« PreviousContinue »
the faints; and will oppofe a little ceremony with as much heat as the greateft immorality. In thefe cafes, it is not mens goodness which raifeth enmity against them, but their imprudent zeal and other infirmities which attend it: but however, bad men are glad to lay hold of these occafions and pretences of enmity, which their indifcretion offers. Good men may be, and frequently are, mistaken in their own opinions and apprehenfions of things; but it is a great mistake to have an equal zeal for little and doubtful things, as for the great and indifpenfible duties of the Chriftian life, and yet many times fo as to neglect those to a great degree; and men must blame themselves for the inconveniencies that happen to them for their own indifcretion; for neither will the nature of the thing bear them out alike, nor will the providence of God be equally concerned to protect men in the following of that, which they through grofs mistake, and a heady conceit of their own knowledge in religion, think to be good, as in the following of that which is really and unquestionably good.
III. The enmity of fome men against goodness is fo violent and implacable, that no innocency, no excellency of goodness, how great foever, can reftrain their malice towards good men, or hinder the effects of it, when it comes in their way, and they have power to do them mifchief. Against thefe the providence of God is our belt fafe-guard, and it is wifdom, as much as poffible, to keep out of their way, and to pray with St. Paul, that we may be delivered from wicked and unrea fonable men. Men of fo abfurd a malice against goodness, that it is not to be prevented by any innocency or prudence; and fo implacable, that there is no way to gain and reconcile them, nor perhaps is it much defirable; their good word would be no credit to us, and their friend. fhip would be pernicious when it cannot be had upon other terms, than of conniving at their faults, and being concerned in their quarrels, and at last quarrelling and breaking with them, unless we will run with them to the fame excess of riot. The friendship of such men is more terrible than their enmity, and their malice much less to be dreaded than their kindness.
IV. The last and chief exception is that of the cross, when the fufferings and perfecutions of good men are neceffary for the great ends of God's glory, for the advancement of religion, and the example and falvation of others. And with this exception, all the declarations of fcripture concerning the temporal profperity and fafety of good men, and all the promifes of the New Teftament are to be understood. And this exception our Saviour himself exprefly makes, Mark x. 29.30. Verily Ifay unto you, there is no man that hath left houfe, or brethren, or fifters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my fake and the goSpel's, but he shall receive an hundred-fold now in this time, houfes, and brethren, and fifters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with perfecution; and in the world to come eternal life; that is, fo far as a state of perfecution would admit, all these loffes fhould be recompenfed to them in this present time; as they were to the Apoftles in a remarkable manner : when they who had but little to part with for the gospel, had the estates of Chriftians laid at their feet and committed to their dipofal, for the nobleft purpofes of charity, and common fupport of Chriftians, which was as much to them, as if they had been malters of the greatest estates; and whatever was wanting to any of them in the accomplishment of this promife, was abundantly made up to them in the unspeakable and eternal happiness of the world to come. And this exception the Apoftle St. Peter is careful to mention exprefly, immediately after the text; for after he had faid, Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? he immediately adds, But, and if ye fuffer for righteoufness fake, happy are ye; and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled, but fanctify the Lord God in your hearts; that is, in this cafe, fear God more than men, and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reafon of the hope that is in you; that is, if ye be queftioned for being Chriftians, be ready to own your profeffion, and. to give a reason of it, fo that the Apostle fuppofeth, that notwithstanding what he had faid, that ordinarily it is not in the nature of men to perfecute men for true goodness, yet they must not expect to be exempt
ed from perfecution, which was neceffary for the eftablishment of the Chriftian religion.
In these cafes God permits the devil to instigate and exafperate evil men against those that are good, to act beyond their ufual temper. Thus God, when he defigned an illuftrious example of patience for all ages of the world, he lets loose the devil, not only to ftir up his inftruments the Chaldeans and Sabeans against Job, but to afflict him immediately himself with bodily pains and diseases. In thefe and the like cafes, the best of men are exposed to the greateft fufferings. Thus God permitted Socrates, that great light among the Gentiles, and the glory of philofophy, to be cruelly treated and put to death for an example of virtue, and a teftimony against their impious and abominable idolatry. And thus likewife when it was neceffary for the common falvation of men, and to give the world an example, beyond all exception, of the greatest innocency, enduring the greateft indignities and fufferings with the greateft patience, that one should fuffer for all mankind, he permitted the best man that ever was, God and goodness incarnate, by wicked hands to be crucified and flain and afterwards when it was neceffary for the propagation and establishment of Chriftianity in the world, that the truth of it should be fealed by the death of fo many martyrs, God was pleased to suffer the rage of bad men to break out into all manner of violence and cruelty.
But yet notwithstanding thefe exceptions, those who make it their business to do good, and to excel in those virtues which are apt to win and oblige mankind, may in ordinary cafes and times expect great fafety and protection against the injuries of the world, for an exemplary piety, and innocency, and goodness; for, these fayings in the New Teftament, that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God, and that whoever will live godly in Jefus Chrift muft fuffer perfecu tion, are not equally to be extended to all places and times; but more peculiarly to be understood of the first times of Chriftianity, when the providence of God thought fit to establish the Chriftian religion upon the innocent lives and patient fufferings of the first profeffors of it.
The refult from all this difcourfe is, that we should not be weary of well-doing; but mind and follow the things which are fubftantially and unquestionably good; not doubting, but befides the infinite reward of it in the other world, it will ordinarily turn to our great fecurity and advantage in this life, and fave us harmlefs from a great many mifchiefs and inconveniencies which others are exposed to. If we endeavour to excel in those Christian virtues which the Apostle mentions before the text, and which he means by our being followers of that which is good, we shall undoubtedly find the comfort of it, in those temporal benefits that will redound to us; for the fcripture hath not faid in vain, Truft in the Lord and do good, fo fhalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Glory, and honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good. That the fruit of righteousness is fown in peace of them that work peace; that by well-doing we shall put to filence the ignorance of foolish men; that the kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink, but righteouf nefs, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost; and that he that in these things ferveth Chrift, is accepted of God, and approved of men.
But if we mistake religion, and place it in those things wherein it doth not really confift, in airy notions, and doubtful opinions, in fuperftitious conceits and practices, and in a fiery and furious zeal for things of no weight and fubftance, of no real virtue and goodness; if we be defective in the great virtues of meeknefs and humility, of peaceablenefs and charity, of kindness and courtefy, of forbearance and forgiveness, of rendering good for evil, and overcoming evil with good, qualities which will univerfally endear us and recommend us to the favour and protection of God, and to the esteem and good-will of men; and if instead of these we abound in malice and envy, be proud and conceited, cenforious" and uncharitable, contentious and unpeaceable, rude and uncivil, impatient and implacable, we must not think it strange, if we be ill treated in this world, not for our goodness, but for our want of it; and we have no reason to wonder, if at every turn we meet with the
inconveniencies of our own heat and indifcretion, of our peevish and morofe temper, of our factious and turbulent difpofition. For this is an eternal rule of truth, As we fow, fo fhall we reap; every man fhall be filled with his own ways, and eat the fruit of his own doings.
Of diligence in our general and particular calling.
Preached at Whitehall, 1685.
ECCL. ix. 10.
What foever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goeft.
Hefe words of the royal preacher are a general exhortation to diligence and induftry, in that work which is molt proper for us to do in this world. And I fhall confider in them these two things. First, The matter of this advice and exhortation, and that is, that we would ufe great diligence about those things which are the proper work and employment of this life. Whatfoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might. Whatfoever thy hand findeth to do; that is, the work which is before thee, which is moft proper for thee to propofe to thy felf, as the great end and defign of thy life, the province and charge which is appointed thee. So that these words, in the full compafs and extent of them, may very well comprehend every reasonable purpose and undertaking, whatever is incumbent upon us as a duty, and is matter of reasonable choice. Do it with all thy might; that