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do his very errors, and infirmities) correct him, and his backslidings reprove him? Jer. ii. 19.
Or could we suppose him to have no occasion thus to suffer for his own sins, yet will he never want one of suffering for the sins of others. The good Christian cannot be an unconcerned spectator of any great degree of wickedness, even while he himself stands free from the infection of it. His tender regard for God's honour, for the interests of piety, and the good of souls, makes him lay to heart the crying iniquities of that people, amidst whom he dwells, and grieve for those, who do not (and the rather, because they do not) grieve for themselves. When he observes the scandalous progress of infidelity, the open growth of profaneness; the emulation and strife, the oppression and injustice, the hatred and cruelty, that abound in the world through lust; in a word, when he sees the most immoral practices and pollutions of the heathens reigning among those who name the name of Christ, though in their works they deny him ; such a scene of sin and misery wounds him to the quick, and fills his soul with unspeakable sorrow. Rivers of waters run down his eyes, because men keep not God's law, Psal. cxix. 136.
'Tis true, his mind is not always employed in this melancholy manner; he has also the inward joys and consolations, arising from the testimony of a good conscience, from the assurances of God's favour, and the refreshing influences of his good Spirit; but even these, either for the punishment of his misuse of them, or for a trial of his faith, are sometimes withdrawn; and then his soul is sorrowful even unto death, Matth. xxvi. 38. Fearfulness and trembling come upon him, Psal. lv. 5, and his heart within him is even like melted wax, Psal. xxii. 14. And this state of dereliction is what the most experienced saints and servants of God have felt, and complained of: and no wonder ; since something not unlike it happened even to the Son of God himself.
Add to this, that even the best of men, and those who are advanced nearest toward perfection, have often
some peculiar infirmity of body or mind, which sticks close to them, gives them great interruptions in the course of their duty, and great trouble and uneasiness in the performance of it; and this is permitted by God, in order to keep them vigilant, humble, dependant; even to St. Paul there was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, 2 Cor. xii. 7.
The Christian state then, (even setting aside the extraordinary case of persecution for the name of Christ,) is certainly a state of suffering: hereunto are we called, as many of us as have vowed obedience to Christ, and profess to believe and to live as he hath taught us. And if so, let us all lay our hands upon our hearts, and examine ourselves, whether, and how far we may be said to be in such a state, to have fulfilled the duties, and undergone the hardships, which entitle us to the privileges of it.
Have we then lived according to the flesh, or according to the spirit ? Have we exercised ourselves in the severe and rugged parts of our duty ? or have we chosen for our lot, the gratifications of sense, and vain pleasures which did not profit us?
Have we called ourselves often to account for our miscarriages, and niade a serious, a strict, and impartial scrutiny into our past lives and actions? Have we felt the spirit of compunction and contrition moving in our hearts, and condemning us for our transgressions? Have we deplored them? Have we prayed, and striven against them, and applied those harsh, but wholesome remedies which the christian religion prescribes for the cure of such diseases ; fasting and self-denial, and mortification ? Have we experienced the afflicting hand of God, laying hold of us, when we transgressed, and gently leading us back into the paths of virtue, from whence we had swerved, by seasonable and merciful chastisements? If this be our case, we have some reason to hope, that we are in such a state and condition of mind, as becomes a good Christian, such as God will accept, and improve, and reward.
But now, on the other side, what if the vanities of
life, and the enjoyments of sense, have engrossed all our thoughts and affections ? What, if we have been so far from crucifying our lusts, that we have indulged them to the utmost? from mourning for our sins, that we have even boasted of them? froin humbling ourselves in private, by voluntary austerities, that we have not regarded as we ought to do, even the stated times of public and solemn humiliations ? What if our diversions have been pursued in prejudice to our devotions? have taken up the room, and eaten out the life of them? Can such inclinations, such practices be reconciled to the spirit of the Gospel ? Is this the work, the employment, whereunto we are called ? Is this temper of mind agreeable to the character of a serious and sincere Christian?
Believe it, a life of uninterrupted jollity and mirth, of perpetual pleasure and amuseinent, is not, cannot be the life of a true disciple of Christ. These things we may taste, but we are not to rest in them; they are our refreshments on the way, not the end and design of our journey. He that pretends to be a Christian indeed (as St. Paul speaks of a widow indeed, 1 Tim. v. 6.) and liveth in pleasure, is dead while he liveth; he savoureth not the things that be of God, Matt. xvi. 23., hath no relish of the chief duties and offices of the christian life; and though he may put on some of the outward forms and appearances of godliness, is a stranger to the inward life and power of it. That is only to be attained by his fixing his eye on the example, and following the steps of a suffering, crucified Saviour. And therefore, I shall
, as I proposed in the next place,
II. Secondly, consider how 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 it is well they afford us both these ; for the one, without the other, would be an uncomfortable consideration.
The apostle, we see, proposes the example of Christ on the suffering side of it; as if that were the chief view we were to take of it, that the great end and design of his being made an example to us. The most difficult part of our duty is to suffer well; and therefore we stood most in need of a perfect pattern in this respect, to direct and encourage us, and what we wanted most, Christ, who came to make good all our defects, and to heal all our infirmities, took most care to supply us with : and therefore from his birth throughout his life, to his death, this is the character, under which he appears to us. His sufferings indeed were finished on the cross ; but they began, when he first entered on his state of humiliation; when emptying himself of all his glory, he took upon him to deliver man, and, in order to it, did not abhor the virgin's womb.
Under this view if we consider him; and withal consider, that it is our duty, and our happiness to resemble him; what hopes can we have to escape the sufferings of this life? Nay, 'what reason totally to decline them? How can we possibly, without suffering, be like him, who himself did nothing but suffer ?
The infinite dignity of his person (for he was the Son of God, and God the Son) hindered him not from taking our nature upon him, with all its meanest circumstances, and with all its most afflicting accidents : and who is there then among the sons of men, so distinguished from the rest by his greatness or pre-eminence, as that it should misbecome him to learn this great lesson of humility? Who, that should be ashamed to practise it?
He was of unblemished purity, of perfect sanctity and innocence; and therefore the calanities he underwent, were no ways necessary, either for the trial or improvement of his virtue; and yet he chose to undergo them. How then should the very best of us (who ought, God knows, to be much better, and yet, without such trials, are in danger of growing much worse than we are) expect or even desire to be free from them?
Certainly we judge not aright of our spiritual wants and necessities, of our carnal infirmities and failures, if we wish to live always in perfect ease, and think it a mark of God's favour, when nothing happens to deject, or disturb us. Nay, but then is the time, when we have most reason to suspect ourselves. There is a wo, we know, denounced on Christians, when all men shall speak well of them, Luke vi. 20; for so did they not of Christ himself; and we are predestinate to be conformed to his image, Rom. viii. 29; and therefore, as far as we deviate from that original, so far we fall short of perfection and happiness. If we endure chastening, God dealeth with us as sons, Heb. xii. 7; even as he dealt with him, of whom he said, This is my boloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, Matt. iii. 17.
Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, let us arm ourselves with the same mind, 1 Pet. iv. 1; with a resolution to imitate him in his perfect submission and resignation of himself to the divine will and pleasure; in his contempt of all the enjoyments of sense, of all the vanities of this world, its allurements and terrors ; in his practice of religious severities; in his love of religious retirement; in his making it his meat and his drink, his only study and delight, to work the work of him that sent him, John ix. 4; in his choosing, for that end (when that end could not otherwise be attained) want before abundance, shame before honour, pain before pleasure, death before life; and in his preferring always a laborious uninterrupted practice of virtue, to a life of rest, and ease and indolence. Let the same mind, in all these respects, be in us, which was in Christ Jesus, who suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps. The task indeed is hard to flesh and blood; the difficulties that lie in our way, are exceeding great, and would be altogether insuperable, had not he, who set us an example, so far above the level and pitch of human nature, enabled, as well as commanded, us to follow it.
But, thanks be to God, that is not our case. Christ, by the merit of those very sufferings, which he proposes to our imitation, has purchased for us all such extraordi