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THE LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST CONSIDERED AS OUR EXAMPLE.
Leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.—1 Pet. ii. 21.
I HAVE considered our Saviour’s example as an universal pattern, calculated for all persons, times and places; and this I illustrated in these particulars:
1. That it was a pattern to us of the greatest and most substantial virtues.
2. Of such as are most rare and unusual.
3. Of such as are most useful and beneficial to others: I proceed to the particulars, which remain to be spoken to.
4. Our Saviour is likewise a pattern to us of such virtues as are most hard and difficult to be practised, such as are most against the grain of our corrupt nature, and most contrary to flesh and blood.
Every virtue is then hard and difficult, when it either contradicts the strong inclinations of nature, or meets with powerful temptations to the contrary.
The virtues which thwart the inclinations of human nature, are comprehended under the general name of self-denial; the denial of ourselves in those things which are commonly dearest to men; such are our own life, our pleasure or ease, our reputation: in all these, our blessed Lord hath given us the greatest example of self-denial that ever was; he denied his own life, and gave up himself wholly to 250the will of God, to do and suffer whatever he thought fit to impose upon him. So he himself tells us: (John v. 30.) “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which sent me:” and, (John vi. 38.) “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” And when he was in that great agony, on the apprehension of his approaching sufferings, at which nature did start, and when that bitter cup, that cup of astonishment was put into his hand, though he would have been glad to have declined it, if God had thought fit; yet, upon the whole matter, he submitted to it, and renounced his own will, the strongest inclination of nature that could be, in obedience to the will of God. (Matt. xxvi. 39.) “He fell on his face and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt:” and, (ver. 42.) “He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” Here was a great conflict; nature declined those dreadful sufferings which were coming upon him, and would have shrunk back: but he considered his duty, and made his inclination yield to it.
And he did not only deny his own will in obedience to the will of God, for which there is so great and invincible reason; but he denied it likewise in compliance and condescension to the prejudices, and humours, and infirmities of men, for their edification and good. So St. Paul tells us, and propounds our Lord herein to us for a pattern. (Rom. xv. 2, 3.)
He denied himself in the lawful pleasures and satisfactions, in the ease and accommodations of 251life: he lived meanly, and fared hardly; he possessed and enjoyed none of the good things of this world, and endured all the evils of it; he despised riches, and the pomp and pride of life, and contented himself with a poor and destitute condition, “having not where to lay his head,” nor wherewithal to support nature, and to defray the common tribute, without a miracle. And he did not submit to this poor and mean condition upon necessity, for “he was Lord of all;” he made the world, and it was all his own, upon the highest right and title: but he voluntarily embraced it, “being rich, for our sake he became poor,” that he might wean us from the love of these things, and be an effectual example to us of the contempt of worldly wealth and greatness.
And he denied himself likewise in one of the dearest and tenderest things in the world, to the wisest and greatest minds, I mean in point of reputation: “he made himself of no reputation,” says St. Paul, (Phil. ii. 7.) ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσε, “he emptied himself.” To submit to contempt, is to empty one’s self indeed: reputation being one of the last things a generous mind would be content to forego, and that which some have held in equal dearness and esteem with life itself; yet in this our Lord denied himself, and, that he might do good to mankind, was contented to be esteemed one of the worst of men; and without any kind of cause and desert, to undergo all manner of obloquy and reproach, to be accounted a magician and impostor, “a friend and companion of publicans and sinners;” a seducer of the people, a seditious person, and more worthy of the most cruel and shameful death than the greatest malefactor. Thus was the Son of God contented to 252be set below the worst of men, to be abased and vilified, that he might be a perfect pattern to us of this difficult virtue of self-denial, even in those things which are held in greatest esteem among the best of men.
And surely in no case is example more necessary than in this, to animate and encourage us in the discharge of so difficult a duty, so contrary to the bent and inclination of our nature. A bare precept of self-denial in these things, and a peremptory command to sacrifice our own wills, our ease, our pleasure and reputation, yea, and life itself, to the glory of God, and the good of men, would have sounded very harsh and severe, had not the practice of all this been exemplified in a pattern of so much advantage: one who, in all these respects denied himself much more than is possible for us to do, who might have insisted upon a greater right, who abased himself, and stooped from a greater height and dignity, who did not submit to a condition of poverty and meanness when it was unavoidable, but chose it; who submitted to suffering, though he never deserved it, and who met with all the contempt and reproach imaginable, whilst he truly deserved the greatest esteem and reputation. Here is an example that hath all the argument, and all the encouragement that can be to the imitation of it. Was he, who had so regular a will and inclination, contented to have it crucified and thwarted? did he, who had an unquestionable right to all the riches and enjoyments of the world, renounce them all, and embrace poverty? did he, to whose deep wisdom and judgment all mankind ought to submit, condescend to the weakness of others, and not please himself? did he, who never did the least 253thing in his whole life that might justly stain or blemish his reputation, patiently bear all sorts of contumely and reproach? And shall we think much to deny ourselves in any of these? Such an example is of greater force and authority than any precept or law. Well might our Lord, thus going before us, command us to follow him, saying: “If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” If he thus denied himself, well may we, who have much less to deny, and much more reason and cause to do it; for, as he argues, “the disciple is not greater than his master, nor the servant than his lord.” He did it voluntarily and of choice; it is our duty: he did it for our sakes; we do it for our own: we did not deserve it of him; but he hath merited it of us.
Our Lord did not, like the pharisees, give strict precepts to .others, which they themselves did not follow. “They said, and did not; laid heavy bur dens upon others, and grievous to be borne, when they themselves would not touch them with one of their fingers:” nor like the philosophers, who spake fine and glorious things of goodness and virtue, but did much like other men; gave strict rules to others, but lived loosely themselves; and therefore it is no wonder that their discourses had so little effect upon the lives and manners of men, and were so unavailable to the reformation of the world. Precepts of great strictness and severity, are like to be obeyed very slowly and faintly, unless they be sweetened and made easy by the familiar practice of those that give them. In a way that is rugged and difficult, full of trouble and danger, it is not enough to bid men go on; but he that bids them, must go before them, and take them by the hand, and give them 254an example to follow his steps; without this, rules and precepts are very dry things, and give but faint and cold encouragement. Cæsar’s example prevailed much more upon his soldiers than his word of command. No man ever discoursed better of magnanimity and greatness of mind, in great dangers and calamities, than Tully does; and yet when it come to the trial, no man ever behaved himself more faintly, and shewed greater dejection of mind, than he did; so that it is hard to say, whether his discourses are more apt to raise, or his example to damp, a man’s spirit. Seneca writes with wonderful wit and smartness, with great fineness and force of argument, about the contempt of the world and wealth; but then, to consider how he flowed in wealth himself, and how intent he was to heap up riches beyond measure, would make a man more apt to despise him than the world. So necessary is it that precepts, especially of great difficulty, should be backed and enforced by example, and that severe rules should be mollified, and made easy by the practice of those who prescribe them. And this our Lord took particular care to do in those precepts of his, which seem to offer the greatest violence to the common bent and inclination of human nature.
And so he did likewise in those virtues which are so difficult upon the account of temptation from without, as well as of inclination from within. Not to insist upon his firm resistance of all the temptations to ambition, which made not the least impression upon him; the offer of the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, had no influence upon him. He was sometimes in great favour with the people, and mightily applauded by them, for speaking 255as never man spake, and doing such things as no man ever did: but he was as little moved by their applause, as he was dejected by their reproaches. When the people would have made him king, to qualify him the better, as they thought, to be the Messias, he would not take so much notice of the offer as to refuse it, but silently withdrew himself, that they knew not where to find him.
But that which I shall particularly take notice of, under this head, is his great meekness; which is a very difficult virtue, if we consider the peevishness and infirmity of the human nature, and the frequent temptations to passion and anger, which occur in human life, and these very sudden and surprising; so that there is nothing wherein wise men do oftener betray their own weakness, than in the matter of sudden anger. Moses, the greatest of all the prophets that had been, and who it seems was naturally of a meek temper, having this testimony given him by the Spirit of God, that he was the meekest man upon earth; yet he miscarried in this matter, and not being able to bear the continual perverseness of that people, lost his temper, and fell into an irregular passion. But our blessed Lord, whose temper was perpetually assaulted with the highest provocations in all kinds, still maintained the evenness and meekness of his spirit.
The dulness and slowness of his disciples, to understand and believe what he had so plainly taught, and so often inculcated upon them, was a great trial of patience; which yet provoked him no farther, than to a just rebuke of their fault. The hardest words he ever gave them, were: “O unwise and slow of heart to believe! how long shall I suffer you?” And when he was in the height of his 256sorrow and trouble, and his disciples were so un concerned for him, as to fall asleep, in the same breath that he reproves their drowsiness, he makes an excuse for it: “Can ye not watch with me one hour? The spirit indeed is willing; but the flesh is weak.” This carriage from his friends and followers, when he stood in most need of their comfort and assistance, and “his soul was exceeding sorrowful, even to the death,” was a great temptation to anger, especially falling upon a sore and afflicted mind; and yet it was so far from provoking his anger, that it rather moved his pity toward them.
His sharp reproofs of the scribes and pharisees, were but a necessary severity, and a just expression of his indignation at the fulsome hypocrisy of such great pretenders to piety and devotion; for he knew their hearts. His whipping of the buyers and sellers out of the temple, the only action of his life in which there appears any transport of anger, was no other than a becoming zeal for the honour of God’s house, which he saw so notoriously profaned; which zeal was warranted, after the example of Phineas, by the extraordinary occasion of it. In all his other actions, he was perfectly meek and lowly in spirit, void of pride, one of the chief causes of inordinate anger. We cannot say he was never angry; but whenever he was so, which was very seldom, he sinned not; it was upon great and just occasion, and never to any undue degree.
And this is the more remarkable, because he was very apt to receive the impressions of other passions; of love and pity, which easily moved him to kindness and compassion. He could not forbear to weep, when he saw Lazarus’s friends lamenting 257over his grave, though he knew the cause of their sorrow would soon be removed and turned into joy, by his resurrection to life. Nay, he had not only this tenderness towards his friends, but even to his greatest enemies. When he looked upon Jerusalem, and foresaw the terrible revenge that God would take upon his enemies and murderers, and beheld at a great distance the dreadful calamities that were coming upon them, he could not refrain from tears. He allowed himself in these innocent and human passions; but where there was danger of transgressing, as there is in no passion more than that of anger, he was continually upon his guard, and governed himself with great care, and never gave way to it, but upon evident and just occasion; and was never transported to any undue degree.
And yet he lived and died almost under continual provocations to it; not only from his friends and followers, but from all soils of persons, provocations of the highest nature: if the most spiteful reproaches and injurious usage, and the most cruel persecutions and sufferings from the hands of those whom he had by all ways endeavoured to oblige; if the contradiction of sinners, whom he came to save; in a word, if the greatest malice, accompanied with the highest ingratitude; if any, if all of these be provocations of a high nature, he was almost continually, living and dying, exercised with these. And how did he demean himself in the midst of all these provocations? with the greatest meekness and mildness imaginable, answering their bitterest reproaches and cruellest usage either with calm reasonings or with meek silence; that, by the reasonableness and meekness of his answers and carriage, he might 258either convince or mollify them. When his enemies charged him with the profanation of the sabbath, he only reasons the matter fairly with them, asking them, whether it was “lawful to do good or to do evil on the sabbath-day?” telling them, that “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath?” bidding them go and learn what that means, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” When they accused him for being a magician, and “casting out devils by the prince of the devils,” he convinceth them, by reason, that this was a malicious and groundless charge, telling them, that “a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand;” and that if he by Satan cast out Satan, his kingdom was divided against itself, and must fall. When they upbraided him for companying with publicans and sinners, he justifies the thing, by telling them, that “the whole have no need of the physician, but the sick;” that “he came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” When they charged him with blasphemy, for saying to the man sick of the palsy, “thy sins be forgiven thee;” he only asks them this question, “Which is easier to say, thy sins be forgiven thee; or, take up thy bed and walk?” When they called him by the odious name of impostor, and seducer of the people, he makes no sharp answer, but appeals to his miracles, and the works which he had done among them, as an unquestionable testimony that he came from God. When they took up stones to throw at him, he opposeth to this hard usage only soft, gentle words, if by that means he might stay their rage: (John x. 32.) “Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of these works do you stone me?” Thus, upon all occasions, he answers 259their malice and rage, not with boisterous passion, but by calm reason and argument; and, notwithstanding it had little effect, he continues this way to the last, and as the malice of his enemies was invincible, so was his meekness. In his last sufferings, when he was so rudely and injuriously treated at his trial, and one of the high priest’s officers struck him in the open face of the court, he only says to him, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?” What could be said more meekly? What more reasonably? And when, in the extremity of his sufferings, the high priests, and the soldiers, and the people, all joined together to revile him, and insult over his misery in the most barbarous and cruel manner; instead of breaking out into passion in this anguish of his soul, he pours out his prayers to God on their behalf, and makes the most charitable excuse and apology for them that their crime was possibly capable of: “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do.” While he felt the bitter effects of their malice, he imputes it to their ignorance. Here is an example of meekness fit for the Son of God to give, and much more fit for the sons of men to follow; for, as the wise son of Syrach says excellently, “Pride was not made for men, nor furious anger for him that was born of a woman.”
And having such an example left us of this great virtue, let us do likewise, since, as St. Peter tells us, he suffered, with all this meekness and patience, “to leave us an example that ye might follow his steps; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” When we consider this example, can we resent so highly 260every petty injury and provocation; and upon every slighting word proceed to a challenge and a quarrel, and entertain fierce and implacable thoughts of revenge? When the Son of God with so much meekness endured the continual contradictions of sinners, and put up with such outrageous affronts and indignities from his creatures, those ungrateful wretches, whom he had made, and whom he came to save, and for whom he offered to give that very blood, which they so cruelly and maliciously shed, for the expiation of their guilt.
To all which I shall add, his readiness to forgive injuries, considering the temptations he had to wrath and revenge, from the spiteful reproaches, and injurious calumnies, and continual persecution of his bitter and implacable enemies without a cause; who pursued him with incessant rage and malice, and never gave over until they had wrought his ruin, and by false accusations, and a most violent persecution, and seditious tumults and clamours, they had forced the Roman governor, contrary to his inclination and the convictions of his own mind and conscience, and against all reason and justice, to pass sentence upon him, when he declared he saw nothing in him worthy of death, and to condemn him to a most painful and ignominious death. Nor did their malice end here; but they aggravated his sufferings with scurrilous taunts and reproaches, and all the rudeness and indignities imaginable: and yet all this injurious and cruel usage did not provoke him to one revengeful thought; could not extort from him so much as one peevish, or misbecoming, or threatening word. “When he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.” But, notwithstanding all this provocation, 261he was more ready to forgive the injuries and indignities they put upon him than they could be to offer them, and implored the mercy and forgiveness of God for them as heartily and as earnestly as they had solicited his death and destruction.
It is easy to give precepts of forgiveness, to hid men “love their enemies, bless them that curse them, do good to them that hate them, and pray for them that despitefully use them, and persecute them; and to forgive our brother that offends us, not only to seven times, but to seventy times seven,” without stint and limit: but the practice of this is exceeding difficult; for how hard do we find it to pass by a little provocation, and upon a very small affront and indignity offered to us to suppress the thought and desire of revenge, and to command our passion from breaking out in word or deed? But much more difficult is it perfectly to forgive, to love our enemies, to pray for them, and to be ready to do them good. Such a difficult virtue as this had need of ail sorts of inducements to engage us to the practice of it. And therefore our blessed Lord did not think it enough strictly to enjoin it, and to enforce it upon us by the most powerful considerations, teaching us in our daily prayers to beg mercy and forgiveness of God upon this condition—that we forgive others, and not to hope for it upon other terms; telling us, that as we demean ourselves toward one another in this case of injuries and provocations, so God will deal with us; “if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses.” Nothing can be urged upon us with greater force than this duty is, because upon our 262practice and performance of it all our hopes of mercy and forgiveness from God are suspended. But yet it is difficult after all this; and, therefore, to allure us more powerfully to the practice of it, our Lord hath given us the example of it in the whole course of his life; in which, being continually assaulted with injuries and provocations, he had perpetual occasion for the practice of forgiveness; and that in greater instances, and upon occasion of greater injuries, than any of us are capable of receiving. He who could never stand in need of forgiveness from men, who needed none from God, who had it always in his power to have revenged with ease, and to the utmost, all the provocations and affronts that were offered to him; he who had none of those powerful inducements to forgiveness which we have, was thus ready to forgive; and did it perpetually, upon the greatest, upon innumerable occasions; he forgave his enemies, all their ill-will toward him, and all their vile and malicious usage of him throughout his whole life: but most remark ably at his death, when the provocations were greatest and most violent, when they fell thick and in storms upon him, and when they were most grievous and piercing, in the very agony and anguish of his sufferings; in these hard and pressing circumstances, he was so far from breathing out threatening and revenge against the authors of his. cruel sufferings, that with his last breath he did most effectually declare his free forgiveness of them, and perfect charity toward them, by his fervent prayer to God for them; “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
5. And lastly, Our Saviour is likewise a pattern to us of the most needful virtues, and for the practice 263whereof there is the greatest and most frequent occasion in human life.
Several of these I have already mentioned under the former heads: as sincerity, which hath an universal influence upon all our actions; and is a principal ingredient into all the duties and services which we are to perform to God and men; humility and meekness, for the exercise whereof there is almost continual occasion in all our conversation with others. These have been spoken to, I shall therefore instance in some others, which are likewise of great and frequent use in human life.
(1.) The great humanity of his carriage and deportment, of which he gave manifold instances, in his free and familiar conversation with all sorts of people. He did not despise the meanest. How familiarly did he talk with the woman of Samaria? insomuch that his disciples were offended at it, and “marvelled that he talked with her.” He did not decline the conversation of the worst of men, where he had any hope of making them better by it; and though his companying “with publicans and sinners” was often objected as matter of scandal to him, yet he would not for that reason neglect any opportunity of doing good. He was affable to his inferiors, to the meanest person that had occasion to speak with him; yea, he rebuked his disciples, for forbidding the little children to come to him. They would have kept them from him, because they could not imagine to what purpose they should be permitted to come to him: but though they were not capable of his instructions, yet they were of his kindness and blessing. “He took them up in his arms, and laid his hands upon them, and blessed them;” and he proposed them to 264his disciples as emblems of that innocency and simplicity, without which no man shall enter into the kingdom of God.
His humanity likewise appeared in the tenderness and compassion of his nature, towards all that were in want or misery of any kind. “He healed all manner of sicknesses and diseases among the people, and went about doing good.” And when his followers, by their long attendance upon him hi desert and solitary places to hear his doctrine, were pinched with hunger, he could not find in his heart to dismiss them without some refreshment; and, having no other means, did it by a miracle. He was very apt to sympathize with the condition of others, to weep with them that wept, as he did with the friends of Lazarus over his grave: nay, he had a tenderness for his enemies; when he beheld Jerusalem, and the sad fate which hung over it for their obstinate impenitency, he could not refrain from tears at the thoughts of it.
Another instance of his humanity was his easiness to be entreated, and readiness to yield to the request of those who desired his company, or implored his help and assistance. And as he was most ready to do good to all, so he did not disdain to receive kindness from any; complying cheerfully with the desires of those who invited him to their houses, and accepting kindly any well-intended respect. How did he resent the extraordinary kindness of the devout woman, who poured the box of rich ointment upon his head! taking care that the memory of it should be transmitted to all generations, and proclaimed over the whole world, (Matt. xxvi. 13.)
(2.) Another very needful virtue, and for which 265our Lord was very eminent, was his neglect and disregard of the opinion of men, in comparison of his duty. As he was not affected, much less puffed up, with their applause (which is an argument of a vain and light mind), so was he as little moved with their censures and reproaches, by which he was neither disordered in his passions, nor discouraged from well-doing. He took heed to his duty, and made sure to do the things which pleased God, and was not very solicitous what men said or thought of him. He observed in the pharisees, how great a temptation and hinderance to the receiving of his doctrine an undue regard to the praise and censure of men was: “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God,” as he tells us; (John xii. 43.) and, (chap. v. 44.) “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not, the honour which cometh from God only?” Not that we are to slight and neglect the opinion of others concerning our actions, that is pride and self-conceit; and our Lord himself was not so regardless of his reputation, as not to take great care to give no just occasion of censure, no needless handle to slander and calumny; he vindicated himself upon all occasions, and was ready to give a fair and reasonable account of his actions, to those who found fault with them, nay, even maliciously carped at them; he prudently avoided occasions of offence, and, by wise and cautious answers, many times avoided the snares that were laid to bring him under obloquy and reproach: but in competition with his plain duty, he neither regarded the applause nor censures of men; he complied with them in nothing that was bad, to gain their good opinion and esteem; nor was he hindered and discouraged 266from any thing that was good, for fear of being ill-spoken of, or of having a bad interpretation put upon his good actions.
And this is a virtue very necessary to a good man, especially in bad times, and requires a good degree of fortitude and firmness of resolution to make a man master of it. And it is not more necessary than it is reasonable: for it is not in our power, whether men shall speak well or ill of us; but it is in our power, whether we will do well or ill. It is many times impossible to please men, they are so divided in their opinions about good and evil; but we may make sure to please God, and to gain his praise and approbation, “whose judgment is always according to truth.” It is a vain and endless thing to live up to the humours and opinions of men, which are variable and uncertain; but if we keep steady to our duty, we live to the consciences of men, which first or last will come to themselves, and come over to us, and approve of that which is good. This is, as St. Paul speaks, “to commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”
(3.) Another virtue for which there is great occasion in human life, and for which our Lord was very remarkable, was his contentedness in a mean and poor condition; and such was his condition to the very lowest degree. He was destitute of the ordinary conveniences and necessary supports of life; he lived generally upon the kindness and charity of others, and when that failed, and he wanted ordinary supports, as he often did, he was maintained by miracle: and yet, in this mean and necessitous condition, he had a constant evenness and serenity of mind; he had no anxious care and solicitude 267upon him, “what he should eat, and what he should drink, or wherewithal he should be clothed;” he never murmured at the unequal providence of God, never uttered one discontented or envious word at the plenty and prosperity of others; he rather pitied the misfortune of rich and great men, who were exposed to so many temptations, that it was very hard for them, in his opinion, to be saved; but he enjoyed himself, and served God, and went about doing good, and depended upon the providence of God for his daily food; and if at any time that was wanting, he tells his disciples, that he had meat to eat which they knew not of; for it was his meat and drink to do the will of his Father. By all that appears in the history of his life (and we are sure that it is true), no man was ever poorer, and yet no man ever more contented than he was; which is not only an example of contentedness to those, whom the providence of God hath placed in the extremity of meanness and want, but a much stronger and more forcible argument of contentment in every condition. For discontent is not only the portion of the poor, but of those who have a competency, because they have not plenty; and many times of those who have plenty and abundance, because they are wanton and foolish, and know not what they would have; so that our Saviour, by giving an example of contentment to those of the poorest and meanest condition, hath given it much more to those who are in better circumstances. A narrow fortune is riches in comparison of none; a competency is plenty, compared with poverty, and the want of the ordinary accommodations of life. If the Son of God submitted to the lowest and poorest condition, and bore it with so much evenness and 268tranquillity of mind; well may we-, if God call us to it. If he that was “heir of all things,” was destitute of all things, and well contented to be so; shall we murmur and repine, if we be in the same circumstances? If this example be of any force (as it is certainly of the greatest), should the providence of God see fit to reduce us to the lowest condition of want, we have no reason for discontent; but if he affords us a competency, we have no colour and pretence for it, unless we think ourselves better than the Son of God, and can claim a greater right to the possessions and enjoyments of this world, than he that made it.
Before this example, we might have thought that poverty and meanness had been a sign of God’s hatred and displeasure, or at least an argument of less love and regard: but now that we see him, whom God loved infinitely better than any man in the world, to have been one of the poorest men that ever lived; this is a demonstration, that a man may be entirely beloved of God, though he be in the poorest and most destitute condition; for in such a condition he thought fit to place his beloved Son, “in whom he was well-pleased.” And if poverty be consistent with the highest degree of God’s love and favour, we may bear it contentedly; and if there be reason for contentment even in poverty, to be discontented in any condition that is above it, is shameful and intolerable. Of such force is this example of our Lord, to banish discontent from any condition we are liable to in this world. The
(4.) Fourth and last virtue I shall instance in, and for the exercise whereof there is very great and frequent occasion in human life, is patience under sufferings, and such a perfect resignation of ourselves to the 269will of God, that whatever pleaseth him should please us, how distasteful and grievous soever it be. And of this virtue our blessed Saviour was the greatest example that ever was; his whole life, from his birth to his death, was made up of persecution and patience, and was a continual exercise of his virtue. There had been great examples in all ages of the sufferings and patience of good men, which we might propound to ourselves with great advantage; and so St. James exhorts the Christians to do: (James v. 10.) “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.” Job, especially, was a most eminent example in this kind: “Ye have heard (says he) of the patience of Job.” And all these examples are of great use, and considerable arguments to this virtue; but the pat tern of our Lord’s sufferings and patience is a greater example, and a more powerful argument than all these. His sufferings were far greater than any man’s ever were; “Never was any sorrow like to his sorrow, wherewith the Lord afflicted him in the day of his fierce anger:” and his patience was greater than any man’s ever was, not only because he suffered more than any one of the sons of men ever did, but because he suffered without cause, being perfectly innocent, and free from the least personal fault and guilt. Well may we “bear the indignation of the Lord patiently,” because “we have sinned against him.” Whatever we suffer, our consciences tell us we have deserved it all, and much more from the hand of God, and that our punishment is always less than our iniquities have deserved. Sin is at the bottom of all our sufferings, and if we be buffeted for our faults, we ought to take it patiently. 270Upon this consideration, St. Peter recommends to us the example of our Lord’s sufferings and patience, as a powerful argument to work the same temper and disposition in us: (1 Pet. ii. 20-22.) “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if when you do well and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps, who did no sin.” Where the apostle insinuates a two fold difference between our Lord’s suffering for us and ours. He suffered for us: but we upon our own account, and for our own faults. He was perfectly innocent, “He had no sin,” and yet he suffered with so much patience; much more ought we: for by how much the more guilt, so much the greater reason for patience; and the more innocent the person is that suffers, so much the more perfect and commendable is his patience.
So that the greatness of our Lord’s sufferings, considered together with his perfect innocency, gives his example a peculiar force and advantage above all other examples whatsoever. And therefore the apostle to the Hebrews, after a great number of examples of the persecution and patience of the saints in all ages, not content with these, he adds that of our Lord, as the most perfect and powerful example of all others: (Heb. xii. 1-3.) “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame. For consider him that endured 271such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be weary and faint in your minds.” “Such contradiction of sinners;” such as no man ever endured; and yet he bore all this, not with a stoical and stupid insensibility, but with a true patience. For no man had greater apprehensions of suffering, and a more quick and tender sense of it, than he had. He had not only the more manly virtues of wisdom, and resolution, and constancy; but was clothed also with the softer passions of human nature, meekness, and compassion, and grief, and a tender sense of pain and suffering. “He took our infirmities, (says the prophet) and bore our griefs.” And this he expressed both in his agony in the garden, and in his behaviour upon the cross; he did not despise pain, but dreaded it, and yet submitted to it; he did not outbrave his sufferings, but bore them decently; he had a human sense of them, but under went them with a Divine patience, resigning himself absolutely to the will of God, when he saw them coming; and when they were upon him, expressing a great sense of pain, without the least sign of impatience. And hereby he was a pattern accommodated to the weakest and tenderest of mankind: he did not give us an extravagant example of bravery, and a sturdy resolution; but, which was much fitter for us, of a patient submission to the will of God, under a great sense of suffering.
Before I come to the fifth and last advantage of our Lord’s example, it will be requisite to clear what hath been said from three or four obvious objections. But this I shall reserve for another discourse.272
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