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SERMON XCIX.

THE SUPPORT OF GOOD MEN UNDER THEIR SUFFERINGS FOR RELIGION.

Wherefore, let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.—1 Pet. iv. 19.

FROM these words I proposed to consider these three points:

First, That when men do suffer really and truly for the cause of religion, they may, with confidence, commit themselves (their lives, and all that is dear to them) to the peculiar and more especial care of the Divine Providence.

Secondly, This we may do, always, provided that we be careful of our duty, and do what is required on our part; and that neither to avoid sufferings, nor to rescue ourselves out of them, we do any thing contrary to our duty and a good conscience; for this is the meaning of committing ourselves to God in well-doing.

Thirdly, To shew what ground of comfort and encouragement the consideration of God, under the notion of “a faithful Creator,” does afford to us, under all our sufferings for a good cause and a good conscience.

The first of these points I have treated on, at large, in my former discourse; I proceed now to the

Second, namely, When, in all our sufferings for the cause of religion, we may, with confidence and 238good assurance, commit ourselves to the peculiar and more especial care of God’s providence: this is to be understood, always provided that we be careful of our duty, and do what is required on our part; and that neither to avoid sufferings, nor to rescue ourselves out of them, we do any thing contrary to our duty and a good conscience. And this, I told you, was the meaning of committing ourselves to God in well-doing: for if we either neglect our duty, or step out of the way of it by doing things contrary to it, the providence of God will not be concerned to bear us out in such sufferings. So that in our sufferings for the cause of God and religion, to commit ourselves to him in well doing, may reasonably comprehend in it these following particulars:

1. Provided always, that we neglect no lawful means of our preservation from sufferings, or our deliverance out of them: in this case, men do not commit themselves to the providence of God, but cast themselves out of his care and protection; they do not trust God, but tempt him, and do, as it were, try whether he will stand by us when we desert ourselves, and bring us out of trouble when we would take no care, would use no endeavours to prevent it. If we will needlessly provoke trouble, and run ourselves upon sufferings; if we will neglect ourselves, and the lawful means of our preservation; if we will give up, and part with those securities of our religion which the providence of God and the laws of our country have given us; if we ourselves will help to pull down the fence which is about us; if we will disarm ourselves, and by our own act expose ourselves naked and open to danger and sufferings; why should we think, in this case, that God 239will help us, when we would not help ourselves by those lawful ways which the providence of God hath put into our hands?

All trust in God, and dependance upon his providence, does imply that we join prayer and endeavour together; faith in God, and a prudent and diligent use of the means: if we lazily trust the providence of God, and so cast all our care upon him, as to take none at all ourselves, God will take no care of us. In vain do we rely upon the wisdom, and goodness, and power of God; in vain do we importune and tire Heaven with our prayers to help us against our enemies and persecutors, if we ourselves will do nothing for ourselves; in vain do we hope that God will maintain and defend our religion against all the secret contrivances and open assaults of our enemies, if we, who are united in the profession of the same religion, and in all the essentials of faith and worship, will for some small differences in lesser matters, which are of no moment, in comparison of the things wherein we are agreed: I say, if for such slight matters we will divide and fall out among ourselves; if, when the enemy is at the gates, we will still pursue our heats and animosities, and will madly keep open those breaches which were foolishly made at first, what can we expect, but that the common enemy should take the advantage and enter in at them; and, whilst we are so unseasonably and senselessly contending with one another, that they should take the opportunity which we give them to destroy us all.

2. Provided, likewise, that we do not attempt our own preservation or deliverance from suffering, by evil and unlawful means: we must do nothing that is contrary to our duty and to a good conscience, 240nor comply with any thing, or lend a helping hand thereto, that apparently tends to the ruin of our religion, neither to divert nor put off sufferings for the present, nor to rescue ourselves from under them; because we cannot with confidence commit ourselves to the providence of God, but in well-doing.

This is an eternal rule, from whence we must in no case depart: that men must do nothing contrary to the rules and precepts of religion, no, not for the sake of religion itself: we must not break any law of God, nor disobey the lawful commands of lawful authority, to free ourselves from any sufferings whatsoever; because the goodness of no end can sanctify evil means and make them lawful: we must not speak deceitfully for God, nor lie, no, not for the truth; nor kill men, though we could thereby do God and religion the greatest service. And though all the casuists in the world should teach the contrary doctrine (as they generally do in the church of Rome), yet I would not doubt to op pose to all those the single authority of St. Paul, who expressly condemns this principle, and brands it for a damnable doctrine—that evil may be done by us that good may come. (Rom. iii. 8.) “And not as we be slanderously reported, and, as some affirm, that we say, Let us do evil that good may come, whose damnation is just.” St. Paul, it seems, looked upon it as a most devilish calumny to insinuate that the Christian religion gives the least countenance to such damnable doctrines and doings as these; and pronounceth their damnation to be just, who either teach any such principle, as the doctrine of Christianity, or practise according to it.

Let those look to it, who teach that a right intention and a good end will render things, which are 241otherwise evil and unlawful, not only lawful to be done by us, but in many cases meritorious; especially where the good of the church and the extirpation of heresy are more immediately concerned. Of this nature are the doctrines of equivocation and mental reservation, and the lawfulness of such artificial ways of lying to avoid the danger of the law, when they are brought before heretical magistrates; and this is the common doctrine of the most learned casuists of all orders in the church of Rome: and such, likewise, are their doctrines of the lawfulness of extirpating heretics by the most barbarous and bloody means, and of breaking faith with them, though given by emperors and princes in the most public and solemn manner: both which are the avowed doctrines of their general councils, and have frequently been put in practice, to the destruction of many millions of Christians, better and more righteous than themselves. But we “have not so learned Christ,” who have heard him, and been taught by him as the truth is in Jesus. They, who are rightly instructed in the Christian religion, are so far from thinking it lawful to do any thing that is evil to bring others under suffering, that they do not allow it in any case whatsoever; no, not for the cause of God and religion, and to free themselves from the greatest sufferings that can be inflicted upon them.

.3. Provided, also, that we do trust the providence of God, and do indeed commit ourselves to it; relying upon his wisdom and goodness, and entirely submitting and resigning up ourselves to his will and disposal, both as to the degree and the duration of our sufferings; believing that he will do that for us which, upon the whole matter, and in the final issue 242and result of things, will be best for us. That blessing wherewith Moses, the man of God, blessed the people of Israel before his death, doth belong to all good men in all ages: “He loveth his people, and all his saints are in his hand.” (Deut. xxxiii. 3.) Innumerable are the promises in Scripture concerning the merciful providence and goodness of God towards those who trust in him, and “hope in his mercy.” (Psal. xxxii. 10.) “Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about.” (Psal. xxxiii. 18-22.) “Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him; upon them that hope in his mercy: to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waiteth for the Lord: he is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in him: because we have trusted in his holy name. Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.” (Psal. xxxiv. 22.) “The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants, and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.” (Psal. xxxvii. 39, 40.) “But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord; he is their strength in the time of trouble. And the Lord shall help them and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them because they trust in him.” (Psal. xxxi. 19.) “O how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men.” (Psal. lv. 22.) “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Psal. cxxv. i.) “They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever.” (Isa. xxvi. 3, 4.) “Thou wilt 243keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.”

4. Provided yet further, that we pray earnestly to God for his gracious help and assistance, for his merciful comfort and support under sufferings; that he would be pleased to strengthen our faith, and to increase and lengthen out our patience, in proportion to the degree and duration of our sufferings.

All the promises which God hath made to us are upon this condition, that we earnestly seek and sue to him for the benefit and blessing of them. (Psal. l. 15.) “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” (Ezek. xxxvi. 37.) After a great deliverance, and many blessings promised to them, this condition is at last added, “Thus saith the Lord God, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.” And this, likewise, is the tenor of the promises of the New Testament: (Matt. vii. 7.) “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” And in this very case that lam speaking of, God expects that we should apply ourselves to him for spiritual wisdom and grace, to behave ourselves under sufferings as we ought: Jam. i. 2, 3, 4. Where speaking” of the manifold temptations the Christians would be exercised withal, he directs them to pray to God for wisdom to demean themselves under persecutions, with patience, and constancy, and cheerfulness. “My brethren, account it all joy, when you fall into divers temptations; (meaning the temptations and trials of suffering in several kinds) knowing this, that the trial of your faith worketh patience. 244But let patience have its perfect work.” And because this is a very difficult duty, and requires a great deal of spiritual skill, to demean ourselves under sufferings as we ought, therefore he adds in the next words, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

And this earnest application we are to make to God, for his grace and seasonable help in time of need; not to put him in mind of his promise, but to testify our dependance upon him, and expectation of all good from him. And we must likewise use great importunity in our prayers to God, to assist us and stand by us in the day of trial, and the hour of temptation. And therefore our Saviour heaps up several words, to denote the great earnestness and importunity which we ought to use in prayer, bid ding us to ask, and seek, and knock. And, to shew that he lays more than ordinary weight upon this matter, and to encourage our importunity, he spake two several parables to this purpose: the first, (Luke xi. 5.) of the man who by mere importunity prevailed with his friend to rise at midnight to do him a kindness, which our Saviour applies to encourage our importunity in prayer: (ver. 9.) “And I say unto you, ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” The other is the parable of the importunate widow and unjust judge, related by the same evangelist, (Luke xviii. 1.) with this preface to it; and “he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” And, to speak the truth, they seem, at first sight, two of the oddest of all our Saviour’s parables; as if the design of them were to insinuate to us, that God is to be prevailed upon by 245the mere importunity of our prayers to grant our requests: but our blessed Saviour, who best knew his own meaning, tells us, that all that he designed by it, was only to signify, that we “ought always to pray, and not to faint;” that is, to “continue instant in prayer,” and not to give over after once asking, as if we despaired of prevailing. Not that mere importunity prevails with God to give us those things which he is otherwise unwilling to grant; but because it becomes us to be fervent, and earnest, to testify our faith and confidence in the goodness of God, and the deep sense we have of our own weakness, and wants, and unworthiness; and, likewise, that we set a true value upon the blessings and favours of God, as worth all the earnestness and importunity we can use: and, in this decent and sober sense, the success of our prayers may truly be said to depend upon our importunity; not that it is necessary to move God to grant our requests, but that it becomes us to be thus a fleeted, that we may be the more fitly qualified for the grace and mercy which God is willing to confer upon us.

I have been the longer upon this, to give us a right notion of this matter, and that we may the more distinctly understand the true reason why our Saviour does require so much earnestness and importunity of prayer on our part; not at all to work upon God, and to dispose him to shew mercy to us (for that he is always inclinable to, whenever we are fit for it), but only to dispose and qualify us to receive the grace and mercy of God with greater advantage to ourselves.

5. Provided, moreover, that we be not confident of ourselves, and of the force and strength of our resolution. We know not ourselves, nor the frailty mid weakness of our own revolution, till we are tried. It 246is wise advice which Solomon gives us, and never more seasonable than in the day of trial: (Prov. iii. 5, 6, 7.) “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding; in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths; be not wise in thine own eyes;” that is, be not conceited and confident of thine own wisdom and strength, or ability in any kind; there is a secret providence of God, which mingles itself with the actions and spirits of men, and disposeth of us unknown to ourselves; and what we think to be the effect of our own strength and resolution, of our own wisdom and contrivance, proceeds from a higher cause, which, unseen to us, does steer and govern us. So the wise man observes: (Prov. xx. 24.) “Man’s goings are of the Lord, how can a man then understand his own ways?” And therefore we have reason every one to say with the prophet: (Jer. x. 23.) “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” Our feet will soon slip, if God do not uphold us by his hand. Remember how shamefully the chief of our Lord’s disciples miscarried, by too much confidence in himself—I mean St. Peter; in whose fall we may all see our own frailty: if God do but permit the devil to have the winnowing of us, there will be a great deal of chaff found in the best of us. What St. Paul said of himself, (2 Cor. xii. 10.) “When I am weak, then am I strong;” we shall all find true, when it comes to the trial: we are then strongest, when, in a just sense of our own weakness, we rely most upon the strength and power of God.

6. Provided furthermore, that, according to our ability, we have been much in the exercise of alms and charity. For well-doing, or doing good, is sometimes 247taken in a narrower sense, not improper here to be mentioned, though perhaps not so particularly intended here in the text for works of charity and alms. As, (Heb. xiii. 16.) “But to do good, and to communicate (that is, to the necessities of the poor) forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” This kind of well-doing is a special preservative in times of evil; there is no kind of grace or virtue to which there are in Scripture more special promises made, of our protection and preservation from evil and suffering, of support and comfort under them, and deliverance out of them, than to this of a charitable and compassionate consideration of those who labour under want or suffering. (Psal. xxxvii. 3.) “Trust in the Lord, and do good, so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed:” and (ver. 19.) speaking of righteous or merciful men, “they shall not be ashamed in the evil time, and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.” (Psal. xli. 1, 2.) “Blessed is he that considereth the poor, the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble; the Lord will preserve him, and keep him alive, and he shall be blessed upon the earth; and thou wilt not deliver him into the will of his enemies.”

There are, likewise, in the apocryphal books, excellent sayings for the encouragement of charity, as that which will be particularly considered and rewarded to us in the times of danger and distress, in the days of affliction and suffering. (Tob. iv. 7-10.) “Give alms of thy substance, and turn not thy face from any poor man, and the face of God shall not be turned away from thee; if thou hast abundance, give alms accordingly; if thou hast but a little, be not afraid to give according to that little, for thou layest up for thyself a good treasure against the day 248of necessity, because that alms do deliver from death, and suffereth not to come into darkness.” (Ecclus. iii. 31.) Speaking of him that gives alms, and is ready to do kindness to others: “He is mindful of that which may come hereafter; and when he falleth he shall find a stay.” And, (chap. xxix. 11, 12, 13.) “Lay up thy treasure according to the commandment of the Most High, and it shall bring thee more profit than gold; shut up alms in thy store-houses, and it shall deliver thee from all affliction; it shall fight for thee against thine enemies, better than a mighty shield and strong spear.”

I have often said it, and am verily persuaded of it, that one of the best signs of God’s mercy and favour to this poor nation is, that God hath been pleased, of late years, to stir up so general a disposition in men to works of alms and charity, and thereby to revive the primitive spirit of Christianity, which so eminently abounded in this grace, and taught those who believed in God to be “careful to maintain and practise good works.” And nothing gives me greater hopes that God hath mercy still in store for us, than that men are so ready to shew mercy: there are great objects to exercise our charity upon in this time of the general suspension of trade and business, from an apprehension of approaching troubles; by reason whereof, both the numbers and necessities of our poor are greatly and daily increased among us; and, besides, the poor of our own nation, God has sent us great numbers from abroad, I mean those who are fled hither for shelter from that violent storm of persecution which hath lately fallen upon them for the cause of our common religion. According to the compassion we shew to them, we may expect that God will 249either preserve us from the like sufferings, or graciously support us under them. What do we know but that God is now trying us, and hath purposely put this opportunity into our hands of preventing, or mitigating, or shortening, our own sufferings, according as we extend our charity and pity to those who have suffered so deeply for the cause of God and his truth?

7. Provided, in the last place, and above all, that we be sincere in our religion, and endeavour to be universally good, and “holy in all manner of conversation,” and “to abound in all the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of God.” This is the largest sense of well-doing, and the most necessary of all the rest, to prepare us for sufferings, and to give us courage and constancy under them; and likewise to engage the providence of God to a tender care of us, and concernment for us, if he shall see it fit to bring us into a state of suffering.

But if we live in open contempt and violation of God’s laws, if we make no conscience of our ways and actions, we cannot possibly have any well-grounded trust and confidence in God; for he hates all the workers of iniquity, and his providence sets itself against them for evil. Bad men draw many mischiefs and inconveniences upon themselves, as the natural consequences of their actions; but, besides this, the vengeance of God haunts and pursues evil-doers; and his just providence many times involves them in many difficulties and dangers, besides and beyond the natural course of things. “Upon the wicked (says David) he will rain snares:” so that, as ever we expect the comfortable effects of 250the Divine care and providence, we must live in a dutiful obedience to God’s holy will and laws.

Bad men may make a profession of the true religion, and may in some sort believe it, though they do not live according to it; and yet, perhaps, for all this, out of a mere generosity and obstinacy of mind, they cannot bear to be threatened and terrified out of the profession of the truth; and will endure a great deal of trouble and inconveniences before they will renounce it, knowing themselves to be so far in the right that they stand for the truth, and hoping, perhaps, thereby to make some amends for their bad practice. But, when all is done, nothing gives a man true courage and resolution like the testimony of our own hearts, concerning our own sincerity, and the conscience of well-doing. And, on the contrary, he that hath not the resolution and patience to mortify his lusts, and to restrain his appetites, and to subdue his irregular passions for the sake of God and religion, will not easily bring himself to submit to great sufferings upon that account. There is considerable difficulty in the practice of religion, and the resolute course of a holy life; but surely it is much easier to live as religion requires we should do, than to lay down our lives for it; and (as I have told you upon another occasion), he that cannot prevail with himself to live like a saint, will much more hardly be persuaded to die a martyr. I proceed to the

Third point, namely, What ground of comfort and encouragement the consideration of God, under the notion of a faithful Creator, does afford to us, under all our sufferings, for a good conscience and a good cause. “Let them that suffer according to the will 251of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.” And in this I shall be very brief.

And this is a firm ground of comfort and encouragement to us, under all our sufferings for God, to consider him as the Author of our beings, or as it is expressed in the text, as “a faithful Creator;” one that is not fickle and inconstant in his affection and kindness to his creatures, but is true to his own design, and will not abandon and forsake the work of his own hands: so great a benefit as that of our beings, freely conferred upon us, is but an earnest of God’s further kindness to us, and future care of us; if, by our ill carriage towards him, we do not render ourselves unworthy and incapable of it; that we are God’s creatures, is a demonstration that he hath a kindness for us: if he had not, he would never hare made us; as it is excellently said in the Wisdom of Solomon: (chap. xi. 23, 24.) “Thou hast mercy upon all, for thou lovest all the things that are, and abhorrest nothing which thou hast made; for never wouldst thou have made any thing if thou hadst hated it.” And, (ver. 26.) “Thou sparest all, for they are thine, O Lord, thou lover of souls.”

To whom then may we with so much confidence commit ourselves, as to him who freely gave us our being? From whom may we expect so tender a regard and consideration of our case, and all the circumstances of it, as from this great founder and benefactor? For he that made us knows our frame, and whereof we are made, and how much we are able to bear; he considers our strength, or rather our weakness, and what courage and resolution he hath endued us withal, and what comfort 252and support we stand in need of in the day of tribulation. And as they who make armour are wont to try that which they think to be good and well-tempered with a stronger charge not to break and hurt it, but to prove and praise it, so God exerciseth those whom he hath fitted and tempered for it, with manifold temptations, “that the trial of their faith,” as St. Peter expresseth it, (1 Pet. i. 7.) “being much more precious than of gold tried in the fire, may be found unto praise, and honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”

So that this consideration, that we are God’s creatures, does (as I may say) oblige him in faithfulness to his own act, and in consequence of his bringing us into being at first, to be concerned for us after wards, so as never to abandon us, nor quite to take away his loving-kindness and mercy from us, till we are good for nothing, and do in a manner cease to be what he made us, that is, reasonable creatures. A person or people must have proceeded to the utmost degree of degeneracy, when God will consider them no longer as his creatures, nor shew any pity or favour to them; things must be come to extremity, when God deals thus with us, as he threatened the people of Israel: (Isaiah xxvii. 11.) “When the boughs are withered, they shall be broken off, and set on fire; for it is a people of no understanding: therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no favour.”

And now I have done with the three points which I proposed to handle from this text; and the discourse which I have made upon them, does all along apply itself, by directing us how we ought to commit ourselves to the providence of God in all 253cases of danger and suffering, especially for the cause of God and his truth; viz. in the faithful discharge of our duty and a good conscience, and by a firm trust and confidence in the wisdom and goodness of the Divine Providence, not doubting but that he who made us, and knows our frame, will have a tender care of us, and “not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able.”

And as to our present danger, and that terrible storm which threatens us, let us pray to God, if it be his will, to divert it; but if otherwise he hath determined, to tit and prepare us for it. And let us be fervent and earnest in our prayers to him, not that he is moved by our importunity, but that we may thereby be qualified and made fit to receive the mercy which we beg of him.

And let us take this occasion to do that which we should have done without it, to break off our sins by repentance, and to turn every one of us from the evil of our ways; that hereby we may render God propitious to us, and put ourselves under the more immediate care and protection of his providence; that we may prevent his judgments, and turn away his wrath and displeasure from us, as he did once from a great and sinful city and people, upon their sincere humiliation and repentance, (Jonah iii. 10.) where it is said of the people of Nineveh, that “God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, and God repented of the evil that he had said he would do unto them, and he did it not.” Above all, let us be sincere in the profession of our religion, and conscientious in the practice of it; no thing will bear us up under great trials and sufferings, like “the testimony of a good conscience, void of offence towards God and towards men.”

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I will conclude this whole discourse with those apostolical blessings and prayers: (Col. i. 10, 11.) “That ye may walk worthy of the Lord, unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, strengthened with all might according to his glorious power, unto all patience, and long-suffering, with joyfulness.” And, (2 Thess. ii. 16, 17.) “Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, who hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good work. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.” Amen.

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