Though divinity be clear in other differences from carnal or natural reasons, yet it hath homogeneal reasons and grounds of its own, whence come inferences as natural as for the tree to bear fruit, or the sun to shine; so upon the former divine grounds (for it is a matter of suffering wherein we must have pure divinity to support our souls), the apostle comes to bring a spiritual inference suitable to the same in the words read unto you. Wherefore, concluding all to be true that was said before, let them that suffer, &c. Wherein consider,
1. That the state and condition of God’s children is to suffer.
2. The dispensation of that suffering, they suffer not at all adventures, but according to the will of God.
3. Their duty in this estate, namely, to commit the keeping of their souls to God.
In the duty we have these particulars comprehended:—1. An action, to commit. 2. An object, what we must commit, the soul. 3. The person to whom, to God. 4. The manner, in well-doing. Lastly. The reason which should move us hereunto, implied in these words, as unto a faithful Creator. Whatsoever may support the doubting of a godly man in any trouble, and enforce upon him this duty of committing his soul to God, is briefly comprised in this, that God stands in that near relation of a Creator, yea, of a faithful Creator, to us. This is the scope of the words.
Obs. 1. That the state of God’s children is to suffer, yea, to suffer of God; for sometimes he seems to be an enemy to his dearest servants, as unto Job. But chiefly they are in a militant estate and condition here.
1. Why God’s children must suffer here. Because they live among those they cannot but suffer from, wheresoever they live. Suppose they live among Christians, yet there are many Christians in name that are not so in deed. There hath been secret underminers in all ages; and what else may they look for but suffering from these? All that ever truly feared God and made conscience of their ways have found afflictions among false brethren. It was never heard of that a sheep should pursue a wolf.
2. They must suffer also in regard of themselves; for the truth is, the best of us all have many lusts to be subdued, and a great deal to be purged out, before we can come to heaven, that pure and holy place into which no unclean thing can enter, Rev. xxi. 27. Though a garden be never so fruitful, yet after a shower it will need weeding. So after long peace, the church of God gathers soil, and needs cleansing.
Obj. But some carnal wretch will say, thank God I never suffered in my life, but have enjoyed peace and prosperity, and my heart’s content in everything.
Ans. In the best estate there will be suffering one way or other. Then, suspect thyself to be in a bad estate, for every true Christian suffers in kind or other, either from without or within. Sometimes God’s children are troubled more with corruption than with affliction; at other times their peace is troubled both with corruption within and with affliction without; at the best, they have sufferings of sympathy. Shall the members of Christ suffer in other countries, and we profess ourselves to be living members, and yet not sympathise with them? We must be conformable to our Head before we can come to heaven. But the dispensation of our suffering is according to the will of God, where note two things.
1. That it is God’s will we should suffer.
2. When we suffer we suffer according to his will.
To pass briefly over these, as not being the thing I aim at,
God’s will concerning our suffering is permissive in respect of those that do us harm; but in regard of our patient enduring injuries, it is his approving and commanding will. We are enjoined to suffer, and they are permitted to wrong us.
Obj. It seems, then, there is some excuse for those that persecute the saints. They do but according to God’s will; and if it be so, who dares speak against them?
Ans. It is not God’s commanding will, but his suffering will. He useth their malice for his own ends. God lets the rein loose upon their necks. As a man is said to set a dog upon another when he unlooseth his chain, so God is said to command them when he lets them loose to do mischief. They are full of malice themselves, which God useth as physicians do their poison to cure poison. God and they go two contrary ways, as a man in a ship walks one way, but is carried another. In the death of Christ the will of Judas and the rest went one way, and God’s will another. So, in all our sufferings, when God useth wicked men, their will is destructive and hostile, but God’s will is clean otherwise, aiming at the good of his people in a this. Nebuchadnezzar did the will of God in carrying the people captive. However, he thought not so, Isa. x. 7. Every sinful wretch that offers violence to the poor saints, imagine they do God good service in it, whenas, indeed, they do but execute the malice and venom of their own hearts. In the highest heavens, as they say in philosophy, the first thing moved is by a violent motion. The sun is carried about the heavens violently against its own proper motion, which inclines to a clean contrary course. So God dealeth with wicked men; he carries them they know not whither. They are set to do mischief, and God useth their sinful dispositions for his 0wn ends, which plainly shews that God is without all fault, and they without all excuse.
Obs. But observe further, that we never suffer but when God will. And, beloved, his will is not that we should always suffer, though generally our estate be so in one kind or other. God is not always chiding, Ps. ciii. 9, but hath times of breathing and intermission, which he vouchsafes his children for their good. He knows if we had not some respite, some refreshment, we should soon be consumed and brought to nothing. ‘The Lord knows whereof we are made, and considers we are but dust,’ Ps. ciii. 14. Therefore he saith, ‘Though for a season you are in heaviness, yet rejoice,’ &c., 1 Pet. i. 6.
And this the Lord doth out of mercy to his poor creatures, that they might not sink before him, but gather strength of grace, and be the better fitted to bear further crosses afterwards. You know, Acts ix. 31, after Saul’s conversion, when he was become a Paul, then the church had rest, and increased in the comforts of the Holy Ghost. God gives his people pausing times, some lucida intervalla. Our time of going into trouble is in God’s hands; our time of abiding trouble is in God’s hands; our time of coming out is in God’s hands. As in our callings he preserves our going out and our coming in, so in every trouble that befalls us we come in and tarry there, and go out of the same when he pleaseth. He brings us to the fire as the goldsmith puts his metals and holds them there, till he hath refined them and purged out the dross, and then brings them out again. ‘Our times,’ as David saith excellently, ‘are in thy hands, O Lord,’ Ps. xxxi. 15. Beloved, if our times were in our enemies’ hands we should never come out. If they were in our own hands we should never stay in trouble, but come out as soon as we come in; nay, we would not come into trouble at all if we could choose. Beloved, everything of a Christian is dear unto God; his health is precious, his blood is precious; especially precious to the Lord is the death of his saints, Ps. cxvi. 15. Do you think, therefore, he will let them suffer without his will? No; he will have a valuable consideration of all those that are malignant persecutors of his people at last. And it is for matters better than life that God lets his children suffer here; for alas! this life is but a shadow, as it were, nothing. God regards us not as we are in this present world, but as strangers; therefore, he suffers us to sacrifice this life upon better terms than life, or else he would never let us suffer for his truth, and seal it with our dearest blood, as many of the saints have done.
Use. I beseech you, therefore, considering all our sufferings are by the appointment and will of God, let us bring our souls to an holy resignation unto his Majesty, not looking so much to the grievance we are under as to the hand that sent it. We should with one eye consider the thing, with another eye the will of God in the same. When a man considers, I suffer now, but it is by the will of God; he puts me upon it, how cheerfully will such an one commit his soul to the Lord! It is a hard matter to suffer God’s will as to do his will. Passive obedience is as hard as active. In the active we labour that what we do may please God; in the passive we must endeavour that what he doth may please us. Our hearts are as untoward to the one as to the other. Therefore, let us beg of God to bring our wills to the obedience of his blessed will in everything. Would you have a pattern of this? Look upon our blessed Saviour, to whom we must be conformable in obedience if ever we will be conformable in glory. ‘Lo, I come,’ saith he; ‘I am ready to do thy will, O Lord,’ Heb. x. 9. What was the whole life of Christ but a doing and a suffering of God’s will? ‘Behold, it is written in the volume of thy book that I should do thy will,’ ver. 7, and here I am ready pressed for it. It should be, therefore, the disposition of all those that are led by the Spirit of Christ, as all must be that hope to reign with him, to be willing to suffer with Christ here, and say with him, Lord, I am here ready to do and suffer whatsoever thou requirest! When once we are brought to this, all the quarrel is ended between God and us.
I come now to that which I chiefly intend, which is the Christian’s duty.
Let him commit his soul to God in well-doing. Wherein observe,
1. The manner how he must commit, in well-doing.
2. What, his soul.
3. To whom, to God.
4. The reasons moving, implied in these words, as unto a faithful Creator,
Now this well-doing must be distinguished into two times.
1. Before our suffering. When a son of Belial shall offer violence to a poor saint of God, what a comfort is this, that he suffers in well-doing! Oh, beloved, we should so carry ourselves that none might speak evil justly against us, that none, unless it were wrongfully, might do us hurt. We should be in an estate of well-doing continually in our general and particular callings. We must not go out of our sphere, but serve God in our standings, that if trouble comes it may find us in a way of well-pleasing, either doing works of charity or else the works of our particular calling wherein God hath set us. In all that befalls thee look to this, that thou suffer not as an evil doer, 1 Pet. iv. 15.
2. So likewise in suffering, we must commit our souls to God in well- doing in a double regard.
1. We must carry ourselves generally well in all our sufferings.
2. In particular, we must do well to them that do us wrong.
First, I say, in affliction our carriage must be generally good in respect of God, by a meek behaviour under his hand, without murmuring against him.
2. In regard of the cause of God, that we betray it not through fear or cowardice, through base aims and intentions, &c., but endeavour to carry it with a good conscience in all things. When we make it clear by managing anything, that we are led with the cause and conscience of our duty, it works mightily upon them that wrong us. (1.) It wins those that are indifferent ; and (2.) confounds the obstinate, and stops their mouths. Therefore, let us carry ourselves well, not only before, but in suffering. We may not fight against them with their own weapons, that is, be malicious as they are malicious, and rail as they rail. Beloved, this is as if a man should see another drink poison, and he will drink, too, for company; he is poisoned with malice, and thou, to revenge thyself, wilt be poisoned too. What a preposterous course is this! Ought we to rather behave ourselves as befits the cause of Christ, as becomes our Christian profession, and as befits him whose children we are?
We should have an eye to God, and an eye to ourselves, and an eye to others, and an eye to the cause in hand; so we shall do well. We must not commit our souls to God in idleness, doing nothing at all, nor yet in evil doing, but in well doing. We must have a care, if we would suffer with comfort, not to study how to avoid suffering by tricks, so to hurt the cause of Christ. This is to avoid suffering, by sin, to leap out of one danger into another. Is not the least evil of sin worse than the greatest evil of punishment? What doth a man get by pleasing men, to displease God? Perhaps a little ease for the present. Alas! what is this to the inexpressible horror and despair which will one day seize upon thy soul eternally for betraying the blessed cause and truth of Christ? How can we expect God should own us another day, when we will not own him in his cause, and his members, to stand for them now? Think on that speech of our Saviour, ‘Whosoever shall be ashamed of me, or of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed when he cometh in the glory of his Father,’ Mark viii. 38.
Therefore, avoid not any suffering by sin. See how blessed St Paul carried himself in this case. ‘The Lord,’ saith he, ‘hath delivered me and will deliver me,’ 2 Tim. iv. 18, From what? from death? No; from every evil work. What! will God keep him from evil sufferings? No; for immediately after he was put to death. What then? Why! he will preserve me from every evil work, that is, from every sinful act, which may hurt the cause of Christ, or blemish my profession. This was it Paul chiefly regarded; not whether he will preserve me from death or trouble, I leave that to him; but this I hope and trust to, that he will preserve me from every evil work to his heavenly kingdom. Thus should it be with every Christian in the cause of religion, or in a cause of justice, &c.; for there is not any good cause but it is worth our lives to stand in, if we be called to it. It is necessary we should be just; it is not so necessary we should live. A Christian’s main care is how to do well; and if he can go on in that course, he is a happy man.
Obj. But I cannot do well, but I shall suffer ill.
Ans. Labour, therefore, to carry thyself well in suffering evil, not only in the general, but even in particular, towards those persons that do thee wrong; endeavour to requite their evil with good. There is a great measure of self-denial required to be a Christian, especially in matter of revenge, ‘to pray for them that curse us, to do good to them that persecute us,’ &c., and so ‘heap coals of fire upon our enemies’ heads,’ Prov. xxv. 22, Rom. xii. 20. How is that? There are—
1. Coals of conversion.
2. Coals of confusion.
How in suffering we heap coals of fire. You know coals do either melt or consume. If they belong to God, we shall heap coals of fire to convert them, and make them better by our holy carriage in suffering. If they be wicked, graceless wretches, we shall heap coals of fire to consume them; for it will aggravate their just damnation when they do ill to those that deserve well of them.
Obj. Some will say, Christianity is a strange condition, that enforceth such things upon men, that are so contrary to nature.
Ans. It is so, indeed, for we must be new-moulded before ever we can come to heaven. We must put off our whole self; and he is gone a great way in religion, that hath brought his heart to this pass. None ever overcame himself in these matters out of religious respects, but he found a good 1ssue at last. It is a sweet evidence of the state of grace, none better, when a man can love his very enemies, and those that have done him most wrong; it is an argument that such a man hath something above nature in him. What is above nature, if this be not, for a man to overcome himself in this sweet appetite of revenge? Revenge is most natural to a man; it is as sugar, as the heathen saith; and for a man to overcome himself in that, it argues the power of grace and godliness in such a one.
As Christianity is an excellent estate, an admirable advancing of a man to a higher condition, so it must not seem strange for those that are Christians to be raised to a higher pitch of soul than other men. See how our Saviour dealt in this particular, ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,’ Luke xxiii. 34; and so likewise Stephen, being led by the same Spirit of Christ, desired God ‘not to lay this sin to their charge,’ Acts vi 60; and so all the martyrs in the first state of the church, when the blood of Christ was warm, and the remembrance of Christ was fresh, were wont to pray for their enemies, committing their souls to God in well doing.
The excellent victory of suffering. I beseech you let us labour by all means possible to bring our hearts hereunto. If anything overcome, this will do it, to suffer well. The church of God is a company of men that gain and overcome by suffering in doing good. Thus the dove overcomes the eagle, the sheep overcomes the wolf, the lamb overcomes the lion, &c. It hath been so from the beginning of the world. Meek Christians, by suffering quietly, have at length overcome those that are malicious, and have gained even their very enemies to the love of the truth. What shall we think, then, of the greatest part of the world, who never think of suffering, which is the first lesson in Christianity, but study their ease and contentment, accounting the blessed martyrs too prodigal of their blood, &c.?
Others there are, who, if once they come to suffer, presently fall to shifting and plotting, how to get forth again by unlawful means; oftentimes making shipwreck of a good conscience, and dishonouring the gospel of God. I beseech you consider these things. Every man would have Christ, and be religious, so long as they may enjoy peace and quietness; but if once trouble or persecution arises, then farewell religion; they cast off their profession then. I wish this were not the case of many seeming Christians in these our days.
But suppose a man carry himself ill in suffering?
There is not the least promise of comfort in Scripture to such a man, unless he return, and seek the Lord by timely repentance; for all encouragement is to well-doing. Oh, what a pitiful thing it is for the soul to be in such a state, as that it dares not commit itself to God! A man in evil doing cannot go home to his own conscience for comfort, nor have any inward peace in the least action he performs, so long as he doth it with false aims, and carnal affections, &c. Who would deprive himself of comfort of suffering in a good cause for want of integrity? I beseech you, therefore, carry yourselves well in anything you either do or suffer, otherwise no blessing can be expected; for we tempt the Lord, and make him accessory to us, when we commit our souls to him in ill-doing: even as your pirates and other miscreants in the world, that will rob and steal, and do wickedly, and yet pray to God to bless them in their base courses; what is this but to make God like themselves, as if he approved their theft and horrible blasphemy?
But what must we commit to God in well-doing? The keeping of our souls. The soul is the more excellent part, witness he that purchased the same with his dearest blood. ‘What will it profit a man,’ saith our Saviour, to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’ Mark viii. 36. Who could know the price of a soul better than he that gave his life for redemption of it? Yea, if the whole world were laid in one balance and the soul in another, the soul were better than all. Therefore, whatsoever estate thou art in, let thy first care be for thy soul, that it may go well with that. You know in any danger or combustion, suppose the firing of an house, that which a man chiefly looks after is his jewels and precious things, ‘I have some wealth in such a place, if I could but have that I care for no more, let the rest go;’ so it is with a Christian, whatsoever becomes of him in this world, he looks to his precious soul, that that may be laid up safely in the hands of God. Suppose a man were robbed by the highway, and had special jewel about hi, though every thing else were taken away from him, yet so long as that is left he thinks himself a happy man, and saith, they have taken away some some luggage, but they have left me that which I prize more than all: so it is with Christians, let him be stripped of all he hath, so his soul be not hurt, but all safe and well there, he cares not much.
Quest. But what should we desire our souls to be kept from in this world?
Ans. From sin and the evil consequences thereof. Beloved, we have great need our souls should be kept by God; for alas! what sin is there but we shall fall into, unless God preserve us in peace and comfort, and assurance of a better estate.What would become of our poor souls if we had them in our own keeping? Ahithophel had the keeping of his own soul, and what became of him? First, he did run into the sins of treason, and afterwards, being a wicked politician, and an atheist, having no delight in God, was the executioner of himself. We shall be ready, as Job saith, to tear our own souls if God hath not the keeping of them; we shall tear them with desperate thoughts, as Judas, who never committed his soul to God, but kept it himself, and we see what became of him. The apostle bids us go to God in prayer, and committing our souls to him, to keep from sin, despair, distrust, and all spiritual evil whatsoever, ‘and then the peace of God which passeth all understanding,’ as the word in the original is, ‘shall guard our souls in Christ,’ Phil. iv. 7. Our souls have need of guarding, and we of ourselves are not sufficient to do it; therefore we should commit them unto God, for except he preserve us we shall soon perish.
Wicked men think that they have no souls. I am ashamed to speak of it, and yet notwithstanding the courses of men are such, that they enforce a man to speak that which he is ashamed of. What do I speak of committing your souls to God, when many thousands in the world live as if they had no souls at all? I am persuaded that your common swearers, and profane wretches, who wrong their souls to pleasure their bodies, and prostitute both body and soul, and all to their base lusts, think for the time that they have no souls; they think not that there is such an excellent immortal substance breathed into them by God, which must live for ever in eternal happiness or endless misery. Did they believe this they would not wound and stain their precious souls as they do; they would not obey every base lust out of the abundance of profaneness in their hearts, even for nothing, as many notorious loose persons do. Oh could we but get this principle into people, that they have immortal souls, which must live for ever, they would s00n be better than they are; but the devil hath most men in such bondage that their lives speak that they believe they have no souls, by their ill usage of them.
Obj. But must we not commit our bodies and our estates to God, as well as our souls?
Ans. Yes, all we have; for that is only well kept which God keeps; but yet in time of suffering we must be at a point with these things. If God will have our liberty, if he will have our life and all, we must hate all for Christ’ s sake; but we must not be at such a point with our souls, we must keep them close to God, and desire him to keep them in well-doing.
Obj. Suppose it come to an exigent, that we must either sin and hurt our souls, or else lose all our outward good things ?
Ans. Our chief care must be over our souls. We must desire God to preserve our souls, whatsoever becomes of these; our principal care must be that that be not blemished in the least kind ; for,alas! other things must be parted with first or last. This body of ours, or whatsoever is dear in the world must be stripped from us, and laid in the dust ere long. But here is our comfort, though our body be dead, yet our souls are themselves still: dead, St Paul is Paul still. Our body is but the case or tabernacle wherein our soul dwells; especially a man’s self is his soul; keep that and keep all. I beseech you, therefore, as things are in worth and excellency in God’s account, let our esteem be answerable. You have many compliments in the world, how doth your body, &c., mere compliments indeed, but how few will inquire how our souls do ? alas! that is in poor case. The body perhaps is well looked unto, that is clothed, and care taken that nothing be wanting to it, but the poor soul is ragged and wounded, and naked. Oh that men were sensible of that miserable condition their poor souls are in.
Beloved, the soul is the better part of a man, and if that miscarries, all miscarries. If the soul be not well, the body will not continue long in a good estate. Bernard saith sweetly, ‘Oh, body, thou hast a noble guest dwelling in thee, a soul of such inestimable worth that it makes thee truly noble.’ Whatsoever goodness and excellency is in the body, is communicated from the soul; when that once departs, the body is an unlovely thing, without life or sense. The very sight of it cannot be endured of the dearest friends. What an incredible baseness is it therefore, that so precious a thing as the soul is, should serve these vile bodies of ours! Let the body stay its leisure; the time of the resurrection is the time of the body. In this life it should be serviceable to our souls in suffering and doing whatsoever God calls us unto. Let our bodies serve our souls now, and then body and soul shall for ever after be happy; whereas, if we, to gratify our bodies, do betray our souls, both are undone.
Beloved, the devil and devilish-minded men, acted with his spirit, have a special spite to the soul. Alas! what do they aim at in all their wrongs and injuries to God’s children? Do they care to hurt the body? indeed, they will do this rather than nothing at all; they will rather play at small game than sit out. The devil will enter into the swine rather than stand out altogether. Some mischief he will do, however; but his main spite is at the soul, to vex and disquiet that, and taint it with sin all he can. Considering therefore that it is Satan’s aim to unloose our hold from God, by defiling our souls with sin, so to put a divorce betwixt his blessed majesty and us, oh! let it be our chief care to see to that which Satan strikes at most! He did not so much care, in Job’s trouble, for his goods, or for his house, or children, &c. Alas! he aimed at a further mischief than this! his plot was how to make him blaspheme and wound his soul, that so there might be a difference betwixt God and him. He first tempts us to commit sin, and afterwards to despair for sin.
Quest. But to whom must the soul be committed?
Ans. Our souls must be committed to God. Commit the keeping of your souls to God. Indeed, he only can keep our souls. We cannot keep ourselves; neither can anything else in the world do it. Some when they are sick will commit themselves to the physician, and put all their trust him. When they are in trouble they will commit themselves to some great friend; when they have any bad, naughty cause to manage, they will commit themselves to their purse, and think that shall bear them out in anything. One thinks his wit and policy shall secure him, another that his shifts may shelter him, &c.; and indeed the heart of man is so full of atheism, that it can never light upon the right object, to trust God alone, until it sees everything else fail, as being insufficient to support the soul, or to yield any solid comfort in times of extremity and distress.