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PREACHED AT WESTMINSTER-ABBEY, NOVEMBER 1,
1717, BEING ALL SAINTS’-DAY.
THE CHRISTIAN STATE, A STATE OF SUFFERING. Even hereunto were ye called ; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should
follow his steps.—1 Pet. ii. 21. THE duty and perfection of a Christian consists in the imitation of Christ ; in the imitation of every part of the spotless example, of the passive as well as active graces, in which he abounded. Both sides of his character are highly useful and instructive to us; both, at different times and for different ends, alike necessary to be attentively considered, and closely followed by us. But some occasions, some times there are, when that part of Christ's example, which relates to the sad sufferings he underwent, and the heroic manner in which he bore them, is principally to be regarded by Christians. Such was the season, at which St. Peter wrote this epistle to his brethren of the dispersion, then every where oppressed, afflicted, persecuted : and such is this particular day in the Calendar of our church ; sacred to the memory of those saints, confessors and martyrs of old, who, being exercised in afflictions, and trained up to sufferings, fought the good fight, and finished their course, 2 Tim. iv. 7, and obtained the crown, which was laid up for them by the author and finisher of their faith, the great pattern and rewarder of their sufferings, Christ Jesus ! Even hereunto, they were called, and in this their saintship chiefly consisted"; the imitation of him who suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps.
The chief design of St. Peter, throughout this epistle, is to fortify the new converts against those disgraces and afflictions, which had befallen, or were ready to befall them, on the account of their religion; and the argument, by which he persuades them here in the text to equanimity and patience, is, we see, that even hereunto they were called; that they felt no more now, than what, from their very entrance on Christianity, they had reason to expect; that these were the terms on which they embraced the faith; that such sufferings are the proper lot and portion of Christians ; because (as he adds) Christ also suffered
for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow his steps, Heb. ii. 10. If the Captain of our salvation was made perfect through sufferings, how should any man who marches under his ensigns, ever hope to exempt himself from them? He not only gave us precepts, which we are to obey, but a pattern also to direct and facilitate our obedience. They, therefore, who say, they abide in him, ought themselves also to walk, even as he walked, 1 John ii. 6; and consequently (if the will of God so be) to suffer, as he suffered, with a becoming meekness and patience, with fortitude and firmness; especially if it be considered, that he suffered for us, i. e., on our account, and for our advantage: and why then should we think it hard and unreasonable to suffer for ourselves ? or be forward and
any affliction of life that befalls us ? He took out the sting, and expiated the guilt of our sins by his sufferings; but so as to leave us still under an arrear of punishment, which we ourselves are to discharge, and, by that means (as St. Paul emphatically speaks) to fill up what is behind of the afflictions of Christ in our flesh, Col. i. 24. Even hereunto were we called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow
The words, you see, will give me a proper occasion of explaining two great truths, always fit to be inculcated to Christians, and always present to the minds, and exem
plified in the actions, of those holy men and women, whom we this day profess to commemorate.
The two points are these :
1. First, that the christian state, however willing some Christians may be to mistake the nature of it, is certainly à state of suffering.
II. Secondly, that the sufferings of Christ afford us a plain argument, why we also should expect our share of sufferings; and withal a powerful motive to support us under them. And,
I. First, I am to shew, that the christian state is a state of suffering
This is an hard saying, which will not easily gain admittance with the great, the rich, and the prosperous ; with those who are clothed in purple and fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day, Luke xvi. 19. And yet, as unwelcome as the doctrine may be, it is very clear and certain. We can scarce open a page of the Gospel, without finding it either laid down in the express words of Christ and his apostles, or recommended by their practice. Even hereunto are we called, says St. Peter in the text; we are thereunto appointed, Eis Tếto xeipeda, says
St. Paul, 1 Thess. iii. 3, where he is professedly treating of this subject. And in another place, All that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution, 2 Tim. iii. 12. And again, We must, through much tribulation, enter into the kingdom of God, Acts xiv. 22.
'Tis true, these, and many other passages of like import in the New Testament, are chiefly, and in their utmost extent, to be undersood of the times when they were first uttered, the infant age of Christianity; when the standard of the cross being set up, all they, who repaired to it, were engaged in a continual opposition to the powers of this world ; and persecutions, afflictions, distresses, attended them in every step of their conflict; when the sufferings of Christians were designed to promote the reception of the faith of Christ, and the seed of the word sown was to be watered and made fruitful by the blood of martyrs. Then indeed was it most remarkably, most eminently true, that the christian state and profession was a state of suffering. However, though this be not at present the general lot of Christians, although the instances be now rare, in which we are thus called upon to witness a good confession, 1 Tim. vi. 13., and to resist even to blood, Heb. xii. 4; yet still, I say, there is a sense of the assertion in which it holds good, and will hold good to the end of the world; still the doctrine of the Gospel is Aéyos saugę, the doctrine of the cross; and he, who would be a true disciple of Christ, must even now deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow him.
Can we doubt of this truth, if we consider the solemn engagements, into which we entered, when we were first listed in his service at our baptism, That we would
manifestly fight under his banner, against sin, the world and the devil, and continue Christ's faithful soldiers and servants to our lives' end?” Are these enemies so weak, and contemptible, as that we should hope to resist thein with ease ? Can this combat be maintained, this warfare be accomplished by us, without great difficulties and troubles ?
The good Christian is not of this world, even while he lives in it; and therefore the man of this world, whose life is not like his, whose ways are of another fashion, will be sure to malign, and traduce, and perhaps despise him. Because he runs not with them to the same excess of riot, 1 Pet. iv. 4, they will charge him with affectation and singularity at least, if not with downright hypocrisy; they will daily mistake his sayings, misconstrue all his best actions, misrepresent his brightest virtues: his humility and lowliness of mind shall be called meanness of spirit; his patience under injuries and affronts, insensibility and folly; his exactness in the performance of religious duties, his conscientious abstinence from whatever has the appearance of evil, his holy severities and mortifications, shall furnish ample matter for their ungodly disdain. The proud will have him exceedingly in derision, Psal. cxix. 51; he will be as a tabret unto them, Job xvii. 6;
a by-word of the people, and the song of the drunkards, Psal. Ixix. 12.
And can a man, so treated and vilified, be said to be in an unsuffering state? I am sure, these are reckoned among the bitter ingredients of our Saviour's sufferings; so that even where he is said to have endured the cross, and despised the shame, it is added also in the next verse, that he endured the contradiction of sinners.-As if that circumstance added some degree of weight and sharpness to his other afflictions.
This sincere Christian cannot deny or dissemble the truth, when a proper occasion bids him stand forth and own it; he cannot flatter wickedness in high places, fall in with false and prevailing opinions, or follow a multitude to do evil ; and he, who cannot bend himself to a compliance in such cases, must expect, not to continue unmolested, but to reap the proper fruits of his stubbornness. Or should the course of this world, in which he lives, run smoothly on; should he be ruffled and discomposed by no enemies, no accidents from without; yet
still there are inward anxieties and sorrows, perplexities and troubles, that attend him.
He finds (for St. Paul himself owns that he found) a law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and, bringing him, or endeavouring to bring him, into captivity to the law of sin, Rom. vi. 23. He has unruly appetites to mortify, strong passions to tame: and the struggle with these, even after they seem vanquished, must sometimes be renewed, and such a struggle is no ways joyous, but grievous. The fear he has of offending, keeps him under a perpetual alarm; the sense he has of guilt is quick and pungent, and subjects him, whenever he falls, to great remorse and uneasiness. What sighs, what groans, what floods of tears, does it occasion? What rigour, what revenges on himself does it produce ? How doth his own wickedness (nay, how.