Friday, June 13, 2008

Steele In Our Spines: Universal Religion

The meditations under this listing [Steele In Our Spines] are from Richard Steele's The Properties And Privileges Of An Upright Man, first published in 1670.

The will of God is in an upright man's heart, and he agrees with Scriptures in everything.

1. He hates all sin with a hatred of abomination, of aversion, and of opposition. Dress it with what disguises you will, and press it with what motives, ends or advantages you can, the upright man hates it in his heart. Psalm 119:1, 3, "blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. They also [for their part] do no iniquity; they walk in his way." There is a part of him that would tamper with sin, but he does not like it. "Oh," saith God, "do not this abominable thing that I hate" (Jeremiah 44:4). "No, Lord," he says, "for I hate it as well as thou dost." His heart is on God's side against sin, and particularly against his own iniquity. Psalm 18:23, "I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity."

Every man has some sin of his own to which he is most inclined, least able to resist, and most loathe to leave. Thus he drags each prayer before God and cries, "Lord, if thou lovest me, strike here!" This sin he prosecutes with prayers and tears, and all good means beside, ambushes it in cold blood, and continual, preventing contrivances disappoints, crosses, intercepts, and by degrees starves it to death.

And as no sin is so dear as to ingratiate with him, so no sin is so small but his stomach rises at it; and hence it is that the upright man does not have so wide an inclination as other men of large and strained consciences, and so meets with many a hypocrite in his dish, because he hates the appearance of evil as he hates the appearance of the devil. But still he hates his own sins more than others, and those as much as any which nobody sees but himself.

2. He loves all his duty; he is neither afraid to know nor ashamed to to own all his duty. By this the Lord measures integrity. 1 Kings 9:4, "And if thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, in integrity of heart and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded thee." Here's the just standard of sincerity. For can the holy, wise, and just God appoint anything unreasonable or uncomfortable for his own creature, his dear child to perform? Alas! All his ways are mercy and truth, and all his laws tend to his servants' good.

What harsher law in appearance can there be than that found in Matthew 5:29-30, "If thy right eye, if thy right hand offend thee, pluck it out, cut it off." And yet if any of you had an eye that was always leading you into pits and precipices, to drown and destroy you, would not you have it out? If you had a hand that was always running into fire, and you could not keep it out, would you not hack it off? Why, it is no other eye or hand the gospel has a quarrel with but those that would lead you into ruin or run you into hell -- and how reasonable and necessary is it to be rid of such?

The upright man is convinced of this, and so he knows nothing in religion but what he likes. Some things may grate upon his carnal appetite, yet he loves them dearly. Now a hypocrite is quite another man; like a poor scholar reading a hard chapter, he skips over the hard words and makes nothing of them; whereas the well-taught scholar will tarry and labor at them and rather venture a whipping than skip over them. So is it between the hypocrite and the upright man in the duties of Christianity.

A hypocrite runs smoothly on in diverse religious exercises till he meets with some costly, hard, or hidden duties, and there he stands stock-still; he considers that there is no credit or profit, but only pains or peril to be had, and so skips over these hard words and neither loves nor obeys. But the upright man finds his duty, abides by it, dwells upon it, and will deny himself before he will deny his duty. "If God will have me love my enemies, I will love them. If he will have me forsake this company or course that I am taken with, I will freely leave them. IF he will have me pray, yea, and fast too, no duty shall be so hard but I will do it, no sin so sweet but I will leave it with my whole heart, and my whole soul.

We see both of these in Psalm 119:128, "Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right, and I hate every false way." Each word is a sacred touchstone.

"Therefore." It is said in verse 126 that [wicked men] "make void the law." That's so far from carrying the upright man down the stream that therefore he loves it the more; he knows he cannot but be excellent that such men hate. Is the Sabbath generally broken? He is stricter in observing it then. Are oaths more frequent? He abhors them all the more. Is true piety hated and hissed out of the world? Then his heart and his house shall more thoroughly embrace it.

"I esteem." I cannot observe thy precepts as I would, but I do dearly value them. The least of thy laws is more unto me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

"I esteem thy precepts." I not only esteem the truths of the Bible, the histories in the Bible, and the promises of the Bible, but I esteem thy precepts, those that cut out my work as well as those that hold out my reward.

"And all these." This includes those that are against my nature and [seeming] interest and custom as well as those that are agreeable to my nature and custom, and subservient to my interest. They are all wise, holy, and good. "Thy word is very pure; therefore thy servant loves it. And I esteem all they precepts [concerning all things to be right]." Those precepts that give rules for my bargains as well as for my hearing, that control me at my table as well as those that direct me in my prayers--they are all right and good.

"And I hate every false way." I do not say that I escape and miss them all (happy I would be if I could); but I hate them, and he who hates sin, will avoid it as much as he can. And I hate every false way. I see that they are false ways, neither directed by my God nor leading to him, and therefore I hate them all. This is an upright man: he is universally religious.


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