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Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
CHRIST, who came into the world to engage in a spiritual war against the ways of the world, is here, like a provident commander, despatching a regiment, a little regiment of twelve apostles, for this evangelical expedition. And in the first verse of this chapter we have him reading to them their commission, which runs very full and large; extending to the cure of all maladies and distempers, and the subjugation of the powers of darkness. From the second verse to the fourth, we have him taking a list or muster of their names: and then, from the fifth verse almost to the end of the chapter, we have a more full and determinate explication of their commission, as to its just latitude and extent. And that,
1. In respect of the place where they were to administer it; and that was within the precincts and bounds of Judea, in the fifth and sixth verses. They were not to visit the Samaritans: the children were to be served before the servants.
2. In respect of the doctrine they were to preach; and this was a preparatory to the gospel, afterwards to be preached by Christ himself, ver. 7; The kingdom of heaven is at hand.461
Now, in order to their more vigorous execution of this commission, he does accordingly instruct and admonish them concerning those things which might lie as impediments and obstacles in their way.
His instructions are reducible to these two.
(1.) A caution against the luxury of the world, in the ninth and tenth verses.
(2.) An encouragement against the cruelty of the world, from the sixteenth verse almost to the end of the chapter.
Thus he summed up his divine instructions, as Epictetus did his moral, in a compendious but comprehensive Ἀπέχου καὶ ἀνέχου, Abstain and endure; the one for the pleasures, the other for the troubles of the world.
(1.) He cautions them against the superfluities of the world; Provide neither gold, nor silver., nor brass, nor scrip for your journey, ver. 9, 10. Christ sent them forth as preachers (and that by his own special order) itinerant. Gold and silver, though they are sometimes convenient, yet they are always heavy: many travellers, while they have been anxiously troubled with the thoughts of securing their money, have missed of their way. Christ sends his disciples also as soldiers; and therefore bids them take neither scrip, nor cloaks, nor staves. We should look upon him as a strange soldier, that, when he is upon his march, and to go upon service, instead of his sword, should take his snapsack. These are all hinderances, clogs, and burdens, and, according to the proper Latin word, they are called impedimenta bellica. Christ would take them off from all worldly care; and therefore, to pursue the metaphor, he provides them quarter, free quarter in his service. The 462 workman, says he, is worthy of his meat. And into whatsoever city or town ye come, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. Christ knew it was not convenient for his ministers, while they should be engaging all the stress of their endeavours in so high an employment, to be carking and caring for a maintenance, and to be put upon providing for their own bodies, while they should provide for others souls.
(2.) He encourages them against the cruelty of the world. In the former, he forbids them to be luxurious; in this latter, to be fearful. Either of these are absolutely opposite to a military posture: and he fortifies them by an impartial acquainting them what they should endure. And this is a considerable piece of armour: for the mind of man is able to endure many an evil upon expectation, that it cannot upon surprise. Where, from Christ’s method in sending his disciples to preach the gospel, we may gain this observation by the way, viz. that when a man enters upon the ministry, it is a matter of signal consequence to be forewarned of, and so in some measure to be forearmed against, all the discouragements that he is like to meet with in the faithful administration of his duty. Behold, says Christ, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. In the sixth verse, he had said that he sent them to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. They went to them indeed as to sheep, but they found them to be wolves: they were lost sheep; such as had lost their nature, and degenerated into a wolvish kind. Now there could not be a more discouraging speech than this. To send sheep abroad alone was discouragement enough; for there be others ready to 463oppose and wrong them, besides wolves; and if there was none, yet their own weakness and wandering were enough to scatter them: but to send them to wolves, who have a natural antipathy against them, an irreconcileable hatred, not to be satisfied but by their blood; this is the highest aggravation of a deplored estate. One wolf is able to destroy a flock of sheep; how then shall a poor handful of twelve sheep withstand whole herds of wolves? Yet Christ did well to let them know the worst of their entertainment, that amidst all their other miseries they might at least be kept from that disheartening misery of a disappointment. Every man who engages in Christ’s service ventures himself amongst wolves; such as with remorseless fury will prey upon his reputation, tear his comforts, devour whatsoever is dear to him: and he who expects to find favour amongst such wolves, must first cease to be a sheep. But now Christ, as he tells them the danger, so he prescribes the remedy; and against the opposition of men, he tells them they must join the forces of prudence and innocence: in the sixteenth verse, Be ye wise as serpents, but harmless as doves. The brasen, impregnable wall of a good conscience is that alone which is able to withstand and repulse the injuries of the world. If we must do penance, let us do it in the white of our own innocence. To be free from sin, is the only way to be free from fear.
But now Christ, to make his admonitions the more particular, and so the more effectual, descends to those particular things which he knew they chiefly feared. And these are three.
1. Bodily torments.
Christ lays in an antidote against the fear of each of these.
1. For bodily torments; he tells them, they should be brought before kings and governors, and be scourged for the profession of the truth, in the 17th verse: but in the 22d he gives the encouragement, He that endures to the end shall be saved. Salvation is a reward sufficient to crown the endurance of the most irksome calamity.
2. For disgrace; he tells them, they would fare but ill as to their reputations, but yet no worse than himself: they might be called factious, seditious; but when the master is called devil, the servant may well endure the name of rascal. Suetonius, among those few good things that he said Nero did in his reign, reckons his persecution of the Christians in these terms; Affecti suppliciis Christiani, genus hominum superstitionis novae et maleficae. Christ forearms them against these contumelies, by telling them, that he partook of the same slanders: and we know, society in affliction does alleviate it. However, the society of a master enduring the same with his servant, although it should afford no cause of comfort, yet it takes off all cause of complaint. (2.) He comforts them with the consideration of the day of judgment, ver. 26; at which time whatsoever is now covered should be revealed. Though they are at present aspersed with false calumnies, and their names darkened with the malign exhalations that come from the open sepulchres of reviling throats; as we may read in Minucius Felix, and a black catalogue of foul falsities charged upon the Christians: yet the day of judgment will clear their innocence, and wipe off all 465aspersions. The day is a discovering time; and that which lay hid in the dark night of persecution, will be laid open and manifest at the last day.
3. The third thing, which is the φοβερῶν φοβερώτατον, the terrible of terribles, is death; and this he cautions them against in the words of the text; and that upon the score of these three reasons.
(1.) Because it is but the death of the body, and therefore not the death of the man.
(2.) Because hell is more to be feared, and the greater fear swallows up the less.
(3.) Because they live under the special care of God’s overseeing providence; and therefore cannot be taken away without his special appointment and permission. The argument runs strongly a minore ad majus in the 29th verse. If he takes so great care of so inconsiderable creatures as sparrows, so that the hand of the destroyer cannot reach so much as one of them without a warrant from his providence; how much more shall he preserve you, who have a perfection of nature much beyond theirs, and a profusion of grace beyond the perfection of your nature?
I shall resume some of these reasons in the handling of the doctrine that I shall raise; but before I deduce any doctrine from the words, I shall endeavour to clear off an objection: and it is this.
Obj. Christ commands his disciples here not to fear those that can kill the body. But how is this consistent with some other of his commands? as for instance, in the 17th verse, he bids them beware of men: and in the 23d verse, when they are persecuted in one city, he bids them flee into another. Now to 466 flee from an enemy is something more than to fear him.
Ans. 1. The words, Fear not them that can kill the body, maybe understood comparatively; that is, Do not fear them that kill the body, so much as you fear him that is able to destroy the soul. And so this way of speaking carries in it an Hebraism; for the Hebrews usually express a comparison between two things in respect of some third, not by attributing of it in a greater degree to one, and in a less degree to the other, but by absolutely affirming it of one, and denying it of the other. As God says, he will have mercy, and not sacrifice; that is, he will rather have mercy than sacrifice. And this may be one way of interpreting the words.
2. We may distinguish of a twofold fear.
(1.) A fear of solicitous anxiety; such as makes us let go our confidence in God’s providence, causing our thoughts so to dwell upon the dreadfulness of the thing feared, as to despair of a deliverance. And with such a kind of fear Christ absolutely forbids them to fear those that kill the body; it being very derogatory to God, as if his mercy did not afford as great arguments for our hope, as the cruelty of man for our fears.
(2.) The second sort of fear is a fear of prudential caution, whereby a man, from the due estimate of an approaching evil, endeavours his own security. And this kind of fear is not only lawful, but also laudable. For to what purpose should God have naturally implanted in the heart of man a passion of fear, if it might not be exercised and affected with suitable objects; that is, things to be feared? Now under 467this sort of fear we may reckon that to which Christ advises his disciples in these expressions, Beware of men, and, Flee from one city into another.
These things thus premised, the words of the text are full and pregnant with many great concerning truths. As,
1. That it is within the power of man to divest us of all our temporal enjoyments; for so much, according to the phrase of scripture, is comprehended in this word body. Christ bids them not fear those that kill the body; wherefore it is implied, that it is in their power to do so much: men may take away all our temporals. And this should much allay our affections to these things: for why should we set our mind upon that which is not? Happiness cannot be placed in these; inasmuch as one of the great properties of happiness, even according to Aristotle, is, that it should be in our power, οἰκεῖον ἀγαθόν: but these things are not. And why should we then open our arms, to embrace that which we cannot clasp? From the enjoyment of the least morsel of bread, even to life itself, we stand at the mercy of those who oftentimes have no mercy; Tuae vitae dominus est, quisquis est contemptor suae, says Seneca: “He that is so desperate as to contemn his own life, has “made himself master of yours.”
2. The second proposition deducible from the words is this, That the soul of man is immortal, Fear not them that can kill the body, but cannot kill the soul: this is beyond the reach of all created power. Now this is a foundation-truth, upon the removal of which, religion falls to the ground. Religion is that which awes the mind to the doing of good and the abstaining from evil, from hope of reward, 468 and fear of punishment eternal. The thought of these has a persuasive, and almost a coercive influence upon all our actions. But if the soul dies with the body, the hope and fear of these will die before the soul. If the soul were mortal, our Saviour’s exhortation and argument amounts to no thing.
3. The third observation that arises from the words is this; that God has an absolute and plenary power to destroy the whole man; Fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. This should silence the proud regrets and murmurings of our hearts, at the absoluteness of God’s decrees and purposes: for why may not his decree be as absolute as his power? If he can do what he will, why may not he decree what he will? But all these reasonings proceed from that innate self-love that we bear to the interest of our own natures. We would fain have that unjust for God to do, that is grievous for us to suffer.
4. The fourth observation, which takes in the sense of all the rest, and which I shall insist upon, is this; that the thought of damnation ought to have greater weight upon us to engage our fears, than the most exquisite miseries that the power or malice of man is able to inflict.
The prosecution of this will lie in these two things.
I. To shew what is in these miseries, which men are able to inflict, that may lessen our fears of them.
II. To shew what is that surpassing misery in damnation, that ought (as I may so speak) to engross our fears.
I. Concerning the first, there are seven considerations 469that may and ought to lessen our fears of those miseries that may be inflicted upon us by men.
(1.) As, first, that they are temporal, and concern only this life; and there is nothing that can render a being of an eternal duration miserable, but such a misery as is eternal: and nothing ought rationally to be feared, but such a thing as is inconsistent with the happiness of our nature. Now these three things, this triumvirate of misery, that we apprehend to bereave us of our happiness, are either,
1. Loss of reputation. But, alas! what is that, but a malignant blast of a virulent mouth upon our names? And that which is but a blast, will pass away like a blast. Let envy and malice vomit out all the scandals and reproaches that they can invent, or the Devil suggest; let them pursue us with incessant scoffs all our days; yet our dust shall be at quiet, and our soul at rest.
2. Let it be loss of an estate; though a man has neither bread to feed, nor raiment to clothe him, yet still all these wants are only commensurate to his life; and when his life is but for a moment, his miseries cannot be long. He must go naked, and stript of all, out of the world; and if he is stript of his estate at present, he is only in a posture of leaving the world beforehand.
3. Let it be loss of life; yet this is quickly past. Aristotle observes, that generation and corruption are changes that are done in a moment: generatio et corruptio fit in instanti. And should the fear of that be continual, the endurance of which is but for an instant? The time of living is short, but the time of death is much shorter. When the misery 470 passes away in a moment, a man has not time to be miserable. Let every Christian remember, that he is immortal; and let not these things dismay him. He shall live and abide, when these things are past and gone. This was a cutting reprehension to Peter; What, Peter, canst not thou watch with me for an hour? There is nothing that is momentary, which deserves either a man’s affections or his fears. His miseries are like a river; while he looks upon them, they run from him. Still let him consider this, that as his life passes away, so do his calamities; which can no more abide, while this is in flight, than one in a coach can remain in this place, while the coach is going to another. Wherefore, since Providence hath contracted our calamities, let every man contract his fears. He is upon a career, as well hasting from the miseries as the happiness of this world. He is like grass, and the flower of the field, here to-day, and gone to-morrow; and what if he meets with a rub or two, some stinging calamity, yet the shortness of life secures him. The nettle can stand no longer than the grass. Let him hug himself in this thought, that he is a traveller, hasting through bad ways: his afflictions keep pace with his life; he runs the gauntlet; he does not stand still while he is struck. Disgrace, poverty, and death, those dreadful things to mortality, they are themselves but mortal. The blackest line shall have a period. Wherefore since the shortness of our affliction is just matter of refreshment, let us not make the affliction itself an argument of terror.
(2.) They are not to be feared, because they do not take away any thing from a man’s proper perfections: for is any thing of the solid worth of his 471mind diminished, because his estate is impaired? Is a man at all the worse for this or that unjust disgrace? Is his skin ever the fouler, because a spot is fallen upon his clothes? Or is it any shame to die r These things cannot reach the soul, where all a man’s worth and happiness is treasured. As honour is in honourance, in him that honours rather than in him that is honoured; so disgrace is in him that casts it, not in him that endures it. Our Saviour says, that meats and drinks cannot defile a man, because they are received into him, and pass through him; so the injuries and disgraces of this world can not hurt us, because they pass over us. And what I instance in this particular of disgrace, may be applied to all other calamities. But now sin and guilt, they are in the soul, and the wrath of God, that sinks into the soul, as oil into the bones; therefore they destroy it, and consequently ought to be feared. But miseries and afflictions hurt not the soul, as being without it: they are like storms and hail rattling upon the outside of the house, not at all felt, and therefore not to be feared by those that are within. We ought to fear nothing, but that which can rob us of the happiness and perfection of our being, which is the conformity of our nature to God, and God has placed this out of the reach of man; it is intrusted in the keeping of the will, which is not to be forced by any outward compulsion. It is sin only, and the wrath of God for sin, that can bereave us of this. In the midst of chains, and prisons, and bonds, a man’s will is free. In the midst of all Job’s miseries, he may, with Job, keep his integrity; and hitherto he is an happy man. But sin enslaves; sin will bring him below the dunghill. The Stoics, 472 being sensible that the perfection of a man was only in the virtuous disposition of his soul, which they called wisdom, held a wise man to be so far unconcerned in all the miseries of this life, that he might sing in Phalaris’s bull, laugh upon the rack, smile upon a tyrant; because all these evils could not destroy the virtue of the soul, and therefore not the happiness of the soul. And certainly much happier is a conscientious Stephen amongst the stones, and a martyr in the flames, than an epicure upon a bed of roses. And shall a Christian droop under the fear of those evils, when a philosopher could sing under the endurance of them? Our fears indeed at present are correspondent to our apprehensions; and so much are we led by sense, that we can now hardly apprehend any thing to be misery, but that which is pain. But certainly the day of the Lord will reveal it to be far otherwise; there will be more sting and venom in sin, than ever we found in affliction: then we shall see, that when we were afraid of the greatest cruelty of man, we feared where no fear was; and when we engaged without fear in a way of sin, we ventured upon the very mouth of hell and destruction. Let no religious person, therefore, fear the threats or fury of men, as long as his innocence is in his own keeping, his darling out of the power of the dog. The archers of a wicked generation may shoot at him, and sorely grieve and hate him, as they did righteous Joseph; but his bow shall abide in strength, and his arms be made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob. All the force, the rage, the spite of a wicked world, cannot force him to sin; and therefore cannot force him to be miserable.473
(3.) The evils that men inflict are not to be feared, because in all these they are limited by God’s over ruling hand. The Lord reigns, though the earth be never so unquiet.
In those very actions that oppose God and his glory, God has a commanding hand. The Devil himself could not go the least beyond God’s prescriptions, in his vexing Job. The Devil, not only in his punishments, but in his actions, is held in chains. All the miseries we so fear, are entirely in God’s disposal. He holds the stars in his hand, as well in respect of their malignant as their propitious influences. All the great ones of the world are only God’s swordbearers; and because they bear the sword, we cannot hence conclude, that they have the power and use of the sword. How should this allay our fears and compose our jealousies, since our greatest enemies can do no more than what our best friend permits! A child is no more afraid when he sees a sword, than when he sees a staff in his father’s hand. Be it a mercy, or be it a judgment, why should we trouble ourselves? It is in God’s management. This was an abundant satisfaction to David, that his times were in God’s hands, Psalm xxxi. 15. All his concernments, whether in prosperity or adversity, his persecution from house and home, as well as his advancement to a kingdom, they were all in God’s ordering. The wicked are said to be God’s rod, Isaiah x. 5. They cannot strike a blow, but as managed by his arm. A weapon that is in nobody’s hand cannot strike; and that which is in a friend’s hand cannot hurt. Thou didst it, therefore I kept silence, says David, Psalm xxxix. 9. It is an argument sufficient not only to 474 silence our murmurings, but our complaints; not only to convince our reasons, but to confute our fears; It is God that does it. He says to this affliction, Go, and it goes; to this enemy, Persecute, and he persecutes; to another, Kill, and he kills: all attend the nod of his sovereignty. He holds the winds in his fists; he lets them fly into a storm, and again crushes them into a calm, as he pleases. This therefore is an argument of solid comfort, that in all the miseries we endure from our enemies, God is the chief actor; whose power is able to control their force, and his goodness to overrule their malice. There can be no cause in the sharpest torments to complain of cruelty, while we are under the hand of the surgeon; but especially if our father be the surgeon. So that this is a third reason to allay our fears of all miseries that may be inflicted by men, because they are overruled by the omnipotent arm of a merciful God.
(4.) The good that may be extracted out of such miseries as are inflicted by men, is often greater than the evil that is endured in them; therefore they are not to be feared, but rather prudently to be managed. The evil that is in them can only affect the body; but the good of them may really benefit the soul. We know vipers afford materials for the best medicines, as well as the strongest poison; and therefore as they are avoided by the fearful passenger, so they are sought for by the skilful physician. There is a spiritual Christianity, by which a soul may extract such an elixir out of worldly crosses, bring such a sight out of darkness, that they may prove greater comforts than ever they were troubles. I could instance in every particular calamity; 475but I shall pitch only upon one, which is virtually all, and that is death. Let us here rank the evils of it on one side, and the good of it on the other; and then see whether it may more deservedly exercise our fears, or incite our joys. Death puts a divorce between thy soul and thy body: yes, but it also separates between thy soul and thy sins. It snatches thee out of this world; but it translates thee into a better. It takes thee from converse with men; but then it lodges thee in the society of angels. It bereaves thee of the pleasures of life; but it also frees thee from the troubles of life. The emolument of it does so far overbalance the evil of it, that a Christian may, with much resolution, defy any persecutor; and instead of trembling under the fear of death, triumphantly cry out with Paul, For me to die is gain.
(5.) The fear of these evils seldom prevents them before they come, and never lessens them when they are come; therefore it is irrational. You must remember, according to the premised distinctions, that I speak of a solicitous, anxious fear; such an one as is, for the most part, attended with a distrust of Providence. Fear is a passion designed by nature for the avoidance of evil; and where it does not enable us to avoid it, but rather augments it, there it is absurd. Continual fear of a calamity before it comes, will exhaust our strength and spirits so far, as to disenable us to grapple with it, when it is come. And this is all we gain by such fear; the burden of an affliction is still the same, and our ability to endure it is made less. As our Saviour said, Can any of us, by taking thought, add one cubit to his stature? So I may say. Can any one, by 476 his solicitous fears, diminish aught from the malice of men, alleviate the pangs of death, or wipe off a reproach? Nay, it oftentimes betrays us into all these evils. Mors et fugacem persequitur virum, says the poet. He that trembles at the very sight of his burden, with what courage will he be able to stand under it? Can the trembling of the lamb keep off or mitigate the rage of the wolf? He that continually torments himself with the fear of an approaching evil, does anticipate his misery, not avoid it. Every strong apprehension of an object is a certain approximation of it to the soul. Fear makes the evil that is feared present to a man, in respect of its trouble, before it can be present in respect of its existence: wherefore it is so far from keeping off a calamity, that it brings it before its time. When Sennacherib approached to Jerusalem with a dreadful army, we read in Isaiah xxxvi. xxxvii. that Hezekiah was amazed, and rent his clothes, and the people trembled. But was it their trembling that kept off the enemy? No; it was not Hezekiah’s fear of his enemy, but his confidence in his God, that did protect him. Thus we see it avails nothing to keep off a calamity. But will it diminish it, when it is actually upon us? No; says Job, the evil that I feared is come upon me, Job iii. 25. Job’s antecedent fear did not at all lighten his present misery. And thus I have shewn the absurdity of this fear, which is a sufficient reason against it; and certainly that which is so notoriously contrary to reason, cannot have any agreement with religion.
(6.) These evils are not to be feared, because the all-knowing God, who knows the utmost of them better than men or angels, has pronounced them not 477to be feared. And certainly we may well venture our lives upon his word, upon which we venture our souls. God is too knowing to be ignorant of the utmost of these things, and too faithful to conceal what he knows. He that made the bow, knows how far it will carry. He that tempered the faculties and powers of man, knows that he did it with such an equality, that one man cannot do more than another can endure. We have God’s word for it, that the tormentors of the body cannot hurt us; and should not this take off all pretence of fear? When our physician tells us that we may venture upon such or such a dish, we may do it with safety and confidence. Hear what encouragement God speaks in the most discouraging cases. Isaiah vii. Two mighty kings invade Ahaz; so that it is said, in the second verse, that his heart was moved and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind. For what in all likelihood could be expected from fury joined with force, but certain ruin and desolation, bloodshed and captivity? Yet God says in the fourth verse, Fear not, neither be faint-hearted. And the reason of it is at hand; for God could easily either divert these evils, as he did, or at least easily enable him to endure them. In Isaiah xliii. 1, 2, God says to Israel, Fear not; when thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. Fire and water are the most dreadful elements; but God bids his children fear not, while they are in the very jaws of these; for he is able to extinguish them, or at least 478 to suspend their force: as he did when the Israelites passed through the seas; and when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, were cast in the fire. In St. James, chap. i. 2, the Spirit bids us count it all joy, when we fall Into divers temptations. By temptations is meant the miseries and tribulations of the world. These things are so far from being just arguments of our fear, that, in God’s esteem, they are real matter of our joy. Now there is no exception that can with any colour be framed against the reports that God himself shall make of any thing. Shall we, then, continue to multiply our fears of these evils, when we have the verdict of truth itself, that they are not to be regarded? when we have his testimony, who is too discerning of the nature of all things to be deceived, and too true to deceive? Now, when we have the deposition of an exact knowledge, joined with an infinite truth, we cannot in reason suspend our belief; and if we entertain a belief of these things, we cannot reasonably retain our fears.
(7.) The greatest of these evils have been endured, and that without fear or astonishment; and therefore they ought not to be feared. This is a maxim of a sure and never-failing verity: Ab actu ad potentiam valet consequentia: That which has actually been endured, may be endured. Experience is for the most part a convincing, but it is always a confirming argument. Examples ought to animate us. Many will venture upon some dangers which before they avoided, after once they have seen some body wade through them. Leaders in an army are not only for the direction, but also for the encouragement of those that follow. Let us take a survey of some examples: and, first, we shall find some 479heathens, who though they were not helped by grace, yet by a bare principle of moral honesty were lifted above the terrors of men. Regulus, rather than falsify his promise, could, with an undaunted courage, endure the barbarous cruelty of the Carthaginians. Socrates, rather than conceal a known truth, could, with much alacrity, suffer an ignominious death. And certainly these examples should make us courageous in the endurement of all worldly misery, if not out of religion, yet at least out of shame. But now, for those that have been elevated by an higher spirit, by a principle of Christianity, I could produce you multitudes, troops of martyrs; some triumphing at the stake; some with joy embracing the gibbet; some cheerfully enduring those torments that others could scarce conceive but with terror. I could instance in those three slighting the furnace and the rage of an incensed tyrant, Dan. in. 18. In Stephen patiently enduring a barbarous death, Acts vii. In Paul enduring almost all that could be endured, 2 Cor. xi. 23-26, &c. The history of his life is the history of his troubles. Now that Spirit, which enabled these he roes to conquer the fear of such miseries, is also ready to enable us. As God calls us to the same duty, so he will afford us the same assistance. Methinks there should be that magnanimity in every Christian, that he should scorn to be outbraved by any, in point of spiritual fortitude; and to make that noble resolution that Nehemiah did, in chap. vi. 11, Should such a man us I flee? I, who have the armour of God, the helmet of faith, the breastplate of righteousness, and the Spirit to be my second, should such a one as I fear? especially when so many have gone before me, both with courage and success? I confess, that is a 480 piece of daring valour, to encounter a new, unknown calamity; but examples and precedents take off from the dread of the greatest misery. And therefore we must know, that although a Christian’s way through these calamities be a strait and narrow way, and so consequently troublesome; yet it is a beaten, trodden way, and therefore not terrible.
And thus much for the first thing, to shew what are those considerations that ought to lessen our fears of these worldly evils: I proceed now to the
Second thing, to shew what is implied in the destruction of the body and soul in hell, which makes it so formidable.
To demonstrate this, I could here enlarge upon several considerations, which, because vulgar, I shall not insist upon. As first, in opposition to the momentary duration of earthly torments, I could op pose the eternity of damnation; which is set forth in scripture by the grimmest representations that can be, by the worm that never dies, Mark ix. 44. Worms are the effects and signs of mortality; but this worm is the token of a miserable eternity. It is also expressed by fire, that is never quenched, in Revelation xiv. 11, And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever. Who can think of eternity, but with horror? who can fancy a perpetuity, but with amazement? All the fear that nature has, is not sufficient to bestow upon such an object. An endless torment it is, such a thing as a man can scarce wield or master in his thoughts. Eternity is that which would make any thing but the enjoyment of God a misery; for since the mind of man is refreshed with variety, what pleasure is there, that a perpetual enjoyment would not 481make loathsome? How dismal then must it needs be, when a perpetuity concurs with a torment! I could here further illustrate the greatness of this misery from the quality of the torments: and that first for their positive part; they are so exquisite, so in tense, that neither eye hath seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive the greatness of them. Every faculty and power of the soul shall be then filled with God’s wrath. We have read, that some have endured the greatest bodily torments without shrinking, without a tear: but there shall be no soul so sturdy, as to be able to endure the torments of hell without eternal weeping and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. If the damned could now and then for a while shift their torments for the greatest that man can inflict, those changes would be so many recreations, so many lucid intervals; such an unspeakable difference is there between these miseries, and those that they shall then endure. I could further shew the greatness of this punishment from the privative part, to wit, the total deprivation of God’s presence, which presence would be able to turn a hell into a heaven, as the want of it would make a heaven become a real hell. The lost, undone sinner shall be then eternally divorced from the embraces of his God; not one act of mercy, not one smile of his countenance to be enjoyed for ever. No company to be had but those that weep under the same miseries, and the company of their cruel, implacable tormentors, who shall execute the wrath of God upon them, for those very sins which they tempted them to: and in the midst of these endless flames not one drop of water to alleviate the rage of them, to relieve the tongue of a distressed Dives. The miseries 482 of hell are yet further set out in scripture by that which of all other evils is the most grievous to the nature of man; and that is, shame and contempt: Dan. xii. 2. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. From these and many other considerations, I could set forth the infinite misery of a condemned estate; but instead of exercising our inventions in describing these miseries, we should do well to exercise our wisdom in avoiding them.
But to pass by these considerations, there is one, I think, that gives weight and a sting to all the rest, and chiefly renders the destruction of the body and soul terrible; and it is this, because the destroying of the body and soul in hell is the utmost that the almighty God can do to a sinner. This is apparent from the opposition that is between the former and the latter part of the verse; for the killing of the body, which is there mentioned as the utmost that man can do, is opposed to the destroying of the body and soul, which from thence is intimated to be the utmost that God can do. Now when an omnipotence shall do its worst; when God shall rally up all the strength that an almighty power is able to inflict, who shall be able to stand under those strokes? Where there is no limitation of the power of him that punishes, there can be no end of the punishment. It is not an earthly judge, a king, a tyrant, but it is a God that we are to contest withal; they are not courts nor armies, but an infinite power that will attack us. All the ingredients that make a thing terrible are wrapt up in this one consideration: for first, here is an irresistible force, and 483then this irresistible force is fired with an implacable anger, both of which are to encounter the greatest weakness joined with the greatest guilt: and when a weak and guilty soul is to deal with an omnipotent, angry God, what is to be expected but the extremity of torment? What thought is able to reach the depth of this misery! When the living God shall cease to be God, then such a soul shall cease to be miserable.
But when I say that the destroying of the body and soul in hell is the utmost that God can do, it may be objected, that a total annihilation of its being would be a greater punishment, and a work that carries in it a greater evidence of God’s power; for it argues a Deity more, to reduce an immortal soul to nothing, than of happy to make it miserable.
To this I answer, that although annihilation argues a greater power, or (to speak more properly) is a greater argument of power, than to render a thing miserable, yet it is not so great a punishment: for punishment is properly the inflicting of the evil of pain, for the evil of sin. But now after annihilation, there remains no being; and where there is no being, there can be no pain; and where there is no pain, there can be no punishment. It is clear therefore, that although the reduction of a being to a nonentity be the certain result of an infinite power; yet the reducing of it to an eternal misery is much the greater penalty. God will (as I may so speak) with one hand hold the soul in life and being, that he may smite it with the other; and that he may exercise his justice in punishing the sinner, he will exert his power in preserving him.
But it may be here further objected, that even in 484 respect of the greatness of the punishment, to annihilate a soul is much more grievous, and consequently a severer punishment, than only to make it eternally miserable. For to be miserable, is only a diminution of being; but to be annihilated, implies a total privation of it. Now since the nature of God is not only the fountain, but also the standard of happiness, by which all created happiness is to be measured; according to our nearness to which perfection, or our distance from it, we are said to be happy or miserable: it is clear, that there is a greater distance between God and no being, than between God and a miserable being. Wherefore it is a greater punishment to be brought to nothing, than to be brought to misery.
In answer to this, I confess that this argument seems metaphysically to conclude. But as to the matter in hand, I shall first oppose our Saviour’s words, which ought to have greater weight with us than all the arguments in the world; who in Matt. xxvi. 24, speaking concerning the damnation of Judas, says, that it had been good for him never to have been born; which words St. Hierome so interprets, Simpliciter dictum est, melius esse non subsistere, quam male subsistere. From whence it is clear that our Saviour judged it much better not to be at all, than to be eternally miserable. And next to our Saviour’s, I could add the judgment of Solomon, Eccles. iv. 1, 2, 3. If Solomon could esteem it better of the two not to have been at all, than to have endured the miseries of this world; how much more did he prefer it before the endurement of those eternal miseries of the world to come!485
(2.) But, in the second place, this maxim, upon which the argument is grounded, to wit, that the degree of diminution is better than the degree of privation; better to be miserable, than not to be at all; does not always hold true, but admits of many exceptions, (as a learned author of our own observes.) And one exception is, when the degree of diminution is more sensitive than the degree of privation. So that this answer falls in with the former; because to be miserable infers a greater pain and grief than simply not to be: therefore it is also the greater punishment, because the nature of punishments consists in the endurement of pain.
And thus I have finished the doctrinal part, wherein I have endeavoured to shew, what it is that may render the greatest miseries that men can bring upon us contemptible, and what it is that represents the destruction of the body and soul so dreadful. I shall now proceed to the
Though the words themselves are an exhortation, and so their own use, yet, to bring you fuller home, I shall repeat the exhortation in one word of serious advice, that when any one is discouraged from duty, or tempted to sin, by any man, or any thing that is in the power of man, (as who is not some time or other?) he would on this side conscientiously ponder man’s inability, and on the other, God’s infinite power to destroy. Shall the frowns of a poor, weak man like ourselves terrify us from duty, more than the anger of the almighty God command us to it? Shall the fear of racks or gibbets more forcibly drive us into the commission of sin, than the thoughts of 486 the never-dying worm and the unquenchable fire keep us from it? Is the sword or prison more terrible than rivers of brimstone kindled by the breath of a sin-revenging God? Js a few days sorrow more dreadful than eternal weepings and waitings? The command lies before us: man says, Break it, or we die; God says, Perform it, or we die eternally. Let us consult, not so much our religion, as our reason; and then fear that which our reason shall tell us is most to be feared. Man, compared with God, is not only not terrible, but very contemptible; it is not his strength, but our weakness, that makes him dreadful. Take him at his best, he had always more infirmity than authority: nay, the greatest and most potent monarch upon earth does not owe so much to his own power, as to his subjects fear, that he is obeyed. But now God, upon the best terms of reason, may challenge our fears: for as an all-sufficiency is the only rational foundation of our hopes, as being that alone which is able to answer all our wants and desires; so an omnipotence is the only rational ground of our fear, as being that alone which is able to destroy our eternal happiness. How many duties have been neglected, how many hideous and vile actions committed, because men have not kept fresh upon their spirits a due apprehension of these things! Is not this the natural language of most hearts? Should I perform such a strict duty, I should be derided. Should I bear testimony to such a truth, I should offend such a great one. Should I testify to such a one’s face of the vanity of his conversation, and the profaneness and frothiness of his discourse, I should disoblige him for ever: I dare not do it, Dare not do it? Then let such an one 487renounce his Christianity, but much more the ministry, or dare to be good when God commands, temporibusque malis ausus es esse bonus. The very heathen poet could make it the greatest and the surest test of sincerity, to embrace virtue in the midst of discouragements; but for a soul to be prevailed upon, by the terrors and persuasions of man, to slight the precepts and threatenings of the great God, what is this but, like that absurd Balaam, to run after the invitation of a mortal king, while God himself stands in the way with a drawn sword to oppose him? He that denies me before men, says Christ, that is, he that is afraid to own me and my ways, according to the strictness of them, in the midst of all the discouragements of the world, him will I also deny before my Father in heaven, Matt. x. 33. He that fears the face of man shall never with any comfort behold the face of God. Shall I draw forth this case in some instances, by which it shall appear, that a due apprehension of the terrors of the Lord, above the terrors of men, has been a preservative against the commission of many sins; and, on the contrary, that a fearing of man more than God has been a cause of the foulest rebellions?
1 . For instances of the first sort: it was a full persuasion of the power of God to destroy beyond the power of the greatest men, that kept Shadrach, Meshech, and Abed-nego from idolatry; that made them own the cause of God in spite of a furnace, in Dan. iii. which I have already mentioned. It was this that kept Joseph from that foul sin of adultery; for without question the solicitations of his mistress were seasoned with threatenings as well as entreaties. But he had his answer ready: How can I do 488 this great wickedness, and sin against God? Gen. xxxix. 9. Here I am threatened with false reproaches, if I refuse to sin; but, on the other hand, God threatens me with eternal miseries, if I do commit it. Here indeed there is a dungeon; but there is a pit from whence there is no recovery. It was this also that caused the apostles to go on preaching the gospel in spite of all persecution, and to answer all the threatenings of men in power, hindering the propagation of it, with this short but pious resolution, Acts v. 29, We ought to obey God rather than men.
2. We shall see how the entertaining of a greater fear of men than of God was the cause of many notorious sins. It was this that caused Saul to neglect the command of God in destroying Amalek, to the ruin of his person and the loss of his kingdom. For in his confession he resolves his sin into the fear of man, as the cause of it, 1 Sam. xv. 24. And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice. It was a sinful fear of men that caused the father of the faithful, even Abraham himself, to stain his conscience with an equivocation little less than a lie, Gen. xx. 2. It was this that caused David to take that indirect, sinful, unbeseeming course for his security, to feign himself mad, 1 Sam. xxi. 13. And last of all, it was the fear of the Jews that plunged Peter into that woful sin of a treble denial of his master, which afterwards cost him so many bitter sighs and tears, Matt. xxvi. I could add many other examples: but since it appears sufficiently from these, how dangerous it is to fear those who can only kill the body, and in the mean time to neglect him 489that is able to destroy the soul, let us press that to our own hearts that Nehemiah did to the nobles of Judah, when they were engaged in the work of the Lord, and much affronted and discouraged by men, in Nehem. iv. 14, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible.
2. I proceed to a second use; where, from the qualification of those persons to whom this exhortation was addressed, who were Christ’s disciples, eleven of which were saints of God, secure as to their eternal [state,] such as were so kept by Christ, as that they could not be lost, John xvii. 12, we thence gather an use of information, that it is not absurd to give cautions and admonitions for the avoiding eternal death, even to those whose salvation is sure, and sealed up in the purpose of God. This is the great argument of those who are enemies to the absolute decree of God’s election, and the certain perseverance of the saints: For, say they, to what purpose do we bid those fear him that is able to destroy their bodies and souls in hell, who are sure never to come to hell? But this exception is not so considerable: for first, though they are sure never to come to hell, by reason of God’s decree, yet they do not always know so much; and men’s fears follow their knowledge and apprehensions. Secondly, by these cautions and admonitions this certainty of salvation is partly procured. If, indeed, we did assert such a certainty of their salvation as did not depend upon the use of means, then indeed this exception of theirs, Why should we use the means? why should we give cautions and admonitions against hell? would conclude something. But since we affirm such a certainty of 490 salvation as depends upon and takes in the use of such means, this argument signifies little.
3. This speaks reproof to that slavish sort of sinners who are men-pleasers. Flattery of men always carries with it a distrust or a neglect of God. If to fear men be prohibited by God, then a servile pleasing of them must be equally hateful to him; forasmuch as this arises from fear. It is the most degenerous and pusillanimous temper of mind that can be. It is ignoble, as thou art a man, and irreligious, as thou art a Christian. Canst thou prostitute an immortal soul to the feeding of the ambition or revenge of a sinful man like thyself, by a servile admiration of his person, and a false accusation of others? How will it upbraid thee with thy former flatteries and thy fears, to see the person now so adored by thee one day as naked and obnoxious before God’s tribunal as thyself, and perhaps answering for many of those injuries that he did to thee! It is to debase thyself, and to betray the privilege and dignity of thy soul, to flatter or fear any man. There is a spiritual grandeur that God would have every soul maintain; and it is below a man to adore or cringe to any thing but his Maker. To this intent, it is the design of the Spirit, throughout the whole scripture, to stain the glory of men with the most undervaluing expressions. Cease from man: for wherein is he to be accounted of? Isa. ii. 22. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, Isa. xli. 14. The life of man is said to be as a vapour, James iv. 14. And certainly, if his life is a vapour, his power cannot be considerable. What is that which the man whom thou so adorest can do for thee? Why, he may perhaps gratify thee with 491some puny gain or preferment. But is he able to speak that comfort to thee that arises from the conscience of a good action? Can he deliver thee from the hand of thy enemies, when God shall deliver thee into it? or can he cause thee to fall under thy enemies, when God shall rescue thee from them? If not, then adore and please him who is able to do these things. Conscientiously pursue that course of life which God has placed thee in, and trust thy concernments with Providence: disdain to step a foot out of it, to gather up the inconsiderable straws of human favours or preferments. The God whom thou servest is able to advance thee.
And remember this exhortation, which, with a little change of the words, makes for the purpose: Please not them who are only able to advance the body, but cannot in the least benefit the soul; but rather make it thy care and business to please him who is able with eternal bliss to advance both body and soul in heaven.
To whom, therefore, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.492
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