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228

ELEVENTH SEASON

HOW A CHRISTIAN MAY KEEP HIS

HEART FROM RELAPSING UNDER SUFFERINGS

'The eleventh special season, calling for this diligence to keep our hearts, is, when sufferings for religion come to an height, then look to your hearts, Mat. xxiv. 8, 9, 10, All these are the beginning of sorrows, and they shall deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake; and then shall many be offended. When sufferings for religion grow hot, then blessed is he that is not offended in Christ. Troubles are then at an height, 1. When a man's nearest friends and relations forsake and leave him, Mic. vii. 5, 6. 2 Tim. iv. 16. When a man is engaged alone. 2. When it comes to resisting to blood, Heb. xii. 4. 2293. When temptations are presented to us in our sufferings, Heb. xi. 37. 4. When eminent persons for profession turn aside, and desert the cause of Christ, 2 Tim. ii. 19. 5. When God hides his face in a suffering hour, Jer. xvii. 17. 6. When Satan falls upon us with strong temptations, to question the grounds of our sufferings, or the soul's interest in Christ: now it is hard to keep the heart from turning back, and the steps from declining God's ways.' The eleventh question then shall be this:

Case 11. How the heart may be kept from relapsing under the greatest sufferings for religion? If the bitterness of sufferings at any time cause thy soul to distaste the way of God, and take up thoughts of forsaking it; stay thine heart under that temptation, by propounding these eight questions solemnly to it.

Question 1. What reproach and dishonour shall I pour upon Christ and religion, by deserting him at such a time as this? This will proclaim to all the world, that how much soever I have boasted of the promises, 230yet, when it comes to the trial, I dare hazard nothing upon the credit of them: and how will this open the mouths of Christ's enemies to blaspheme? O better had I never been born, than that worthy name should be blasphemed through me! shall I furnish the triumphs of the uncircumcised? Shall I make mirth in hell? O if I did but value the name of Christ as much as many a wicked man values his own name, I would never endure to see it exposed in such contempt! will proud dust and ashes venture death, yea, hell, rather than a blot upon their names? And shall I venture nothing to save the honour and reputation of Christ?

Question 2. Dare I violate my conscience to save my flesh? Who shall comfort me when conscience wounds me? What comfort is there in life, liberty, or friends, when peace is taken away from the inner man? When Constantius threatened to cut off Samosatenus's right hand, if he would not subscribe somewhat that was against his conscience; he help up both his hands to the messenger that was sent, saying, he shall 231cut off both rather than I will do it: farewell, all peace, joy, and comfort, from that day forward. Had Zimri peace, that slew his master? said Jezebel. So say I here, had Judas peace? Had Spira peace? And shall you have peace, if you tread in their steps? O consider what you do!

Question 3. Is not the public interest of Christ and religion, infinitely more than any private interest of my own? It is a famous passage, that of Terentius, captain to Adrian the emperor; he presented a petition to Adrian, that the Christians might have a temple by themselves to worship God, apart from the Arians: the emperor tore his petition and threw it away, bidding him to ask something for himself, and it should be granted. But he modestly gathered up the pieces of his petition again, and told him, If he could not be heard in God's cause, he would never ask anything for himself. Yea, even Tully, though an heathen, could say, Ne immortalitatem quidem contra rempublicam; he would not accept even of immortality itself against the 232commonwealth. O if we had more pubic, we should not have such cowardly spirits!

Question 4. Did Jesus Christ serve me so, when for my sake he exposed himself to far greater sufferings than can be before me? His sufferings were great indeed, he suffered from all hands in all his offices, in every member, not only in his body, but in his soul; yea, the sufferings of his soul were the very soul of his sufferings: witness the bloody sweat in the garden; witness the heart-melting and heaven-rending out-cry upon the cross, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? And yet he flinched not, he endured the cross, despising the shame. Alas! what are my sufferings compared with Christ's? He hath drank up all that vinegar and gall that would make my sufferings bitter. When one of the martyrs was asked, why he was so merry at his death? Oh, said he, it is because the soul of Christ was so heavy at his death. Did Christ bear such a burden for me, with unbroken patience and constancy; and shall I shrink 233back from momentary and light afflictions for him?

Question 5. Is not eternal life worth the suffering of a moment's pain? If I suffer with him, I shall reign with him. O how will men venture life and limb for a fading crown, swim through seas of blood to a throne! and will I venture nothing, suffer nothing for the crown of glory that fadeth not away? My dog will follow my horse's heels from morning to night, take many a weary step through mire and dirt, rather than leave me, though at night all he gets by it is but bones and blows: if my soul had any true greatness, any sparks of generosity in it, how would it despise the sufferings of the way, for the glory of the end? how would it break down all difficulties before it? whilst by an eye of faith it sees the forerunner, who is already entered, standing, as it were, upon the walls of heaven, with the crown in his hand, saying, He that overcometh, shall inherit all things. Come on then, my soul, come on, there is eternal life laid up for them that, by patient continuance in 234well-doing, seek for glory, honour, and immortality, Rom. ii. 7.

Question 6. Can I so easily cast off the society and company of the saints, and give the right hand of fellowship to the wicked? How can I part with such lovely companions as these have been? how often have I been benefited by their counsels? Ezra x. 3. how often refreshed, warmed and quickened by their company? Eccl. iv. 10, 11. how often have I fasted and prayed with them? What sweet counsel have I taken with them, and gone to the house of God in company? And shall I now shake hands with them, and say, farewell, all ye saints, forever, I shall never be among you more: come drunkards, swearers, blasphemers, persecutors, you shall be my everlasting companions? O rather let my body and soul be rent asunder, than that ever I should say thus to the excellent of the earth, in whom is all my delight.

Question 7. Have I seriously considered the terrible scripture-comminations against 235backsliders? O my heart! darest thou turn thy back upon the very point of such threatenings as these? Jer. xvii. 5, 6, Thus saith the Lord, Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm: and whose heart departeth from the Lord; for he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; that is, the curse of God shall wither him root and branch. And, Heb. x. 26, 27. If we sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. And again, v. 38. If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him; as if he should say, Take him world, take him, devil, for your own, I have no delight in him. O who dare draw back, when God hath hedged up the way with such terrible threats as these!

Question 8. Can I look Christ in the face at the day of judgment, if I desert him now?

236He that is ashamed of me, and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels, Mark viii. 38. Yet a little while, and you shall see the sign of the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; the last trump shall sound, the dead, both small and great, even all that sleep in the dust, shall awake, and come before that great white throne, on which Christ shall sit in that day. And now, do but imagine thou sawest the trembling knees, and quivering lips of guilty sinners; imagine thou heardest the dreadful sentence of the judge upon them, go, ye cursed, &c. and then a cry. Oh! the weeping, wailing, and wringing of hands that there shall be. Wouldst thou desert Christ now, to protract a poor miserable life on earth? If the word of God be true, if the sayings of Christ be sealed and faithful, this shall be the portion of the 237apostate. It is an easy thing to stop the mouth of conscience now, but will it be easy to stop the mouth of the judge then? Thus keep thy heart, that it depart not from the living God.

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