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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.
IN which words our blessed Saviour does, upon a particular occasion, prescribe an universal remedy against trouble. And the particular occasion of this consolatory discourse which our Saviour here makes to his disciples, was this: he had often told them of his sufferings; but the conceit which they had entertained of his temporal reign, would not suffer them to admit any thought of such a thing as the sufferings or death of the Messias; and therefore it is said, that “these things did not sink into them,” and that “they understood them not;” men being generally very slow to understand what they do not like, and have no mind to. At last our Saviour tells them plainly, that how backward soever they were to believe it, the time of his sufferings and death was now approaching, and that he should shortly be “betrayed into the hands of men,” and be “crucified and slain.” At this his disciples were struck with great fear, and exceedingly troubled, both in contemplation of his sufferings, and of their own invaluable loss. To comfort them upon this occasion, our Saviour directs his disciples to that course, which was not only proper in their present case, but is an universal antidote and remedy 117against all trouble whatsoever, and will not only serve to mitigate our trouble, and support our spirits under the fear and apprehension of future evils, but under present afflictions and sufferings; and to quiet and comfort our minds under the saddest condition, and sorest calamities, that can befal us: “Let not your hearts be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.”
He does not only forbid them to be troubled, and counsel them against it, such advice is easily given, but not so easily to be followed: but he prescribes the proper remedy against trouble, which is trust and confidence in God, the great Creator and wise Governor of the world; and likewise in himself, the blessed Son of God, and Saviour of mankind, “Ye believe in God, believe also in me.”
The words are variously translated: by some indicatively, “Ye do believe in God, and ye do believe in me,” therefore “be not troubled;” by others imperatively, “Believe in God, and believe likewise in me;” and then you can have no cause of trouble. Or else the first clause may be rendered indicatively, and the latter imperatively; and so our translation renders the words, “Ye do believe in God, believe also in me;” as you believe in God, the Creator and Governor of the world, so “believe also in, me,” the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world. But which way soever the words be rendered, the sense comes all to one; that faith in God, and in our blessed Saviour, are here prescribed as the proper and most powerful remedies against trouble: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.”
In the handling of these words I shall do these two things:—118
First, I shall consider what sort of trouble is here forbidden, or with what reasonable limitations this general prohibition of our Saviour is to be under stood, “Let not your heart be troubled.”
Secondly, I shall endeavour to shew what virtue and force there are in the remedy here prescribed by our Saviour, to mitigate and allay our trouble, and to support and quiet our minds under it.
First, We will consider what sort of trouble is here forbidden, and with what due and reasonable limitations we are to understand this general prohibition of our Saviour to his disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled.” And this we shall best find out by considering the various objects of trouble, together with the several causes or grounds of them. And these may all be ranged under these three heads; evils past, present, or to come. For the ground of all trouble is some evil, either really and in itself so, or what is apprehended by us under that notion: and the several kinds of trouble, are either the reflection upon evils past, or the sense of an evil that is present, or the fear and apprehension of some future evil which threatens us and hangs over us.
I. For the first, The trouble caused by reflection upon evils past, this must either be the evil of affliction or sin. The former of these, when it is past, is seldom any cause of trouble, the remembrance of past sufferings, and the evils which we got over, being rather delightful than grievous; so that it is only the evil of sin, the reflection whereof is trouble some. And this is that which we call guilt, which is an inward vexation, and discontent, and grief of mind, arising from the consciousness that we have done amiss, and a fearful apprehension of some vengeance and punishment that will follow it; and there 119is no trouble that is comparable to this, when the conscience of a sinner is thoroughly awakened.
Now upon this account our hearts ought to be troubled, and we can hardly exceed in it, provided our trouble do not drive us to despair, but to repentance: but there can be no suspicion that this comes within the compass of our Saviour’s prohibition.
II. As for the troubles caused by the sense of present evils, either of loss or suffering, though this do properly enough fall within the compass of our Saviour’s prohibition, “Let not your heart be troubled,” yet it admits of several limitations: therefore, in order to the fixing of its due and proper bounds, I shall briefly shew, what trouble for present evils and afflictions which are upon us is not forbidden, and what is.
1. We are not here forbidden to have a just and due sense of any evil or calamity that is upon us; because this is natural, and we cannot help it; for there is a real difference of things in themselves; some things are in their nature good and convenient for us, and agreeable and delightful to our senses; and other things are in themselves evil, that is, naturally displeasing and grievous; and we must not only be stoics, but even stocks and stones, if we have not a just sense and resentment of this difference. Our blessed Saviour had so; and as he was afflicted more than any man, and suffered more than any of the sons of men, so was he likewise very sensible of his sufferings, and had a natural dread and horror of them; insomuch, that he himself tells us, that “his soul was exceeding sorrowful, even to death,” upon the apprehension of what he was to undergo; which made him pray so earnestly, and 120to repeat that petition so often; “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Nay, the very anguish of his mind, caused by the dread and horror of his sufferings, was so great, as to force blood through the pores of his body, so that “he sweat as it were thick drops of blood falling upon the ground.” And this is not to be wondered at, because our blessed Saviour, as he had the greatest endowments of human nature in their greatest perfection, so he had a perfect sense of the evils and pains and sufferings of it. And all philosophy that will not acknowledge loss, and pain, and suffering, to be evils, and troublesome and terrible, is either obstinate sullenness, or gross hypocrisy.
2. Nor doth this prohibition of our Saviour exclude natural affection. This is a plant which God himself hath planted in human nature, and that for very excellent ends and purposes; and having made us men, and endowed us with such passions, he does not expect that we should put off our nature, and transform ourselves into another sort of creatures than what we were when we came out of his own hands. To be without natural affection, and to have no affective sense of the loss of the nearest relations, is condemned in Scripture, as a mark of the greatest degeneracy and depravation of human nature. And therefore we cannot imagine that our Saviour did intend to forbid such a moderate and well regulated degree of trouble upon these occasions, as is the proper and genuine issue of those natural affections, which God himself hath implanted in us.
3. When our Saviour forbids us to be troubled, he doth not forbid us to have a just sense of God’s judgments, or of his hand, in procuring or permitting 121the evils which befal us; much less of our own sins, which are the meritorious cause of them; nay, on the contrary, he expects that we should acknowledge his providence, and the justness of it, in his severest dealings with us; that we should be “humbled under his mighty hand, and turn to him that smites us,” and “bear the indignation of the Lord patiently, because we have sinned against him.” What ever is a sign of God’s displeasure against us, is a just and reasonable cause of trouble to us.
But when our Saviour here forbids ns to be troubled, he plainly intends to prohibit these three things:
1. Immoderate grief and sorrow for any present affliction or loss, without any restraint upon ourselves, so as to let grief loose, and to give full scope to it, to let the reins fall out of our hands, so that the considerations of reason and religion have no manner of power and command over us; to sorrow, as Rachel did for her children, “refusing to be comforted.” This is unreasonable, and usually of pernicious consequence: for no man knows, when he once abandons himself to melancholy, and gives way to grief, and lets it pierce his heart, and enter into his soul, how it may overwhelm his spirit, and sink it past recovery. And to this pitch the trouble of some men for worldly losses and disappointments, because it was not restrained and governed at first, hath brought them; and it often happens, as St. Paul hath observed, the “trouble of the world worketh death.”
I think hardly any man did ever die of grief for his sins, and killed himself by laying them to heart. It is well if our sorrow for sin proceed to that degree, as to work real repentance and amendment. And 122the reason why our sorrow for sin is commonly moderate and within bounds, is because the sorrow and trouble of repentance is always reasonable, and reason keeps our grief within bounds; but “the sorrow of the world,” that is, of covetous and worldly-minded men, who have unreasonably set their affections upon this world, hath nothing to set bounds and give limits to it. And therefore, by the just judgment of God, it sometimes proceeds so far as to work death. Many men’s hearts have been broken for the loss of an estate, or some great cross and disappointment in their worldly affairs and designs. Thus Nabal, upon the very apprehension of the danger that he and his estate were in, and had so narrowly escaped, was struck with grief to the degree of stupidity, so that “his heart died within him, and he became as a stone;” and in a few days he died of that grief.
2. We are not to be troubled for present afflictions and sufferings to the degree of impatience and discontent, so as to fret and murmur in our hearts against God, and “to charge him foolishly,” as if he dealt hardly with us, and had not a due regard for us, and an equal consideration of our case. For we are all sinners, and always deserve to suffer; and therefore whatever temporal evils befal the best men in this world, they are always “less than their iniquities have deserved:” and yet men are very prone to censure and find fault with God, for the evils and calamities which they draw down upon themselves. So Solomon observes, (Prov. xix. 3.) “The foolishness of man perverteth his way; and his heart fretteth against the Lord.” We suffer for our own sins and follies, and then are angry with God because we suffer. God is angry with us for 123our sins, and when he is angry with us, and “lifts up his hand against us,” it becomes us “to humble ourselves under his mighty hand;” for “who can stand before him when once he is angry?” But we have no cause to fret against him, for the evils which we bring upon ourselves: besides that, fretting is not the way to relieve and ease us, but to vex and gall us the more.
3. As to the fear and apprehension of future evils, though we ought to have a just sense of them, yet we ought not to be dejected and troubled for them to the degree of despondency, so as to conclude ourselves miserable and forsaken, utterly lost and undone, and that our case is past all help and remedy: we should not be so dejected, as if we were destitute of all comfort, and utterly without hope. Hope lies at the bottom of the worst condition; for while we are not without God, we can never be without hope; so long as the government of the world is in so good hands, our case can never be desperate; and therefore we ought to rebuke the despondency of our spirits, as David did, (Psal. xliii. 5.) “Why art thou so cast down, O my soul? and why art thou so disquieted within me? hope in God.” And we should support ourselves in the greatest dangers and fears as he did, (Psal. iii. 1-3.) “Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! how many are they that rise up against me! Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me, my glory, and the lifter up of my head.”
And this cause of trouble upon the fear and apprehension of future evils, was the case of the disciples, who were mightily dejected and disturbed, upon the apprehension of the destitute condition 124they should be in upon our Saviour’s departure from them; that they should be exposed to a malicious world, without all manner of protection from those innumerable evils and dangers which threatened them. And this I shall have most particular respect to in my following discourse, as being more particularly intended by our Saviour, and being one of the most common causes of trouble in this world. I proceed, therefore, in the
Second place, To consider, what force there is in the remedy here prescribed by our Saviour, to mitigate and allay our troubles, both in respect of our present evils and sufferings, and the danger and apprehension of future evils, and to support and comfort our minds under them. “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.”
In which words our Saviour prescribes a double remedy against trouble.
First, Faith in God, the great Creator and wise Governor of the world. “Ye believe in God,” or, “Believe ye in God,” to which he adds, in the
Second place, Faith likewise in himself, the Son of God, and the Saviour of men. “Ye believe in God, believe also in me.” Not as if faith in God were not a sufficient ground of consolation and sup port to our minds, but to acquaint us, that a firm faith in him who is the Son of God and Saviour of the world, would very much tend to confirm and strengthen our trust and confidence in God; as will clearly appear, when I come to shew what peculiar consideration of comfort and support the Christian religion offers to us, beyond what the common light and reason of mankind, from the considerations of the Divine nature and perfections, do suggest to us. And to explain the full strength 125and force of these two considerations, I shall do these two things:
First, I shall endeavour to shew, What considerations of comfort and support the belief of a God, and the natural notions and acknowledgments of mankind concerning him, do afford to good men, for the allaying and mitigating of their fears and troubles. And,
Secondly, What farther considerations faith in Christ, and the firm belief of the Christian religion, do afford to this purpose. “Ye believe in God, believe also in me.”
First, To shew, what considerations of comfort and support the belief of a God, and the natural notions and acknowledgments of mankind concerning him, do afford to good men, for the allaying and mitigating of their fears and troubles; which I shall briefly deduce thus:
The firm belief and persuasion of a God, does necessarily infer the belief of his infinite power, and wisdom, and holiness, and goodness; for these are necessary and essential perfections of the Divine nature, without which we cannot conceive such a being as God is. Now from these essential perfections of the Divine nature, these two principles do naturally result:
I. That his providence governs the world, and administers the affairs of it, particularly of mankind, with great goodness and wisdom.
II. That his providence is more peculiarly concerned for good men, and that he hath a very tender and particular care of them, and regard to them.
Now these two principles, concerning which I have discoursed at large upon another occasion,22 See Sermon CXXXVI I. vol. vi. p. 438.126afford us this fourfold ground of comfort, under all the evils that we labour under, and are afraid of.
1. If God govern the world, then we and all our interests and concernments are certainly in the best and safest hands; and where, if we knew how to wish well and wisely for ourselves, we should desire to have them; and therefore, why should our hearts be troubled at any thing that doth or can befal us?33 See this matter also handled at large in the beforementioned Sermon.
2. Another ground of comfort is, that if the providence of God have a particular regard to good men, and favour for them, then we may be assured, that if we be careful of our duty to God, and rely upon his goodness, and refer ourselves to his plea sure, in the final issue and result of things, all shall turn to our good, and conspire in our happiness; nay, if we make the best use of the evils and afflictions which befal us, and bear them as we ought, we ourselves may do a great deal to turn them to our benefit and advantage; to the bettering of our minds, and the improvement of our virtues, and the increase of our reward. And why should we be troubled so much at things which may prove so many ways beneficial to us, if it be not our own fault? which tend to our good, and will end in it, if we will but “let patience have its perfect work,” as St. James shews, (chap. v. 11.) in the instance of Job, whose admirable patience had a glorious end and reward, even in this world; “You have heard (says he) of the patience of Job, and of the end God made with him; that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy.” Job, upon a dunghill, is no whit inferior to the most glorious prince that ever sat upon a throne. Some men have been more 127illustrious, and, according to the true rate and value of things, more considerable for their patience, and courage, and constancy of mind, in great afflictions and sufferings, than the greatest pomp and prosperity in the world could possibly have made them. Some have borne poverty, and sickness, and reproach, and persecution, and exquisite pain and torments, with so much decency, with such greatness of mind, and firmness of resolution, as might justly provoke the envy of the greatest and wealthiest, and, to all outward appearance, the happiest persons that ever were in the world. M. Antoninus was an excellent good man, and perhaps the greatest emperor that ever was, for in his time the Roman empire was at its greatest extent; and yet it is hard to say, whether Epictetus, whose example I proposed before, and who lived about the same time with this great and good emperor: I say, it is not easy to say, whether this poor man, Epictetus, who was depressed into the lowest and most afflicted condition that human nature is almost capable of, were not, by reason of those admirable virtues which shined so brightly in that dark and dismal condition, his invincible patience, his perfect submission to the providence of God, the perpetual cheerfulness and serenity, the unmoveable constancy and equality of his mind, according to a right estimation of things, the greater and more glorious person of the two.
So that good men are always secure, as to the main and the essentials of happiness; under all out ward afflictions and sufferings of the body, they may still retain a wise and virtuous mind, which is “that good part which cannot be taken from them;” and if they retain that, they are sure of the favour of 128God, and the countenance of Heaven, which alone are sufficient to make any condition happy.
3. Another ground of comfort is, that if God govern the world, he can either prevent or divert the greatest evils that threaten us; or if they come upon us, he can support us under them, and deliver us out of them: and if we be good, and it be for our good, he will do one of these for us; either he will prevent the evil, that it shall not come, if that be best for us; or if the affliction fall heavy upon us, he will support us under it: and if our strength be increased in proportion to the weight of our burthen, it is as well as if we had escaped it, nay, perhaps, much better, considering the benefit and reward of it. But how grievous soever it be, he can, when he pleaseth, deliver us from it; and he will do it presently if it be for our good; and if it be not, it is not really desirable to us to be so soon freed from it.
4. And lastly, which is consequent upon the former particulars, it is certain, upon the whole matter, and upon the balancing of all accounts, that in every condition good men have much more cause of comfort and joy, than of dejection and trouble. Let our fears be as great, and our present sufferings as heavy as they can, there are considerations of so great moment to be put into the other scale, as will infinitely outweigh them, and make them seem light. The considerations of our immortal duration in a future state, and of the endless and unspeakable happiness of another world, are of that solidity and weight, that “these light afflictions,” as the apostle calls them, “which are but for a moment, are in no wise worthy to be compared with them.”
What though our passage through this world be 129never so stormy and tempestuous, we shall at last arrive at a safe port. Heaven is a sure sanctuary and retreat from all the evils and afflictions which we are liable to, and which many times pursue us so close in this mortal state. It is but exercising our faith and patience for a very little while, and all will be well with us; much better than if we had never been afflicted, and had been wholly exempted from all sorts of sufferings in this world. We have no pretence to “the crown of life,” if we do not overcome; and there can be no conquest without some conflict.
But because the Christian religion does give us the greatest, if not the only firm assurance of the happiness of another life, which, when all is done, is the great support and cordial of our fainting spirits, under the troubles and afflictions of this life, therefore I shall not now enlarge farther upon it, but refer it to the second head of my discourse, which I proposed to speak to in the next place, viz. 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 fears and troubles. “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.” But this I shall refer to some other opportunity.130
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