« AnteriorContinuar »
2 Pet. I. 5.
And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue.
CHRISTIANITY encourages us to lay aside a slavish fear of the great God; and much more obliges us to get above a cowardly fear of men. Nor is any thing more necessary to our acquitting ourselves well in our course of obedience to our heavenly Father, than courage and undaunted resolution; which I apprehend the apostle here to recommend.
He supposes those to whom he wrote to have obtained Kke precious faith with him and the other apostles, ver. 1. that is, to believe the gospel as well as they. After this character given them in the inscription, we have the usual apostolical salutation; a prayer, that grace and peace might be multiplied to them. On this occasion he enlarges on the happy state they were brought into by the gospel, the great and good things given them, and promised to them in Christ for this purpose, that they might be wrought up to a divine temper and life. Hereupon he immediately proceeds to exhort them to give all diligence in building a proper superstructure upon their belief of the gospel. That which he recommends, consists of seven important articles. The first mentioned, and which he immediately connects with faith is virtue. Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue.
. Some would understand virtue in a general sense, for an universal regularity of mind and manners, or a disposition to all virtuous actions. So Peter's exhortation would fall in with
that of another apostle, Tit. iii. 8. "This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God, might be careful to maintain good works." But this general sense seems not so natural here, because all the following particulars reckoned here except knowledge, are cotnprehened in virtue taken in this large sense; temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly landtiess, charity. The answer which some give to this reason, seems not satisfactory; that the apostle first recommends virtue m general, and then some principal parts and branches of it; for by the manner of expression it is imported, that every one of them signifies a distinct excellence, something additional to what had gone before. Add one to the other.
Therefore I take the word virtue in a more limited sense here to mean the particular disposition of Christian fortitude. So the word agirfi, is often taken in Greek writers, and fc«rtue by the Latins. This sense seems to agree best with the context. What could more naturally be pressed upon us after faith, or a belief of the gospel, than courage in the profession of it, and in a practice correspondent to it? And what could more aptly follow upon this, than that we should add to our virtue or courage, knowledge? or a growing acquaintance with the doctrines and duties contained in the rule of our faith, that our courage and resolution may not be ill placed ?. . ,
The trnth then, which I am now to insist upon, is this, That Christian courage and fortitude is a temper of
mind, very necessary to be found in all true believers. Here it will be my endeavour to shew 1st, The nature of
this Christian grace. And, 'idly, What may be intended in
the exhortation to add it to our faith.
I. I am to explain the nature of this grace of Christian courage or fortitude.
Courage in general is a temper, which disposes a man to do brave and commendable actions, without being daunted at the appearance of dangers and difficulties in the way. The hea. then moralists reckoned bravery in war to be the highest expression of courage, and that a soldier had the greatest opportunity to shew courage; because life, the dearest thing in this world, is risked in war. Thus the Christian life being a warfare, gives the principal occasion and opportunity to shew Christian courage. It is nothing else but to behave as " good v soldiers of Jesus Christ," 2 Tim. ii. 3. To adhere to Christ* and to continue in the discharge of Christian duty, in the view of the greatest discouragements and hazards.
To explain it more particularly, it may be proper to shew, 1. For what Christian courage is to be exercised. 2. Against what it is to be exerted. And, 3. In what acts and in^ stances it should be expressed.
1. For ic/iat it is to be exercised.
For the cause makes it a Christian grace. It is courage in Christ's cause; that is, in maintaining the profession of the Christian faith: and adhering to the practice of our duty, as far as we are convinced of the mind of God; so as not to deny a known truth, or admit the least sin, upon any consideration whatsoever. This is warring a good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience, to which Timothy is exhorted} 1 Tun. i. 18, 19. These are the two things which Christian fortitude is concerned to hold fast, and not to suffer either to be wrested away.
But it must necessarily be presupposed, that we are careful to inform ourselves well about the mind and will of God, relating both to faith and practice; that our courage may not be blind and rash, without a good foundation to support it. Otherwise, for ought we know, we may be contending earnestly for error, instead of the faith once delivered to the saints; or for the mere precepts of men, or our own humours, instead of the commands of God. This will not be esteemed by God Christian courage, but mad rashness* if we have not made a careful inquiry into the doctrines and duties of our religion. Though we should chance to be in the right, yet if we have not arrived at a conviction of this upon conscientious and impartial examination according to our capacities and opportunities, the most resolute adherence will not be a Christian virtue ; because in the course we have taken, we might have chanced as well to be in the wrong.
And indeed, without such diligent inquiries, we are hardly like to be courageous in an hour of trial. Whatever resolutions we may seem to have, while difficulties are at a distance; yet the actual approach of sufferings and strong temptations will search our foundations; and we shall scarce withstand resolutely in an evil day, and having done all, stand, unless we have good evidence, that we are contending for divine truth, or striving against sin.
It is therefore of the utmost concern to us, as ever we should have our courage acceptable or abiding, that we would have solid grounds for the persuasions we admit in religion, or the word of God indeed on our side. Then our resolution will be truly Christian, and it is like to be proof against the greatest difficulties.
2. Against 'what Christian courage is to be exercised.
It supposes oppositions, trials and dangers in our way ; else there would be no occasion for it. It is a temper, for which there will be no room in heaven ; and the need of it now, ariseth from our present condition as in a state of conflict. Some indeed meet with greater trials of their courage than others do; but all have some, and none can certainly promise themselves an exemption even from the greatest. Now all that hath a tendency to awaken a Christian's fear of danger in his course of faith and obedience, gives opportunity to exercise his courage: whether it be apt to excite fear of present sufferings for his fidelity, or of his final success. And so we may observe,
(1.) The power, the subtilty and activity of the powers of darkness call for courage in a Christian. Upon this the apostle founds an exhortation to be strong and courageous, Eph. vi. 10, 12. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, weak or visible enemies only; but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Number, policy, strength, unwearied application in enemies, are each of them trials of the courage of a soldier; and especially when they are all united. A little soul is affrighted and disheartened at them. If they have had success in former assaults, the discouragement is still greater. But all these things whet the courage of the brave.
These things all meet in the case of a Christian. He is entered upon a warfare with evil spirits; who are invisible, and therefore the more apt to gain advantage at unawares; who are many in number, and therefore able to find him full employment: of the most refined skill and subtilty, furnished
with great capacities of nature, and grown old in experience; and therefore very likely to beguile; of the most implacable and desperate malice, who vow our ruin, if they can accomplish it: restless and incessant in their pernicious endeavours, “going about continually, seeking whom they may devour,” 1 Pet. v. 8. And every one of us is conscious, that they have had too frequent success against us already, as they have actually slain their thousands. Such enemies will find work for our courage, to resist them, notwithstanding all these threatening circumstances of danger, ver, 9. (2.) The oppositions from within ourselves require courage. ur own irregular inclinations and affections and passions are difficult to be overcome: in some temptations they are particularly violent; they have sometimes been successful against our best resolutions; and after a long warfare, most feel them to retain a considerable power, and gain not such a conquest as they desire. All these things are very apt to dishearten. And if we add, that all our struggles with these domestic enemies, and all the ground we gain from them, is offering a sort of violence to ourselves, like “the cutting off of a right hand, or the plucking out of a right eye; the trial occasioned thereby to our fortitude and courage, will appear very considerable. (8.) The several discouragements or dangers we may meet with from other men, in the way of our duty, and even for our duty, make courage necessary. Solomon tells us, “that the fear of man bringeth a snare,” Prov. xxix. 25, Courage is to overcome this snare. All Christians have warning even to prepare for martyrdom; to be ready “to resist unto blood, striving against sin; to take up the cross,” though they should be called to bear it in the literal sense. This they must be determined to do, rather than to deny any thing which they believe to be a truth, . or comply with any known sin. God sometimes leaves even the lives of his servants at the mercy of their most cruel enemies; and then they may have no choice left, but either to forsake Christ or their lives. And notwithstanding our long ease and enjoyment of the liberty of our consciences; notwithstanding the gracious indulgence and protection of the present government; yet, in the uncertainty of human affairs, none of us can be sure, that we shall escape even the fiery