SEASONABLE COUNSEL: OR, ADVICE TO SUFFERERS.
BY JOHN BUNYAN.
London: Printed for Benjamin Alsop, at the Angel and Bible in the Poultry, 1684.
ADVERTISEMENT BY THE EDITOR.
THIS valuable treatise was first published in a pocket volume in 1684, and has only been reprinted in Whitfield's edition of Bunyan's works, 2 vols. folio, 1767.
No man could have been better qualified to give advice to sufferers for righteousness' sake, than John Bunyan: and this work is exclusively devoted to that object. Shut up in a noisome jail, under the iron hand of persecution, for nearly thirteen years, in the constant fear of being hanged as a malefactor, for refusing conformity to the national liturgy, he well knew what sufferings were, and equally well did he know the sources of consolation. It was wisely ordered by Divine Providence, that before the king pardoned him, he had a legal return under the hand and seal of the sheriff of Bedfordshire, certifying the reasons of this frightful imprisonment. This is entered in the minutes of the Privy Council on the 8th and 15th of May, 1672; and it proves that he was thus cruelly punished for "being at conventicles for nonconformity" and for no other cause. In this "Advice" we find his opinion on the origin of persecution—the instruments—the motives—its cruelty—with cautions, counsels, and support to the persecuted. He considers persecution a strange anomaly,—"The reason is that Christianity is a harmless thing—that be it never so openly professed it hurts no man." Simple-hearted, honest John, thou dreamest. What wouldest thou have thought of a system by which all would have been taught to tag their laces and mend their own pots and kettles? What would have become of thy trade as a brazier? Christianity teaches all mankind not to trust in those empirics who profess to cure souls for Peter's pence, tithes, mortuaries, and profits; but to go by themselves to the Great Physician, and he will pour in his wine and oil, his infallible remedies for a sin-sick soul, without money and without price. To Bunyan this was not only harmless to others, but the most boundless mercy that God could bestow upon man. What could be more destructive to the hierarchy of popes, cardinals, and papal nuncios of the Latin, with the patriarchs, archimandrites, and papas of the Greek churches? A system by which all their services are dispensed with, and priestly and prelatic pride is leveled with the dust. Can we wonder that those who preached the holy, humbling, self-denying doctrines of the cross, were persecuted to the death? Bunyan's opinion is, that Satan is the author of persecution, by which he intended to root out Christianity. The whirlwind and the tempest drives away those who are not rooted and grounded in the faith, some of whom may have stood like stately cedars until the trying time of trial came. But the humble Christian in such a season takes deeper root—a stronger grasp. Faith, his anchor, is sure and steadfast; it enters eternity and heaven, where Satan can find no entrance to disturb its hold. In persecution, men are but the devil's tools, and little think that they are doing his drudgery.
The man of God declares the truth in plain terms, "No one is a Christian except he is born of God by the anointing of the Holy One." Carnal men cannot endure this; and then "the game begins," how such troublesome fellows may be put out of the way, and their families be robbed of their possessions to enrich the persecutors. "The holy places, vestures, gestures—the shows and outward greatness of false religion, are in danger." Their sumptuous ceremonies, glorious ornaments, new-fashioned carriages,1 "will fall before the simplicity and majesty of truth." The Christian falls out with sin at home, and then with sinful ceremonies in divine worship. With him all that is not prescribed in the word of God is forbidden. Sentiments like these are a blow at the root of superstition with all its fraudful emoluments. Hence the storms of persecution which fall on the faithful followers of Christ. Antichrist declares the excellency of human inventions to supply what he considers defects in God's system.
Such is the mad folly of the human heart! Dust and ashes find fault with a system which is the perfection of wisdom, mercy, and love. And such their infatuation, that "none must be suffered to live and breathe that refuseth conformity thereto." Mr. Bunyan's cautions and counsels are full of peace—"submission to the powers that be." Pray for the persecutor—return good for his evil. He is in the hand of God, who will soon level him with the dust, and call his soul to solemn judgment. Although the sufferer's cause is good, do not run yourself into trouble—Christ withdrew himself—Paul escaped by being lowered down the city wall in a basket. If they persecute you in one city, flee to another. "A minister can quickly pack up and carry his religion with him, and offer what he knows of his God to another people." God is the support of his persecuted ones. "His power in holding up some, his wrath in leaving of others; his making of shrubs to stand, and his suffering of cedars to fall; his infatuating of the counsels of men, and his making of the devil to outwit himself; his giving of his presence to his people, and his leaving of his foes in the dark; his discovering the uprightness of the hearts of his sanctified ones, and laying open the hypocrisy of others, is a working of spiritual wonders in the day of his wrath, and of the whirlwind and storm." "Alas! we have need of these bitter pills at which we so much winch and shuck. The physician has us in hand. May God by these try and judge us as he judges his saints, that we may not be condemned with the world." Such were the feelings of John Bunyan after his long sufferings; they are the fruits of a sanctified mind. Reader, great are our mercies—the arm of the persecutor is paralysed by the extension of the knowledge of Christ. Still we have to pass through taunts and revilings, and sometimes the loss of goods; but we are saved from those awful trials through which our pilgrim forefathers passed. May our mercies be sanctified, and may grace be bestowed upon us in rich abundance, to enable us to pity and forgive those sects who, in a bye-gone age, were the tools of Satan, and whose habitations were full of cruelty.—GEO. OFFOR.
TO THE CHRISTIAN READER. BELOVED, I thought it convenient, since many at this day are exposed to sufferings, to give my advice touching that to thee. Namely, that thou wouldest take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, and not suffer thyself to be entangled in those snares that God hath suffered to be laid in the world for some. Beware of "men" in the counsel of Christ "for they will deliver you up" (Matt 10:17). Keep thou therefore within the bounds of uprightness and integrity towards both God and man: for that will fortify, that will preserve thee, if not from, yet under the rage of men, in a comfortable and quiet frame of heart. Wherefore do that, and that only, that will justify thy innocency, and that will help thee, not with forced speech, but with good conscience, when oppressed, to make thy appeals to God, and to the consciences of all men.
This is the advice that, I thank God, I have taken myself: for I find that there is nothing, next to God and his grace by Christ, that can stand one in such stead, as will a good and harmless conscience.2
I hope I can say that God has made me a Christian: and a Christian must be a harmless man, and to that end, must embrace nothing but harmless principles. A Christian's business, as a Christian, is to believe in Jesus Christ, and in God the Father by him; and to seek the good of all about him, according as his place, state and capacity in this world will admit, not meddling with other men's matters, but ever following that which is good. A Christian is a child of the kingdom of God, and that kingdom, take it as it begins in grace, or as it is perfected in glory, is not of this world but of that which is to come: and though men of old, as some may now, be afraid of that kingdom: yet that kingdom will hurt no man, neither with its principles, nor by itself. To instance somewhat, Faith in Christ: what harm can that do? A life regulated by a moral law, what hurt is in that? Rejoicing in spirit for the hope of the life to come by Christ, who will that harm? Nor is the instituted worship of our Lord of any evil tendency, Christianity teaches us also to do our enemies good, to "Bless them that hate us, and to pray for them that despitefully use us and persecute us," and what evil can be in that? This is the sum of the Christian religion, as by the word may be plainly made appear: wherefore I counsel thee to keep close to these things, and touch with nothing that jostleth therewith.
Nor do thou marvel, thou living thus, if some should be so foolish as to seek thy hurt, and to afflict thee, because thy works are good (1 John 3:12,13). For there is need that thou shouldest at sometimes be in manifold temptations, thy good and innocent life notwithstanding (1 Peter 1:6). For, to omit other things, there are some of the graces of God that are in thee, that as to some of their acts, cannot shew themselves, nor their excellency, nor their power, nor what they can do: but as thou art in a suffering state. Faith and patience, in persecution, has that to do, that to shew, and that to perform, that cannot be done, shewed, nor performed any where else but there. There is also a patience of hope; a rejoicing in hope, when we are in tribulation, that is, over and above that which we have when we are at ease and quiet. That also that all graces can endure, and triumph over, shall not be known, but when, and as we are in a state of affliction. Now these acts of our graces are of that worth and esteem with God, also he so much delighteth in them: that occasion through his righteous judgment, must be ministered for them to shew their beauty, and what bravery 3 there is in them.
It is also to be considered that those acts of our graces, that cannot be put forth, or shew themselves in their splendour, but when we Christianly suffer, will yield such fruit to those whose trials call them to exercise, that will, in the day of God, abound to their comfort, and tend to their perfection in glory (1 Peter 1:7; 2 Cor 4:17).
Why then should we think that our innocent lives will exempt us from sufferings, or that troubles shall do us such harm? For verily it is for our present and future good that our God doth send them upon us. I count therefore, that such things are necessary for the health of our souls, as bodily4 pains and labour are for [the health of] the body. People that live high, and in idleness, bring diseases upon the body: and they that live in all fullness of gospel-ordinances, and are not exercised with trials, grow gross, are diseased and full of bad humours in their souls. And though this may to some seem strange: yet our day has given us such an experimental proof of the truth thereof, as has not been known for some ages past.
Alas! we have need of those bitter pills, at which we so winch and shuck:5 and it will be well if at last we be purged as we should thereby. I am sure we are but little the better as yet, though the physician has had us so long in hand. Some bad humours may possibly ere long be driven out: but at present the disease is so high, that it makes some professors fear more a consumption will be made in their purses by these doses, than they desire to be made better in their souls thereby. I see that I still have need of these trials; and if God will by these judge me as he judges his saints, that I may not be condemned with the world, I will cry, Grace, grace for ever. The consideration also that we have deserved these things, much6 silences me as to what may yet happen unto me. I say, to think that we have deserved them of God, though against men we have done nothing, makes me lay my hand upon my mouth, and causes me to hold my tongue. Shall we deserve correction? And be angry because we have it! Or shall it come to save us? and shall we be offended with the hand that brings it! Our sickness is so great that our enemies take notice of it; let them know too that we also take our purges patiently. We are willing to pay for those potions that are given us for the health of our body, how sick soever they make us: and if God will have us pay too for that which is to better our souls, why should we grudge thereat? Those that bring us these medicines have little enough for their pains: for my part, I profess, I would not for a great deal, be bound, for their wages, to do their work. True, physicians are for the most part chargeable, and the niggards are too loth to part with their money to them: but when necessity says they must either take physic, or die: of two evils they desire to choose the least. Why, affliction is better than sin, and if God sends the one to cleanse us from the other, let us thank him, and be also content to pay the messenger.
And thou that art so loth to pay for thy sinning, and for the means that puts thee upon that exercise of thy graces, as will be for thy good hereafter: take heed of tempting of God lest he doubleth this potion unto thee. The child, by eating of raw fruit, stands in need of physic, but the child of a childish humour refuseth to take the potion, what follows but a doubling of the affliction, to wit, frowns, chides, and further threatenings and a forcing of the bitter pills upon him. But let me, to persuade thee to lie down and take thy potion, tell thee, it is of absolute necessity, to wit, for thy spiritual and internal health. For, First, Is it better that thou receive judgment in this world, or that thou stay for it to be condemned with the ungodly in the next? Second, Is it better that thou shouldest, as to some acts of thy graces, be foreign, and a stranger, and consequently that thou shouldest lose that far more exceeding, and eternal weight of glory that is prepared as the reward thereof? or that thou shouldest receive it at the hand of God, when the day shall come that every man shall have praise of him for their doings? Third, And I say again, since chastisements are a sign of sonship, a token of love: and the contrary a sign of bastardy, and a token of hatred (Heb 12:6-8; Hosea 4:14). Is it not better that we bear those tokens and marks in our flesh that bespeak us to belong to Christ, than those that declare us to be none of his? For my part, God help me to choose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season: and God of his mercy prepare me for his will. I am not for running myself into sufferings, but if godliness will expose me to them, the Lord God make me more godly still: for I believe there is a world to come. But, Christian reader, I would not detain thee from a sight of those sheets in thy hand: only let me beg of thee, that thou wilt not be offended either with God, or men, if the cross is laid heavy upon thee. Not with God, for he doth nothing without a cause, nor with men, for they are the hand of God: and will they, nill they; 7 they are the servants of God to thee for good (Psa 17:14; Jer 24:5). Take therefore what comes to thee from God by them, thankfully. If the messenger that brings it is glad that it is in his power to do thee hurt, and to afflict thee; if he skips for joy at thy calamity: be sorry for him; pity him, and pray to thy Father for him: he is ignorant and understandeth not the judgment of thy God, yea he sheweth by this his behavior, that though he, as God's ordinance, serveth thee by afflicting of thee: yet means he nothing less than to destroy thee: by the which also he prognosticates before thee that he is working out his own damnation by doing of thee good. Lay therefore the woeful state of such to heart, and render him that which is good for his evil; and love for his hatred to thee; then shalt thou shew that thou art acted by a spirit of holiness, and art like thy heavenly Father. And be it so, that thy pity and prayers can do such an one no good, yet they must light some where, or return again, as ships come loaden from the Indies, full of blessings into thine own bosom.
And besides all this, is there nothing in dark providences, for the sake of the sight and observation of which, such a day may be rendered lovely, when it is upon us? Is there nothing of God, of his wisdom and power and goodness to be seen in thunder, and lightning, in hailstones? in storms? and darkness and tempests? Why then is it said, he "hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm" (Nahum 1:3). And why have God's servants of old made such notes, and observed from them such excellent and wonderful things. There is that of God to be seen in such a day as cannot be seen in another. His power in holding up some, his wrath in leaving of others; his making of shrubs to stand, and his suffering of cedars to fall; his infatuating of the counsels of men, and his making of the devil to outwit himself; his giving of his presence to his people, and his leaving of his foes in the dark; his discovering the uprightness of the hearts of his sanctified ones, and laying open the hypocrisy of others, is a working of spiritual wonders in the day of his wrath, and of the whirlwind and storm. These days! these days are the days that do most aptly give an occasion to Christians, of any, to take the exactest measures and scantlings of ourselves. We are apt to overshoot, in days that are calm, and to think ourselves far higher, and more strong than we find we be, when the trying day is upon us. The mouth of Gaal and the boasts of Peter were great and high before the trial came, but when that came, they found themselves to fall far short of the courage they thought they had (Judg 9:38). We also, before the temptation comes, think we can walk upon the sea, but when the winds blow, we feel ourselves begin to sink. Hence such a time is rightly said to be a time to try us, or to find out what we are, and is there no good in this? Is it not this that rightly rectifies our judgment about ourselves, that makes us to know ourselves, that tends to cut off those superfluous sprigs of pride and self-conceitedness, wherewith we are subject to be overcome? Is not such a day, the day that bends us, humbleth us, and that makes us bow before God, for our faults committed in our prosperity? and yet doth it yield no good unto us? we cold not live without such turnings of the hand of God upon us. We should be overgrown with flesh, if we had not our seasonable winters. It is said that in some countries trees will grow, but will bear no fruit, because there is no winter there. The Lord bless all seasons to his people, and help them rightly to behave themselves, under all the times that go over them. Farewell. I am thine to serve thee in the gospel, JOHN BUNYAN.
ADVICE TO SUFFERERS.
"WHEREFORE LET THEM THAT SUFFER ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF GOD, COMMIT THE KEEPING OF THEIR SOULS TO HIM IN WELL DOING, AS UNTO A FAITHFUL CREATOR"—1 PETER 4:19.
This epistle was written to saints in affliction, specially those of the circumcision, for whom this Peter was an apostle. And it was written to them to counsel, and comfort them in their affliction. To counsel them as to the cause, for which they were in afflictions, and as to the right management of themselves, and their cause, under their affliction. To comfort them also both with respect to their present help from God, and also with reference to the reward that (they faithfully continuing to the end) should of God be bestowed upon them: all which we shall have occasion, more distinctly, to handle in this following discourse. The text is a conclusion, drawn from the counsel and comfort which the apostle had afore given them in their suffering state. As who should say, my brethren, as you are now afflicted, so sufferings are needful for you, and therefore profitable and advantageous: wherefore be content to bear them. And that you may indeed bear them with such Christian contentedness, and patience as becomes you; commit the keeping of your souls to your God as unto a faithful Creator. "Let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to him [in well doing,] as unto a faithful Creator."
In this conclusion, therefore, we have three things very fit for sufferers to concern themselves with. FIRST, A direction to a duty of absolute necessity. SECOND, A description of the persons, who are unto this, so necessary a duty, directed. THIRD, An insinuation of the good effect that will certainly follow to those that after a due manner shall take this blessed advice.
The duty so absolutely necessary is, that sufferers "commit the keeping of their souls to God." The sufferers here intended, are those "that suffer according to the will of God." The good insinuated, that will be the effect of our true doing of this, is, we shall find God "a faithful Creator." [FIRST—THE DUTY TO WHICH SUFFERERS ARE DIRECTED.] We will first begin with the duty, that sufferers are here directed to, namely, the committing of their souls to God. "Let them—commit the keeping of their souls to him, in well doing."
And I find two things in it that first call for explaining before I proceed. 1. What we must here understand by "the soul." 2. What by "committing" the soul to God.
1. For the first: "The soul," here, is to be taken for that most excellent part of man, that dwelleth in the body; that immortal, spiritual substance, that is, and will be capable of life, and motion, of sense and reason; yea, that will abide a rational being, when the body is returned to the dust as it was. This is that great thing, that our Lord Jesus intends, when he bids his disciples in a day of trial, fear him that can destroy both body and soul in hell (Luke 12:5). That great thing, I say, that he there cautions them to take care of. According to Peter here, "Let them commit the keeping of their soul to him in well doing."
2. Now to "commit" this soul to God, is to carry it to him, to lift it to him, upon my bended knees, and to pray him for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, to take it into his holy care, and to let it be under his keeping. Also, that he will please to deliver it from all those snares that are laid for it, betwixt this and the next world, and that he will see that it be forthcoming, safe and sound, at the great and terrible judgment, notwithstanding so many have engaged themselves against it. Thus David committed his soul to God, when he said "Arise, O Lord, disappoint him, cast him down: deliver my soul, O Lord, from the wicked, which is thy sword" (Psa 17:13). And again, "Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me: O Lord, make hast to help me. Let them be ashamed and confounded together that seek after my soul to destroy it" (Psa 40:13,14).
Thus, I have shewed you what the soul is, and what it is to commit the soul to God. This then is the duty that the apostle here exhorteth the sufferers to, namely, to carry their soul to God, and leave it with him while they engage for his name in the world. Now from the apostle's exhortation to this great duty, I will draw these following conclusions.
Conclusion First, That when persecution is raised against a people, there is a design laid for the ruin of those people's souls. This, I say, doth naturally follow from the exhortation. Why else, need they to commit the keeping of their souls to God. For by this word, "Unto God to keep them," is suggested; there is that would destroy them, and that therefore persecution is raised against them. I am not so uncharitable, as to think, that persecuting men design this. 8But I verily believe that the devil doth design this, when he stirs them up to so sorry a work. In times of trial, says Peter, "your adversary the devil walketh about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
Alas! men in their acts of this nature, have designs that are lower, and of a more inferior rank. Some of them look no higher than revenge upon the carcass; than the spoiling of their neighbour of his estate, liberty, or life; than the greatening of themselves in this world, by the ruins of those that they have power to spoil. Their "possessors slay them, and hold themselves not guilty: and they that sell them say, Blessed be the Lord, for I am rich" (Zech 11:5).
Ay! But Satan will not be put off thus: it is not a bag of money, or the punishing of the carcass of such a people, that will please or satisfy him. It is the soul that he aims at; the ruin of the precious soul that he hath bent himself to bring to pass. It is this therefore that Peter here hath his heart concerned with. As, who should say, My brethren, are you troubled and persecuted for your faith? look to it, the hand of Satan is in this thing, and whatever men drive at by doing as they do, the devil designs no less than the damnation of your souls. Ware hawk, saith the falconer, when the dogs are coming near her: especially if she be too much minding of her belly, and too forgetful of what the nature of the dog is. Beware Christian, take heed Christian; the devil is desirous to have thee. And who could better give this exhortation than could Peter himself. Who for not taking heed as to this very thing, had like by the devil to have been swallowed up alive: as is manifest to them that heedfully read, and consider how far he was gone, when that persecution was raised against his Master (Luke 22). When a tyrant goes to dispossess a neighbouring prince of what is lawfully his own: the men that he employeth at arms to overcome, and get the land, they fight for half-crowns, and the like, and are content with their wages: But the tyrant is for the kingdom, nothing will serve him but the kingdom.9 This is the case: Men when they persecute, are for the stuff, but the devil is for the soul, nor will any thing less than that satisfy him. Let him then that is a sufferer "commit the keeping of his soul to God:" lest stuff, and soul, and all be lost at once.
Conclusion Second, A second conclusion that followeth upon these words, is this: That sufferers, if they have not a care, may be too negligent as to the securing of their souls with God, even when persecution is upon them. For these words, as they are an instruction, so they are an awakening instruction; they call as to people in danger; as to people, not so aware of the danger; or as unto a people that forget, too much, that their souls, and the ruin of them, are sought after by Satan, when trouble attends them for the gospel sake. As, who should say, when troubles are upon you for the gospel's sake, then take heed that you forget not to commit your souls to the keeping of God. We are naturally apt with that good man Gideon, to be threshing out our wheat, that we may hide it from the Midianites (Judg 6:11). But we are not so naturally apt to be busying ourselves to secure our souls with God. The reason is, for that we are more flesh than spirit, and because the voice of the world makes a bigger sound in our carnal mind, than the word of God doth. Wherefore Peter, here, calls upon us as upon men of forgetful minds, saying, Let them that suffer according to the will of God, have a care of their souls, and take heed, that the fears of the loss of a little of this world, do not make them forget the fear of the losing of their souls. That sufferers are subject to this, may appear by the stir and bustle that at such a time they make to lock all up safe that the hand of man can reach,10 while they are cold, chill, remiss, and too indifferent about the committing of their soul to God to keep it. This is seen also, in that many, in a time of trouble for their profession, will study more to deceive themselves by a change of notions, by labouring to persuade their consciences to admit them to walk more at large, by hearkening to opinions that please and gratify the flesh, by adhering to bad examples, and taking evil counsels, than they will to make straight steps for their feet: and to commit the keeping of their souls to God. What shall I say, have there not been many, that so long as peace has lasted, have been great swaggerers for religion, who yet so soon as the sun has waxed warm, have flagged, have been discontented, offended, and turned away from him that speaketh from heaven? All which is because men are naturally apt to be more concerned for their goods, carnal peace, and a temporal life, than they are about securing of their souls with God. Wherefore I say, these words are spoken to awaken us to the consideration of soul-concerns, and how that should be safely lodged under the care, protection, and mercy of God, by our committing of it to him, for that purpose, by Jesus Christ our Lord.
Conclusion Third, Another conclusion that followeth upon this exhortation, is this: That persecution doth, sometimes, so hotly follow God's people, as to leave them nothing but a soul to care for. They have had no house, no land, no money, no goods, no life, no liberty, left them to care for. ALL IS GONE BUT THE SOUL. Goods have been confiscated, liberty has been in irons, the life condemned, the neck in a halter, or the body in the fire. So then all, to such, has been gone, and they have had nothing left them to care for, but their soul. "Let them commit the keeping of their soul to God." This conclusion, I say, doth naturally flow from the words. For that the apostle here doth make mention only of the soul, as of that which is left, as of that which yet remains to the sufferer of all that ever he had. Thus they served Christ; they left him nothing but his soul to care for. Thus they served Stephen; they left him nothing but his soul to care for, and they both cared for that, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit," said Jesus (Luke 23:46). And, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," said Stephen (Acts 7:59). As for all other things, they were gone. They parted the very clothes of Christ among themselves before his face, even while he did hang pouring out his life before them, upon the tree. "They parted my garments among them," said he, "and upon my vesture did they cast lots" (Matt 27:35; Mark 15:24; John 19:24). This also has oftentimes been the condition of later Christians, all has been gone, they have been stripped of all, nothing has been left them but "soul" to care for. Job said that he had escaped with the skin of his teeth; and that is but a little: but he doth not escape with so much, that loses all that he has, life and all, we now except the soul. But,
Conclusion Fourth, Another thing that followeth from the words is this; namely, That when the devil and wicked men have done what they could, in their persecuting of the godly; they have yet had their souls at their own dispose. 11 They have not been able to rob them of their souls, they are not able to hurt their souls. The soul is not in their power to touch, without the leave of God, and of him whose soul it is. "And fear not them," saith Christ, "which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul" (Matt 10:28). This, I say, lies clear also in the text; for the exhortation supposes, that whatever the sufferers, there made mention of, had lost, they had yet their souls at their own dispose. Let them that suffer, even to the loss of goods, liberty, or life, "commit the keeping of their souls to God." As, who should say, though the enemy hath reached them to their all, and stripped them of their all, yet I know, that their soul is not among that all: For their soul is yet free from them, at liberty, and may be disposed of, even as the sufferer will. Wherefore, let him commit the keeping of his soul to God, lest he also through his negligence or carelessness be also spoiled of that. The sufferer, therefore, hath his soul at his own dispose, he may give that away to God Almighty, in spite of all that the devil and the world can do. He may, indeed, see men parting his land, his household stuff, yea, his very raiment among themselves, but they cannot so dispose of his soul.12 They "have no more that they can do" (Luke 12:4).
Conclusion Fifth, Another conclusion that followeth from these words is this, That a man, when he is a sufferer, is not able to secure his own soul from the hand of hell by any other means, but by the committing of the keeping thereof to God. Do you suffer? Are you in affliction for your profession? Then keep not your soul in your own hand, for fear of losing that with the rest. For no man "can keep alive his own soul" (Psa 22:29). No, not in the greatest calm; no, not when the lion is asleep: how then should he do it at such a time, when the horrible blast of the terrible ones shall beat against his wall. The consideration of this was that that made holy Paul, who was a man upon whom persecution continually attended, commit his soul to God (Acts 20:22-24; 2 Tim 1:12). God, as I shall shew you by and by, is he, and he alone that is able to keep the soul, and deliver it from danger. Man is naturally a self-deceiver, and therefore is not to be trusted, any farther than as the watchful eye of God is over him. But as to his soul, he is not to be trusted with that at all, that must be wholly committed to God, left altogether with him; laid at his feet, and he also must take the charge thereof, or else it is gone, will be lost, and will perish for ever and ever. Wherefore it is a dangerous thing for a man that is a sufferer, to be a senseless man, as to the danger that his soul is in, and a prayerless man, as to the committing of the keeping of it to God. For he that is such, has yet his soul, and the keeping thereof, in his own deceitful hand. And so has he also that stays himself upon his friends, upon his knowledge, the promise of men, or the mercy of his enemies, or that has set in his mind a bound to himself, how far he will venture for religion, and where he will stop. This is the man that makes not God his trust, and that therefore will surely fall in the day of his temptation. Satan, who now hunteth for the precious soul to destroy it, has power, as well as policy, beyond what man can think. He has power to blind, harden, and to make insensible, the heart. He also can make truth in the eyes of the suffering man, a poor, little, and insignificant thing. Judas had not committed the keeping of his soul to God, but abode in himself, and was left in his tabernacle: and you by and by see what a worthy price he set upon himself, his Christ, and heaven, and all. All to him was not now worth thirty pieces of silver.
And as he can make truth in thy esteem to be little, so he can make sufferings great, and ten times more terrible, than he that hath committed the keeping of his soul to God shall ever find them. A jail shall look as black as hell, and the loss of a few stools and chairs, as bad as the loss of so many bags of gold. 13 Death for the Saviour of the world, shall seem to be a thing both unreasonable and intolerable. Such will choose to run the hazard of the loss of a thousand souls, in the way of the world, rather than the loss of one poor, sorry, transitory life for the holy Word of God. But the reason, as I said, is, they have not committed the keeping of their soul to God. For he that indeed has committed the keeping of his soul to that great one, has shaken his hands of all things here. Has bid adieu to the world, to friends, and life: and waiteth upon God in a way of close keeping to his truth, and walking in his ways, having counted the cost, and been persuaded to take what cup God shall suffer the world to give him for so doing.
Conclusion Sixth, Another conclusion that followeth from these words, is, That God is very willing to take the charge and care of the soul (that is committed unto him) of them that suffer for his sake in the world. If this were not true, the exhortation would not answer the end. What is intended by, "Let him commit the keeping of his soul to God," but that the sufferer should indeed leave that great care with him; but if God be not willing to be concerned with such a charge, what bottom14 is there for the exhortation? But the exhortation has this for its bottom, therefore God is willing to take the charge and care of the soul of him that suffereth for his name in this world. "The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate" (Psa 34:22; 1 Sam 25:28,29). None, not one that committeth his soul to God's keeping in a way of well doing, but shall find him willing to be concerned therewith. Ay, this, saith the sufferer, if I could believe this, it would rid me of all my fears. But I find myself engaged for God, for I have made a profession of his name, and cannot arrive to this belief that God is willing to take the charge and care of my soul. Wherefore I fear, that if trials come so high, as that life, as well as estate, must go, that both life, and estate, and soul, and all will be lost at once.
Well, honest heart, these are thy fears, but let them fly away, and consider the text again, "Let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to him,—as unto a faithful Creator." These are God's words, Christ's words, and the invitation of the Holy Ghost. When, therefore, thou readest them, be persuaded that thou hearest the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, all of them jointly and severally speaking to thee and saying, Poor sinner, thou art engaged for God in the world, thou art suffering for his Word: leave thy soul with him as with one that is more willing to save it, than thou art willing he should: act faith, trust God, believe his Word, and go on in thy way of witness-bearing for him, and thou shalt find all well, and according to the desire of thy heart at last. True, Satan will make it his business to tempt thee to doubt of this, that thy way be made yet more hard and difficult to thee. For he knows that unbelief is a soul-perplexing sin, and makes that which would otherwise be light, pleasant, and easy, unutterably heavy and burdensome to the sufferer. Yea, this he doth in hope to make thee at last, to cast away thy profession, thy cause, thy faith, thy conscience, thy soul, and all. But hear what the Holy Ghost saith again: "He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight" (Psa 72:13,14). These words also are spoken for the comfort of sufferers, ver. 12. "For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper." Wherefore, let them that are God's sufferers, pluck up a good heart; let them not be afraid to trust God with their souls, and with their eternal concerns. Let them cast all their care upon God, for he careth for them (1 Peter 5:7).
But I am in the dark.
I answer, never stick at that. It is most bravely done, to trust God with my soul in the dark, and to resolve to serve God for nothing, rather than give out. Not to see, and yet to believe, and to be a follower of the Lamb, and yet to be at uncertainty, what we shall have at last, argues love, fear, faith, and an honest mind, and gives the greatest sign of one that hath true sincerity in his soul. It was this that made Job and Peter so famous, and the want of it that took away much of the glory of the faith of Thomas (Job 1:8-10,21; Matt 19:27; John 20:29). Wherefore believe, verily, that God is ready, willing, yea, that he looks for, and expects that thou who art a sufferer shouldest commit the keeping of thy soul to him, as unto a faithful Creator.
Conclusion Seventh. Another conclusion that followeth from these words is this, namely, That God is able, as well as willing, to secure the souls of his suffering saints, and to save them from the evil of all their trials, be they never so many, divers, or terrible. "Let him commit the keeping of his soul to God," but to what boot, if he be not able to keep it in his hand, and from the power of him that seeks the soul to destroy it? But "my Father which gave them me," saith Christ, "is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand" (John 10:29). So then there can be no sorrow, affliction, or misery invented, by which the devil may so strongly prevail, as thereby to pluck the soul out of the hand of him who has received it, to keep it from falling, and perishing thereby. The text therefore supposeth a sufficiency of power in God to support, and a sufficiency of comfort and goodness to embolden the soul to endure for him: let Satan break out, and his instruments too, to the greatest degree of their rage and cruelty.
1. There is in God a sufficiency of power to keep them that have laid their soul at his foot to be preserved. And hence he is called the soul-keeper, the soul-preserver, (Prov 24:12) "The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul" (Psa 121:5-7). "The sun shall not smite thee": that is, persecution shall not dry and wither thee away to nothing (Matt 13:6,21). But that notwithstanding, thou shalt be kept and preserved, carried through and delivered from all evil. Let him therefore commit the keeping of his soul to him, if he is in a suffering condition, that would have it secured and found safe and sound at last. For,
(1.) Then thine own natural weakness, and timorousness shall not overcome thee.—For it shall not be too hard for God. God can make the most soft spirited man as hard as an adamant, harder than flint, yea harder than the northern steel. "Shall iron break the northern iron and the steel?" (Jer 15:12). The sword of him is [used] in vain that lays at a Christian, when he is in the way of his duty to God: if God has taken to him the charge and care of his soul, he can shoe him with brass, and make his hoofs of iron (Deut 33:25). "He can strengthen the spoiled against the strong, so that the spoiled shall come against the fortress" (Amos 5:8; Eze 13:9).
He can turn thee into another man, and make thee that which thou never wast. Timorous Peter, fearful Peter, he could make as bold as a lion. He that at one time was afraid of a sorry girl, he could make at another to stand boldly before the council (Matt 26; Acts 4:13). There is nothing too hard for God. He can say to them that are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, fear not" (Isa 35:4). He can say, Let the weak say I am strong; by such a word, by which he created the world (Zech 12:8).
(2.) Thine own natural darkness and ignorance shall not cause thee to fall; thy want of wit he can supply.—He can say to the fools, be wise; not only by way of correction, but also by way of instruction too. He "hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise;—yea, things which are despised,—and things which are not, hath God chosen to bring to nought things that are" (1 Cor 1:27,28). Wisdom and might are his: and when, and where he will work, none can at all withstand him. He can give thee the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of his Son (Eph 1:17). Yea, to do this, is that which he challengeth, as that which is peculiar to himself. "Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? or who hath given understanding to the heart?" (Job 38:36). And that he will do this that he hath promised, yea, promised to do it to that degree, as to make his, that shall be thus concerned for him, to top, and overtop all men that shall them oppose. I, saith he, "will give you a mouth and wisdom, that all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist" (Luke 21:15).
(3.) Thine own doubts and mistrusts about what he will do, and about whither thou shalt go, when thou for him hast suffered awhile, he can resolve, yea, dissolve, crush, and bring to nothing.—He can make fear flee far away: and place heavenly confidence in its room. He can bring invisible and eternal things to the eye of thy soul, and make thee see that in those things in which thine enemies shall see nothing, that thou shalt count worth the loss of ten thousand lives to enjoy. He can pull such things out of his bosom, and can put such things into thy mouth; yea, can make thee choose to be gone, though through the flames, than to stay here and die in silken sheets. Yea, he can himself come near and bring his heaven and glory to thee. The Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon them that are but reproached for the name of Christ (1 Peter 4:14). And what the Spirit of glory is, and what is his resting upon his sufferers, is quite beyond the knowledge of the world, and is but little felt by saints at peace. They be they that are engaged, and that are under the lash of Christ; they are they, I say, that have it and that understand something of it.
When Moses went up the first time into the mount to God, the people reproached him for staying with him so long, saying, "As for this Moses,—we wot not what is become of him" (Exo 32:1). Well, the next time he went up thither, and came down, the Spirit of glory was upon him; his face shone, though he wist it not, to his honour, and their amazement (Exo 34:29-35). Also while Stephen stood before the council to be accused, by suborned men, "All that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel" (Acts 6:15). Those that honour God, he will honour, yea, will put some of his glory upon them, but they shall be honoured. There is none can tell what God can do. He can make those things that in themselves are most fearful and terrible to behold, the most pleasant, delightful, and desirable things. He can make a jail more beautiful than a palace; restraint, more sweet by far than liberty. And "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt" (Heb 11:26). It is said of Christ, That "for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame" (Heb 12:2). But,
2. As there is in God a sufficiency of power to uphold, so there is in him also a sufficiency of comfort and goodness to embolden us: I mean communicative comfort and goodness. Variety of, and the terribleness that attends afflictions, call, not only for the beholding of things, but also a laying hold of them by faith and feeling; now this also is with God to the making of HIS to sing in the night. Paul and Silas sang in prison, the apostles went away from the council rejoicing, when they had shamefully beaten them for their preaching in the temple (Acts 5). But whence came this but from an inward feeling by faith of the love of God, and of Christ, which passeth knowledge? Hence he says to those under afflictions, "Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer" (Rev 2:10). There are things to be suffered, as well as places to suffer in; and there are things to be let into the soul for its emboldening, as well as things to be showed to it (Rom 5:5).
Now the things to be suffered are many, some of which are thus counted up: "They were tortured,—had cruel mockings and scourgings;—they were stoned, were sawn asunder, were slain with the sword,—were tempted;—they wandered about in sheep-skins, and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented" (Heb 11:35-37). These are some of the things that good men of old have suffered for their profession of the name of Jesus Christ. All which they were enabled by him to bear, to bear with patience; to bear with rejoicing; "knowing in themselves that they had in heaven a better, and an enduring substance" (Heb 10:32-34). And it is upon this account that Paul doth call to mind the most dreadful of his afflictions, which he suffered for the gospel sake with rejoicing; and that he tells us that he was most glad, when he was in such infirmities. Yea, it is upon this account that he boasteth, and vaunteth it over death, life, angels, principalities, powers, things present, things to come, height, depth, and every other creature: for he knew that there was enough in that love of God, which was set on him through Christ, to preserve him, and to carry him through all (2 Cor 12:9,10; Rom 8:37-39). That God has done thus, a thousand instances might be given; and that God will still do thus, for that we have his faithful promise (Isa 43:2; 1 Cor 10:13).
To the adversaries of the church these things have also sometimes been shewed, to their amazement and confusion. God shewed to the king of Babylon that he was with the three children in the fiery furnace (Dan 3:24). God shewed to the king of Babylon again, that he would be where HIS were, though in the lion's den (6:24).
Also, in later days, whoso reads Mr. Fox's Acts and Monuments, will also find several things to confirm this for truth. God has power over all plagues, and therefore can either heighten, or moderate and lessen them at pleasure. He has power over fire, and can take away the intolerable heat thereof. This those in the Marian days could also testify, namely, Hauks and Bainham, and others, who could shout for joy, and clap their hands in the very flames for joy. God has power over hunger, and can moderate it, and cause that one meal's meat shall go as far as forty were wont to do. This is witness in Elias, when he went for his life to the mount of God, being fled from the face of Jezebel (1 Kings 19:8). And what a good night's lodging had Jacob when he fled from the face of his brother Esau: when the earth was his couch, the stone15 his pillow, the heavens his canopy, and the shades of the night his curtains16 (Gen 27:12-16).
I can do all things, said Paul, through Christ strengthening me. And again, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake. But how can that be, since no affliction for the present seems joyous? I answer, though they be not so in themselves, yet Christ, by his presence, can make them so: for then his power rests upon us. When I am weak, saith he, then I am strong; then Christ doth in me mighty things: for my strength, saith Christ, is made perfect in weakness; in affliction, for the gospel sake.
For when my people are afflicted and suffer great distress for me, then they have my comforting, supporting, emboldening, and upholding presence to relieve them: an instance of which you have in the three children and in Daniel, made mention of before. But what, think you, did these servants of the God of Jacob feel, feel in their souls, of his power and comforting presence when they, for his name, were suffering of the rage of their enemies,—while, also, one, like the Son of God, was walking in the fire with the three; and while Daniel sat and saw that the hands of the angels were made muzzles for the lions' mouths.
I say, was it not worth being in the furnace and in the den to see such things as these? O! the grace of God, and his Spirit and power that is with them that suffer for him, if their hearts be upright with him; if they are willing to be faithful to him; if they have learned to say, here am I, whenever he calls them, and whatever he calls them to. "Wherefore," when Peter saith, "let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator." He concludes, that how outrageous, furious, merciless, or cruel soever the enemy is, yet there, with him, they shall find help and succour, relief and comfort; for God is able to make such as do so, stand.
Conclusion Eighth. We will now come to touch upon that which may more immediately be called the reason of this exhortation; for, although all these things that have been mentioned before may, or might be called reasons of the point, yet there are those, in my judgment, that may be called reasons, which are yet behind. As,
1. Because, when a man has, by faith and prayer, committed the keeping of his soul to God, he has the advantage of that liberty of soul to do and suffer for God that he cannot otherwise have. He that has committed his soul to God to keep is rid of that care, and is delivered from the fear of its perishing for ever. When the Jews went to stone Stephen they laid their clothes down at a distance from the place, at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul, that they might not be a cumber or a trouble to them, as to their intended work. So we, when we go about to drive sin out of the world, in a way of suffering for God's truth against it,17 we should lay down our souls at the feet of God to care for, that we may not be cumbered with the care of them ourselves; also, that our care of God's truth may not be weakened by such sudden and strong doubts as will cause us faintingly to say, But what will become of my soul? When Paul had told his son Timothy that he had been before that lion Nero, and that he was at present delivered out of his mouth, he adds, And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom. He shall and will. Here is a man at liberty, here are no cumbersome fears. But how came the apostle by this confidence of his well-being and of his share in another world? Why, "he had committed the keeping of his soul to God," compare 2 Timothy 1:12 with 4:18. For to commit the keeping of the soul to God, if it be done in faith and prayer, it leaves, or rather brings this holy boldness and confidence into the soul.
Suppose a man in the country were necessitated to go to London, and had a great charge of money to pay in there; suppose, also, that the way thither was become exceeding dangerous because of the highwaymen that continually abide therein,—what now must this man do to go on his journey cheerfully? Why, let him pay in his money to such an one in the country as will be sure to return it for him at London safely. Why, this is the case, thou art bound for heaven, but the way thither is dangerous. It is beset everywhere with evil angels, who would rob thee of thy soul, What now? Why, if thou wouldest go cheerfully on in thy dangerous journey, commit thy treasure, thy soul, to God to keep; and then thou mayest say, with comfort, Well, that care is over: for whatever I meet with in my way thither, my soul is safe enough: the thieves, if they meet me, can not come at that; I know to whom I have committed my soul, and I am persuaded that he will keep that to my joy and everlasting comfort against the great day.18
This, therefore, is one reason why we should, that suffer for Christ, commit the keeping of our souls to God; because a doubt about the well-being of that will be a clog, a burden, and an affliction to our spirit: yea, the greatest of afflictions, whilst we are taking up our cross and bearing it after Christ. The joy of the Lord is our strength, and the fear of perishing is that which will be weakening to us in the way.
2. We should commit the keeping of our souls to God, because the final conclusion that merciless men do sometimes make with the servants of God is all on a sudden. They give no warning before they strike. We shall not need here to call you to mind about the massacres that were in Ireland, Paris, Piedmont, and other places, where the godly, in the night before they were well awake, had, some of them, their heart blood running on the ground. The savage monsters crying out, Kill, kill, from one end of a street or a place to the other. This was sudden; and he that had not committed his soul to God to keep it was surely very hard put to it now; but he that had done so was ready for such sudden work. Sometimes, indeed, the axe, and halter, or the faggot is shewed first; but sometimes, again, it is without that warning. Up, said Saul to Doeg, the Edomite, and slay the priests of the Lord (1 Sam 22:11,18,19). Here was sudden work: fall on, said Saul, and Doeg fell upon them, "and slew on that day four score and five persons that did wear a linen ephod." "Nob, also, the city of the priests, smote he with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings," &c. Here was but a word and a blow. Thinkest thou not, who readest these lines, that all of these who had before committed their soul to God to keep were the fittest folk to die?
"And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought" (Mark 6:27). The story is concerning Herod and John the Baptist: Herod's dancing girl had begged John the Baptist's head, and nothing but his head must serve her turn; well, girl, thou shalt have it. Have it? Ay, but it will be long first. No; thou shalt have it now, just now, immediately. "And immediately he sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought."
Here is sudden work for sufferers; here is no intimation beforehand. The executioner comes to John; now, whether he was at dinner, or asleep, or whatever he was about, the bloody man bolts in upon him, and the first word he salutes him with is, Sir, strip, lay down your neck, for I am come to take away your head. But hold, stay; wherefore? pray, let me commit my soul to God. No, I must not stay; I am in haste: slap, says his sword, and off falls the good man's head. This is sudden work; work that stays for no man; work that must be done by and by; immediately, or it is not worth a rush. I will, said she, that thou give me, by and by, in a charger, the head of John the Baptist. Yea, she came in haste, and hastily the commandment went forth, and immediately his head was brought.
3. Unless a man commits the keeping of his soul to God, it is a question whether he can hold out and stand his ground, and wrestle with all temptations. "This is the victory,—even our faith"; and "who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth?" And what encouragement has a man to suffer for Christ, whose heart cannot believe, and whose soul he cannot commit to God to keep it? And our Lord Jesus intimates as much when he saith, "Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life." Wherefore saith he thus? but to encourage those that suffer for his truth in the world, to commit the keeping of their souls to him, and to believe that he hath taken the charge and care of them. Paul's wisdom was, that he was ready to die before his enemies were ready to kill him. "I am now ready," saith he, "to be offered and the time of my departure is at hand" (2 Tim 4:6).
This is, therefore, a thing of high concern; to wit, the committing of the soul to God to keep it. It is, I say, of concern to do it now, just now, quickly, whether thou art yet engaged or no; for it is a good preparatory to, as well as profitable in, a time of persecution: consider it, I say. The apostle Paul saith that he and his companions were bold in their God, to profess and stand to the word of God (1 Thess 2:2). But how could that be if they had the salvation of their souls to seek, and that to be sure they would have had, had they not committed the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing?
Quest. But what is committing of the soul to God?
Answ. I have, in general, briefly spoken to that already, and now, for thy further help, we will a little enlarge. Wherefore,
(1.) To commit is to deliver up to custody to be kept. Hence prisoners, when sent to the jail, are said to be committed thither. Thus Paul, "haling men and women, committing them to prison" (Acts 8:3). And thus Joseph's master committed all his prisoners to him, to his custody, to be kept there according to the law (Gen 39:22).
(2.) To commit, is not only to deliver up to custody, but to give in charge; that that which is committed be kept safe, and not suffered to be lost (Luke 16:11). Thus Paul was committed to prison, the jailor being charged to keep him safely (Acts 16:23).
(3.) To commit, is to leave the whole disposal, sometimes, of that which is committed to those to whom such thing is committed. Thus were the shields of the temple committed to the guard (1 Kings 14:27) And Jeremiah to the hands of Gedaliah (Jer 39:14).
And thus thou must commit thy soul to God and to his care and keeping. It must be delivered up to his care and put under his custody. Thou mayest also, though I would speak modestly, give him a charge to take the care of it. "Concerning my sons [and concerning my daughters] and concerning the work of my hands, command ye me" (Isa 45:11). Thou must also leave all the concerns of thy soul and of thy being an inheritor of the next world wholly to the care of God. He that doth this in the way that God has bid him is safe, though the sky should fall. "The poor committeth himself unto thee, thou art the helper of the fatherless" (Psa 10:14).
And for encouragement to do this, the Lord has bidden us, the Lord has commanded us, the Lord expecteth that we should thus do. Yea, thou art also bidden to commit thy way unto him (Psa 37:5). Thy work unto him (Prov 16:3). Thy cause unto him (Job 5:8). Thy soul to him, and he will take care of all. And if we do this, as we should, God will not only take care of us and of our souls in the general, but that our work and ways be so ordered that we may not fail in either. "I have trusted," said David, "in the Lord, therefore I shall not slide" (Psa 26:1).
Before I leave this, I will speak something of the way in which this commitment of the soul to God must be; and that is, "in a way of well-doing." Let them commit the keeping of their souls to him "in well-doing"; or, in a way of well-doing. That is, therefore, the course that a godly man should be found in, at, in, and after he hath committed his soul to God to keep. And, as the apostle says in another place, this is but a "reasonable service" (Rom 12:1). For if God be so gracious as to take care of my soul at my request, why should not I also be so gracious as to be found in a way of well-doing at his bidding? Take care, master, of me for meat and wages, and I will take care, master, that thy work shall be faithfully done. This is honest, and thus should Christians say to God: and he that heartily, in this, shall mean as he saith, shall find that God's ways shall be strength unto him.
A Christian is not to commit his soul unto God to keep, and so to grow remiss, carnal, negligent, cold, and worldly; concluding as if he had now bound God to save him, but sets himself at liberty whether he will longer serve him in trying and troublesome times or no. He must commit the keeping of his soul to him "in well-doing." He may not now relinquish God's cause, play the apostate, cast off the cross, and look for heaven notwithstanding. He that doth thus will find himself mistaken, and be made to know at last that God takes the care of no such souls. "If any man draws back," saith he, "my soul shall have no pleasure in him." Wherefore, he that committeth the keeping of his soul to God must do it in that way which God has prescribed to him, which is in a way of well-doing. Alas! alas! there is never such a word in it; it must be done in a way of "well-doing." You must think of this that would commit your souls to God in suffering and troublesome times. You must do it in well-doing.
"In well-doing," that is, in persevering in ways of godliness, both with respect to morals and also instituted worship. Thou, therefore, that wouldest have God take care of thy soul, as thou believest, so thou must do well; that is, do good to the poor, to thy neighbour, to all men, especially to the household of faith. Benjamin must have a Benjamin's mess; and all others, as thou art capable, must feel and find the fruit of thy godliness. Thou must thus serve the Lord with much humility of mind, though through many difficulties and much temptation.
Thou must also keep close to gospel worship, public and private; doing of those things that thou hast warrant for from the word, and leaving of that or those things for others that will stick to them—that have no stamp of God upon them. Thou must be found doing of all with all thy heart, and if thou sufferest for so doing, thou must bear it patiently. For what Peter saith to the women he spake to, may be applied to all believers, "whose daughters ye are," saith he, meaning Sarah's, "as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement" (1 Peter 3:6).
So then, the man that has committed his soul to God to keep has not at all disengaged himself from his duty, or took himself off from a perseverance in that good work that, under a suffering condition, he was bound to do before. No; his very committing of his soul to God to keep it has laid an engagement upon him to abide to God in that calling wherein he is called of God. To commit my soul to God, supposes my sensibleness of hazard and danger; but there is none [no danger] among men when the offence of the cross is ceased. To commit my soul to God to keep, concludes my resolution to go on in that good way of God that is so dangerous to my soul, if God taketh not the charge and care thereof. For he that saith in his heart, I will now commit my soul to God, if he knows what he says, says thus: I am for holding on in a way of bearing of my cross after Christ, though I come to the same end for so doing as he came to before me. This is committing the soul to him in well-doing. Look to yourselves, therefore, whoever you are that talk of leaving your souls with God, but do live loose, idle, profane, and wicked lives. God will not take care of such men's souls; they commit them not unto him as they should. They do but flatter him with their lips and lie unto him with their tongue, and think to deceive the Lord; but to no purpose. "He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption." It is he that sows to the Spirit that shall "reap life everlasting" (Gal 6:7,8).
[SECOND—A DESCRIPTION OF THE PERSONS WHO ARE DIRECTED TO COMMIT THE KEEPING OF THEIR SOULS TO GOD.]
I shall now come to the second thing contained in the text, namely, to give you a more distinct description of the men that are thus bid to commit the keeping of their souls to God. And they are thus described: they that "suffer according to the will of God." "Let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator."
Two things are here to be inquired into. FIRST, What the apostle here means by the will of God. SECOND, What suffering according to the will of God is.
FIRST, For the will of God, it is divers ways taken in the scriptures; as, sometimes, for electing, justifying, sanctifying acts of God; sometimes for faith, good life, and sometimes for suffering for his name (Rom 9; Eph 1:11; John 7:17; 1 John 3:23; 1 Thess 4:3; Matt 7:21). But, by will of God here we must, First, Understand HIS LAW AND TESTAMENT. Second, HIS ORDER AND DESIGNMENT.
[THE WILL OF GOD MEANS HIS LAW AND TESTAMENT.]
First, By his will I understand his law and testament. This is called the revealed will of God, or that by which he has made himself, and how he will be worshiped, known unto the children of men. Now, I, understanding these words thus, must, before I go further, make this distinction, to wit, that there is a difference to be put betwixt them that suffer for the breach and those that suffer for keeping of this law and testament; for though both of them may suffer by the will of God, yet they are not both concerned in this text. A malefactor that suffereth for his evil deeds the due punishment thereof, suffereth, as other texts declare, according to the will of God. But, I say, this text doth not concern itself with them; for both this text and this epistle is writ for the counsel and comfort of those that suffer for keeping the law and testament of God; that suffer for well-doing (1 Peter 3:13,14,17; 4:13,14).
The man then that is concerned in this advice is he that suffereth from the hands of men for keeping of the word of God; and this is he that has licence, leave, yea, a command to commit the keeping of his soul to God in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator. We will a little enlarge upon this.
[What it is to suffer according to the will of God, or his law and testament.]
He that keepeth the word of God is such an one that has regard to both the matter and manner thereof. The matter is the truth, the doctrine contained therein; the manner is that comely, godly, humble, faithful way of doing it which becomes a man that has to do with the law and testament of God; and both these are contained in the text. For, first, here is the will of God to be done; and then, secondly, to be done according to his will. "Let them that suffer according to his will": which words, I say, take in both matter and manner of doing. So then, the man that here we have to do with, and to discourse of, is a man that, in the sense now given, suffereth. That which makes a martyr, is suffering for the word of God after a right manner; and that is, when he suffereth, not only for righteousness, but for righteousness' sake; not only for truth, but of love to truth; not only for God's word, but according to it, to wit, in that holy, humble, meek manner as the word of God requireth. A man may give his body to be burned for God's truth, and yet be none of God's martyrs (1 Cor 13:1-3). Yea, a man may suffer with a great deal of patience, and yet be none of God's martyrs (1 Peter 2:20). The one, because he wanteth that grace that should poise his heart, and make him right in the manner of doing; the other, because he wanteth that word of the Holy One that alone can make his cause good, as to matter. It is, therefore, matter and manner that makes the martyr; and it is this man that is intended in the text which is aforesaid described. So then, they that suffer for the law and testament of God in that holy and humble manner that the Word requires, they are they that, by this Word of God, are commanded to commit the keeping of their souls to God.
From this consideration, two things present themselves to our sight. 1. That a man may be a Christian, and suffer, and yet not suffer, in the sense last given, according to the will of God. 2. There have been, and may yet be a people in the world that have, and may suffer in the sense of the apostle here, according to the will of God.
[1. A Christian may suffer, but not in the sense of the apostle, according to the will of God.]
A few words to the first of these, namely, that a man may be a Christian, and suffer, and yet not suffer, in the sense of the apostle in the text, "according to the will of God." He may be a Christian and yet not suffer as a Christian. He may want the matter, or, he may want the manner, of suffering as a Christian.
This is evident from what this apostle suggests in several places of this epistle. For,
Saith he, "If ye be buffeted for your faults" (1 Peter 2:20). This supposeth that a Christian may so be; for he speaketh here to the same people, unto whom he speaketh in the text, though he putteth them not under the same circumstance, as suffering for well-doing. If ye be buffeted for your faults, for what God's word calls faults, what thank have you from God, or good men, though you take it patiently?
So again, "For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well-doing, than for evil-doing" (1 Peter 3:17). Here it is plainly supposed that a Christian man may suffer for evil-doing, yea, that the will of God may be, that he should suffer for evil-doing. For God, if Christians do not well, will vindicate himself by punishing of them for their doing ill. Yea, and will not count them worthy, though they be his own, to be put among the number of those that suffer for doing well.
Again, "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters" (1 Peter 4:15). These are cautions to Christians to persuade them to take heed to themselves, their tongues and their actions, that all be kept within the bounds of the Word. For it would be a foolish thing to say, that these are cautions to persuade to take heed of that, into which it is not possible one should fall. It is possible for Christians to suffer for evil-doing, and therefore let Christians beware; it is possible for Christians to be brought to public justice for their faults, and therefore let Christians beware. It is possible for Christians to suffer justly by the hand of the magistrate, and therefore let Christians beware. This also is insinuated in the text itself, and therefore let Christians beware.
The causes of this are many, some of which I shall now briefly touch upon.
(1.) Sin is in the best of men: and as long as it is so, without great watchfulness, and humble walking with God, we may be exposed to shame and suffering for it. What sin is it that a child of God is not liable to commit, excepting that which is the sin unpardonable? Nor have we a promise of being kept from any other sin, but on condition that we do watch and pray (Matt 26:41).
(2.) It is possible for a Christian to have an erroneous conscience in some things, yea, in such things as, if God by his grace prevents not, may bring us to public justice and shame. Abishai, though a good man, would have killed the king, and that of conscience to God, and love to his master (1 Sam 26:7,8). And had David delivered him up to Saul for his attempt, he had in all likelihood died as a traitor. Peter drew his sword, and would have fought therewith, a thing for which he was blamed of his Master, and bid with a threatening, to put it up again (Matt 26:52). Besides, oppression makes a wise man mad; and when a man is mad what evils will he not do? Further, The devil, who is the great enemy of the Christians, can send forth such spirits into the world as shall not only disturb men, but nations, kings, and kingdoms, in raising divisions, distractions and rebellions. And can so manage matters that the looser sort of Christians19 may be also dipped and concerned therein. In Absalom's conspiracy against his father, there were two hundred men called out of Jerusalem to follow him, "and they went in their simplicity, not knowing any thing" (2 Sam 15:11). I thank God I know of no such men, nor thing: but my judgment tells me, that if Christians may be drawn into fornication, adultery, murder, theft, blasphemy or the like, as they may; why should it be thought impossible for them to be drawn in here. Wherefore I say again, watch and pray, fear God, reverence his Word, approve of his appointments, that you may be delivered from every evil work and way. I said afore that the will of God may be, that a Christian should suffer as an evil-doer; but then it is because he keepeth not within the bounds of that, which is also called the will of God. The will of God is, that sin should be punished, though committed by the Christians; punished according to the quality of transgressions: and therefore it is that he hath ordained magistrates. Magistrates, to punish sin, though it be the sin of Christians. They are the ministers of God, revengers, to execute wrath, the wrath of God upon them that do evil (Rom 13). Wherefore, though the Christian as a Christian is the only man at liberty, as called thereunto of God; yet his liberty is limited to things that are good: he is not licensed thereby to indulge the flesh. Holiness and liberty are joined together, yea our call to liberty, is a call to holiness.20 Seek, and you shall find, that a quiet and peaceable life, in our respective places, under the government, is that which we should pray for, to wit, that we may without molestation, if it were "the will of God," spend our days in all godliness and honesty among our neighbours. See 1 Timothy 2:1-8; 1 Peter 2:13-17.
[First. Caution to Christians as Christians.]—I would improve this a little, and first, to Christians as Christians: beware the cautions, that are here presented to you, be not neglected by you. The evils are burning hot, as hot as a red hot iron. It is the greatest blemish that can be to a Christian, to suffer as an evil-doer. To say nothing of the reproach that such do bring to the name of Christ, their Lord; to his law, their rule; and to the Christian profession, which should be their glory: the guilt and shame that evil actions will load the conscience with at such a time, can hardly be stood under. The man that suffereth as an evil-doer, and yet weareth the name of a Christian, what stumbling blocks doth he lay in the way of the ignorant in a kingdom? The devil told them before, that a Christian was a mischievous man; and to suffer for evil-doing, confirms them in that belief. Consider also the difficulties that surely such must meet with in the last minutes of their life. For can it be imagined but that such an one must have combats and conflicts at the last, who carry in their consciences the guilt and condemnation that is due to their deeds, to the place which magistrates have appointed for them to receive the reward of their works at. Such an one bereaves not only his own soul of peace, and his name of credit, but himself of life, his friends of all cause of rejoicing, and casteth reproach upon religion, as he is stepping out of the world. What shall I say, Christians as Christians have other things to do than to concern themselves in evil things, or to meddle in other men's matters. Let us mind our own business, and leave the magistrate to his work, office and calling among men also.
I speak now to them that are not by the king called to that employ. A Christian as such has enough to do at home, in his heart, in his house, in his shop, and the like. But if thou must needs be meddling, consider what place, office, calling or relation, God has put thee in, and busy thyself by the rule of the Word to a conscientious performance of that. Nor shalt thou want dignity, though thou art but a private Christian. Every Christian man is made a king by Christ (Rev 5:10). But then, his dominion as such, doth reach no further than to himself. He has not dominion over another's faith (2 Cor 1:24). His office is to govern, and bridle, and keep under, himself; to watch over himself, and to bring his body into subjection to the will of God. The weapons that he has for this purpose are not carnal, but spiritual, and mighty through God. Let him govern then, if he will be a governor, his whole man by the Word. Let him bring down, if he must be bringing down, his own high imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. If he must be a warrior, let him levy war against his own unruly passions, and let him fight against those lusts that war against his soul21 (2 Cor 10:3-5; Gal 5:17; James 3:3-8; 1 Peter 2:11).
I say therefore, if thou wilt needs be a ruler, thou hast a tongue, rule that; lusts, rule them; affections, govern them; yea, thou hast excellent graces, manage them, cherish, strengthen and replenish them according to the mind of that great one who has bestowed such power to rule, upon thee. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Col 3:5). Nor do I think that murmuring, shrinking, wincing, complaining, and the like, when men, governors, lay a yoke upon our necks, flow from any thing else, but love to our flesh, and distrust of the faithfulness of God to manage men, things, and actions for his church. The powers that be are ordered as well as ordained of God. They are also always in God's hand, as his rod or staff for the good and benefit of his people. Wherefore we ought with all meekness and humbleness of mind to accept of what our God by them shall please to lay upon us (1 Peter 5:6). By what I now say, I do not forbid groaning and crying to God under affliction. I speak against striving to deliver ourselves from the affliction. And since men are, as I said, the rod, staff or sword in God's hand, we should apply ourselves unto him in faith in a way of prayer, intercession, supplication and giving of thanks for governors. For since they are sent of God, they must needs come with some good in their hand for us, also our prayers may make them more profitable to us. And this we ought to do without wrath and doubting; for this is that which is good, and acceptable unto God (1 Tim 2).
Besides, it is a sign that we forget ourselves when we complain for the punishment of our sins. If we look into ourselves, and ways, we shall see cause of more heavy stripes than yet God by men has laid upon us. What sin has yet been suppressed by all that has happened to us: if pride, covetousness, looseness, treacherous dealing, schisms, and other things, redressed by all the affliction that we have had? Yea, do we not grow worse and worse? Wherefore then should we complain? Where is repentance, reformation, and amendment of life amongst us? Why, then, do we shrink and winch. For my part, I have ofttimes stood amazed both at the mercy of God, and the favour of the Prince towards us; and can give thanks to God for both: and do make it my prayer to God for the king, and that God will help me with meekness and patience to bear whatever shall befall me for my professed subjection to Christ, by men.
We are bid, as I said afore, to give thanks to God for all men, for kings, and for all that are in authority. Because, as I said, there is no man with whom we have to do, we doing as we should, but he bringeth some good thing to us, or doth some good thing for us. We will now descend from them that are supreme in authority, and will come to inferior men: and suppose some of them to act beyond measure, cruelly. What? Can no good thing come to us out of this? Do not even such things as are most bitter to the flesh, tend to awaken Christians to faith and prayer, to a sight of the emptiness of this world, and the fadingness of the best it yields? Doth not God by these things ofttimes call our sins to remembrance, and provoke us to amendment of life? how then can we be offended at things by which we reap so much good, and at things that God makes so profitable for us? Doth not God, ofttimes, even take occasions by the hardest of things that come upon us, to visit our souls with the comforts of his Spirit, to lead us into the glory of his word, and to cause us to savour that love that he has had for us, even from before the world began, till now. A nest of bees and honey did Samson find, even in the belly of that lion that roared upon him. And is all this no good? or can we be without such holy appointments of God? Let these things be considered by us, and let us learn like Christians to kiss the rod, and love it.
I have thought, again, my brethren, since it is required of us that we give thanks to God for all these men, it follows that we do with quietness submit ourselves under what God shall do to us by them. For it seems a paradox to me, to give thanks to God for them, that yet I am not willing should abide in that place that God has set them in for me. I will then love them, bless them, pray for them, and do them good. I speak now of the men that hurt me as was hinted afore. And I will do thus, because it is good so to do, because they do me good by hurting of me, because I am called to inherit a blessing, and because I would be like my heavenly Father. "Therefore if mine enemy hunger, let me feed him; if he thirst, let me give him drink" 22 (Matt 5:43-48; 1 Peter 3:9; Rom 12:17-20). (1.) We must see good in that, in which other men can see none. (2.) We must pass by those injuries that other men would revenge. (3.) We must shew we have grace, and that we are made to bear what other men are not acquainted with. (4.) Many of our graces are kept alive by those very things that are the death of other men's souls.
Where can the excellency of our patience, of our meekness, of our long-suffering, of our love, and of our faith appear, if it be not under trials, and in those things that run cross to our flesh? The devil, they say, is good when he is pleased. But Christ and his saints, when displeased.23
Let us therefore covet to imitate Christ and the scripture saints. Let us shew out of a good conversation, our works with meekness of wisdom. Let us take heed of admitting the least thought in our minds of evil, against God, the king, or them that are under him in employ, because, the cup, the king, all men, and things are in the hand of God (Psa 75:8; Prov 8:15; 21:1; Lam 3:37). And he can make them better to us, than if they were as our flesh desireth they should.
I have often thought that the best Christians are found in the worst of times: and I have thought again, that one reason why we are no better, is because God purges us no more (John 15). I know these things are against the grain of the flesh, but they are not against the graces of the Spirit. Noah and Lot, who so holy as they, in the day of their affliction? Noah and Lot, who so idle as they in the day of their prosperity? I might have put in David too, who, while he was afflicted, had ways of serving God that were special; but when he was more enlarged, he had ways that were not so good. Wherefore the first ways of David are the ways that God has commended: but the rest of his ways, such as had not pre-eminence (2 Chron 17:3).
We have need of all, and of more than all that has yet befallen us: and are to thank God, since his word and patience have done no more good to us, that he hath appointed men to make us better.24 Wherefore for a conclusion, as we are to receive with meekness the engrafted word of God, so also we are with patience to bear what God, by man, shall lay upon us. O that saying of God to them of old, "Why criest thou for thine affliction? thy sorrow is incurable for the multitude of thine iniquity: because thy sins were increased, I have done these things unto thee" (Jer 30:15). We have need to consider of, and to sit still and be quiet, and reverence the ordinance of God: I mean affliction. And until we can in truth get hither in our spirits, I neither look to find very right Christianity amongst us, nor much of God among professors. When I think of Mordecai, and Daniel, yea, and of David too, and of the behaviour of them all with respect to the powers that they were under, I cannot but think that a sweet, meek, quiet, loving, godly submission unto men for the Lord's sake, is an excellent token of the grace of God in us. But,
[Second Caution to Weak Christians.]—As I cannot but condemn the actions of such Christians as have been touched before, so I would caution weak Christians not to be offended with true religion for the miscarriages of their fellows. There are two things that are very apt to be an occasion of offence to the weak: one is, when the cross attends religion; the other is, when others that profess religion do suffer for evil-doing. To both these I would say this:—
1. Though the cross, indeed, is grievous to the flesh, yet we should with grace bear up under it, and not be offended at it.
2. And as to the second, though we should and ought to be offended with such miscarriage; yet not with religion, because of such miscarriage. Some, indeed, when they see these things, take offence against religion itself; yea, perhaps, are glad of the occasion, and so fall out with Jesus Christ, saying to him, because of the evils that attend his ways, as the ten tribes said to Rehoboam, the son of Solomon the king, "What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse; to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David," (1 Kings 12:16); and so go quite away from him, and cleave no more unto him, to his people, or to his ways: but this is bad. Shun, therefore, the evil ways of Christians, but cleave to the way that is Christian: cast away that bad spirit that thou seest in any, but hold fast to thy Head and Lord. Whither canst thou go? the Lord Jesus has the words of eternal life (John 6:68). Whither wilt thou go? there is not salvation in any other (Acts 4:12). Take heed, therefore, of picking a quarrel with Jesus Christ, and with his ways, because of the evil-doings of some of his followers. Judas sold him, Peter denied him, and many of his disciples went back and did walk no more with him; but neither himself nor his ways were the worse for that. Beware, therefore, that thou truly distinguish between the good ways of Jesus Christ and the evil ways of them that profess him; and take not an occasion to throw away thy own soul down the throat of hell, because others have vilely cast away their lives by transgressing of the law of God. Nay, let other men's faults make thee more wary; let other men's falls make thee look better to thy goings: shun the rock that he that went before thee did split his ship against; and cry to God to lead thee in a path that is plain and good, because of thy observers.
Further, Let not opposite Christians rejoice when they see that evil hath taken their brother by the heel. Hate the garment, the thing that is bad, and by which the name, and fame, and life of thy brother is so vilely cast away, thou shouldest; and take good heed lest it also touch thee, but yet thou shouldest pity thy brother, mourn for his hard hap, and grieve that a thing so much unbecoming Christianity should be suffered to show the least part of itself among any of those that profess the gospel.
Directions for the shunning of suffering for evil-doing, are they that come next to hand.
Direction 1. Therefore, wouldest thou not suffer as an evil-doer, then take heed of committing of evil. Evil courses bring to evil ends; shun all appearance of evil, and ever follow that which is good. And if ye be followers of that which is good, who will harm you (1 Peter 3:13)? Or if there should be such enemies to goodness in the world as to cause thee for that to suffer, thou needest not be ashamed of thy suffering for well-doing, nor can there be a good man, but he will dare to own and stand by thee in it. Yea, thy sufferings for that will make thee happy, so that thou canst by no means be a loser thereby.
Direction 2. Wouldest thou not suffer for evil-doing, then take heed of the occasions of evil. Take heed of tempting company. Beware of men, for they will deliver thee up. There have been men in the world that have sought to make themselves out of the ruins of other men. This did Judas, and some of the Pharisees (Matt 10:17; Luke 20:19,20). Take heed to thy mouth: "A fool's mouth calleth for strokes,—and his lips are the snare of his soul" (Prov 18:7). Take heed of indulging, and hearkening to the ease of the flesh, and of carnal reasonings, for that will put thee upon wicked things.
Direction 3. Wouldest thou not suffer as an evil-doer, then take heed of hearing of any thing spoken that is not according to sound doctrine: thou must withdraw thyself from such in whom thou perceivest not the words of knowledge. Let not talk against governors, against powers, against men in authority be admitted; keep thee far from an evil matter. My son, says Solomon, fear thou the Lord, and the King, and meddle not with those that are given to change.
Direction 4. Wouldest thou not suffer as an evil-doer, addict not thyself to play with evil, 25 to joke and jest, and mock at men in place and power. Gaal mocked at Abimelech, and said, Who is Abimelech that we should serve him? But he paid for his disdainful language at last (Judg 9). I have heard of an innkeeper here in England, whose sign was the crown, and he was a merry man. Now he had a boy, of whom he used to say, when he was jovial among his guests, This boy is heir to the crown, or this boy shall be heir to the crown; and if I mistake not the story, for these words he lost his life.26 It is bad jesting with great things, with things that are God's ordinance, as kings and governors are. Yea, let them rather have that fear, that honour, that reverence, that worship, that is due to their place, their office, and dignity. How Paul gave honour and respect unto those that were but deputy-kings and heathen magistrates, will greatly appear, if you do but read his trials before them in the book called, The Acts of the Apostles. And what a charge both he and Peter have left behind them to the churches to do so too, may be found to conviction, if we read their epistles.
Direction 5. Wouldest thou not suffer for evil-doing, then take heed of being offended with magistrates, because by their state acts they may cross thy inclinations. It is given to them to bear the sword, and a command is to thee, if thy heart cannot acquiesce with all things with meekness and patience, to suffer. Discontent in the mind sometimes puts discontent into the mouth; and discontent in the mouth doth sometimes also put a halter about the neck. For as a man, by speaking a word in jest may for that be hanged in earnest; so he that speaks in discontent may die for it in sober sadness. Adonijah's discontent put him upon doing that which cost him his life (1 Kings 2:13,23). Great peace have they that love thy law, and nothing shall offend them; for they are subjected to the will and foot of God.
Direction 6. But, above all, get thy conscience possessed yet more with this, that the magistrate is God's ordinance, and is ordered of God as such: that he is the minister of God to thee for good, and that it is thy duty to fear him, and pray for him, to give thanks to God for him, and to be subject to him as both Paul and Peter admonish us; and that not only for wrath, but for conscience sake (Rom 13:5). For all other arguments come short of binding the soul, where this argument is wanting; until we believe that of God we are bound thereto. I speak not these things, as knowing any that are disaffected to the government; for I love to be alone, if not with godly men, in things that are convenient. But because I appear thus in public, and know not into whose hands these lines may come, therefore thus I write. I speak it also to show my loyalty to the king, and my love to my fellow-subjects; and my desire that all Christians should walk in ways of peach and truth.
[2. That Christians may, and have, suffered according to the will of God.]
I come now to the second thing propounded to be spoken to, as to suffering, which is this.—That there have been, and yet may be, a people in the world that have, and may, suffer in the sense of the apostle here, according to the will of God, or for righteousness' sake.
That there have been such a people in the world, I think nobody will deny, because many of the prophets, Christ, and his apostles, thus suffered. Besides, since the Scriptures were written, all nations can witness to this, whose histories tell at large of the patience and goodness of the sufferers, and of the cruelty of those that did destroy them. And that the thing will yet happen, or come to pass again, both Scripture and reason affirm.
First, Scripture. The text tells us, That God hath put enmity betwixt the woman and her seed, and the serpent and his seed (Gen 3:15). This enmity put, is so fixed that none can remove it so, but that it still will remain in the world. These two seeds have always had, and will have, that which is essentially opposite to one another, and they are "the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (1 John 4:6), sin and righteousness (3:7,8), light and darkness (1 Thess 5:5). Hence "an unjust man is an abomination to the just; and he that is upright in the way is abomination to the wicked" (Prov 29:27). So that unless you could sanctify and regenerate all men, or cause that no more wicked men should any where be in power for ever, you cannot prevent but that sometimes still there must be sufferers for righteousness' sake. "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim 3:12).
Second, To prove this by reason is easy. The devil is not yet shut up in the bottomless pit—Antichrist is yet alive. The government in all kingdoms is not yet managed with such light, and goodness of mind, as to let the saints serve God, as he has said, whatever it is in some. And until then there will be in some places, though for my part I cannot predict where, a people that will yet suffer for well-doing, or for righteousness' sake.
In order to a right handling of this matter, I shall divide this head into these two parts—A. Show you what it is to suffer for well-doing, or for righteousness. B. Show you what it is to suffer for righteousness' sake. I put this distinction, because I find that it is one thing to suffer for righteousness, and another to suffer for righteousness' sake.
[A. What it is to suffer for righteousness.]
To begin with the first, namely, to show you what it is to suffer for righteousness. Now that may be done either passively or actively.
1. Passively, as when any suffer for righteousness without their own will, or consent thereto. Thus, the little children at Bethlehem suffered by the hands of bloody Herod, when they died for, or in the room and stead of, Jesus Christ (Matt 2:16). Every one of those children died for righteousness, if Christ is righteousness; for they died upon his account, as being supposed to be he himself. Thus also the children of Israel's little ones, that were murdered with their parents, or otherwise, because of the religion of them that begat and bare them, died for righteousness. The same may be said concerning those of them that suffered in the land of the Chaldeans upon the same account. I might here also bring in those poor infants that in Ireland, Piedmont, Paris, and other places, have had their throats cut, and their brains dashed out against the walls, for none other cause but for the religion of their fathers. Many, many have suffered for righteousness after this manner. Their will, nor consent, has been in the suffering, yet they have suffered for religion, for righteousness. And as this hath been, so it may be again; for if men may yet suffer for righteousness, even so, for ought I know, even in this sense, may their children also.
Now, although this is not the chief matter of my text, yet a few words here may do no harm. The children that thus suffer, though their own will and consent be not in what they undergo, may yet, for all that, be accepted as an offering unto the Lord. Their cause is good; it is for religion and righteousness. Their hearts do not recoil against the cause for which they suffer; and although they are children, God can deal with them as with John the Baptist, cause them in a moment to leap for joy of Christ; or else can save them by his grace, as he saveth other his elect infants, and thus comprehend them, though they cannot apprehend him; yea, why may they not only be saved, but in some sense be called martyrs of Jesus Christ, and those that have suffered for God's cause in the world? God comforted Rachel concerning her children that Herod murdered in the stead, and upon the account of Christ.27