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I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.
IF we would give one general account of all the duties that are incumbent upon a Christian, we shall find them reducible to these three, faith, obedience, and patience; and the vital principle that animates and runs through them all is submission. Faith being a submission of our understanding to what God commands us to believe: obedience being a submission of our will to what God commands us to do: and lastly, patience being a submission of the whole man to what God commands us to suffer. Concerning which excellent virtue, glorious things are every where spoken, not only by the penmen of holy writ, but also by the sons of reason and philosophy: and great elogies of it might be drawn, both from their writings and examples. But, as we need not, so we shall not seek for any beyond the compass of the church. And here we have this virtue represented to the full, in that great hero in the ways of God, king David; a person signalized with that eminent character, of being the man after God’s own heart, and therefore certainly a most fit example to make an impression upon ours.
It is impossible that a discourse of patience should ever be unseasonable: for to such as are in adversity, 487it will be a cordial to support them; and to such as are in prosperity, it will le an amulet to preserve them. For since no mortal man can be so happy, as to hold his happiness by a lease for life, every Christian, even in the height of his enjoyments, ought in habit, and disposition of mind, at least, to be a sufferer; that is, to have cast his resolutions into such a well ordered, confirmed posture, as no calamity, how sudden or great soever, shall be able to surprise or shock him, either in point of courage or submission. It is one of the arts of patience still to be beforehand with an affliction, and to expect that at all times which a man may endure at any and since the healthiest of men may be sick, it is but prudence, while they are well, to have a remedy about them.
In the text we have these two general parts.
1. David’s submissive deportment under a sharp affliction; I was dumb, I opened not my mouth.
2. The ground and reason of such his deportment, which was the procedure of that affliction from God; I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it.
And thus, the words being a full lecture of patience, recommending it to us by a great pattern, and consequently being designed to argue us into an absolute submission to the divine will, in our most pressing and severe distresses, we shall endeavour the prosecution of them in these two following things.
I. In declaring the nature and measures of this submission. And,
II. In shewing the reasons and arguments for it, as the suffering person stands related to God. And,488
I. For the nature of this submission; which I shall declare,
1st, Negatively, by shewing wherein it does not consist; and,
2dly, Positively, by shewing wherein it does.
As for the negative part, that we may distinguish this great virtue from all false and mistaken resemblances of it, we shall observe first of all, that this submission, or rather submissive frame of spirit, consists not in an utter insensibility of, or an unconcernment under an affliction. For God, who gave us a being, did therewithal give us a connate desire to a well-being; which every affliction in some measure robs us of, and, as it were, rends away a piece of our happiness; the entireness of which consists, not only in a freedom from sin, but also from sorrow. It can be no man’s duty to be above the laws of his creation, and to contradict his nature, by a senselessness in the midst of those sufferings which oppress it. We read in Ecclesiastes of a time to mourn; a time in which mourning is so peculiarly in season, so proper, and so decent, that the contrary is absurd and unnatural. God, who calls and commands us to sympathize with our friends in their distress, surely will not forbid us to sorrow for our own. It was noted for one of the most inhuman pieces of tyranny in a Roman emperor, that when he had cruelly put some to death, with a greater cruelty he forbade their relations to lament for them: thus, by the former act destroying the men; by the latter, humanity itself.
A pensive consideration therefore of the sharpness of an affliction does not at all lessen our submission to it: for God never heaps such loads of 489grief upon us, but that he still leaves us the relief and pleasure of weeping, the privilege and free vent of our sorrows. He never turns children of Abraham into stones; but whensoever he strikes, not only permits, but also commands us to feel the smart. And indeed, how could we evidence to the world a due sense of the favours and smiles of God, if we should not droop under his frowns? For to be asleep with Jonas, while a tempest is rattling about our ears, is not submission, but stupidity. Nay, let me add this further, that there cannot be a more dreadful sign of a man left to himself, and hardened by God, than to be unconcerned in the midst of his afflictions. For he who is so, certainly incurs these two great and fatal evils.
1. That he robs God of that honour which he particularly designs to himself by that afflicting dispensation; for God requires that men should fear him for his judgments, as well as love him for his mercies; and regard the strokes, as well as the other operations of his hands. Besides, that this in sensible frame of spirit clearly frustrates another great end of these severities; which is antecedently to fright and deter men from sin. For he who does not feel God when he strikes, will hardly fear him when he threatens.
2. Such a person, by such an insensibility, renders every affliction befalling him utterly useless to all spiritual purposes whatsoever. For his heart, like an anvil, by bearing many strokes, and feeling none, grows so much the harder by every blow. Afflictions are some of God’s extraordinary ways of reclaiming sinners; but can have no effect where they can imprint no sense. He that can overcome 490and digest his physic like his daily food, is not like to be purged or cured by it. In like manner, when God takes in hand the cure of an overgrown sinner, and to that purpose applies the corrosive of some afflicting providence, whether of poverty, banishment, or disgrace, to eat away his proud, dead flesh, and so to restore him sound; if this man now can lightly pass over, outface, and wear off the sense of these severe applications, let him never expect any medicinal healing virtue from them; but conclude with himself, that, being too sturdy to feel God’s rod, he is certainly too bad to be mended by it.
Let this therefore be fixed upon in the first place, that the submission here spoken of in the text is not a stupid indolence or insensibility under such calamities as God shall be pleased to bring upon us. Nor,
Secondly, does this submission lay any restraint upon us, from praying against any calamity, either actually inflicted upon us, or as yet but approaching towards us. For to pray against such things is not only lawful, but indeed our duty; forasmuch as God has commanded us to pray: and prayer ought to contain, not only a petition of things good and suitable, but also a deprecation of whatsoever is evil or noxious to us, as an integral part of it. For though possibly God may have designed to bring the evil we pray against upon us; yet, till providence has decided this to be the will of God by the event, we are (as much as in us lies) to prevent it by our prayers.
And the reason is, because though God’s secret will and purpose be the rule of his own actions, yet his revealed will ought to be the sole director of ours. 491And God has wrote this in large characters upon every heart, that we ought to preserve our being from whatsoever may annoy it, by all lawful means; and surely there is none more lawful or approved by God than prayer. We have an eminent instance of this in David, in 2 Sam. xii. who though he had received a special revelation from God himself, that his child should die, yet ceased not for a while to fast and pray, and importune God, that it might live: but when God took away the child, then presently he rose up, and turned his mourning for that into a submission to the hand that took it from him.
In this case therefore, we are not to inquire into the counsels of God, what he intends to do; it being impossible that they should be a rule for us to steer our course by, forasmuch as they are hidden and concealed from us; and it is implied in the very essence and nature of a rule, that it should be known. From whence it follows, that till we know that it is God’s will to bring an affliction upon us, we are not bound to suppose it to be his will; and consequently both may and ought to pray against it: it being no ways inconsistent for the same heart to have a spirit of supplication to pray against an affliction before it comes, and yet a spirit of submission to endure it when it comes.
Thirdly and lastly. To advance yet higher, this submission is not such a thing as excludes all endeavour to prevent or remove an affliction. That we may lawfully pray against it, has been already proved; and it is certain that we may (within our compass) lawfully engage our endeavours against whatsoever we may engage our prayers: prayer 492being a duty of that nature, that neither in the accounts of God or man will it pass for serious, but as it is seconded with proportionable action. He who is visited with sickness may solicitously use all direct means for his recovery; and he who has lost his estate may vigorously endeavour to regain it from the spoiler’s hand; and he who has been defamed may use all imaginable industry to clear his reputation: and yet, for all this, never in the least transgress the bounds of submission prescribed him by God, in any of these visitations. For God seldom delivers men but by the mediation of their own endeavours, where these endeavours may be used. But patience has its sufficient scope and proper sphere of shewing itself, even where the powers of action cease. And that man who does the utmost to rid himself from any pressure which the laws of God and nature allow him to do, and when he finds the evil too big for him to master, humbly and quietly sits down under it, has fulfilled all the measures of a pious submission. For God casts no man under such circumstances as shall make idleness and pusillanimity his duty; but bids every man, upon the arrest of any sad calamity, up and be doing, for the removal of it; though perhaps after he has done all, his lot may be to lie down and suffer under it.
And thus I have done with the negative part; and shewn, what the submission, spoken of in the text, is not; as namely, that it is not any such thing as ought to restrain us, either from entertaining a tender sense of, or from using our prayers and (what is more) our endeavours against any disaster or calamity inflicted by the hand of Providence upon us.493
Come we now, in the next place, to shew positively what this submission is, and wherein it does consist.
And in order to this, we are to observe, first in general, that it is a quiet composure of the whole man under any cross or mischievous accident befalling him, either in his person, interest, or any of his concerns whatsoever. And since every man is a compound of several parts and faculties, both of body and soul, which are all respectively to bear their share in this present affair, we will therefore trace the nature of this submission severally and distinctly through them all. And,
(I.) For the understanding: there is required a submission of that to God, by a perfect approbation of the justice and equality of all his proceedings with us. And as the understanding is the governing and first moving principle of a man’s whole behaviour; so is it a matter both of the greatest difficulty, and importance too, rightly to state and settle the apprehensions and resentments of it: it being to the other faculties of the soul like the foreman of a jury to his fellows, all are apt to follow its verdict.
And therefore our submission must begin here; it must move upon this great wheel; for in vain do we expect that the other parts of the soul should keep the peace, while the understanding mutinies and rebels. To prevent which, we must endeavour by all means to possess it with a full persuasion of the infinite reasonableness of all God’s transactings with his creature, though the particular reason of them does not always appear. It being but suitable to the majesty of Heaven, to exact our submission without assigning any other reason for it but his 494own will: for sic volo, sic jubeo, howsoever harsh and tyrannical it may sound from a sinful man, like ourselves, though never so great; yet from God, who is as essentially good as he is great, it is the highest reason and the most rational divinity: upon which account, let every man silence the disputes of his froward reason, not only with an ipse dixit, as the very disciples of Pythagoras could do, but also with an ipse voluit: an answer and a solution be coming the most improved and eminent proficients in the school of Christianity.
For what was it that raised Job to such a degree of insolence and indiscretion, as to venture to hold an argument with his Maker, and to dispute the case with the Almighty, but the sturdiness of his blind and saucy reason, falsely so called, that could not subscribe to the equity of those severe w sages which he smarted under? He could not comprehend how the divine justice could degrade so much uprightness and integrity to a dunghill; and to all the miseries that a diseased body, a distressed mind, and a desperate fortune could reduce him to: no, he thought he had holiness enough to have prescribed gentler methods to Providence. But at length, when religion had cooled the boilings of his passion and discontent, and taught his reason more sober discourses, then he sinks many notes lower, and utters himself in a quite differing strain; in Job xl. 4, 5, Behold, says he, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken, but I will not answer. And thus, what conviction and satisfaction he could not gain by disputing, he arrived to by obeying: submission was his casuist, and patience the best resolver 495of his doubts. And indeed, what can we account disputation in such a case, but the hostility of the mind, and a kind of rebellion of the soul against God; opposing reason and argument, or rather argument without reason, to Providence? So that a man can never be said truly to submit, till he lays down these arms, and acknowledges a sufficient reason of any dispensation in the sole good pleasure of the dispenser; and, in the midst of all his misery, can confess that things ought to be so, because actually they are so. And thus much for the submission of the understanding.
(2.) This submission requires in the will also a perfect acquiescence, and resignation of itself to God’s will. For the will being properly the seat both of sovereignty and activity, the resistance which this makes must needs be the greatest and most considerable. The reluctancy of the understanding, in opposing God, and complying with sinful objects, is like Adam’s seeing the forbidden fruit and liking it: but the will’s embracing them, is like Adam’s putting forth his hand and taking it. So that by our submission of the former to God, in any of the perplexing passages of our lives, the soul may be said, as it were, to keep silence; but by this latter, it also gives consent. By that it confesses the reasonableness, by this also the suitableness of the dispensation. By the former it could say, it is just; by this latter it can say also with David, it is good that I have been afflicted.
And how necessary an ingredient of our submission this is, will appear to any one who shall consider the absoluteness and autocracy of this faculty; whereby the will is free either to follow or not to 496follow the advice of the understanding; so that when that has done its utmost in the way of counsel and instruction, the issue of the execution follows wholly the resolves of this. For it is this which commands and lords it in the soul; every thing that a man does or desires being entirely at its beck.
Upon which account it is, that the overpowering efficacy of the Spirit of God, in the conversion of a sinner, appears in nothing so much, as that it conquers and subdues this free, self-governing faculty to a perfect compliance with all its motions; and that without the least intrenchment upon its freedom. For it makes us willing, and draws us in that manner, that we yet follow of our own accord. Now such a readiness is here required in the business of our submission: it must be perfectly free and voluntary; and that not only as to an exclusion of all force, but also of the servilities of fear and terror; which take off some of the perfection of our freedom in respect of the motive or inducement to an action, though they cannot in respect of its productive principle. As when a man throws his rich wares into the sea, to prevent a wreck, and to save his life, he does indeed will what he does, but yet it is with an unwilling kind of willingness: for though the will absolutely commands the thing to be done, yet still the motive of doing it is full sore against its inclination.
But such a submission to the hand of God will not suffice us here, nor turn to any account in the reckonings of Heaven: where every performance is rated chiefly by the manner of it; and the spring or principle as much considered as the object. God regards not that submission that is not out of love to him. 497And perfect love, we know, casts out fear; that is, God will have us submit not as slaves, but as sons: so as to kiss the rod that corrects us; and, knowing from whom the blow comes, to receive it not only with quietness, but complacency. And thus to demean ourselves in our sufferings is the very soul and spirit of a filial submission.
(3.) There is required also a submissive composure and serenity in our passions and affections. For naturally these are the most unruly and outrageous faculties of the soul; and such indeed as set the whole world in a combustion. For how insolent is pride, how intolerable is anger, and how noisome and imperious is lust! No confusion in human affairs ever falling out, but the cause of it always lies here; and still the commotion begins in the fury and violence of the affections, those great masters of misrule, which, like the waves of a troubled sea, swell and rage, and rise up against heaven, when any thing from thence blows rough and hard upon them. It is impossible that either a proud, a lustful, or an angry man, so continuing, should be patient; forasmuch as the same frame of spirit, which disposes him to one, directly indisposes him to the other. Patience is the effect and consequent of self-denial and mortification; and the passions and affections are the proper objects of that, they are the things that are to be denied and mortified; so that a man must have passed many stages in this excellent course, before he can arrive at the perfection of making the duty of submission his practice, and much less his pleasure. For how hard is it to maintain a smooth and equal temper in one’s mind, when there is nothing but cross and rugged accidents in the whole affairs of a man’s life! 498How hard is it to see and feel great disturbances without, and yet to keep all quiet within! to behold the prosperity of the wicked, the false, and the treacherous, and not to say in our haste, that we have cleansed our hands in vain, and retained our innocence to no purpose! It is infinitely difficult so to conquer and keep down the insurrections of a furious passion, as to command and hold it within compass, when it meets with fuel and provocation.
The faculties of the soul do much resemble the economy and constitution of a commonwealth, in which the passions are like the vulgar rout, or meaner sort of people, who are always the most impatiently sensible of any the least burden; and when the government imposes any thing upon them, are presently apt to tumultuate, to rise, and to rebel: so when the least chastisement from God pinches us, forthwith the unruly passions are apt to clamour, and cry out grievance and oppression. But now God will have all these clamours hushed, all these resistances quelled, and an humble subjection paid to the most grating edicts of his will, proclaimed and made known to us by the events of his providence.
And indeed thus to compose and master our rebellious passions is a duty that may commend itself to us, not only from the necessity of a strict command, but also from the excellency of the work itself. For it was this alone, which the greatest philosophers, and particularly the Stoics, placed their highest happiness and perfection in; namely, to regulate and subdue their passions to such a degree, as to bring themselves to a perfect apathy, to stand fixed and unmoved, when any thing thwarted either their interest or desires; which glorious (and perhaps more 499than human) frame of mind, though it was not their felicity to reach, yet it was their commendation to aim at. But surely Christians, who act by higher principles and greater helps, should think it but reasonable, with such advantages, to go a pitch beyond bare, unassisted nature; and by their actions to make good the heathens pretences, and to count it a shame for themselves not to attain (in part at least) what the philosophers were so generous as to attempt.
(4.) There is required yet further to this submission, a suppressing of all hard and discontented speeches; and this is so absolutely necessary, that the whole work of submission is set forth and expressed to us by silence, and not opening our mouths, as here in the text, and elsewhere, by putting our mouths in the dust; that is, by shutting, and, as it were, even stopping them up, from letting fly at any of the cross, irksome, and severe passages of Providence. He that ruleth his tongue (says St. James) is a perfect man; forasmuch as by this he declares himself lord and master of his passions, which, when they domineer, chiefly make use of this member as the prime instrument of their rage. In like manner, he who can submit without noise and murmur proves his submission perfect, as springing from a complete conquest of all unruly motions within. While Job let loose the reins to his impatience, he let the same loose also to his language; filling heaven and earth with querulous outcries, vehement imprecations upon himself, and expostulations with Heaven: sometimes questioning the equity of the divine proceedings with him; sometimes cursing and bitterly exclaiming against the day of his birth, and the unhappy 500hour of his conception. Thus, so long as his towering passion was upon the wing, it beat the air with loud and vain complaints; and, like a froward child, was always crying, and nothing could still its peevish and impertinent rage. But the same temper of mind which reduced him to submission, reduced him also to silence, and checked the sallyings out of such wild, ungoverned expressions, as could tend to no other effect but to increase the guilt of him that spoke, and the indignation of him that heard them. A lamb, we know, suffers with silence, and parts not only with its fleece, but even with its life also, with out noise; but it is the unclean swine which roars and cries when any one lays hold of him: and we read of no such creature in the flocks of Christ; they are only the innocent, silent, suffering sheep, that have a title to his care and protection.
Any kind of impatience under God’s hand does indeed offend him; but the impatience of the tongue has this peculiar malignity in it above all others, that it also dishonours him in the face of the world: for while our impatience bounds itself within the understanding, will, or affections, so long it lies retired from the observation and eye of men, which pierces not into the secrets of the heart; but when it once comes to proclaim itself in words and noise, the multitude round about is called in as witness of our insolent deportment towards God; the sin becomes loud and clamorous, public and provoking; and so puts God upon new severities to revenge upon us the affront openly passed upon his honour; a thing which he is too jealous of, to prostitute and expose it to the scorn and arrogance of every bold sinner.
Silence is a thing of great decorum in a suffering 501person, whose condition properly calls him to sorrow; the most natural and becoming dialect of which is, to say nothing. For even the common and received measures of human converse allow it only to the prosperous, the gay, and the rising persons of the world to talk high, and argue, and expostulate much to no purpose; but where affliction has brought a man so low, as to make it difficult for him to be heard, it has made it also fit for him not to speak.
Besides, no man ought to be endured to complain, who is not presumed to have right on his side. But can any man have a right against God? can he implead his Maker? or prefer a bill of grievances against his Preserver? I am sure, if his plea be traversed in the court of conscience, that must and will pronounce on God’s side, and vote the accuser the only criminal. Why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? says the prophet Jeremy, in Lament, iii. 39. In which piece of scripture there are more arguments than words or syllables, to demonstrate the unreasonableness of any man’s complaining against God. For first, shall any one complain of his benefactor? And does not God abundantly prove himself so, even by this, that the person complaining is yet alive, and thereby able to complain? Or shall a guilty person complain of his judge? and complain also while he is punished, which implies demerit? and, what is more, punished less than he deserves, which imports mercy? For every sin revenged upon the sinner, according to the full measure of its guilt, would quickly put him out of all possibility of complaining in this world, or be moaning his case on this side hell; where that he is not disposed of already is enough to teach him, that 502it were much fitter for him to turn his complaints into gratulations; and, instead of crying out of the hardship of his condition, to magnify the divine goodness, that it is not remediless and intolerable. Let every afflicted person therefore set a watch before the door of his lips, and beware that the intemperance of his tongue robs him not of that crown, that is prepared only for such as suffer with silence and discretion.
(5.) And lastly, to complete our submission to God in a suffering estate, there is required also a restraint of all rage and revenge against such as are the instruments, by which God is pleased to humble and afflict us. A perfect submission to the will of the first cause is naturally apt to reconcile us to the second; though not for its own sake, yet for his, at least, who was pleased to make use of it. For what is an enemy, when he acts the utmost of his fury and barbarity, but a scourge in the hand of the Almighty, either punishing a sinner, or chastising a son? And therefore we find David, when he was cursed and railed at by Shimei, in that villanous, lewd, insufferable manner, yet utterly refusing to revenge upon him that high indignity, though passed by a subject upon his prince, and his prince in distress; that is, against all laws, not only of loyalty, but of nature and common humanity. But now what could it be that induced David to demean himself in such a manner to so bitter an enemy and so mean a wretch? Surely nothing either desirable or formidable in the person himself; no, nothing but this one consideration, that at that time Shimei came (as it were) upon an errand from heaven, and cursed David by commission from God himself. 503God has bid Shimei curse, says David, 2 Sam. xvi. 10. Not that God did directly and indeed give him any such command; but that, by his providence, he had then cast David under such circumstances of misery and distress, as would infallibly provoke an adversary of a malicious and a base spirit to insult over him. Now this quiet and meek deportment of David towards so vile and so provoking an object, was a direct act of piety and submission to God himself; who never accounts himself more honoured by us, than when our reverence to him can command us to compliances so much against the grain of our nature; and tie up our hands from those violences, which the fierce appetite of revenge would otherwise so passionately and easily, and many times so creditably, carry us out to.
If upon any injury done us, we can but prevail with ourselves to see the hand of God principally acting in the whole affair, it will certainly much al lay our spleen against the immediate workers of the mischief: and if we can but cease to be angry with the judge, and the condemning sentence itself, surely we shall not much concern ourselves to rage at the executioner; who is but a servant, and only ministers to the will and command of a superior.
But, on the other side, all bitter and vindictive treating of an injurious person is in its proportion a contest with Providence; even that Providence, that not only overrules, but also employs the worst of events, and the wickedest of persons. And he, whose spirit frets, and boils, and raves against his enemy, because of the calamities that he feels himself brought under by his means, strikes as high and as far as he is able. The dog that bites the stone that is flung 504at him, would do as much to the hand that flung it, if he had it within his reach. But the temper of a Christian prompts him to quite other things, and teaches him to measure his behaviour, not by what his enemy has deserved, but by what the grand exemplar of patience has both commanded, and himself in the same case practised.
And yet I do not say, that it is any man’s duty to account his enemy his friend; to court or embrace a tyrant; or to take him into his bosom, who would have took the bread out of his mouth. Some indeed may think it a policy so to do; and perhaps, by so thinking, may prove just such politicians, as the man, that took a frozen snake into his house, and cherished and warmed it, till at length it hissed, and bit, and stung him to death for his absurd compassion. But be it a policy, I am sure it is no duty for a man to caress, and hug, and be fond of his mortal adversary; nor to fawn and cringe, and lick the foot that basely and barbarously tramples upon him. No man is forbid by any law of God or man to look upon an enemy as an enemy, howsoever he may be bound to treat him. Forasmuch as no law, human or divine, can oblige a man to entertain a false judgment, either of things or persons. But he who supplants a man in his estate, or any of his lawful interests, is and ought to be looked upon by that man as a malicious underminer. And he who by unworthy calumnies blasts his neighbour’s reputation and good name, may and ought to be accounted (as in truth he is) a black-mouthed, virulent back biter: and the name of friend is by no means to be fouled or abused by being applied to such an one. Yet still for all this, I own it to be every man’s 505duty, to leave such a person to the vengeance of Heaven, and not to act himself as judge in his own cause, by carving out his own measures of revenge upon him. It is his duty to stand still, (as Moses bade the Israelites,) and to see the salvation of the Lord. All the pains that he is to take in this case, is to prevail with himself to do nothing, and to be only a spectator, not an actor in his enemy’s confusion.
And indeed this is sometimes pains enough; and no small piece of self-denial and submission, thus to keep within the strict line of God’s commands, when either passion or interest would tempt him to leap over it; as it will do very importunately, when a man finds himself grieved, and ill-used in his person, name, or estate; and disturbed in any of those interests, which God and nature have made it his birthright to enjoy. Yet since it often so falls out, that God is pleased to let loose the oppressor upon all these, he also calls upon us to behave ourselves as persons having no authority to right ourselves, but depending wholly upon the supreme justice of Heaven both for deliverance and reparation.
And thus I have finished the first general head proposed for the handling of the words, which was to declare the nature of the submission spoken of in the text: and that both negatively, by shewing what it is not; and also positively, by shewing what it is. As namely, that it is a suppressing of the restiness and contradiction of our understandings, the rebel lion of our wills, the tumult of our passions, the querulous outcries of our tongues, and lastly the vindictive fierceness of our actions or behaviours, under 506any calamity or distress, injury or provocation whatsoever.
Now by way of consequence and deduction from what has been delivered, we shall from the foregoing particulars naturally infer these three things.
(1.) The worth and excellency of such a submissive, composed frame of spirit.
(2.) The difficulty of attaining to it. And,
(3.) And lastly, the necessity of an early and long endeavour after it. And,
(1.) For the excellency of it. It is that, which all the great and wise men in the world have both strove after in themselves, and admired in others: and it is as impossible for a man to be great, as to be good without it. It is the practice of the truest and the highest philosophy. And there is nothing that draws so much contempt upon a man, as the want of it. For how uncomely a sight is a man in a rage! a man fretting and fuming, and suffering his passion to ride his reason; indeed so uncomely is it, that there is no man living who allows it in himself, but will condemn and despise it in another. Nor is there any thing that so peculiarly unfits a man for business, and doing such things as may render him considerable. Business is to be carried on with counsel, and a calm, sedate conduct of things; which can never take place, where passion hinders all fore sight, and fury and fluster make thinking and contriving utterly impossible. It is not the storm, but the gentle wind that must carry the vessel to its designed haven. And to lead and govern an army, requires another kind of spirit from that which heats, and acts a man in the battle.507
On the other side, patience is (as it were) the girding up of the soul, which, like the girding up of the body, gives it both strength and decency too. In the judgment of all the intelligent part of the world, patience is conquest; and in St. Paul’s esteem, Rom. viii. 37, it is something more; it being hardly possible to conceive any condition that a man can fall into so miserable; nor any injury, or contumely, that can pass upon him, so sharp and provoking, in which patience does not at length get the better. And he that quietly suffers the ill turn, will in the end both shame and weary him that does it. For all violence is its own executioner: and indignation, not enlivened by resistance, like a flame not blown up, goes out of itself.
But the excellency of this great virtue appears yet further from this, that the greatest persons that ever lived, and whom Providence sent into the world upon the most important messages that ever were delivered to mankind, have been signal and remarkable for it. And those were Moses and our Saviour Christ himself; both of them, in their several times, the meekest persons upon the earth: and such as (according to the true measures of greatness) were of too great and high a mind to do any violence, but not of too great to suffer it. Both of them shew their magnanimity in this, that being reviled, and that by persons extremely their inferiors, they reviled not again. And for the latter of the two, did the royal diadem ever sit so gloriously upon the head of any earthly prince, as the crown of thorns did upon the head of our Saviour? or could any thing so fully prove him more than a man, as to be buffeted, scourged, scoffed at, spit upon, and 508at length crucified, without so much as one impatient word?
The achievements of passive valour are upon many accounts more glorious than those of active: forasmuch as there is a great force and inclination in nature, pushing it on to exert itself in the way of action, but not at all to dispose it to suffer. This is a thing which mere nature flies from, and abhors. And if we compare these two together, whether doing or suffering duly circumstantiated ought to have the preeminence, still let us remember this in behalf of the latter, that it was suffering which redeemed the world.
(2.) From the foregoing particulars we learn also the difficulty of attaining to such a submissive frame of spirit. Which difficulty will appear from these two things.
1. From that opposition which a man is to conquer, before he can attain to it. And,
2. From that mean, though mistaken opinion, which the generality of men have of such a temper. And,
1. For the opposition that a man is to conquer, before he can arrive to it. He is to force and fight his way through all the resistance that the strongest powers of nature can make against him. For no man is born a patient man; whatsoever personal advantages and dispositions some particular constitutions may afford towards it, more than others. But every man comes into the world with something of pride and passion about him, which is to be subdued and mortified, before he can be fit to live in the world, and much more before he can be fit to leave it. But now it is patience, which must take down 509these heights, and level these mountains into valleys. It is patience, which must smooth off the ruggedness of passion and the unruliness of appetite; and so make plain a way for reason and religion to run their course in. I shewed he fore, that there was a natural stubbornness and averseness in every faculty of the soul to a compliance with the divine will, especially in those severer instances of it, which call upon a man to take the yoke upon his neck, and the burden upon his shoulders, and to be quiet, humble, and content in the most calamitous condition. It is an hard lesson to do God’s will, but a much harder to suffer it. Nature has not only an insufficiency for, but also a contrariety to this. For reason will be disputing, the will disobeying, and the passions will murmur and rebel: and what is there in bare nature that can overrule all these? and from such a posture of defiance, compose and quell them into the contrary posture of the meekest submission? This is that, which both scripture and philosophy style a man’s conquering of himself. A victory, in the judgment of all wise and sober men, more glorious and more difficult too, than any that crown the memory of Caesar and Alexander. So much harder, and consequently so much greater a thing is it, for one to endure another man’s rage, than to vent his own.
2. The other cause of the difficulty of attaining to such a patient, submissive frame of spirit, is from the contempt and disregard attending it, through the false estimate which the generality, or rather vulgarity of men have of it. For when patience must pass for pusillanimity, who would take pains to 510procure himself so disadvantageous a character? and endeavour to conquer his passions, if for the greatest conquest in the world he must be accounted a coward?
Desire of glory is generally the great principle that animates men to high and difficult attempts. But when huffing and hectoring must be looked upon as the only badges of gallantry and courage, what can recommend the exercise of patience against the disgrace of it? or induce a man to put up an affront, when the result of virtue shall be reputed the want of spirit? This indeed is a discouraging consideration; but it is so only from a most unjust and false judgment of things. For patience is not the want of spirit, but the government of it. It is a virtue; and therefore the ingredients of it are choice in the agent, and difficulty in the object. And he only is or can be a patient man, who is first a man of courage; who has sense enough to resent a provocation, spirit enough to prompt, and opportunity to enable him to revenge it: and yet, in the midst of all these tempting circumstances, chooses rather to offer up his passion a sacrifice to his virtue; and by a fixed, settled judgment of mind, thinks it as much nobler to pass by an injury, than to repay it, as it is to slight an unworthy person, than to strive to be like him. But still, I say, when the generality of men judge otherwise, though by error and mistake, yet the tyranny of a general mistake is so imperious and intolerable, that for the most part it is too hard for an ordinary virtue to contend with. And that which puts patience out of credit will (with some) quickly put it out of countenance too: 511unless grace comes in as a second to nature, and the conscience of a practice overcomes the disrepute of it.
(3.) And lastly, we learn from what has been delivered, the necessity of an early and long endeavour after such an excellent frame of mind. The conquest, which the patient man is to make, is not by battle, but by siege; one is quickly over, but the other is often a long and a tedious task. The apostle calls upon us to let patience have its perfect work: and few things, we know, arrive to perfection but by degrees. It is an high and a glorious ascent, and there is no getting up to it but by steps. It must make its entrance into the soul by a total extirpation of the contrary habits: and no habit can be presently rooted up, where nature is the soil in which it grows. For do we think it possible for a proud man to grow humble in a day? or for a passionate man to get the absolute command of his passions in a few weeks? It is, I confess, possible with God, and omnipotence can effect it; but what God can do, is not the measure of what he will. According to the stated method of the divine actings upon the soul of man, the Spirit of God proceeds gradually, and grace imitates even where it exceeds the course of nature. So that where it rids the soul of any vicious habit, it destroys it insensibly and by degrees; and where it infuses good habits, it instils them into the soul by small proportions: they are an oil that is dropt, not poured into it. And it is the judgment of all divines, that infused habits come into the soul after the same manner with those that are acquired. Grace acts like nature, even where the effect is above it.512
He therefore who would cooperate with the grace of God, for the working of so noble a change upon himself, as to keep his passions calm and regular in spite of all provocations that would inflame them; he who, in all the cross accidents of life, would have his own will, as it were, wrapt up in the divine will, and be able to say with his great master and example, Christ himself, Not my will, but thine be done: he, I say, who would arrive to such an height of Christianity, let him begin early; let him consider with himself the length, the difficulty, and the fatigue of the race that is before him, and set out be times; let him inure himself in his minority to lesser self-denials and mortifications; let him learn to put up and pass by a slighting, undervaluing word, and in time he shall find himself strong enough to conquer and digest an injurious action; let him learn to overlook his neighbour’s incivility, and in time he shall be able with patience and firmness of mind to endure his insolence and his cruelty, and that with out being discomposed by any instigations to revenge: and let him accustom himself to do this often, and at length he shall be able to do it always.
But if a man suffers his impatience to grow up with him, and gives it its free, outrageous, unbounded scope to the greatest part of his age, he must not hope to master and dispossess such a giant of his strong hold by a few assaults; he must not think wholly to alter and transform himself, and pick up such a virtue as patience on a sudden. He who has allowed his passion to live, and rage, and domineer to the age of forty or fifty, must not expect, without a very extraordinary grace indeed, to be patient at threescore. So infinitely sottish and ignorant of human 513nature are those men, who think it in their own power to change and reform their manners when they please. No, it is a long and a severe discipline; and the wisest and best of men have found it task enough for their whole lives. And therefore, certainly none deceive themselves so foolishly, and so fatally too, as those, who design to learn, just as they are leaving off to live. The times of youth and prosperity are the proper times to strengthen and to ballast the mind with pious principles and wise customs against the trying, searching times of age and adversity. For if these seasons do not find a man patient, they seldom make him so. They are the seasons to spend upon a stock, and not to gather one; to crop the fruits of a virtuous habit, and not to plant it. For surely no man goes about to careen and fit up his ship in the midst of a storm, nor to buckle on his armour in the heat and fury of the battle. No, this is a work that should have been done before. It is a work of preparation; and it can be no time for a man to prepare a thing, when he is just about to use it.
This is certain, that afflictions will come, trials and perplexing providences will some time or other overtake us, and God knows how suddenly and how severely. And then happy, and only happy, is that man, who, by a long and daily exercise of this great virtue, has forearmed and fortified himself against the fierce and critical day of trial; who, to temperance has added patience; that is, to the proper virtue for prosperity, has joined the proper one for adversity: I say, blessed is that faithful and wise servant, whom his Lord, when he cometh, shall find so prepared. Verily, as patience has made him ruler over 514himself; so, according to our Saviour’s own expression, his Lord shall make him ruler over all his goods.
To which our great Lord and Saviour, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be rendered and ascribed all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.515
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