« PreviousContinue »
good of our neighbours! How many schemes are laid by men to promote their worldly designs, where one is laid for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ, and the good of men ! How frequent are the meetings of neighbours to determine how they may best advance such and such worldly affairs ? But how seldom are there such meetings to revive sinking religion, to maintain and advance the credit of the gospel, and to accomplish charitable designs for the advancement of Christ's kingdom, and the comfort and well being of mankind! May not these considerations justly be a source of lamentation? How many men are wise in promoting their worldly interests; but, what a shame is it, that so few show themselves wise as serpents, and harmless as doves for Christ! And how commonly is it the reverse of what the apostle advises the Christian Romans, “I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.” Is it not often on the contrary with professing Christians, as it was with the people of Judah and Jerusalem; “ They are wise to do evil, but to do good, they have no knowledge!"
Fourthly. The apostle Pauldid willingly forego those things that were in themselves lawful, for the furtherance of the interests of religion and the good of men. Thus marriage was a thing lawful for the apostle Paul as well as for other men, as he himself asserts; but he did not use the liberty he had in this matter, because he thought he might be under greater advantages to spread the gospel in a single, than a married state. So it was lawful for the apostle to take the other course of life, as in eating and drinking, and freely using all kinds of wholesome food. And it was in itself a lawful thing for the apostle to demand a maintenance of those to whoin he preached. But he forbore those things, because he supposed that in his circumstances, and in the circumstances of the Church of Christ in that day, he could more advance the interests of religion and the good of men without them. For the gospel's sake, and for the good of
. men, he was willing to forego all the outward advantages he could derive from them. 1 Cor. viij. 13. “ Wherefore if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no meat while the world standeth, lest I make iny brother to offend." Ile would not only avoid those things that were useless in themselves, but those also that gave any occasion to sin, or which led or exposed either himself or others to sin. Then it follows in the next chapter, “ Am I not an apostle? Ain I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord ? Are not ye my work in the Lord ? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you ; for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. Mine an. swer to them that do examine me is this. Have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord and Cephas ? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working ?” The apostle did not only forbear some little things, but he put himself to great difficulties by forbearing those things that were in themselves lawful. It cost him a great deal of labour of body to maintain himself. But yet he willingly laboured, working with his own hands, and as he says, though he was free froin all men, yet he made himself the servant of all, that he might gain the more. Let this induce such persons to consider themselves, whether they act altogether as become Christians, who look upon it as a sufficient excuse for all the liberties they take, that the things in which they allow themselves, are in themselves lawful, that they are nowhere forbidden, though they cannot deny but that considered in their circumstances, they are of ill tendency, and expose them to temptation, and really tend to wound the credit and interest of religion, aud to be a stumbling block to others, or as the apostle expresses it, lend to cause others to offend. But they uphold themselves with this, that the things which they practise are not absolutely unlawful in themselves, and therefore they will not hearken to any counsels to avoid them. They think with themselves that it is unreasonable they should be tied up so strictly; that they may not take one and another liberty, and must be so stiff and precise above others. But why did not the apostle talk after their manner? Why did not he say within himself, it is unreasonable that I should deny myself lawful meat and drink merely to comply with the consciences of a few weak persons, that are unreasonable in their scruples ? Why should I deny myself the comforts of marriage; why should I deny myself that maintenance which Christ himself has ordained for ministers, only to avoid the objection of unreasonable men ? But the apostle was of another spirit. What he aimed at was by any means to promote the interest of religion, and the good of the church. And he had rather forego all the common comforts and enjoyments of life, than that religion should suffer.
Fifthly. The apostle willingly endured innumerable and extremne sufferings for the honour of Christ and the good of men. His sufferings were very great ; and that not ouly once or twice, but he went through a long series of sufferings, that continued from the time of his conversion as long as his life lasted. So that his life was not only a life of extraordinary labour, but a lite of extreme sufferings also. Labours and sufferings were mixed together, and attended each other to the end of the race which he ran. He endured sufferings of all kinds, even those that cannot consist in the loss of temporal things. He tells us he had suffered the loss of all things, Phil. iii. 8, all his former enjoyments, which he had before his conversion. And he endured many kinds of positive afflictions. 1 Cor. iv. 11, 12. . " Even unto this present hour, we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place. And labour, working with our hands; being reviled, we bless, being persecuted, we suffer it." 2 Cor. vi. 4.-11. “But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by long suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left; by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing ; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” None of the apostles went through so great, and such various afflictions as he: 2 Cor. xi. 23-28. "Are they ministers of Christ ? I am more; in labours more abandant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods; once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” His sufferings were so extreme, that he did not go through a series of sufferings merely, but might be said, as it were, to go through a series of deaths. He did in effect endure the pains of death over and over again almost continually, and therefore he expresses himself as he does. 2 Cor. iv. 9-11. “Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.
For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal body.” Rom. viii. 36. “ As it is written for thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” 1 Cor. xv. 31. “I protest by your rejoicing, which I bave in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” He was so pursued and pressed by troubles, sometimes outward
and inward troubles together, that he had no rest. 2 Cor. vii. 5. " For when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side: without were fightings, within were fears.” Sometimes his sufferings were so extreme that his nature seemed just ready to faint under them : 2 Cor. i. 8. “For we would not brethren have you ignorant of our trouble, which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.” And at last the apostle was deprived of bis life. He suffered a violent death at Rome under the hand of that cruel tyrant, Nero, soon after he wrote the second epistle to Timothy. These things he endured for Christ's sake; for the advancement of his kingdom ; as he says, he was always delivered to death for Jesus' sake. And those he endured also from love to men, and from an earnest desire of their good : 2 Tim. ii. 10. “ Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” He knew what afflictions awaited him beforeIrand ; but he would not avoid his duty, because of such afflictions. He was so resolute in seeking Christ's glory, and the good of men, that he would pursue these objects, notwithstand. ing what might befal him: Acts xx. 22—24. “And now behold I I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befal me there; save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afHictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." Yet he went through them cheerfully and willingly, and delighted to do God's will, and to promote others' good, though it was at this great cost : Col.i. 24. “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the Church." And he was never weary. He did not, after he had suffered a long time, excuse himself, and say he thought he had done his part. Now here appears Christianity in its proper colours. To be of such a spirit as this, is to be of such a spirit as Christ so often requires of us, if we would be his disciples. This is to sell all and give to the poor.
. This is to take up the cross daily and follow Christ. To have such a spirit as this, is to have good evidence of being a Christian indeed, a thorough Christian, one that has given himself to Christ without reserve; one that hates father and mother, and wife and children and sisters, yea and his own life also; one thai loses his life for Christ's sake, and so shall find it. And though it is not required of all that they should endure so great
sufferings as Paul did; yet it is required and absolutely necessary, that many Christians should be in a measure of this spirit, should be of a spirit to lose all things, and suffer all things for Christ, rather than not obey his comniands and seek his glory. How well may our having such an example as this set before our eyes, make us ashamed, who are so backward now and then to lose little things, to put ourselves a little out of our way, to deny ourselves some convenience, to deny our sinful appetites, or to incur the displeasure of a neighbour. Alas! what thought have we of Christianity, to make much of such things as these ; to make so many objections, to keep back, and contrive ways to excuse ourselves, when a little difficulty arises ! What kind of thoughts had we of being Christians, when we first undertook to be such, or first pretended a willingness to be Christians ? Did we never sit down and count the cost, or did we cast it up at this rate, that we thought the whole sum would not amount to such little sufferings as lie in our way!
II. I now proceed to show under what special obligations we are to follow the good example of this apostle.
Beside the obligation that rests upon us to follow the good example of all, and beside the eminence of his example, there are some special reasons why we are under greater obligations to be influenced by the good example of this great 'apostle, than by the very same example in others. This appears if we consider,
1. In general, that those whom God has especially appointed to be teachers in the Christian church, be bas also set to be examples in his church. It is part of the charge that belongs to teachers to be examples to others. It is one thing that belongs to their work and office. So this is part of the charge, that the apostle gives to Timothy, “Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." The same charge was given to Titus, " In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works." And this is part of the charge the apostle Peter gives to the elders and teachers of the Christian church, " The elders which are among you, I exhort; feed the flock of God. Neither being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” Thus Christ, the chief Shepherd of the sheep, whom God ordained to be the greatest teacher, he also ordained to be the greatest example to his church. And so those shepherds and teachers that are under him, according as they are appointed to be teachers, are also to be examples. They are to be guides of the flock in two ways, viz. by teaching and by example, as shepherds lead their flocks in two ways; partly by their voice by calling them, and partly by going before them, and by leading the way. And indeed guiding by word and guiding by