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think, that they have thriven even under curses! And shall their guiltiness be entertained, with more courage, than thine innocence? Let those, whose heart is as foul as their name, be troubled with deserved censures: do not thou give so much way to malice, as to yield any regard to her mis-raised suggestions. Thou canst not devise how more to vex a detractor, than by contempt: thus thou shalt force spite, as that wise heathen truly said, to drink off the greatest part of her own poison.
The narrow bounds of infamy.
THOU art disgraced with an ill fame:-What a poor matter is this! How far dost thou think that sound reacheth? Perhaps, to the next village; perhaps further, to the whole shire wherein thou dwellest: it is like, the next county never heard thy name; and, if thou look yet further off, as soon mayest thou be talked of amongst the antipodes as in the neighbouring region. And what a small spot of earth is this, to which thy shame is confined! Didst thou know the vast extent of this great world, thou wouldst easily see into how narrow a corner our either glory or dishonour can be pent up; and shouldst confess, how little reason we can have to affect the one, or be disheartened with the other.
The short life of slander.
THOU art wronged with an unjust disgrace:-Have patience a while slanders are not long lived. Truth is the child of time: ere long, she shall appear, and vindicate thee. Wait upon the God of Truth, who shall cause thy light to break forth as the morning; and thine health to spring forth speedily; Is. lviii. 8.
But, if otherwise, what speakest thou of this shame, which as it is local, so it is momentary; soon passed over in silence and oblivion. There is a shame, my son, which is worthy of thy fear: which is both universal before the face of all the world, of angels, and men; and, beyond the reach of time, eternal. Fear this, and contemn the other.
On the contrary, if fame should befriend thee so much as to strain her cheeks in sounding thy praises, and should cry thee up for virtuous and eminent every way; alas, how few shall hear her, and how soon is that noise stilled, and forgotten! Eccl. ix. 1.
Shortly then, let it be thy main care, to demean thyself holily and conscionably before God and men: leave the rest upon God, who shall be sure to make his word good, in spite of men and
devils, The memory of the just shall be blessed; but the name of the wicked shall rot; Prov. x. 7.
COMFORTS AGAINST PUBLIC CALAMITIES.
The inevitable necessity of changes; and God's over-ruling them. THOU art afflicted with the public calamities:-So it becomes thee, as a good man, a good Christian, a good patriot. We are not entire peers, but are all limbs of a community, both of Church and Kingdom. While the whole body suffers, how can we be free?.
This should be no news to us. What earthly kingdom or state hath ever enjoyed a constant felicity? These public bodies, like as single persons, have their birth, their vigour, their declinations. Even the white marble of that famous emblem and type of God's Church, after not many centuries of years felt the dint of time, and mouldered to nothing. It is as much as those heavenly bodies above can do, to avoid change.
Well might we be distracted with these troubles, my son, if we did not well know whence they come; even from a most wise, holy, powerful, just Providence. He, that sits in heaven, orders these earthly affairs, according to the eternal counsel of his will. It is that Almighty hand, that holds the stern of this tossed vessel; and steers it in that course, which he knows best. It is not for us, that are passengers, to meddle with the card or compass. Let that All-Skilful Pilot alone, with his own work: he knows every rock and shelf, that may endanger it; and can cut the proudest billow that threatens it, with ease: It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good; 1 Sam. iii. 18.
The sense and sympathy of common evils.
WERE there no other respects than personal, I cannot blame thee, if thy fears strive with thy grief for the public evils: every man's interest is involved in the common: and if the ship sink, what will become of the passengers?
But, withal, there is a kind of inbred sympathy in every good heart, which gives us a share in all others' miseries; and affects us more deeply for them, than for our own.
Old indulgent Eli loved his sons too well; and was therefore, no doubt, very sensible of their death; yet that part of the news
passed over with some, not mortal, passion: But, when he heard of the ark of God taken, now his neck and his heart were broken together; 1 Sam. iv. 17, 18: and his religious daughter-in-law, though she were delivered upon this report of a son, yet she died in travail of that heavy news; and could live only to say, Ichabod, The glory is departed from Israel, for the ark of God is taken; vv. 21, 22: disregarding her new son, when she heard of the loss of her people and of her God.
How many Pagans have we read of, that have died resolutely for their country; cheerfully sacrificing themselves to the public! how many, that would die with their country, hating to think of over-living the common ruin! how many, that have professed a scorn to be beholden for their lives to their people's murderer! We shall as soon extinguish both grace and nature, as quit this compassionate sense of the common calamities.
The sure protection of the Almighty.
THOU grievest for the public distempers:-Mourn not, as one without faith. Be sure, He, that keepeth Israel, will neither slumber nor sleep. Wherefore was the holy tabernacle overspread with a strong tent of skins (Exod. xxvi. 7.), but to figure out unto us God's Church sheltered under a sure protection? He, that was so curious of the custody of his material temple, by night as well as by day, that a sleeping Levite might not escape beating, and burning of garments; how careful do we think he will ever be, of his spiritual and living house!
How unmeet judges are we, of his holy proceedings! We are ready to measure his love still by an outward prosperity, than which nothing can be more uncertain. The Almighty goes by other rules: such as are most consonant to his infinite justice and mercy. I am abashed to hear a Pagan*, though no vulgar one, say, "Whatsoever is brought to pass, a wise man thinks ought to be so done; neither goes about to rebuke nature, but finds it best to suffer what he cannot alter." And shall we Christians repine at those seemingly harsh events, which we see fall out in God's Church, while we are ignorant of his designs; and be ready to bless a thriving profaneness?
Look abroad, upon the ancient lot of God's inheritance, and their corrivals in glory: thou shalt see the family of Esau flourishing and renowned; yielding, besides Dukes, eight Kings of his line; while poor Israel was toiling and sweating in the Egyptian furnaces: yet we know the word to stand inviolable, The elder shall serve the younger; and, Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.
What if that great and wise God, who works ofttimes by contraries and brings light out of darkness, have purposed to fetch
* Sen. Ep. 107,
honour and happiness to his Church out of this sad affliction? Metals are never so bright, as when they are scoured; perfumes and spices never so redolent, as when they have felt the fire and the pestle. Wilt thou not give the physician leave to make use of his mithridate, because there are vipers in the composition? How unworthy art thou of health, if thou wilt not trust the fidelity and skill of the artist, in mixing so wholesome a cordial!
The justice of God's proceedings.
THOU art troubled with the public miseries :-Take heed that thy grief be clear of all impiety. Wouldst thou not have God to be just, that is, himself? Wouldst thou not allow it an act of his justice, to punish sins? Canst thou deny that our sins have reached up to heaven, and called for judgment? Why is the living man sorrowful? man suffereth for his sins; Lam. iii. 39.
I read of a devout man, that was instant with God in his prayers, for a nation not far off; and was answered, "Suffer the proud to be humbled." Whether we will suffer it or no, the just God will humble the proud, and punish the sinful.
The wonderful patience, and infinite justice of the Almighty, hath set a stint to the wickedness of every people: The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full, saith God to Abraham; Gen. xv. 16. when the measure is once made up, it is time for God to strike: we shall then complain in vain, and too late.
Wouldst thou know then, what is to be done for the preventing of a destructive vengeance? There is no way under heaven, but this, to break off our sins by a seasonable and serious repentance: by the united forces of our holy resolutions and endeavours, to make a head against the overbearing wickedness of the time; and not to suffer it to fill up towards the brim of that fatal ephah; till which time the long-suffering God only threatens and corrects a people, but then he plagues them, and stands upon the necessity of his inviolable justice: Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: and shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this? Jer. v. 9.
The remedy, our particular repentance.
THOU mournest for the common sufferings:-Thou dost well: our tears can never be better bestowed. But, the while, is not thy hand in them? have not thy sins helped to make up this irritating heap? hast not thou cast in thy symbol, into the common shot? May not the times justly challenge thee in part, as accessary to
their misery? Begin at home, my son, if thou wish well to the public; and make thine own peace with thy God, for thy particular offences. Renew thy covenant with God, of a more holy and strict obedience; and then pour out thy prayers and tears, for a universal mercy so shalt thou not only pull away one brand from this consuming fire, but help effectually to quench the common conflagration.
The unspeakable miseries of a civil war.
THY heart bleeds to see the woeful vastation of civil discord; and the deadly fury of home-bred enemies :
Certainly, there is nothing under heaven more ghastly and dreadful, than the face of an intestine war; nothing, that doth so nearly resemble hell. Woe is me! here is altogether killing, and dying, and torturing, and burning, and shrieks, and cries, and ejulations, and fearful sounds, and furious violences, and whatsoever may either cause or increase horror. The present calamity oppresses one; another, fear: one is quivering in death; another trembles to expect it one begs for life; another will sell it dearer: here, one would rescue one life, and loseth two; there, another would hide himself, where he finds a merciless death: here lies one bleeding, and groaning, and gasping, parting with his soul in extremity of anguish; there, another of stronger spirits kills and dies, at once: here, one wrings her hands, and tears her hair, and seeks for some instrument of a self-inflicted death, rather than yield her chaste body to the lust of a bloody ravisher; there, another clings insepara bly to a dear husband, and will rather take part of the murderer's sword, than let go her last embraces: here, one, tortured for the discovery of hid treasure; there, another, dying upon the rack, out of jealousy.
Oh, that one man, one Christian should be so bloodily cruel to another! Oh, that he, who bears the image of the merciful God, should thus turn fiend to his own flesh and blood! These are terrible things, my son, and worthy of our bitterest lamentations and just fears.
I love the speculation of Seneca's resolutely-wise man *, that could look upon the glittering sword of an executioner, with erected and undazzled eyes; that makes it no matter of difference, whether his soul pass out at his mouth or at his throat: but I should more admire the practice. While we carry this clay about us, nature cannot but, in the holiest men, shrink in at the sight and sense of these tyrannous and tragical acts of death.
Yet even these are the due revenges of the Almighty's punitive justice; so provoked by our sins, as that it may not take up with an
* Sen. Ep. 76.