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whole host of Israel; and when the timorous unbelievers shall run away at the sight of him, and endeavour to hide their heads from his presence; the good soul, armed, not with the unmeet and cumbersome harness of flesh and blood, but with the sure though invisible, armour of God, dares come forth to meet him; and, in the name of the Lord of Hosts, both bids him battle, and foils him in the combat; and now, having laid him on the ground, can triumphingly say, O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?
[1.] Five smooth pebbles there are, which if we carry in our scrip, we shall be able to Quell, not only the Power of Death, but the Terror too.
(a.) Whereof the first is, a sure apprehension of both the unavoidable Necessity and certain Benefit of Death: a Necessity, grounded upon the just and eternal decree of heaven. It is appointed to all men, once to die; Heb. ix. 27: and what a madness were it, for a man to think of an exemption from the common condition of mankind! Mortality is, as it were, essential to our nature: neither could we have had our souls, but upon the terms of a re-delivery, when they shall be called for. If the holiest saints or the greatest monarchs sped otherwise, we might have some colour of repining: now, grieve if thou wilt, that thou art a man; grieve not, that, being man, thou must die. Neither is the Benefit inferior to the necessity. Lo here the remedy of all our cares, the physic for all our maladies, the rescue from all our fears and dangers; earnestly sued for by the painful, dearly welcome to the distressed: yea, lo here the cherub, that keeps the gate of paradise: there is no entrance, but under his hand in vain do we hope to pass to the glory of heaven, any other way, than through the gates of death.
(b.) The second is, the Conscience of a Well-led Life. Guiltiness will make any man cowardly, unable to look danger in the face; much more, death: whereas, the innocent is bold as a lion. What a difference therefore there is, betwixt a martyr and a malefactor! This latter knows he hath done ill; and, therefore, if he can take his death but patiently, it is well: the former knows he hath done well; and, therefore, takes his death not patiently only, but cheerfully.
(c.) But, because no mortal man can have so innocently led his life, but that he shall have passed many offences against his most holy and righteous God; here must be, thirdly, a Final Peace firmly made betwixt God and the Soul. Two powerful agents must mediate in it; a lively faith and a serious repentance: for those sins can never appear against us, that are washed off with our tears; and, being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ; Rom. v. 1. Now, if we have made the judge our friend, what can the sergeant do?
(d.) The fourth is, the Power and Efficacy of Christ's Death, applied to the soul. Wherefore died he, but that we might live?
Wherefore would he, who is the Lord of Life, die, but to sanctify, season, and sweeten death to us? Who would Who would go any other way, than his Saviour went before him? Who can fear that enemy, whom his Redeemer hath conquered for him? Who can run away from that serpent, whose sting is pulled out? O Death, my Saviour hath been thy death; and, therefore, thou canst not be
(e.) The fifth is, the comfortable Expectation and Assurance of a certain Resurrection and an immediate Glory. I do but lay me down to my rest: I shall sleep quietly, and rise gloriously. My soul, in the mean time, no sooner leaves my body, than it enjoys God. It did lately, through my bodily eyes, see my sad friends, that bid me farewell with their tears: now, it hath the bliss-making vision of God. I am no sooner launched forth, than I am at the haven, where I would be. Here is that, which were able to make amends for a thousand deaths; a glory, infinite, eternal, incomprehensible.
This spiritual ammunition shall sufficiently furnish the soul, for her encounter with her last enemy: so as, she shall not only endure, but long for this combat; and say, with the Chosen Vessel, I desire to depart, and to be with Christ; Phil. i. 23.
[2.] Now, for that long conversation causeth entireness; and the parting of old friends and partners (such the soul and body are) cannot but be grievous, although there were no actual pain in the dissolution: it will be requisite for us, seriously to consider the State of this Conjunction; and to enquire, what good offices the one of them doth to the other, in their continued union, for which they should be so loth to part.
And here we shall find, that those two, however united to make up one person; yet, as it falls out in cross matches, they are in continual domestic jars one with the other, and entertain a secret familiar kind of hostility betwixt themselves: For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; Gal. v. 17. One says well, that if the body should implead the soul, it might bring many foul impeachments against it; and sue it, for many great injuries done to that earthly part and the soul, again, hath no fewer quarrels against the body: betwixt them both, there are many brawls, no agree
Our Schools have reckoned up, therefore, Eight main Incommodities, which the soul hath cause to complain of, in her conjunction with the body.
(a.) Whereof the first is, the Defilement of Original Sin, wherewith the soul is not tainted, as it proceeds, alone, from the pure hands of its Creator; but, as it makes up a part of a son of Adam, who brought this guilt upon human nature: so as now, this composition, which we call man, is corrupt. Who can bring a clean thing out of that, which is unclean? saith Job.
(b.) The second is, a Proneness to Sin, which, but by the meet
ing of these partners had never been. The soul, if single, would have been innocent: thus matched, what evil is it not apt to entertain! An ill consort is enough to poison the best disposition.
(c.) The Difficulty of Doing Well, is the third: for, how averse are we, by this conjunction, from any thing that is good! This clog hinders us from walking roundly in the ways of God. The good, that I would do, I do not: saith the Chosen Vessel; Rom. vii. 19.
(d.) The fourth is, the Dulness of our Understanding, and the dimness of our mental eyes, especially in the things pertaining unto God; which now we are forced to behold through the vail of flesh. If, therefore, we misknow, the fault is in the mean, through which we do imperfectly discover them.
(e.) The fifth is, a perpetual Impugnation and Self-conflict; either part labouring to oppose and vanquish the other. This field is fought in every man's bosom, without any possibility of peace or truce, till the last moment of dissolution.
(f.) The sixth is, the racking Solicitude of Cares, which continually distract the soul; not suffering it to rest at ease, while it carries this flesh about it.
(g.) The seventh is, the Multiplicity of Passions which daily bluster within us, and raise up continual tempest in our lives; disquieting our peace, and threatening our ruin.
(h.) The eighth is, the Retardation of our Glory: for, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God: we must lay down our load, if we would enter into heaven. The seed cannot fructify, unless it die. I cannot blame nature, if it could wish not to be unclothed, but to be clothed upon; 2 Cor. v. 4: but so hath the Eternal Wisdom ordered, that we should first lay down, ere we can take up; and be divested of earth, ere we can partake of heaven.
Now then, since so many and great discommodities do so unavoidably accompany this match of soul and body, and all of them cease instantly in the act of their dissolution, what reason have we, to be too deeply affected with their parting? Yea, how should we rather rejoice, that the hour is come, wherein we shall be quit both of the guilt and temptations of sin; wherein the clog shall be taken away from our heels, and the vail from our eyes; wherein no intestine wars shall threaten us, no cares shall disquiet us, no passions shall torment us; and, lastly, wherein we may take the free possession of that glory, which we have hitherto looked at only afar off, from the top of our Pisgah!
Holy Dispositions for Contentment.
(1.) Humility:-(2.) Self-Resignation:-(3.) True Inward Riches. HITHERTO We have dwelt in those powerful considerations, which may work us to a quiet contentment with whatsoever adverse
estate, whether of life or death: after which, we address ourselves to those meet DISPOSITIONS, which shall render us fully capable of this blessed Contentation; and shall make all these Considerations effectual to that happy purpose.
(1.) Whereof the first is true Humility; under-valuing ourselves, and setting a high rate upon every mercy that we receive: for, if a man have attained unto this, that he thinks every thing too good for him, and himself less than the least blessing, and worthy of the heaviest judgment; he cannot but sit down thankful for small favours, and meekly content with mean afflictions. As, contrarily, the proud man stands upon points with his Maker; makes God his debtor; looks disdainfully at small blessings, as if he said, "What, no more?" and looks angrily at the least crosses, as if he said, "Why thus much?"
The Father of the Faithful hath practically taught us this lesson of humility; who comes to God with dust and ashes in his mouth; Gen. xviii. 27. And the Jewish Doctors tell us truly, that, in every disciple of Abraham, there must be three things: a good eye, a meek spirit, and an humble soul. His grandchild Jacob, the father of every true Israelite, had well taken it out; while he can say to his God, I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; Gen. xxxii. 10.
And, indeed, in whomsoever it be, the best measure of grace is humility: for, the more grace still, the greater humility; and, no humility, no grace. Solomon observed of old, and St. James took it from him, that God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble; Prov. iii. 34. James iv. 6: so as he, that is not humble, is not so much as capable of grace; and he, that is truly humble, is a fit subject for all graces, and, amongst the rest, for the grace of . Contentation.
Give me a man therefore, that is vile in his own eyes; that is sensible of his own wretchedness; that knows what it is to sin, and what belongs to that sin whereof he is guilty: this man shall think it a mercy, that he is any where out of hell; shall account all the evils that he is free from, so many new favours; shall reckon easy corrections amongst his blessings; and shall esteem any blessing infinitely obliging.
Whereas, contrarily, the proud beggar is ready to throw God's alms at his head; and swells at every lash, that he receives from the divine hand.
Not without great cause, therefore, doth the Royal Preacher oppose the patient in spirit, to the proud in spirit; Eccl. vii. 8: for the proud man can no more be patient, than the patient can be discontent with whatsoever hand of his God. Every toy puts the proud man beside his patience: if but a fly be found in Pharaoh's cup, he is straight in rage, as the Jewish tradition lays the quarrel; and sends his butler into durance: and if the emperor
do but mistake the stirrup of our countryman Pope Adrian, he shall dance attendance for his crown: if a Mardochee do but fail of a courtesy to Haman, all Jews must bleed to death: and how unquiet are our vain dames, if this curl be not set right, or that pin misplaced! But the meek spirit is incurious; and so thoroughly subacted, that he takes his load from God, as the camel from his master, upon his knees: and, for men, if they compel him to go one mile, he goes twain; if they smite him on the right cheek, he turns the other; if they sue away his coat, he parts with his cloak also; Matth. v. 39, 40, 41.
Heraclius, the emperor, when he was about to pass through the golden gate, and to ride in royal state through the streets of Jerusalem, being put in mind by Zacharias, the Bishop there, of the humble and dejected fashion, wherein his Saviour walked through those streets towards his Passion, strips off his rich robes, lays aside his crown, and, with bare head and bare feet, submissively paces the same way, that his Redeemer had carried his Cross towards his Golgotha. Every true Christian is ready to tread in the deep steps of his Saviour; as well knowing, that if he should descend to the gates of death, of the grave, of hell, he cannot be so humbled, as the Son of God was for him.
And, indeed, this, and this alone, is the true way to glory. He, that is Truth itself, hath told us, that he, who humbles himself, shall be exalted and wise Solomon, Before honour is humility; Prov. The fuller treads upon that cloth, which he means to whiten: and he, that would see the stars by day, must not climb up into some high mountain, but must descend to the lower cells of the earth. Shortly, whosoever would raise up a firm building of Contentation, must be sure to lay the foundation in Humility.
(2.) Secondly, to make up a true contentment with the most adverse estate, there is required a faithful Self-Resignation into the hands of that God, whose we are; who, as he hath more right in us than ourselves, so he best knows what to do with us.
How graciously hath his mercy invited us to our own ease! Be careful, saith he, for nothing; but, in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God; Phil. iv. 6. We are naturally apt, in our necessities, to have recourse to greater powers than our own; even where we have no engagement of their help: how much more should we cast ourselves upon the Almighty, when he not only allows, but solicits our reliance upon him!
It was a question, that might have befitted the mouth of the best Christian, which fell from Socrates: "Since God himself is careful for thee, why art thou solicitous for thyself?" If evils were let loose upon us, so as it were possible for us to suffer any thing that God were not aware of, we might have just cause to sink under adversities; but now, that we know every dram of our affliction is weighed out to us, by that all-wise and all-merciful Providence; Oh, our infidelity, if we do make scruple of taking in the most bitter dose!