« AnteriorContinuar »
recommended by the brethren to the grace of God:" (which Barnabas seems not to have stayed for.) And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the Churches." From the whole account, it does not appear that St. Paul was in any fault: that he either felt any temper, or spoke any word contrary to the law of love. Therefore, not being in any fault, he does not need 7. Certainly he who is full of love is "gentle towards all men." He, "in meekness, instructs those that oppose themselves," that oppose what he loves most, even the truth of God, or that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord: not knowing but "God peradventure may bring them to the knowledge of the truth." However provoked, he does "not return evil for evil, or railing for railing." Yea, he "blesses those that curse him, and does good to them that despitefully use him and persecute him.” He ❝ is not overcome of evil, but" always "overcomes evil with good."
8. Thirdly, Love is long-suffering. It endures not a few affronts, reproaches, injuries: but all things which God is pleased to permit either men or devils to inflict. It arms the soul with inviolable patience and not harsh stoical patience, but yielding as the air, which making no resistance to the stroke, receives no harm thereby. The lover of mankind remembers him who suffered for us, "leaving us an example that we might tread in his steps." Accordingly, "if his enemy hunger, he feeds him, if he thirst, he gives him drink ;" and by so doing, he heaps coals of fire, of melting love, upon his head. "And many waters cannot quench this love: neither can the floods" of ingratitude "drown it."
II. 1. We are, secondly, to enquire, What those things are, which, it is commonly supposed, will supply the place of love. And the first of these is Eloquence: a faculty of talking well, particularly on religious subjects. Men are generally inclined to think well of one that talks well. If he speaks properly and fluently of God, and the things of God, who can doubt of his being in God's favour? And
it is very natural for him to think well of himself, to have as favourable an opinion of himself as others have.
2. But men of reflection are not satisfied with this: they are not content with a flood of words, they prefer thinking before talking, and judge, one that knows much is far preferable to one that talks much. And it is certain, Knowledge is an excellent gift of God; particularly knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, in which are contained all the depths of divine knowledge and wisdom. Hence it is generally thought that a man of much knowledge, knowledge of Scripture in particular, must not only be in the favour of God, but likewise enjoy a high degree of it.
3. But men of deeper reflection are apt to say, "I lay no stress upon any other knowledge, but the knowledge of God by Faith. Faith is the only knowledge, which, in the sight of God, is of great price. "We are saved by faith;" by faith alone: this is the one thing needful. He that believeth, and he alone, shall be saved everlastingly." There is much truth in this: it is unquestionably true, that "we are saved by faith:" consequently, That "he that believeth, shall be saved, and he that believeth not, shall be damned."
4. But some men will say, with the Apostle James, "Shew me thy faith without thy works," (if thou canst; but indeed it is impossible,)" and I will shew thee my faith by my works." And many are induced to think that good works, works of piety and mercy, are of far more consequence than faith itself, and will supply the want of every other qualification for heaven. Indeed this seems to be the general sentiment, not only of the members of the Church of Rome, but of Protestants also; not of the giddy and thoughtless, but the serious members of our own Church.
5. And it cannot be denied that our Lord himself hath said, "Ye shall know them by their fruits:" by their works ye know them that believe, and them that believe not. But yet But yet it may be doubted, whether there is not a surer proof of the sincerity of our faith, than even our
works: and that is, our willingly suffering for righteousness' sake: especially if, after suffering reproach, and pain, and loss of friends and substance, a man gives up life itself, yea, by a shameful, and painful death, by giving his body to be burned, rather than he would give up faith and a good conscience, by neglecting his known duty.
6. It is proper to observe here, first, What a beautiful gradation there is, each step rising above the other, in the enumeration of those several things, which some or other of those that are called Christians, and are usually accounted so, really believe will supply the absence of love. St. Paul begins at the lowest point, talking well, and advances step by step, every one rising higher than the preceding, till he comes to the highest of all. A step above eloquence is knowledge: faith is a step above this. Good Works are a step above that faith. And even above this, is Suffering for righteousness' sake. Nothing is higher than this but Christian love: the love of our neighbour flowing from the love of God.
7. It may be proper to observe, secondly, That whatever passes for religion in any part of the Christian world, (whether it be a part of religion, or no part at all, but either folly, superstition, or wickedness,) may with very little difficulty be reduced to one or other of these heads. Every thing which is supposed to be religion, either by Protestants or Romanists, and is not, is contained under one or another of these five particulars. Make trial, as often as you please, with any thing that is called religion, but improperly so called, and you will find the rule to hold without any exception.
III. 1. I am now, in the third place, to demonstrate, to all who have ears to hear, who do not harden themselves against conviction, that neither any one of these five qualifications, nor all of them together, will avail any thing before God, without the love above described.
In order to do this in the clearest manner, we may consider them one by one. And, first, Though I speak with the
tongues of men and of angels: with an eloquence such as never was found in men, concerning the nature, attributes, and works of God, whether of creation or providence: though I were not herein a whit behind the chief of the Apostles, preaching like St. Peter, and praying like St. John; yet unless humble, gentle, patient love, be the ruling temper of my soul, I am no better in the judgment of God, "than sounding brass, or a rumbling cymbal." The highest eloquence, therefore, either in private conversation, or in public ministrations; the brightest talents either for preaching or prayer, if they were not joined with humble, meek, and patient resignation, might sink me the deeper into hell, but will not bring me one step nearer heaven.
2. A plain instance may illustrate this. I knew a young man between fifty and sixty years ago, who during the course of several years, never endeavoured to convince any one of a religious truth, but he was convinced: and he never endeavoured to persuade any one to engage in a religious practice, but he was persuaded; what then? All that power of convincing speech, all that force of persuasion, if it was not joined with meekness and lowliness, with resignation and patient love, would no more qualify him for the fruition of God, than a clear voice, or a fine complexion. Nay, it would rather procure him a hotter place in everlasting burnings.
3. Secondly, Though I have the gift of prophecy, of foretelling those future events which no creature can foresee; and though I understand all the mysteries of nature, of providence, and the word of God: and have all knowledge of things, divine or human, that any mortal ever attained to: though I can explain the most mysterious passages of Daniel, of Ezekiel, and the Revelation: yet if I have not humility, gentleness, and resignation, I am nothing in the sight of God.
A little before the conclusion of the late war in Flanders, one who came from thence gave us a very strange relation. I knew not what judgment to form of this; but waited till
John Haime should come over, of whose veracity I could no more doubt, than of his understanding. The account he gave was this." Jonathan Pyrah was a member of our Society in Flanders. I knew him some years, and knew him to be a man of unblamable character. One day he was summoned to appear before the Board of General Officers. One of them said, What is this which we hear of you? We hear you are turned prophet, and that you foretel the downfal of the bloody House of Bourbon, and the haughty house of Austria. We should be glad if you were a real prophet, and if your prophecies came true. But what sign do you give, to convince us you are so; and that your predictions will come to pass? He readily answered, Gentlemen, I give you a sign. To-morrow at
twelve o'clock, you shall have such a storm of thunder and lightning, as you never had before since you came into Flanders. I give you a second sign: as little as any of you expect any such thing, as little appearance of it as there is now, you shall have a general engagement with the French within three days. I give you a third sign: I shall be ordered to advance in the first line. If I am a false prophet, I shall be shot dead at the first discharge. But if I am a true prophet I shall only receive a musket-ball in the calf of my left leg.' At twelve the next day there was such thunder and lightning as they never had before in Flanders. On the third day, contrary to all expectation, was the general battle of Fontenoy. He was ordered to advance in the first line. And at the very first discharge, he received a musket ball in the calf of his left leg."
4. And yet all this profited him nothing, either for temporal or eternal happiness. When the war was over, he returned to England; but the story was got before him : in consequence of which he was sent for by the Countess of Sts, and several other persons of quality, who were desirous to receive so surprising an account from his own mouth. He could not bear so much honour. It quite turned his brain. In a little time he ran stark mad. And