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to be such as I have described God to be. And this SERM, St. Matthew calls perfection, because the goodness of God is his great perfection, and the glory of the divine nature, that which reflects a lustre and beauty upon all his other attributes, and takes off the terror of them. From all which it is plain, what those perfections of the divine nature are, which our SAVIOUR doth here particularly recommend to our imitation. I come now, in the
Fourth and last place, To clear the true meaning of this precept; and to shew, that the duty here required, and intended by our SAVIOUR (when he says, “ Be ye perfect, as your Father which is in « heaven is perfect”) is not impossible to us.
And to this purpose, be pleased to consider these three or four things.
1. That our imitation of God is certainly restrained to the communicable perfections of God, and such as creatures are capable of, as I have shewn before. For it is so far from being a duty to affect or attempt to be like God in his peculiar perfections, that it was, probably, the sin of the apoftate angels.
2. Our imitation of the divine perfections, which are communicable to creatures, is likewise to be restrained to such degrees of these perfections, as creatures are capable of. For ng creature can ever be so perfectly good, as God is; nor partake of any other excellency, in that transcendant degree, in which the divine nature is poffeffed of it.
3. But there is no manner of inconvenience in having a pattern propounded to us of so great perfection, as is above our reach to attain to; and there may
be great advantages in it. The way to excel in any kind is, optima quæque exempla ad imitandum
SERM. proponere, to propose the highest and most perfect
“ examples to our imitation.” No man can write after too perfect and good a copy; and though he can never reach the perfection of it, yet he is like to learn more, than by one less perfect. He that aims at the heavens, which yet he is sure to come short of, is like to shoot higher than he that aims at a mark within his reach.
Besides, that the excellency of the pattern, as it leaves room for continual improvement, so it kindles ambition, and makes men strain and contend to the utmost to do better: and tho' he can never hope to equal the example before him, yet he will endeavour to come as near it as he can.' So that a perfect pattern is no hindrance, but an advantage rather to our improvement in any kind.
4. If any thing can be supposed to be our duty, which is absolutely beyond our power, a precept
of this nature may with as much reason be supposed to be so, as any thing that can be instanced in : beçause in such a case, if we do our beit, and be continually pressing forward towards the mark, though we can never reach it, yet we do very commendably; and whatever the law may require to try and raise our obedience, yet in all equitable interpretationi
, such a will and endeavour will be acceptable with God for the deed. For if the perfection of the law do really exceed our ability, and be beyond the poffibility of our performance, the assurance we have of God's goodness will fufficiently secure us from any danger and prejudice upon that account. And we may reasonably prefume, that to do all we can towards the fulfilling of this precept, will be as acceptable to God, and as beneficial to ourselves, as if our power had been greater, and we had perfect
ly fulfilled it. If our heavenly Father, to try the rea- SERM. diness and chearfulness of our obedience, bid us do cxxx), that which he knows we cannot do, though we can do fomething towards it, we may be sure that he will be very well pleased when he sees, that in obedience to him we have done all that we could. And we may in this cafe reafon as our Saviour does; “ If we that are evil would deal thus with our chil“ dren, how much more shall our heavenly Father ?” The goodnefs of God signifies very little, if it does not signify this, that in any instance of real and unquestionable goodness, God is much better than any father upon earth.
However at the worst, that wherein we fall short of the perfection of the law, may be supplied on our part, by an humble acknowledgment of our own weakness and imperfection, and on God's part, by mercy and forgivenefs, for the sake of the perfect obedience of our bleffed Redeemer. This is the leaft benefit we can expect in this case from the grace, and mercy, and equity of the gospel
5. And lastly, which will fully clear this matter, this precept does not oblige us to come up to a perfect equality with the pattern propounded to us, but only imports a vigorous imitation of it ; that we be perpetually afcending and climbing up higher, Atill advancing from one degree of goodness to another, and continually aspiring after a nearer resem. blance to GOD : and this certainly is possible to us, to endeavour to be as like God as we can, in this weak and imperfect state.
Whereas any equality with God, even in the communicable attributes of his goodness, and mercy, and patience, is not only impossible to us in this state of fin and imperfection, but above the condition of
to be per
SERM. a creature, even of “the spirits of just men made cXXXI. “ perfect,” and of the highest angels in glory : for
their perfection is not absolute, but in comparison
And this seems to be no inconsiderable ingredients and enhancement of the happiness of heaven, that the holiness of good men (which is the similitude of God) is never at a stand, nor at its full growth and period; but that the glorified faints (yea and blessed angels too) may be continually growing and improving, and they themselves still become better and happier to all eternity. And this in my apprehenfion is no undervaluing the happiness of heaven, that it is not so perfect at first, as it shall be afterwards because it is granted on all hands, that the happiness of those good souls, who are already in bliss, shall be more perfect and complete at the resurrection. And why may it not then be continually increasing, and be augmented still more and more, without any fint or final period of its perfection. In this world we are apt to faint in a long course of goodness, and to be weary of well doing. But in the other ftate, when men shall be strongly byassed to goodness, and have nothing to pull them back, it will then be so far from bring a trouble, that methinks it
should be a mighty pleasure to the blessed, to find SERM.
CXXXI, that there is no end of their doing good, and becoming better. For if conformity to God be the ground and foundation of all happiness, then our blessedness will advance proportionably, as we grow more and more like to him. This, I confess, were a dismal consideration, to think that in heaven we should be liable to relapse, to go backward, or fall from that holy and happy ftate. But this is a comfortable consideration, that our holiness and happiness shall never be at a stand, that it is fecure so far as it goes, and that we cannot lose what we have once attained, as we may do in this world. This, methinks, should be a trouble to no man, that as good and happy as he is at first, he shall still be better and better, more and more happy without end.
But be that as it will, and as God pleaseth (for we do but talk in the dark about our future state) this is certain, that an equality with God in any of his perfections is not to be attained by any creature, and therefore cannot be thought to be the meaning of this precept : But that which our Saviour requires, is a vigorous imitation of this pattern ; that we have this example of the divine perfection always before us, and that we be continually endeavouring, as much as in us lies, to bring ourselves to the nearest resemblance of God, that possibly we can. And if this be our sincere care and study, we need not doubt but that it will find acceptance with God, and that he will be graciously pleased to esteem us for his children ; and if there need a pardon for it, that God will forgive us where we fall short of the perfection of that pattern, which we can never imitate to perfection.
And happy were it for us, if this were all the ground of our fear and trouble, that when we had