« PreviousContinue »
they will be credulous enough in all the affairs of their life, but impenetrable by a sermon of the Gospel: they will believe the word of a man, and the promise of their neighbour; but a promise of Scripture signifies nothing, unless it can be proved like a proposition in the metaphysics. If Sempronius tells them a story, it is sufficient if he be a just man, and the narrative be probable: but though religion be taught by many excellent men, who gave their lives for a testimony; this shall not pass for truth, till there is no objection left to stand against it. The reason of these things is plain : they do not love the thing; their interest is against it: they have no joy in religion: they are not willing and desirous that the things shall appear true. When love is the principle, the thing is easy to the understanding; the objections are nothing, the arguments are good, and the preachers are in the right. Faith assents to the revelations of the Gospel, not only because they are well proved, but because they are excellent things; not only because my reason is convinced, but my reason yields upon the fairer terms, because my affections are gained. For if faith were an assent to an article but just so far as it is demonstrated, then faith were no virtue, and infidelity were no sin: because in this there is no choice, and no refusal. But where that which is probable, is also naturally indemonstrable, and yet the conclusion is that in which we must rejoice, and that for which we must earnestly contend, and that in the belief of which we serve God, and that for which we must be ready to die-it is certain, that the understanding observing the credibility, and the will being pleased with the excellency, they produce a zeal of belief, because they together make up the demonstration. For a reason can be opposed by a reason, and an argument by an argument: but if I love my religion, nothing can take me from it, unless it can pretend to be more useful and more amiable, more perfective and more excellent, than heaven and immortality, and a kingdom and a crown of peace, and all the things, and all the glories of the eternal God.
2. That faith which disposes to the holy communion, must have in it a fulness of confidence and relying upon God, a trusting in, and a real expectation of, the event of all the promises of the Gospel. God hath promised sufficient
for the things of this life to them, that serve him. They who have great revenues and full bags, can easily trust this promise: but if thou hast neither money nor friends, if the labour of thy hands, and the success of thy labour fails thee, how is it then? Can you then rely upon the promise? What means your melancholy and your fear, your frequent sighs, and your calling yourself miserable and undone? Can God only help with means? or cannot he also make the means, or help without them? or see them when you see them not? or is it that you fear whether he will or no? He that hath promised,-if he be just, is always willing, whether he be able or no; and, therefore, if you do not doubt of his power, why should you at all doubt of his willingness? For, if he were not able, he were not almighty: if he were not willing to perform his promise, then he were not just; and he that suspects that, hath neither faith nor love for God: of all things in the world, faith never distrusts the good-will of God, in which he most glories to communicate himself to mankind. If yet your fear objects and says, that all is well on God's part; but you have provoked him by your sins, and have lost all title to the promise:' I can say nothing against that, but that you must speedily repent and amend your fault; and then all will be quickly well on your part also; and your faith will have no objection, and your fears will have no excuse. When the glutton Apicius had spent a vast revenue in his prodigious feastings, he killed himself for fear of starving: but if Cæsar had promised to give him all Sicily, or the revenues of Egypt, the beast would have lived and eaten. But the promises of God give to many of us no security, not so much as the promise of our rich friend, who yet may be disabled, or may break his word or die. But let us try again.
God hath promised, that "all things should work together for good to them that fear him." Do we believe, that our present affliction will do so? Will the loss of our goods, the diminution of our revenue, the amission of our honour, the death of our eldest son, the unkindness of a husband, the frown of our prince, the defeating of our secular hopes, the unprosperous event of our employment? Do we find, that our faith is right enough really to be satisfied in these things so much as to be pleased with God's order and method
of doing good to us by these unpleasant instruments? Can we rejoice under the mercy by joys of believing at the same time, when we groan under the affliction by the passion of sense? Do we observe the design of cure, when we feel the pain and the smart? Are we patient under the evil, being supported by expectation of the good which is promised to follow? This is the proper work of faith, and its best indication.
Plutarch tells, that when the cowards of Lacedemon depicted upon their shields the most terrible beasts they could imagine, their design was to affright their enemies that they might not come to a close fight; they would fain have made their enemies afraid, because themselves were so: which when Lacon espied, he painted upon a great shield, nothing but a little fly for his device; and to them who said he did it that he might not be noted in the battle, he answered, 'yea, but I mean to come so near the enemy, that he shall see the little fly. This is our case: our afflictions seem to us like gorgons' heads, lions and tigers, things terrible in picture, but intolerable in their fury; but if we come near and consider them in all the circumstances, they are nothing but a fly upon a shield, they cannot hurt us; and they ought not to affright us, if we remember that they are conducted by God, that they are the effect of his care, and the impress of his love, that they are the method and order of a blessing, that they are sanctified and eased by a promise; and that a present ease, it may be, would prove a future infelicity. If our faith did rely upon the promise, all this were nothing; but our want of faith does cause all the excess of trouble. For the question is not whether or no we be afflicted, whether we be sick, or crossed in our designs, or deprived of our children, this we feel and mourn for;-but the question is, whether all this may not, or be not intended to, bring good to us? Not whether God smiles or no, but to what purpose
a Si qua latent, meliora puta.—Ov. M. i. 502.
The cowards of Lacedemon] Plutarch does not mention these cowards: he merely states, that a Lacedemonian (Lacon) painted a fly upon his shield. —Λάκων ἐπὶ τῆς ἀσπίδος μυῖαν ἔχων ἐπίσημον, καὶ ταύτην οὐ μείζω τῆς ἀληθινῆς, ὡς καταγελῶντές τινες ἔλεγον ὑπὲρ τοῦ λανθάνειν τοῦτο πεποιήκει, Ἵνα μὲν οὖν (είπε) φανερὸς ὦ· οὕτω γὰρ τοῖς πολεμίοις πλησίον προσέρχομαι ὥστε τὸ ἐπίσημον ἡλίκον ἐστὶν ὑπ ̓ αὐτῶν opão Jai.-Lacon, Apoph. Xyland. t. ii. pag. 234. D. (J. R. P.)
• Pœnam, Phaeton, pro munere poscis.
he smiles? not whether this be not evil, but whether this evil will not bring good to us? If we do believe, why are we without comfort and without patience? If we do not believe it, where is our faith?
And why do any of us come to the holy communion, if we do not believe it will be for our good? but if we do think it will, why do we not think so of our cross? for the promise is that every thing shall. Cannot the rod of God do good as well as the bread of God? and is not he as good in his discipline as in his provision? is not he the same in his school as at his table? is not his physic as wholesome as his food? It is not reason, but plainly our want of faith, that makes us think otherwise. Faith is the great magazine of all the graces, and all the comforts of a Christian: and, therefore, the devil endeavours to corrupt the truth of it, by intermingling errors, the sincerity of it by hypocrisy, the ingenuity of it by interest, the comforts of it by doubting, the confidence of it by objections and secular experiences, and present considerations; by adherence to human confidences, and little sanctuaries, and the pleasures of the world, and the fallibilities of men. When Xerxes had a great army to conduct, and great successes to desire, and various contingencies to expect, he left off to sacrifice to his country gods, forsook Jupiter and the sun: and, in Lydia, espying a goodly platan-tree, tall, and straight, and spread, he encamped all his army in the fields about it, hung up bracelets and coronets upon the branches, and, with costly offerings, made his petitions to the beauteous tree: and when he marched away, he left a guard upon his god, lest any thing should do injury to the plant, of which he begged to be defended from all injury. By such follies as these does the devil endeavour to deflower our holy faith and confidences in God; we trust in man, who cannot trust himself; we rely upon riches, that rely upon nothing; for they have no stabiliment, and they have no foundation, but are like atoms in the air; the things themselves can bear no weight, and the foundation cannot bear them. In our afflictions, we look for comfort from wine
J Herodotus does not say, that Xerxes made any petitions to the plane tree.-εὗρε (ὁ Ξέρξης) πλατάνιστον, τὴν, κάλλεος εἵνεκα, δωρησάμενος κόσμῳ χρυσέῳ, καὶ μελεδωνῷ ἀνθρώπῳ ἀθανάτῳ ἄνδρι ἐπιτρέψας, &c. — Polym. c. 31. Schweigh. vol. iii. pag. 191. (J. R. P.) '
or company, from a friend that talks well, or from any thing' that brings us present ease, but, in the mean time, we look not into the promises of God, which are the storehouses of comfort: and, like the dogs at Hippocrene, we lick the waterdrops that fall upon the ground, and take no notice of the fountain and the full vessels. These things are so necessary to be considered, in order to our preparation to the communion, as they are necessary to be reduced to practice, in order to a Christian conversation. For the holy communion is the summary and compendium of the religion and duty of a whole life; and as faith cannot be holy, material, and acceptable, without it contain in it a real trust in the promises of God, so neither can it be a sufficient disposition to the receiving the divine mysteries, unless upon this ground, it be holy, acceptable, and material.
3. That faith which is a worthy preparatory to the holy. communion, must be the actual principle and effective of a good life; a faith in the threatenings and in the commandments of God. Who can pretend to be a Christian, and yet not believe those words of St. Paul? "Follow after peace, with all men, and holiness;- without which, no man shall see God." And yet if we do believe it, what do we think will become of us, who neither 'follow peace nor holiness,' but follow our anger, and pursue our lust? If we do believe this, we had need look about us, and live at another rate than men commonly do. But we still remain peevish and angry, malicious, and implacable, apt to quarrel, and hard to be reconciled, lovers of money and lovers of pleasures, but careless of holiness and religion; as if they were things fit only to be talked on, and to be the subject of theological discourses, but not the rule of our lives, and the matter of our care. It is expressly said by St. Paul; "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself."-Now if we observe what crowds of people, in great cities, come to the holy communion; good and bad, penitent and impenitent, the covetous and the proud, the crafty merchant from yesterday's fraud, and the wanton fool from his last night's lust, we may easily perceive, that not many men believe these words. He that says to me, ‘Drink