ON THE PURITY OF OUR ACTIONS
Consider first, that this Christian purity, which is to prepare the way for Christ in us, and to dispose us to give him a proper entertainment, must not be confined to the interior powers of the soul, but ought to extend itself also to the whole body of our actions. As the tree ought to be pure, so ought the fruits also, for the tree is known by its fruits. Now, our fruits are our actions; so that these must be pure, or else we shall not be pure, not duly qualified for that happy union with Christ, which we are to aspire to at this approaching solemnity: for that which is impure cannot be in proper condition to be united with the sovereign purity. Now for our actions to be pure it is not enough that what we do be good in itself; it must also be good in all its circumstances, for any one vicious circumstance is enough to corrupt the whole. But that on which the purity of our actions principally depends is the purity of our intention, according to that of the gospel, Matt. vi. 22, 23, ‘If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome; but if thy eye be evil, thy whole body shall be darksome.’ For the eye of the soul is the intention, which is then single when the view of the soul is carried towards God in all that she does; but when the intention is turned off from God and looks at something else, the eye is evil and the work is darksome.
Consider 2ndly, that all Christian virtue depends upon this purity of intention: the meanest of our actions are ennobled by it, and the highest and the most esteemed by men are good for nothing in the sight of God without it. Now the perfection of this purity of intention is to act in all things from the motive of the love of God; for the greater glory of God, and in conformity to the will of God. This carries the soul up to God, and brings down God to the soul: this produces a happy union of the soul with her God. Christians, see here the shortest way to all good, and the sovereign means of arriving at the height of perfection. The practice of this requires – 1. That you should begin all your days and all your works with God, by offering them all up to him and to his service. 2. That you should consult his divine will in all things, and make it the rule of all you do. 3. That you should watch over yourselves, both in the beginning and in the progress of every work you take in hand, that you may exclude all by-motives, suggested by your self-love, human respect, interest, pleasure, or passion. 4. That you should often renew the directing of your attention to God, and should endeavour to season all your ordinary actions and employments with frequent aspirations or breathings of the soul towards him.
Consider 3rdly, that the two capital enemies of purity of intention, those which spiritual persons in particular have most occasion to guard against, are vainglory and pride. The difference between the two is, that vainglory consist in loving and desiring to be esteemed by others, whereas pride consist in a vain esteem of one’s self; vainglory makes persons ever turn their eyes upon what others may say or think of their words or actions; it makes them perfect idolaters of a point of honour, of the esteem, reputation, and approbation of the world: but pride makes them full of themselves, measuring as it were themselves on every occasion, and their performances with those of others, and still giving themselves the preference before others, ever turning their eye upon their own excellence, building on their own lights, resolutions, strength, or capacity, and taking a secret complacency in themselves and in all the good they do. Both the one and the other are infinitely pernicious to the soul, by turning off her eyes from God, and consequently robbing her of all the fruit of her good works, and make them all rotten at heart, and good for nothing in the sight of God; they even pervert the best of her performances to her eternal condemnation, by shutting out God from them, and giving the preference to these devils of pride and vainglory before him. As long as these have possession of the soul there will be nothing but corruption there, and no room for the spiritual birth of Christ.
Conclude to aim at all times at a purity in all thy actions, by purifying thy intention from all pride and vainglory, and from every other thing that may turn off thy eye from God. Let God be the beginning and end of all thou doest; and take care to give to every action its full perfection, by doing all for God’s greater glory, and our of the pure motive of his divine love, and the very meanest of thy daily actions will suffice to make thee a saint. Whereas, neither long prayers, nor large alms, nor converting millions of souls, nor working of miracles, nor giving thy body to the flames, will avail thee anything if thy intention be vitiated by pride or vainglory.