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A Truly Christian Sorrow For Sin Promotes The Daily Amendment Of The Life Of Man, Makes Him Meet For The Kingdom Of God, And Fits Him, In An Increasing Degree, For Eternal Life.
Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.—2 Cor. 7:10.
True Christianity consists solely in pure faith, love, and a holy life. This holiness of life springs from true repentance, sorrow, and self-knowledge; so that a man not only more and more feels his failings and imperfections, but amends them also, and, in this order, partakes of the righteousness and holiness of Christ by faith. 1 Cor. 1:30.
2. But in order to regulate the grand work of salvation with the better order and care, thou oughtest now to walk in a submissive and filial fear of God, guarding against all that would gratify the flesh. “All things are lawful,” says the apostle, “but all things are not expedient” (1 Cor. 6:12); that is, “all things edify not.” 1 Cor. 10:23. As a dutiful child, confined to the father's house, does not so much as attempt to follow his own humor in everything; but, unwilling to offend his parent, observes his will and pleasure: so a true Christian and child of God will behave himself in his Father's house, in so careful a manner, as not to allow his senses any unlawful liberty. He will neither do nor speak anything without consulting first his Father in heaven, under whose eye he constantly lives, knowing that He is everywhere present.
3. Most men live without any fear of God, freely indulging themselves in worldly pleasures and satisfaction. They will not consider that it is far better to have a constant fear of God fixed in the heart, than a constant joy of the world. For as the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and begets a serious frame of mind; so the joy of this world extinguishes all good impressions, and banishes true wisdom out of the heart, together with all godly fear and devotion.
4. By daily repentance and mortification of the flesh, man is daily renewed in God's image; for “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16); and often, in the midst of his sorrows, is he visited with a taste of heavenly joy and sweetness. Whereas, the pleasure and joy of the world are always attended with heaviness of heart, and an inward sting of a wounded conscience. If the people were but more sensible of the melancholy effects resulting from worldly pleasure, and particularly of that damp which it puts upon heavenly comfort, they would certainly dread all loose and worldly enjoyments: since thereby the grace of devotion is quenched, and the soul diverted from those purer pleasures which the Gospel of Christ affords.
5. There are two things which prevent those who seriously consider them from being influenced either by worldly pleasures or outward calamities. 62 The one is, the eternal pain of the damned; whoever earnestly ponders it, will almost find it impossible to be thoroughly merry after the way of the world. The other is, the eternal joy of the blessed in heaven. Whoever has a sound apprehension of so happy a state, will never be greatly moved with the calamities of the present life; and this arises from the consideration of the eternity of those divine enjoyments. But so great is the levity of our hearts, that it hinders us from any serious reflection on so important a subject. And hence it is no wonder that we are both without this wholesome contrition and sorrow, and ignorant of all celestial joys and comforts.
6. It is the prerogative of a true Christian to be, on the one hand, but sparingly, if at all, moved with earthly things, or temporal advantages; and, on the other, to be the more deeply impressed with the joys of God, and of life eternal. Neither is he immoderately dejected in the present adversities that may befall him; but the loss of the soul grieves him to his very heart, and he counts it worthy of long lamentation. As for the perishing comfort of this life, he knows it cannot be called a loss, since he shall receive a thousand-fold for it in the world to come. But when a soul is once cast away, it can never be restored.
7. Blessed is the man who is affected with godly sorrow, and tastes that celestial consolation which succeeds it. But, alas! how much of our time do we spend in worldly joy and merriment, when we have greater reason to bewail our own misery and that of others! There is no true liberty, no solid delight, no substantial satisfaction, but in the fear of God, and in a quiet, serene conscience. But this blessing can never exist without faith, and without a holy life and conversation. This faith, attended with godly sorrow, daily proceeds more and more to correct our faults and imperfections. Whoever neglects this daily reform of his life and manners, wastes the most precious part of his time, which he should employ to secure the interest of his immortal soul. He is an adversary to the new life; he hinders the kingdom of God in himself; and he can never be cured of the blindness and hardness of his heart, so long as he remains in that state.
8. It follows, therefore, that he only deserves the name of a prudent and wise man, who carefully avoids whatever he understands to be an obstacle to the reforming of his life, and to the improving of himself in heavenly gifts and graces. Happy is he who not only avoids such things as are detrimental to his body and estate, but also detests those which hinder the soul in her spiritual progress.
9. Be therefore courageous, O Man, and endure hardness as a good soldier of Christ! 2 Tim. 2:3. An evil habit of mind must be overcome with a good one. It is the apostle's exhortation: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Rom. 12:21. The cure of thy soul is not impossible. View, in the first place, thy own corruptions, and judge them severely, before thou presumest to censure the faults of thy neighbor. Be not too forward in admonishing and correcting others; but endeavor to heal first thy evils at home, before thou enterest upon the reforming of those that are abroad.
10. Go on, therefore, O Christian, and learn the lesson of daily repentance, sorrow, and contrition of heart. If the world despise thee upon that account, and decry this wholesome 63 exercise as error and as melancholy, be not concerned at such poor and empty reflections. Grieve rather that thou art called indeed a Christian, but that thou hast not yet arrived at that strictness of life and purity of manners, which the Gospel requires. Bear the contempt of the world with Christian constancy, and consider the singular benefit which thence accrues to the whole practice of true religion. For, if thou be scorned by the world, then God is ready to support thee by fresh supplies of life and comfort, according to his own declaration: “I dwell in the high and holy place; with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Isa. 57:15.
11. It is impossible that divine and worldly joy should, at one and the same time, reside in the heart of man; so very contrary are they to each other, and so inconsistent in their natures, causes, and effects. The joy of the world is begotten in prosperity; but that which is from heaven, springs up in the midst of crosses and adversities.
12. It is true that it is against the bent of nature to rejoice in the time of adversity, as the apostle himself seems to intimate: “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” 2 Cor. 6:10. But then it is no less true, that the grace of God cleanses our nature, and qualifies it for such spiritual exercises. And it was after this change that the apostles rejoiced, because they were “counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ.” Acts 5:41.
13. A Christian is become by the grace of God, a new creature, and hence the tribulations of this life are made easy to him. The apostle declared, that he even “gloried in tribulations.” Rom. 5:3. As affliction is a grievous burden to the old man, so it gives ease and joy to the new man in Christ. Again, that joy which is from above, infinitely surpasses that which is from below. Nay, the very reproach and contempt which a Christian undergoes for the sake of Christ, is attended with a secret satisfaction: and the reason we are so little affected with these heavenly visitations, is on account of the joy of the world, to which we are still too much addicted.
14. A truly humble man thinks himself worthy of all manner of sufferings, and unworthy of any divine comfort: but the more unworthy he thinks himself in true brokenness of spirit, the more is he visited with the goodness of God. And the more he weeps over his sin, the more is he weaned from worldly enjoyments; for the whole world gradually becomes to him a burden and a bitter affliction.
15. A man that seriously views himself and his inward condition, finds more reason to mourn than to rejoice. And when he takes a survey of the lives of others, he will undoubtedly meet with abundance of objects worthy of pity, or of compassion, rather than of hatred and envy. Why did Christ weep over Jerusalem, even over that Jerusalem which persecuted and slew him? Luke 19:41. Truly their sin and blindness was the evident cause of it. And in this he has also left us a pattern, and with deep feeling taught us, that nothing in the world should more powerfully melt us into tears and compassion, than our own sins, and the impenitence and carnal security which everywhere abound.64
16. Did a man as often revolve in his mind, that he must certainly die, and appear before the judgment-seat of God, as he thinks on the concerns of this life, and how to provide for them, surely he would be abundantly more serious in his conversation, more diligent in the reformation of his life, and more fervent in all the duties of repentance. Did he moreover call to mind the unspeakable and eternal torments of hell, succeeding, as they do, a short enjoyment of sin; this consideration would embitter to him the sweets of this world, and in comparison, render all the afflictions of this life, pleasant and easy to him. But alas! the enticements of the flesh are so strong and prevalent, and our compliances in their favor, so forward, that we seldom yield to such serious reflections as these.
17. Upon the whole, this should be a Christian's daily consideration: if his body be pampered in lust and luxury; if the flesh be humored and gratified in its inordinate cravings; then the life of the spirit loses its vigor, and if not seasonably supported, will pine away into death and destruction. Whereas, if the flesh be crucified with its lusts and desires, the spirit lives and gathers strength. One is the death of the other. If, therefore, the spirit shall live in thee, then thy body must be certainly made a spiritual sacrifice (Rom. 12:1), and must spiritually die to the world, and to all conformity with it.
18. This has been the constant practice of all the saints, from the beginning of the world until now. They have with thanksgiving eaten and drunk the bread and cup of tears, according to that declaration of David: “Thou feedest us with the bread of tears, and thou givest us tears to drink in great measure.” Ps. 80:5. And in another Psalm: “My tears have been my meat day and night.” Ps. 42:3. Again, “I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping.” Ps. 102:9.
19. This has been the “daily bread” of all the saints to this day; yet it has, however, been sweetened to them, faith being mixed with it. This is that godly “sorrow which worketh repentance to salvation, not to be repented of.” 2 Cor. 7:10.
20. But as this godly sorrow is attended with life and happiness, so the “sorrow of the world worketh death” itself. 2 Cor. 7:10. This kind of sorrow arises from the loss of honor, of temporal goods and estates, and other things of that nature. This sorrow has proved so fatal to many, that they have laid violent hands on themselves, and procured their own ruin and death by various contrivances. Of this there are not wanting many examples in the history both of Pagans and Christians: though, indeed, the latter ought better to understand the maxims and doctrines of Christ, who has abundantly taught us, not to set our hearts on objects so frail and perishing. For what is the loss of a handful of fading things, to the life of a man, with which all the goods of this world cannot be compared?
21. Be not, therefore, cast down by the loss of temporal goods, which, by the very laws of nature, we can enjoy but a little while: but lay the more to heart those incorruptible riches, that are laid up in the world to come; and do whatever thou canst to prevent the loss of them. Death will strip thee at last of all worldly possessions. Here shall be an end of pomp and greatness. This law of death is equally given to all, and the penalty of it attaches 65 to all alike. The greatest king is seized on the throne, and the meanest beggar on the dunghill (1 Sam. 2:8; Ps. 113:7); for as the body of the one is, so is also the body of the other: both putrefy and turn alike to corruption. Nevertheless, the Lord will remove at length the veil of the shadow of death, which is spread over all nations, and will “swallow up death in victory” (Isa. 25:8), and “wipe away all tears from our eyes.” Rev. 7:17; Isa. 25:8.
22. Let these and the like considerations, induce thee patiently to bear the loss of earthly things; remembering that the whole world does not come up to the price of one soul, for which Christ vouchsafed to die. The more thou withdrawest thy heart from temporal goods and estates, the less will it affect thee, when thou shalt be obliged one way or other to leave them. Thy grief will undoubtedly be the greater, the more thy love has been wrapped up with them. Thus does the “labor of the foolish weary every one of them” (Eccl. 10:15); as the wise man expresseth it.
23. This is the unhappy state into which the children of this world plunge themselves. They hoard and amass their goods with assiduous pain and labor; they possess them with fear and anxiety of mind; and quit them at last with grief and groans, when they can no longer enjoy them. This is the “sorrow of this world,” which begets no less an evil than death itself.
24. We read, that such as adored the beast “had no rest” (Rev. 14:11): so they that adore the great and toilsome beast of sordid and earthly Mammon, may be said to have no rest, day nor night. This description of men, most wretched and most unquiet as they are, may be fitly compared to camels, or mules. These animals, traversing rocks and hills, and carrying gold and silver, silken garments and pearls, spices and wines, draw many attendants with them for their better security: but at night, when they are stabled, all their precious ornaments, their embroidered garments and vestments, are taken from them, and they, being weary and stripped, appear to be what indeed they are, poor and miserable beasts of burden. Nothing is now seen upon them but the prints of their stripes, and the marks of the blows which they received upon the road. So, in like manner, that man who in this world shone in gold and silks, in “purple and fine linen” (Luke 16:19), when the day of his death is come, has nothing left but the prints and scars of a wounded conscience, contracted by the abuse of such riches as were committed to his trust.
25. Therefore, O man! learn to relinquish this world, before it relinquishes thee. If thou break not with the world, the world will break with thee, and leave horror and anguish behind it. He who withdraws his soul from the world, before he quits the world with his body, can joyfully die: since he is loosed from the ties which bound him to these inferior objects. As the Israelites, when they were about to leave the land of Egypt, were daily afflicted with greater burdens by Pharaoh, who designed to destroy them, and, if possible, utterly to extirpate their progeny (Exod. 5:9); so the infernal Pharaoh, who desires to hinder our eternal salvation, when we are now upon the very borders of life everlasting, still attempts to load us with more of the concerns of this life, and thereby to obstruct our passage into a better world.
26. It is certain that we cannot 66 carry with us the least dust of all our earthly possessions into the kingdom of heaven. Nay, our very body must be left behind us until the day of resurrection. If we know anything, we know that the way leading to life is so very strait, as to strip the soul entirely of anything that will hinder her passage. “Narrow is the way which leadeth to life, and few there be that find it.” Matt. 7:14. As the husbandman separates the wheat from the chaff, so death frees the soul from all the chaff and dross of this world, from all riches, and greatness, and worldly attire, which now, like the chaff, are driven away.
27. Go therefore, O man, and seriously ponder in thy mind what the apostle declares: “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation, not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” 2 Cor. 7:10.
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