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I do not mean this comparison betwixt People seemingly good, and professed rakes, but betwixt People of sober lives. Let us take an instance in two modest Women: let it be supposed, that one of them is careful of times of Devotion, and observes them through a sense of duty, and that the other has no hearty concern about it, but is at Church seldom or often, just as it happens. Now it is a very easy thing to see this difference betwixt these persons. But when you have seen this, can you find any further difference betwixt them? Can you find that their common life is of a different kind? Are not thetempers, and customs, and manners of the one, of the same kind as of the other? Do they live as if they belonged to different worlds, had different views in their heads, and different rules and measures of all their actions? Have they not the same goods and evils, are they not pleased and displeased in the same manner, and for the same things? Do they not live in the same a Devout and Holy Life. course of life? Does one seem to be of this world, looking at the things that are temporal, and the other to be of another world, looking wholly at the things that are eternal? Does the one live in pleasure, delighting herself in show or dress, and the other live in self-denial and mortification, renouncing everything that looks like vanity, either of person, dress, or carriage? Does the one follow public diversions, and trifle away her time in idle visits, and corruptconversation, and does the other study all the arts of improving her time, living in Prayer and Watching, and such good works, as may make all her time turn to her advantage, and be placed to her account at the last day? Is the one careless of expense, and glad to be able to adorn herself with every costly ornament of dress, and does the other consider her fortune as a talent given her by God, which is to be improved religiously, and no more to be spent in vain and needless ornaments, than it is to be buried in the earth?
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But before I give a direct answer to this, I desire it may also be inquired, how it comes to pass that swearing is so common a vice amongst Christians? It is indeed not yet so common amongst women, as it is amongst men. But amongst men this sin is so common, that perhaps there are more thantwo in three that are guilty of it through the whole course of their lives, swearing more or less, just as it happens, some constantly, others only now and then as it were by chance. Now, I ask how comes it, that two in three of the men are guilty of so gross and profane a sin as this is? There is neither ignorance, nor human infirmity to plead for it: It is against an express commandment, and the most plain Doctrine of our blessed Saviour.
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I have chosen to explain this matter, by appealing to this intention, because it makes the case so plain, and because everyone who has a mind, may see it in the clearest light, and feel it in the strongest manner, only by looking into his own Heart. For it is as easy for every person to know, whether he intends to please God in all his actions; as for any servant to know, whether this be his intention towards his master. Everyone also can as easily tell how he lays out his money, and whether he considers how to please God in it, as he can tell where his estate is, and whether it be in money or land. So that there is no plea left for ignorance or frailty, as to this matter, everybody is in thelight, and everybody has power. And no one can fail, but he who is not so much a Christian, as to intend to please God in the use of his estate.
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For if salvation is only given to those who strive for it, then it is as reasonable for me to consider, whether my course of life be a course of striving to obtain it, as to consider whether I am keeping any of the Commandments.
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This therefore being so useful a meditation, I shall here leave the reader, as I hope, seriously engaged in it.
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I have appealed to this pious custom of all ages of the world, as a proof of the reasonableness of the doctrine of this and the fore going chapters; that is, as a proof that religion is to be the rule and measure of all the actions of ordinary life. For surely, if we are not to eat, but under such rules of devotion, it must plainly appear, that whatever else we do, must in its proper way, be done with the same regard to the glory of God, and agreeably to the principles of a devout and pious mind.
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Every exhortation in Scripture to be wise and reasonable, satisfying only such wants as God would have satisfied; every exhortation to be spiritual and heavenly, pressing after a glorious change of our nature; every exhortation to love our neighbour as ourselves, to love all mankind as God has loved them, is a command to be strictly religious in the use of our money. For none of these tempers can be complied with, unless we be wise and reasonable, spiritual and heavenly, exercising a brotherly love, a godlike charity in the use of all our fortune. These tempers, and this use of our worldly goods, is so much the doctrine of all the New Testament, that you cannot read a chapter, without being taught something of it. I shall only produce one remarkable passage of Scripture, which is sufficient to justify all that I have said concerning this religious use of all our fortune.
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Flavia is very idle, and yet very fond of fine work; this makes her often sit working in bed until noon, and be told many a long story before she is up; so that I need not tell you, that her morning devotions are not always rightly performed.
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I shall not take upon me to say, that it is impossible for Flavia to be saved; but thus much must be said, that she has no grounds from Scripture to think she is in the way of salvation. For her whole life is in direct opposition to all those tempers and practices, which the Gospel has made necessary to salvation.
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NOW this life of Miranda, which I heartily recommend to the imitation of her sex, however contrary it may seem to the way and fashion of the world, is yet suitable to the true spirit, and founded upon the plainest doctrines of Christianity.
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This testimony I have from the famous ecclesiastical historianEusebius, who lived at the time of the first general council, when the faith of our Nicene Creed was established, when the Church was in its greatest glory and purity, when its Bishops were so many holy fathers, and eminent saints.
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I have made this little appeal to Antiquity, and quoted these few passages of Scripture, to support some uncommon practices in the life of Miranda; and to show that her highest rules of holy living, her devotion, self-denial, renunciation of the world, her charity, virginity, and voluntary poverty, are founded in the sublimest counsels of Christ and his Apostles, suitable to the high expectations of another life, proper instances of a heavenly love, and all followed by the greatest saints of the best and purest ages of the Church.
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Every sober reader will easily perceive, that I do not intend to lessen the true and great value of Prayers, either public or private; but only to show him, that they are certainly but a very slender part of devotion, when compared to a devout life.
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I desire every reader to dwell a while upon this reflection, and perhaps he will find more conviction from it, than he imagines. Everyone can tell how good and pious he would have some people to be; everyone knows, how wise and reasonable a thing it is in a Bishop, to be entirely above the world, and be an eminent example of Christian perfection: As soon as you think of a wise and ancient Bishop, you fancy some exalted degree of piety, a living example of all those holy tempers, which you find described in the Gospel.
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If one looks at their lives, who live by no rule but their own humours and fancies; if one sees but what it is, which they calljoy, and greatness, and happiness; if one sees how they rejoice, and repent, change and fly from one delusion to another; one shall find great reason to rejoice, that God hath appointed astrait and narrow way, that leadeth unto life, and that we are not left to the folly of our own minds, or forced to take up with such shadows of joys and happiness, as the weakness and folly of the world has invented. I say invented, because those things which make up the joy and happiness of the world are mereinventions, which have no foundation in nature and reason, are no way the proper good or happiness of man, no way perfect either in his body, or his mind, or carry him to his true end.