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SERMON CCXVI.

THE TRUE REMEDY AGAINST THE TROUBLES OF LIFE.

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.—John xiv. 1.

FROM these words I proposed to shew, what force and virtue there are in the remedy proposed by our Saviour, to mitigate and allay our troubles; and I told you, that our Saviour here prescribes a double remedy.

First, Faith in God, the great Creator and Governor of the world.

Secondly, Faith in himself, the Son of God and Saviour of men. I have spoken to the first, and have likewise entered upon the

Second, And here I propounded to shew, what farther considerations of comfort and support, faith in Christ, and the firm belief of the Christian religion, do afford to good men, for the allaying and mitigating of their greatest fears and troubles.

And I mentioned five:

I. Faith in Christ gives us full assurance of immortality, and the rewards of another world.

II. It promiseth to every sincere Christian the in ward assistance and support of God’s Holy Spirit. Thus far I have gone. I now proceed:

III. It assures us of the special efficacy of our prayers with God, either for our deliverance from trouble, or for the aids and supports of his grace under it.

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Now concerning the great efficacy of our prayers with God, there are several very particular and remarkable promises and declarations in 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.” (Matt. xxi. 22.) “And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” (John xv. 7.) “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” But then he directs us to put up our petitions to God in his name, as the way to make them prevalent: (John xiv. 13, 14.) “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” And (chap. xvi. 23, 24.) he repeats this promise again for their support and comfort under the tribulations which they should endure. “And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name: ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” And, again, (ver. 26, 27.) “At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father himself loveth you.” Reassures them of God’s merciful inclination towards them; and if it would add any thing to their comfortable assurance of having their prayers heard, he could have told them, “that he would pray the Father for them.” St. James particularly comforts the Christians under their trials upon this consideration, that God is ready to give wisdom and strength to demean ourselves as we ought under sufferings, if we heartily beg it of him: (James i. 2-5.) “My brethren, 146count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this, that the trial of your faith worketh patience: but let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” And since this requires great wisdom, to bear great afflictions with patience, therefore he adds, that God is always ready to grant this wisdom and grace to those that heartily beg it of him. “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.” (1 John iii. 22.) “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things which are pleasing in his sight.” And, (chap. v. 14, 15.) “And this is the confidence that we have in him,” that is, we Christians: for he had said before, “These things have I written unto you, that believe on the name of the Son of God;” and then it follows, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he heareth us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him;” that is, though we have not presently the thing we prayed for, yet we are as sure of it as if we had it. The earnest prayer of every sincere Christian, is very powerful and available with God. So St. James assures us: (chap. v. 16.) “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much:” much more the united prayers of the faithful. So our Saviour declares, (Matt. xviii. 19.) “Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth, as touching the thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.”

All these promises and declarations do certainly signify a more special efficacy and prevalency of the 147prayers of Christians. And though there was a miraculous power of prayer in the primitive times, which is now ceased, and of which St. James plainly speaks, (chap. v. 14, 15.) “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up:” yet it is certain that these promises extend farther, to the efficacy of the prayers of the faithful in such cases. And so our Saviour extends this promise; (Matt. xxi. 22.) for after he had said in the verse before, “Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done unto the fig-tree; but also, if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, it shall be done:” after this he immediately subjoins, “And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” Hereby declaring, that the efficacy of the prayers of Christians was not limited only to those miraculous effects which were but to continue for a time, but that this promise was to be extended to the prayers of the faithful in all cases, and all times.

And, indeed, all the grounds and reasons of the efficacy and prevalency of our prayers, which are mentioned in the New Testament, do equally concern Christians in all times; as that we pray to God in the name and mediation of Jesus Christ, upon which our Saviour very frequently, when he makes this promise, lays great stress, and seems to render it as the reason of the special efficacy of our prayers. (John xiv. 13, 14.) “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my 148name, I will do it.” And, (chap. xvi. 23, 24.) “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Heretofore ye have asked nothing in my name; ask, and ye shall receive.”

Another reason of the acceptance and prevalency of our prayers, is, that the Spirit of God which dwells in all true Christians does help our weakness, and secretly directs us to ask of God those things which are according to his will, and does, as it were, intercede for us. (Rom. viii. 26.) “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities. For we know not what we shall pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us.” And, (ver. 27.) “And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints, according to the will of God.” And no wonder if those petitions are very prevalent, which we are assisted and directed to put up to God, according to his will.

And this certainly is a great comfort under any trouble, that we can have free access to God by prayer, in confidence that he will grant us those requests which we put up to him according to his will. And this the apostle to the Hebrews mentions more than once, as an argument to them to continue steadfast in the profession of their religion, notwithstanding the persecution that attended it, because we may at all times address ourselves to God in confidence of his gracious help and assistance, (Heb. iv. 16.) After he had exhorted them “to hold fast their profession,” as an encouragement thereto, he adds the free access we may have to God for his help and support: “Let us, therefore, (says he) come boldly (or with great freedom and confidence) to the throne 149of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find favour with him for our seasonable help and succour.” And to the same purpose, (chap. x. 19, 20.) “Having, therefore, freedom to enter into the holiest, by the blood of Jesus, (that is, having access to God in prayer, by Jesus Christ;) let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith;” that is, in perfect confidence that our prayers will be graciously heard and answered; upon which he adds, “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, for he is faithful that hath promised:” if we continue steadfast to God, and the profession of his truth, he will make good all that he hath promised, both of present support under our sufferings, and of the glorious reward of them in another life: he will hear our prayers, and grant us the aids and supplies of his grace as we stand in need of them.

IV. The Christian religion propounds to us the best and most admirable pattern that ever was of patience and constancy of mind, under the apprehension of approaching evils, or the sense of our present sufferings, and of a contented and cheerful submission to the will of God, in the saddest condition to which human nature is incident; and that is the pattern of our blessed Saviour, who, for this reason among others, was so great a sufferer in so many kinds, that he might go before us in this rough and difficult way, and “leave us an example, that we should follow his steps;” that we might learn from him how to calm and quiet our spirits, to appease and hush the tumults of our passions, under the severest dispensations of God’s providence to wards us, and to bend our wills to a patient submission to the will of our heavenly Father, under the sorest afflictions and sharpest sufferings. For though 150our blessed Saviour prayed so earnestly to his Father, that “that bitter cup might pass from him,” yet how quietly and cheerfully did he resign and yield up himself to the will of God, saying, “Yet not my will, but thine be done!” Human nature shrunk and gave back at the sight of his dreadful sufferings: but his reason overruled the inclinations of nature, and kept him to a steady resolution of submitting to the will of God. And therefore, when Peter at tempted his rescue, he commanded him to desist, saying, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given, shall I not drink it?” (John xviii. 11.) And though he had as quick a sense of suffering as any man, yet with what patience did he possess his soul! with what meekness and humility of spirit did he bear and yield to it! “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before the shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. When he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not: but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” And thus “it became the Captain of our salvation,” that he might be a perfect pattern to us of patience and submission to the will of God, of a meek and undisturbed mind, under the greatest bodily pains, and the extreme anguish of his soul, “to be made perfect by sufferings.”

So that under the greatest present evils, or the most fearful apprehension of future evil and suffering, we should fix our eye steadfastly upon this great and glorious example of patience and constancy and meekness, of a due sense, and yet of a most decent behaviour under the heaviest load of affliction, that ever was laid upon any of the sons of men; looking, as the apostle exhorts, (Heb. xii. 2, 3.) “Looking 151unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, and despised the shame; and considering him, who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest we be weary and faint in our minds.”

And surely if we would but let our minds dwell awhile upon this consideration of the sufferings of the Son of God, and his great meekness and patience, and submission to the will of God under them, it would mightily conduce to the mitigating of our trouble, and bringing us to “possess our souls in patience,” in the saddest condition that can befal us.

And what consideration more proper for us than this, when we are going to receive the blessed sacrament, wherein the sufferings of the Son of God are represented to us, in the symbols of his body broken, and his blood shed for the remission of our sins; and there are many considerations which this sight is apt to suggest to us, which are so many powerful arguments to quiet and comfort our minds under the greatest troubles and sufferings which we are liable to; such as these.

1. The grievous sufferings which the Son of God was exposed to, do clearly shew us, that the good things of this life are not so valuable, nor the evils and sufferings of it so considerable, as we are apt to fancy and imagine; when the best man that ever lived was so destitute of the common comforts and conveniences of human life, and had so large a share of the calamities and sufferings of it. If we could but rectify our opinion of things, it would go a great way in making any of the evils and afflictions of this life tolerable. If God see good to reduce us to poverty and want, let us think of him, who, “being Lord of all, had not where to lay his head;” who 152 “being rich, for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be made rich.” To be destitute of worldly accommodations cannot seem so dismal and despicable a sight, when we consider whose lot it was to live in a low and indigent condition; the very consideration whereof doth not only make poverty tolerable, but even glorious.

So likewise when we are “persecuted for righteousness sake,” and exercised with sufferings and reproaches; when we are ready to be discouraged in well-doing by the opposition we meet withal from the ingratitude of men, and the malicious interpretation of our good actions, perverting the best things, done with the best mind and to the best end, to some ill purpose and design; let us “look to Jesus,” and “consider him who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself,” and this will help to abate the hideous apprehension of these things.

2. The sufferings of the Son of God are a demonstration to us, that the love and favour of God, wherein the chief happiness of man consists, are not to be estimated and measured by outward prosperity in this world; much less can it be concluded from temporal afflictions and sufferings, that God hath no favour and kindness for those whom he thinks fit to exercise with them. For we see plainly by this instance of the grievous sufferings of his Son, that God may most deeply wound and afflict those whom he most dearly loves; and if we can be secure of the favour of God, and his loving-kindness, why should our hearts be troubled and dismayed at the apprehension of any evil that can befal us?

God may love his children, and yet chasten them very severely: nay, that he does so, is rather an argument that they are his children, and that he 153loves them, and is concerned for them. So I am sure the apostle teacheth us to argue, (Heb. xii. 6 8.) “For whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons: for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not? But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons.” The heaviest and most grievous load of sufferings that was ever laid on any man, God permitted to be laid “on his only-begotten Son, the dearly beloved of his soul, in whom he was well-pleased.” The greater our afflictions are, and the more we suffer for “righteousness sake,” so much the liker are we to the Son of God, and so much the more likely to be the sons and children of God. It is true, as the apostle tells us, that “no affliction for the present is joyous, but grievous:” but surely it is a great mitigation of it, to consider what a glorious example and argument of patience our religion proposeth to us, for our encouragement under sufferings: that the best man that ever was lived in the most afflicted condition; and the greatest sufferer that ever was, or can be, was “the dearly-beloved Son of God.”

3. In the victorious sufferings of the Son of God, we see the world conquered to our hands, all the terrors and temptations of it disarmed, and all its force baffled and broken. This consideration our Saviour makes use of to support the faint spirits of his disciples, under the melancholy apprehensions which they had of sufferings: (John xvi. 33.) “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” The great work is done to our hands; affliction and death are vanquished 154and overcome by him. That conquest which “the Captain of our salvation” hath already made of all “the powers of darkness,” renders our victory over them cheap and easy.

4. The temptations and sufferings of our Lord were greater than ours are or can be; for he bore the heavy and insupportable load of ail the sins of all mankind, and of the wrath and vengeance due to them. “The Lord hath laid on him,” saith the prophet, (Isa. liii. 6, 7.) “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all; he was oppressed and afflicted.” And well might he be oppressed with affliction, who had such an intolerable burden as the sins of all mankind to press him down. That pas sage is commonly applied to him, and well might he cry out in that manner, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.” Such were the sufferings of our Lord, so great and so grievous, as none of us are in any degree able to undergo. That weight under which he crouched, would crush us; that which he was hardly able to sustain, would certainly sink us; and do we complain and “faint in our minds,” when but a very little part of the punishment due to us only for our own sins is inflicted upon us? The consideration of the heavy and “unknown sufferings of the Son of God,” should make all our afflictions not only tolerable, but light.

5. And yet we have in effect the same support that he had. We are apt to be very much disheartened and discouraged at the apprehension of sufferings, from the consideration of our own weakness and frailty; “but the Spirit of Christ dwells in us,” and the same “glorious power that raised up Jesus 155from the dead, works mightily on them that believe.” St. Paul useth very high expressions in this matter: (Ephes. i. 29, 30.) “That ye may know,” says he, speaking in general of all Christians, “what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him on his own right hand.” So that every sincere Christian is endowed with a kind of omnipotency, being able, as St. Paul says of himself, “to do all things through Christ strengthening him.” We are of ourselves very weak, and the temptations and terrors of the world are very powerful; but there is a principle residing in every true Christian, that is able to bear us up against the world and the power of all its temptations. “Whatsoever is born of God (says St. John), overcometh the world: for greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” The Holy Spirit of God which dwells in all true Christians, is a more powerful principle of resolution and courage and patience, under the sharpest trials and sufferings, than that evil spirit which rules in the world is to stir up and set on the malice and rage of the world against us. “Ye are of God, and have overcome the world: for greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.”

6. Let us consider farther, for whom and for what our blessed Lord suffered. Not for himself; but for our sake: not for any fault of his own; for “he had no sin;” but for our sins. He was perfectly innocent: but we are great and grievous offenders. We suffer upon our own account: but he only for our sakes, and for our salvation. So that the example of our Lord’s sufferings hath an 156irresistible force and virtue in it, to argue ns into patience and submission. Did he bear the load of our sins so willingly? did he “who had no sin” suffer so patiently, to free us from eternal sufferings? And shall we who are guilty think much to bear a small part of that burden, which he so cheer fully underwent for us, and which falls so much short of the due punishment of our faults? The penitent thief upon the cross urged the equity and force of this argument to patience, to his fellow-criminal, that they who had been guilty of such great crimes, and were justly condemned for them, ought to be patient under their sufferings. “We indeed, (says he) are justly condemned; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.”

7. And lastly, If we consider the transcendent excellency and dignity of the person, who under went so great sufferings with so much meekness and patience, and with so even and undisturbed a mind, this will calm and allay our passions, and mitigate the troubles which befal us pitiful and inconsiderable creatures, in comparison of this “Prince of glory” and “heir of everlasting bliss.” When we consider the meekness of this excellent person, the eternal Son of God, and with what submission and serenity of mind he demeaned himself under so great and continual provocations from his own creatures and beneficiaries, those whom he had made, and whom he came to save; shall we think much to bear the indignities and affronts of our fellow-creatures? When we behold how contented this great person was in the meanest condition, how he welcomed all events, and was so perfectly resigned to the will of his heavenly Father, that whatsoever 157pleased God, pleased him; shall we murmur at any condition which the providence of God allots to us, and repine at any event whatsoever?

Shall we resent injuries and affronts and calumnies so heinously as to be out of all temper and patience, when we consider with what meekness of temper, and how little emotion of mind, the Son of God bore all these? how “he gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; and withheld not his face from shame and spitting;” how “he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before the shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth; being reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not?”

To conclude, can we entertain thoughts of revenge towards the instruments of our sufferings, when we have such a pattern of forgiving before us, who poured out his blood for the expiation of the guilt of them that shed it, and spent his last breath in a most fervent and charitable prayer for his betrayers and murderers?

Thus we should propose to ourselves the pattern of our Lord’s spirit and demeanour under sufferings, in whom meekness and submission and patience had their perfect work; that the same mind may be in us that was in Christ Jesus, and that as we have him for an example, we may follow his steps.

The last consideration of comfort and support under trouble, which the Christian religion gives us, remains yet to be spoken to, namely, that we are assured of a most compassionate and prevalent and perpetual patron and advocate and intercessor with God for us.

But this, together with the application of this whole discourse, I shall refer to the next opportunity.

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