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1. It is to be animated to duty by the faith of that grace that is in Christ Jesus for us, both relative and real. "Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us, in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind." The same mind, that is the believing consideration of it. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." The faith of strength and grace in Jesus Christ, by which we may be enabled to perform duty; and of favour and grace in him by which our work when done may be accepted, cannot fail of exciting and strengthening to duty, according to the measure of it, and of making men resolute and courageous in their Christian course. "For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, I am persuaded he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day." And according as the faith of either of these do fail, the Christian's heart will faint and his hands hang down, as unfit for work.
2. It is to be strengthened to duty by supplies of grace, derived from Christ Jesus by faith. "He that eateth me, saith Jesus, even he shall live by me." And saith Paul, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ that liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." There is a real communication between a full Christ and an empty soul in the way of believing, by which the dark soul is enlightened, the weak strengthened, and the unholy sanctified; however mysterious it is to the world. Hence it is the saints have done such great things, and suffered such great things, and all through faith as the apostle shows, Heb. xi. Why is it that the goodness of many is like the morning cloud and the early dew, but that their pretended faith is like a pipe laid short of the fountain? The little water that is in it runs out, and there is no more comes in because it communicates not with the spring. And why are believers so often in a withered condition, but because they are not in the exercise of faith, the pipe is stopped. Quest. 3d. Why must those that would be strong, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus ?
1. Because all those that would be strong, must be strong as members of Christ, as branches of the vine. "I am the vine, ye are the branches he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing." Now it is evident that the strongest limb will fail if the communication betwixt it and the head and heart do fail: and so will the branch wither, if the communication betwixt it and the stock be stopped.
2. Because the grace that is in Christ Jesus, is only sufficient to
bear us through. My grace, says he is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness." There is nothing in us to which we may safely trust, and place confidence upon it, either for justification or sanctification. "My soul wait thou only upon God, for my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation he is my defence, I shall not be moved." Hence the saints are described, " as being the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh."
Use. 1. Of information. This shows us,
1. That such whose spirits are so softened with the love of their lusts, and world's ease, that they have no heart to face and combat the enemies of their souls, the devil, the world, and the flesh, will never get through safely to the other side. "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." Either you must be the ruin of your lusts, or they will be your ruin. “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die, but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live."
2. That those who are strangers to the life of faith and the way of making use of Christ for sanctification, will never get through safely. Men may be at much pains this way, and go the round of external duties, and yet fall short of heaven at length. "The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them; because he knoweth not how to go to the city." Some of these are filled with self-confidence, not doubting but that they are able to do the work in which they have engaged. Others are afraid that they will never get it done, but resolve to do as well as they can, and to look to Christ for pardon wherein they come short. But I would advise both as ever they would see heaven, to go out of themselves for all, and be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
Use 2. Of exhortation. O Christians and communicants as ever ye would see heaven, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Strong and resolute against difficulties you must be, else you will never get there; and you can never be wrong indeed but in that grace.
Question. How may you be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, for the work of the Christian life, whether doing or suffering? Answer 1. You must be in Christ, in the first place by faith, accepting and embracing him, fleeing out of yourselves, confiding and trusting in him for all his salvation, on the gospel offer to you. The branch cannot partake of the sap of the stock till it be united with it. John xv. 1-6.
2. Be sure the work for which you would be strengthened be
called for by God at your hand. "The way of the Lord is strength to the upright but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity." One's call to a work must first be cleared, before he can justly look to the Lord, to be with him in it. The communication of grace is not to be expected out of the way of duty.
3. When your duty is cleared be emptied of yourselves; and make nothing in you your confidence. Look upon yourselves as empty vessels that must be filled from heaven, else nothing to purpose can be done by them. Amen.
Ettrick, July 7, 1717.
MAN, SINFUL MAN IS A COMPLAINING CREATURE.
LAMENTATIONS iii. 39.
Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?
THIS world is like an hospital, where every one is groaning under some uneasiness or other. It is so filled with complaints, that from the king to the beggar, nobody is free; the melancholy sound of them is to be heard in the lowest cottage, and the most stately palace is not free of them. Sin is that which brings on the ground of complaints and sin brings them out; and therefore religion checks them in the text. The prophet himself had been complaining in the former part of the chapter, he seemed to have represented God as unkind and severe. Here he checks himself, and chides himself for doing so, declaring that neither he nor others, had any good reason for any such fretting disposition. "Wherefore doth a living man complain," &c.
In these words it is supposed, that man is apt to complain under afflicting dispensations. It is expressed that he ought not to complain, but patiently to submit himself under the hand of God.
Observe here 1. The fault taxed, complaining, so the word is used of murmurers, Numb. xi. 1. "And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord." It denotes an action that passeth on a man's self, and intimates fretting, whereby one torments himself increasing his own grief and sorrow, for his affliction.
2. The unjustifiableness of this before the Lord, why doth a liv
ing man complain? Or what doth he complain of? What can he say to justify his own uneasiness under the frowns of providence. Losers think they may have leave to speak; but religion teaches, rather to lay our hands on our mouths, and our mouths in the dust before the Lord, who does us no wrong.
3. On what accounts it is unjustifiable, what are these things that may silence all our complaints? We are men that should act more rationally. We are living men that might therefore be in a worse condition. We are sinful men, whose hardships are the just punishment of our sins. We are men that have another thing to do. A man for his sin. So the Hebrew. Let each man complain
for his sin. So the Dutch read it.
The words of the text are few but very comprehensive, I shall more accurately notice them, and glean a few things from them. I shall do this by raising and illustrating a series of observations founded upon the several parts of the text.
Observation I. There is a sinful complaining under crosses and afflictions. Why doth a man complain? It is true, God doth not absolutely require the afflicted to stop their mouths.
1. Let them complain of themselves, as the causes of their own woe. So they may do. "My soul, says Job, is weary of my life: I will leave my complaint upon myself." So men ought to do, for their own sins are the procuring causes of all the hardships with which they meet. "Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee." And again, says the same prophet Jeremiah, "Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you." The sinful nature, heart and life, are father, mother, and nurse, to all the miseries that come upon us. These are the carcase to which these eagles gather together. Remove that, and they would all quickly fly away. If the clouds return after the rain, let us blame our own misguidance.
2. Let them complain to God and welcome, Psal. cii. 1—11. When the waters of affliction gather in their breasts let them come to a gracious God, and open the sluice before him as Hannah did, who in the bitterness of her soul prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore. He hath an ear ever ready to hear the complaints of his people, though men may be deaf to them. Each of them may say, My God will hear me. He hath also a heart to sympathize with them. "In all their affliction, he is afflicted." A hand to help them. "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy that it cannot hear." And indeed, here would be sufficient ease under all afflictions, if people had as much grace as to lay their complaints on themselves, and leave them
to God and before him.
This would make all right, even where one's case is farthest wrong: thus Hannah disburdened herself, "And her countenance was no more sad." But pride of heart and unbelief binds the load on the complainer's own back.
But there are sinful complainings under afflictions.
1. We must not complain of God. It is dangerous to table a complaint against the sovereign Ruler of the world, whose sovereignty may silence us, and whose infinite purity and holiness may satisfy us, that he does us no wrong. When the creature libels his Creator who shall sit to judge betwixt them? To whose tribunal is he answerable, who does in heaven and earth according to his own will?
He that blames
2. We must not complain of our lot, or murmur because better has not fallen to our share. They who do this, and complainers, walking after their own lusts." his lot reproaches him that allowed it to him. Every one ought to think. All men sit at God's table, and God himself carves every one's part to him. A holy wise providence doth this, and to complain of the dispensation is sinful and hazardous, as reflecting on the wisdom and holiness of the sovereign manager.
3. We must not arrest our complaining eye on the unjust instruments of our afflictions, like the dog snarling at the stone, but looking not to the hand that casts it. "Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" This is to make a god of the creature and then to rise up against it. David was aware of this, and kept from splitting on this rock in his affliction. "And the king said, what have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? So let him curse because the Lord hath said unto him, curse David, who shall then say, Wherefore hast thou done so? The sick man if he be wise, will neither blame the physician nor the lancet for his pain; knowing that his disease is the procuring cause, though they be instrumental causes of it. To clear this farther, men's complaints under affliction are sinful,
1. When they are accompanied with any the least rising of the heart against God, or his holy providence. Discontentment and dissatisfaction with what providence has laid to our hands, is contrary to faith which says, he doth all things well; and to holiness which teaches a perfect resignation to the divine will and pleasure, saying, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
2. Much more are complaints sinful, when they are mingled with hard speeches against God and providence. These, says Jude, "are hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against God." These are open reflections on God, striking against his honour.