VII. The seventh season, which requires more than common diligence to keep the heart, is when we receive injuries and abuses from men. Such is the depravity and corruption of man, that one is become as a wolf or a tiger to another. And as men are naturally cruel and oppressive one to another, so the wicked conspire to abuse and wrong the people of God. "The wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he." Now when we are thus abused and wronged, it is hard to keep the heart from revengeful motions; to make it meekly and quietly commit the cause to Him that judgeth righteously; to prevent the exercise of any sinful affection. The spirit that is in us lusteth to revenge; but it must not be so. We have choice helps in the Gospel to keep our hearts from sinful motions against our enemies, and to sweeten our embittered spirits. Do you ask how a Christian may keep his heart from revengeful motions under the greatest injuries and abuses from men? I reply: When you find your heart begin to be inflamed by revengeful feelings, immediately reflect on the following things:
1. Urge upon your heart the severe prohibitions of revenge contained in the law of God. However gratifying to your corrupt propensities revenge may be, remember that it is forbidden. Hear the word of God: "Say not, I will recompense evil." Say not, I will do to him as he hath done to me. "Recompense to no man evil for evil. Avenge not yourselves, but give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord." On the contrary. "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink." It was an argument urged by the Christians to prove their religion to be supernatural and pure, that it forbids revenge, which is so agreeable to nature; and it is to be wished that such an argument might not be laid aside. Awe your heart, then, with the authority of God in the Scriptures; and when carnal reason says, 'My enemy deserves to be hated,' let conscience reply, 'But doth God deserve to be disobeyed?' 'Thus and thus hath he done, and so hath he wronged me;' 'But what hath God done that I should wrong him? If my enemy dares boldly to break the peace, shall I be so wicked as to break the precept? if he fears not to wrong me, shall not I fear to wrong God?' Thus let the fear of God restrain and calm your feelings.
2. Set before your eyes the most eminent patterns of meekness and forgiveness, that you may feel the force of their example. This is the way to cut off the common pleas of flesh and blood for revenge: as thus, 'No man would bear such an affront;' yes, others have borne as bad, and worse ones. 'But I shall be reckoned a coward, a fool, if I pass by this:' no matter, so long as you follow the examples of the wisest and holiest of men. Never did any one suffer more or greater abuses from men than Jesus did, nor did any one ever endure insult and reproach and every kind of abuse in a more peaceful and forgiving manner; when he was reviled he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; when his murderers crucified him, he prayed Father, forgive them; and herein he that set us an example, that we should follow his steps. Thus his apostles imitated him: "Being reviled," say they, "we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat." I have often heard it reported of the holy Mr. Dod, that when a man, enraged at his close, convincing doctrine, assaulted him, smote him on the face and dashed out two of his teeth; that meek servant of Christ spit out the teeth and blood into his hand, and said, "See here, you have knocked out two of my teeth, and that without any just provocation; but on condition that I might do your soul good, I would give you leave to knock out all the rest." Here was exemplified the excellency of the Christian spirit. Strive then for this spirit, which constitutes the real excellence of Christians. Do what others cannot do, keep this spirit in exercise, and you will preserve peace in your own soul and gain the victory over your enemies.
3. Consider the character of the person who has wronged you. He is either a good or a wicked man. If he is a good man, there is light and tenderness in his conscience, which sooner or later will bring him to a sense of the evil of what he has done. If he is a good man, Christ has forgiven him greater injuries than he has done to you; and why should not you forgive him? Will Christ not upbraid him for any of his wrongs, but frankly forgive them all; and will you take him by the throat for some petty abuse which he has offered you?
4. But if a wicked man has injured or insulted you, truly you have more reason to exercise pity than revenge toward him. He is in a deluded and miserable state; a slave to sin and an enemy to righteousness. If he should ever repent, he will be ready to make you reparation; if he continues impenitent, there is a day coming when he will be punished to the extent of his deserts. You need not study revenge, God will execute vengeance upon him.
5. Remember that by revenge you can only gratify a sinful passion, which by forgiveness you might conquer. Suppose that by revenge you might destroy one enemy; yet, by exercising the Christian's temper you might conquer threeyour own lust, Satan's temptation, and your enemy's heart. If by revenge you should overcome your enemy, the victory would be unhappy and inglorious, for in gaining it you would be overcome by your own corruption; but by exercising a meek and forgiving temper, you will always come off with honor and success. It must be a very disingenuous nature indeed upon which meekness and forgiveness will not operate; that must be a flinty heart which this fire will not melt. Thus David gain such a victory over Saul his persecutor, that "Saul lifted up his voice and wept, and he said to David, Thou art more righteous than I."
6. Seriously propose this question to your own heart: 'Have I got any good by means of the wrongs and injuries which I have received?' If they have done you no good, turn your revenge upon yourself. You have reason to be filled with shame and sorrow that you should have a heart which can deduce no good from such troubles; that your temper should be so unlike that of Christ. The patience and meekness of other Christians have turned all the injuries offered to them to a good account; their souls have been animated to praise God when they have been loaded with reproaches from the world. "I thank my God." said Jerome, "that I am worthy to be hated of the world." But if you have derived any benefit from the reproaches and wrongs which you have received, if they have put you upon examining your own heart, if they have made you more careful how you conduct, if they have convinced you of the value of a sanctified temper; will you not forgive them? will you not forgive one who has been instrumental of so much good to you? What though he meant it for evil? if through the Divine blessing your happiness has been promoted by what he has done, why should you even have a hard thought of him?
7. Consider by whom all your troubles are ordered. This will be of great use to keep your heart from revenge; this will quickly calm and sweeten your temper. When Shimei railed at David and cursed him, the spirit of that good man was not at all poisoned by revenge; for when Abishai offered him, if he pleased, the head of Shimei, the king said, "Let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David: who shall then say, Wherefore hast thou done so?" It may be that God uses him as his rod to chastise me, because by my sin I gave the enemies of God occasion to blaspheme; and shall I be angry with the instrument? how irrational were that! Thus Job was quieted; he did not rail and meditate revenge upon the Chaldeans and Sabeans, but regarded God as the orderer of his troubles, and said, "The Lord hath taken away, blessed be his name."
8. Consider how you are daily and hourly wronging God, and you will not be so easily inflamed with revenge against those who have wronged you. You are constantly affronting God, yet he does not take vengeance on you, but bears with you and forgives; and will you rise up and avenge yourself upon others? Reflect on this cutting rebuke: "O thou wicked and slothful servant! I forgave thee all that debt because thou desiredst me; shouldst thou not also have compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?" None should be so filled with forbearance and mercy to such as wrong them, as those who have experienced the riches of mercy themselves. The mercy of God to us should melt our hearts into mercy toward others. it is impossible that we should be cruel to others, except we forget how kind and compassionate God hath been to us. And if kindness cannot prevail in us, methinks fear should: "If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
9. Let the consideration that the day of the Lord draweth nigh, restrain you from anticipating it by acts of revenge. Why are you so hasty? is not the Lord at hand to avenge all his abused servants? "Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold the husbandman waiteth, &c. Be also patient, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned. Behold, the Judge standeth at the door." Vengeance belongeth unto God, and will you wrong yourself so much as to assume his work?
VIII. The next season in which special exertion is necessary to keep the heart, is when we meet with great trials. In such cases, the heart is apt to be suddenly transported with pride, impatience, or other sinful passions. Many good people are guilty of hasty and very sinful conduct in such instances; and all have need to use diligently the following means to keep their hearts submissive and patient under great trials:
1. Get humble and abasing thoughts of yourself. The humble is ever the patient man. Pride is the source of irregular and sinful passions. A lofty, will be an unyielding and peevish spirit. When we overrate ourselves, we think that we are treated unworthily, that our trials are too severe: thus we cavil and repine. Christian, you should have such thoughts of yourself as would put a stop to these murmurings. You should have lower and more humiliating views of yourself than any other can have of you. Get humility, and you will have peace whatever be your trial.
2. Cultivate a habit of communion with God. This will prepare you for whatever may take place. This will so sweeten your temper and calm your mind as to secure you against surprisals. This will produce that inward peace which will make you superior to your trials. Habitual communion with God will afford you enjoyment, which you can never be willing to interrupt by sinful feeling. When a Christian is calm and submissive under his afflictions, probably he derives support and comfort in this way; but he who is discomposed, impatient, or fretful, shows that all is not right withinhe cannot be supposed to practise communion with God.
3. Let your mind be deeply impressed with an apprehension of the evil nature and effects of an unsubmissive and restless temper. It grieves the Spirit of God, and induces his departure. His gracious presence and influence are enjoyed only where peace and quiet submission prevail. The indulgence of such a temper gives the adversary an advantage. Satan is an angry and discontented spirit. He finds no rest but in restless hearts. He bestirs himself when the spirits are in commotion; sometimes he fills the heart with ungrateful and rebellious thoughts; sometimes he inflames the tongue with indecent language. Again, such a temper brings great guilt upon the conscience, unfits the soul for any duty, and dishonors the Christian name. O keep your heart, and let the power and excellence of your religion be chiefly manifested when you are brought into the greatest straits.
4. Consider how desirable it is for a Christian to overcome his evil propensities. How much more present happiness it affords; how much better it is in every respect to mortify and subdue unholy feelings, than to give way to them. When upon your deathbed you come calmly to review your life, how comfortable will it be to reflect on the conquest which you have made over the depraved feelings of your heart. It was a memorable saying of Valentinian the emperor, when he was about to die: "Amongst all my conquests, there is but one that now comforts me." Being asked what that was, he answered, "I have overcome my worst enemy, my own sinful heart."
5. Shame yourself, by contemplating the character of those who have been most eminent for meekness and submission. Above all, compare your temper with the Spirit of Christ. "Learn of me," saith he, "for I am meek and lowly." It is said of Calvin and Ursin, though both of choleric natures, that they had so imbibed and cultivated the meekness of Christ as not to utter an unbecoming word under the greatest provocations. And even many of the heathens have manifested great moderation and forbearance under their severest afflictions. Is it not a shame and a reproach that you should be outdone by them?
6. Avoid every thing which is calculated to irritate your feelings. It is true spiritual valor to keep as far as we can out of sin's way. if you can but avoid the excitements to impetuous and rebellious feelings, or check them in their first beginnings, you will have but little to fear. The first workings of common sins are comparatively weak, they gain their strength by degrees; but in times of trial the motions of sin are strongest at first, the unsubdued temper breaks out suddenly and violently. But if you resolutely withstand it at first, it will yield and give you the victory.
IX. The ninth season wherein the greatest diligence and skill are necessary to keep the heart, is the hour of temptation, when Satan besets the Christian's heart, and takes the unwary by surprise. To keep the heart at such times, is not less a mercy than a duty. Few Christians are so skillful in detecting the fallacies, and repelling the arguments by which the adversary incites them to sin, as to come off safe and whole in these encounters. Many eminent saints have smarted severely for their want of watchfulness and diligence at such times. How then may a Christian keep his heart from yielding to temptation? There are several principal ways in which the adversary insinuates temptation, and urges compliance:
1. Satan suggests that here is pleasure to be enjoyed; the temptation is presented with a smiling aspect and an enticing voice: 'What, are you so dull and phlegmatic as not to feel the powerful charms of pleasure? Who can withhold himself from such delights?' Reader, you may be rescued from the danger of such temptations by repelling the proposal of pleasure. it is urged that the commission of sin will afford you pleasure. Suppose this were true, will the accusing and condemning rebukes of conscience and the flames of hell be pleasant too? Is there pleasure in the scourges of conscience? If so, why did Peter weep so bitterly? why did David cry out of broken bones? You hear what is said of the pleasure of sin, and have you not read what David said of the effects of it? "Thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth me sore; there is no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger, neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin," &c. If you yield to temptation, you must feel such inward distress on account of it, or the miseries of hell. But why should the pretended pleasure of sin allure you, when you know that unspeakably more real pleasure will arise from the mortification than can arise from the commission of sin. Will you prefer the gratification of some unhallowed passion, with the deadly poison which it will leave behind, to that sacred pleasure which arises from fearing and obeying God, complying with the dictates of conscience, and maintaining inward peace? Can sin afford any such delight as he feels who, by resisting temptation, has manifested the sincerity of his heart, and obtained evidence that he fears God, loves holiness, and hates sin?
2. The secrecy with which you may commit sin is made use of to induce compliance with temptation. The tempter insinuates that this indulgence will never disgrace you among men, for no one will know it. But recollect yourself. Does not God behold you? Is not the divine presence every where? What if you might hide your sin from the eyes of the world, you cannot hide it from God. No darkness nor shadow of death can screen you from his inspection. Besides have you no reverence for yourself? Can you do that by yourself which you dare not have others observe? Is not your conscience as a thousand witnesses? Even a heathen could say, "When thou art tempted to commit sin, fear thyself without any other witness."
3. The prospect of worldly advantage often enforces temptation. It is suggested, 'Why should you be so nice and scrupulous? Give yourself a little liberty, and you may better your condition: now is your time.' This is a dangerous temptation, and must be promptly resisted. Yielding to such a temptation will do your soul more injury than any temporal acquisition can possibly do you good. And what would it profit you, if you should gain the whole world and lose your own soul? What can be compared with the value of your spiritual interests? or what can at all compensate for the smallest injury of them?
4. Perhaps the smallness of the sin is urged as a reason why you may commit it; thus: 'It is but a little one, a small matter, a trifle; who would stand upon such niceties?' But is the Majesty of heaven little too? If you commit this sin you will offend a great God. Is there any little hell to torment little sinners in? No; the least sinners in hell are full of misery. There is great wrath treasured up for those whom the world regard as little sinners. But the less the sin, the less the inducement to commit it. Will you provoke God for a trifle? will you destroy your peace, wound your conscience, and grieve the Spirit, all for nothing? What madness is this!
5. An argument to enforce temptation is sometimes drawn from the mercy of God and the hope of pardonGod is merciful, he will pass by this as an infirmity, he will not be severe to mark it. But stay: where do you find a promise of mercy to presumptuous sinners? Involuntary reprisals and lamented infirmities may be pardoned, "but the soul that doth aught presumptuously, the same reproacheth the Lord and that soul shall be cut off from among his people." If God is a being of so much mercy, how can you affront him? How can you make so glorious an attribute as the divine mercy an occasion of sin? Will you wrong him because he is good? Rather let his goodness lead you to repentance, and keep you from transgression.
6. Sometimes Satan encourages to the commission of sin, from the examples of holy men. Thus and thus they sinned, and were restored; therefore you may commit this sin, and yet be a saint and be saved. Such suggestions must be instantly repelled. If good men have committed sins similar to that with which you are beset, did any good man ever sin upon such ground and from such encouragement as is here presented? Did Bod cause their examples to be recorded for your imitation, or for your warning? Are they not set up as beacons that you may avoid the rocks upon which they split? Are you willing to feel what they felt for sin? Dare you follow them in sin, and plunge yourself into such distress and danger as they incurred?Reader, in these ways learn to keep your heart in the hour of temptation.
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