« VorigeDoorgaan »
be a Christian indeed, and liveth in pleasure, is dead while he liveth; he savoureth not the things that be of God;' 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 following the steps of a suffering, crucified Saviour.
And therefore, I shall, as I proposed in the next place, 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.
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 there. fore 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, 4 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 calamities 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 bet
ter, 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; for so did they not of Christ himself; and we are predestinate to be conformed to his image;' 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 ;' even as he dealt with him, of whom he said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'
• Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, let us arm ourselves with the same mind;' 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 ;' 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; but, thanks be to God, Christ, by the merit of those very sufferings, which he proposes to our imitation, has purchased for us all such extraordinary aids and assistances, as are requisite to support us under them. By what he under. went for our sakes in his life, and at his death, he obtained of God, not only a release from the punishment of our sins, but new powers to qualify us for a further increase in virtue ; not only the pardoning, but sanctifying grace of his spirit; by the means of which we can now crucify the flesh, with the affections and lusts;' mortify and subdue all our irregular passions, undervalue pleasures, rejoice in afflictions, and walk even as he walked,' in humility and patience, in purity and holiness. Weak and impotent we are; but his grace is sufficient for us:' we can do nothing of ourselves, but we can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth us;' and, in confidence of this assistance, we may venture to take to ourselves the words of his fervent apostle and say, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ ?' Who, or what shall hinder us from obeying his precepts, and from transcribing his practice ? “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword ? Nay, but in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Christ that loved us.'
• If I am lifted up from the earth,' (said he, speaking of the powerful efficacy of his cross and sufferings,) • I will draw all men after me:' I will lift them also up above their earthly affections and pursuits, and raise them into the participation of a divine and heavenly nature.-Look down then upon us from thy cross, blessed Jesu! Draw us, and we will run after thee,' not only with willing, but cheerful minds; with alacrity, and with pleasure. We will trace all thy steps from Bethlehem to Calvary; we will imitate thee, to the best of our power, in all the stages and conditions of thy life, in what thou didst, and in what thou sufferedst; we will set thee before us in every case, and say, Would my Saviour have thus or thus behaved himself in these circumstances ? would he have yielded to such a temptation f or declined such a conflict? would he have resented such an injury; or felt the least discomposure of mind, upon such an affront? would he have been elated upon such a success; have sunk under such a pressure; or consulted with flesh and blood on such an occasion ? Why then should I, who have his example to guide, his promise of an exceeding reward to encourage, and his grace to sustain me? Nay, but draw us, blessed Jesu, and we will run after thee: we will follow thee,' O thou Lamb of God, whithersoever thou goest.' Particularly we will often resort to that lively, affecting representation of thy death and sufferings, the sacrament of thy body and blood, which thou hast instituted for us. There we will inure ourselves to the contemplation of Christ crucified, and to the contempt of all the vain glories of this world, which were, together with thee, nailed to thy cross; of all the bewitching, but empty pleasures of life, with which we are surrounded. There we will endeavour to instruct our. selves in those holy lessons of resignation, humility, patience, and perseverance unto death, which thou, in thy gospel hast taught us ; and to furnish' ourselves with such spiritual supplies of grace, as may enable us to trace the suffering example, , which thou hast set us; that so resembling thee in meekness, piety, and purity here, we may also resemble thee in happiness and glory hereafter !
THIRD SUNDAY AFTER EASTER.
WAR OF FLESHLY LUSTS.
1 Peter ii. 11.
-Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the
[Text taken from the Epistle for the Day.]
It ought to be a sufficient argument to Christians, to show them the express command of the gospel against drunkenness, fornication, adultery, and whatever other vices may be included under the general term of • fleshly lusts:' for since the command comes from him, who has power to execute his decrees, and the penalty of them, upon every offender, to transgress such injunctions so given must discover a want of faith, as well as a want of virtue. But the apostle, in the text, goes farther, and exhorts us to . abstain from fleshly lusts,' by laying before us the reason, on which the command to abstain is founded: they war against the soul.' And, indeed, if you consider wherein the dignity of man consists, and what are the means put into his hands to make himself happy, you will have a clear prospect of the ill effects of sensual lusts, and see how truly they war against the soul.
There is no man so little acquainted with himself, but that he sometimes finds a difference between the dictates of his rea. son, and the cravings of appetite. This discord is the founda
tion of the difference to be observed among men, with regard to their moral character and behaviour. When men give themselves up to follow their appetites, and have no higher aim than the gratification of their passions, all the use they have of their reason, is to administer to their senses, in contriving ways and means to satisfy them. Where this is the case, consider what a figure a man makes. He has appetites in common with the brute creatures, and is led by them as much as they: only the reason he has, enables him to be more brutish than they, and to run into greater excesses of sensuality, than mere natural appetites, without the help and assistance of reason to contrive for them, can arrive to.
If our passions are to govern us, and the office of reason is only to be subservient, and to furnish means and opportunities of gratifying the desires, it will be very hard to account for the wisdom of God in making such a creature as man. have no higher purposes to serve than the brute creatures, why have we more understanding than they? We see, that they do not want more reason than they have, to follow their appetites : they move regularly as they are moved, and pursue constantly the path marked out by nature. It would be well, if we could say as much for some sensual men : but they are teu times more mischievous to the world, than they could possibly be, if they had only appetites, and no reason. For appetites, unassisted by a power of contriving, could be guilty of no treachery, no breach of trust; of no schemes to over-reach, defraud, and undo, multitudes, and a thousand other wickednesses, of which sensual worldly men are daily guilty, and will be guilty of, as long as their reason is employed to promote the ends of their passion. So that, considering the case with respect to this world only,—the sensual man, who gives himself up to be conducted by his appetites, is a more mischievous, a more odious creature, and a greater reproach to his Maker, than any of the brutes ; which he may perhaps despise, but ought indeed to envy, for being irrational.
From hence it is evident, in what manner sensual lusts do war against the soul, considered as the seat of reason, and all the nobler faculties; in the due use and improvement of which the dignity of man consists. If we look into the ages past, or in:o the present, we shall want no instances of the pernicious effects of passion, assisted by a corrupt and depraved reason,