he is guilty of giving a preference to his lusts in one particular instance over his duty, of setting an higher esteem upon things present than things future, and therefore he must expect to reap the fruits of his absurdity in being deprived of that reward, to which his conduct in other respects, were it not for this one deficiency, would entitle him. I have heard of a person contending in a race for a prize of vast importance, who
SERM. was prevented from winning it by turning II.
out of the way to pick up some golden balls, which were from time to time thrown down by the competitor for that purpose ; precisely similar is the folly of these persons who suffer themselves to be diverted from attaining the glorious prize of heaven, by the riches, honours, or pleasures of this world, which the adversary of our souls is ever taking occasion to display before us.
Having given you these instances of per. sons who only seek to gain the kingdom of heaven, and who will therefore fail of the prize; I shall now set before you the character and conduct of one who strives, and who striving will be sure to obtain. Such an one, in the first place, does not content himself with bare wishes, as he well knows that he may profess them in common with the most abandoned of mankind; for however profligate a man may chuse to be in this world, he would certainly desire rather to be
happy than miserable in the next; though he SERM. may prefer the pleasures of vice, he would clearly wish for the rewards of virtue; though he cannot prevail on himself to live the life of the righteous, he would indubitably be rejoiced to die his death. One who is in earnest then with respect to obtaining heaven, knows that to wish for it alone would be of no service to him. Another thing also, of which he is sensible, is, that to be devout by fits and starts only, will not answer his purpose; his exertions to please God (which can only be done by piety towards him, kindness towards men, and by temperance, sobriety, and chastity, in his own conduct) must be constant and unremitted; he does not then put on these virtues only at particular times, and on particular occasions, but makes them habitual to him ; he renders himself so completely master of them, that they pervade, they make a part of his whole behaviour: another particular also, which he
SERM. knows to be necessary, and therefore strives
to attain, is, not merely to be obedient to a part of God's commapds, but to them all; he knows, that though the Almighty will take
with our imperfect obedience, if our endeavours are sincere, yet that he will by no means suffer us to live in the willing breach of any one of his commands. Life and death, God and the world are before us; we must make our choice between them; if we are resolved to indulge ourselves in any one known sin, we plainly shew that there is something which we prefer to God, and we must take the consequences of our folly. He who strives to obtain the kingdom of heaven, may, and probably will, sometimes fall, but he must not fall willingly; he must exert himself against temptation; he must recover himself as soon as possible; he must be grieved and humbled by his frailty; and he must use every effort to keep himself more steady for the time to come. The