« PreviousContinue »
goodness: it cost our dearest Lord the price of his dearest
If we refuse to repent now, we do not so much refuse to do our own duty, as to accept of a reward. It is the greatest and the dearest blessing that ever God gave to men, that they may repent : and therefore, to deny it or delay it, is to refuse health, brought us by the skill and industry of the physician; it is to refuse liberty indulged to us by our gracious Lord. And certainly we had reason to take it very ill, if, at a great expense, we should purchase a pardon for a servant, and he, out of a peevish pride or negligence,
shall refuse it; the scorn pays itself, the folly is its own scourge, and sits down in an inglorious ruin.
After the enumeration of these glories, these prodigies of mercies and loving-kindnesses, of Christ's dying for us, and interceding for us, and merely that we may repent and be saved; I shall less need to instance those other particularities whereby God continues, as by so many arguments of kindness, to sweeten our natures, and make them malleable to the precepts of love and obedience, the twin-daughters of holy repentance: but the poorest person amongst us, be
sides the blessing and graces already reckoned, hath enough about him, and the accidents of every day, to shame him into repentance. Does not God send his “angels to keep thee in all thy ways ?' are not they ministering spirits sent forth to wait upon thee as thy guard ? art not thou kept from drowning, from fracture of bones, from madness, from deformities, by the riches of the divine goodness ? Tell the joints of thy body; dost thou want a finger? and if thou dost not understand how great a blessing that is, do but remember, how ill thou canst spare the use of it when thou hast but a thorn in it. The very privative blessings, the blessings of immunity, safe. guard, and integrity, which we all enjoy, deserve a thanksgiving of a whole life. If God should send a cancer upon thy face, or a wolf into thy breast, if he should spread a crust of leprosy upon thy skin, what wouldest thou give to be but as now thou art? Wouldest not thou repent of thy sins upon that condition? Which is the greater blessing? To be kept from them, or to be cured of them ? And why therefore shall not this greater blessing lead thee to repentance? Why do we, not so aptly, promise repentance when we are sick, upon the condition to be made well, and yet perpetually forget it when we are well ? As if health never were a blessing, but when we have it not. Rather I fear the reason is, when we are sick we promise to repent, because that we cannot sin the sins of our former life; but in health our appetites return to their capacity, and in all the way “ we despise the riches of the divine goodness," which preserves us from such evils, which would be full of horror and amazement, if they should happen to us.
Hath God made any of you all chapfallen ? Are you affrighted with spectres and illusions of the spirits of darkness ? How many earthquakes have you been in ? How many days have any of you wanted bread? How many nights have you been without sleep? Are any of you distracted of your senses ? And if God gives you meat and drink, health and sleep, proper seasons of the year, entire senses and a useful understanding; what a great unworthiness is it to be unthankful to so good a God, so benign a Father, so gracious a Lord ? All the evils and baseness of the world can show nothing baser and more unworthy than ingratitude: and therefore it was not unreasonably said of Aristotle, Evrugía Qinodeos, “ Prosperity makes a man love God,” supposing
men to have so much humanity left in them, as to love him
Ολει συ τους θανόντας, ώ Νικήρατε,
Πεφυγέναι το θείον ως λεληθότας ;* If here we have good things, and a continual shower of blessings, to soften our stony hearts, and we shall remain obdurate against those sermons of mercy which God makes us every day, there will come a time when this shall be upbraided to us, that we had not voûv ávirusov, a thankful mind, but made God to sow his seed upon the sand, or upon the stones, without increase or restitution. It was a sad alarm which God sent to David by Nathan, to upbraid his ingratitude : “ I anointed thee king over Israel, I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul, I gave thee thy master's house and wives into thy bosom, and the house of Israel and Judah; and if this had been too little, I would have given thee such and such things : wherefore hast thou despised the name of the Lord ?” But how infinitely more can God say to all of us than all this came to; he hath anointed us kings and priests in the royal priesthood of Christianity; he hath given us his Holy Spirit to be our guide, his angels to be our protectors, his creatures for our food and raiment; he hath delivered us from the hands of Satan, hath conquered death for us, hath taken the sting out, and made it harmless and medicinal, and proclaimed us heirs of heaven, co-heirs with the eternal Jesus : and if, after all this, we despise the com
• Philemon. Clerici. p. 360.
mandment of the Lord, and defer and neglect our repentance, what shame is great enough, what miseries are sharp enough, what hell painful enough, for such horrid ingratitude ? St. Lewis the king having sent Ivo, bishop of Chartres, on an embassy, the bishop met a woman on the way, grave, sad, fantastic, and melancholic, with fire in one hand, and water in the other. He asked, what those symbols meant. She answered, My purpose is with fire to burn Paradise, and with my water to quench the flames of hell, that men may serve God without the incentives of hope and fear, and purely for the love of God. But this woman began at the wrong end : the love of God is not produced in us, after we have contracted evil habits, till God, with his fan in his hand, hath thoroughly purged the floor,' till he hath cast out all the devils, and swept the house with the instrument of hope and fear, and with the achievements and efficacy of mercies and judgments. But then, since God may truly say to us, as of old to his rebellious people, “ Am I a dry tree to the house of Israel ?' that is, Do I bring them no fruit ? Do they serve me for nought?' and he expects not our duty till first we feel his goodness; we are now infinitely inexcusable to throw away so great riches, to “ despise such a goodness."
However, that we may see the greatness of this treasure of goodness, God seldom leaves us thus : for he sees (be it spoken to the shame of our natures, and the dishonour of our manners,) he sees that his mercies do not allure us, do not make us thankful, but (as the Roman said, “ Felicitate corrumpimur," "We become worse for God's mercy,' and think it will be always holiday; and are like the crystal of Arabia, hardened not by cold, but made crusty and stubborn by the warmth of the divine fire, by its refreshments and mercies: therefore, to demonstrate that God is good indeed, he continues his mercies still to us, but in another instance; he is merciful to us in punishing us, that we may be led to repentance by such instruments which will scare us from sin ; he delivers us up to the pædagogy of the divine judgments ; and there begins the second part of God's method, intimated in the word dvorcon, or “ forbearance." God begins his cure by caustics, by incisions and instruments of vexation, to try if the disease that will not yield to the allectives of cordials and perfumes, frictions and baths, may be forced out by deleteries, scarifications, and more salutary, but less pleasing, physic.
2. 'Avogn, “ Forbearance,” it is called in the text; which signifies . laxamentum' or ' inducias :' that is, when the decrees of the divine judgments temporal are gone out, either wholly to suspend the execution of them, which is induciæ,' or 'a reprieve;' or else, when God hath struck once or twice, he takes off his hand, that is lasamentum,' an ease or remission of his judgment. In both these, although in judgment God remembers mercy,' yet we are under discipline, we are brought into the penitential chamber ; at least we are showed the rod of God: and if, like Moses's rod, it turns us into serpents, and that we repent not, but grow more devils; yet then it turns into a rod again, and finishes up the smiting, or the first-designed affliction.
But I consider it first in general. The riches of the divine goodness are manifest in beginning this new method of curing us, by severity and by a rod. And, that you may not wonder that I expound this forbearance to be an act of mercy punishing, I observe, that, besides that the word supposes the method changed, and it is a mercy about judgments, and their manner of execution; it is also, in the nature of the things, in the conjunction of circumstances, and the designs of God, a mercy when he threatens us or strikes us into repentance.
We think that the way of blessings and prosperous accidents, is the finer way of securing our duty; and that when our heads are anointed, our cups crowned, and our tables full, the very caresses of our spirits will best of all dance before the ark, and sing perpetual anthems to the honour of our benefactor and patron, God: and we are apt to dream that God will make his saints reign here as kings in a millenary kingdom, and give them the riches and fortunes of this world, that they may rule over men, and sing psalms to God
But I remember what Xenophanes says of God,
Ούτε δίμας θνητοίσιν ομοίίος, ούτε νόημα. “ God is like to men neither in shape nor in counsel;" he knows that his mercies confirm some, and encourage more, but they convert but few : alone they lead men to dissolution of manners, and forgetfulness of God, rather than repentance: not but that mercies are competent and apt instruments of grace, if we would; but because we are more dispersed in our spirits, and, by a prosperous accident, are melted