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But, as this subject may be misapplied, let me
III. What we should especially guard against, in
relation to itWe must not bring trials on ourselves by any misconduct of our own
[It is possible enough, that a wild enthusiast may fancy himself at liberty to disregard all human laws, and, whilst suffering for the violation of them, may conceive himself to be bearing the cross of Christ. Even war itself has been waged, under the idea of its being a service acceptable to God: and within our own memory has a spirit of insubordination and rebellion been too lightly cherished under the cloak of religion. But when persons reap the just reward of such conduct, so far are they from honouring God, that they greatly dishonour him, and expose religion itself to hatred and contempt. The being " a busy-body in other men's matters," is no uncommon character amongst those who profess religion ; and who indulge an assuming, prying, officious spirit, under the idea of rendering a service to God and man. We may also yet more commonly see amongst professors a neglect of their own proper calling; an intrusion into the callings of others; a substitution of services which do not belong to them, in the place of others which are proper to their situation; an impatience of reproof; an unbecoming pertness towards their superiors; and a self-will, that knows no bounds. Ah, brethren! if ye suffer for such conduct as this, think not that ye are to expect any recompence at the hands of God: the cross which you are called to bear is not Christ's, but your own : and what is inflicted on you by man is only a prelude of a yet sorer punishment that shall be inflicted on you by God, even by that God whom you profess to serve, but whose name you dishonour, and whose displeasure you incur.]
But, if we suffer really as Christians, we may rejoice in all that we endure
[Our enemies may think that they load us with disgrace: but shame in such a cause is no shame: it is honour: and we may take it up, and bind it on us as a diadem. The Apostles, when imprisoned and scourged for the truth's sake, “ went out from their persecutors, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ." And thus may we do, turning the very indignities that are cast upon us into an occasion of praise to God.
Thus " out of the eater we shall bring forth meat, and out of the strong we shall bring forth sweetness."]
Two hints, as rising from this subject, I would beg
leave to suggest : I. In embracing religion, be deliberate
[Religion, sooner or later, will subject you to trials : for our Lord has plainly warned us, that, “ if we will be his disciples, we must deny ourselves, and take up our cross, and follow him." He tells us farther, that, “ if we hate not father and mother, and even life itself, for his sake, we cannot be his disciples.” Then, before we profess ourselves his people, we should “ count the cost:" we should consider, whether we are willing to "part with all for the pearl of great price." To what trials we may be subjected, we know not; but we must be prepared for the worst. For I have no hesitation in saying, that it were better never to follow Christ at all, than to follow him for a season, and then turn back from him : “ It were better never to have known the way of righteousness, than, after having known it, to turn away from it: for the last end of such a man is worse than his beginning."] 2. In maintaining it, be firm
[If persecution arise for righteousness' sake, you must not be thinking how you may escape it, so much as how you may glorify God under it. I mean not to say, that, “if persecuted in one city, you may not flee to another;" for that liberty was conceded by our Lord himself to his Disciples : but this I
you should not for a moment think of conciliating your enemies by any sinful concession. Your duty to God must be paramount to every other consideration. Your great concern must be, to approve yourselves faithful to him. The Hebrew Youths with the fiery furnace in their view, and Daniel in expectation of the den of lions, thought of nothing but their duty to their God. So
you must fear God, and God only. And, if it please God that you should be called to martyrdom itself, be content to " go through much tribulation in your way to the kingdom;" and to ascend to heaven in a chariot of fire.]
THE END OF UNBELIEVERS.
1 Pet. iv. 17. What shall the end be of them that obey not the
Gospel of God? MANY are the troubles of the righteous: and though their afflictions are not always penal, yet they are for the most part to be considered as paternal chastisements, and as the judgments which God inflicts on his own household with a view to their advancement in faith and holiness. On the other hand, the enemies of God often triumph, and revel in a fulness of all earthly enjoyments. But the intelligent Christian will see in these dispensations the certainty of a future retribution, when the wicked shall receive the just reward of their wickedness, and he himself be exalted to an inconceivable state of bliss. He will argue thus : If God so afflict his children in the day of his mercy, how will he punish his enemies in the day of his wrath. And, if he so prosper his enemies and load them with benefits in this vale of tears, what prosperity and happiness must he have reserved for his friends in the regions of glory! If crowns and kingdoms be the portion of many who disregard and despise him, what shall be the inheritance of those who honour and obey him!
Such is the Apostle's mode of arguing in our text; where, speaking of the trials sustained by Christians, he says, If God's paternal chastisements be so severe, what must his vindictive judgments be? If judgment first begin at the house of God, what must the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God?
To impress this solemn consideration upon our minds, we shall shew, I. Who they are that obey not the Gospel
To ascertain this, it will be proper to state briefly what the Gospel requires
[The Gospel supposes men to be in a state of guilt and misery, obnoxious to the wrath of God, and incapable of delivering themselves from it. It proposes to them a remedy of God's appointment: it sets forth Jesus as an all-sufficient Saviour; and declares that sinners of every description may be washed in his blood, and renewed by his Spirit. But, if we will not apply to him by faith, and thankfully accept his proffered benefits, it dooms us to destruction under the aggravated guilt of despising, and trampling under foot the Son of God. The commission which our Lord gave to his disciples“, and the answer given by Paul to the awakened jailer), abundantly confirm this view of the Gospel, and shew that a cordial acceptance of Christ as our only Lord and Saviour is the sum and substance of a Christian's duty.]
a Mark xvi. 15, 16,
According to this statement, very many will be found disobedient to the Gospel : 1. They who neglect Christ altogether
[This is so obvious a truth that the mention of it seems needless and absurd: but experience proves that the most abandoned sinners, and most avowed infidels, are often insensible of the guilt which they contract. Be it known however, that their excuses or objections will avail them nothing in the day of judgment: their whole lives were one continued act of disobedience to the Gospel; and they will most assuredly be numbered amongst the enemies of their incarnate God. Their rejection of him, whether in principle or practice, will be a decisive evidence of their guilt.]
2. They who unite something else with him as a foundation for their hope
[The Gospel requires us to renounce all dependence on our own works. However good our works be, they must never for one moment be considered as justifying us before God, either in whole or in part. In Christ alone must be all our hope ; and if we attempt to unite any thing of ours with his perfect righteousness, we shall not only not add to our security, but shall altogether invalidate all which Christ himself has done for us. St. Paul asserts this in the plainest terms"; and from the fullest conviction of its truth desired to be found in Christ, clad with his righteousness, and his only 4.]
3. They who, while they profess to follow Christ, dishonour him by their conduct
[Many there are who with apparent zeal cry, Lord, Lord, who yet are far from doing the things which he commands. Many, alas! “ profess to know him, but in their works deny him:" they are observant of outward duties, but inattentive to their spirit and temper: instead of being meek and lowly, patient and forgiving, and solicitous only to honour God, they are proud and passionate, covetous and worldly, and studious rather to be thought Christians than really to deserve the name. Let such know that they “ amidst all their appearances of religion deceive themselves, and their religion is vain." By neglecting to walk as Christ walked, they disobey the Gospel, as much as if they rejected him altogether.]
b Acts xvi. 30, 31.
c Gal. v. 2, 4.
d Phil. iii. 9.
e Jam. i. 26.
To awaken such from their slumbers, we proceed to shew, II. What their end shall be
The peculiar manner in which the Apostle speaks of their “end,” intimates that it will be dreadful, 1. Beyond expression
[In the text St. Peter infers from the trials, which God suffers to come upon believers here, the far greater miseries that shall be endured by unbelievers hereafter. But his very mode of suggesting this inference shews, that the two states could scarcely admit of any comparison : for what are any transient pains of body inflicted by the most ingenious cruelty of man, when compared with the eternal torments both of soul and body, which will be inflicted on the wicked by the hand of an incensed God? St. Paul institutes a similar comparison, and like St. Peter, leaves our imagination to supply what no language could possibly express' - There are indeed terms used in Scripture to represent to us the misery of the damned. They are represented as “cast into a lake of fire and brimstone, “ where the worm of an accusing conscience dieth not, and the fire of God's wrath is not quenched;" they
weep and wail and gnash their teeth ;” and the “ smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.” But, awful as these expressions are, they convey no adequate idea of the misery sustained by those who have perished in unbelief: we must say of that, as St. Paul says of the things he heard and saw in the third heavens, that it is unutterable 8.] 2. Beyond a doubt,
[The Apostle appeals to our own consciences for the truth of the inference which he suggests. He says, in effect, What must the state of unbelievers be? Can it be the same with that of obedient believers? Will God put no difference between those who serve him, and those who serve him not? Has not the Scripture plainly declared the end of those who disobey the Gospel ? And are we not constrained to acknowledge the equity of that sentence, which the contemners of Christ are taught to expect? Shall an angel from heaven be accursed, if he presume to preach any other Gospel", and shall we escape with impunity, if we reject this? Our wishes are doubtless in opposition to the declarations of God; but in our judgment we must approve of them; and we shall surely be silent in the day that they shall be enforced, even though we ourselves be the unhappy monuments of God's displeasure.]
f IIeb. x. 29.
2 Cor. xii. 4.
h Gal. i. 8.