« AnteriorContinuar »
death of children or other relatives and friends; at other times, by the unkindness and sad miscarriages of those whose spiritual and eternal interests are most precious and desirable to them.
In such a world as this, wherein all are frail and mortal, where there are different characters, wise and foolish, good and bad; where there are different tempers and dispositions, where there is much peevishness and perverseness, as well as mildness and compliance; there will be a great deal of uneasiness and unhappiness, and a very considerable diversity of circumstances. Some bad men may attain to abundance of outward grandeur and worldly prosperity, and some good men may be depressed, abused, and ill-treated. At the same time considering, that neither the affliction of the one, nor the prosperity of the other can last always; and that neither condition is unmixed, and entirely throughout uniform and of a piece, the inequality is not vast. For in much outward prosperity, the most established and secure, there will be cares and fears, and there may be stinging reflections. And in afflictive cases there are usually some intervals of ease, some alleviations and abatements of pain and grief, some refreshing supports, cordials and consolations.
Which leads us to observe farther :
6. Piety has many advantages relating to this present life, and good men have grounds of support and comfort in every condition : whereby the “ promise of the life that now is,” is filfilled and made good to them.
But the farther consideration of this point must be deferred to another season.
THE PROMISE ANNEXED TO GODLINESS.
For bodily exercise profiteth little : but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the
life that now is, and of that which is to come.—1 Tim. iv. 8.
HAVE already shewn what we are to understand by bodily exercise, and that godliness has promise of the life which is to come.
III. The third thing is, that " godliness has promise of the life that now is.” And for illustrating this point several observations have been mentioned.
1. It is certain that the Divine Providence is over all his works, and that God has an especial and more favourable regard to righteous and truly good men than to others.
2. It ought to be owned, that the chief promise of the gospel is eternal life, or happiness in a future state.
3. Nevertheless there are under the gospel dispensation promises and assurances of comfort, peace and happiness to good men in this
world. 4. But yet neither the law nor the gospel makes promises and assurances of remarkable worldly prosperity and greatness to all good men in this world.
5. Some inequality and diversity of circumstances, with a variety of afflictions and troubles, is not unsuitable to the present state and condition.
6. Piety has many advantages relating to this present life, and good men have grounds of support and comfort in every condition; whereby the promise of the life that now is, is fulfilled and made good to them.
This was just mentioned the last opportunity. And it is the main point, which is now to be made out by us.
And I presume, that all may by this time be sensible of the reasonableness of the method in which we have proceeded: first insisting upon the promise of the life which is to come : inasmuch as that promise, and the hope of future eternal life, cannot but be an immediate source of comfort and joy. And without that promise and hope, the practice of virtue, and the profession of truth, if possible, would in some cases be extremely difficult and uncomfortable. For what
should induce men to hazard all their present interests for the sake of truth? With what satisfaction could an upright friend and patron of religion and virtue resign this present life, and submit to and undergo a painful death for the sake of truth, if there were no life to come where some recompense may be received ?
In showing, then, the advantages and comforts of piety here, and its promise of the life that now is, the promise of the life which is to come must be supposed, and taken for granted, or well proved: as indeed it is a certain truth, or faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.
In making out this point I intend to insist on the several following particulars.
We will compare the condition of good and bad men in this world. In the next place we will observe some temporal advantages which piety will be attended with, and may be the means of. It also secures from some temporal evils and troubles : and finally it affords comforts and enjoyments which are not to be had without it.
1. Let us compare the condition of good and bad men in this world. For possibly, if we do so, it may appear, that the irreligious, who mind nothing but the affairs of this world, have seldom even now, upon the whole, any great advantage or superiority above the truly good and virtuous.
It is true, there are some instances of bad men, or of such as concern themselves about nothing more than a form of godliness, who have a great deal of outward worldly prosperity: and there are some good men in very low and mean circuinstances, who meet with a great deal of worldly trouble and affliction; but it is not always so: neither do all bad men prosper : nor are all good men in adversity. Success does not always attend unrighteous or hypocritical men in their unrighteous designs. If they are unsuccessful; if they are disappointed in their aims and pursuits, how distressed then is their condition! how great their grief and vexation! which a good man avoids, or very much moderates upon like occasions.
Supposing the covetous and ambitious to prosper, and obtain the advantages they aim at; still those advantages are exceeding uncertain and vain. They cannot afford a great deal of satisfaction. For they are accompanied with cares and fears, and may be all lost. If they are not lost, they must be soon left: how soon, man knows not. « Riches," as the wise man observes,“
certainly make to themselves wings: they flee away as an eagle towards heaven,” Prov. xxiii. 5. And, says the Psalmist, “ Man that is in honour abideth not,” Ps. xlix. 12.
There is no stability in earthly things, and but little satisfaction to be had from them whilst they are possessed. How unsettled, for the most part, is the condition of those who are in places of honour and preferment! How numerous and how watchful are their enemies and opposers ! For which reason fears and jealousies oftentimes perplex and torment the minds of those who are in the most exalted stations. And though men are much advanced, the greater power, honour and splendour of some others may occasion envy, pining grief, and vexation. Whilst men have many and great advantages, and almost every ingredient of worldly felicity, some one trouble or affliction, or a restless desire of some one thing still wanting, may imbitter every enjoyment.
There is not then, any thing very tempting in the most splendid circumstances of bad men.
2. It should be considered, that there are many temporal worldly advantages, which do usually attend the practice of piety, and which it is the means of. Sobriety and temperance conduce to the health of the body, which is a very great blessing, and to the clearness of the understanding, the vigour of the mind, and all the intellectual faculties.
The health of the body, which is a very great blessing, the clearness of the understanding, the vigour of the mind, and all its intellectual faculties attend upon, and are fruits of piety: Sobriety, with frugality and diligence, will ordinarily go a great way toward obtaining and securing a competence of all things needful and convenient: and the meek shall inherit the earth. Mildness of disposition and temper, and moderate affections, conduce to health and long life. These also, together with a prudent and agreeable behaviour toward all those we converse with, if they advance not to honour, will procure the favour and good will of some, and good repute with the wise and discerning. He that will love life," says St. Peter, “ and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile. Let him eschew evil, and do good ; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil,” 1 Pet. iii. 10–12.' It is the advice of Solomon : « Commit thy ways unto the Lord,
and thy thoughts shall be established,” Prov. xvi. 3. Again: “When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him,” ver. 7. He also observes: “A man's wisdom maketh his face to shine,” Eccl. viii. 1. Which is not more true of that part of wisdom, which consists in knowledge and understanding, and an ability to resolve difficult questions, than in that wisdom which consists in a virtuous conduct, and a mild, discreet, and obliging behaviour among men.
Goodness and beneficence secure men respect in the time of their prosperity. And if their circumstances change, and they be brought into trouble, they will still be beloved and esteemed, and they will meet with some to protect and supply them, and interest themselves in their favour, as the exigence of their case requires.
3. Another thing to be said in the behalf of godliness is, that it tends to prevent, or secure from many evils.
evils. This is implied in the last-mentioned particular. Let me however show this more distinctly.
Many evils, some inward, others outward, are prevented by the several branches of piety, The sober and temperate avoid the bad effects and consequences of intemperance and licentiousness. He who governs his passions and affections lives free from many uneasinesses and disquietudes that torment and pierce others of ungoverned affections and passions. The truly pious man, that is not ambitious of honour and preferment, state and grandeur, who is not covetous, who enlarges not his desires after much wealth and large revenues, avoids solicitude and perplexity. The humble man that overlooks neglects and ungrateful returns, and some scornful and disdainful treatment, possesseth himself in peace, when others destitute of that virtue are rendered unhappy, or rather, make themselves unhappy, by the misconduct of other men.
The meek and patient, who can pass by, or bear with some injuries and offences, avoid strife and contention, and all the disagreeable consequences thereof, and the train of evils that attend them. Ungoverned excessive anger, deep and lasting resentment, beside the inward uneasiness they produce, oftentimes involve men in great and inextricable difficulties which might have been avoided. And whilst the man of ungoverned passion loses the favour and affection of friends, the mild and discreet subdues the hearts of enemies, and gains their good will and esteem.
4. Lastly, Good men have many comforts and enjoyments which others are destitute of. Solomon recommending wisdom, openly declares (not at all fearing to disappoint those who should hearken to his counsel, and make the experiment), “ Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold every one that retaineth her,” Prov. iii. 17, 18. And in another place he
And in another place he says: “ A good man shall be satisfied from himself,” ch. xiv. 14.
A discreet and thoughtful person, who has considered the nature of religion, and the extent of its precepts and obligations: who has formed to himself just sentiments concerning God and the
way of serving him: and who does actually perform the duties suited to his capacities and circumstances; revering, honouring, and worshipping God, infinite in perfection, and the fountain of all good; loving, relieving, helping his fellow-creatures according to his power, with fidelity and readiness; will ordinarily enjoy much peace and tranquillity of mind.
If at any time he have been misled from the paths of virtue, he has now repented of all his sins, and trusts in the forgiving grace and mercy of God, who pardons and accepts repenting and returning sinners: and he keeps himself in his favour by carefully avoiding all known sin, and performing sincerely every known duty.
He has now the pleasure of integrity, though not of perfection. And being in the frame of his mind and the conduct of his life, obedient and conformed to the will of God, he has a persuasion of his favour and acceptance, which is the truest joy and satisfaction.
Such an one is happy in every circumstance. Alteration of outward condition will not utterly destroy his peace and tranquillity, satisfaction, comfort, and joy. The sentiments and language of the Psalmist are those of all good men in general. “ There may be many that say, who will show us any good ? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased,' Ps. iv. 6, 7.
If he be in prosperity, he owns God to be the giver of every good and perfect gift, and with delight offers up to him sacrifices of praise and thanks.
Is he brought into trouble and affliction ? He has resources of peace and comfort, which others want. He still trusts in God, and casts his care upon him. He has a great deal of comfort in the consideration, and full persuasion, that the providence of God, who is righteous, and loveth righteousness, is over all: and he thereupon concludes, that all things shall be overtuled for the good of those who adhere to the laws of reason and virtue.
As spiritual good is in itself, and in his esteem, the most valuable good, and durable happiness in a future state is the ultimate end of man; he is reconciled to present afflictions, by considering them as the chastisements of his heavenly Father, appointed and laid upon him, for making him more pure and perfect, and more meet for unmixed happiness; or even for securing his welfare and safety, and preventing his ruin, that he might not finally perish with the world of thoughtless and inconsiderate men.
Certainly, when under afflictions, he will have different thoughts and apprehensions concerning them from what others have. His affections were not before so set upon this world and the things of it, as those of some others are: though, possibly, he too has exceeded in his regard for them. However, his moderation of affection for them is now of great benefit. And these things never having been esteemed as his sole or main portion, he is not so totally dejected and disconcerted, as some others are in like circumstances. This is no small advantage in a world where all things are uncertain, and the circumstances of men frequently vary and alter.
And if he actually find afflictions to be of use to him, of service to his spiritual interests, he is mightily reconciled to them. His troubles may appear almost shocking and unsufferable to other men, and the meanness of his outward circumstances may lead them to despise him. Still he can be pleased, if he find himself humbled in the frame of his mind, more affected with the evil of sin, more fully determined for the service of God, and the performance of every duty lying before him. He is satisfied if these afflictions have proved the means of such good, and have better fitted and prepared him for that world where all sorrow and sighing shall flee away; which they never will here. In this manner therefore David speaks of the troubles he had met with: “ It is good for me that I have been afilicted, that I might learn thy statutes," Ps. cxix. 71. “ I know, I Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me, ” ver. 75.
This is said with regard to the common afflictions and troubles of this life.
But farther, are good men brought into difficulties, on account of the profession of truth, and acting agreeably to convictions of their conscience, and deliberate judgment concerning things ? Upon such an occasion they have special supports and consolations. They have now a strong persuasion that their faithfulness is well-pleasing and acceptable to God.' And they have a humble hope, that if they can persevere to the end, they shall be saved, and receive an abun. dant reward.
The declarations of scripture upon this head are full of comfort and encouragement to all who are brought into this trial. My brethren,” says St. James, “count it all joy, when ye fall into divers temptations: knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing, Jam. i. 2, 3. St. Paul encountered many difficulties in the service of true religion. And the acknowledgments he had made with regard to his own and other's experience, who laboured with him at that time, are very observable. “ As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ,” 2 Cor. i. 5. “And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also, knowing, that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope. And hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us, ' Rom. v. 3-5. In another place: “ For which cause we faint not. But though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory: whilst 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,” 2 Cor. iv. 16–18.
Whereby we perceive the true and erfectual blessing, which our Lord bequeathed his disciples: “ Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.
Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,” John xiv. 27. : “ These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have
tribulation. But be of good cheer: I have overcome the world,” John xvi. 33. And the Psalmist- of old could say: “Great peace have they that love thy law; and nothing shall offend them."
As a good man of any rank, in any state and condition, proceeds and perseveres in the practice of piety and virtue, he has an encreasing joy. His perseverance in the way of God's commandment, and continued respect to the divine precepts, confirms the persuasion of his integrity, and he assures his heart before God. His peace and satisfaction are very likely to prevail more and more toward the period of his time here on earth. For he has pleasing reflections and comfortable prospects, to which others are strangers, and which others cannot have. So says the Psalmist: “ Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace,” Ps. xxxvii. 37. And this is an important point, to conclude well.
All which considerations, I presume, sufficiently prove the truth of the observation in the text; that “ Godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come.”
Having now sufficiently considered the several propositions of the text, I shall conclude with some inferences by way of application.
1. We may hence learn to be cautious how we pass any severe censures upon men on account of the disadvantages of their present condition, or the outward troubles and afflictions which they meet with here. This inference follows justly from things before said. This is not a state of recompense, but trial: all things, all outward things, come very much alike to all. There is no knowing good and evil, love and hatred, certainly, by those things which befal men here. Nor are all men miserable who lie under external disadvantages. Some may be greatly afflicted, as we have seen, and yet be peaceful, joyful, and comfortable. Some may meet with many and long continued troubles and afflictions, who yet are not abandoned of God, but approved by him: who are sincere and upright, and persuaded of their acceptance with God. There are good reasons for such a dispensation. Valuable ends and purposes are answered thereby. Good men are improved and made better by the sufferings they endure. Others of more imperfect virtue are made more perfect, and learn from them the duty of patience and resignation. And many by observing the great examples of patience and fortitude of some good men under various trials, may be convinced and persuaded of the truth, power and excellence of the principles of religion.
2. Young persons and others, who are disposed to seek and serve the Lord, and to walk in the way of his commandments, may be hence convinced, that they have no reason to be disheartened and discouraged, as if they should find no pleasure, and obtain no advaộtages in the way of religion and virtue. I hope such will be pleased to consider seriously what has been said. For a principal design of these discourses has been to remove such a prejudice against religion, and show fully that it is false and groundless: and to persuade men to come to a speedy and inmediate determination for virtue, which is really profitable for all things.
3. However, certainly, it is very fit and prudent, at first setting out in the way of virtue, and taking upon us the profession of true religion, to consider the outward disadvantages and sufferings, that may attend such a course, and do sometimes befal the sincere and conscientious. By this means we become prepared for all events. Our resolutions are more confirmed; our obedience will be the more uniform; and a good issue becomes more likely. We shall not only begin, but also finish well. The path of such will be as the morning light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
4. It seems to be a probable truth, that the highest attainments in virtue and holiness will have the largest share of comfort and happiness in this present life. The most complete in virtue will obtain many advantages, and escape many evils, and have the best supports and consolations : for these know best how, and are best able to trust in God. They are most resigned to his will. They have the most lively hope of an heavenly and everlasting inheritance. They, usually, have the most comfortable persuasion of the divine favour and acceptance. Their affections are the most mortified to earthly and sensible things. They have the fullest command of their appetites and passions. They have less anxiety and solicitude about earthly things. They are best contented with their condition. They are freest from envy, ill-will, jealousy, and other troublesome and tormenting emotions and diseases of the mind. This soundness and vigorous bealth of the soul caņoot but have delightful effects. As then godliness is profitable for all