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“ in tribulation also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope.”
But of sickness we may likewise remark, how wonderfully it reconciles us to the thoughts, the expectation, and the approach of death; and how this becomes, in the hand of Providence, an example of one evil being made to correct another. Without question, the difference is wide between the sensations of a person who is condemned to die by violence, and of one who is brought gradually to his end by the progress of disease ; and this difference sickness produces. To the Christian, whose mind is not harrowed up by the memory of unrepented guilt, the calm and gentle approach of his dissolution has nothing in it terrible. In that sacred custody, in which they that sleep in Christ will be preserved, he sees a rest from pain and weariness, from trouble and distress. Gradually withdrawn from the cares and interests of the world ; more and more . weaned from the pleasures of the body, and feeling the weight and pressure of its infirmities, he may be brought almost to desire, with St. Paul, to be no longer absent from Christ; knowing, as he did, and as he assures us, 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."
OUR DEAREST INTERESTS TO BE PARTED WITH
RATHER THAN ENDANGER OUR DUTY.
Matthew v. 29.
If Ihy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
I shall first set about to explain these words, which may seem a little difficult to understand; then consider the advice they contain ; and lastly, the reason that is
given for it.
Now the word “offend,” in this expression, “ If thy right eye offend thee,” signifies corrupt, seduce, tempt to sin. If thy right eye tempt thee to sin, pluck it out; otherwise what has the eye to do with being cast into hell, or how should the plucking it out save the whole body from being cast into hell ? I suppose likewise, that the right eye in this verse, and the right hand in the verse following, is said of any thing we set our hearts upon, or take delight in. The right eye and the right hand are mentioned as being most dear to us, most precious for their use and strength, and so properly represent to us some of our pleasures, habits, or gains, which become almost as dear to us, and as difficult to part with. The body being cast into hell, signifies our being condemned at the day of judgement
to the punishment of hell ; so that our Saviour's admonition is this, that whatever in any manner draws us into vice, however unwilling we be to part with it, must nevertheless be given up and quitted, rather than suffer it to endanger our salvation. A rule perfectly reasonable in itself, as any man can see and own upon the bare mention of it: a rule it is of great consequence to be observed, and yet in fact and in practice very little, if at all, regarded; for where shall you find a man sacrificing an advantage or pleasure, any profit or amusement he is engaged in, to his virtue? Men have a different way of satisfying themselves. Provided a pleasure, situation, or profession be not in itself, strictly speaking, criminal, whatever crimes it m. y lead to, or tempt them to, they venture upon it; they see no reason for avoiding it, and when they are engaged in it, they find the comfort in vice so strong, that there is no power in them to withstand it; they soon begin to hope that God, who knoweth whereof we are made, will make allowance for their frailties and infirmities, and will not require more purity and exactness than such a man in such a situation is capable of.
Now our Lord's rule would have taught them another doctrine, and a different train of arguing. It does not suppose that what we are required to give up is of itself sinful; but provided it draw or lead us into temptation or into sin, the text tells us, that is reason enough for avoiding or resigning it, nay, insists in effect upon our parting with it; for without so doing, we shall not find the strength or violence of the temptation it brings, an excuse for the vice it tempts us into. The right eye and the right hand are of their own nature to be retained, are what God has given us, and must be supposed to mean, what is in its own na
ture allowable and innocent; yet when this right hand and
eye offend, that is, seduce, corrupt, tempt us to sin, they are nevertheless to be cut off and plucked out, otherwise the whole body will be cast into hell. It will not serve us to plead that we were led away by that which was most dear and natural to us, and, in other respects, most beneficial and advantageous. We were bound, our Saviour tells us, to part with it, whatever it cost us. So that on all occasions, before we urge or expect to avail ourselves of this plea, of this strength of temptation, it behoves us to weigh well, whether there be no way of avoiding it, if we cannot resist it; if there be any such way, we are thus to avoid it, cost it what it wil, be it ever so inconvenient or mortifying so to do. This is what our Saviour in the text commands us.
This much may serve to explain our Saviour's direction. As to the application of it, every one must apply it for himself, to his own particular case; and there are few that have not, one way or other, a case to apply it to. By way of making what has been said more plain, let one or two examples be taken to show the force and use of the precept before us.
Suppose now in our calling, or business, or profession, there be some underhand, unlawful gains or practices, about which we cannot satisfy ourselves, but which we have ever been accustomed to, and which, moreover, are so common in our way of life and occupation, that we cannot carry it on to any tolerable advantage without them, what is to be done? If we will believe our Saviour, and go by his rule, the advantage we gain by these practices, be it ever so considerable, and the calling too, if it be not worth the following without these advantages, must be given up. Here is a right
our health, our spirits, our circumstances, conspire to fill our hearts with gladness, and our tongues with praise. This is easy : this is delightful. None but they who are sunk in sensuality, sottishness, and stupefaction, or whose understandings are dissipated by frivolous pursuits ; none but the most giddy and insensible can be destitute of these sentiments. But this is not the trial, or the proof. It is in the chambers of sickness; under the stroke of affliction ; amidst the pinchings of want, the groans of pain, the pressures of infirmity; in grief, in misfortune ; through gloom and horror, that it will be seen whether we hold fast our hope, our confidence, our trust in God; whether th hope and confidence be able to produce in us resignation, acquiescence, and submission. And as those dispositions, which perhaps form the comparative perfection of our moral nature, could not have been exercised in a world of unmixed gratification, so neither would they have found their proper office or object in a state of strict and evident retribution ; that is, in which we had no sufferings to submit to, but what were evidently and manifestly the punishment of our sins. submission to punishment, evidently and plainly such, would not have constituted, at least would very imperfectly have constituted, the disposition which we speak of, the true resignation of a Christian.
It seems, therefore, to be argued with great probability, from the general economy of things around us, that our present state was meant for a state of probation : because positively it contains that admixture of good and evil which ought to be found in such a state to make it answer its
purpose, the production, exercise, and improvement of virtue: and because negatively it could not be intended either for a state of absolute hap