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dealings, thou canst not spell out the meaning of such variety of afflictions and dark providences, but thou shalt be able. Thou art ready to repine and be uneasy, but in heaven, however, thou shalt see what it was for; thou shalt then understand wherefore such a rod was sent, such an ache, such a pain, such a distemper; and why at such a time, and why it continued so long, and why in such a degree ; yea, and that thou couldest not have been well without it; that it was better ordered, than if it had been at thy disposal, yea better than if all the angels in heaven had had the ordering of it. Set this down with thyself, that nothing but sin can really hurt thee; other things may bring some outward disadvantage, but no real detriment. So much
may be implied in that, “ fear not them that can kill the body, but have no more that they can do;" if that be all, if then they have done their worst, fear them not.
We might have insisted here much more largely, and shown that those things cannot hurt us which are most likely to do it, as assaults of Satan, persecutions of wicked men, afflictions, death, hell, &c. but we shall reserve them to another place.
HOLINESS THE WAY OF SAFETY.
1 Peter 111. 13.
And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of
that which is good ?
We shall now pass on to the application, which will consist,
First, Of sundry inferences and uses.
1 Inference, If the way of holiness be really a way of safety, then there is such a thing as real sanctity.
It is true, it is that which by many is laughed at and derided; and some look upon real holiness as no more than a melancholy imagination, or the fantastic delusion of men in a dream. Hence it is that they ridicule it almost in every company, and make it the subject of their merriment, by this means proclaim
ing their own folly ; yea, some can boast that at last they are got from under the bondage of that tyrant conscience, as if they had had many struggles and conflicts, and at last with much ado had got the victory. Atheism is at a great height in this our day. Some there are that have attained such a prodigious height in wickedness, that they search diligently into the law of the land, to know how far they may venture in sin, and not come within the lash of it. An unseen world, a state of immortality beyond the grave, are what they laugh at; and those that thus believe, think that they shall cease to be when they cease to breathe ; they cannot remember any thing they did before they came into this world, and they think it shall be so when they take their leave of it. O how far is the human race gone! How is man sunk by his apostacy! The present age affords too many instances of those that live, as if there were no God to punish, no hell to torment, no heaven to reward; as if they expected no life after this, saying that religion is only a political cheat, which men of parts have invented to affright persons and keep the world in awe.
But the time is coming when such will be convinced of their folly, when they shall see clearly how they have been deceived, for in hell there will be no atheists, then they will believe there is a God, because of finding themselves under the sad effects of his justice: but dreadful will it be, not to believe the being of hell but by being in it.
2 Infer. Then it is not in vain to serve the Lord.
Some are ready to reproach and vilify religion, and say there is nothing got by it; why should we wait on the Lord any longer? “What is the Almighty that we should serve him? and what profit, if we should pray to him?" Job xxi. 15. They reckon they may as well give it up; what hath it profited them to have walked mournfully before the Lord ? others that regard no such thing, prosper as well every whit as they, and it may be better. Whereas the fault is not in religion, but because they are not more religious; it is for want of sincerity and integrity, that careless pretenders find no more advantage by waiting on God. Though a blind man do not see the sun, it doth not thence follow that there is no such thing in the firmament; others see it and feel its warming, reviving influences. Though formal, hypocritical pretenders to christianity find little or no savour in the things of God, though they do not taste and experience that sweetness, which is to be found in wisdom's ways; yet it is not safe to conclude that none do, for some can say, there is no such pleasure to be found in all the world, as there is in communion with God.
Thou hast served God, thou sayest so many years, thou hast
attended on ordinances and canst not tell that thou art any better than thou wast; more shame for thee, the fault is thine own, it is because of thy negligence, carelessness, and hypocrisy; thou hast not been sincere and in good earnest, but halving it in religion, serving God one while and the world another, and then no wonder thou hast found so little good. Others have sought the Lord and found him; they can say, silence all your censures, ye that are so free in charging religion ; speak not so atheistically, ye wicked ones, for I can tell you from good and sufficient grounds, that God doth deal familiarly with men ; his comforts have many a time delighted my soul; I have sought him in times of difficulty, he has appeared for me and set my feet in a large place ; I have no reason to repent my waiting on him, nay, I have abundant reason for thankfulness that ever I did so.
It is true, sometimes, saints are in the dark and are ready to say, they “have cleansed their hands in vain :" yet the sun shines again when the storm is blown over. Is it in vain to serve the Lord? Let the three children speak, who experienced such a wonderful preservation whilst they kept in his way. Let Daniel speak, who was kept in the lion's den: and many others we read of in holy writ. Those triumphant songs of joy and praise, that shall be eternally warbled out in the regions above, by that celestial choir, are proofs of this, that it is not in vain to serve the Lord : those that have gone by holiness to happiness, who shall be trumpeting forth their hallelujahs with God in glory, do clearly shew what we have in hand. Surely none serve God in vain, but those that serve him vainly. Índeed such is the degeneracy of the present age, that to be accounted a holy person is almost a reproach. Persons may be as loose, profane, debauched as they will; drunkards, sabbath breakers, and what not, and this is no disgrace; nay, these are they that are admired and cried up as good fellows, and the only good company. But if one pray in his family, dare not sin so as others do, he is ridiculed ; and what needs so much stir? Do they think that nobody must go to heaven but such precise zealots ? Seriousness they account sourness; godly sorrow is but melancholy sighing; faith is but a fancy: and with such harangues, sometimes they divert their brethren in iniquity, declaiming against religion and the professors of it. The day is coming, and it is not far off, which will convince such persons of their fatal mistake, when they will find that strictness in religion was not more ado than needs.
3 Infer. Then the way of impiety is really unsafe. This follows by the rule of contraries. The way of sin is
the most dangerous path in the world ; no such peril as in serving the devil
. Sinners have more reason to be afraid than others: for what can they expect who have God for their enemy? his face is set against them that do wickedly. The ungodly part of the world are ever in danger of temporal judgments, yea, and eternal too. Whilst they remain in that state, they are obnoxious to the wrath of God, it hangs over their heads continually, and they have nothing to shield them from his fiery indignation. Ungodly men are walking upon the very brink of the pit of destruction, and, if they look not well about them, they will erelong fall in; there are but a few steps between them and death; a little further, and they are swallowed up everlasting perdition : and if this be safe, judge ye. Alas! how many are dreaming in their fool's paradise, who reckon all is well, act as though nothing ailed them, and yet their case is extremely dangerous: they are safe neither for this life nor the next; of which afterwards.
4 Infer. Then for real saints to be immoderately depressed with the slavish fear of men, is groundless and unaccountable.
We find that those who have waited on the Lord, and kept close to him, have been preserved when their enemies have most vehemently raged against them, and this is some encouragement, that what hath been may be again : that God, who hath often delivered, can do so again. Thy enemies are high, and therefore thy spirit, it may be, is low; they are threatening and telling what they will do “ they will pursue, overtake, and divide the spoil." But it must be, whether the Most High, who rules the world, will or not; for he can easily break their power, infatuate their counsels, overturn all their hellish policies, and scatter their diabolical contrivances. Cheer up, then, thy drooping and desponding spirit; the Lord, whose throne is in heaven, will“ preserve the souls of his saints," and he “ will be with them in trouble.”
It is a dishonour to God, and a disparagement to his attributes, to be unreasonably afraid of men, Isa. li. 12, 13.–See the place. To fear man is to forget God. We should not be careless and secure, fancying that God will deliver us, when we are no way concerned about our duty. We should have such regulated fears as may quicken us to our work; we should have wakeful and awful apprehensions of things; but not be so cast down, as thereby to be unfit for the duty of our day and place: it is the Lord that comforteth, as in the text last mentioned. What then if men speak proudly? The Lord hath dealt with as great enemies as are engaged against us at this day: he humbled an exalted Pharaoh, and drowned the Egyptian host
in the midst of the waters ; he weakened the forces of blasphemous Sennacherib, destroying many thousands in one night by one gel; he brought down the high looks of imperious and insulting Nebuchadnezzar, who arrogantly challenged the living God, when he said, “Who is that God who shall deliver you out of my hands ?” he made proud Belshazzar tremble, and he can as easily confound the Assyrian of our day. Where are all the great and puissant enemies of the church, that in former ages have made the world ring with their cruel barbarities? They are gone, and others shall follow in due time. Though thou mayest meet with some sufferings from the enemy, yet so long as they cannot take away thy God, for they cannot part him and thee, thou art safe. Endeavour to get matters clear for eternity, to have things straight between God and thy soul, and some sense of this, then thou mayest say, now world do thy worst. Indeed, an over-timorousness is very prejudicial to religion, and hardening to the wicked. When they see those that pretend to more than themselves, drooping and dejected, will they not say, where is now their living by faith ? Where are now those joys and supporting assistances of the Spirit they were wont to talk of? Whatever they pretended, yet when it comes to the trial, they are but like their neighbours. What signfies their religion, which will not now bear them up in a time of hazard and calamity? This is their way of arguing, judging and concluding from the practice, not from the principle.
5 Infer. Then to promote reformation, and the practice of serious godliness is the safest and wisest course, both for nations in general, and every one in particular, when enemies are high and insulting, and judgments seem to be impending.
If any thing ruin us, it will be sin; so that reformation is the most likely means for preservation. The more righteous persons there are in any kingdom, the more likely it is to stand; for righteous ones are the pillars of the nation : this is evident from the instance of Sodom. It is for the sake of the saints that judgments are kept off; though they be hated and maligned by an unbelieving world. Our enemies are threatening, and God seems to be threatening too ; there is no likeliness of his turning away his wrath, if we do not turn from our sins. Many and great are our provocations, the cry of them is loud and gone up to heaven; the power of holiness is sunk low among us; yea, and all this when we are under such strong engagements to be the Lord's. O what hath the Lord been pleased to do for us! He hath considered us in our low estate; he hath rescued us, even when at the brink of destruction ; his