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PART In my discourse on the former part of the apostle’s charge to Timothy, I considered the zeal which the ministers of the gospel should constantly manifest for the salvation of souls; particularly in all the public duties of their office, and by the improvement of every opportunity afforded them to bear a testimony for God to the people of the world. We now proceed to speak upon the remaining particulars of this solemn charge.
I. “Watch thou in all things.” The duty of watchfulness cannot be too strongly impressed on every private Christian; for, without the constant exercise of it, the life of God cannot possibly be preserved in the soul. But to enlarge on the duty as it respects the private character would carry me beyond the limits of a discourse; and therefore I shall chiefly consider it as it belongs to the office of a minister of the gospel.
The spirit of our ministry is a spirit of separation from the world; of prayer and secret intercession for the souls of men, and, especially for the church of Christ; of labor; of firmness and fidelity; of knowledge; and of piety. Our watchfulness, therefore, as ministers, should be particularly directed against those things which oppose the above essential properties of the spirit of our calling. 1. AGAINST THE SPIRIT OF THE WORLD, BECAUSE THE SPIRIT OF OUR MINISTRY IS A SPIRIT OF SEPARATION FROM THE WORLD. 1 . That unction from above which reserves us, sanctifies us, sets us apart for the ministry, (and if we have not received it we are no ministers,) withdraws us also from all the other public functions of society; not that we cease from being citizens of our country, or from the obedience and submission due to the king, and all that are in authority — to the powers that are; for “the powers which be are ordained of God,” Romans 13:1; but the ministry of the word is become our great employment; the public temples of God, “where his honor dwelleth,” are our places of public resort; the visitation of the sick and the poor, and all the other works of piety and charity, our subordinate tasks; and prayer and praise our recreation and pleasure. 2 . All things then should be holy in a minister of the gospel, and separated from common use. His tongue should only discourse of God: useless conversations at least, however harmless in themselves, defile his tongue; as, under the law, a holy vessel would have been defiled by common meats. His eyes have entered into covenant not to behold vanity; or if they do, they lose, without genuine repentance, the right of entering into the interior of the tabernacle, to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. In short, the whole person of a minister of Christ should be a living example of true religion, which ought always to be surrounded with decency, gravity, and respect. 3 . This, then, is the first point — to watch against the desire of worldly things: for the cares, the solicitudes, the employments of the world, when you enter into them, will rob you of your unction, however your natural or improved talents may remain; and will not only profane, but in time entirely destroy all the genuine virtue of your vocation, and bring you thoroughly under the yoke of the world. The vessels and ornaments which were used in the temple under the law were never appropriated to common use; it would have been a crime which would have defiled their consecration: now a minister of the gospel, consecrated to God by his own blessed Spirit, in a manner infinitely more holy than that of the sacred vessels and ornaments under the law, defiles and profanes abundantly more his consecration, if he makes his person, his talents, his spirit, his heart, to serve to dead works and the common employments of the world. O thou holy doctrine of the cross, how little art thou known by those ministers who enter into the affairs, agitations, and commotions of this miserable world! The apostle has warned them in vain, that “no man who warreth, entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please Him who hath chosen him to be a soldier,” 2 Timothy 2:4.
Alas! these become principal actors on the stage of the world. The dispensers of the truths and blessings of Heaven become the ministers of carnal views and projects: those whom God has charged with the eternal interests of the people, neglect them, and make it their glory to spend their strength in carrying on worldly affairs. 2. WE MUST WATCH AGAINST THE LIGHT AND TRIFLING SPIRIT OF THE WORLD, BECAUSE THE SPIRIT OF OUR MINISTRY IS A SPIRIT OF PRAYER AND INTERCESSION.
Although it is the privilege of a faithful minister to have a river of peace continually flowing in his soul, yet, paradoxical as it may appear, his life, at the same time, is a life of prayer, lamentation, and complaint. The Prophet Isaiah, on a prophetic view of the great millennium, “when all flesh should come to worship before the Lord,” cried out, “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her; rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her,” Isaiah 66:10,23.
When we see so large a part of the inhabitants of the globe lying in the wicked one, covered with heathen or Mohammedan darkness; — or, what is still worse, when we see infidelity reigning in the midst of the blaze of gospel day, it is impossible, if we breathe the true spirit of the gospel ministry, but we shall be daily, yea, habitually praying between the porch and the altar, with groanings which cannot be uttered. Joel 2:17; Romans 8:26. Jesus Christ, the prince and model of ministers, wept over Jerusalem, when he saw her hardened in her blindness. Yes, my brethren, as long as Satan reigns upon earth, the true ministers of God will more or less mourn and lament. As long as the children of Israel, on the plain, employ themselves in dances and revels, forget the God of their fathers, and madly prostitute their homage to the golden calf, the true Moseses on the mountains will tear their garments — will break their hearts before the Lord. “The world will rejoice,” says Christ to his apostles: its children will run on dancing and sending forth cries of joy, till they precipitate themselves into the abyss. Let their laughter and their sports be their portion: let that holy sorrow which is consistent with constant joy in the Holy Ghost be ours. The world, in the midst of which we live, will be continually to us a spectacle of grief and concern; and even when they persecute us not, though crosses and gibbets do not attend us, their entire depravation will itself alone be an unexhausted source of lamentation before God. 3. WE MUST WATCH AGAINST INDOLENCE, BECAUSE THE SPIRIT OF OUR MINISTRY IS A SPIRIT OF TOIL. 1. We fill a laborious office. The church of Christ upon earth is a vineyard, a field, a harvest, a building which should be daily rising and growing to perfection, and a holy warfare — all terms which announce cares and fatigues; all symbols of labor and application. 2. This the time of a minister of the gospel is due to the church: all the days and moments which he employs in the commerce of the world, in dissipation, or in the vanities of worldly society, except where occasional duties call him, are days and moments which were due to the salvation of his fellow-creatures, and of which those souls which suffer through his neglect will demand a strict account at the tribunal of Jesus Christ. By the divine unction he has received, and by his devotion of himself to the ministry — the church of Christ has acquired, a peculiar property in his person, his leisure, his occupations, and his talents. These are all now consecrated things, which form part of the property of the church of God.
He is only the depositary of them, and has no right to dispose of them at his pleasure: he is responsible for them to God and his church. It is not for himself that he has been numbered among the ministers of Christ, but for the church, that he may bear his part in her toils and ministry. He degrades the title she has given him when he abandons the labors she has appointed for him: he ceases to be a minister, from the moment he ceases to be a laborer: he spends in worldly commerce and frivolous occupations that time on which rolls the salvation of the souls among whom he should have toiled — that time on which depends the eternal destiny of his brethren — that time to which God has attached the salvation of sinners, the strengthening of the weak, and the perfecting of the strong. “May the Spirit of the Holy One increase our zeal!” 4. WE MUST WATCH AGAINST THE BETRAYING OF OUR TRUST — AGAINST UNFAITHFULNESS, BECAUSE THE SPIRIT OF OUR MINISTRY IS A SPIRIT OF FIRMNESS AND FIDELITY. 1. We are appointed to “reprove, rebuke, exhort, in season and out of season, with all longsuffering and doctrine.” The public vices should always find us inflexible, inexorable. The countenance of a minister of Christ should never blush at the reproaches which never fail to accompany the liberty and faithful execution of his office. He bears written on his forehead, with much more true majesty than the high priest of the law, HOLINESS TO THE LORD, Exodus 28:36. The divine unction which the Spirit of God has bestowed upon him for the ministry of the gospel is a grace of strength and courage it inspires the soul marked by this divine zeal with an heroic disposition, which raises it above its own natural weakness; which puts into it noble, great, and generous sentiments, worthy of the dignity of its ministry; and gives it an elevation of mind which raises it above the fears, the hopes, — the reputation, — the reproaches, and every thing else, which rule over and regulate the conduct of the generality of men: yea, which bestows upon us that ministerial vigor and apostolic fire which so gloriously manifested themselves in the founders and first heroes of our divine religion. 2. Now this spirit of firmness and fidelity is precisely the character the most opposed to the spirit of the world. For the spirit of the world is continually shown in a commerce of attentions, complaisance, art, and management: it seems to have hardly an opinion of its own: it can overlook, if not applaud, an improper sentiment covered with art and delicacy: it can bend, yea, accustom its ears to the witty, but cruel touches of smooth malevolence; and can suffer, without reproof, rebuke, or exhortation, the preference which is daily given to the gifts of nature over those of grace. In short, the minister (so called) who will live in the bustle of the world, must think, or at least speak, as the world does: he must not discover the firm and serious spirit of a minister of God: if he did, he would soon become its butt and its laugh; and all his worldly plans would be entirely defeated. No: we, who should be the salt of the earth, would in such case be obliged to lend ourselves, to accommodate ourselves, and to putrefy with the children of this earth. We who are called to be the censors of the world, would soon become in some sense its panegyrist: we, who should be the lights of the world, would by our open suffrage, or by our base, dastardly silence, perpetuate its blindness: in short, we, who should be instrumentally the resource and salvation of the world, would miserably perish with it. 3. Nothing, my brethren, so softens the firmness and fidelity of the ministerial spirit as the busy commerce of the world. We enter by little, and imperceptibly, into its prejudices, its excuses, and all its vain reasonings.
The more we meddle with it, the less we find it culpable. We can at last even plead for its softness, its idleness, its luxury, and its ambition. We begin, like the world, to give soft names to all these passions and indulgences; and that which confirms us in this new system of conduct is, that we have the universal plaudit of worldly men; for they will give to our baseness and cowardice the specious names of moderation, elevation of spirit, and a talent for making virtue amiable; while they give to the contrary conduct the odious names of littleness, rusticity, excess, and hardness of heart, only fit to withdraw men from goodness, and render piety hateful or contemptible. Thus we treat obligingly a world which gives to our baseness and unfaithfulness all the honors due to prudence; and we believe it not to be so guilty as is commonly imagined among believers, from the time we love its esteem. For, alas! my brethren, there are too few of the Sauls and Barnabases who would not relax from the truth, though they thereby caused themselves to be stoned even by those people who, a few moments before, would have offered incense to them as gods just descended from heaven! 4. The spirit of ministerial firmness and fidelity is therefore absolutely incompatible with the busy commerce of the world: you will no more find any thing there to reprove, in proportion as you familiarize yourselves with those things which are reprehensible in it: you will lose the views of those great rules of conduct which have governed the faithful ministers of God in all the ages of the church: you will no longer cultivate those seeds of divine science which, through grace, have helped to make you useful in the Lord’s vineyard: the Scriptures, and the writings of the best divines, will became strange and tiresome: you will soon have lost your taste for them; and you will prefer to those serious studies, so conformable to your ministerial duties, books which, to you, should be comparatively vain and frivolous; but which render you more serviceable and agreeable to the world to which you have delivered up yourself. These observations lead me to a fifth reflection on this head; namely, that, 5. WE SHOULD WATCH AGAINST A NEGLECT AND DISTASTE OF STUDY, BECAUSE THE SPIRIT OF OUR MINISTRY IS A SPIRIT OF DIVINE SCIENCE. 1. The lips of a minister of the gospel are the public depositories of the doctrines of divine truth: we are required, like the prophet, to devour the book which contains the law and the gospel, notwithstanding all the bitterness which may accompany our studies and watchings: we must nourish our souls with the bread of the word of God, as it were by the sweat of our brow; and adorn our souls internally with the divine law, as the Jewish priests adorned themselves eternally with their sacred garments.
The divine writings are the basis and substance of our gospel ministry, which we may compare to the two great lights which God has set in the firmament: like them, we should rule over the day and the night; over the day, in guiding the faith and piety of believers; and over the night, in clearing our minds from all darkness of error, and filling them with spiritual light. We are the chief interpreters of the divine law and gospel, the guides of the people, the seers and prophets appointed by Christ to clear their doubts, and from the divine word to discover to them the whole will of God. 2. But can these titles be supported in the hurry of worldly commerce?
Alas! nothing is so fatal as that to a taste for study and retirement. I am not now speaking of profound studies, of sounding all the depths of antiquity for the elucidation of the doctrines and discipline of Christianity, or of furnishing the church of God with new and useful publications: these are not the things which the spirit of your vocation exacts from you: these are studies and talents manifested in an eminent degree by only a small number of the wisest ministers whom God has raised up to be general lights of their age. But I say that for those common, ordinary studies, which are indispensably necessary to qualify a minister to “divide the word of truth aright, and to give to each their portion of meat in due season;” in short, to be in a situation to exercise his functions with light and success: I say that for these studies he must have a spirit accustomed to think, to meditate, and to be with and in himself; he must fly from that commerce with the world which soon annexes to his books a weariness which is insupportable; he must have a desire of increasing in divine knowledge; a character of mind which is an enemy to frivolous employments; a habit of retirement and reflection; an arrangement of life, whereby he can give an account to himself of his progress, and whereby the moments set apart for the different duties of his situation will always find them selves in their own place, and conformable to their destination; in a word, a kind of uniform, occupied, regulated life, which can in nowise have the least alliance with the perpetual variations and derangements of a worldly life and conversation. 6. I SHALL FINISH THIS HEAD WITH ONE REFLECTION MORE; NAMELY, THAT WE SHOULD WATCH AGAINST THE LEAST ALIENATION OF OUR MINDS FROM GOD, BECAUSE THE SPIRIT OF OUR MINISTRY IS A SPIRIT OF PIETY. 1. By this spirit of piety, I understand not only blamelessness of morals, but that candor of conscience, that tenderness of religion, that taste of God, that delicacy of soul, which the appearance alone of evil alarms. Behold that spirit of piety, which is the soul and safeguard of our ministry! 2. We live, as it were, in a continual commerce with holy things. But what a life of prayer, of retirement, of circumspection, of faith, and of rigorous attention to the senses, ought we not to lead, that we may be always prepared for our holy duties! All the dispositions, desires, and affections of our hearts, should be purified, sanctified, consecrated by the unction of the Holy Spirit, residing within us. How can we appear before the congregation of the Lord, in their name to raise ourselves up to the footstool of the eternal throne, there to humble ourselves with the dominions and powers of heaven into a sort of self-annihilation, there to sing praises with them to the majesty of God, when just before we were drawn a hundred different ways through the dirt of the world? How can we in such case ascend the pulpit, and manifest to the people all the seriousness and grief of true zeal? With what grace can we speak of a death to the world, of avoiding the dangers to which it exposes us, and the snares which Satan there lays in our way, of the necessity of prayer, retirement, and watchfulness, of the eye which should be plucked out, of the hand and foot which should be cut off; Matthew 18:8,9, of the account we must render even for every idle word, Matthew 12:36, and in short of all those crucifying maxims so unknown to the world, and so contrary to its manners? To be good preachers of Jesus Christ, and of him crucified, we must ourselves be fastened to the cross of Jesus Christ: to inspire a taste of God, and the things of heaven, we must feel them ourselves: to touch the hearts of the people, our own hearts must be touched with the living coal. 3. I grant, as observed in my former discourse, that our itinerant plan keeps us at a considerable distance from the world in general. But among the families which we visit, are there not, in most of them, some who do not make even a profession of religion? How cautious should we then be that we do not enter into their spirit, thereby hardening them against the truth, and injuring the minds of those who are truly religious! And of our own people, alas! all are not Israel who are of Israel. To such, instead of indulging them in their vain conversation, how closely, how faithfully should we speak, as being peculiarly responsible for their souls! If in a family there be any mourners in Zion, how dangerous, how dreadful would it be for such to hear any thing trifling from the lips of him to whom they are looking for a word of comfort! No time can be lost in laboring to bring such to Christ. All reading and study should be laid aside, while the opportunity is afforded us of leading to the Savior’s blood an immortal soul under the convincing operations of the Holy Spirit. Such occasions should be peculiarly prized — occasions of fixing jewels of the highest value in our crown of glory, for “they that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever,” Daniel 12:3.
Again, when we meet with souls which enjoy the love of God, how careful should we be to feed them with spiritual food, — how careful to say nothing which might injure the tender spiritual life within them, or grieve that holy Comforter who has thus far brought them on their way to heaven!
But, especially, when we meet with those who have drunk deep of the waters of life, and live in close fellowship with God, then we should improve the precious moments for the welfare of our own souls; and from their spiritual observations learn more to enlarge in our public addresses on the most important of all subjects, Christian experience. Here is a field of action! Here are opportunities for doing good! What mighty privileges do we enjoy as traveling preachers! “May the Lord enable us to improve them to the uttermost, for his glory and the salvation of millions!” 4. But I must here observe, once for all, that these discourses are addressed only to ministers of the gospel. The private members of the church of Christ have a different calling; and if they improve the means which the Lord affords them, he will preserve them in the midst of all their business; and use many of them in their respective stations in his church for the advancement of his kingdom upon earth. One grand truth which I have been laboring to establish is this, — that when any receive a full call to the ministry, it is their duty to sacrifice every secular employment to it; and if not, that divine unction which they received for their office — that peculiar apostolic spirit which, according to their measure, was bestowed upon them, and which none can comprehend but those who possess it, will soon be extinguished; and they themselves will incur the guilt of unfaithfulness to the vocation of God, in the high office to which he has called them, or in which he has been pleased to station them.
PART I now proceed to consider the next grand particular in the apostle’s charge to Timothy: “Endure afflictions.” 1. We have reason to bless God that we are not called to suffer like the faithful ministers of Christ in former ages. A spirit of civil and religious liberty has accompanied even the spirit of infidelity; whereby the enemies of revelation have, in a considerable degree, disarmed and incapacitated themselves from injuring the church of God: and the earth has been made in a wonderful manner to help the woman. Revelation 12:16. We have succeeded to the ministry of that noble army of martyrs, who suffered “for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God,” Revelation 20:4; and we are sent forth like them as “sheep in the midst of wolves,” Matthew 10:16. No thanks are due to our opponents, if we be not persecuted like our predecessors. If we had reason, like the martyrs of old, to fear the barbarity of the enemies of our religion — if the most cruel torments were the only recompense we could promise ourselves in this life for all our zeal and labors, we also should be brought to the alternative of renouncing Jesus Christ, and the sacred ministry with which he has honored us, or to face these dangers with holy joy. But, on the contrary, what in comparison have we to suffer? Only the insults occasionally of the vilest of the people, which will not touch even the skirts of our clothes, if we suffer them not to affect our hearts; and those crosses which are indispensably necessary to keep us at the feet of Jesus Christ, and to render us fit instruments for His service who will not give his glory to another. 2. If we will be disciples, much more ministers of Christ, we must daily take up his cross. Without this, he refuses to acknowledge us as his disciples, or to make us partakers of that glory into which he entered not himself but by the way of the cross. “Whosoever doth not bear his cross, says Christ, “and come after me, cannot be my disciple,” Luke 14:27. “If [we be] children,” says St. Paul, “then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together,” Romans 8:17. 1 . But, perhaps, you will say,” I am too weak to endure afflictions.” Alas! it is because we are weak; because the least disappointment in our favorite pursuit makes us revolt against the will of Providence; because contradiction raises our anger, or commendation and success our vanity and pride, that the Lord sees it necessary we should pass through tribulation and trials. 2. In short, what is it to be weak in the present sense of the word? It is to love ourselves excessively: it is to live more by nature than by faith: it is to suffer ourselves to be conducted by the vivacity of our own natural inclinations, and not by the wisdom from above. Now, with this excessive fund of self-love, if the Lord were not to manage our weakness, and to humble us by affliction; if he did not strike our bodies with some habitual languor, to render the world insipid to us; if he did not prepare for us some losses in our substance; if he did not defeat some of our most favorite projects; if he did not place us in such situations, that the most trying and yet unavoidable duties should fill up our happiest hours; if he were not to raise up a against us opposition by false brethren or by true brethren in a word, if he were not to fix between us and our weakness some kind of barrier, which might be strong enough to arrest and retain us, we should soon be deceived by our false peace and prosperity; we should soon be without a bridle for ourselves or our desires. The same weakness and selflove which make us so sensible of trials and afflictions would make us still more sensible of; and less prepared for, the dangers of pleasure and prosperity. 3. If; therefore, we be discouraged under trials and afflictions, let us not endeavor to excuse ourselves, by saying we are weak. The weakness of our hearts arises only from the weakness of our faith; the soul of a Christian should be a strong soul, proof against persecutions, reproaches, infirmities, and death itself. The Christian may be oppressed, but he cannot be subdued; you may snatch from him his goods, his reputation, his whole fortune, yea, his life itself; but you cannot rob him of the treasure of faith and grace which lies at the bottom of his heart; and abundantly compensates for all his frivolous and temporary losses: you may, perhaps, make him shed tears of sensibility and sorrow, for religion does not extinguish the feelings of nature; but his heart in an instant resists, disavows, as it were, his weakness, and turns even his tears into tears of piety. What shall I say?
A Christian rejoices even in tribulations; he regards them as marks of the benevolence and watchful providence of him God, as precious sureties of future promises, and as the happy characters of his resemblance of Jesus Christ. 4. All the precepts of the gospel require strength from above; and if we have not sufficient to support the crosses which the Lord is pleased to lay upon us, we have not sufficient for those other duties which the gospel prescribes. It requires strength of grace to pardon an injury; to speak all the good we can of those who calumniate us; or to hide the defects of those who would destroy our reputation or usefulness. It requires strength of grace to fly from a world which allures us; to snatch ourselves from pleasures, or to oppose inclinations, which would draw us into evil; to resist customs to which the usage of the world has given the authority of laws or to use prosperity in a Christian spirit. It requires strength of grace to conquer ourselves; to repress the rising desire; to stifle the pleasing sentiments; continually to recall to the strict rules of the gospel a heart which is so given to wander. In short, were we to review all the precepts of the gospel, there would not be one which does not suppose a strong and generous soul, fortified by grace. Throughout it is necessary that we do violence to ourselves. The kingdom of God is a field, which must be cleared and rooted up; a vineyard, in which we must bear the heat and burden of the day; a career, in which we must perpetually and valiantly fight the battles of the Lord. In a word, the whole life of a true disciple of Jesus Christ bears the character of the cross; and if we lose for an instant this strength of grace, we fall. To say then that you cannot endure afflictions because you are weak, is to say that you are destitute of the spirit of the gospel. 5. But, besides this, my brethren, however weak we may really be, we should have a confidence in the goodness of our God, that he will never prove, afflict, or try us beyond our strength; that he always proportions the afflictions to our weakness; that he gives his chastisements, as he does his judgments, in weight and measure; that in afflicting he wills not to destroy us, but to purify and save us, and qualify us for greater usefulness in his church; that he who aids us, himself bears the crosses which he himself imposes upon us; that he chastises us as a father, and not as a judge; that the same hand which strikes us, supports us; that the same rod which gives the wound, brings the oil and the honey to soften it. He knows the character of our hearts, and how far our weakness goes; and, as in afflicting us his will in Christ Jesus is our sanctification, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, he knows how far to weigh his hand, and lay the burden upon us. 6. Alas! What other design can our gracious Lord have in afflicting his ministers and disciples? Is he a cruel God, who takes pleasure in the sufferings of his servants? Is he a barbarous tyrant, who finds his grandeur and safety only in the tears and blood of the subjects who adore him? It is then for our benefit alone that he punishes and chastises us; his tenderness suffers, if I may so speak, from our woes; and yet his love is so just and wise, that he still leaves us to suffer, because he foresees that by terminating our afflictions he would in the end increase our misery, and prevent our usefulness and glory. He is like a skillful surgeon, who has pity indeed on the cries and sufferings of his patient, and yet cuts to the quick all that he finds corrupted in the wound; he is never more kind or beneficent to his servants than when he appears to be most severe; and it is indubitably evident that afflictions are necessary and useful to us, since a God so good and so kind can resolve to lay them upon us. We read in the histories of the martyrs, how weak girls could set at defiance all the barbarity of tyrants! how children, before they were able to support the labors of life, could run with joy to meet the rigors of the most dreadful deaths! how old men, sinking already under the weight of their bodies, seemed, by their cries of triumph, to feel their youth renewed like that of an eagle, in the midst of the torments of slow martyrdoms! And are you weak, my brethren? Then that weakness itself if you be faithful to the grace of God, will bring glory to the faith and religion of Jesus Christ. It is on that account that the Lord has chosen you, to make known in you and by you how much stronger grace is than nature. He “hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught the things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence,” 1 Corinthians 1:27-29.
If you were born with any spiritual strength, you would do no honor to the power of grace; that patience which is now the pure gift of God, would then be justly attributed to man. Thus, in a sense, the weaker we are, the fitter instruments we become for the designs and glory of God. He delights to choose the feeble for his greatest purposes, that man may attribute nothing to himself; and that the vain constancy of the wise and the philosophers may be confounded by their example. His first disciples were but feeble lambs when he sent them into the world, and exposed them in the midst of wolves. These are the earthen vessels which the Lord is pleased to break, like those of Gideon, that in them the light and power of faith might shine with greater splendor and magnificence. And if you enter into the designs of his mercy and wisdom, your weakness, which in your eyes justifies your murmurs or unfaithfulness, would prove one of the sweetest consolations of your trials. 8. “Lord,” you would say to him all your days, “I ask not that proud reason or philosophy, which seeks all the consolations of its pains in the glory of suffering with constancy. I ask not that insensibility of heart which either feels not its miseries, or despises them. Give me, Lord, that sweet simplicity, that tender sensible heart, which appears so little fit to support its tribulations and trials: only increase thy comforts and thy graces. Then, the weaker I appear in the eyes of men, the greater wilt thou appear in my weakness; and the more will the children of this world admire the power of faith, which alone can raise the feeblest and most timid souls to that point of constancy and firmness which philosophy has never been able to attain.” “Endure,” therefore, “afflictions.”
II. 1. Nothing is more common, than for ministers and private professors to justify their murmurs or unfaithfulness, by the character or peculiarity of the afflictions themselves. We easily persuade ourselves that we could bear crosses of another nature with resignation; but those which the Lord has laid upon us are of such a character as can yield no consolation; that the more we examine what passes among men, the more singular we find our trials or afflictions to be, and our situation almost without example. 2. But to remove this feeble defense — of self-love, so unworthy of genuine faith, I would answer, That the more extraordinary our trials or afflictions are, the more clearly may we discover the hand of Providence in them; the more evidently may we observe the secret designs of a God ever attentive to our interests; the more may we presume, that under such new events he conceals new views and singular designs of mercy, for the welfare of our souls, and for our future usefulness in his church. 3. Now, what is the most powerful consolation under trials and afflictions? “God sees me.” He counts my sighs; he weighs my afflictions; “he puts my tears in his bottle;” he blesses the whole to my present sanctification and usefulness in his church, and to my eternal happiness. Since I have felt his heavy hand upon me, in so singular a manner that there seemed to be no resource remaining here below, I feel myself more than ever under his immediate inspection. O! if I had enjoyed a more tranquil situation, his eyes would not have been upon me as they are at present; perhaps I should have been forgotten, and confounded among those who have their portion in this world. Lovely sufferings! which, in depriving me of all human succor, restore to me my God, and make him my refuge and resource through his blessing. Precious afflictions! which, in making me forget the creatures, have rendered me, through the co-operation of rich and suffering grace, a continual object of the remembrance and mercies of my Lord! 4. But is there any one among us who wishes that he may not be called to endure afflictions? Alas! take care that the Lord does not hear thee in his wrath: take care that he does not punish thee in granting thee thy desire; that he does not find thee unworthy of his temporal afflictions; for “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth,” Hebrews 12:6. 5. To all these truths, so consoling to an afflicted soul, I could still add, my brethren, that if our pains and trials appear excessive, it is only through the excess of corruption in our affections, which gives strength to our sufferings: our losses or afflictions become so grievous to us, only through those attachments which bind us to external objects; and the excess of our sorrows or chagrin is always the excess of an unjust love of the creatures.
Alas, brethren, the woes and afflictions of others are too often nothing in our eyes. We do not observe that the trials of thousands around us are greater than our own; that our afflictions have innumerable resources, which theirs have not; that in our habitual infirmities, or in our trials in the church, we find in the number of persons who are still attentive to our wants, an abundance of comforts denied to others — when we have lost a warm and faithful friend, we have many ways to soften our bitterness: when persecuted by our relations or families, we can find in the tenderness an confidence of our friends and brethren, attentions and kindness which we found not at home. In short, we have an abundance of human sources of satisfaction, to compensate for our trials; and if we put into the scale, on one side our comfort, and on the other our afflictions, we shall find that our comforts, if improved, far overbalance our sorrows,BESIDE THE CONSOLATIONS OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD. 6. Truly, my brethren, it is not only the excessive love of ourselves, but hardness of heart toward our fellow creatures, which magnifies in our eyes our own afflictions. Let us daily enter under the unfurnished and miserable roofs of the poor, where shame frequently conceals miseries the most frightful and affecting: let us go to those asylums of wretchedness, where calamities seem to be heaped together: it is there we shall learn what we ought to think of our own afflictions: it is there that touched with the excess of so many and great miseries, we shall blush to have given names to the lightness of our own: it is there that our murmurs an unfaithful attentions will change into expressions, and into the very spirit of gratitude and thankfulness: and, less occupied with the thoughts of those light crosses which we bear, than with the many from which we have been delivered, we shall almost begin to fear the indulgence of our God, so far from complaining of his severity. Endure,” therefore, “afflictions.”
III. 1. I will conclude this head of the apostle’s charge with the following important reflection: That God, in all the trials and afflictions which he lays upon, or suffers to happen to, his zealous ministering servants, has but two ends in his view and in his gracious intention; first, their sanctification and eternal happiness; secondly, their usefulness in his church. Every thing he permits or does for them here below, he does it, or permits it, only to facilitate these gracious designs: every agreeable or afflictive event which any way concerns them, he has prepared for them, to make them more holy, useful, and eternally glorious. All his plans concerning them have reference to these purposes alone: all that they are in the order of nature, their birth, their talents, the age in which they live, their friends, and their vocation — all these, in his views of mercy toward them, and mercy toward the world, have entered into his divine impenetrable designs for the eternal salvation of themselves and others; and not all the powers of earth and hell, no,NONE BUT THEMSELVES, can possibly defeat or counteract them. All this visible world itself was only made for the world which is to come: all that passes here has its secret connection with eternity: all that which we see is only the figure of things invisible. This world would not be worthy of the care of an infinitely wise and merciful God, but as far as, by secret and wonderful connections, its various revolutions tend to form that church in the heavens, that immortal assembly of the redeemed, where he will be eternally glorified: he acts not in time but for eternity; and he is in this the great model which we should in ever thing follow. 2. “Ah! When shall it be, O our God, that our souls, raised by faith above all the creatures, shall no more adore but thee in and through them all; shall no more attribute to them events, of which thou alone, in thy immediate or permissive providence, art the author; shall acknowledge in all the various situations in which thou hast placed us the adorable conduct and wisdom of thy providence; and in the midst of crosses themselves shall taste that unutterable peace which the world and all its pleasure can never bestow!” 3. Religion alone, my brethren, can afford us solid comfort under all our trials and afflictions. Philosophy may stop our complaints, but can never truly soften our grief. The world may stupefy our anxiety, but can never heal it; and in the midst of all its employments or amusements, the secret sting of sorrow will remain always deeply plunged in the bottom of the heart. God alone can prove the effectual comforter of all our pains; and is there need of any other for the faithful soul? Weak mortals, by their vain discourse and ordinary language of tenderness and compassion, may speak to the ears of the body; but it is the God of all consolation who alone knows how to speak to the heart. 4. It would perhaps be presumption in me to call any afflictions heavy which I have experienced; and it was probably owing to my want of grace, that they to me appeared to be great. But I can bless God that ever I was tried and afflicted; and hardly know for which to thank him most, his disguised or undisguised mercies. O how he has broken my stubborn will, and humbled my proud heart, and moderated my ambitious views, (though all seemed to be for his glory,) by trials and afflictions! And I doubt not but many of my brethren, as well as myself, (though not in the same degree with me, because they did not equally need it,) can bear testimony to the grace and power of God in the use of this profitable. means. Let us, then, my brethren, “endure afflictions:” let us “take unto us the whole armour of God, that we may be able to withstand in the evil day; and having done all, to stand,” Ephesians 6:13. 5. “O God, it is thou alone who canst support us under all our trials: we are weakness itself without thee. It is thy grace alone which can sanctify the means, and make our afflictions profitable. Lord, teach us to depend wholly upon thee: it is with thee alone we desire to forget all our trials, all our pains, all the creatures. But, alas! too often have we wished that the foolish projects of our own hearts should serve as the rule of thine infinite wisdom!
We have desired more favor from men, more health of body, more talents, more glory, as if we had been wiser and better acquainted with our true interests than thou, O omniscient Lord God! We have not entered, as we might, into the gracious designs of thy love in our favor. But O! from this time thou shalt be our only comforter; and we will seek, in the meditation of thy holy law, those solid and lasting consolations which the creatures can never afford. Lord, take us into thyself; be thou the joy of our hearts, be thou the delight of our eyes, be thou our portion for ever! Even so, Lord Jesus. Amen.”