« AnteriorContinuar »
2. 'Avoy, "Forbearance," it is called in the text; which signifies laxamentum' or 'inducias:' that is, when the decrees of the divine judgments temporal are gone out, either wholly to suspend the execution of them, which is induciæ,' or a reprieve; or else, when God hath struck once or twice, he takes off his hand, that is 'laxamentum,' an 'ease or remission' of his judgment. In both these, although 'in judgment God remembers mercy,' yet we are under discipline, we are brought into the penitential chamber; at least we are shewed the rod of God: and if, like Moses's rod, it turns us into serpents, and that we repent not, but grow more devils; yet then it turns into a rod again, and finishes up the smiting, or the first-designed affliction.
But I consider it first in general. The riches of the divine goodness are manifest in beginning this new method of curing us, by severity and by a rod. And, that you may not wonder that I expound this forbearance' to be an act of mercy punishing, I observe, that, besides that the word supposes the method changed, and it is a mercy about judgments, and their manner of execution; it is also, in the nature of the things, in the conjunction of circumstances, and the designs of God, a mercy when he threatens us or strikes us into repentance.
We think that the way of blessings and prosperous accidents, is the finer way of securing our duty; and that when our heads are anointed, our cups crowned, and our tables full, the very caresses of our spirits will best of all dance before the ark, and sing perpetual anthems to the honour of our benefactor and patron, God: and we are apt to dream that God will make his saints reign here as kings in a millenary kingdom, and give them the riches and fortunes of this world, that they may rule over men, and sing psalms to God for ever. But I remember what Xenophanes says of God,
Οὔτε δέμας θνητοῖσιν ὁμοίϊος, οὔτε νόημα.
"God is like to men neither in shape nor in counsel;" he
into joy and garishness, and drawn off from the sobriety of recollection. Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked.' Many are not able to suffer and endure prosperity; it is like the light of the sun to a weak eye; glorious indeed in itself, but not proportioned to such an instrument. Adam himself (as the rabbins say) did not dwell one night in Paradise, but was poisoned with prosperity, with the beauty of his fair wife, and a beauteous tree: and Noah and Lot were both righteous and exemplary, the one to Sodom, the other to the old world, so long as they lived in a place in which they were obnoxious to the common suffering; but as soon as the one of them had escaped from drowning, and the other from burning, and were put into security, they fell into crimes which have dishonoured their memories for above thirty generations together, the crimes of drunkenness and incest. Wealth and a full fortune make men licentiously vicious, tempting a man with power to act all that he can desire or design viciously.
Inde iræ faciles
Namque ut opes nimias mundo fortuna subacto
Intulit, et rebus mores cessere secundis,
Cultus, gestare decoros
Vix naribus, rapuere mares ;-toloque accersitur orbe
And let me observe to you, that though there are in the New Testament many promises and provisions made for the poor in that very capacity, they having a title to some certain circumstances and additionals of grace and blessing; yet to rich men our blessed Saviour was pleased to make none at all, but to leave them involved in general comprehensions, and to have a title to the special promises only, by becoming poor in spirit, and in preparation of mind, though not in fortune and possession. However, it is hard for God to persuade us to this, till we are taught it by a sad experience, that those prosperities which we think will make us serve God cheerfully, make us to serve the world and secular ends diligently, and God not at all.
Repentance is a duty that best complies with affliction; it is a symbolical estate, of the same complexion and constitution; half the work of repentance is done by a sad accident, our spirits are made sad, our gaieties mortified, our wildness corrected, the water-springs are ready to run over: but if God should grant our desires, and give to most men
s Lucan. 1. 160.
prosperity, with a design to lead them to repentance, all his pomp, and all his employment, and all his affections and passions, and all his circumstances, are so many degrees of distance from the conditions and nature of repentance. It was reported by Dio concerning Nero's mother, that she often wished that her son might be emperor, and wished it with so great passion, that, upon that condition, she cared not though. her son might kill her. Her first wish and her second fear were both granted: but when she began to fear that her son did really design to murder her, she used all the art and instruments of diversion that a witty and a powerful, a timorous person and a woman, could invent or apply. Just so it is with us so we might have our wishes of prosperity, we promise to undergo all the severities of repentance; but when we are landed upon our desire, then every degree of satisfaction of those sensualities is a temptation against repentance; for a man must have his affections weaned from those possessions, before he can be reconciled to the possibilities of repentance.
And because God knows this well, and loves us better than we do ourselves, therefore he sends upon us the scrolls of vengeance, the hand-writing upon the wall,' to denounce judgment against us: for God is so highly resolved to bring us to repentance some way or other, that if, by his goodness, he cannot shame us into it, he will try if, by his judgments, he can scare us into it: not that he strikes always as soon as he hath sent his warrants out; οὐδὲ τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσιν εὐθὺς ἐπέξεισιν ὁ Θεός· ἀλλὰ δίδωσι χρόνον εἰς μετάνοιαν, καὶ τὴν τοῦ opeλnμaros laoi, said Philo. Thus God sent Jonas, and denounced judgments against Nineveh; but with the avoxỳ, with the forbearance' of forty days for the time of their escape, if they would repent. When Noah, the great preacher of righteousness, denounced the flood to all the world, it was with the avoxn, with the forbearance' of a hundred and twenty years. And when the great extermination of the Jewish nation, and their total deletion from being God's people, was foretold by Christ, and decreed by God; yet they had the avoxn, of forty years, in which they were perpetually called to repentance. These were reprieves and deferrings of the stroke.
But sometimes God strikes once, and then forbears. And such are all those sadnesses, which are less than death: every
sickness, every loss, every disgrace, the death of friends and nearest relatives, sudden discontents; these are all of them the louder calls of God to repentance; but still, instances of forbearance.
Indeed, many times this forbearance makes men impudent. It was so in the case of Pharaoh; when God smote him, and then forbore, Pharaoh's heart grew callous and insensible, till God struck again: and this was the meaning of these words of God, "I will harden the heart of Pharaoh," that is, I will forbear him; smite him, and then take the blow off: "Sic enim Deus induravit Pharaonis cor," said St. Basil. For as water taken off from fire will sooner congeal and become icy, than if it had not been attenuated by the heat; so is the heart of some men; when smitten by God, it seems soft and pliable, but taken off from the fire of affliction, it presently becomes horrid, then stiff, and then hard as a rock of adamant, or as the gates of death and hell. But this is beside the purpose and intention of the divine mercy; this is an avriTeploraσiç, a plain contradiction' to the riches of God's goodness; this is to be evil, because God is good; to burn with flames, because we are cooled with water; this is to put out the lamps of heaven, or (if we cannot do it) to put our own eyes out, lest we should behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and be enamoured of his goodness, and repent, and live. O take heed of despising this goodness; for this is one of God's latest arts to save us; he hath no way left beyond this, but to punish us with a lasting judgment and a poignant affliction. In the tomb of Terentia, certain lamps burned under ground many ages together; but as soon as ever they were brought into the air, and saw a bigger light, they went out, never to be re-enkindled. So long as we are in the retirements of sorrow, of want, of fear, of sickness, or of any sad accident, we are burning and shining lamps; but when God comes with his avoxn, with his forbearance,' and lifts us up from the gates of death, and carries us abroad into the open air, that we converse with prosperity and temptation, we go out in darkness; and we cannot be preserved in heat and light, but by still dwelling in the regions of sorrow. And if such be our weaknesses or our folly, it concerns us to pray against such deliverances, to be afraid of health, to beg of God to continue a persecution, and not to deny us the mercy of an affliction.
And do not we find all this to be a great truth in ourselves? Are we so great strangers to our own weaknesses and unworthiness, as not to remember when God scared us with judgments in the neighbourhood, where we lived in a great plague, or if we were ever in a storm, or God had sent a sickness upon us? Then we may please to remember, that repentance was our business, that we designed mountains of piety, renewed our holy purposes, made vows and solemn sacraments to God to become penitent and obedient persons: and we may also remember, without much considering, that as soon as God began to forbear us, we would no longer forbear to sin, but add flame to flame, a heap of sins to a treasure of wrath, already too big; being like Pharaoh or Herod, or like the ox and mule, more hardy and callous for our stripes; and melted in the fire, and frozen harder in the cold; worse for all our afflictions, and the worse for all God's judgments; not bettered by his goodness, nor mollified by his threatenings and what is there more left for God to do unto us? He that is not won by the sense of God's mercy, can never find any thing in God that shall convert him; and he whom fear and sense of pain cannot mend, can never find any argument from himself that shall make him wise. This is sad, that nothing from without, and nothing from within, shall move us: nothing in heaven, and nothing in hell; neither love, nor fear; gratitude to God, nor preservation of ourselves, shall make us to repent. Θεοῦ δὲ πληγὴν οὐχ ὑπερπnda Boorós That shall be his final sentence: he shall never escape that ruin from which the greatest art of God could not entice, nor his terror scare him: "he loved cursing, therefore shall it happen to him; he loved not blessing, therefore shall it be far from him.”
Let, therefore, every one of us take the account of our lives, and read over the sermons that God hath made us : besides that sweet language of his mercy, and his still voice' from heaven, consider what voices of thunder you heard, and presently that noise ceased, and God was heard in the still voice' again. What dangers have any of you escaped? were you ever assaulted by the rudeness of an ill-natured man? Have you never had a dangerous fall, and escaped it? Did none of you ever escape drowning, and in a great danger saw the forbearance of God? Have you never been sick (as you feared) unto death? Or, suppose none of these things have