On the Perfection of our Ordinary Actions
Consider first, the error of a great many Christians, in placing sanctity in such things as indeed are no part of it. Thus some suppose that in order to be a saint one must work miracles: now, St. John the Baptist was one of the greatest of saints, and yet wrought no miracles, St. John x. 41. And indeed, one single act of humility, or self-denial, or of the love of God, goes farther towards the making a saint than even the raising the dead to life. Others again vainly imagine that sanctity consists in having visions, revelations and ecstasies, or in the gifts of prophecy, of tongues, of an eminent knowledge of the most sublime and divine truths; because they often meet with such things as these in the lives of saints. But none of these things made them saints; and they have been even found in such as were not saints: whilst, on the other hand, many eminent saints have had none of them; neither ought any humble Christian to desire, or to seek for such things as these; though every Christian ought to desire and endeavour to be a saint. Nor does sanctity consist in much fasting, or in wearing hair shirts, or in taking disciplines, or in giving large alms, or in reciting long prayers, or in any other extraordinary practices or observances; all which, however good in themselves, have been found in hypocrites, or in such as have been all the while slaves to pride, self-love, and passion. But true sanctity consists in unfeigned charity in both its branches, that is, as it regards both the love of God, and of our neighbours. It consists in conformity with the will of God in all things, and adhering close to him; it consists in being humble of heart, and sincerely despising ourselves; it consists in denying ourselves, and taking up our cross and following Christ. Such as do these things are saints; where any of these are wanting there is no sanctity.
Consider 2ndly, that sanctity does not so much depend upon doing extraordinary actions, as upon doing our ordinary actions extraordinary well. Our life passes away in the daily ordinary actions, which take up our time from morning till night; such as our rising, our morning exercise, our daily labours, or the business of our calling, our regular devotions, and spiritual lectures, our meals, our conversation, the employment of our thoughts when our hands are at work, our examination of conscience at night, and our evening exercise, & c. Now, if all these daily performances are done extraordinary well, our whole time will be spent extraordinary well; and nothing more will be required to make us saints. Neither will it cost us more to do them well than to do them ill; on the contrary, the better we perform them, and the more diligent and fervent we are in them, the more easy and delightful they will be to us: and the grace of God and his blessing will go along with all we do. O! how inexcusable then are we, my soul, if we do not strive to be saints, when we may attain to this happiness, even by our daily ordinary actions, provided we perform them with due perfection!
Consider 3rdly, that the perfection of our ordinary actions depends upon the purity of intention with which we perform them; on our attention to God, in all that we do; and our seasoning all our labours and employments with frequent aspirations and ejaculations of divine love; and frequent aspirations and ejaculations of divine love; and frequent oblations of our selves and of all that we do to God. 'By thy ordinance the day goeth on,' saith the royal prophet, Ps. cxviii. 91, 'for all things serve thee.' Yes, my soul, all things continually serve the Lord but the rebel angels and the rebellious will of man. Now this rebellious will of ours we bring to serve him by beginning the day with an oblation of our whole selves to him; by directing all our thoughts, words, and actions by a pure intention to his glory; by making his holy will the rule of all we do; by beginning every work with an offering of what we are going to do, together with an offering of our heart to him; and by often renewing this offering in the midst of our works; by doing all our actions as much as we can in his presence; and by intermingling acts of divine love with all we do. Thus shall our days be found to be full days; thus shall they all go on by God's ordinance; thus shall they all serve him.
Conclude to take great care to give all thy ordinary actions their due perfection, by following these rules. And as to thy daily employments, and all the business and labours of thy lawful calling, ever consider them as appointed thee by the holy will of God; and ever perform them in compliance with and in obedience to his heavenly will; thus thou mayest make them all acts of virtue, and even acts of divine love. And if these thy daily employments be laborious or otherwise mortifying, or disagreeable to thy self-love, thou mayest also make them acts of penance, by accepting of them as imposed upon thee by God, for thy sins; and offering them up to God, in union with the labour and sufferings of Jesus Christ, for thy sins.