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I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.
I FORMERLY made an entrance into these words, and observed in them these two 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 so I shewed the words were a full lecture of patience, recommending to us a great virtue by a great example, and consequently designed to argue us into an absolute, entire submission to the divine will, in our most pressing and severe distress. The prosecution of them I cast under these two general heads.
I. To give some account of the nature and measures of this submission.
II. To shew the reasons and arguments for it, as the suffering person stands related to God.
The first of these I have already despatched, and proceed now to the second; which is to shew, what reasons and arguments may be produced for the submission here spoken of, as the suffering person stands related to God. And for this, I think, we may lead our way with this general assertion; that 516there is no thought, which a man can possibly conceive either of God or of himself aright, but will afford a strong argument to enforce this submission upon us. He that duly considers both what God is, and what he himself is, can need no other demonstration of the infinite folly and absurdity of op posing or contending with him. But yet to give light and life to this general proposition by particular instances, there are six things in God that offer themselves to our consideration; which are so many invincible arguments to quiet and compose all those unruly motions, that are apt to disturb the spirit of a man, when God by any severe passage of his providence calls him to a state of suffering: and this is certain, that every call from God to suffer, is a command also to submit.
(1.) The first is God’s irresistible power. And there are some who place God’s very right of sovereignty in the boundlessness of his power; affirming, that the great reason why God may do any thing, is because he can do any thing. But far be it from any sober person to discourse of the divine nature and actings upon the stock of such a principle. But yet to illustrate and make out the absurdity of any thing that looks like a non-submission or repugnancy to the afflicting hand of God, were it possible for us to imagine or suppose that God had no right to treat his creature in so severe a manner, yet the surpassing greatness of his power has rendered it impossible for the creature to receive any benefit by demurring to his right. Such a plea being like a poor conquered captive’s impleading a victorious sword, absolutely senseless and ridiculous; it being certainly absurd to resist, where it 517is impossible to conquer or escape. A good cause itself against an overpowering force, is an impotent, insignificant thing; impotent as to self-support, in significant as to success. For power is the great disposer of the issues and events of things; and wheresoever there is any effect, it is certain that some power or other is the cause. And therefore all acts of hostility or opposition upon a mischief done or offered suppose, in the person who makes the opposition, an opinion at least of power in himself able to repel or revenge that mischief; and all complaint supposes a likelihood of engaging the strength and power of such as hear it, in the help and vindication of him who makes it; and is indeed used only as a means or instrument to supply the defect of a man’s own personal power, by the conjunction of other men’s. But now, where neither of these considerations can take place, both resistance and complaint are utterly irrational: as in the case of the divine power’s dealing with man, it must needs be. For what is all the world to him that made the world? 1 Cor. x. 22, Do we provoke God to jealousy? are we stronger than he? All the nations, all the armies of the whole earth are to him but as the drop of the bucket, or the small dust of the balance: and can we possibly think or speak of things under a greater disparity? And if so, will reason allow that there should be any contention where there can le no proportion? He has done whatsoever pleased him both in heaven and earth, Psal. cxxxv. 6. As soon as his will gives the word, his power executes. No god can deliver as he can, says Nebuchadnezzar, Dan. iii. 29; nor can any one destroy as he can, says our Saviour, Matth. x. 28. He gives away kingdoms and empires, disposes of crowns and sceptres, with the breath of his mouth. And after all this, can a pitiful piece of animated dirt be fit to quarrel and expostulate with a power infinitely greater than his very thoughts, and therefore certainly in no degree to be matched by his strengths? But to what purpose is it thus to argue or dispute the matter? to light a candle to the sun? or with much ado to prove a finite no ways equal to an infinite? For that in effect is the thing now before us; while we are disputing, whether a man may contest with, or ought to submit to his Maker; and whether he should be permitted to talk high and loud, who can do nothing; and to be still upon the offending part, who is wholly unable to defend himself. A man so behaving himself is nothing else but weakness and nakedness, setting itself in battle-array against omnipotence; an handful of dust and ashes, sending a challenge to all the host of heaven. For what else are words and talk against thunderbolts? and the weak, empty noise of a querulous rage, against him who can speak worlds, who could word heaven and earth out of nothing, and can when he pleases word them into nothing again?
What can we utter or express greater of the vast distance between God and man, than by a kind of tautology to say, that God is God, and man is man! For it is certain that the first can have no predicate but himself; since he that is pure act, and perfect simplicity, can be said to be nothing, but by an identical repetition; in which both predicate and subject are no more than one and the same thing set forth in two several words: an evident 519demonstration, that words cannot keep pace with things, when we discourse of God. In short, since matters stand thus between God and us, let us consider what hands we are in, and what an irresistible gripe has hold of us; and let that teach us, even for our own sakes, to be quiet under it. There is indeed one, and but one way of encountering an infinite power; and that is, by an extraordinary and (if it were possible) an infinite patience.
(2.) The next thing to be considered in God, as another argument for our submission to him, is his absolute, unquestionable dominion and sovereignty over all things. And this, according to the true and exact notion of things, differs formally from his power, though sometimes they are unskilfully confounded. For the difference between them is as great, as between δύναμις and ἐξουσία, between strength and authority; between a bare ability to act, and a right to act; which may be often one without the other: for there may be force and power without authority, and a rightful authority without any force or power; both of which we have known by woful experience.
But to the subject before us. This dominion of God is founded upon the best, the greatest, and most undeniable title; which is that of creation and providence. It being infinitely reasonable, that the first cause should upon that account be the supreme governor; and that whatsoever has been made and preserved by God, should le also commanded by him.
And besides, as God is the first cause, so he is also the last end of all things; they terminate in him, as well as they issued from him; they were 520produced by his power, and designed for his pleasure: Rev. iv. 11, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. God might have chose whether he would have made the world or no; for he had no need of it, to complete or add to his happiness, which was infinitely perfect within the compass of his own glorious being. Yet he was pleased by a most free and unconstrained motion of his own will, to communicate and diffuse some little shadows of those perfections upon the creatures, and more especially upon those nearer resemblances of himself, men and angels.
Upon which account it is certain, that God has the entire disposal both of our persons and concerns; which, giving him a full propriety in all that we are or have, it is also as certain that he can do us no wrong. God’s pleasure is his sufficient war rant, and therefore ought to be our undoubted law: for being vouched by the supremacy of heaven, there can be no appeal from it, no address to any higher tribunal; for as it is in Job ix. 12, Who may say unto God, What doest thou? It is not for the clay to expostulate with the potter, though, instead of making it a vessel of honour, he treads it under foot, from whence he took it.
Men indeed may contest their rights one against another; even an inferior against his superior: because there is none so absolutely superior to, or lord over another, but holds that superiority or preeminence by a limited right, and by concession from him, who is equally a lord and master to them both; and consequently will treat them as fellow-creatures 521and fellow-servants, and with an impartial hand exact an account of the behaviour of him who rules, as well as of him who obeys. But it is not so with God, who being absolutely first and supreme, must needs upon the same score also be absolutely unaccountable: for none can stand obliged to render an account of his actions to his inferiors; such as we all are to God, and that by vast and immeasurable disproportions.
(3.) Together with God’s irresistible power and his absolute dominion, let the afflicted person consider also his infinite and unfailing wisdom: that wisdom by which he first made the world, and by which he does and always will govern it: that wisdom by which all the strange events and odd contingencies which sometimes occur, are cast into a regular method and an exact order; though the short reach of sense and natural reason is not always able to fathom the contrivance, or to discern the rare and curious disposal of them.
But how much soever we are in the dark as to this, still we are sure, that a being essentially wise cannot do any thing but wisely. Our ignorance of the particular reason of God’s actings cannot infer or make them in the least unreasonable. It is not accounted discretion to quarrel or find fault with the actions of a wise man; and much less can it be so to question the proceedings of an infinitely wise God; who is wise without any mixture of folly or imperfection, a privilege granted to no created nature: for he has charged his very angels with folly, Job iv. 18. And be they ever so wise, it is certain that they are not wisdom itself.
It is arrogance in us to pretend so much as to 522understand the counsel of God, in his managing the great affairs of the world, and much more to blame or carp at them. Providence is more honoured by our admiration, than our inquiries: for these latter are for the most part the effects of pride, but always of curiosity; whereas the former always produces, or at least accompanies humility. We cannot pierce into the designs which God may have in every passage, every accident that befalls us; we cannot look through the long and intricate train of causes and effects, and see by what strange, mysterious ways the smallest things are oftentimes directed by a sure hand to an accomplishment of the greatest ends. Providence is nothing else but infinite power managed by infinite wisdom, and the divine knowledge displaying itself in practice.
The consideration of which alone, one would think, should be abundantly enough to compose all our murmurings and repinings under any calamity that can possibly happen to us; and to reduce us to an acquiescence in our present condition, be it what it will. For while we fret and repine at God’s will, do we not say in effect, that it is better for us to have our own? that is, in other words, that we are wiser than God, and could contrive and project things much more to our own advantage, if we had the disposal of them? Do we not as good as complain, that we are not took in as sharers with God in the government of the world? that our advice is not taken, and our consent had, in all the great changes which he is pleased to bring over us? These indeed are things that no man utters in words; but whosoever refuses to submit himself to the hand of God, speaks them aloud by his behaviour; 523which by all the intelligent part of the world is looked upon as a surer indication of man’s mind, than any verbal declaration of it whatsoever. God, perhaps, is pleased to visit us with some heavy affliction; and shall we now, out of a due reverence of his all-governing wisdom, patiently endure it? or out of a blind presumption of our own endeavour by some sinister way or other to rid ourselves from it? Passengers in a ship always submit to their pilot’s discretion, but especially in a storm; and shall we, whose passage lies through a greater and more dangerous deep, pay a less deference to that great pilot, who not only understands, but also commands the seas?
It is sometimes so far from being a privilege for a man to be governed by his own will without the conduct of a wiser, that it is indeed his misery, and his great unhappiness, and a direct throwing himself into the very mouth of danger: forasmuch as no human wit or wisdom can always distinguish between what will help, and what will hurt us. If children might have their own wills, and be their own choosers, they would certainly choose poison before a cordial, if that were but sweet, and this bitter. And so it is with men themselves in reference to the dealings of God’s providence; every dispensation of it may prove our physic or our bane, according as it is ordered and applied. God can make our most pleasing and promising enjoyments become a plague and a destruction to us, and turn our very table into a snare: and, on the other hand, he can make us gather grapes of thorns, and figs of thistles, and reap comfort from the sharpest affliction. God’s wisdom still warrants all his actions to be for the best.524
And as his glory is the grand end of all that he does, and consequently ought to be so likewise of all that we either do or suffer; so this is most worthy our observation: that whatsoever befalls any man, that makes most for God’s glory in respect of that man; and if he be a child of God, most for his own good too. For in this case, things must not be estimated according to their bare natures, but according to their use and tendency; and, as they lie under the direction of that providence which guides things to effects much beside and beyond what their mere nature, left to its own course of acting, would carry them out to. Poison itself, by art, may be made an ingredient in the composition of an anti dote; and things in themselves really good, yet, by ill circumstances and misapplication, may become hurtful and pernicious. Prosperity, considered absolutely and irrespectively, is better and more desirable than adversity; and yet, perhaps, as our spiritual estate and condition stands, adversity may be better for us: for that may harden, and this may humble us; that may prepare us for judgment, this for mercy. As the having blood in our veins is in itself naturally better than losing it, and yet in some cases, and under some distempers, the very principle of life becomes the occasion of death; and that blood kept in, destroys, which being let out would recover and preserve us. Now the divine wisdom best knows all the maladies, all the weaknesses and distempers of our souls, and consequently ought to claim and challenge our sole and absolute dependence upon it, even in its harshest and most amazing prescriptions.
(4.) Let the afflicted person consider the great 525goodness, the benignity and mercy of God to all his creatures; which is so great, that the Psalmist tells us, in Psalm cxlv. 9, it spreads itself with an universal extent over all his works: but especially the noblest and most beloved piece of his workmanship, mankind; which seems to have been created by God purposely to shew how much he delighted in mercy. God is the greatest of kings and potentates, but yet has nothing of a tyrant in his nature, how ill and tragically soever some may represent him: he takes no delight in our groans, no pleasure in our tears, but those that are penitential. It is no pastime to him to view the miseries of the distressed, to hear the cries of the orphan or the sighs of the widow. The prophet tells us, in Lament. iii. 33, that God docs not willingly afflict the children of men: he seems to share in the suffering, while he inflicts it; and to feel the very pain of his own blows, while they fall heavy upon the poor sinner. And again, in Isaiah xxviii. 21, judgment is called God’s strange work; a work that he has no proneness to, nor finds any complacency in: and therefore, whensoever he betakes himself to it, we may be confident that it is not for the sake of the work itself, but that he has some secret, overruling design of love, which he is to compass after an unusual, extraordinary way. He never lops and prunes us with his judgments, because he delights to see us bare, and poor, and naked, but because he would make us fruitful; nor would he cause us to pass through the fiery furnace, but to purge and to refine us. For can it be any pleasure to the physician to administer loathsome potions or bitter pills? or can it be any satisfaction to a father to employ a chirurgeon 526to cut off his child’s arm, were not the taking away a part found necessary to secure the whole? Common humanity never uses the lance to pain and torture, but to restore the patient. But now, the care and tenderness of an earthly parent or physician is but a faint shadow and resemblance of that infinite compassion and affection, which God bears to his children, even in the midst of his severest usage of them. For what is or can be that affliction, through which God’s love does not shine and shew itself, to an eye spiritual enough to discern it? God sometimes dashes a man’s beloved reputation, and exposes him to the scorn of those, who are a juster object of scorn themselves. Sometimes he lessens a man’s estate, and, after he has grown old in wealth and plenty, brings him at length, in his declining years, to the irksome change of a poor, low, necessitous condition: and sometimes again, God breaks in upon a man’s family, his dearest friends and relations, and so bereaves him of a right hand or a second self. But still, as grievous as all these things may seem at first view, may not yet the traces and footsteps of divine love be discernible in all these strokes? For some perhaps may value more the esteem f men, than that of God; and then is it not better for such an one to have his name blasted amongst men, than blotted out of the book of life? Another may idolize his money, and make his gold his god; and, in such a case, is it not really more profitable for him to lose an earthly estate, than to have no treasure in heaven? And a third may dote upon friends, and place his whole heart and confidence in his relations; and if so, is it not indeed his advantage to be stripped of a perishing, 527 mortal friend, and took into the bosom of an everlasting father? Certainly every such person may write upon all his losses, Periissem nisi periissem. For be it reputation, estate, friends, or whatsoever else is or can be desirable to a man, that he has lost; yet if by all this God has given laws to his outrageous appetites, and bounds to his ambitious designs; if by this he has extinguished in him the spirit of pride, and stirred up in him the spirit of prayer; and lastly, if by this he has mortified his worldliness and sensuality, and convinced him of the infinite vanity, the emptiness, and dissatisfaction that is in all created enjoyments; how much soever such a man has been a sufferer, it is certain that he has been no loser. Ho has indeed been upon a great traffic, he has driven the gain fullest bargain in the world, having exchanged his pence for pounds, things carnal for things spiritual; things which perish in their very use, for things that never fade.
(5.) Let the afflicted person consider God’s exact and inviolable justice; so that if he had no kindness for us to do us any good, it is certain that this alone would keep him from doing us any wrong; for this is a thing which omnipotence itself cannot do.
God never strikes without a cause, nor wounds us, till our own sins draw the sword. All punishment essentially supposes and implies, one way or other, a guilt in the party punished; and every man’s sufferings are a true comment upon his deserts. God punishes no man beyond the rate and proportion of his own demerit, though short of it he does very often; accepting small payments for great debts, and setting down fifty in the punishment, where sin has run us in arrears to him many thousands 528in the guilt. And can we then think it reasonable to maunder and repine at him, who treats us with such abatements? chastising us with whips, when he might lash us with scorpions; and only correcting, when he might, with full warrant from his justice, confound us? The divine justice never acts up to its highest pitch, in its dealing with sinners in this world; but still proceeds with some temper and allay of mercy, which makes it quite another thing from what it would be, if it should flame out in its own native, proper, unrelenting se verities. And sinners who taste of it, both in this world and the other too, find the vast difference of it here and there, by woful experience: for here it smites us only with the rod of admonition, and puts just so much sharpness into the blow, as may embitter sin to us, not thoroughly revenge it upon us. And therefore, in scripture-dialect, God’s righteousness is oftentimes but another word for his mercy; mercy being still predominant in the exercise and manifestation of it. So that at the same time God punishes men both for, and yet beneath their sins; and with great lenity still proportions his judgments, rather to the measure of their strengths, than to that of their deserts.
(6.) And lastly, let the afflicted person consider the method of Providence, in its dealing with such as have been eminent for their submissive deportment under God’s afflicting hand, and he shall see how mightily God has turned all to their advantage at last; and that not only in the next life, but often times very signally even in this too. The consideration of which alone may and ought to administer no small support to any one, who has understanding 529enough to compare past events with present, and so to read his own case in other men’s. For in things of this nature examples are the best arguments, and precedents the strongest persuasives: and therefore St. James, in his last chapter, having several times pressed this grand duty of patience, seals his exhortation with this argument, in verse 11, Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord. And such an end and issue did God put to Job’s calamity, that we find his prosperity returning, or rather with a full tide flowing in upon him, in a more than treble increase: nay, and we read of his losses made up to him, even in kind; besides the peculiar advantage accruing to his condition from the circumstance of his restitution, that by thus immediately passing from one extreme to another, the very neighbourhood of his sufferings gave him so much a quicker and livelier taste of his returning felicity. And then for David, who so quietly endured the rage and contumelies of Shimei, did he not presently see a merciful turn of Providence restoring him to a more established royalty than ever he was master of before; and bringing that base tongue to lick the dust under his feet, that a few days before had so foully thrown dirt in his face?
Could we but trust God to do our business for us, to assert our cause, and to vindicate our innocence, we should find that he would not only answer, but also outdo our hopes; we should find that our sorrows would prove our harvest, and our sowing in tears make us reap sevenfold in joy.
Men are apt to think both themselves and others miserable, because they pronounce and pass judgment 530hastily, from the present sense of a grievance, without expecting its issue; which usually converts the sighs and lamentations of a pious mourner into the triumphal songs of a joyful conqueror; and having led God’s chosen ones through a Red sea and an howling wilderness, plants them at length, safe and free, in all the wealth and affluence of a promised Canaan. No person, that ever heartily submitted to the rough dealings of Providence, could upbraid it with unkindness at the last; but has still found the same hands more bountiful in rewarding, than ever they had been severe in striking.
The ways of patience may at first indeed appear rugged and frightful, full of terror and discouragement; but it is the end (we know) that still crowns the work, and the issue and conclusion, from whence all things take their estimate. A welcome reception at our journey’s end is a sufficient recompence for all the fatigue and tediousness of the way: and the scripture tells us, that as soon as a woman in child-bed is delivered, all the pangs and travails of her labour presently vanish, and are swallowed up in the joy, that a man is born into the world. True wisdom, in taking the worth and value of things, never terminates in the present state of them, but casts its eye chiefly upon the future. And therefore, as no man can be accounted truly happy, even as to the things of this world, till his death; so neither can any one pass for truly miserable, (and that even upon a temporal account,) till he has finished his course here; for every thing is well or ill, as it ends: and this let every afflicted person cause his meditations chiefly to dwell upon, still directing his observations to the final issue of God’s 531dealing with such as have signalized their patience, by suffering his sharpest rebukes with all the stillness and composure, constancy and firmness, of a pious, humble, and well-resolved submission.
Now these six things in God being seriously thought upon; namely, his irresistible power; his absolute, unaccountable sovereignty; his infinite, unerring wisdom; his boundless goodness and benignity; his exact and inviolable justice; and lastly, his gracious way of treating all patient and humble sufferers, are so many mighty and irrefragable arguments to enforce this great duty of submission upon us, as the most rational thing imaginable: and that upon the account of three great and noble qualities constantly attending on and naturally resulting from it, as it stands related to and grounded upon those six foregoing considerations. And these are, 1. The necessity; 2. The prudence; and 3. The decency of such a submission; all which jointly and severally prove and demonstrate the high and transcendent reasonableness of it. I shall speak something of each of them, and so close up all. And,
1. For its necessity. It is most certain, from what has been discoursed, that in this, as in all other cases, God will have his will; and how should it be otherwise, when nothing can withstand it? Submit we must to the calamity inflicted on us, unless we could be too wise or too strong for him that inflicts it; for other ways of escape there can be none, but either by wisdom to contrive, or by force to wrest ourselves out of God’s hand: but he that does the former must outwit omniscience; and he that does the latter must overpower omnipotence. 532But all such counsels are vain, and ridiculously impossible; for there is no contending with Heaven, no wrestling with God, but by prayer. We know what a weak, pitiful thing a subject is, if contending with his earthly prince; but much more so, opposing himself to the almighty King of kings, before whom the powers of the whole earth are as nothing, and all the empires and kingdoms of the world but as so many bubbles before the fury of the wind. He who carries his breath in his nostrils surely should be careful to carry a pious and a discreet tongue in his mouth. Who (says the prophet Isaiah, speaking of the dreadful power of God) would set briers and thorns against him in battle? he would go through them, he would burn them together; Isaiah xxvii. 4. Briers indeed may be sharp and troublesome, but not to the fire that feels them not, but in a moment devours and consumes them. In like manner men may snarl, and word it high against Providence; but we have already observed what silly, senseless things such verbal assaults are against the Creator and Governor of the universe, and to what little purpose we spend our breath against him who gave it, and can take it away when he pleases. Expostulations and invectives may perhaps affect and move a weak man like ourselves, but they are lost before they can get to heaven; they cannot reach, and much less pierce those glorious mansions. Words of rage and impatience can hurt none but him that speaks them, especially when they are shot at God: and therefore, as the same prophet says again, in chap. xlv. 9, Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth, 533and then possibly they may strike one another in pieces. But a potsherd is a very unfit thing to run against a brasen wall, or to dash itself upon the rock of ages.
All affronts put upon God by such a refractory, contumelious behaviour as we have been speaking of, are to be reckoned amongst the absurdities, as well as the impieties of our actions; such as reason itself would decry, should religion be silent. Things so full of paradox and brutish irrationality, that, could great sins be lit to be laughed at, they were fitter to be run down with scoff and sarcasm, than to be thought worthy of a serious confutation: but though it is not for us to laugh at them, we may be sure that God does.
In fine, this we may rest satisfied of, that whensoever God’s hand is upon us, we must either yield a voluntary, or be forced to a violent submission. If our stubbornness is such, that we will not bend, it is certain that our weakness is also such, that we must needs break. If God’s message will not win upon Pharaoh, his plagues shall compel him; and therefore when he sent Moses to him, he put a rod into his hand, as well as ft word into his mouth. When God fully purposes to afflict u man, he is like a bird in a net, the more he strives and flutters, the more he is entangled; for the supreme Judge of all things is resolved to go through with his great work of judgment, and to make all obstinate, sturdy sinners know, that he has power to constrain, where his goodness will not persuade.
2. The second qualification of the submission here spoken of, which also is a farther argument to enforce it, is the great prudence, as well as the necessity 534of it. There are few things in the world so totally and entirely bad, but some advantage may be made of them by a dexterous management; and it is certainly a man’s wisdom to make the best of a bad condition: there being a certain kind of pious and prudential husbandry, by which a man may so improve a calamity, as to make the endurance of that the performance of a duty, and, by his behaviour under it, to procure a release from it. We should with Isaac take the wood upon our shoulders, though we ourselves are designed for the sacrifice; and who knows but as in his case, so in ours also, a patient resignation of ourselves to the knife may be the sure and direct way to rescue us from it? For, according to the commerce that God has established between this and the other world, momentary sorrows are improvable into everlasting joys; and we may build as high as heaven, if we lay the foundation deep and low in patience and humility. In 2 Corinth. iv. 17, Our light affliction, says the apostle, which is but for a moment, worketh for us afar more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. In which words, it is worth our while to observe the peculiar force and emphasis of the comparison, and the vast difference of the things that the apostle here confronts one against another: it is a light affliction, set against a weight of glory; a light affliction for a moment, against an exceeding and eternal weight of glory: so that it is impossible to word things to an higher disproportion. And now, when the case stands thus, if a man would not endure so much as the smart of a cut finger to gain a crown; or (as I may so speak) would not lose an hair to save his head; should we not question his 535wisdom as much as his courage? and look upon him as one so far from living by faith, that ho does not so much as live up to common sense? For, as Naaman’s servant said to him, when he refused in scorn to follow the prophet’s advice, Had the prophet bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? So, where heaven is the prize, who would not endure hell itself for a while, to obtain that at last? But upon how much easier terms are we treated by God, when he says only. Suffer a few inconsiderable grievances here patiently, and that for a very short time, and then he infinitely, unchangeably happy for ever? It is wisdom, wisdom upon the truest and strictest estimate of things, not only to endure, but even to choose a temporal evil, which leads to an eternal good.
But admit that such a submission to the hand of God should not rid us from the calamity he is pleased to bring upon us, yet this we may be sure of, that it will give us ease and relief under it; and if it takes off nothing of our load, yet it will certainly add to our strength. For it is really armour to the inner man, and (if you will admit the expression) it is a kind of breastplate within us; it being the nature of patience to make heavy things seem light, and of impatience to make the lightest things become really heavy. It is this that renders every affliction, according to the prophetic phrase, truly and properly, the burden of the Lord. And still the more we strive to cast off God’s yoke, the more it galls us. The sum of all is this, that since there is an inevitable necessity of our suffering when God calls us to suffer, it must needs be the highest piece of Christian policy, by our submissive demeanour 536to make a virtue of necessity, to extract good out of evil, and to endure that with patience which we cannot remedy by power.
3. And lastly, To the necessity and prudence of such a submissive deportment under the hand of God, let us add also the decency of it, as none of the least enforcing considerations to oblige us to it: for we may trust it to the decision of any ordinary, if unprejudiced reason, whether it can be comely for a sinful, obnoxious creature to contend with him in whose hand his very life and soul is, and whose are all his ways, as Daniel expresses it to Belshazzar, Dan. v. 23; and whether it can be fit for a slave, a vassal, to quarrel and contest the will and pleasure of his absolute lord and sovereign.
Add to this, the follies and absurdities of impatience, considered simply in itself, and abstracted from those aggravations that it receives from the peculiar quality and condition of some persons: for in the very nature of it, as such, it degrades a man not only from the degree of a Christian, but also of a man, stripping him of his very understanding and consideration; and so turning not only religion, but also reason itself out of doors. In patience possess ye your souls, says our Saviour, Luke xxi. 19. It is this that gives a man the possession of himself; for impatience does, as it were, thrust him out of the present possession of his senses: it invades the capitol, reason is enslaved, and passion domineers; during the furies of which, he ceases for that time to be rational, and passes into the rank and order of brutes, which are wholly governed by appetite, and the present impulse of sense, in opposition to the sober conduct of reason, discourse, and deliberation.537
Impatience has always these two ill ingredients in the very constitution of it, pride and anger: and can any thing possibly be more indecent, more absurd, and more to be exploded, than a proud beggar, an aspiring lump of dirt? or can there be a greater paradox in manners, than at the same time to be saucy, and to depend; to be arrogant, and yet indigent? And then for anger, it is a monstrous, irregular, unbecoming passion, even when it shews itself against an equal; but how much more against a superior; and yet incredibly, unconceivably more when it fumes and rages against the immense power, and the unquestionable prerogative of the supreme Sovereign of all things, whom our anger cannot reach, but the least spark of whose anger can for ever consume us! What a discomposure docs this ungoverned affection work in the whole intellectual frame, turning the mind topsyturvy, clouding its apprehensions, entangling its counsels, and confounding its reasonings, till it has turned that little light which is in it into darkness, and so quite blown out the candle of the Lord. And can this be a disposition of mind becoming a rational nature? a nature that God has made but one pitch lower than that of the angels?
But so much the more intolerable is such a stubborn, unsubmissive frame of spirit in men, when the whole host of the creation besides are, with the highest readiness and alacrity, continually intent upon the execution of their great Master’s commands. The whole 104th Psalm, that noble and sublime piece of sacred poetry, is a full description of, and a panegyric upon the creature’s readiness to 538serve their great Lord; in ver. 6, 7. The waters, says the Psalmist, stood upon the mountains; but at thy rebuke they fled, and at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away. Nothing to be seen but absolute obedience, even in these inanimate creatures, which, it seems, can obey a command, though they cannot so much as hear it. And then for other creatures, endued with a bare principle of life and sense, they also act in a constant compliance with the divine will, and that sometimes against the most natural inclination of their own. What more ravenous than an hungry lion? and yet he shall restrain his furious appetite when God commands him not to touch a Daniel. What more devouring than the ravens? and yet even they shall part with their own food to an Elijah, when God bids them purvey for a servant of his in distress. And shall men, after all this; man, that has been so signally obliged by Heaven above all the rest of the creation; shall he, I say, be the only thing that shall resist and oppose the proceedings of the Almighty, by fretting and striving against every passage of Providence that comes athwart either his desires or designs? If this be not the highest transgression of the rules of decency, then surely there is no such thing as decency or regularity, order or proportion, in the whole frame and economy of this visible world.
And thus having farther enforced this grand duty of submission upon these three several accounts; to wit, of its absolute necessity; its high prudence and policy; and lastly, its great decency: I suppose there can need no other arguments to bind it fast upon the consciences of those who, besides their indispensable 539duty to God, hold it their no small concernment to acquit themselves to the world also, in all these considerations.
In the mean time, the foregoing discourse may teach us an art that all the wisdom of the world cannot teach; which is, to know how to make ourselves happy in the most afflicted, abject, and forlorn condition of life: and that is, in short, to acquiesce cheerfully and entirely in the good pleasure of Almighty God, whatsoever our estate or condition in this world falls out to be: for, to put all into one word, could men he but willing to do what God commands, and to suffer what God inflicts, there could be no more room for any such thing as discontent or misery in the whole course of things here below. The killing force of the greatest and the fiercest judgments is even broke by yieldance and submission; for still it is opposition that strengthens a calamity. And when the creature will needs wage war with God, God acts with the greatest reason and equity that can be expected, even from men warring against men: those that will fight it out, he kills; and those that will yield, he spares.
The felicities and miseries of this world are dispensed by God variously, and the changes of our lives are, for the most part, much more numerous than the years of them: so that he who now flourishes with all the plenty and glory that Providence can heap upon him, may, in a short time, see himself stripped and disrobed of all; and then the use, the worth, and value of a patient, submissive spirit will come to be understood; since, without it, it will be impossible so to behave ourselves under God’s afflicting hand, as not to add provocation to 540provocation, or to fall under one calamity without making it the occasion of another.
Which consideration surely should be sufficient to beget in us a readiness, not only to bear, but even to take up our cross; and to make every suffering free and voluntary, by a subsequent act of choice, looking unto Jesus, our great pattern and example, who, in obedience to his Father’s will, endured the cross, and despised the shame, and is now set down at the right hand of God.
To which he, of his mercy, vouchsafe to bring us all; to whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.
END OF VOL. VI.541
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