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low, are the more subject to rigours and injuries, but generally, all who are called to godliness, are likewise called to sufferings. 2 Tim. iii. 12. All that will follow Christ, must do it in his livery; they must take up their cross. This is a very harsh and unpleasing article of the Gospel to a carnal mind, but the Scriptures conceal it not. Men are not led blindfold into sufferings, and drawn into a hidden snare by the Gospel's invitations; they are told it very often, that they may not pretend a surprisal, nor have any just plea for starting back again. So our Saviour tells his disciples, why he was so express and plain with them in this, These things have I told you that ye be not offended, John xvi. 1; as if he had said, I have shewed you the ruggedness of your way, that you may not stumble at it, taking it to be a smooth plain one. But then, where this is spoken of, it is usually allayed with the mention of those comforts that accompany these sufferings, or of that glory which follows them. The doctrine of the Apostles, which was so verified in their own persons, was this, That we must through much tribulation, enter into the kingdom of God, Acts xiv. 22. An unpleasant way indeed, if you look no further, but a kingdom at the end of it, and that the kingdom of God, will tranfuse pleasure into the most painful step in it all. It seems a sad condition that falls to the share of godly men in this world, to be eminent in sorrows and troubles. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, Psalm xxxiv. 19: but that which follows, weighs them abundantly down in consolation, that the Lord Himself is engaged in their afflictions, both for their deliverance out of them in due time, and, in the mean time, for their support and preservation under them : The Lord delivers them out of them all, and till He does that, He keepeth all their bones. This was literally verified in the natural body of Christ, as St. John observes, John xix. 36, and it holds spiritually true in his mystical body. The Lord supports the spirits of believers in their troubles, with such solid consolations as are the pillars and strength of their souls, as the bones are of the body, which the Hebrew word for them imports.
So, He keepeth all his bones; and
the desperate condition of wicked men is opposed to this, verse 21, to illustrate it, Evil shall slay the wicked.
Thus, John xvi. 33, they are forewarned in the close, what to expect at the world's hands, as they were divers times before in that same sermon; but it is a sweet testament, take it altogether: Ye shall have tribulation in the world, but peace in Me. And seeing He hath jointly bequeathed these two to his followers, were it not great folly to renounce such a bargain, and to let go that peace for fear of this trouble ? The trouble is but in the world, but the peace is in Him, who weighs down thousands of worlds.
So then, they do exceedingly mistake and misreckon, who would reconcile Christ and the world, who would have the Church of Christ, or, at least, themselves for their own shares, enjoy both kinds of peace together ; would willingly have peace in Christ, but are very loath to part with the world's peace. They would be Christians, but they are very ill satisfied when they hear of any thing but ease and prosperity in that estate, and willingly forget the tenor of the Gospel in this; and so, when times of trouble and sufferings come, their minds are as new and uncouth to it, as if they had not been told of it before hand. They like better St. Peter's carnal advice to Christ, to avoid suffering, Matt. xvi. 22, than his Apostolic doctrine to Christians, teaching them, that as Christ suffered, so they likewise are called to suffering. Men are ready to think as Peter did, that Christ should favour himself more in his own body, his Church, than to expose it to so much suffering; and most would be of Rome's mind in this, at least in affection, that the badge of the Church should be pomp and prosperity, and not the cross: the true cross and afflictions are too heavy and painful.
But God's thoughts are not as ours : those whom He calls to a kingdom, He calls to sufferings as the way to it. He will have the heirs of heaven know, that they are not at home on earth, and that this is not their rest. He will not have them, with the abused world, fancy a happiness here, and, as St.
Augustine says, Beatam vitam quærere in regione mortis seek a happy life in theregion of death. Thereproaches and wrongs that encounter them shall elevate their minds often to that land of peace and rest, where righteousness dwells. 2 Pet. iii. 13. The hard taskmasters shall make them weary of Egypt, which otherwise, possibly, they would comply too well with ; shall dispose them for deliverance, and make it welcome, which, it may be, they might but coldly desire, if they were better used.
He knows what He does, who secretly serves His own good purposes by men's evil ones, and, by the plowers that make long furrows on the back of His Church, (Psal. cxxix. 3.) makes it a fruitful field to Himself. Therefore, it is great folly and unadvisedness, to take up a prejudice against His way, think it might be better as we would model it, and to complain of the order of things, whereas we should complain of disordered minds: but we had rather have all altered and changed for us, the very course of Providence, than seek the change of our own perverse hearts. But the right temper of a Christian is, to run always cross to the corrupt stream of the world and human iniquity, and to be willingly carried along with the stream of Divine Providence, and not at all to stir a hand, no, nor a thought, to row against that mighty current; and not only is he carried with it upon necessity, because there is no steering against it, but cheerfully and voluntarily; not because he must, but because he would.
And this is the other thing to which Christians are jointly called; as to suffering, so to calmness of mind and patience in suffering, although their suffering be most unjust; yea, this is truly a part of that duty they are called to, to maintain that integrity and inoffensiveness of life that may make their sufferings at men's hands, always unjust. The entire duty here, is innocence and patience; doing willingly no wrong to others, and yet cheerfully suffering wrong when done to themselves. If either of the two be wanting, their suffering does not credit their profession, but dishonours it. If they be patient under deserved suffering, their guiltiness darkens their patience: and
if their sufferings be undeserved, yea, and the cause of them honourable, yet impatience under them stains both their suffer. ings and their cause, and seems in part to justify the very injustice that is used against them; but when innocence and patience meet together in suffering, their sufferings are in their perfect lustre. These are they who honour religion, and shame the enemies of it. It was the concurrence of these two that was the very triumph of the martyrs in times of persecution, that tormented their tormentors, and made them more than conquerors, even in sufferings.
Now that we are called both to suffering and to this manner of suffering, the Apostle puts out of question, by the supreme example of our Lord Jesus Christ; for the sum of our calling is, to follow Him. Now in both these, in suffering, and in suffering innocently and patiently, the whole history of the Gospel testifies how complete a pattern He is. And the Apostle gives us here a summary, yet a very clear account of it.
The words have in them these two things, I. The perfection of this example. II. Our obligation to follow it.
I. The example he sets off to the full, 1. In regard of the greatness of our Saviour's sufferings. 2. In regard of His spotlessness and patience in suffering.
The first, we have in that word, He suffered ; and afterwards, at ver. 24, we have His crucifixion and His stripes expressly specified.
Now this is reason enough, and carries it beyond all other reason, why Christians are called to a suffering life, seeing the Lord and Author of that calling, suffered himself so much. The Captain, or Leader, of our salvation, as the Apostle speaks, was consecrateil by suffering, Heb. ii. 10: that was the way by which He entered into the holy place, where He is now our everlasting High-Priest, making intercession for us. If He be our Leader to salvation, must not we follow Him in the way He leads, whatsoever it is ? If it be (as we see it is) by the way of sufferings, we must either follow on in that way, or fall short of salvation ; for there is no other leader, nor any other
way than that which He opened; so that there is not only a congruity in it, that His followers be conformed to Him in suffering, but a necessity, if they will follow Him on, till they attain to glory. And the consideration of both these, cannot but argue a Christian into a resolution for this via regia, this royal way of suffering that leads to glory, through which their King and Lord himself went to His glory. It could hardly be believed at first, that this was His way, and we can as hardly yet believe that it must be ours. O fools, and slow of heart to believe! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into His glory? Luke xxiv. 25, 26.
Would you be at glory, and will you not follow your Leader in the only way to it? Must there be another way cut out for you by yourself? O absurd! Shall the servant be greater than his master? John xiii. 6. Are not you fairly dealt with ? If you have a mind to Christ, you shall have full as much of the world's good-will as He had : if it hate you, He bids you remember, how it hated Him. John xv. 18.
But though there were a way to do otherwise, would you not, if the love of Christ possessed your hearts, rather choose to share with Him in His lot, and would you not find delight in the very trouble of it? Is not this conformity to Jesus, the great ambition of all his true-hearted followers? We carry about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, says the great Apostle, 2 Cor. iv. 10. Besides the unspeakable advantage to come, which
goes linked with this, that if we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him, (2 Tim. ii. 12,) there is a glory, even in this present resemblance, that we are conformed to the image of the Son of God in sufferings. Why should we desire to leave Him ? Are you not one with Him? Can but have the same common friends and enemies? Would
youl willingly, if it might be, could you find in your heart to be friends with that world which hated your Lord and Master? Would you have nothing but kindness and ease, where He had nothing but enmity and trouble? Or would you not rather, when
you think aright of it, refuse and disdain to be so unlike