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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.
I HAVE considered these words as an universal remedy against trouble: and in shewing what virtue and force there are in this remedy, I have considered,
First, That faith in God is a proper and most powerful means to mitigate and allay our trouble, and to support and quiet our minds under it.
I now proceed, in the second place, to shew what farther considerations of comfort and support, faith in Christ, and the firm belief of the Christian religion, do afford good men, for the allaying and mitigating of their greatest fears and troubles. “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.” I shall mention these five:
I. Faith in Christ, or the belief of the Christian religion, gives us full and perfect assurance of immortality, and of the glorious and eternal rewards of another world.
II. It promiseth to every sincere Christian the inward assistance, and support, and comfort, of God’s Holy Spirit, to bear up the weakness of human nature under its heaviest pressures of fear, or grief, or pain.
III. It assures us of the special efficacy of our prayers with God, either for our deliverance from 131trouble, or for the aids and supports of his grace under it.
IV. It 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 present sufferings; and of a contented and cheerful submission to the will of God, in the saddest condition to which human nature is incident.
V. It assures us of a most compassionate, and prevalent, and perpetual patron, and advocate, and intercessor with God for us.
I. Faith in Christ, or the doctrine of the Christian religion, gives a full and perfect assurance of immortality, and of the glorious and eternal rewards of another world. Of this the world was very doubtful and uncertain before, and had but obscure and wavering apprehensions about it. And though the generality of mankind had naturally some glimmering apprehensions of another life after this, and secret hopes and expectations of a future reward for good men that were hardly used in this world; yet the philosophers had wrangled and disputed the matter into so much uncertainty, that mankind were very much staggered about it, and the doubts and difficulties that were raised about it did very much break the force and weaken the influence of so weighty a consideration.
Thus it was among the gentiles. And under the law of Moses, though the Jews had such apprehensions of their own immortality, and of a future state of rewards and punishments, as natural light suggested to them; yet that covenant and dispensation added but very little to the clearing of those notions, and the strengthening of this persuasion in 132the minds of men; it did rather suppose it, than add any new strength and force to it: for, under that dispensation, the eyes of men were generally fixed upon temporal promises and threatenings: though, as the times of the Messias grew nearer, and the sufferings of that people sharper, they began to have clearer apprehensions of a resurrection to another and better life; it being natural to men when they are destitute of present comfort, to cherish and make much of the future hopes of a better condition.
And, therefore, we find that the people of the Jews, when they had been long exercised with great afflictions, began to comfort and support themselves with the hopes of a blessed resurrection to a better life; as is evident from the history of the seven brethren in the Maccabees, who, with great patience and courage, bore up under the most exquisite torments, in confidence of being raised again to a blessed state in another world. And of these it is the apostle certainly speaks, (Heb. xi. 35.) when he says, that “some were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.”
But the apostle tells us expressly, (2 Tim. i. 10.) that the clear and certain discovery of a future state is owing to the Christian religion, and “made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light by the gospel.” Not only natural light, but all the revelations which God had made to the world before, had this weakness and imperfection in them, that they did not give men the clear discovery and full assurance of another life; and consequently, had but little efficacy in 133comparison to engage men to their duty, or to sup port and comfort them under their sufferings: and therefore the apostle to the Hebrews calls the gospel, in opposition to the law, “the power of an end less life,” (Heb. vii. 16.) intimating to us, how great a force and influence the clear apprehensions of another life are apt to have upon the minds of men. For which reason, the same apostle tells us, (ver. 18, 19.) that the law was too weak to raise men to the perfection of virtue and goodness, because it did not work strongly enough upon the hopes of men, by the greatness and clearness of its promises; and that for this weakness it was removed, and a more powerful and awakening dispensation brought in the place of it: “For verily (says he), there is an annulling of the commandment going before,” meaning the law of Moses, which by the gospel was abrogated and made void, “for the weakness and unprofitableness of it; for the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did.” For which reason, (chap. viii. 6.) he calls the covenant of the gospel, “a better covenant,” because it “was established upon better promises,” viz. “the promise of an eternal inheritance,” as the same apostle speaks, (chap. ix. 15.) All the express promises of the law were only of temporal good things, but the promises of the gospel are of eternal life and happiness: “This is the promise which he hath promised us, even eternal life,” says St. John, (1 John ii. 25.)
Now the firm persuasion of another life, does not only answer that great difficulty and objection against the providence of God, from the seeming in justice and inequality of his dealings with good and bad men in this world, because the eternal rewards 134and punishments of another world will set all things straight, and make abundant amends to good men, for all their sufferings and afflictions here; and will render the past prosperity of bad men one of the greatest aggravations of their misery: as it is said of Babylon, (Rev. xviii. 7.) “How much she hath glorified herself and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her.” In like manner God will deal with wicked men in another world; their torments shall rise in proportion to the pleasure and prosperity they have enjoyed and abused in this world. This remarkable change of condition which shall befal good and bad men in another world, is set forth to us in a very lively and affecting manner in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus; (Luke xvi. 25.) where Abraham is represented speaking thus to the rich man; “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.” “He is comforted” in proportion to his sufferings in this world: “and thou art tormented” in proportion to the sensual pleasures and luxuries of thy former life. Men under great want and sufferings, are apt to think their lot in this world very hard, and yet upon the whole matter, and taking all things into consideration, who would not much rather choose to be Lazarus with his hard fortune in this world, and everlasting consolation in the other; than the rich man drowned in pleasure in this world, and tormented in flames in the other?—I say, the firm belief of another life, does not only answer this objection against the Divine providence; but does likewise minister abundant comfort and matter of joy to good men, under all their fears and troubles 135in this world. Nay, this consideration alone, of a blessed immortality in another world, of which only the Christian religion hath given us full and undoubted assurance, is of that weight and moment, as to contribute more to the support of our spirits under the evils and calamities of this life, than all the considerations of philosophy put together. They are many of them pleasant and pretty, and fit enough to entertain and divert a man’s mind under a slight trouble; but they are too speculative and refined for common capacities, too thin and weak to bear any great stress, and to support and relieve a man’s mind under a sore and heavy affliction: but this is a consideration which hath strength and substance in it, that all things will end in our unspeakable happiness, and that this happiness shall have no end. This the apostle St. Paul speaks of as a proper consideration of comfort, of which we are assured by the Christian religion, that all the evils of this life shall, in the last issue and result of things, co-operate to our happiness: (Rom. viii. 28.) “We know (says he) that all things work together for good to them that love God.” And, (2 Cor. iv. 16-18.) “For which cause we faint not,” &c. The apostle gives us an account how they were afflicted and persecuted, and what it was that supported them under all their sufferings: (ver. 8-11.) “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. Al ways bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus sake.” And then he tells us what it was kept up the spirits 136of Christians under these sharp sufferings, viz. the assurance which the Christian religion gives us of a resurrection to a better and happier life: (ver. 14.) “Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus, shall raise us up also by Jesus.” And then it follows, (ver. 16.) “For which cause we faint not: but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day;” that is, though our bodies be wasted and weakened, yet every day we grow stronger in the resolution of our minds, be cause “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” And then at the beginning of the next chapter, he still urgeth the same consideration of comfort, that so soon as we pass out of the troubles of this life, we shall enter upon the happiness of the other. “For we know,” that is, we Christians are assured, “that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Here you see is the great ground of their confidence and comfort in the worst condition, and under the most grievous persecutions which they were continually exposed to.
And therefore our Saviour and his apostles make no scruple to pronounce those persons blessed, who in respect of their sufferings seemed to be of all men in the world the most miserable; and they pronounce them happy, upon this very account of their sufferings. (Matt. v. 10-12.) “Blessed are they (says our Saviour) which are persecuted for 137righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven.” Great sufferings for God in this world, do entitle us, by virtue of this gracious promise of our Lord, to a glorious reward in the other. So likewise St. James exhorts Christians to rejoice in their sufferings: (James i. 2.) “My brethren, account it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” And, (chap. v. 11.) “Behold, (says he)! we count them happy which endure.” And St. Peter to the same purpose, (1 Pet. iv. 14.) “If ye be persecuted for righteousness sake, happy are ye.” So solid a comfort to men under all the troubles and afflictions of this world, is that firm assurance which the Christian religion gives us of a future happiness, as to bring even the greatest miseries which in this life we are liable to, in some sense, under the notion of blessedness.
And this was not only fine talk, like the glorious brags of the stoics; but the primitive Christians, in infinite examples, gave the real proof and evidence of it, in their constant and cheerful behaviour under the most cruel and intolerable torments. Non magna loquimur, sed vivimus, says Tertullian, in the name of the Christians: “We do not talk great things, but do them; and demonstrate the real effect of our words and profession in our lives and actions.” Never did the arguments fetched from another world, and the assurance of a blessed immortality, display their force and virtue more, than in the joyful sufferings of the first Christians, and their generous contempt of all that was dear to 138them in this world, “in hope of that eternal life; which God, that cannot lie, hath promised;” and which the Son of God hath insured to them, by his resurrection from the dead.
II. The Christian religion promiseth to every sincere Christian, the inward assistance and support and comfort of God’s Holy Spirit, to bear up the weakness of human nature under its heaviest pressures of fear or sufferings. And this is peculiar to the Christian religion: for though the providence of God did take particular care of good men in all ages, and he did always in some good measure assist them to do their duty, and afford comfort and support to them under great trials and sufferings; yet God never made so express and general a promise of this to all good men, as he hath done by the Christian religion. Never was so constant a presence and influence of the Divine Spirit vouchsafed and assured to men under any dispensation, as that of the gospel; wherein the Spirit of God is promised to all that sincerely embrace the Christian religion, to reside and dwell in them, not only to all the purposes of sanctification and holiness, but of support and comfort under all troubles and sufferings; for which reason the gospel is called “the ministration of the Spirit,” and is upon this account said to be “more glorious” than any other revelation which God had ever made to mankind. And therefore this is said to be essential to every Christian, to have the Spirit of God dwell in him. (Rom. viii. 9, 10.) Speaking of all true Christians, “Ye are (saith St, Paul) not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” So that every sincere Christian 139“is made partaker of the promise of the Spirit through faith;” that is, by his belief of the Christian religion, he is under the immediate conduct and influence of God’s Holy Spirit, and hath this blessed Guide and Comforter always present with him, nay, continually dwelling and residing in him, if we do not grieve and quench and drive him away from us by our ill treatment of him, and resistance of his blessed motions.
And this promise of the Spirit, our Saviour had a very particular respect to, when he prescribes faith in himself as a special remedy against that trouble which possessed their minds, upon the apprehension of his departure from them; and therefore he tells them so often, that when he was gone from them, he would send them another Comforter or Advocate, who should undertake their cause, and would stand by them in their greatest troubles and temptations. He tells them, that he himself would be an advocate for them in heaven: but be cause that was at a great distance, and might not be so sensible a comfort to them, he promiseth to send them another Advocate, that should be present with them here on earth, and upon all occasions undertake their patronage and defence. So that, all things considered, he assures them there was so little reason to be troubled at his departure from them, that they had cause rather to be glad of it, because it would turn to their great advantage; and instead of the benefit of his outward teaching and presence, they should have the inward presence and teaching of his Spirit, and the continual aids and supports of his grace. “I go my way, (says he, John xvi. 5-7.)—I go my way to him that sent me, and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? but 140because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you, that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you: but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” And so the evangelist tells us before, (chap. vii. 39.) that the Spirit was not to be given, till Jesus was first glorified. “This (says he) spake he of the Spirit, which they that believed on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, be cause Jesus was not yet glorified;” plainly declaring, that according to the wise dispensation of God, it was so ordered, that the sending of the Holy Ghost for the propagating of the gospel, by those miraculous powers which were to be conferred upon the first publishers of it, and for the supporting and comforting of Christians under the sharp trials and sufferings to which they were to be exposed, was the fruit of “Christ’s ascension into heaven,” and “his sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” and the first boon which he should obtain of his Father, by the virtue and power of his intercession. “I will pray the Father,” says he, (ver. 16. of this chapter) “and he shall send you another Advocate, the Spirit of truth, and he shall abide with you for ever.” “He shall send you an other Comforter;” so our translation renders the word παράκλητος, but it most properly signifies “an Advocate, or Patron,” that undertakes our defence and pleads our cause for us. And this the Holy Ghost in a most eminent and remarkable manner was to the apostles and first Christians, when they were called to answer for themselves before kings and governors. They were generally men of low condition and mean breeding, easily dashed out of 141countenance before great men; and therefore our Saviour promised that the Holy Ghost should be their Advocate, and should prompt and assist them in the pleading of their cause. (Matt. x. 18, 19.) “Ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake; but when they deliver you up, take no thought how, or what you shall speak, for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak: for it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” Or, as it is in St. Luke, (chap. xii. ver. 12.) “The Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” And yet more fully, (chap. xxi. ver. 12-15.) where, speaking again of their being brought before kings and rulers for his name’s sake, he gives them this charge, “Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gain say or resist.”
And this promise we find remarkably made good to St. Stephen, (Acts vi. 10.) of whom it is there said, that “his enemies were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spake.” And to St. Paul likewise, when he was first called to answer for himself at Rome, as he himself tells Timothy; (2 Tim. iv. 16, 17.) “At my first answer, no man stood with me; but all men forsook me: notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me.”
And though this was extraordinary, yet all Christians have, by virtue of this promise, the ordinary assistance and comfort of God’s Holy Spirit in all their troubles and afflictions. By this Spirit we may in all our distresses with confidence make our addresses 142to God, “having access by one Spirit to the Father,” as St. Paul speaks, (Ephes. ii. 18.) By the same Spirit we are assisted in our prayers, and directed many times what to ask of God, suitable to the condition which his providence designs to bring us into; which seems to be the apostle’s meaning: (Rom. viii. 26.) “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what to pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us;” that is, suggests to us such requests, as are fit for us to put up to God. By the same Spirit is secretly infused into our souls “peace and joy in believing, great consolation and good hope through grace.” Hence are those expressions in Scripture of “the consolation of the Spirit,” and of “joy in the Holy Ghost,” the best cordial in the world in all cases of trouble.
And in extraordinary cases, good men, by virtue of this promise of the Spirit, may expect to be borne up and comforted in a very extraordinary and supernatural manner, under the greatest tribulations and sufferings “for righteousness sake.” This was very signal and remarkable in the primitive Christians, who were exposed to the most fierce and cruel persecutions; and may still be expected in like cases of extraordinary suffering for the testimony of God’s truth. “If ye be reproached (saith St. Peter, 1 Pet. iv. 14.) for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you.” The Spirit of God is there promised, to strengthen and support all that suffer for the name of Christ, in a very conspicuous and glorious manner; according to that prayer of St. Paul, (Col. i. 11.) that Christians might be “strengthened with all might, according to God’s glorious power, unto 143all long-suffering with joyfulness.” For when God exerciseth good men with trials more than human, and sufferings which are beyond the ordinary rate of human strength and patience to bear, he hath engaged himself to assist and endow them with more than human courage and resolution. So St. Paul tells the Corinthians, who had not yet felt the utmost rage of persecution, (1 Cor. x. 13.) “No temptation (or trial) hath yet befallen you, but what is common to men;” nothing but what is frequently incident to human nature, and what, by an ordinary assistance of God’s grace, men may grapple with; but in case God calls men to extraordinary sufferings, “He is faithful that hath promised, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” And why should we be daunted at the weight of an affliction, if we be well assured that our strength shall be in creased in proportion to our burden?
And wherever this promise is not made good there is some defect on our part; either men are not sincere in the profession of the truth, and then no wonder if they fall for fear of suffering; or they have been too confident of themselves, and have not, with that earnestness and importunity they ought, prayed to God for his grace and assistance, and thereupon God hath justly left them to try their strength against a violent and powerful temptation: as he did Peter, who, for all his confidence, did upon no very great temptation deny his Saviour; but even in this case, where there is truth and sincerity at the bottom, God gives to such persons, as he did to Peter, the opportunity of recovering themselves by repentance.
There are three particulars more remain; but I shall proceed no farther at this time.144
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