Consider first, how the light of Christ in the gospel represents to us the broad road of the world as infinitely dangerous to our souls, and as directly leading to the wide gate of eternal damnation. 'Enter ye in at the narrow gate,' saith he, Matt. vii. 13, 14, 'for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. Oh, how narrow is the gate, and how strait is the way that leadeth to life, and few there are that find it!' Here we see there are two ways in which men walk in this life, and two gates out of this life into eternity. One of these ways is broad and spacious, agreeable to the world and to the flesh, and crowded with great multitudes of slaves to the world and to the flesh, whom it conducts down the hill to a wide gate, by which they no sooner enter than they suddenly slip down a precipice into the bottomless pit of a miserable eternity. The other way is strait and narrow, rough and craggy, by reason of the restraints it puts upon the liberties and passions of worldlings, and its disagreeableness to the corrupt inclinations of flesh and blood; and therefore few, in comparison, care to walk in it, but these few, by the favour of heaven, walk on cheerfully towards the gate of life, assisted and comforted by Jesus Christ;, whom they follow, and with him and through him are happily introduced by this narrow gate into the most spacious and most beautiful regions of never-ending bliss. See, my soul, which of these two ways thou art disposed to choose, and make that choice now which thou shalt be glad to have made for all eternity.
Consider 2ndly, what it is that engages such numbers of Christians to walk on with so little concern, in the broad road that leads to destruction, in spite of this solemn declaration of the gospel, and of the light of our faith. Oh! 'tis their want of thinking; 'tis their wilfully shutting their eyes against the light, and so running blindfold to the precipice; 'tis in the language of the wise man (Wisdom vi. 12), their being quite bewitched with worldly toys, and cheating vanities; 'tis a downright folly and madness, which they shall loudly condemn in hell, for all eternity. Alas, how unhappy are they! How wretchedly blind indeed, to profess themselves Christians - that is followers of Christ - and yet to believe and follow the maxims of the world, rather than the maxims of the gospel of Jesus Christ: to obey the laws of the world, of the flesh, and of the devil, their mortal enemies, rather than the ordinances of their Saviour; to prefer lies, deceit, and empty vanity before truth; darkness before light; slavery before liberty; misery before happiness; hell before heaven; and Satan before God! My soul, see thou never make so wretched a choice. Let not the world, the flesh, and the devil, drag thee along with them in the broad road of perdition; it would be a sad thing to go to hell for company's sake. O choose the narrow way of self-denial and true devotion, in the company of Christ and his saints, and thou shalt live with them for ever.
Consider 3rdly, the frightful sentence, repeated more than once by our Lord, in the gospel: 'many are called but few are chosen': for it has a very close connexion with what he has said above of the broad road that leads to eternal woe, and the narrow way that leads to everlasting life. Yes, Christians, many are called, but few are chosen: because the far greater part of mortals are fond of the broad road which gratifies their passions and corrupt inclinations; and prefer the highway of the world; the way of self-love; the way of lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and of the pride of life - before the narrow way of self-denial and of the love of God, which is less agreeable to flesh and blood. God, on his part, is infinitely good and merciful; he desires that all should be saved and should come to the knowledge of the truth; and his Son Christ Jesus gave himself a redemption for all, 1 Tim. ii. 4, 6. If then but few are chosen, it cannot be for want of good-will in God; but for want of a correspondence on the part of man. It is for want of compliance with the necessary conditions of salvation, the chiefest of which is the keeping of the divine commandments. In a word, 'tis because men choose rather to walk in the broad road than in the narrow; which, in fact, is choosing hell before heaven. So that the reason why they are not chosen, is because they have no real mind to be chosen.
Conclude to keep off, in the practice of thy life, from the broad road of the children of this world, and to walk in the narrow way of the children of light, by living always in the fear of God and keeping his commandments; and thou shalt not fail of being of the number of the chosen.
Consider first, this great principle of Christian morality, laid down by our Lord in the gospel, no man can serve two masters; by which he gives us to understand, that there is no such thing as serving him and saving our souls, if at the same time we are serving the world, the flesh, or the devil. For these are enemies to God, and claim a service of us which our great master absolutely disallows; so that we cannot please them, without displeasing him; nor be friends to them, without being enemies to him. Christians, we have all manner of obligations to serve our God. He is our only true master; he is our first beginning, and our last end; he is our creator, and our redeemer; infinitely good in himself and infinitely good to us. He is the source of our very being, and of all our good: we came into the world for nothing else but to serve him: to his service we were solemnly dedicated, when we were first made Christians: the serving him is to make us happy both in time and eternity. But what pretensions can the world, the flesh, or the devil, have to our service? Or what obligations have we to them? They are all of them mortal enemies to our true welfare, and to the eternal salvation of our souls; if we serve them, they will make us miserable for ever. O let us then never be so wretched, so mad, so wicked, as to put them in competition with God, or to withdraw any part of our service from our God, (to whom it is all due,) to bestow it upon these traitors and rebels, who are enemies to all that is good.
Consider 2ndly, the particular application which our Lord makes of this principle, to warn us against the love and service of mammon, that is of worldly riches, of filthy lucre, of money, and of all the other perishable goods, as we call them, of this deluded and deluding world: you cannot serve, said he, both God and mammon. No man has any inclination to serve the devil, for his own sake, or out of any love that he can have for this filthy monster; but this wicked enemy makes use of the mammon of the world, and of the allurements of the flesh, as baits, to draw poor unthinking souls to him, and to engage them in his slavery for the sake of these perishable toys, which he points out to them as if they were solid goods, so as to fix their affections upon them, to the prejudice of the love and service of their maker. Therefore both here and in many other places of Holy Writ, we are warned against these baits of Satan, and especially against the love and service of this mammon of iniquity, as inconsistent with the love and service of God, and destructive of the salvation of our souls; because 'tis setting up an idol in opposition to the living God; and loving and serving the creature, instead of the creator, who is blessed for evermore. Dear Lord, preserve us from being ever guilty of any such treason.
Consider 3rdly, that as we cannot serve both God and mammon, so we cannot serve both God and pleasure; we cannot serve both God and pride; we cannot serve both God and our impure affections, or our unhappy self-love, which is the source of all our evils. And so in general, with regard to everything else - the love of which takes us off from the love and service of the living God - it always holds good, that we cannot serve both the creator and the creature. Our God is a jealous lover; he will allow of no love but what is quite regular and orderly, and kept in subjection to the love of him. He declares against a divided heart; Osea x. 2, 'Their heart is divided,' said he, 'now they shall perish.' He claims the whole heart as his own due. He will allow of no rival there. He expects to reign there without a partner. See, my soul, upon what conditions God will accept of thee. Thou must be wholly his without reserve, or he will not receive thee. In the offering thou makest of thyself to his divine service, thou must take care not to keep back, by fraud, any part, like Ananias and Saphira, Acts v., lest thou fall under the like judgment that they did.
Conclude to admit of no other master of thy heart and affection but the God that made thy heart for himself, and all things else for thee. None but he can fill thy heart: all other things are just nothing at all when compared with him. Fear him alone: love him alone: give thy whole self to him alone: thus shalt thou be wholly his and he holly thine, for all eternity.
Consider first, that every Christian, as such, ought to be a disciple of Jesus Christ - the very name of Christian implies as much - and the first Christians were originally known and distinguished by no other name than that of disciples, that is of scholars, and followers of this heavenly master. See then, my soul, what the character of a Christian obliges thee to, by the declaration of the Son of God himself. If thou wilt be a disciple of Christ, if thou wilt be a Christian indeed, and to the purpose of securing to thyself that happy eternity with the living God that is prepared for Christ's true disciples, thou must renounce all things else, how near or dear soever they may be to thee, to follow him. Thou must renounce them, if not in effect, at least in affection, by taking off thy heart from them, and transferring it to thy only sovereign good; and thou must renounce them in effect too, as often, and as far, as they stand in thy way, so as to hinder thee from following Christ. This is the great and fundamental lesson of practical Christianity; this is the abridgement of the gospel; to give up all, that thou mayest find all: to be disengaged from the creature, that thou mayest be united to the creator.
Consider 2ndly, that our Lord explains this obligation of our renouncing all things else, in order to be his disciples, by two comparisons: the one of a man who purposes to build a tower, but first sits down to reckon up the charges, to see if he has wherewithal to finish the work; the other of a king who is going to wage war against another king, but first considers whether he has sufficient forces to encounter his adversary. Every Christian is highly concerned in these two comparisons: inasmuch as every Christian, if he desires to be happy for ever, must raise a spiritual building here, upon the foundation which is Christ; a building that may be proof against all storms and inundations; a tower that may stand for ever; and every Christian is engaged in a warfare against the prince of darkness, and all his allies; wherein if he does not come off with victory, he must be miserable for all eternity. Therefore the Christian must sit down, and must reckon up the necessary charges of this building, to see that he may be able to finish it: and he must take care to secure to himself sufficient forces, to enable him to carry on this war, and to subdue the enemy. Now 'tis by renouncing all things else to follow Christ, that we are associated to him and made partakers of all his treasures; and we are enabled both to elevate our building even to heaven, and to overthrow all the powers of hell.
Consider 3rdly, how true it is that our affections to the things of this world are indeed the chiefest hindrance to us; as well in carrying on our spiritual building, as in our conflicts with our spiritual enemies. The builder will make no progress in his building, if instead of applying himself seriously to the work he has undertaken, he loses his time in amusing himself about other things nothing to his purpose; or if he has taken little or no care to procure the necessary materials; or even suffers his hands and feet to be shackled, when he should be at work. 'Tis the case of all such Christians as have not yet mortified their affections to the things of the world. These, alas! take up their thoughts; these employ their time; what should be expended in carrying on the great building, is all wasted upon these; and the builder lies grovelling upon the earth, tied down with the chains of his misplaced affections. And as for the wrestling in which we are engaged with the spirit of wickedness, it is no less certain that nothing gives them a greater hold on us than our unmortified affections to these worldly toys. It is like carrying a load of clothes about us, when we are to wrestle with one that is stript; who will be sure by that occasion to have the advantage of us. Therefore we who are to wrestle with the devil, who is naked, must fling off our garments, with St. Gregory, (Homil. 32,) by renouncing our worldly affections, or we shall be sure to be brought down by him.
Conclude to make it thy perpetual study to take off thy affections from all things of the earth, and to disregard the creature, that thou mayest find the creator. And seeing that a great grace is required for this, which may untie the soul from all that is not God, and carry her up upon the wings of the dove to rest eternally in him, continually pray for his grace.
Consider first, that the disciple of Jesus Christ, by the rule of the gospel, is not only obliged to renounce, (at least in affection,) all things else for the sake of his master, but what is the hardest of all, he must also renounce and deny himself. And this his renouncing of himself is absolutely insisted upon by our Lord, as the first, the most essential, and the most indispensable condition for every one that would come after him, and belong to him. Yes, Christians, there is that irreconcilable opposition between this self, strangely corrupted by sin, surrounded with darkness, and bent upon evil, and the purity and sanctity of Jesus Christ, and the bright light of his truth, that there is no coming, in a proper manner, at the one without renouncing the other; there is no coming at divine charity, which teaches us to love our God with our whole heart, (the principal of all Christian duties,) without declaring an eternal war with self-love, the capital enemy to the love of God, and the parent of all vices. And therefore we are not only commanded in the gospel to renounce and to deny ourselves, in order to follow Christ, but also to hate ourselves, or as it is expressed in the original, (Luke xiv. 26, and John xii. 25,) to hate our souls in this world in order to save them in the next. See, my soul, upon what conditions thou art to be a disciple of the Son of God; thou must not only renounce all things else, thou must also renounce and hate thyself too.
Consider 2ndly, the grounds upon which is founded this strict obligation of denying and of renouncing ourselves in this world: namely, that we may be in a proper condition to give ourselves up entirely to God; and thus leaving ourselves, may find him, and be eternally his. So that in effect, this denying and renouncing ourselves is the best way we can have of loving ourselves, because it procures us the greatest good, and brings us to our sovereign good. As on the other hand, that unhappy self-seeking and loving to gratify ourselves brings misfortunes upon us, both for time and eternity. If then we are to renounce the affections to all things else, in order to follow Christ, lest the love of them should divide our heart, and take it off from him - how much more are we to renounce self-love for the love of him, as being much stronger than all our other affections; and far more apt to captivate our heart and shut out the love of God? Yes, my soul, thy self-love is indeed the greatest enemy both of thy God, and of thy own true and everlasting welfare, and therefore thou must not only renounce it, but abhor it too, with almost perfect hatred, and turn all thy forces against it in order to abolish and destroy it.
Consider 3rdly, and attend to the sentiments of a great servant of God upon this subject. 'My son, thou must give all for all, and be nothing of thy own. Know that the love of thyself is more hurtful to thee than anything in the world... Thou canst not possess perfect liberty unless thou wholly deny thyself. All self-seekers and self-lovers are bound in fetters, full of desires, full of cares, unsettled and seeking always their own ease, and not the things of Jesus Christ, but oftentimes devising and framing that which shall not stand; for all shall come to nothing that proceeds not from God. Take this short and perfect word: "Forsake all, and thou shalt find all; leave thy desires, and thou shalt find rest." Consider this well, and when thou shalt have put it in practice, thou shalt understand all things.' - Following of Christ, 1. iii., c. 27 and 32. And again: "Son, as much as thou canst go out of thyself, so much shall thou be able to enter into me. As the desiring of nothing abroad brings peace at home, so the relinquishing thyself interiorly joins thee to God. I will have thee learn the perfect renouncing of thyself in my will, without contradiction or complaint. Follow me, I am the way, the truth, and the life. If thou wilt be my disciple, deny thyself,' c. 56. My soul, let these be thy sentiments also, and strive to conform thy practice to them.
Conclude to give up both thyself and all things else to follow Christ, and by following him to come at thy sovereign good, and to enjoy him for all eternity. If thou wert to give ten thousand worlds to purchase such a treasure, all that thou wouldst give would fall infinitely short of the value of it.
Consider first, how much it concerns us all to know what we must do to save our souls; and what kind of justice that is, what degree of virtue is necessary to bring us to heaven, lest we deceive ourselves, or let ourselves be imposed upon by the enemy with false appearances and outward show, and catching at the shadow of virtue, lose the substance of it, and our souls into the bargain. The Scribes and Pharisees were the most precise among the Jews, and professed the greatest zeal for the law of God and the true religion; they prayed much,, they gave large alms, and they fasted frequently; so that they passed for saints amongst the people; and yet we are here assured by the mouth of truth itself, that except our virtue exceeds theirs, we shall have no share in his heavenly kingdom. See then, my soul, and examine well in what their justice was defective; that so thou mayest avoid their defects, lest thou perish with them; for why shouldst thou suffer thyself to be deluded, to the loss both of thy God and of thyself, for all eternity?
Consider 2ndly, that the justice of the Scribes and of the Pharisees was many ways deficient; but more especially in this, that it contented itself with reforming and regulating the outside, whilst it neglected the interior, which is the true seat of Christian justice. They 'made clean the outside of the cup, and of the platter, whilst their inside was full of iniquity,' Luke xi. 39. Their good works were not done with a pure intention they sought not God, but themselves, in all they did; their prayers, their alms, their fastings, were directed to the gaining of the applause of the world; to the end they might be honoured and esteemed by men. And whilst they avoided the more scandalous excesses of the grosser carnal sins of drunkenness and impurity, which might have rendered them infamous in the eyes of the world, they made no scruple of the spiritual sins, (much more odious to God,) of envy, hatred, detraction, covetousness, and an extravagant pride and conceit of themselves, joined with a contempt of all others. Thus all the good they seemed to do was quite vitiated and corrupted; all their virtues were but in appearance and before the eyes of men; but their vices were real and abominable in the sight of God. Christians, take heed of this leaven of the Pharisees, as your Lord admonishes you; take heed of hypocrisy, of ostentation, and an outward show of devotion, destitute of the real substance of it. All the glory of the true spouse, the daughter of the king is within; it lies hidden in the interior of the soul. Take heed lest pride or vainglory vitiate your good actions by vitiating your intention. Keep yourselves clean, not only from all the defilements of the flesh, but of the spirit also; for these are the more heinous sins of the two. O! see that nothing of the Pharisee corrupt the Christian in you.
Consider 3rdly, what the justice is which Jesus Christ insists upon as necessary to the eternal salvation of our souls. It consists not in mere outward professions; for 'not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven,' Matt. vii. 12. Nor will faith alone suffice to Christian justice, James ii. 17, 24. Nor will alms, prayers, or fastings alone make any one just, (as we see in the very case of the Pharisee,) nor any outward form of worship;, without the inward spirit, nor anything else that can be separated from obedience to the commandments, from true Christian humility and divine charity. No, my soul, the justice that is to bring thee to heaven is to keep the commandments, Matt. xix. 17; it is to 'do the will of thy Father who is in heaven,' Matt. vii. 21; it is to be 'poor in spirit,' Matt. v. 3; it is to be 'humble like a little child,' Matt. xviii. 3,4; it is to 'love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength, and to love thy neighbour as thyself.' This is Christian justice indeed! Do this, and thou shalt live. But where any part of this is wanting, nothing else can make any man just.
Conclude to be quite in earnest in seeking and following after this Christian justice in all its branches, by purity of intention in all thy works; by sincerity and simplicity, or uprightness of soul; by attending to thy interior, to keep that regular and orderly; by true humility of heart; and above all things by fleeing sins and loving God; and thus shalt be just indeed before the Lord, and entitled to his heavenly kingdom.
Consider first, that by the kingdom of heaven, in this and many other places of the gospel, we are to understand that heavenly kingdom by which God reigns by his grace in our souls. A heavenly kingdom indeed which we are commanded to seek in the first place, Matt. i. 33, and which we are taught daily to pray for in the second petition of the Lord's prayer. Now this kingdom of grace in our souls is here likened to a treasure, because of its inestimable value; it is worth more than all the kingdoms of the earth; it brings God himself into our souls, to live and reign there for ever. But then it is a hidden treasure, because the children of this world are strangers to the true value of it; and though they have heard of the field, (of virtue and devotion,) where it is to be found by seeking and by digging for it, they are far more fond of the childish toys, which amuse them at present, than of a treasure unseen; and therefore they are unwilling either to incur the charges of purchasing this field, or the pains of digging for this treasure. Not so the man in the gospel, who having discovered this treasure, sets his whole heart upon it, hides it diligently, and for the joy thereof goes and sells all he has, and buys that field. See, my soul, if this be thy disposition. Dost thou consider this kingdom of divine grace as a treasure indeed, and the richest of all treasures? Is thy heart set upon it? For where thy treasure is, there thy heart will be. Art thou willing to purchase at any rate that blessed field where this treasure lies?
Consider 2ndly, the lessons we are taught by our Lord in this parable, particularly with regard to the value we ought to set upon divine grace; the great esteem and affection we ought to have for our spiritual advancement; and for all such things as may help our souls forward, and bring them nearer to our God. We are here also taught that the Christian who desires to secure to himself this heavenly treasure, which he has begun to discover, must not make a show of it by ostentation or vainglory - which would be the direct way to lose it - but must hide it by humility, like a traveller who, carrying a treasure about him, endeavours to conceal it for fear of robbers. Moreover, we are taught that, to make this treasure our own, we must purchase the field where it lies, and that this purchase will stand us in all we are worth. This field, in which this spiritual treasure is concealed is true wisdom: 'tis a devout and virtuous life; 'tis the following of Christ in good earnest, and being his true disciples. Now, to purchase a field of so great a value as this is, we must part with all things else - that is we must give up all other affections to embrace and follow Christ; but then, in exchange, he, on his part, will make over to us all his treasures, and himself into he bargain.
Consider 3rdly, Christian soul, if you desire to have a share in so great a happiness, by what steps you are to advance towards it, and to come to the possession of it. And first, you must be convinced by the word of God and by the light of faith that there is a treasure of inestimable value designed by your heavenly Father for you, to enrich you both for time and eternity, if you will but make use of the proper means to find it out and to make it your own. The next step must be to conceive a great esteem for this heavenly treasure - an ardent desire to acquire it, and a strong resolution to spare neither pains nor costs in the acquisition of it. The desire and resolution must be followed by a diligent inquiry after the field of wisdom and virtue, where this treasure is hidden, and then digging here till it is found. Now, all this is to be effected by the exercise of consideration and mental prayer. Yes, my soul, it is by daily opening thy eyes to the light of God and to his divine truths in meditation that thou shalt both learn what a treasure there is in virtue, and how thou art to be put in possession of it. Here thou wilt discover the beauty of holiness; how sweet it is to love God, and how happy to serve him in good earnest: here thou shalt be inflames with a fervent desire of procuring for thyself so great a happiness, and with a holy hunger and thirst after it. The pondering well, by deep consideration, eternal truths, is like digging for the treasure of the kingdom of heaven; and the affections and resolutions of the soul, by which she is determined at all events to consecrate the remainder of her life to divine love, is like selling all to purchase this field where this treasure is deposited.
Conclude to use thy best endeavours to seek without ceasing for this treasure of the kingdom of heaven in the field of virtue and devotion. and to dig daily for it by the daily exercise of meditation and mental prayer, and thou shalt not fail to find it.
Consider first, how our Lord here likens the kingdom of heaven, (that is his spiritual kingdom, which he came from heaven to establish, and which is to bring our souls to heaven,) to a marriage feast which a great king makes for the wedding of his son. To this feast many are invited who refuse to come; many take no notice of the invitation, but go their ways -- one to his farm, another to his traffic; many afflict and persecute even to death the messengers that are sent to call them to the wedding. All these, then, are rejected and condemned; and in their place the poor, the blind, and the lame are gathered together from the highways and from the hedges, and are brought in to be guests at the royal feast. But the man that presumed to come without having a wedding garment is ordered to be bound hand and foot, and to be cast out into the exterior darkness, here there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. So far the parable; now let us see how it is to be applied, and what sacred truths we are to learn from it. The Son of God came down from heaven to wed himself to our human nature by the mystery of his incarnation, and to every one of our souls in particular, by a happy union of grace and love. This is the wedding which the great king of heaven and earth makes for his only Son. The marriage feast with which this wedding is celebrated is begun here upon earth by grace, in the souls of as many as sincerely come to Christ with faith and love, and shall be perpetual hereafter by the eternal enjoyment of him in his heavenly paradise. To this marriage feast both Jews and Gentiles were long ago invited by the apostles and other messengers of God; and all nations are still invited to the same, as well by apostolic preachers sent amongst them for their conversion, as by many other ways by which God daily calls souls to his love and service, in order to their salvation. Happy they that duly correspond with these heavenly calls and readily come to this feast, to which they are so lovingly invited by so great a king! But then they must take care to come with the proper dispositions, signified by the wedding garment; without which they must not expect any part with the bridegroom in his everlasting banquet.
Consider 2ndly, the infinite goodness of God, manifested to us in this parable, by his inviting us all to this heavenly feast - considering what this feast is, what kind of entertainment he has here prepared for us - and how very wretched and undeserving we are of any such favour. But O, the strange stupidity of so many poor thoughtless mortals who daily slight and neglect this divine invitation! O how blind, how miserable, how wicked are they to prefer these worldly toys, this farm, this traffic, these empty, airy bubbles before this divine banquet, where God desires to feast their souls with himself by the sweet blessings and communications of his graces here, and by the inebriating them hereafter for all eternity with the plenty of his house, and making them drink of the torrent of his pleasures at the very head of the fountain of life.
Consider 3rdly, the dreadful consequences of neglecting or rejecting these heavenly invitations, by which we are called to the marriage feast of the Lamb. Alas! our all is here at stake: our whole happiness for time and eternity absolutely depends upon our coming to his feast. We shall be perpetually miserable if we are excluded from it. And shall we be so wretched as wilfully to exclude ourselves by refusing to come when we are so pressingly invited by the king of heaven? Will he not highly resent this contemptuous treatment; this slighting of his gracious calls; this preferring the vanities and lying fooleries of the world before him and his banquet? O, there is nothing moves him more to indignation! 'Tis this crying sin is the principal cause of the reprobation of all that are lost. And therefore our Lord concludes this parable with that terrible sentence, that many are called, but few are chosen, to excite us to a diligence and fervour in corresponding with grace, and to convince us that if we are not of the number of the elect the fault is entirely ours, in not answering the calls of heaven, but preferring mere baubles, even the idols of our passions, before that marriage feast to which he so graciously invites us.
Conclude, O my soul, to secure at least thy own eternal welfare by a ready compliance with all the gracious calls of heaven, and by being quite serious and in earnest in hastening to this feast of grace, to which thou are invited. But remember to take along with thee the wedding garment of divine love, with a happy and holy resolution and determination of dedicating and consecrating what remains of thy life to thy God; of flying all known and wilful sin more than any other evil whatsoever; of being faithful until death; and of labouring to advance every day more than before in the way of God and true life. With this wedding garment thou shalt be both a welcome and an eternal guest; without it, thou shalt be sentenced to be cast out into the exterior darkness.
Consider first, that all Christians are like trees planted in the vineyard of Christ, and that he expects of them all that they should bring forth fruit, each one in his kind. He will not be content with their making a fair show with beautiful leaves, nor yet with the bringing forth a meaner sort of fruit, unworthy of his vineyard; but he requires that they should bring forth good fruit, and declares, (Matt. vii. 19.) 'that every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire.' This sentence, than, stands against all such trees as are barren in our Lord's vineyard; yes, the axe is already laid at the root of them all, (Matt. iii. 10.) However, as we see in the parable of the fig-tree, God, in his great patience and mercy, bears with them for a while, and suspends the execution of the sentence, in hopes of their coming in time to bring forth good fruit, till, after repeated disappointments, he lets the sentence take place; and suddenly cuts them down to be the fuel of a fire that shall never be extinguished. See here, my soul, and dread the sad consequences of continuing to be a barren tree in the vineyard of our Lord, and despising the riches of his goodness, and his patience and long suffering, with which he waits so long, in hopes of good fruit.
Consider 2ndly, as to thy own particular, how much thou owest to God for having planted thee in his vineyard, and for all that he has done for thee, that thou mightest be fruitful. O, how often has he visited thee during all these past years, with the dew of heaven and with the wholesome showers of his divine graces? What dressing and attention has he not daily bestowed upon thee? How early a knowledge has he given thee of himself? How often hast thou been favoured with his heavenly word, by which his divine will has been notified to thee? How often hast thou been admitted to his sacraments, the fountains of grace and life? These are great advantages indeed: these have made many trees very fruitful; these have made many great saints. But what fruits have they produced in thee? How hast thou corresponded with all these visits and favours of heaven? Hast thou not, at the best, contented thyself with the leaves of some outward performances like those of the Scribes and Pharisees, that might please the eyes of the world, without bearing any real fruits of solid Christian virtue? If so, remember what a sentence stands at present against thee, and prevent the execution of it by a speedy and hearty repentance and conversion to God, and by beginning at least to bring forth the good fruit of a new life before the time of thy reprieve expire, the term of which is unknown to thee, and may be very near at hand.
Consider 3rdly, that the fruit which God expects from thee, is not merely that thou shouldst refrain from scandalous excesses; or that thou shouldst lead a moral, honest life, as many pagans have done; or that thou shouldst frequent the public worship of the church; or any other external duties, which may be liable to be ill performed for want of a pure intention, or corrupted with pride or self-love; but the fruits which God calls for, and insists upon, are such as are solid and sound at heart; such as are never to be found in hypocrites or impostors, or any others but truly good Christians. Such are an unfeigned humility and contempt of ourselves; the mortification of our own will, of our passions and corrupt inclinations, by the virtues of obedience and self-denial; a conformity in all things with the holy will of God; sincere piety and devotion, and above all things true and perfect charity, by loving God with our whole hearts, and every neighbour, whether friend or enemy, in him and for him. These are good fruits indeed; and the trees that bring forth such fruits as these are good trees. But where these fruits are wanting, and either pride, or passion, or self-love still prevails, neither alms nor fastings, nor long prayers, nor daily frequenting the sacraments, nor speaking with the tongues of men and angels, nor prophesying, nor working of miracles, nor even raising the dead to life, will secure any tree from the dreadful judgment of being cut down, and cast into the fire.
Conclude to look well to thyself, and examine what kind of fruits thine are; and whether good and sound, and fit to be presented to the Lord of the vineyard; or at the best but wild, and sour, or rotten at heart, by the corruption of thy pride and self-conceit; and take care to purge away, whilst thou hast time, whatever either hinders the fruit from ripening, or rots and corrupts it. Thy eternal welfare absolutely depends upon thy bringing forth a store of good fruit upon which thou mayest live for ever.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
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