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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.—Johnxiv. 1.
I COME now to the fifth and last ground of comfort, which the Christian religion affords to good men, for their support under trouble, namely, That it assures us of a most compassionate and prevalent and perpetual patron and advocate and intercessor with God in heaven for us, namely, our blessed Saviour, “who for the suffering of death was crowned with glory and honour,” advanced “at the right hand of God,” where “he sits in great majesty and glory,” having “all power in heaven and earth committed to him,” and where “he lives continually to make intercession for us.”
And this is another consideration mentioned by our Saviour for the comfort of his disciples, who were so sorrowful at the thoughts of his departure from them, that though he should leave the world, yet he should be highly advanced in heaven, where he would certainly employ all his favour and power and interest for their benefit and advantage, and be an everlasting patron and advocate for those whose salvation he had purchased with so much sweat and blood, presenting our requests and prayers to God, in virtue of his most meritorious sacrifice and sufferings continually presented to his Father, perpetually 159soliciting our cause, and procuring for us all those blessings by his intercession in heaven, which he had purchased for us by his blood upon earth. “For which reason,” saith the apostle, (Heb. vii. 25.) “he is able to save to the utmost all those that come to God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for us;” that is, he is able to perfect the work of our salvation, which he began here upon earth; and to procure for all those who address their prayers to God in his name, whatever is needful and convenient for us, because he is always at the right hand of God to second our prayers by his powerful intercession for us.
And this is a ground of comfort, though not greater and more substantial in itself than the other; yet more accommodated to our apprehensions, who are naturally apt to dread the majesty of God, and to seek out for some in favour with him, to be mediators and intercessors with God for us, and to present our prayers and requests to him. And this was the original of the addresses of the heathens to the angels and souls departed, as a kind of intermediate and inferior deities, to present their prayers, and intercede with the great God in their behalf. And as in compliance with the general apprehension of mankind concerning the appeasing of the Deity by all sorts of sacrifices, God was pleased to provide “one sacrifice,” which “by being once offered” should “obtain eternal redemption for us, and perfect for ever them that are sanctified;” and by this means to put an end both to the carnal sacrifices of the law, and the barbarous and inhuman sacrifices of the pagan worship: so, in like condescension to the general inclinations of mankind to address themselves to God by several mediators 160and intercessors, God hath appointed “one only mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all;” thereby to put an end to that infinite superstition, which had obtained in the world for so many ages, of addressing their prayers to God by the mediation of good angels, and the departed souls of their heroes and great men, who were, as I may so call them, the pagan saints.
So that, as under the gospel, God hath appointed but “one sacrifice for sin,” that should be of eternal efficacy: so but one mediator in heaven for sinners to offer up our prayers to God, and to intercede continually for us, in the power and virtue of that one sacrifice, once offered for the redemption of mankind. And therefore, it is every whit as contrary to the genius and design of the Christian religion, to apply ourselves to other intercessors with God in heaven for us, whether saints or angels, or even the blessed Virgin herself, as it would be to continue still the Jewish sacrifices, not to say the heathen. For, it is not clearer that there is but one proper sacrifice under the gospel, viz. that of Christ upon the cross; than that there is but “one mediator and intercessor with God in heaven for us.” Nay, St. Paul speaks as if the Christian religion did no more admit of more mediators than one, than of more Gods than one: (1 Tim. ii. 5.) “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all.” Nor is the force of this plain text to be avoided, by saying that the apostle here speaks of “a mediator of redemption,” as appears from the following words, “who gave himself a ransom for all.” For it is plain likewise, that he speaks also of “a mediator 161of intercession,” and affirms him to be “but one,” as is evident from what goes before. The apostle directs “prayers and supplications to be made for all men,” and then at the fifth verse, to whom Christians should address these prayers, and by whose mediation, viz. to God, in the name and mediation of Jesus Christ. “For (says he) there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” So that the apostle’s discourse does as plainly infer, that there is but “one mediator of intercession,” as that there is but “one mediator of redemption.”
And, indeed, whosoever considers that quite throughout the New Testament, our Saviour and his apostles do constantly direct Christians to make their prayers to God in the name and mediation of Jesus Christ, and no where give so much as the least intimation of applying ourselves to any other intercessors with God in heaven for us, may justly wonder how this superstition of praying to angels and saints departed, which hath no manner of countenance, and is by necessary consequence so clearly forbidden, should ever prevail among Christians; especially since it is a plain diminution of the virtue and efficacy of our Saviour’s intercession, or if it add nothing to it, it is perfectly vain and endless, and to no purpose. For what need of any other intercessors with God in heaven for us, if that be true which the apostle to the Hebrews most expressly affirms, that “Christ is able to save them to the utmost that come to God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”
The prevalency and efficacy whereof may justly minister to us, in all our distresses and troubles, some peculiar ground of comfort above what springs 162from the bare contemplation of the Divine nature, that we have so powerful a friend to intercede with God for us, one so dearly beloved of him, and so highly in his favour; one that is advanced “far above all principalities and powers, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but in that which is to come;” and consequently able to do more for us, than all the blessed saints and angels in heaven, and more than all the powers of darkness can do against us.
And this is matter of great comfort to us upon these three considerations:
1. That our advocate is nearly related to us, having condescended, by assuming our nature, to be allied to us, to become “bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh,” so that we may address ourselves to him with great freedom and confidence; and, as the apostle expresseth it, (Heb. iv. 16.) “We may come with boldness to this throne of grace, for seasonable mercy and help in time of need.” For we may most assuredly believe, that he who stooped to be made man, and to become one of us, will upon all occasions most heartily be concerned for us, and ready to help us.
2. Considering that he hath already given the greatest demonstration of his kindness and compassion to us; we may be sure that he, who hath done and suffered such things for our sakes, hath a very tender love and affection for us; he who was contented to die for us, will do for us any thing else that may do us good.
3. And that we might have no doubt of his forwardness and inclination to pity and relieve us, he suffered the most grievous things himself that any man could suffer, that from the experience and remembrance 163of his own sufferings, he might learn to compassionate us. And this the apostle particularly insists upon, as a very comfortable consideration to us in all our trials and sufferings. (Heb. iv. 15, 16.) “For we have not a high-priest which cannot be touched, with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are; yet without sin. Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need:” and, (chap. ii. 17, 18.) “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high-priest: for in that he himself suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” So that we may rest assured of his pity and support in all our afflictions and trials, who knows both the infirmity of our nature, and hath himself had experience of greater sufferings than any of us either shall or can ever be exercised withal.
And as for the general concernment of his truth, and religion, and church upon earth, that which all good men are with so much reason solicitous about, this is his proper care, and the great business that he is intent upon, now that he is in heaven, to protect and defend his truth and religion, and the church which professeth it, so that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This is his kingdom, for the effectual administration whereof “all power in heaven and in earth is committed to him.” And, as he interceded! with his Father for every particular Christian, so much more for his church, which is his body; to preserve her from all dangers that threaten her ruin, and to guard her against the power and malice of all her enemies. For to this end was 164he advanced to the right hand of God, that he might continue there, “till he had made his enemies his footstool.” And this kingdom of his shall continue in his hands, “till he have put down all rule, and all authority and power,” that sets itself against him; “for he must reign till he have put all things under his feet.”
So that, though truth may be obscured and clouded for a time, and the professors of it grievously harased and oppressed, yet it shall not finally be borne down, but shall at length prevail against all opposition; because, he who hath undertaken the protection of it is mighty, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, the chief favourite of heaven, who is continually “at the right hand of God,” and “lives for to make intercession for us.”
And thus I have, as briefly as I well could, represented to you, what force and virtue there are in the two remedies here prescribed by our Saviour, for the mitigating and allaying of our troubles: viz. faith in God, the great Creator and Governor of the world; and faith likewise in himself, the Son of God and Saviour of men. “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.”
And now to apply this discourse to ourselves; the inferences I shall make from it shall be these three:
I. That in all our troubles and adversities, of what kind soever, we should support and comfort ourselves with the firm belief of the providence of Almighty God, and of his tender and compassionate care of mankind, especially of those that fear him, and put their trust in his mercy.
II. We should put a high value upon the Christian 165religion, and “hold fast the profession of it without wavering;” which affords us such firm and solid grounds of comfort and support under all troubles and afflictions, as are no where else to be found; such as neither the light of nature, nor any other revelation that God ever made of him self to mankind, do give us the notice and knowledge of.
III. Since the prayers of Christ are so effectual and prevalent with God, let us, by frequent and fervent prayers, make our requests known to God; and let us, “with confidence and full assurance of faith, address ourselves to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find favour with him for our seasonable help and support in the time of need.” I shall speak briefly to these, and so conclude this discourse.
I. In all troubles and adversities, of what kind soever, under all afflictions and sufferings that may befal us, of loss or pain, of poverty and sickness, of reproach and persecution for righteousness sake, and under the most fearful apprehensions of danger and distress, to all human appearance inevitably threatening us in our persons and private concernments, or with relation to the public peace and tranquillity, or to that which ought to be infinitely dearer to us than all these, our religion, which is the great concernment of our souls, and of all eternity, when we have no hope any where else, no visible means of help and redress, when we are almost in despair of avoiding the danger, and warding off the blow that is made at us, when ruin and destruction seem just to have overtaken us, and are ready to devour us with open mouth, and “to swallow us up quick;” in a word, when we are reduced to the 166greatest extremity and distress that can be imagined—even in this case, if ever it should happen, we should support our minds with a firm belief of the providence of Almighty God, and of his tender and compassionate care of mankind, especially of “those that fear him, and put their trust in his mercy;” and comfort ourselves, as the holy and divine Psalmist does, in all our fears and troubles; “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee;” (Psal. lvi. 3.) And he tells us that every good man hath ground and reason for this confidence; (Psal. cxii. 7, 8.) speaking of the righteous and good man, “He shall not (says he) be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. His heart is established, he shall not be afraid.” And, (Psal. xxvii. 1.) “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psal. lxii. 5-8.) “My soul, wait thou only upon God: for my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence, I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, ye people, pour out your heart before him. God is a refuge for us.” And, (Psal. xlvi. 1, 2, 7.) “God is our refuge and strength; and a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed; and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” To which I will add that comfortable promise, (Isa. xxvi. 3.) “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee; because he trusteth in thee.”
Thus we may, in all conditions that may befal us, 167in our greatest fears and troubles, ease our hearts, by reposing ourselves upon God, in confidence of his support and deliverance, of his care and providence, to prevent and divert the evils we fear; or of his gracious help to bear us up under them, and of his mercy and goodness to deliver us out of them, when he sees it best; provided always that we be careful of our duty to him, and do what becomes us, and nothing else.
For our more particular direction herein,
1. Let us depend upon God, and entirely confide in his goodness and care, and trust in his wisdom and power for our protection and deliverance: for here is our great security. In all our difficulties and troubles, the providence of God is infinitely more to us, than any prudence and conduct of our own. He hath a thousand ways to divert and put by the evils which are levelled against us, “to turn the counsels of men backward, and make their devices of none effect.” When we can do nothing to help and save ourselves, “his right hand, and his arm, and the light of his countenance,” can do it, if “he have a favour for us.”
2. Let us so trust God, as to neglect no prudent and lawful means for our security and preservation from evil. Let us not, by our rashness and folly, provoke trouble and danger, and bring them upon ourselves. Let us, according to our Saviour’s counsel, “be wise as serpents,” and “innocent as doves.” Let us use all that care and prudence which are consistent with innocence and a good conscience; and when we have done that, let us be no farther solicitous, but resign up ourselves, and all our concernments, to the good pleasure of God, and the disposal of his wise providence; and leave 168it to him, who made the world, to govern it, because he certainly understands it best.
3. Let us be sure to keep within the bounds of our duty, trying no unlawful ways for our ease and preservation, and rescue from the evils which we fear and lie under; by loosening the bonds of subjection and obedience to authority, or by any other sinister and indirect means. For let us assure ourselves, that God is never more concerned to appear for us, than when out of conscience of our duty to him, we are contented rather to suffer, than work our deliverance by undue means. Let us “commit ourselves to him in well-doing,” and do nothing, no, not for the cause of religion, which is contrary to the plain rules and precepts of it.
II. We should put a high value upon the Christian religion, and “hold fast the profession of it with out wavering,” which affords to us such firm and solid grounds of comfort and support under all troubles and afflictions, as are no where else to be found; such as neither the light of nature, nor any other revelation that God ever made of himself to mankind, do give us notice and knowledge of.
We should highly value the Christian religion, which hath “brought life and immortality to light,” and hath made so clear a discovery to us of the glorious and eternal rewards of another world, for the encouragement of our faith, and support of our patience under the evils and pressures of this life; and which promiseth, and is ready to afford every sincere Christian, the precious aids and comforts of God’s Holy Spirit, to sustain the weakness of human nature under the greatest tribulations and sufferings; and does likewise assure us of the special efficacy of our prayers with God; and sets before us the 169best and most admirable pattern that ever was, of a contented and cheerful submission to the will of God in the saddest condition incident to human nature, and of perfect patience and composure of mind under the apprehension of approaching evils, and the sense of present sufferings; and, lastly, which assures us of a most compassionate and prevalent and perpetual patron and advocate and intercessor with God in heaven for us. All these are peculiar advantages of the Christian religion, and ought to be so many endearments of it to us, and engagements to u hold fast the profession of it.” This builds our comfort and hope upon a rock, which will abide firm against all rains and winds and storms. And if we suffer ourselves to be removed from it, we quit the only foundation of all our comfort in this life, and happiness in the next. So that, if we would “hold fast the confidence, and the rejoicing of hope,” firm unto the end, we must take heed, as the apostle to the Hebrews (chap. iii. 12.) cautions the Christians in his time; we must (I say) “take heed, lest there be in any of us an evil spirit of infidelity, to apostatize from the living God;” that is, to fall off from the profession of his truth and religion. A religion worthy of all men to be received and adhered to; because, as it calls us to sufferings, so it affords the greatest comforts and supports under them, as is evident from the cheerful and joyful behaviour of the primitive Christians and martyrs, under the greatest extremities of sufferings and torments, the like instances whereto of patience and constancy under so long and repeated persecutions, no other religion that ever was in the world is able to produce.
III. And lastly, Since the prayers of Christians 170are so effectual and prevalent with God, let us, by frequent and fervent prayer “in every thing make our requests known to God; and let us with confidence and full assurance of faith address ourselves to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find favour with him for our seasonable help and support in time of need.” Let us, as our Saviour exhorts his disciples, “watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation.” And, as the apostle like wise exhorts, let us “be sober and vigilant, and watch unto prayer,” taking all opportunities for it, and spending much time in this duty, than which none of all the duties enjoined by the Christian religion will turn to a better and more comfortable account, if our hearts and lives be but answerable to our prayers.
Let us earnestly beg of God, that his watchful and merciful providence would undertake the care of us; that he would fit and prepare us for every condition which he hath designed to bring us into; that he would teach us to demean ourselves in it as we ought; that he would consider our frailties, and “lay no greater load of affliction upon us, than he will give us grace and strength to bear;” that if he sees it good to exercise any of us with afflictions and sufferings in any kind, he would make us “able to stand in that evil day, and when we have done all to stand.”
And if, instead of vain murmurings, and complaints, and terrifying ourselves with fears of what may never happen, we would, after the example of holy David, “betake ourselves to prayer,” and by this means engage the providence of God for our protection from evil, or for our support under it; we should certainly do much better for ourselves, and 171contribute much more, than we can do any other way, to the prevention of any evil that we can fear, or to the mitigating or shortening of it, as to God’s infinite wisdom and goodness shall seem best.
And let us always be mindful of that caution which our Saviour gives to his disciples, that they might always be in a due preparation for the coming of our Lord to judgment; (Luke xxi. 34-36.) “Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and the cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come upon all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” This caution and counsel do proportionably hold, as to our preparation for any other evil day of affliction and suffering in this world; that we should beware of sensuality, and an inordinate love to the things of this world, and care about them; because these soften and effeminate our spirits, and render them unfit for the day of adversity: and that we should watch and pray; because these are the best preparations against an evil day, and perhaps may prevent it, at least as to ourselves, if God think it fit for us, and “count us worthy to escape it.”
To conclude then this whole discourse. In all our fears and troubles, in all afflictions and adversities that may happen to us in this world, let us “encourage ourselves in the Lord our God, the Father of mercy, and the God of all consolation;” and in his blessed Son Jesus Christ our Lord, “the 172high priest of our profession,” and “the author and finisher of our faith; whom God hath exalted far above all principalities and powers, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but in that which is to come, and hath given him to be head over all things to his church;” remembering that we and all our concernments are in the hands of his providence, where we are infinitely safer than in any counsel and wisdom of our own. And if, after all, it be the will of God to exercise any of us with more than ordinary trials, “to lay affliction upon our loins,” and “to suffer men to ride over our heads/ as the Psalmist expresseth it, let us, as St. Peter exhorts, “commit the keeping of our souls to him in well-doing, as to a faithful Creator, who is able to keep that which is committed to him, and to preserve us to his heavenly kingdom;” which let us all humbly and earnestly beg, for the sake of Jesus Christ; “To whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, might, majesty, and dominion, now and for ever.”173
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