The Afflictions which others suffer for Christ, make much for our Comfort and Salva∣tion.
2 COR. 1. 6.
THe second particular in this Text, as it stands divided, is the Consequent or Effect of this tribulation; which is set down in a particular and special manner above any other fruit of it, and that is two-fold, Consolation and Salvation. Of the word Consolation enough hath already been said. For the other, viz. Salvation, we shall remit it to the end of the verse, where it is again specified. So that our work is immediately to proceed to the Observati∣on, which is,
That sufferings for Christ should be so farre from disheartning, and offending*others, that a true and right consideration of them, may much provoke our comfort and salvation.
This truth is of great use. For the afflictions accompanying the wayes of Christ, have been an offence, and a stumbling block to many. Now when a curb shall be made a spur, when an hinderance, a furtherance; and we shall be encouraged from those particulars which should drive back, this consideration must be very profitable.
Before we come to amplifie in what manner, in what respects persecutions are made thus serviceable to others, Let us take notice,
First, That the sufferings of others do work good only occasionally, or by way*of example. We must not conceive any merit or causality (as was declared be∣fore) in Martyrs; They are Examples, not Mediators; Their light did shine that we might thereby glorifie God. So that we must take heed that the suffer∣ings of the godly do not obscure the sufferings of Christ, that they should not be accounted the only treasure of Christ. But as Luther was afraid, lest his books should take men off from meditating on the Bible: Or as Paul was afraid men should judge of him, as if he by his own power had done that miracle; and therefore told them, It was onely by the Name of Christ. So also it was with all the true Martyrs of Christ, they were humble, looking upon them∣selves as unworthy of the name of a Martyr; neither would they have their blood derogate from the blood of Christ. Hence *
Secondly, We may greatly deplore and bewail the Apostasie of the Church concerning those that were Martyrs and sufferers for Christ: in what super∣stition and sinfull devotion were they plunged in about them? So that their suf∣ferings were not for the salvation, but the destruction of many, through the Page 224 sinne and indiscretion of after ages. It is true there is a lawfull and due ho∣nouring of God for his graces bestowed on those Worthies; yet they were but the pens, Gods Spirit was the ready writer; they were but the vessels God pou∣red that curious ointment in them. It was not they so much as God in and by them; for they were men like us, subject to carnal and worldly fears; they were reeds of themselves ready to be shaken by every wind, but God establish∣ed them. So that it is our duty to blesse God, who gave such power and grace to men; yea and we are in a civil way to honour and love them, to desire to imitate them, to make them examples for us to follow. If the Papists had gone no further, we and they should have been at concord in this point; but from imitation they fall to adoration: And although they heap up as many distincti∣ons, as Samson did men by his slaughter, Heap upon heap, to clear themselves in this matter, yet it is but vitreum acumen, these glasses are quickly broken. That the name of such who suffer for Christ should be like a precious ointment, and an honourable esteem of them be had alwayes in the Church, none can de∣ny. Therefore those moral respects vouchsafed to them in the primitive times are not to be blamed; as the regarding of the judgement of a Martyr, as much or more than any Bishop or Doctor. As also when any had fallen by infirmity in times of persecution; such repenting did first go to the Confessours in prisons that were Candidates, or designed Martyrs, intreating their favour, and desi∣ring liberty of admission into Church-communion from them, which the Church received, they making publick satisfaction in respect of scandal by serious hu∣miliation; but this afterwards began to be greatly abused, and Cyprian com∣plaineth of it; therefore it was at last justly abrogated, howsoever such respects as were meerly moral, are to be allowed; but for religious considerations to do any thing to them that is unjustifiable. A learned man thinketh, that the Pro∣phecy spoken of by Peter, 2 Tim. 4. 1. which tels of an Apostasie, bringing in Doctrines of daimons, as he explains it, is the worshipping of these Saints de∣parted; and that this was the great Apostasie of the Church. Whether that be the intent of the holy Ghost, is not here to be disputed. Certainly there was great Apostasie in the Church from primitive simplicity, when they began to worship such who had been Martyrs; yea their reliques they would in a religi∣ous manner preserve and adore praying also unto them, and expecting both soul-mercies and body-mercies from them. Here this wine did begin to turn into vi∣negar, and contrary to Christ, they turned wine into water; that which was only for example and imitation, they turned to Adoration and worship, where∣in they did not only derogate from the glory due to Christ; but even those Con∣fessors and glorious Martyrs themselves, were they corporally present, would with Paul and Barnabas rend their cloaths, and refuse such worship. Certain∣ly if the Angel did forbid John from worshipping him, saying, He was his fel∣low-servant, and therefore he must worship God: How much more would the Martyrs, who were subject to like passions as we are. Though there∣fore the godly are afflicted and persecuted for our comfort and salvation, yet take heed of superstitious excesse about them, turning imitation into religious adoration.
Thirdly, Those that suffer may be very usefull to encourage us, but then we must be sure they be such, who do indeed suffer for Christ. For no doubt all * those who have suffered in any false way, The Heretick for his heresies, the Papist for his Idolatry and superstition, have greatly confirmed those that were of that perswasion. They did greatly comfort and animate others that did believe them to be the true Martyrs of Christ. So that we may say of such, contrary to that in the Text, They are afflicted for the destruction and damnation of others. O∣thers are hardened in their Idolatries and Heresies by their sufferings. Look we then, that we do propound right paterns to our selves, that we be not deceived, Page 225 as sometimes in Popery they have worshipped the bone of an Asse or an horse for a Saints relique; for the Devil hath his Martyrs. Heresie hath her Mar∣tyrs; yea vain-glory hath had many Martyrs. And Austin saith, It is possi∣ble for a man who dieth for the truth, yet to have no other motive but vain-glory. The Apostle affirmeth it also, 1 Cor. 13. when he supposeth a man may give his body to be burnt, and yet for want of charity be a tinkling cymbal, or it will profit him nothing. This is so secret a sinne, and we are so prone to it, that the Heathens did charge it upon all the Christians (though falsly and malicious∣ly) that they suffered only for vain-glory; being the more induced to think so, because the Christians did in such an excessive manner give honour and praise to them.
These things premised, let us consider how the afflictions of others for Christs * cause work to our comfort and salvation.
First, We shall have the greater assurance and perswasion of those Divine Truths upon our souls, that they are not the meer inventions of men, or delu∣sions of our own souls. For how can it but greatly assure us, that if this were not the truth of God, they could never have that comfort, that courage, that evidence and demonstration upon their hearts: the presence of God with them in those exquisite sufferings, do demonstrate, that the truths are of God, as well as the power and comforts to be of him. It is true indeed the meer suffering, and that with some joy, the most exquisite torments. For a religious opinion doth not presently argue, that it is a divine truth, that it hath Gods superscri∣ption upon it. For many heretical and deluded spirits have demonstrated much confidence and comfort: yet on the other side, there cannot be an external great∣er sign of our love to the truth, and that it is of God, then by patient suffering for it. And therefore though Hereticks die, though Papists die for their Reli∣gion, as well as the true Martyr, yet the frame of their spirits and concomitant dispositions are greatly different. For as their minds are corrupted with error, so al∣so are their hearts and affections unsanctified, and therefore discover not the sweet and gracious workings of Gods Spirit upon them, as the true sufferer doth. So that it was not meerly suffering; it was not meerly torments, but the patience, faith and heavenly mindednesse, their love even to their very enemies, that did draw out o∣thers to love them. So that when we see others can be imprisoned, executed for such Doctrines, and they be full of an heavenly, mortified, gracious heart at that time; this must needs work in us a greater assurance of the truth, especially this doth confirm the more, when we see it is not one or two, but multitudes, yea millions, which have given testimony to such truths and that by their bloud, that so many should thus be willingly undone for that which is a falshood, is ve∣ry improbable. And therefore our Divines do usually bring the constancy of Martyrs, as an argument to prove the divine truths of the Scriptures. Oh then shalt thou doubt? Shalt thou question, whether this or that be truth, when thou hast such presidents of so many laying down their lives to con∣firm it?
Secondly, From the sufferings of others for Christ and his way, we may be*greatly encouraged to trust in God, and to depend on him, to enable us also, if he should call us thereunto. How apt are the people of God to be despondent within themselves, to be afraid of their own weaknesse and hypocrisie, saying, their hearts are so carnal, so unmortified that they know not to part with any thing, much lesse life it self for Christ? He cannot, will one say, he dare not say with Peter, Though all men forsake Christ, yet he would not; but rather if there be any that will deny Christ, he should be the man. This temptation is very incident to the gracious heart. But if they look off from themselves to these champions before their eyes, what hope and confidence may they attain unto in the Lord? For what were those confessors of themselves? Were they Page 226 not men? Were they not flesh and blood as well as thou art? Were they not affected with wives, children, and life it self? Were they marble and rocks? No surely, but they were subject to all such temptations as thou art, and yet God was with them, he raised them up above their own strength. So that while thou art out of this fight, thou canst not conceive what strength, and what gra∣cious influence God will vouchsafe unto thee. As we read of one French Mar∣tyr in Fox his Martyrologie, that was exceedingly possessed with fear about suffering, insomuch that he disguised himself, and took upon him to be a ped∣lar, carrying ware up and down; but being at last discovered, and hiding him∣self in a bush, no sooner was he apprehended, but as he acknowledged after∣wards, as soon as ever the enemy had laid hold on him, that spirit of fear and cowardlinesse left him, being filled with undaunted courage. If therefore we read the lives and deaths of those who have been persecuted for Christ, and ob∣serve what wonderfull supports they have had, and how God hath glorified him∣self in their infirmities: so that with Paul they could say, I could do all things through Christ that strengthens me, they did partake of a kind of Omnipoten∣cy: And at another time he saith, When I am weak, then am I strong. This may make thee, though a Lamb for meeknesse and innocency, yet a Lion for courage and spiritual fortitude. Hence the Apostle, when Heb. 11. he had in∣stanced in the great atchievements, many worthies had accomplished by faith, at the twelfth Chapter he beginneth, Seeing we are compassed about with such a cloud of witnesses, or Martyrs, for so we may render it, Let us runne the race that is set before us. We have such a cloud of witnesses, that as the cloud did direct and guide the people of Israel in the wildernesse; so also should the lives and examples of so many (called for that end likewise a cloud) guide us and teach us. Who then can be diffident, unbelieving, fearfull, when he hath such encouragements before his eyes?
Thirdly, From the consideration of such worthies suffering for Christ, we may also take occasion to rejoyce, and to be glad. So farre should we be from shrink∣ing * and apostatizing from Christ, there are several causes of rejoycing; partly in God, blessing and praising him, who doth so much exalt himself in weak ves∣sels. As God hath alwayes delighted to bring about the greatest glory to him∣self by abject and contemptible means. Thus also he doth by the sufferings of his people; that which is most unlikely, by that he magnifieth himself: and that God is seen, and made great in the world, this should mightily rejoyce us, partly, Because we have the same God, and the same promise that they had. And therefore wee may look to rejoyce as well as they. They have not a more mercifull or powerfull God than thou hast; neither have they more excellent or better promises than thou hast. So that as fire kindleth fire, thus their joy may produce joy in thee.
Fourthly, From the sufferings for Christs sake we may informe our selves*much in this great lesson, that they were in earnest, and real for him. It was not only words, or a profession, but a lively submission unto the wayes of Christ. That which the Scripture complaineth of so much, is the general sinne of the Christian world, They follow Christ, because of loaves: They professe him while the scorching heat of the Sunne doth not arise; but when once Christ and their earthly comforts cannot stand together, then they discover their unsoundnesse, and that they had no root at all. But those that suffer for Christ, they professe no more with their tongues then they manifest in their lives, Non loquimur mag∣na, sed vivimus, as Cyprian, We do not so much speak great things, as live them. This was the great Objection to Seneca, and such moral Philosophers, that they had expressions about Virtue, but in their practice were farre from it. Seneca was forced to purge himself in this accusation. But neither he, nor Socrates, nor Aristotle, nor any of those Masters in Morality, could acquit themselves. Page 227Aristotle that maketh Temperance a vertue, and that he only is temperate who doth it for virtues sake, that a virtuous man will rather die than do an evil or di∣shonest action, yet he kept a whore, yea and sacrificed to her, as the Heathens did to a goddesse. He was moved to study Philosophy by the instinct of Py∣thias, which is no more than by the command of the Devil. He was ungratefull, betrayed his Countrey, and then afterwards had a great hand in poisoning A∣lexander, which made Caracalla the Emperour, expell all Philosophers of Ari∣stotles Sect, because of his mischief to Alexander. He was also exceeding co∣vetous; for this end Lucian bringeth Alexander in hell upbraiding Aristotle, that therefore he made riches part of the Summum bonum, that under that pre∣text he might the rather heap up wealth; insomuch that Lactantius said truly of him, Aristoteles nee Deum coluit, nec curavit. So that these great Mora∣lists were like some Painters, who can draw excellent and beautifull pictures, when they themselves are foul and deformed. So that to adde action and suffer∣ing to our profession, when we are called to it, this is to shew we are Christians indeed, Nunc incipio esse Christianus, said Ignatius, when he was going to his Martyrdom.
Lastly, By those that suffer we may learn to crucifie our hearts to the world,*to be weaned from all comforts, not to love them more than Christ. Oh say, I find my heart so inordinate, so glewed to these dear relations I have; I find them so cleaving to my heart, that much prayer, faith and meditation cannot cast them out. What a shame is this? I look upon the Martyrs, I see wives, chil∣dren, estates, goods were nothing; Christ was all, Heaven was all: Oh how unworthy am I to be compared with such glorious servants of Christ! I have not the Martyrdom of the heart, and how then can I endure that of the body?