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2dly. There is an intrinsical good in this goodness of conscience, that sweetens all sufferings, as follows:
Ver. 17. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that yo
suffer for well-doing, than for evil-doing.
THERE is a necessity of suffering in any way wherein ye can walk; if ye choose the way of wickedness, you shall not, by doing so, escape suffering ; and that supposed, this is by far the better, to suffer in well-doing, and for it, than to suffer either for doing evil, or simply to suffer in that way, as the words run, to suffer doing evil, xoxotosõitas máxtov,
1. The way of the ungodly is not exempt from suffering, even in their present circumstances, setting aside the judgment and wrath to come. They often suffer from the hands of men, whether justly or unjustly ; and often from the immediate hand of God, always just, both in that and the other, causing the sinner to eat of the fruit of his own ways*. When profane ungodly men offer violences and wrongs one to another; in this God is just against both, in that wherein they themselves are both unjust; they are both rebellious against him, and so, though they intend not his quarrel, he means it himself; sets them to lash one another. The wicked profess their combined enmity against the children of God, yet they are not always at peace amongst themselves : they often revile and defame each other, and so enmity is held up on both sides ; whereas the godly cannot hold them game in that, being like their Lord, who, when he was reviled, reviled not again. Besides, although the ungodly flourish at some times, yet they have their days of suffering, are subject to the common miseries of the life of man, and the common calamities of evil times; the sword and pestilence, and such like public judgments : now, in what kind soever it be that they suffer, they are at a great a Prov. i. 30.
bi Pet. ii. 23. E %
disadvantage, compared with the godly, in their sufferings.
Here impure consciences may lie sleeping, while men are at ease themselves ; but when any great trouble comes and shakes them, then the conscience naturally begins to awake, and bustle, and proves more grievous to them than all that comes on them from without. When they remember their despising the ways of God, neglecting him and holy things, whence they are convinced, how that comfort might be reaped in these days of distress; this cuts and galls them most, looking back at their licentious profane ways; each of them strikes to the heart. * As the apostle calls sin, the sting of death“, so is it of all sufferings, and the sting that strikes deepest into the very soul: no stripes are like those that are secretly given by an accusing conscience".
A sad condition it is, to have from thence the greatest anguish, whence the greatest comfort should be expected; to have thickest darkness, whence they should look for the clearest light. Men that have evil consciences, love not to be with them ; they are not much with themselves, as Augustine compares them to such as have shrewd wives, and therefore love not to be much at home. But yet, outward distress sets a man inward, as foul weather drives him home; and there, where he should find comfort, he is met with such accusations as are like a continual dropping, as Solomon speaks of a contentious woman. It is a most wretched state to live under sufferings or afflictions of any kind, and a stranger to God; for a man to have God and his conscience against him, that should be his solace in times of distress, being knocked off from the comforts of the world, whereon he rested, and having no provision of spiritual comfort within, nor expectation from above. But let us now,
2dly, Consider the state of the children of God in their sufferings, (especially such as are for God); ci Cor. xv. 56. d Surdo verbere cedit. Juv. e Prov, xix. 3. and here, first, They can retire themselves inwards, and rejoice in the testimony of a good conscience'; yea, the possession of Christ dwelling within them. All the trouble that befals them, is but as the rattling of hail upon the tiles of the house to a man that is sitting within a warm -room at a rich banquet; such is a good conscience, a feast, yea, a continual feast. The believer looks on his Christ, and in him reads his deliverance from condemnation, and that is a strong comfort, a cordial that keeps him from fainting in the greatest distresses. When the conscience gives this testimony that sin is forgiven, it raises the soul above outward sufferings. Tell the christian of loss of goods, or liberty, or friends, or life, he answers all with this, “ Christ is mine, and my sin is pardoned ; that is enough for me. What would I not have suffered, to have been delivered from the wrath of God, if any suffering of mine in this world could have done that? Now that is done to my hand. All other sufferings are light; they are light, and but for a moment. One thought of eternity drowns the whole time of the world's endurance, which is but as one instant, or twinkling of an eye, betwixt eternity before, and eternity after. How much less is any short life, and a small part of that is spent in sufferings ? Yea, what is it, though it were all sufferings, without interruption, which yet it is not? When I look forward to the crown, all vanishes, and I think it less than nothing.” Now, these things the good conscience speaks to the christian in his sufferings ; therefore, certainly, his choice is best, that provides it for his companion against evil and troublous times : if moral integrity went so far, (as truly it did much in some men that had much of it), that they scorned all hard encounters, and esteemed this a sufficient bulwark, a strength impregnable, hic murus aheneus esto, nil conscire sibi ; how much more the christian's good conscience, which alone is truly such! 2. As the christian may thus look inward, and re
joice in tribulation ; so there is another look, upward, that is here likewise mentioned, that allays very much all the sufferings of the saints; If the will of God be so
The christian mind hath still one eye to this, above the hand of men, and all inferior causes, in suffering, whether for the name of God, or otherwise ; it looks on the sovereign will of God, and sweetly complies with that in all. Neither is there any thing that doth more powerfully compose and quiet the mind than this. It feels itself invincibly firm and content, when it hath attained this self-resignation to the will of God; to agree to that in every thing. This is the very thing wherein tranquillity of spirit lies : it is no riddle, nor hard to be understood, yet few attain it. And I pray you, what is gained by our reluctances and repinings, but pain to ourselves? God doth what he will, whether we consent or not; our disagreeing doth not prevent his purposes, but our own peace. If we will not be led, we are drawn. We must suffer, if he will; but if we will what he wills, even in suffering, that makes it sweet and easy ; when our mind goes along with his, and we witlingly move with that stream of providence, which will carry us with it, though we row against it; in which case we still have nothing but toil and weariness for our pains.
But this hard argument, of necessity, is needless to the child of God; persuaded of the wisdom and love of his father, he knows that to be truly best for him that his hand reaches. Sufferings are unpleasant to the flesh, and it will grumble ; but the voice of the Spirit of God, in his children, is that of that good king, Good is the word of the Lord that he hath spoken"; or that other', Let him do with me as seemeth good in his eyes. My foolish heart would think these things I suffer might be abated, but my wise and heavenly Father thinks otherwise: he hath his design of honour to himself, and good to me in these, which I would be loath to cross if I might. It would
1 Pet, iii, 17. he Isa. xxxix. 8. i 2 Sam. x, 12.
think, I may do God more service by these advantages; but, doth not he know best what is fit? Cannot he advance his grace more by the want of these things I desire, than I could do myself by having them? Cannot he make me a gainer by sickness and poverty, and disgraces, and loss of friends and children, by making up all in himself, and teaching me more of his all-sufficiency? Yea, even concerning the affairs of my soul, I am to give up all to his good pleasure. Though I desire the light of his countenance above all things in this world, yet'if he see it fit to hide it sometimes ; if that be his will, let me not murmur: there is nothing lost by this obedient temper ; yea, what way soever he deals with us, there is much more advantage in it. No soul shall enjoy so much in all estates, as that which hath divested and renounced itself, and hath no will but God's.
Ver. 18. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just
for the unjust, (that he might bring us to God), being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.
The whole life of a christian, is a steady aiming at conformity with Christ; so that, in any thing, whether doing or suffering, there can be no argument so apposite and persuasive as his example; and nó kind or degree of obedience, either active or passive, so difficult, but the view and contemplation of that example will powerfully sweeten it. The apostle doth not decline the frequent use of it: here we have it thus, for Christ also suffered.
Though the doctrine of christian suffering is the occasion of speaking of Christ's suffering, yet he in.sists on it beyond the simple necessity of that argument, for its own excellency, and further usefulness. So we shall consider the double capacity. I. As an encouragement and engagement for christians to suffer. II. As the great point of their faith, whereon all their hopes and happiness depend, being the means of their reduction to God.