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fection. And being in the frame of his mind and the conduct of his life, obedient and conformed to the will of God, he has a persuasion of his favour and acceptance, which is the truest joy and satisfaction.
Such an one is happy in every circumstance. Alteration of outward condition will not utterly destroy his peace and tranquillity, satisfaction, comfort, and joy. The sentiments and language of the Psalmist are those of all good men in general. "There be many that say, who will show us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased," Ps. iv. 6, 7.
If he be in prosperity, he owns God to be the giver of every good and perfect gift, and with delight offers up to him sacrifices of praise and thanks.
Is he brought into trouble and affliction? He has resources of peace and comfort, which others want. He still trusts in God, and casts his care upon him. He has a great deal of comfort in the consideration, and full persuasion, that the providence of God, who is righteous, and loveth righteousness, is over all; and he thereupon concludes, that all things shall be overruled for the good of those who adhere to the laws of reason and virtue.
As spiritual good is in itself, and in his esteem, the most valuable good, and durable happiness in a future state is the ultimate end of man; he is reconciled to present afflictions, by considering them as the chastisements of his heavenly Father, appointed and laid upon him, for making him more pure and perfect, and more meet for unmixed happiness; or even for securing his welfare and safety, and preventing his ruin, that he might not finally perish with the world of thoughtless and inconsiderate men.
Certainly, when under afflictions, he will have different thoughts and apprehensions concerning them from what others have. His affections were not before so set upon this world and the things of it, as those of some others are: though possibly, he too has exceeded in his regard for them. However, his moderation of affection for them is now of great benefit. And these things never having been esteemed as his sole or main portion, he is not so totally dejected and disconcerted, as some others are in like circumstances. This is no small advantage in a world where all things are uncertain, and the circumstances of men frequently vary and alter.
And if he actually find afflictions to be of use to him, of
service to his spiritual interests, he is mightily reconciled to them. His troubles may appear almost shocking and insufferable to other men, and the meanness of his outward circumstances may lead them to despise him. Still he can be pleased, if he find himself humbled in the frame of his mind, more affected with the evil of sin, more fully determined for the service of God, and the performance of every duty lying before him. He is satisfied if these afflictions have proved the means of such good, and have better fitted and prepared him for that world where all sorrow and sighing shall flee away; which they never will here. In this manner therefore David speaks of the troubles he had met with: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes," Ps. cxix. 71. "I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me," ver. 75.
This is said with regard to the common afflictions and troubles of this life.
But farther, are good men brought into difficulties, on account of the profession of truth, and acting agreeably to convictions of their conscience, and deliberate judgment concerning things? Upon such an occasion they have special supports and consolations. They have now a strong persuasion that their faithfulness is well-pleasing and acceptable to God. And they have a humble hope, that if they can persevere to the end, they shall be saved, and receive an abundant reward.
The declarations of scripture upon this head, are full of comfort and encouragement to all who are brought into this trial." My brethren," says St. James," count it all joy, when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing," Jam. i. 2, 3. St. Paul encountered many difficulties in the service of true religion. And the acknowledgments he had made with regard to his own and others' experience, who laboured with him at that time, are very observable. "As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ," 2 Cor. i.
5. "And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also, knowing, that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope. And hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us," Rom. v. 3-5. In another place: "For which cause we faint not. But though our
outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; whilst we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen, are temporal; bnt the things which are not seen, are eternal," 2 Cor. iv. 16-18.
Whereby we perceive the true and effectual blessing, "Peace I leave which our Lord bequeathed his disciples: Not as the world with you, my peace I give unto you. giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid," John xiv. 27. These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation. But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world," John xvi. 33. And the Psalmist of old could say: "Great peace have they that love thy law; and nothing shall offend them."
As a good man of any rank, in any state and condition, proceeds and perseveres in the practice of piety and virtue, he has an increasing joy. His perseverance in the way of God's commandment, and continued respect to the divine precepts, confirms the persuasion of his integrity, and he assures his heart before God. His peace and satisfaction are very likely to prevail more and more toward the period of his time here on earth. For he has pleasing reflections and comfortable prospects, to which others are strangers, and which others cannot have. So says the Psalmist : "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace," Ps. xxxvii. 37. ́And this is an important point, to conclude well.
All which considerations, I presume, sufficiently prove the truth of the observation in the text; that "Godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come."
Having now sufficiently considered the several propositions of the text, I shall conclude with some inferences by way of application.
I. We may hence learn to be cautious how we pass any severe censures upon men on account of the disadvantages of their present condition, or the outward troubles and afflictions which they meet with here. This inference follows justly from things before said. This is not a state of recompence, but trial; all things, all outward things, come very much alike to all. There is no knowing good and evil, love and hatred, certainly, by those things which befall men here. Nor are all men miserable who lie under ex
ternal disadvantages. Some may be greatly afflicted, as we have seen, and yet be peaceful, joyful, and comfortable. Some may meet with many and long continued troubles and afflictions, who yet are not abandoned of God, but approved by him who are sincere and upright, and persuaded of their acceptance with God. There are good reasons for such a dispensation. Valuable ends and purposes are answered thereby. Good men are improved and made better by the sufferings they endure. Others of more imperfect virtue are made more perfect, and learn from them the duty of patience and resignation. And many by observing the great examples of patience and fortitude of some good men under various trials, may be convinced and persuaded of the truth, power, and excellence of the principles of religion.
2. Young persons and others, who are disposed to seek and serve the Lord, and to walk in the way of his commandments, may be hence convinced, that they have no reason to be disheartened and discouraged, as if they should find no pleasure, and obtain no advantages in the way of religion and virtue. I hope such will be pleased to consider seriously what has been said. For a principal design of these discourses has been to remove such a prejudice against religion, and show fully that it is false and groundless and to persuade men to come to a speedy and immediate determination for virtue, which is really profitable for all things.
3. However, certainly, it is very fit and prudent, at first setting out in the way of virtue, and taking upon us the profession of true religion, to consider the outward disadvantages and sufferings, that may attend such a course, and do sometimes befall the sincere and conscientious. By this means we become prepared for all events. Our resolutions are more confirmed; our obedience will be the more uniform; and a good issue becomes more likely. We shall not only begin, but also finish well. The path of such will be as the morning light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
4. It seems to be a probable truth, that the highest attainments in virtue and holiness will have the largest share of comfort and happiness in this present life. The most complete in virtue will obtain many advantages, and escape many evils, and have the best supports and consolations: for these know best how, and are best able to trust in God. They are most resigned to his will. They have the most lively hope of an heavenly and everlasting inheritance.
They, usually, have the most comfortable persuasion of the divine favour and acceptance. Their affections are the most mortified to earthly and sensible things. They have the fullest command of their appetites and passions. They have less anxiety and solicitude about earthly things. They are best contented with their condition. They are freest from envy, ill-will, jealousy, and other troublesome and tormenting emotions and diseases of the mind. This soundness and vigorous health of the soul cannot but have delightful effects. As then godliness is profitable for all things, the greatest attainments in piety will usually have the best portion of comfort in the life that now is, as well as the greatest reward in the life which is to come.
5. Let us not then, having begun well, be ever induced by any means to forsake the practice of piety. Let us not take offence at the troubles and afflictions which may for a while lie upon us, or upon some others, who are sincerely devoted to the service of God. For it is a certain truth, that godliness is profitable unto all things. If we persevere and advance therein, we shall be more and more convinced of this truth," that light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart." Let us not then be imposed upon by some specious appearances, or put in for a portion with every one, who makes a show of mirth and gaiety. Let not any thing transport us beyond the bounds of serious thought and consideration. If we weigh things carefully in an equal balance, piety will have the preference in our judgment above irreligion and wickedness. And knowing the inconstancy of our tempers, and the dangerous tendency of some worldly temptations, we shall be earnest with God to establish the good and wise purposes of our heart once seriously formed; to turn away our eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken us in his precepts.
The just sentiments of the apostle in this text and context deserve our notice. He speaks lightly of bodily exercise, as a small matter; whilst he highly prizes, and earnestly recommends sincere piety. And he censures such as should forbid to marry, and require men to abstain from meats, which God has created to be received with thanksgiving. It is the same which our Saviour said and taught in the hearing of all the people: "Not that which goeth into the
mouth defileth a man: but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man," Matt. xv. 11. The christian religion, which is true religion only, insists not upon grievous austerities, and severe and unnecessary mortifications of the body. Christians, if they understand their religion,