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*Tertullian wrote to the noble confessors of Christ that were imprisoned in Africa, "How willing would we change our prosperity with your precious miseries?" If weak nature be sensible of your hard restraint and sufferings, take flight by your thoughts to paradise. The persecutors cannot lay fetters upon your spirits, but when you please you may ascend to the kingdom of God, where you shall reign for ever. In the mean time counterpoise the darkness and straitness, the loathsomeness and sufferings of your prison, with the light and amplitude, the riches and abundance, the joy and glory of the celestial kingdom which no words are significant enough, or worthy to express. A saint whose blessedness is in heaven, cannot be made utterly unhappy by afflictions on earth. † He will serve God with as much love and as good a will, when poor, despised, disconsolate, as in a flourishing condition; and with this peculiar satisfaction, that his sincerity is then most evident: for the service that is without respect to a present salary, a temporal interest, is not base and mercenary. Besides, that obedience is more eminent and acceptable that is with sufferings, and the reward shall be answerable to our obedience. One draught of the river that makes glad the city of God above, can sweeten all the bitterness of the world. In short, the christian's hope is in the apostle's expression, "The anchor of the soul sure and steadfast, that enters within the veil;" it is fastened in heaven, confirmed by the fidelity of God's promises, and the prevailing intercession of Christ, and secured to us in the midst of all the turbulent agitations in the wide sea below. Hope makes us not only patient but joyful in all our sufferings. A christian encouraged by the blessed hope, comes with joy to death, as the door that opens to the kingdom of glory, and immortal blessedness.
Direct. 2. Let God be the supreme object of our esteem and affections; and whatsoever evils we sustain, will be made light and easy to us. The apostle assures us, "That all things," even the most afflicting, "work for the good of those that love God."
* Omnia spiritui patent, vagare spiritu, spatiare spiritu. Nihil crus sentit in nervo cum animus in cœlo est. Ad Martyr.
+ Nullus iis dolor est de incursatione malorum præsentium, quibus fiducia est futurorum bonorum. Quid hoc ad christianos, quid ad dei servos ? quos paradisus invitat, quos gratia omnis & copia regni cœlestis expectat? Cypr. cont. Demet.
Rom. 8. 28. That heavenly affection is not only the condition that intitles us to that promise, that by special privilege makes all the evils of this world advantageous to the saints; but it is the qualification by which it is accomplished. By love we enjoy God, and love will make us willing to do or suffer what he pleaseth, that we may have fuller communion with him. In God all perfections are in transcendent eminence, they are always the same and always new. He gives all things without any diminution of his treasures: he receives the praises and services of the angels, without any advantage or increase of his felicity. By possessing him, all that is amiable and excellent in the creatures, may be enjoyed in a manner incomparably better than in the creatures themselves. His infinite goodness can supply all our wants, satisfy all our desires, allay all our sorrows, conquer all our fears. One beam of his countenance can "revive the spirit dead in sorrow, and buried in despair." The prophet Jeremy in the desolation of his country, supports himself with his interest in God: "The Lord is my portion, saith my soul." Lam. 3. 24. The expression signifies the truth and strength of his affectionate choice of God as his chiefest good, what loss can make a christian poor, whose treasure is above? What danger anxious, whose heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord? What disaster unhappy, whose blessedness is in heaven? What death can destroy him, whose life "is hid with Christ in God?" Deprive him of all the contents of this world, yet by communion with God, heaven descends to him, or he ascends to heaven, where God is all in all the blessed reward is not reserved wholly till hereafter. Divine joy is not deferred till our entrance into the celestial kingdom: there it is a refined joy from all mixture of sorrow; it is infinitely increased; there spiritual joy meets eternal joy; but it begins here: the gracious soul has a taste and sight "how good the Lord is," as an earnest of the fulness of joy in heaven. Hope brings some leaves of the tree of life, to refresh us with their fragrancy; but love of its fruits to strengthen us. As transplanted fruits, where the soil is defective and the sun less favourable, are not of that beauty and goodness as in their original country; so heavenly joys in this life are inferior in their degree to those of the blessed above, but they are very reviving. "In the multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts delight my soul." Psal. 94. 19. It is the triumphant exultation of the
prophet; "Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines, the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat, the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." Hab. 3. 17, 18. He supposeth himself in extremity, utterly destitute not only of the refreshments, but supports of life; yet he knows how not only to be patient and contented, but joyful in the most forlorn condition. Joy is an affection proper to the happy state. "In the day of prosperity rejoice." And in his deepest affliction he had such a felicity in the favour of God, that no external want could diminish. The tree of life brought forth fruits for every month; our blessed Redeemer, typified by it, has consolations for the most deplorable and desolate condition. If he says to the afflicted soul, I am thy salvation, and within a little while thou shalt be with me for ever in glory, it sufficeth. "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. It is the most affectionate counsel of the apostle. These are not inaccessible heights of religion, and points of perfection, to which none can arrive, unless extraordinary saints; but are the experimental practice of humble sincere christians, that say with the psalmist, "Whom have we in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth we desire besides thee." The guilty principle of vexatious discontents and immoderate griefs under outward losses and troubles is a false judgment; that God without the world is not sufficient for our complete felicity: who, unless a person distracted and foolish, would say that the magnificent feast of Ahasuerus, that was prepared to show the riches and glory of his kingdom, was mean and poor, because there was not set before the numerous guests in dishes of gold, grass and acorns, the food of brutes? It is equally folly to imagine that God, who is an infinite good, suitable to the spiritual immortal nature of the soul, and all-sufficient to fill the vast capacity and desires of our angelical faculties, the understanding and will, by his glorious perfections; that God, I say, cannot make us happy in his love, because our lower animal faculties, our senses, have not in our communion with him what is pleasing to their carnal appetites. The spouse in the canticles is represented as a "Lily among thorns," encompassed and oppressed with injurious enemies, yet she breaks forth in triumphant joy, "I am my beloved's, and he is mine;" by an irrevo
cable donation she gave her heart to Christ, and reciprocally he gave himself to her; she despised all inferior things and rested in his love as her sole felicity. In short, none are concerned to lose the weak light of a candle at noon-day, when the sun pours forth a deluge of light to illustrate all things; and the soul that enjoys the propitious presence of God, is satisfied therewith when lower comforts fail.
Direct. 3. Let us moderate our valuations and affections to things below.
This is a consequence of the former; for if the heart be full of God, it will not admit any inferior object to rival him in his throne. If we consider the vast distance between the perfections of the Creator, and the faint reflections of them in the creature, our respects and love should be accordingly. Reason, authority, example, experience, convince us that all things below are empty vanities: it is restless folly to seek for happiness here, and, to borrow the language of the angel, "to seek the living among the dead." If our felicity be from the light and warmth of creatures, how easily is it quenched, and we are in irrecovera¬ ble darkness? When there is exorbitant love, and dissolute joy in the possessing, there will be extreme and desperate sorrow in losing. One irregular passion feeds and maintains another. The heart is disposed to contrary extremities, and passes from the fire to the frost: the unequal spirit swells or sinks, according to the outward condition. It is the wise advice of the apostle, "that we rejoice as if we rejoiced not," and then "we shall weep as if we wept not." Afflictions are intolerable or light, according to our apprehension of them; an indifferency of temper to the things of this world, disposeth to self-denial universally, as God' is pleased to try us. This was the holy and happy temper of David, "Surely I behaved and quieted myself as a child that is weaned of his mother, my soul is even as a weaned child:" Psal. 131. indifferent to manage a sceptre or a sheep-hook, according to God's pleasure. If we can deny ourselves, we shall humbly. yield to God. If we can sincerely say, "Not our wills," we shall readily repeat our Saviour's submission, "But thy will be done."
* Pœnam de adversis mundi ille sentit, cui lætitia & gloria omnis in mundo est. Cyp, ad Demet.
Direct. 4. A prudent forecast of possible evils as future to us, arms us with patience to sustain them. Since man was expelled from the terrestrial paradise, and is below the celestial, he is liable to innumerable afflicting accidents. His condition here is like an open sea, so voluble and inconstant, so violent and furious: sometimes the ships are raised upon the top of the waves, as if they sailed in the air; and sometimes plunged into the waters, and ready to be swallowed up: such frequent changes happen in our passage to eternity, and it is mercifully ordered so by the divine wisdom, that we may so use the world, as not to abuse it and ourselves, by overvaluing and affecting it. It is a contemplation of Theodoret, that the sun and moon, the most glorious luminaries of heaven, and so beneficial to the earth, would be honoured as deities, if they always appeared with the same invariable tenor of light: and therefore God wisely disposed of their motions, that at the revolution of certain periods they should suffer an eclipse, that the ignorant world might be convinced they were but parts of nature, appointed for the service of man, and are not worthy of divine honour. Thus we see that often the brightest and fullest prosperity is eclipsed to convince us by the miserable changes in this world, that the best estate of man is altogether vanity, and that these things are utterly insufficient to make us happy, and are not worthy of the chief regard and affection of our immortal souls. To set our hearts on them, is to build on the sand, and to expose ourselves to ruinous falls by every storm. A sudden blast overthrows the fabric of fancy, our conceited happiness in the enjoyment of perishing things. Our greatest comforts may occasion our greatest afflictions: "The glory of a family may occasion the grief of it." Now the consideration of the mutable nature of things here below, keeps the heart loose from them, fortifies us with proper thoughts to bear evils that happen, and prevents disappointments, that is an aggravating circumstance of our troubles, and a great vexation to the mind. The Israelites when transported from the land of Canaan to Babylon, felt the rigours of their captivity the more sensibly, in that they were confident in their term and state in that land, as their permanent inheritance: to be expelled from so rich a country wherein they promised themselves rest, was a high degree of their misery.
There is indeed a prevision of evils that may befal us, that has