« AnteriorContinuar »
ror in death; what fortitude or moderation would be displayed in regarding them with absolute indifference? But since each of these by its own essential bitterness naturaHy preys on all our hearts, herein the fortitude of a believer is manifested, if when he experiences such bitterness, how grievously soever he may be distressed by it, yet by valiantly resisting he at length overcomes it; his patience displays itself, if, when he is sharply provoked, he is nevertheless restrained by the fear of God from any eruptions of intemperance: his cheerfulness is conspicuous, if, when he is wounded by sadness and sorrow, he is satisfied with the spiritual consolation of God.
IX. This conflict, which the faithful sustain against the natural emotions of sorrow, while they cultivate patience and moderation, Paul has elegantly described in the following words: “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.” (m) You see that patiently to bear the cross does not consist in an absolute stupefaction and privation of all sense of sorrow, according to the foolish description given by the ancient Stoics of a magnanimous man, as one who, divested of the feelings of human nature, was alike unaffected by adverse and prosperous events, by sorrowful and joyful ones, And what advantage have they derived from this sublime wisdom? They have depicted an image of patience, such as never has been found, such as never can exist among men; but in their ardour for a patience too perfect and precise, they have banished its influence from human life. At present also among Christians there are modern Stoics, who esteem it sinful not only to groan and weep, but even to discover sadness and solicitude. These paradoxes generally proceed from idle men, who, employing themselves more in speculation than in action, can produce nothing but such paradoxical notions. But ve have nothing to do with that iron-hearted philosophy, which our Master and Lord has condemned not only in words but even by his own example. For he mourned and wept 'both for his own calamities and for those of others: nor did 'he teach his disciples a different conduct; “ The world,” says he, “shall
rejoice, but ye shall weep and lament.” (n) And that no man might pervert it into a crime, he has formally pronounced a blessing on them that mourn: () and no wonder. For if all tears be reprobated, what judgment shall we form concerning the Lord himself, from whose body distilled tears of blood? (p) If every terror be stigmatized with the charge of unbelieff what character shall we attribute to that horror and consternation with which we read that he was so violently depressed? If all sorrow be displeasing, how can we be pleased with his confessing that his “soul” was “sorrowful even unto death?”
X. I have thought proper to mention these things, in order to preserve pious minds from despair; that they may not hastily renounce the study of patience, because they cannot divest themselves of the natural affection of sorrow. This must necessarily be the case with those who degrade patience into insensibility, and a man of fortitude and constancy into a senseless block. For the Scripture applauds the saints for their patience, when they are afflicted with severe calamities, but not broken and overcome by them; when they are bitterly distressed, but are filled at the same time with spiritual joy; when they are oppressed with anxiety, but are revived and exhilarated with Divine consolation. At the same time there is that opposition in their hearts, that the feelings of nature avoid and dread those things which they experience to be inimical to it; but the affection of piety struggles even through these difficulties to obey the Divine will. This opposition the Lord expressed, when he thus addressed Peter; “When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.” (9) It is not probable that Peter, when he was called to glorify God by his death, was drawn to it with reluctance and resistance; in this case his martyrdom would be entitled to little applause. But however he might submit with the greatest alacrity of heart to the Divine appointment, yet, not having divested himself of human nature, he was distracted by two contrary inclinations. For when he contemplated the bloody death he was about to undergo, stricken with a dread of it he would
(n) John xvi. 20.
(0) Matt. y. 4. (0) Luke sxii. 44. (9) John xxi. 181 gladly have escaped. On the contrary, when he considered that he was called to it by the Divine will, suppressing all fear, he unreluctantly and even cheerfully submitted to it. It must be our study, therefore, if we would be the disciples of Christ, that our minds may be imbued with so great a reverence for God, and such an unreserved obedience to him, as may overcome all contrary affections, and make them submit to his appointments. Thus whatever kind of affliction we endure, even in the greatest distresses of the mind; we shall constantly retain our patience. For adversity itself will have its stings, with which we shall be wounded. Thus, when afflicted with disease, we shall groan and be disquieted, and pray for the restoration of health: thus, when oppressed with poverty, we shall feel the stings of solicitude and sorrow; thus we shall be affected with the grief of ignominy, contempt, and injury; thus we shall shed the tears due to nature at the funerals of our friends; but we shall always recur to this conclusion, This affliction is appointed by the Lord, therefore let us submit to his will. Even in the agonies of grief, amid groans and tears, there is a necessity for the intervention of this reflection, in order to incline the heart cheera fully to bear those things by which it is so affected.
XI. But as we have deduced the principal reason for bearing the cross from a consideration of the Divine will, we must briefly point out the difference between philosophical and Christian patience. For very few of the philosophers have riser to such an eminence of reason, as to perceive that we are exer
cised with afflictions by the Divine hand, and to conclude that - God ought to be obeyed in these occurrences; and even those
who have gone to this length, adduce no other reason, than because it is necessary. What is this but saying, that we must submit to God, because it were in vain to contend against him? For if we obey God only from necessity; if it were possible to escape from him, our obedience would cease. But the Scripture enjoins us to consider the Divine will in a very different point of view; first, as consistent with justice and equity; secondly, as directed to the accomplishment of our salvation. Christian exhortations to patience, then, are such as these: Whether we are afflicted with poverty, or exile, or imprisonment, or reproach, or disease, or loss of relatives, or any other
similar calamity, we must reflect that none of these things happen without the appointment and providence of God; and moreover, that he does nothing but with the most systematic justice. Do not our innumerable and daily transgressions deserve more severe and grievous chastisements than those which his clemency inflicts on us? Is it not highly reasonable that our flesh should be subdued, and as it were accustomed to the yoke, lest it should break out according to its propensities into lawless excesses? Are not the righteousness and truth of God worthy of our labours on their account? But if the equity of God evidently appears in our afflictions, we cannot without iniquity either murmur or resist. We no longer hear that frigid maxim of the philosophers, We must submit to necessity: but a lesson lively and full of efficacy, We must obey, because it is unlawful to resist; We must patiently suffer, because impatience is a rebellious opposition to the justice of God. Because nothing is really amiable to us but what we know to be conducive to our benefit and salvation, our most merciful Father af. fords us consolation also in this respect, by declaring, that even in afflicting us with the cross he promotes our salvation. But if it be evident that tribulations are salutary for us, why should we not endure them with grateful and placid hearts? In patiently bearing them, therefore, we do not submit to necessity, but acquiesce in our own benefit. The effect of these considerations is, that in proportion as our minds are oppressed under the cross with the natural sense of affliction, so greatly are they dilated with spiritual joy. This is attended also by thanksgiving, which cannot be without joy. But if praise and thanksgiving to the Lord can only proceed from a cheerful and joyful heart, and there is nothing which ought to repress these emotions within us; this shews how necessary it is that the bitters ness of the cross should be tempered with spiritual joy.
Meditation on the future Life. WITH whatever kind of tribulation we may be afflicted, we should always keep this end in view; to habituate ourselves to a contempt of the present life, that we may thereby be excited to meditation on that which is to come. For the Lord, well knowing our strong natural inclination to a brutish love of the world, adopts a most excellent method to reclaim us and rouse us from our insensibility, that we may not be too tenaciously attached to that foolish affection. There is not one of us who is not desirous of appearing, through the whole course of his life, to aspire and strive after celestial immortality. For we are ashamed of excelling in no respect the brutal herds; whose condition would not be at all inferior to ours, unless there remained to us a hope of eternity after death. But if you examine the designs, pursuits, and actions of every individual, you will find nothing in them but what is terrestrial. Hence that stupidity, that the mental eyes, dazzled with the vain splendour of riches, power, and honours, cannot see to any considerable distance. The heart also, occupied and oppressed with avarice, ambition, and other inordinate desires, cannot rise to any eminence. In a word, the whole soul, fascinated by carnal allurements, seeks its felicity on earth. To oppose this evil, the Lord, by continual lessons of miseries, teaches his children the vanity of the present life. That they may not promise themselves profound and secure peace in it, therefore he permits them to be frequently disquieted and infested with wars or tumults, with robberies or other injuries. That they may not aspire with too much avidity after transient and uncertain riches, or depend on those which they possess; sometimes by exile, sometimes by the sterility of the land, sometimes by a conflagration, sometimes by other means, he reduces them to indigence, or at least confines them within the limits of mediocrity. That they may not be too complacently delighted with conjugal blessings, he either causes them to be distressed with the wickedness of their wives, or humbles them with a wicked offspring, or afflicts them with want or loss of children. But