Imatges de pÓgina
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(2.) A Christian behaviour under trouble is one of the most influential points of Christian practice, likely to have the greatest efficacy on others, spectators of it and witnesses to it, or to whose knowledge it may come, Heb. xii. 1, 2, 3. Hence the blood of the martyrs was said to be the seed of the church: and the cause of the gospel never lost by persecution, while the persecuted were honestly carried through. Doing well is ready to influence others, but suffering well is far more so. A cross carried evenly and Christianly has a certain force to draw others to imitation, as it is most admired.

(3.) Those who, by reason of their afflictions, seem to themselves to be laid by as useless, are mistaken; they have a most precious opportunity put into their hand, to be serviceable to Christ and the members of his body, Col. i. 24. "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh, for his body's sake." God has brought them forth on the stage, to take trial of their suffering graces, for the instructing, exciting, strengthening, and edifying of others. Job was a man who did much for God in his day; but the suffering part of his life has been of the greatest use in all ages since, and will be to the end. The Psalmist David complains, Psal. xxxi. 12. that he was like a broken vessel; but every sherd of that broken pot has been of good use to the church of Christ since, and has helped to heal many.

(4.) Wherefore Christians under their afflictions ought to consider that they suffer as members of the body, bearing that part allotted for them of the sufferings appointed for mystical Christ; for the sufferings of Christ personal are at an end, but the sufferings of Christ mystical are but yet a filling up, Col. i. 24. This would arm them with patience, as considering their particular trials to be, in some sort, a common cause for the good of others, as well as their own; and may excite them, in the blackest lines of providence, to cast such a fair copy as others may write after.

To press this duty of church-communion, consider,

1. The interest of God's name and honour in it, John xv. 8. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples." The fruitfulness of those who are planted in the house of the Lord brings much glory to the Master of the house; and their barrenness brings much dishonour to him before the world. And should not the one be vigorously pursued, and the other guarded against, by all those whom he has "called into the fellowship of his Son ?"

2. The interest of your fellow-members in it. It is a dark world; they are the most useful in the communion of saints, who most shine

as lights. Every action of yours, every piece of your carriage, being in church communion, is apt to be copied. By your tender example you may do good to many; by your untenderness you may prove stumbling-blocks to others.

3. The interest of the gospel in it, Tit. ii. 9, 10. "Exhort servants to be obedient to their own masters-not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things." It is the glory of the gospel, that the power thereof appears in the lives of the professors thereof, stamping holiness and tenderness upon every part of their own walk: and, on the other hand, it brings great scandal on the doctrine of Christ, that the professors of it are unholy in their lives.

Lastly, Your own interest is in it for time and eternity. As ye sow ye shall reap, both for kind and quantity.

5. Bear one another's burdens of afflictions, crosses, temptations and trials, Gal. vi. 2. "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." Heb. xiii. 3. "Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body." 1 Cor. xii. 26. "And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it." This is a natural duty of the members of one body. That part of the communion of saints, which is above, is got quite beyond these; but those of them who are yet in the world, are in the place of trial, where the clouds return after the rain. But not being standing each one by himself, but in the body with other fellow-members, bearing their part of the sufferings allotted for the body, there is all reason that the afflicted's lot should be looked on as a common cause, and each one should help to bear the burden with them; their burden of simple affliction, or burden of temptation. And,

1. Have a cordial sympathy with them, and hearty concern in their afflictions and temptations; and so express it as they may know it, Rom. xii. 15. Let your hearts be touched with fellowfeeling of the distresses of your brethren; and therefore "put on bowels of mercy," &c. Col. iii. 12. and lay aside selfishness and unconcernedness with the case of others. It is a mortified member that is not touched with the pain of other members of the body; and he who has no kindly sympathy with the saints, in their troubles and temptations, seems not to partake of the spirit of that communion, Amos vi. 1, 6. "Wo to them that are at ease in Zion— that drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph." And let them know it: for what comfort can it afford to them, though your bowels yearn toward them, if they understand it not? if they see it not, it is all a case to them as if it were not.

2. Bear their burden as it affects them, and not always as it would affect yourselves, Rom. xv. 1. Many weigh the afflictions and temptations of others in their own balance, so find them very light; and therefore pass them as unworthy of their concern. Job xii. 5. “He that is ready to slip with his feet, is as a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease." But the true way of judging of the weight of these things is, as they are apt to affect the afflicted party, and with that weight we should bear them, 2 Cor. xi. 29. "Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?" One mote will disturb the eye, when a hundred of them lying on the hand will create no trouble, no hazard. Shall the hand then be unconcerned to pluck it out? That may make a heavy affliction and dangerous temptation to one, which would be a very light one, and perhaps none at all to another. And it may be a greater act of Christian obedience in one to make his way through a temptation or affliction in itself small, than in another through one ten times greater; as the widow's throwing in her mite. was more than all the gifts of the rich men, Luke xxi. 1, 2, 3.

3. Let your mouths be open to enquire into their griefs, as far as Christian prudence will allow, and your hearts open to receive their moans, Col. iv. 7, 8. "All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you -whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts." If any member of the natural body be sore and wounded, how natural is it for the hand tenderly to uncover and open it up, the eye to pry with compassion on the several parts of the sore, &c. even when they cannot remove the trouble? Such is the case of human nature in its present state of weakness, that there is a kind of relief, though but a sorry one, in venting of their grief into the bosom of one where it may be entertained with sympathy. The want of which makes afflictions and temptations often like a fire shut up, preying on one's spirits, Psal. xxxix. 3. and has made the best of men complain heavily, Mic. vii. 1, 5. and downwards.

4. Comfort, encourage, advise, and direct them suitable to their case, 1 Thess. iv. 18. This is all that is within the compass of one's power to do for their afflicted brethren, in some cases, Matth. xxv. 36. And thus may one by a word fitly spoken, be a happy instrument to refresh the bowels of the afflicted, and blunt the edge of a temptation, 2 Tim. i. 16. Job xvi. 5.-" I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips should assuage your grief." And here a special tenderness is required; and, with a due regard to the circumstances of the afflicted, all harshness is to be evited, lest one add affliction to the afflicted; which was the rock Job's

friends split upon, and caused him to make that affecting resentment, Job xvi. 4, 5.

5. What you can in conscience and reason ward off, or carry off of their burden, do it, for ye are members one of another; Rom. xii. 5. Philip. ii. 4. "Look not every one on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." So ye are to give all your spiritual or temporal assistances to the lessening or removing of their trial in a way of duty. This should particularly appear in shielding one another's reputation, which is often blasted by venomous tongues and open ears, which together lay a heavy burden on the suffering party, Prov. xxv. 23.

6. In troubles and temptations from men, support and stand by the oppressed for their deliverance, especially in the cause of Christ and religion, 2 Tim. iv. 16. “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge." And chap. i. 16, 17. "The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me." We are not born for ourselves, but for God's honour, and the good of our brethren. And the leaving of those helpless, on whom, by the divine providence, the storm of the trial or temptation falls, is a forsaking and being ashamed of the cause of Christ in the world. Thus ought we to bear one another's burden, as members of the body of Christ. To stir you up to which necessary duty, consider,

Lastly, Earnest prayer is to be made to God for our brethren under their trials, that they may be supported, refreshed, and delivered, according to the will of God; and this whether their trials be from the immediate hand of God or man, Acts xii. 5. "Peter therefore was kept in prison; but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him." 2 Thess. iii. 1, 2. "Finally, brethren, pray for us-that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men."-This is a special way of bearing one another's burdens, to bear them before the throne of grace, and to wrestle with God for them there. This is one of the great advantages of the communion of saints, viz. a communion of prayers, that when any known weight lies upon a member, the rest cry unto the head on behalf of it. And here I offer four things.

(1.) It is much to be wished that Christians praying together, when occasionally meeting, were more in use. And particularly that those who are in distress would not only require ministers or elders to pray with them, but even fellow-Christians visiting them, and that such should readily comply with such a desire, both ob

serving circumstances so as to discern when and in what cases it may be to edification. It is very agreeable to the communion of saints, and to that love and sympathy which ought to be among the members of Christ.

(2.) As it is a commendable practice in the church, to require public prayers on behalf of the sick or those otherwise afflicted; and as the minister is the mouth of the congregation, so ye would consider that ye ought affectionately to join in these prayers, as parties nearly concerned, and whose prayers for the afflicted are desired, forasmuch as the prayers desired are the prayers of the congregation, and not the minister's only. The language of these prayers is, Brethren, pray for us. And therefore, I beseech you, let not this be a matter of mere form to you, in which you may only notice what is begged for them; but let your hearts go along with the words even the length of the throne, for a brother or sister in distress.

(3.) Carry home with you the case of those to your family and secret prayers, and confine not your concern for them within the walls of the church. If the afflictions of others do touch your hearts as they ought, you may carry a copy of the paper home with you on your sympathizing hearts, to mind you to put up petitions for them in your families and in secret. If ye have neglected this formerly, mend it in time to come, and, when ye have done it, know ye have done no more than what is your duty, Heb. xiii. 3. "Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body."

(4.) Some cases of others in affliction may require of you extraordinary prayer, by setting some time apart for that very end, either yourselves alone, or in conjunction with fellow-Christians. So David in the case of the child, "fasted, and went in and lay all night on the earth," 2 Sam. xii. 16. And in the case of others too, Psal. xxxv. 13, 14. And so in the case of Peter in prison, Acts xii. 12. "Many were gathered together in the house of Mary, praying." The serious consideration of the kind of the affliction, and of the person under it, with respect to the honour of God, the good of the church, and your own particular interest depending thereon, must determine these cases.

I will add, by the bye, that where prayers are desired for those in affliction, the affliction being removed, thanksgiving should likewise be desired. It is but the prevalency of an unallowable custom, to give up notes for praying for the sick, and yet to give none for thanksgiving for the recovery of the party when recovered. If the congregation weep with them, it is reasonable they have occasion to

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