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merits of the great Redeemer, is of such blessed consequence; and say, with the utmost exultation of soul, It is good for me that I have been afflicted ! And would to God we would all consider these things seriously now, and so truly bewail and lament our sins, and acknowledge our wickedness, and without delay turn away from it; that we at length may
receive like comforts when we are summoned to stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Having thus endeavoured to shew what true Christian mourning is, what great occasion upon all accounts there is now for it, and how great the benefit and advantage of this melancholy employment will be, and how happy the consequences of it both at present and to all eternity; I shall now, prevent all misunderstanding in this matter, take notice when, and how far, we are obliged to the practice of this duty of mourning, and so conclude.
It has been the mistake of some imprudently zealous people, in whom melancholy has been predominant, that this duty is obligatory in all times and places, and that such mournful ideas should always be in our minds, and our thoughts constantly employed upon them, and accordingly they put on a down look and a sad countenance, and are always full of sighs and complaints, and ready to condemn all cheerfulness as too light a thing for Christians. But for this there is no reason at all, and it is directly contrary to the observation of Solomon, that there is a time for all things, and a due season for every purpose; and particularly, that there is a time to laugh as well as to weep, and a time to dance and rejoice, as well as to mourn and lament, and that every thing is beautiful in its proper season.
And besides, it is a mistake of very ill consequence, it being not only very prejudicial to the persons that entertain it, but very injurious likewise to the Christian religion, and therefore it is but needful to say something against it, and to give a right notion of the thing.
As for the persons themselves, who entertain this uncomfortable mistake, if they do it really, and not in pretence only, according to the hypocrisy of many nowadays, it is very prejudicial, in that it makes religion a much heavier burden to them than indeed it is, and must needs sink and depress their spirits so much as to bring a stupid mopishness upon them, and even the depth of melancholy and despair. And when there is more vigour in the constitution, it makes them grow impatient of such an intolerably painful yoke as they have made it, and wholly throw all religion aside, and become licentious libertines. And there are frequent instances of such who were over-severe when at first they began to apply themselves to religion, and, being discouraged by that means from proceeding any further in it, have returned to their evil courses with more appetite than ever.
For man is a sociable creature, and cheerfulness of conversation is that which gives a relish to every thing, even life itself, which would be very insipid and tedious without it. But what comfort can there be amongst nothing but sighs and groans, and tears and complaints ? Every one has troubles enough of his own, and nearer home, to try his patience; he need not frequent company to increase them; and society is designed to alleviate the cares and sorrows of life, and that mankind might receive mutual help and solace from each other. And upon this account it is, that persons of the better sort, that have been bred up to, and always enjoyed a free and easy way of conversation, (and which may be very agreeable and yet very innocent too,) are oftentimes so hard to be persuaded to enter upon a serious course of religion; because they think they must presently abandon all the comforts of this life, and shut up themselves from all society but that which is worse than none, and grow sour and morose, and be a trouble to others as well as to themselves; and this is too hard a saying for them to hear with any patience, and so farewell the thoughts of a religious life. And this, considering what an influence such people may have upon their relations and dependents, and how prevalent their good and pious example would be, and what mischief the contrary would do, often proves an unspeakable injury and hinderance to Christianity. But who hath required this at our hands ? Our blessed Lord, who recommended this duty of mourning to us, and whose own behaviour was the best interpreter of his meaning, though he was much in the practice of it himself, and had very great reason to be so, yet was so far from this indiscreet, unseasonable sort of mourning we have been speaking of, that, for his free way of conversation he was censured by the hypocritically disconsolate Pharisees, as a glutton and a winebibber, and a friend of publicans and sinners.
When he expressed his grief outwardly and in public, it was upon some extraordinary occasions ; as the death of Lazarus particularly, who was his friend that he loved, and whose tender spirit could not but sympathise with so much grief as he saw
BRAGGE, VOL. IV.
in the rest of the family. And again he wept when he beheld Jerusalem, and foretold its approaching ruin, and the subversion of the Jewish nation, and the miseries of that unhappy people, for their great and incurable wickedness, and obstinate unbelief. But at other times his mourning was in secret, for we read that he was troubled, and sighed within himself. And accordingly his holy apostles, though they exhort us frequently to mourning, and to weep with them that weep, yet they likewise exhort us to rejoice with them that rejoice. And indeed nothing more proper for good Christians than rejoicing; nothing more becoming people in their happy circumstances than cheerfulness of spirit: their main employment should be praise and thanksgiving and admiration of the wondrous goodness of God to mankind through Jesus Christ, which should always be had in remembrance, and acknowledged with all the expressions of religious joy. But then, mourning must have its time too, and in its proper season, as we have heard, is of excellent use.
So that upon the whole we cannot in private mourn too often nor too much; for the sins and miseries of the world in general and of our own nation, and ourselves in particular, are so many and so great, that in our religious retirements they cannot be sufficiently lamented and bewailed. But in public, mourning is to be used with much more caution, and ordinarily but seldom, unless when commanded by authority, as in this time of Lent, which made me choose now to exhort you to it, and stir up those to such serious reflections who are too little apprehensive in this matter: or when we are under any great calamity, or in the near neighbourhood of it, and our governors think fit to appoint days of fasting and humiliation, that thereby we may avert those just judgments which we have too much deserved, and have great reason to fear.
For, in short, religion is our reasonable service; and these, and all other duties of it, must be exercised with prudence and discretion. One duty must not encroach upon nor exclude another: we must be thankful as well as grieving and complaining, and sorrowful, yet as always rejoicing.
And now what remains but that I exhort you in a few words, to the due practice of this duty of Christian mourning, and that not only in public, when commanded by authority so to do, but likewise and chiefly in private, with all seriousness and affectionate tenderness of spirit. I am afraid there are but very few that trouble their thoughts with things of this nature; and if their affairs of the world go on well, set their hearts at rest and look no further. But I desire such to reflect a little upon what I have discoursed upon this subject, and then they will see what great occasion there is for this duty; the world being so full of sin and misery, and the Christian church so disconsolate by reason of the wickedness of her children, and our own breasts so polluted with iniquity, that upon all accounts we cannot but look for new expressions of God's just anger, unless we immediately and heartily repent. And for your encouragement to a duty in appearance so little inviting, consider the happy consequences of it, both in the present and the future world; how mightily it will set forward a general reformation, and the happiness that will attend it; however, that the reward of it will be infinite here