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but from the main scope and design of this parable, how very apt a great part of Christians are to neglect this great concernment of their souls, viz. a careful and due preparation for another world; and how willing they are to deceive themselves in this matter, and to depend upon any thing else, how groundless and unreasonable soever, rather than to take the pains to be really good, and fit for heaven. And this is in 'a very lively manner represented to us in the description of the foolith virgins; who had provided no supply of oil in their vessels, and, when the bridegroom was coming, would have furnished themselves by borrowing or buying of others, v 8. 9. 10. They contented themselves with having their lamps lighted at their first setting out to meet the bridegroom; that is, with their being admitted into the profession of Christianity by baptism; but either were not stedfast in this profession, or were not careful to adorn it with the graces and virtues of a good life.

And the true reason why men are so very apt to deceive themselves in this matter, and are so hardly brought to those things wherein religion mainly consists, I mean the fruits of the spirit, and the practice of real goodness; I say, the true reason of this is, because they are extremely desirous to reconcile, if it were possible, the hopes of eternal happiness in another world, with a liberty to live as they list in this present world: they are loth to be at the trouble and drudgery of mortifying their lusts, and governing their passions, and bridling their tongues, and practising all those duties which are comprehended in those two great commandments, of the love of God, and of our neighbour : they would fain gain the favour of God, and make their calling and election sure, by some easier way, than by giving all diligence to add to their faith and knowledge, the graces and virtues of a good life.

For the plain truth of the matter is, men had rather that religion Mould be any thing than what indeed it is, viz. the thwarting and crossing of their vitious inclinations, the curing of their evil and corrupt affections, the dure care and government of their unruly appetites and pallions, the sincere endeavour and the constant practice of all holiness and virtue in their lives; and therefore they had much rather have something that inight hand

somely fomely palliate and excuse their evil inclinations and praetices, than to be obliged to retrench and renounce them; and rather than amend and reform their wicked lives, they would be contented to make an honourable amends and compensation to almighty God in some o

ther way:

This hath been the way and folly of mankind in all ages, to defeat the great end and design of religion, and to thrust it by, by substituting something else in the place of it, which, as they think, may serve the turn as well, having the appearance of as much devotion, and respect towards God, and really costing them more money and pains, than that which God requires of them. Men have ever been apt thus to impose upon themselves, and to please themselves with a conceit of pleasing God full as well, or better, by some other way than that which he bath prescribed and appointed for them.

By this means, and upon this false principle, religion hath ever, been apt to degenerate, both among Jews and Christians, into external and little observances, and into a great zeal for lesser things, with a total neglect of the greater and weightier matters of religion ; and, in a word, into infinite superstitions of one kind or other, and an arrogant conceit of the extraordinary righteoufness and merit of these things : in which some have proceeded to that height, as if they could drive a strict bargain with God for eternal life and happiness; and have treated him in so insolent a manner, by their doctrine of the merit of their devotions and good works, as if God were as much beholden to them for their service and obedience, as they are to him for the reward of them ; which they are not afraid to fay they may challenge at God's hand, as of right and justice belonging to them.

Nay, so far have they carried this doctrine in the church of Rome, as not only to pretend to merit eternal life for themselves, but likewise to do a great deal more, for the benefit and advantage of others who have not righteousness and goodness enough of their own: which was the filly conceit of the foolish virgins here in the parable ; as I shall have occasion to shew more fully by and by. And it is no great wonder, that such easy ways

of religion

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ligion and pleasing God are very grateful to the corrupt nature of man; and that men who are resolved to continue in an evil course, are glad to be of a church which will assure salvation to men upon such terms. The great difficulty is, for men to believe that things which are fo apparently absurd and unreasonable can be true ; and to persuade themselves, that they can impose upon God by such pretences of service and obedience, as no wise prince or father upon earth is to be deluded wit} by his subjects or children. We ought to have worthier thoughts of God, and to consider that he is a great King; and will be obeyed and served by his creatures in his own way, and make them happy upon his own terms; and that obedience to what he commands, is better, and more acceptable to him, than any other facrifice that we can ofter, which he hath not required at our hands; and likewife that he is infinitely wife and good; and therefore that the laws which he hath given us to live by, are much more likely and certain means of our happiness, than any inventions and devices of our own.

III. I observe, that even the better and more confiderate fort of Christians are not so careful and watchful as they ought, to prepare themselves for death and judg. ment: Whilst the bridegroom tarried, they all sumbered and slept. Even the disciples of our Saviour, whilft he was yet personally present with them, and after a particular charge given them from his own mouth, Watch and pray, left ye enter into temptation ; yet did not keep that guard upon themselves, as to watch with him for one hour. In many things, says St. James, we offend all ; even the best of us.

And who is there that doth not, some time or other, remit of his vigilancy and care, so as to give the devil an advantage, and to lie open to temptation, for want of a continual guard upon himself? But then, the difference between the wise and foolish virgins was this, that though they both flept, yet the wife did not let their lamps go out ; they neither quitted their profession, nor did they extinguish it by a bad life : and though, when the bridegroom came suddenly upon them, they were not so actually prepared to meet him by a continual vigilancy; yet they were habitually prepared by the good disposition of their minds, and the general

course

course of a holy life: their lamps might burn din for want of continual trimming ; but they had oil in their vessels to supply their lamps, which the foolish virgins had taken no care to provide. But, surely, the greatest wisdom of all is, to maintain a continual watchfulness, that fo we may not be surprised by the coming of the bridegroom, and be in a confusion when death or judgment shall overtake us. And blessed are those servants, and wise indeed, whose lamps always burn bright, and whom the bridegroom when he comes fall find watching, and in a fit posture and preparation to meet him.

IV. I observe likewise, how little is to be done by us, to any good purpose, in this great work of preparation, when it is deferred and put off to the last. And thus the foolish virgins did: but what a sad confusion and hurry they were in at the sudden coming of the bridegroom, when they were not only alleep, but when, after they were awakened, they found themselves altogether unprovided of that which was necessary to trim their lamps, and to put them in a posture to meet the bridegroom; when they wanted that which was necessary at that very instant, but could not be provided in an inItant; I say, what a tumult and confusion they were in, being thus surprised, the parable represents to us at large, v 6. 7. 8.9. And at midnight, there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arafe, and trimmed their lamps; that is, they went about it as well as they could. And the foolish faid unto the wife, Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out.

At midnight there was a cry made ; that is, at the most disinal and unseasonable time of all other; when they were fast alleep, and suddenly awakened in great terror; when they could not on the sudden recollect themselves, and consider what to do; when the summons was so very short, that they had neither time to consider what was fit to be done, nor time to do it in.

And such is the case of those who put off their repentance, and preparation for another world, till they are surprised by death or judgment; for it comes all to one in the issue which of them it be. The parable indeed seems more particularly to point at our Lord's coming

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to judgment : but the case is much the same as to those who are surprised by sudden death ; such as gives them but little, or not sufficient time for so great a work; bee cause such as death leaves them, judgment will certainly find them.

And what a miserable confufion must they needs be in, who are thus furprised, either by the one or the other? How unfit should we be, if the general judgment of the world should come upon us on the sudden, to meet that great judge at his coming, if we have made no preparation for it before that time? What shall we then be able to do in that great and universal confternation ; when the Son of man fhall appear in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory'; when the fun "Shall be darkened, und the moon turned into blood, and all the powers of heaven shall be Jhaken ; when all nature shall feel fuch violent pangs and convulfions, and the whole world shall be in a combustion, flaming, and cracking about our ears; when the heavens fhall be shrivelled up as a scroll, when it is rolled nogether, and the earth shall be tossed from its centre, and every mountain and island shall be removed? What thoughts can the wiseft men then have about them, in the midst of so much noise and terror ? or, if they could have any, what time will there then be to put them in execution when they shall see the angel that ftandeth upon the sea, and upon the earth, lifting up his hand to heaven, and wearing by him that liveth for ever and ever, that time shall be no longer ; as this dreadful day is described Rev. 8. 5. 6. and chap. vi. 15. ; where sinners are represented, at the appearance of this great judge, not as flying to God in hopes of mercy, but as Hying from him in utter despair of finding mercy with him. The kings of the earth, and the great men, and the mighty men, and the rich men, and the great captains, hid themselves in the dens, and in the rocks of the earth , and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that fitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come ; and who shall be able to stand ? The biggest and the boldest finners that ever were upon earth, shall then fice from the face of him whom they have so often blafphemed and denied; and shall so far despair of finding

mercy

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