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Is he brought into trouble and affliction? He has resources of peace and comfort, which others want. He still trusts in God, and casts his care upon him. He has a great deal of comfort in the consideration, and full persuasion, that the providence of God, who is righteous, and loveth righteousness, is over all: and he thereupon concludes, that all things shall be overruled for the good of those who adhere to the laws of reason and virtue.
As spiritual good is in itself, and in his esteem, the most valuable good, and durable happiness in a future state is the ultimate end of man; he is reconciled to present afflictions, by considering them as the chastisements of his heavenly Father, appointed and laid upon him, for making him more pure and perfect, and more meet for unmixed happiness; or even for securing his welfare and safety, and preventing his ruin, that he might not finally perish with the world of thoughtless and inconsiderate men.
Certainly, when under afflictions, he will have different thoughts and apprehensions concerning them from what others have. His affections were not before so set upon this world and the things of it, as those of some others are: though, possibly, he too has exceeded in his regard for them. However, his moderation of affection for them is now of great benefit. And these things never having been esteemed as his sole or main portion, he is not so totally dejected and disconcerted, as some others are in like circumstances. This is no small advantage in a world where all things are uncertain, and the circumstances of men frequently vary and alter.
And if he actually find afflictions to be of use to him, of service to his spiritual interests, he is mightily reconciled to them. His troubles may appear almost shocking and unsufferable to other men, and the meanness of his outward circumstances may lead them to despise him. Still he can be pleased, if he find himself humbled in the frame of his mind, more affected with the evil of sin, more fully determined for the service of God, and the performance of every duty lying before him. He is satisfied if these afflictions have proved the means of such good, and have better fitted and prepared him for that world where all sorrow and sighing shall flee away; which they never will here. In this manner therefore David speaks of the troubles he had met with: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes," Ps. cxix. 71. "I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me,
This is said with regard to the common afflictions and troubles of this life.
But farther, are good men brought into difficulties, on account of the profession of truth, and acting agreeably to convictions of their conscience, and deliberate judgment concerning things? Upon such an occasion they have special supports and consolations. They have now a strong persuasion that their faithfulness is well-pleasing and acceptable to God. And they have a humble hope, that if they can persevere to the end, they shall be saved, and receive an abundant reward.
The declarations of scripture upon this head are full of comfort and encouragement to all who are brought into this trial. My brethren," says St. James, "count it all joy, when ye fall into divers temptations: knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing," Jam. i. 2, 3. St. Paul encountered many difficulties in the service of true religion. And the acknowledgments he had made with regard to his own and other's experience, who laboured with him at that time, are very observable. "As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ," 2 Cor. i. 5. "And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also, knowing, that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope. And hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us,' Rom. v. 3-5. 3-5. In another place: "For which cause we faint not. "For which cause we faint not. But though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory: whilst we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen, are temporal: but the things which are not seen, are eternal," 2 Cor. iv. 16-18.
Whereby we perceive the true and effectual blessing, which our Lord bequeathed his disciples: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. Not Not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid," John xiv. 27. things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have
tribulation. But be of good cheer: I have overcome the world," John xvi. 33. And the Psalmist of old could say: "Great peace have they that love thy law; and nothing shall offend them."
As a good man of any rank, in any state and condition, proceeds and perseveres in the practice of piety and virtue, he has an encreasing joy. His perseverance in the way of God's commandment, and continued respect to the divine precepts, confirms the persuasion of his integrity, and he assures his heart before God. His peace and satisfaction are very likely to prevail more and more toward the period of his time here on earth. For he has pleasing reflec tions and comfortable prospects, to which others are strangers, and which others cannot have. So says the Psalmist: "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace," Ps. xxxvii. 37. And this is an important point, to conclude well.
All which considerations, I presume, sufficiently prove the truth of the observation in the text; that "Godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come."
Having now sufficiently considered the several propositions of the text, I shall conclude with some inferences by way of application.
1. We may hence learn to be cautious how we pass any severe censures upon men on account of the disadvantages of their present condition, or the outward troubles and afflictions which they meet with here. This inference follows justly from things before said. This is not a state of recompense, but trial: all things, all outward things, come very much alike to all. There is no knowing good and evil, love and hatred, certainly, by those things which befal men here. Nor are all men miserable who lie under external disadvantages. Some may be greatly afflicted, as we have seen, and yet be peaceful, joyful, and comfortable. Some may meet with many and long continued troubles and afflictions, who yet are not abandoned of God, but approved by him: who are sincere and upright, and persuaded of their acceptance with God. There are good reasons for such a dispensation. Valuable ends and purposes are answered thereby. Good men are improved and made better by the sufferings they endure. Others of more imperfect virtue are made more perfect, and learn from them the duty of patience and resignation. And many by observing the great examples of patience and fortitude of some good men under various trials, may be convinced and persuaded of the truth, power and excellence of the principles of religion.
2. Young persons and others, who are disposed to seek and serve the Lord, and to walk in the way of his commandments, may be hence convinced, that they have no reason to be disheartened and discouraged, as if they should find no pleasure, and obtain no advantages in the way of religion and virtue. I hope such will be pleased to consider seriously what has been said. For a principal design of these discourses has been to remove such a prejudice against religion, and show fully that it is false and groundless: and to persuade men to come to a speedy and immediate determination for virtue, which is really profitable for all things.
3. However, certainly, it is very fit and prudent, at first setting out in the way of virtue, and taking upon us the profession of true religion, to consider the outward disadvantages and sufferings, that may attend such a course, and do sometimes befal the sincere and conscientious. By this means we become prepared for all events. Our resolutions are more confirmed; our obedience will be the more uniform; and a good issue becomes more likely. We shall not only begin, but also finish well. The path of such will be as the morning light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
4. It seems to be a probable truth, that the highest attainments in virtue and holiness will have the largest share of comfort and happiness in this present life. The most complete in virtue will obtain many advantages, and escape many evils, and have the best supports and consolations: for these know best how, and are best able to trust in God. They are most resigned to his will. They have the most lively hope of an heavenly and everlasting inheritance. They, usually, have the most comfortable persuasion of the divine favour and acceptance. Their affections are the most mortified to earthly and sensible things. They have the fullest command of their appetites and passions. They have less anxiety and solicitude about earthly things. They are best contented with their condition. They are freest from envy, ill-will, jealousy, and other troublesome and tormenting emotions and diseases of the mind. This soundness and vigorous bealth of the soul cannot but have delightful effects. As then godliness is profitable for all
things, the greatest attainments in piety will usually have the best portion of comfort in the life that now is, as well as the greatest reward in the life which is to come.
5. Let us not then, having begun well, be ever induced by any means to forsake the practice of piety. Let us not take offence at the troubles and afflictions which may for a while fie upon us, or upon some others, who are sincerely devoted to the service of God. For it is a certain truth, that godliness is profitable unto all things. If we persevere and advance therein, we shall be more and more convinced of this truth, that light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart." Let us not then be imposed upon by some specious appearances, or put in for a portion with every one, who makes a show of mirth and gaiety. Let not any thing transport us beyond the bounds of serious thought and consideration. If we weigh things carefully in an equal balance, piety will have the preference in our judgment above irreligion and wickedness. And knowing the inconstancy of our tempers, and the dangerous tendency of some worldly temptations, we shall be earnest with God to establish the good and wise purposes of our heart once seriously formed: to turn away our eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken us in his precepts.
The just sentiments of the apostle in this text and context deserve our notice. He speaks lightly of bodily exercise, as a small matter: whilst he highly prizes, and earnestly recommends sincere piety. And he censures such as should forbid to marry, and require men to abstain from meats, which God has created to be received with thanksgiving. It is the same which our Saviour said and taught in the hearing of all the people: "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man: but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man," Matt. xv. 11. The Christian religion, which is true religion only, insists not upon grievous austerities, and severe and unnecessary mortifications of the body. Christians, if they understand their religion, are free from all such yokes of bondage or slavery, which are below ingenuous minds. And it certainly is no small advantage to be freed from burdensome impositions, and needless restraints of this kind; and to be able without scandal to partake of all the innocent enjoyments of life: provided men do not set up some other sort of orthodoxy, as vain and insignificant; equally unprofitable to those who pride themselves in it, and equally troublesome to the world around.
6. Finally, let us exercise ourselves unto godliness. Bodily exercise profiteth little. It has no divine gospel promise of any good thing whatever. But godliness is profitable unto all things :: and has promises of life and happiness hereafter, and of peace, joy and comfort here. Let us exercise and improve ourselves in this true excellence, by meditation and prayer, watchfulnessand circumspection; restraining irregular appetites, purifying ourselves more and more, and adding one virtue to another, being ready to every good word and every good work, and growing daily more perfect in sobriety, meekness, patience, and every other part of true real piety.
INTERNAL MARKS OF CREDIBILITY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.
Moreover, I will endeavour that you may be able, after my decease, to have these things always in remembrance. For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty.— 2 Peter i. 15, 16.
We are setting before you the grounds upon which we receive the Christian religion as true and divine. No religion can come from God which contains principles or rules of life unworthy of him; part of this design therefore is, to show the excellency of the principles of our religion, and the goodness of its precepts: that they are suitable to the divine perfections, and such as may proceed from him, without any derogation to him; if not such as could come from none
but God himself. Another part of the design is, to consider the miracles supposed to be wrought by our Saviour, and his apostles, and the predictions of uncertain events, as attestations of a divine commission for giving these religious instructions to mankind.
But it is needful we have some satisfactory proof of the truth and reality of these. They who were eye-witnesses of any wonderful works, are satisfied by their own senses: but for us, who live many ages after the promulgation, and supposed attestation of this religion, it is necessary we consider what evidence there is of the account we have of them. There being no miracles wrought before us for the confirmation of our religion, we ought to be convinced of the truth of those that were done in the first ages of it. If it be made appear that many extraordinary works were done as proofs of a commission from heaven, that predictions were made of distant and uncertain events, which were afterwards accomplished, this will prove the divine original of the Christian religion. What lies before me therefore is to show, that the account. we have of these things in the history of the gospel, and particularly in the books of the New Testament is credible, and such as may be received by impartial and unprejudiced persons: that Jesus Christ dwelt in Judea, and, in the name of God, taught the most pure and excellent principles of religion, worked many miracles, healing all kinds of distempers by his word, raising the dead, and the like: that he foretold many uncertain events, which afterwards came to pass;-his own death, resurrection, the pouring out of the Holy Ghost on his followers, with power to do the like, or greater works than he had done himself; the conversion of the world to his doctrine, and the destruction of the Jewish state: that he was crucified, rose from the dead, and ascended up to heaven: that his apostles and others, after this, did work many miracles by powers they received from him, and propagated in a great part of the world the doctrine he taught.
The particular consideration of the miracles and predictions of our Saviour and his apostles is in other hands. What lies before us at present is, the credibility of the account we have of them, and of the rise of our religion. That it is not a forged and invented story, but a faithful narrative of matters of fact; for we have not followed cunningly devised fables, as the apostle here says, but have delivered to you only an account of what we saw done before our eyes: and he says it when he was in expectation of leaving this world in a very short time: " Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me, 2 Pet. i. 14. St. Luke likewise avers in the beginning of his gospel, that he had perfect understanding from the first, of the things concerning which he was about to write: and St. John says, in the beginning of his first epistle, "that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you," chap. i. 2, 3.
I propose to set before you the internal marks and characters there are of truth and probability in the account itself, the history of the New Testament.
1. I would just observe, that the books we receive this history from have the names of particular persons; and this is an argument they are genuine, when there is no particular reason to the contrary. The positive proofs which there are of their being really written by the persons whose names they bear, belong to another argument. All that I insist upon now is, that they were handed down to us in the names of the persons who take upon them this character of living at the time the things they relate were transacted:
As for the four gospels, the names of their several authors are not indeed inserted in them. Two of them, Matthew and John, were of the twelve disciples, and followers of Christ: Mark was a companion of Peter in his travels and preaching: and Luke was a companion of Paul. Some have supposed they were both of them of the seventy-two that were sent forth by our Saviour in his lifetime. In the epistles the name of the writer is inserted in the salutation of
the person to whom they are sent, excepting that one of the epistle to the Hebrews, which, if written by Paul, as is generally supposed, might be omitted for special reasons.
2. These books are written in a language and in a style suitable to the character of the persons whose names they bear. The language is Greek, which obtained very much in that country, in Syria and Judea, and in Egypt, after the conquest of Alexander, and the division of the countries he had subdued amongst his generals. The language is Greek, but some words are used in a different sense from what they have in the ancient writers that dwelt in Greece and its colonies, and there are some few Syriac words, and some borrowed from the Roman language, and there are phrases that have somewhat of the Syriac or Chaldee idiom..
3. Here are many characters of time inserted, which are arguments that it is a real history of facts. There was, saith St. Luke, "in the days of Herod the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia," Luke i. 5. The time of our Saviour's birth is set down with particular characters by the same evangelist. "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed;" not only the city of Rome, but all the provinces of the empire: "and this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria," Luke ii. 1, 2. or, as the words ought to be rendered, according to the judgment of the best critics; this taxing was before that, made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria,' to distinguish it from that which was really made ten years after, and which proved very fatal to the Jewish nation, by the sedition raised upon the occasion of it by Judas Gaulonites, and which gave rise to the troubles that lasted a long time. St. Matthew says likewise, "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king,' Matt. ii. 1. The first preaching of John the baptist has likewise very particular characters of time specified. "Now in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Cæsar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea, and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests; the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness,' Luke iii. 1, 2. "At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus," Matt. xiv. 1. And in the Acts of the apostles we have an account of the opposition raised by the Jews against Paul at Jerusalem; of his being taken out of their hands by Claudius Lysias the chief captain; of his being sent by him to Felix at Cesarea; and, of his being delivered up by him to Portius Festus his successor. All these are such marks of time, as give some appearance of a true history of facts. But to proceed:
4. The great design of this history, and of the first preaching of the gospel, has nothing in it that should tempt men to forgery and invention. The design evidently pursued is, the rectifying the conceptions of men relating to the nature of God, and the way of worshipping him; to convince them of their sins, and to turn them from them. Men are informed of their duty, exhorted to repentance. The Jews are admonished not to depend upon external privileges, but to bring forth fruits meet for repentance. Gentiles are exhorted to turn from idols, and all abominable vices. The strictest regimen of thoughts and affections, of words and actions, is enjoined upon the sole consideration of a regard to God and a future account. Had it been an attempt to erect a civil government, or an ecclesiastical polity, there might have been some ground of suspicion of the miracles urged in its favour; though a bare suspicion must have given way to plain proofs. And, indeed, the gospel has this advantage of the Mosaic dispensation. His commission was manifestly proved by the wonderful things he wrought. But he formed a numerous people into political government, and settled an honourable priesthood in his family upon his brother, and his descendants. But the gospel design, as represented in the New Testament, will not suggest any suspicions to them that observe it. This is all I urge at present, that the great design promoted in this history, does not seem to carry in it any temptation to forgery and invention.
5. We have in this history, in the books of the New Testament, a very natural representation of things, with all the appearances of likelihood and probability. The chief subject of the four gospels are our Saviour's discourses and miracles, his history and resurrection, the reception he met with, the reflections the people made upon him, the exceptions of the people and pharisees against him, all which are suitable to the character of the persons, and the principles that obtained among them. When they had heard some of his discourses, the people soon apprehended a difference between his doctrine, and that they had been wont to hear from their Rabbies. "When Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine; for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes," Matt. vii. 28, 29. After he is said to have cured divers infirmities, restored sight to the blind, and speech to the dumb, and delivered some that were possessed with evil spirits. After he had wrought some cures, it is highly reasonable to suppose he should have a concourse of people flock to him, to reap benefit from his hands. "And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet, and he healed them: insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of