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ISHALL now come to the second thing contained in the text, namely, to give you a more distinct description of the men that are thus bid to commit the keeping of their souls to God. And they are thus described: they that “suffer according to the will of God.” “Let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”
Two things are here to be inquired into. 1. What the apostle here means by the will of God. 2. What suffering according to the will of God is. First, For the will of God, it is divers ways taken in the scriptures; as, sometimes, for electing, justifying, sanctifying acts of God; sometimes for faith, good life, and sometimes for suffering for his name ( Romans 9; Ephesians 1:11; John 7:17; 1 John 3:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Matthew 7:21). But, by will of God here we mustUnderstand, 1. His law and testament. 2. His order an designment. First, By his will I understand his law and testament. This is called the revealed will of God, or that by which he has made himself, and how he will be worshiped, known unto the children of men. Now, I, understanding these words thus, must, before I go further, make this distinction, to wit, that there is a difference to be put betwixt them that suffer for the breach and those that suffer for keeping of this law and testament; for though both of them may suffer by the will of God, yet they are not both concerned in this text. A malefactor that suffereth for his evil deeds the due punishment thereof, suffereth, as other texts declare, according to the will of God. But, I say, this text doth not concern itself with them; for both this text and this epistle is writ for the counsel and comfort of those that suffer for keeping the law and testament of God; that suffer for welldoing ( 1 Peter 3:13,14,17; 1 Peter 4:13,14).
The man then that is concerned in this advice is he that suffereth from the hands of men for keeping of the word of God; and this is he that has license, leave, yea, a command to commit the keeping of his soul to God in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.
We will a little enlarge upon this. He that keepeth the word of God is such an one that has regard to both the matter and manner thereof. The matter is the truth, the doctrine contained therein; the manner is that comely, godly, humble, faithful way of doing it which becomes a man that has to do with the law and testament of God; and both these are contained in the text.
For, first, here is the will of God to be done; and then, secondly, to be done according to his will. “Let them that suffer according to his will”: which words, I say, take in both matter and manner of doing. So then, the man that here we have to do with, and to discourse of, is a man that, in the sense now given, suffereth. That which makes a martyr, is suffering for the word of God after a right manner; and that is, when he suffereth, not only for righteousness, but for righteousness’ sake; not only for truth, but of love to truth; not only for God’s word, but according to it, to wit, in that holy, humble, meek manner as the word of God requireth . A man may give his body to be burned for God’s truth, and yet be none of God’s martyrs ( 1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Yea, a man may suffer with a great deal of patience, and yet be none of God’s martyrs ( 1 Peter 2:20). The one, because he wanteth that grace that should poise his heart, and make him right in the manner of doing; the other, because he wanteth that word of the Holy One that alone can make his cause good, as to matter. It is, therefore, matter and manner that makes the martyr; and it is this man that is intended in the text which is aforesaid described. So then, they that suffer for the law and testament of God in that holy and humble manner that the Word requires, they are they that, by this Word of God, are commanded to commit the keeping of their souls to God.
From this consideration, two things present themselves to our sight. 1. That a man may be a Christian, and suffer, and yet not suffer, in the sense last given, according to the will of God. 2. There have been, and may yet be a people in the world that have, and may suffer in the sense of the apostle here, according to the will of God.
A few words to the first of these, namely, that a man may be a Christian, and suffer, and yet not suffer, in the sense of the apostle in the text, “according to the will of God.” He may be a Christian and yet not suffer as a Christian. He may want the matter, or, he may want the manner, of suffering as a Christian.
This supposeth that a Christian may so be; for he speaketh here to the same people, unto whom he speaketh in the text, though he putteth them not under the same circumstance, as suffering for well-doing. If ye be buffeted for your faults, for what God’s word calls faults, what thank have you from God, or good men, though you take it patiently?
Here it is plainly supposed that a Christian man may suffer for evil-doing, yea, that the will of God may be, that he should suffer for evil-doing. For God, if Christians do not well, will vindicate himself by punishing of them for their doing ill. Yea, and will not count them worthy, though they be his own, to be put among the number of those that suffer for doing well.
Again, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters” ( 1 Peter 4:15). These are cautions to Christians to persuade them to take heed to themselves, their tongues and their actions, that all be kept within the bounds of the Word. For it would be a foolish thing to say, that these are cautions to persuade to take heed of that, into which it is not possible one should fall.
It is possible for Christians to suffer for evil-doing, and therefore let Christians beware; it is possible for Christians to be brought to public justice for their faults, and therefore let Christians beware. It is possible for Christians to suffer justly by the hand of the magistrate, and therefore let Christians beware. This also is insinuated in the text itself, and therefore let Christians beware.
The causes of this are many, some of which I shall now briefly touch upon. 1. Sin is in the best of men: and as long as it is so, without great watchfulness, and humble walking with God, we may be exposed to shame and suffering for it. What sin is it that a child of God is not liable to commit, excepting that which is the sin unpardonable? Nor have we a promise of being kept from any other sin, but on condition that we do watch and pray ( Matthew 26:41). 2. It is possible for a Christian to have an erroneous conscience in some things, yea, in such things as, if God by his grace prevents not, may bring us to public justice and shame. Abishai, though a good man, would have killed the king, and that of conscience to God, and love to his master ( Samuel 26:7, 8). And had David delivered him up to Saul for his attempt, he had in all likelihood died as a traitor. Peter drew his sword, and would have fought therewith, a thing for which he was blamed of his Master, and bid with a threatening, to put it up again ( Matthew 26:52). 3. Besides, oppression makes a wise man mad; and when a man is mad what evils will he not do? 4. Further, The devil, who is the great enemy of the Christians, can send forth such spirits into the world as shall not only disturb men, but nations, kings, and kingdoms, in raising divisions, distractions and rebellions. And can so manage matters that the looser sort of Christians F19 may be also dipped and concerned therein. In Absalom’s conspiracy against his father, there were two hundred men called out of Jerusalem to follow him, “and they went in their simplicity, not knowing any thing” ( 2 Samuel 15:11).
I thank God I know of no such men, nor thing: but my judgment tells me, that if Christians may be drawn into fornication, adultery, murder, theft, blasphemy or the like, as they may; why should it be thought impossible for them to be drawn in here. Wherefore I say again, watch and pray, fear God, reverence his Word, approve of his appointments, that you may be delivered from every evil work and way.
I said afore that the will of God may be, that a Christian should suffer as an evil-doer; but then it is because he keepeth not within the bounds of that, which is also called the will of God. The will of God is, that sin should be punished, though committed by the Christians; punished according to the quality of transgressions: and therefore it is that he hath ordained magistrates. Magistrates, to punish sin, though it be the sin of Christians. They are the ministers of God, revengers, to execute wrath, the wrath of God upon them that do evil ( Romans 13). Wherefore, though the Christian as a Christian is the only man at liberty, as called thereunto of God; yet his liberty is limited to things that are good: he is not licensed thereby to indulge the flesh. Holiness and liberty are joined together, yea our call to liberty, is a call to holiness. F20 Seek, and you shall find, that a quiet and peaceable life, in our respective places, under the government, is that which we should pray for, to wit, that we may without molestation, if it were “the will of God,” spend our days in all godliness and honesty among our neighbors. See 1 Timothy 2:1-8; 1 Peter 2:13-17. [First. Caution to Christians as Christians.] — I would improve this a little, and first, to Christians as Christians: beware the cautions, that are here presented to you, be not neglected by you. The evils are burning hot, as hot as a red hot iron. It is the greatest blemish that can be to a Christian, to suffer as an evil-doer. To say nothing of the reproach that such do bring to the name of Christ, their Lord; to his law, their rule; and to the Christian profession, which should be their glory: the guilt and shame that evil actions will load the conscience with at such a time, can hardly be stood under. The man that suffereth as an evil-doer, and yet weareth the name of a Christian, what stumbling blocks doth he lay in the way of the ignorant in a kingdom? The devil told them before, that a Christian was a mischievous man; and to suffer for evil-doing, confirms them in that belief.
Consider also the difficulties that surely such must meet with in the last minutes of their life. For can it be imagined but that such an one must have combats and conflicts at the last, who carry in their consciences the guilt and condemnation that is due to their deeds, to the place which magistrates have appointed for them to receive the reward of their works at. Such an one bereaves not only his own soul of peace, and his name of credit, but himself of life, his friends of all cause of rejoicing, and casteth reproach upon religion, as he is stepping out of the world. What shall I say, Christians as Christians have other things to do than to concern themselves in evil things, or to meddle in other men’s matters. Let us mind our own business, and leave the magistrate to his work, office and calling among men also.
I speak now to them that are not by the king called to that employ. A Christian as such has enough to do at home, in his heart, in his house, in his shop, and the like. But if thou must needs be meddling, consider what place, office, calling or relation, God has put thee in, and busy thyself by the rule of the Word to a conscientious performance of that. Nor shalt thou want dignity, though thou art but a private Christian. Every Christian man is made a king by Christ ( Revelation 5:10). But then, his dominion as such, doth reach no further than to himself. He has not dominion over another’s faith ( 2 Corinthians 1:24). His office is to govern, and bridle, and keep under, himself; to watch over himself, and to bring his body into subjection to the will of God. The weapons that he has for this purpose are not carnal, but spiritual, and mighty through God. Let him govern then, if he will be a governor, his whole man by the Word. Let him bring down, if he must be bringing down, his own high imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. If he must be a warrior, let him levy war against his own unruly passions, and let him fight against those lusts that war against his soul ( 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Galatians 5:17; James 3:3-8; 1 Peter 2:11).
I say therefore, if thou wilt needs be a ruler, thou hast a tongue, rule that; lusts, rule them; affections, govern them; yea, thou hast excellent graces, manage them, cherish, strengthen and replenish them according to the mind of that great one who has bestowed such power to rule, upon thee.
Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry ( Colossians 3:5). Nor do I think that murmuring, shrinking, wincing, complaining, and the like, when men, governors, lay a yoke upon our necks, flow from any thing else, but love to our flesh, and distrust of the faithfulness of God to manage men, things, and actions for his church. The powers that be are ordered as well as ordained of God.
They are also always in God’s hand, as his rod or staff for the good and benefit of his people. Wherefore we ought with all meekness and humbleness of mind to accept of what our God by them shall please to lay upon us ( 1 Peter 5:6).
And since men are, as I said, the rod, staff or sword in God’s hand, we should apply ourselves unto him in faith in a way of prayer, intercession, supplication and giving of thanks for governors. For since they are sent of God, they must needs come with some good in their hand for us, also our prayers may make them more profitable to us. And this we ought to do without wrath and doubting; for this is that which is good, and acceptable unto God ( 1 Timothy 2).
Besides, it is a sign that we forget ourselves when we complain for the punishment of our sins. If we look into ourselves, and ways, we shall see cause of more heavy stripes than yet God by men has laid upon us. What sin has yet been suppressed by all that has happened to us: if pride, covetousness, looseness, treacherous dealing, schisms, and other things, redressed by all the affliction that we have had? Yea, do we not grow worse and worse? Wherefore then should we complain? Where is repentance, reformation, and amendment of life amongst us? Why, then, do we shrink and winch. For my part, I have ofttimes stood amazed both at the mercy of God, and the favor of the Prince towards us; and can give thanks to God for both: and do make it my prayer to God for the king, and that God will help me with meekness and patience to bear whatever shall befall me for my professed subjection to Christ, by men.
We are bid, as I said afore, to give thanks to God for all men, for kings, and for all that are in authority. Because, as I said, there is no man with whom we have to do, we doing as we should, but he bringeth some good thing to us, or doth some good thing for us. We will now descend from them that are supreme in authority, and will come to inferior men: and suppose some of them to act beyond measure, cruelly. What? Can no good thing come to us out of this? Do not even such things as are most bitter to the flesh, tend to awaken Christians to faith and prayer, to a sight of the emptiness of this world, and the fadingness of the best it yields? Doth not God by these things ofttimes call our sins to remembrance, and provoke us to amendment of life? how then can we be offended at things by which we reap so much good, and at things that God makes so profitable for us?
Doth not God, ofttimes, even take occasions by the hardest of things that come upon us, to visit our souls with the comforts of his Spirit, to lead us into the glory of his word, and to cause us to savor that love that he has had for us, even from before the world began, till now. A nest of bees and honey did Samson find, even in the belly of that lion that roared upon him.
I have thought, again, my brethren, since it is required of us that we give thanks to God for all these men, it follows that we do with quietness submit ourselves under what God shall do to us by them. For it seems a paradox to me, to give thanks to God for them, that yet I am not willing should abide in that place that God has set them in for me. I will then love them, bless them, pray for them, and do them good. I speak now of the men that hurt me as was hinted afore. And I will do thus, because it is good so to do, because they do me good by hurting of me, because I am called to inherit a blessing, and because I would be like my heavenly Father. “Therefore if mine enemy hunger, let me feed him; if he thirst, let me give him drink” F22 ( Matthew 5:43-48; 1 Peter 3:9; Romans 12:17-20). 1. We must see good in that, in which other men can see none. 2. We must pass by those injuries that other men would revenge. 3. We must hew we have grace, and that we are made to bear what other men are not acquainted with. 4. Many of our graces are kept alive by those very things that are the death of other men’s souls.
Where can the excellency of our patience, of our meekness, of our longsuffering, of our love, and of our faith appear, if it be not under trials, and in those things that run cross to our flesh? The devil, they say, is good when he is pleased. But Christ and his saints, when displeased. F23 Let us therefore covet to imitate Christ and the scripture saints. Let us hew out of a good conversation, our works with meekness of wisdom. Let us take heed of admitting the least thought in our minds of evil, against God, the king, or them that are under him in employ, because, the cup, the king, all men, and things are in the hand of God ( Psalm 75:8; Proverbs 8:15; Proverbs 21:1; Lamentations 3:37). And he can make them better to us, than if they were as our flesh desireth they should.
I have often thought that the best Christians are found in the worst of times: and I have thought again, that one reason why we are no better, is because God purges us no more ( John 15). I know these things are against the grain of the flesh, but they are not against the graces of the Spirit. Noah and Lot, who so holy as they, in the day of their affliction?
Noah and Lot, who so idle as they in the day of their prosperity? I might have put in David too, who, while he was afflicted, had ways of serving God that were special; but when he was more enlarged, he had ways that were not so good. Wherefore the first ways of David are the ways that God has commended: but the rest of his ways, such as had not preeminence ( 2 Chronicles 17:3).
We have need of all, and of more than all that has yet befallen us: and are to thank God, since his word and patience have done no more good to us, that he hath appointed men to make us better. F24 Wherefore for a conclusion, as we are to receive with meekness the engrafted word of God, so also we are with patience to bear what God, by man, shall lay upon us.
O that saying of God to them of old, “Why criest thou for thine affliction? thy sorrow is incurable for the multitude of thine iniquity: because thy sins were increased, I have done these things unto thee” ( Jeremiah 30:15). We have need to consider of, and to sit still and be quiet, and reverence the ordinance of God: I mean affliction.
When I think of Mordecai, and Daniel, yea, and of David too, and of the behavior of them all with respect to the powers that they were under, I cannot but think that a sweet, meek, quiet, loving, godly submission unto men for the Lord’s sake, is an excellent token of the grace of God in us.
But, Secondly, As I cannot but condemn the actions of such Christians as have been touched before, so I would caution weak Christians not to be offended with true religion for the miscarriages of their fellows. There are two things that are very apt to be an occasion of offence to the weak: one is, when the cross attends religion; the other is, when others that profess religion do suffer for evil-doing. To both these I would say this: — 1. Though the cross, indeed, is grievous to the flesh, yet we should with grace bear up under it, and not be offended at it. 2. And as to the second, though we should and ought to be offended with such miscarriage; yet not with religion, because of such miscarriage. Some, indeed, when they see these things, take offence against religion itself; yea, perhaps, are glad of the occasion, and so fall out with Jesus Christ, saying to him, because of the evils that attend his ways, as the ten tribes said to Rehoboam, the son of Solomon the king, “What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse; to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David,” ( 1 Kings 12:16); and so go quite away from him, and cleave no more unto him, to his people, or to his ways: but this is bad. Shun, therefore, the evil ways of Christians, but cleave to the way that is Christian : cast away that bad spirit that thou seest in any, but hold fast to thy Head and Lord. Whither canst thou go? the Lord Jesus has the words of eternal life ( John 6:68).
Take heed, therefore, of picking a quarrel with Jesus Christ, and with his ways, because of the evil-doings of some of his followers. Judas sold him, Peter denied him, and many of his disciples went back and did walk no more with him; but neither himself nor his ways were the worse for that.
Beware, therefore, that thou truly distinguish between the good ways of Jesus Christ and the evil ways of them that profess him; and take not an occasion to throw away thy own soul down the throat of hell, because others have vilely cast away their lives by transgressing of the law of God.
Nay, let other men’s faults make thee more wary; let other men’s falls make thee look better to thy goings: shun the rock that he that went before thee did split his ship against; and cry to God to lead thee in a path that is plain and good, because of thy observers.
Further, Let not opposite Christians rejoice when they see that evil hath taken their brother by the heel. Hate the garment , the thing that is bad, and by which the name, and fame, and life of thy brother is so vilely cast away, thou shouldest; and take good heed lest it also touch thee, but yet thou shouldest pity thy brother, mourn for his hard hap, and grieve that a thing so much unbecoming Christianity should be suffered to show the least part of itself among any of those that profess the gospel.
Directions for the shunning of suffering for evil-doing, are they that come next to hand. 1. Therefore, wouldest thou not suffer as an evil-doer, then take heed of committing of evil. Evil courses bring to evil ends; shun all appearance of evil, and ever follow that which is good. And if ye be followers of that which is good, who will harm you ( 1 Peter 3:13)? Or if there should be such enemies to goodness in the world as to cause thee for that to suffer, thou needest not be ashamed of thy suffering for well-doing, nor can there be a good man, but he will dare to own and stand by thee in it. Yea, thy sufferings for that will make thee happy, so that thou canst by no means be a loser thereby. 2. Wouldest thou not suffer for evil-doing, then take heed of the occasions of evil . Take heed of tempting company. Beware of men, for they will deliver thee up. There have been men in the world that have sought to make themselves out of the ruins of other men. This did Judas, and some of the Pharisees ( Matthew 10:17; Luke 20:19,20). Take heed to thy mouth: “A fool’s mouth calleth for strokes, — and his lips are the snare of his soul” ( Proverbs 18:7).
Take heed of indulging, and hearkening to the ease of the flesh, and of carnal reasonings, for that will put thee upon wicked things. 3. Wouldest thou not suffer as an evil-doer, then take heed of hearing of any thing spoken that is not according to sound doctrine : thou must withdraw thyself from such in whom thou perceivest not the words of knowledge. Let not talk against governors, against powers, against men in authority be admitted; keep thee far from an evil matter. My son, says Solomon, fear thou the Lord, and the King, and meddle not with those that are given to change. 4. Wouldest thou not suffer as an evil-doer, addict not thyself to play with evil , F25 to joke and jest, and mock at men in place and power. Gaal mocked at Abimelech, and said, Who is Abimelech that we should serve him? But he paid for his disdainful language at last ( Judges 9). I have heard of an innkeeper here in England, whose sign was the crown, and he was a merry man. Now he had a boy, of whom he used to say, when he was jovial among his guests, This boy is heir to the crown, or this boy shall be heir to the crown; and if I mistake not the story, for these words he lost his life. F26 It is bad jesting with great things, with things that are God’s ordinance, as kings and governors are. Yea, let them rather have that fear, that honor, that reverence, that worship, that is due to their place, their office, and dignity. How Paul gave honor and respect unto those that were but deputy-kings and heathen magistrates, will greatly appear, if you do but read his trials before them in the book called, The Acts of the Apostles. And what a charge both he and Peter have left behind them to the churches to do so too, may be found to conviction, if we read their epistles. 5. Wouldest thou not suffer for evil-doing, then take heed of being offended with magistrates, because by their state acts they may cross thy inclinations . It is given to them to bear the sword, and a command is to thee, if thy heart cannot acquiesce with all things with meekness and patience, to suffer. Discontent in the mind sometimes puts discontent into the mouth; and discontent in the mouth doth sometimes also put a halter about the neck. For as a man, by speaking a word in jest may for that be hanged in earnest; so he that speaks in discontent may die for it in sober sadness. Adonijah’s discontent put him upon doing that which cost him his life ( 1 Kings 2:13,23). Great peace have they that love thy law, and nothing shall offend them; for they are subjected to the will and foot of God. 6. But, above all, get thy conscience possessed yet more with this, that the magistrate is God’s ordinance, and is ordered of God as such : that he is the minister of God to thee for good, and that it is thy duty to fear him, and pray for him, to give thanks to God for him, and to be subject to him as both Paul and Peter admonish us; and that not only for wrath, but for conscience sake ( Romans 13:5). For all other arguments come short of binding the soul, where this argument is wanting; until we believe that of God we are bound thereto. I speak not these things, as knowing any that are disaffected to the government; for I love to be alone, if not with godly men, in things that are convenient. But because I appear thus in public, and know not into whose hands these lines may come, therefore thus I write. I speak it also to show my loyalty to the king, and my love to my fellow-subjects; and my desire that all Christians should walk in ways of peach and truth.