« AnteriorContinuar »
so there is nothing that flatters self; and that | and charge them upon the whole body. It every man is naturally as self-righteous as he is depraved.
will magnify the common infirmities of human nature into crimes. Let the young man swear and challenge; let him be a companion of them that drink, and make merry, and mock at sin; and he shall be applauded as a young man of spirit: but no sooner is he convinced that "the end of these things is death, and that the way of transgressors is hard;" and "comes out from among them, and is separate;" than he is "had in derision of all around him, and is as one mocked of his neighbour." How often has genuine religion produced the loss of friendship, or chilled the warmth of attachment into cold civility. Where power is possessed, it is frequently exerted as far as safety or a regard to appearances will allow. This is seen in the attempts of husbands, parents, and masters, to restrain from following their religious convictions their wives, their children, and their servants. With regard to relations, a Christian will sometimes find a greater trial in their affections than in their frowns. Here is a mother, in all other respects tender and kind; she takes her daughter aside, and weeps to think she should favour a doctrine "every where spoken against," and draw upon herself some opprobrious name:-she beseeches her not to grieve the heart of one who bore her-and "bring down her gray hairs with sorrow to the grave." Now, to withstand all this, and to break loose from such an embrace-not from a want of filial regard-this religion increases at the very time, but from obedience to the voice that cries, "He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me."-What a trial is here!
To this we may add another source of the inevitableness of persecution. It is taken from the Christian himself. Suffering is necessary for his trial and his triumph. Without this, how could he prove that he loves God better than friendship, reputation, wealth, or life? How could he overcome evil with good? How could he love his enemies, bless them that curse him, and pray for them that despitefully use him and persecute him?-It is warfare that makes a good soldier. A Christian is like the firmament, and it is the darkness of affliction that makes his starry graces to shine out. He is like those herbs and plants that best effuse their odours when bruised.
But you say though this was true formerly, is it not far otherwise now? And if the truth be applied to us at all, must it not be taken with limitations? And what are they?
Here let us admit with gratitude the difference between our own times, and the days of those "who through faith and patience inherit the promises." We should not talk like martyrs. Owing to the justice and mildness of our laws, what perils do we run? We can "sit under our own vine and fig tree, none daring to make us afraid." The greater part of our sufferings are not distinguishable from the common afflictions of life; and many of the trials that some foolish professors frequently charge on religion, religion would teach them to avoid, if its admonitions were regarded. But on the other hand it must be allowed,
First; that human nature is essentially the same in every age; and that a tiger may be chained and not changed. Under every form of government "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." And where there is a strong active propensity against any thing, (as in this case, there must be against real godliness) it will show itself as opportunity offers; and such opportunity there must be in a world like this.
Secondly; that persecution admits of various degrees. It includes every kind of injury or vexation, from a fiery stake to a scornful sneer; and is not to be estimated always by the bulk of the suffering only, but by the grace, the temper, and the state of the individual that endures it. It commonly operates now in a way of reproach; and frequently this is no less trying than bodily pain. We know who said, "Reproach hath broken my heart." This reproach endeavours to turn their faith into folly; their hope into presumption; their meekness and forgiveness of injuries into meanness and cowardice; their sanctity into singularity or hypocrisy. It will take the blemishes of an individual,
Thirdly. If modern Christians frequently escape persecution, may it not be asked, whether, in many instances, it does not arise from their less fully exemplifying the spirit of their religion than the primitive Christians did? Many professors, it should be observed, seem to make it their whole concern to elude the reproach of the Cross; and we may notice two methods employed by them for this purpose, both of which will tend to prove the truth of the Apostle's assertion, even with regard to ourselves.
The one is concealment. This is dastardly and mean. We should never be drawn out of a corner by the praise of man, nor be driven into a corner by the fear of man. We should be ashamed of nothing we embrace upon conviction. We are required to "confess with the mouth," as well as "to believe with the heart:" and to appear Christians as well as to be such. But if we hide our peculiar character, we cannot of course provoke notice and opposition in that peculiar character.
The other is accommodation. And it is awful to think how one doctrine and usage
244 A CHRISTIAN IS NOT A FAVOURITE WITH THE WORLD.
after another has been given up! Christianity, says one, will never be received by Jews and Mahometans, while you "honour the Son as you honour the Father." It will never be acceptable, says another, to men of taste and learning, till you abandon the barbarous notion of the atonement, and of original sin. Now, upon this plan, what would be left after all the objectors were satisfied? How much would the residue resemble the Gospel as it now stands? And admitting that this pruned system was unexceptionable, and even admired by the generality of mankind, would this be a proof of its truth? If so, why was the preaching of "Christ crucified to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness;" and only to them that were "called, Christ the wisdom of God, and the power of God?" Was Paul mistaken when he said, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned?"
In practice as well as principle, professors have conceded one thing after another, in order to take off prejudice, and to make themselves the more rational, and liberal, and agreeable to the men of this generation. One thing is obvious from all this trimming and changing their way; and it is this--that either Christianity or the world must be altered, before they can be rendered agreeable to each other. But Christianity allows of no alteration. It needs none. The change required therefore is, where it ought to be, in the world. Hence, says the Apostle, "Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God."
Think of this, ye God-and-Mammon men; ye would-be-friends of the world, and of God too. If your aim be to elude opposition and reproach, as far as ye are "of the world, the world will love its own:" but as far as you dissent from them, they will dissent from you; as far as you oppose them, they will oppose you. Our Saviour may say to many Christians as he did to the Jews; "the world cannot hate you but me it hateth, because I testify that the deeds thereof are evil."
share in the sufferings of religion, while he
This subject is fruitful in reflections. First. There are some who suffer persecution that do not live godly in Christ Jesus. For it is not the cross, but the cause that makes the martyr: men may go weeping to hell, as well as to heaven. But to whom does our observation apply? It applies to pretenders; who have "a name that they live, but are dead." The people of the world cannot easily distinguish between "the form of godliness and the power," and therefore the pretending and the sincere frequently fare alike. It is a sad thing for a man to
Secondly. With what caution and prayer should we assume a profession of religion! God forbid we should discourage any; even any of you, my young friends, who are disposed to join yourselves to the Lord's people in a perpetual covenant, that shall not be forgotten: we would rather invite you to cast in your lot among them, and assure you, that in religion you will find a portion infinitely better than all the pleasures of sin, and the vani ties of the world-But at the same time we would not deceive you. We would follow the example of our Lord in addressing those who spoke of following him. You are going, said he, to build: "Sit down first and count the cost." Your religion will be an expensive thing. Can you bear its charges? You are going to declare war. "Sit down first and count the dangers." Have you equal forces? Good alliances? A rich treasury! "So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."
And who after this can think of following him?" Why all who are truly wise. Such a course, notwithstanding every sacrifice, is wisdom; "and wisdom is justified of all her children." If God would open your eyes as he did Balaam's, you would look upon this poor despised people, and say, "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his." If Moses, the son of Pharaoh's daughter, was here, and a palace was offered him, he would "choose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a
"We went through fire and through water, but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place." Thus runs the Divine promise: "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be
Thirdly. If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. It gives you an opportunity to prove your thankfulness for his good-burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon ness, and your adherence to his Gospel. Your thee." And the Apostle Peter exhorts Chriscause is noble: it is the cause of truth and tians not to "think it strange concerning the holiness; it is glory to God in the highest, fiery trial." and on earth peace; good-will towards men. Your companions are glorious; the same afflictions happened to your brethren who were before you in the world, patriarchs, prophets," apostles, and Jesus himself, your elder brother. Your crown is invaluable; and you may say with Paul, "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us."
season; and esteem the reproach of Christ
But what shall we say to persecutors? If you feel enmity against the godly, and would injure them were it in your power, it is "a token of perdition." You may now be placed above them in circumstances; and may love to misrepresent and to vilify them. But "their Redeemer is mighty.' 99 He is "near But why such an inference? Their Lord that justifieth them." He "will plead their and Saviour was made perfect through suffercause." He that "toucheth them, touchething; he was a man of sorrows and acquainted the apple of his eye." They shall have with grief; and they are fore-ordained to wear dominion over you in the morning of the re- his image. There must be a conformity besurrection; and condemn you at the last day." tween the head and the members: "it is "Know ye not that the saints shall judge the enough for the servant to be as his master, world?" and the disciple as his Lord."
Why such an inference? "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." "As many," says our heavenly Father, " HOW WE ARE TO HONOUR GOD IN buke and chasten." The history of the Church I love, I re
furnishes no exceptions to this truth. And can you see good men, and men of the most eminent goodness, invariably suffering-and refuse to drink of the cup they drank of, and to be baptized with the baptism they were baptized with?
In what condition could we view them, should we now find many of those who are infinitely dear to God-Depressed with weakness, fear, and much trembling; pining with disease; "made to possess months of vanity and wearisome nights;" disappointed in their worldly schemes and exertions; perplexed and straitened in their circumstances; bereaved of their dearest connexions; "lover and friend put far from them, and their acquaintance into darkness;" opposed and persecuted by their neighbours and relations; and finding by bitter experience that “a man's foes are those of his own household."
Glorify ye the Lord in the fires.
"WHETHER ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." What an extensive admonition is this! It demands of us nothing less than an universal regard to God;-a reference to his honour in all our actions, not only religious, but civil and natural.
And yet even this does not include the
I. THE STATE HERE SUPPOSED. II. OUR
Stripped of metaphor, the passage before us supposes a state of suffering.
In this state we may be found as men: for although affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground, yet man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward."
In this state we may be found as Christians: for "many are the afflictions of the righteous." This fact may seem strange to the natural man, who concludes that the favourite of Heaven is entitled to every indulgence upon earth: and it has often proved a source of temptation to the people of God themselves, who have been led, from their sufferings, to suspect their safety.
WHICH IT IS ENFORCED.
I. THE STATE HERE SUPPOSED-"In the fires." The language is figurative. It is common for the sacred writers to hold forth trouble and affliction by fire, and frequently in connexion with its opposite, water. Thus the Church triumphant looks back and exults;
And what, under all this, should we find them doing?-Hardening themselves by infidel reasonings, by stoical apathy? Endeavouring to banish all sense of their sorrows, by repairing to the dissipations of the world?
-They would rather die at their Saviour's | speaketh, and clear when he judgeth; that we feet, saying, "Carest thou not that we pe- have no reason to complain, whatever we sufrish?"They invite feeling; but this is their fer, for he has punished us infinitely less than language: our iniquities deserve. In this way Daniel gave him glory: "O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of face, as it is this day." So did David: "I know O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me." We glorify God in our afflictions, when we verbally and practically acknowledge
His wisdom. "He is a God of knowledge;" and this regulates his corrections, and even every circumstance attached to them. It may not be easy always to see this, because we do not fully know ourselves, our defects, and our maladies; and therefore we cannot judge properly of the means employed to cure and improve us. But of this we may be assured, that he never errs in the time, the place, the continuance, the instrument, the kind of affliction-it is precisely the very thing we need; and nothing could be altered without injury. We glorify God in our afflictions, when we verbally and practically acknowledge
"What should I wait or wish for then
"Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night? Therefore will I look unto the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation, my God will hear me. From the end of the| earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I." This is well. It is therefore enjoined, "Call upon me in the day of trouble." But it is not enough to seek God in our afflictions-we must serve him. It is,
II. THE DUTY HERE ENJOINED. "Glorify ye the Lord in the fires."
The glory of God is essential or declarative. We cannot add to the former. In this sense, he is "exalted above all blessing and praise. Our goodness extendeth not to him." But "the heavens declare the glory of God: all his works praise him." How? By the impressions and displays of his perfections: by showing us what he is, and what he de
Thus Christians are appointed to "show forth the praises"-virtues-excellences"of him who hath called them out of darkness into his marvellous light:" which is done by their language and by their lives. Hence it is easy to see that we glorify God in our afflictions, when we verbally and practically acknowledge
His agency that nothing comes to pass by chance that his providence is concerned in all our trials-that "there is not an evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it." Many walk all through life and never meet with God. Whatever occurs, whether it be pleasing or painful, never reminds them of him. When they experience a distressing event, they stop at second causes; they are kept from God by the very instrumentality he employs. They exclaim, "Oh! It was that unlucky servant; it was that perfidious friend; it was that malicious enemy." But, if Eli had met with it, he would have said, "It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good:" Job would have said, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: What! shall we receive good at the Lord's hand, and shall we not receive evil?"-We glorify God in our afflictions, when we verbally and practically acknowledge
His rectitude. "He is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works;" and none of our troubles can deny this. Let us always be concerned to keep God free of all blame. Let all our reflections turn upon ourselves. Let us own that he is justified when he
His goodness. For this is really the principle from which proceeds every sorrow that wrings the heart. Severity is often evidential of care and of regard. If God was not concerned for your welfare, why does he employ means to do you good? Does the husbandman prune and manure the tree that he is going to cut down? No-but that which he wishes to save and to fructify. Is it kind to rebuke a friend, or to countenance his faults? Is it kind in a father to suffer the child to have his own will, or to impose upon him salutary restraints, and to urge his attention to things which will qualify him for future life? "We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." If his aim in your afflictions be to prevent that which is your disgrace and ruin; if it be to promote that which is your glory and happiness; if it be to make you wise, humble, tender-hearted, spirituallyminded; to wean you from earth and fit you for heaven-how obvious is the love of God in sending them! But his love is to be acknowledged not only in the design of affliction, but in its alleviations. These are numerous, and a grateful mind will look after them. "It is trying-but it might have been worse. I have lost one comfort-but some have lost all. I am in trouble-but I have
the sympathy of friends; I have the promises | ing. He called, and you came-not in the of Scripture; I have the presence of Him contemptible nature of a worm-but "a little who said, Fear not."-We glorify God in our lower than the angels." What wonders are afflictions, when we verbally and practically there in thy body! Yet this is the baser part. acknowledge You have conscience, reason, immortality. He has taught you more than the beasts of the earth, and made you wiser than the fowls of the air. There is a spirit in you, and the "inspiration of the Almighty giveth it understanding." And is all this to enable you to labour for shining dust with the covetous? To run after air with the ambitious? To dive into mud and mire with the sensual and vicious? Should you not "worship and fall down, and kneel before the Lord your Maker?" By whom have you been upheld from the womb? At whose table have you been daily fed? From whose wardrobe have you been clothed? There is not a comfort in life but gives God a title to thy praise. But he has greater, dearer claims. Go to the manger, the garden, the cross. See him not sparing his own Son, but delivering him up for us all. See him exalting this Sufferer "to be a Prince and a Saviour; to give repentance unto Israel and remission of sins." What has he done for thee in the application of this free and full redemption? Has he opened thine eyes, and turned thy feet into the path of peace.-What has he done for thee since thou hast known him? He has ever left thee? Has he ever turned away thy prayer from him, or his mercy from thee? And is it for you to be wrapped up in selfishness? How unworthy a creature; but how much more unworthy a Christian! When a man is writing a book, says an old divine, he ought often to look back to the title, and see whether he is conforming to it, or deviating from it; and so he tells us we should often turn back and inquire the end of our creation and our redemption, in order that we may regulate ourselves by it. We oughtwe ought-to "reckon ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
His power. This regards our support and deliverance, and is to keep us from all hasty and dismal conclusions. For by nothing do we dishonour God more than by our despondency. Is any thing too hard for the Lord? However dark the scene may be, he can turn the shadow of death into the morning. If when he comes to save us, he finds no way of escape, he can easily make one. Read the history of Joseph, and of David. Observe the relief of Elijah in famine; and the deliverance of Daniel in the lions' den-and learn to trust in your almighty and wonder-working Friend. You say perhaps many of these things were supernatural.-They were. And that we are not to expect a repetition of miracles. It is acknowledged. But he who performed these wonders is still alive, and the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. He is as near to you as he was to his people of old; and you are as dear to him as they were. But, alas! we are not "strong in faith, giving glory to God." Israel "limited the Holy One of Israel," and so do we; and like them we do it after the wonders he has shown us. We forget "the years of the right hand of the Most High," and every fresh difficulty chills our hope, and forces our confidence to a stand. But this is wrong. We ought to be peculiarly concerned to "glorify God in the fires."
III. We proceed to examine THE REASONS. There are three. The first is derived from opportunity-the second from obligationthe third from hope.
First. You ought to glorify God in the fires, because you have the finest opportunity. The scene naturally awakens attention, and fixes observation upon you. Nothing preaches like a fact. Nothing is so impressive as the graces of a Christian in trouble. Infidels have been convinced, the wicked have been reclaimed, the weak have been strengthened, the timid encouraged by what they have seen and heard in the hour of affliction. How much, therefore, should you prize such a useful providence, and how anxious should you be to improve such an opportunity, to illustrate your principles, to exemplify the advantages of religion, to recommend the master you serve! Let it not be a price in the hand of fools. It will be painful to look back upon such a season neglected. It will be dreadful to review such a season perverted. Yet this is often done by improper behaviour, by ungracious tempers, by passionate words.
Secondly. The obligations you are under to the blessed God, should induce you to glorify him in the fires. Once you had no be
Thirdly. Hope should influence you. Such a disposition to glorify God in the fires is productive of your own advantage. God is a good master. Though we owe him all the obedience we render, and it is impossible for any of our works to be meritorious, yet his grace has made them rewardable-and "verily there is a reward for the righteous." We cannot be losers by any thing we do for him. You may often study the wishes, and promote the interests of men, and meet with no suitable return. But he renders love for love, service for service, in a proportion infinitely increased. "Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed."
One of these two things is certain, as the consequence of sanctifying the Lord in your afflictions.