Volume 1—Sermon 9
Manifesting That the Greatest Sufferings for Christ Are
Not Infallible Evidences of Grace
"And although I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it
profiteth me nothing," (1 Corinthians 13:3).
The Apostle his scope in the former part of this chapter is to commend the graces of God's Spirit above the gifts of the same. Hence he makes suppositions of the most excellent perfections, which if without charity, are but as a tinkling cymbal that may please the ear of others, but itself is worn out and destroyed thereby. And by charity he means that unfeigned love of God, and the good of others, whereby all our gifts are improved for his end, and not for ourselves.
His first instance is diversity and variety of tongues, a gift in the primitive times that made the enjoyers thereof admirable.
A second is of prophecy and understanding of all mysteries, all knowledge, and all faith. This place does not prove justifying faith to be separable from charity. But either it is a conditional, hyperbolical speech, like that, If an angel from heaven, etc. (Gal. 1), as not only some later divines, but even the ancients have thought: or else it may very well be restrained to miraculous faith, in this sense, if I had all miraculous faith, so that I were able to work the greatest miracle. And thus it is plain, such a faith may be severed from true love.
The Apostle having thus instanced in gifts, he further proceeds to give two glorious instances of the external works of grace, which are most admirable amongst men, whereby he would teach us that the most specious and glorious external acts of grace, if seeming only, are nothing, if grace itself does not inwardly animate them; so that inward grace in respect of those external actions, is like the soul to the body, like art to the instruments of music, without which an uncertain sound is made.
These glorious externals the Apostle specifies are of two sorts:
1. A work of extraordinary mercy, If I bestow all my goods to feed the poor. The word there signifies to divide victuals in several pieces, and so to distribute it. Now this is very terrible to consider, that a man may do all the external works of mercy, even the highest and most transcendent, yet not have true love.
The second instance is of remarkable fortitude and glorious courage for Christ and his truth, which is expressed in the designation of that action, wherein my courage may manifest itself, If I give my body to be burnt. Where some observe this aggravation, though a man be not summoned by others, and condemned to death, but although he willingly offer himself, and then not to be whipped or imprisoned, but to die, and that the most terrible kind of death, even burning, yet if all this be without true love to God, his glory, church, and truth, All this will profit me nothing: In which sense Hierom said in Galatians 5, A man may be the flesh's martyr, the devil's martyr, as well as Christ's.
No kind of external sufferings, though never so grievous either for the truth of Christ indeed, or for that which a man's conscience judges to be the truth of Christ, is a sure and infallible sign of the state of grace.
This doctrine will be like a two-edged sword, dividing between the joint and marrow. It's not all your marks, stripes, imprisonments, persecutions, though for a good cause, is enough to evidence your true interest in Christ. To open this point many things are considerable.
First, That many times persecutions are a true discovery of a man's firmness in grace. Insomuch that all the while Christ's cause and carnal accommodations are conjoined together, every hypocritical and unsound heart makes as great a show, as that which is faithful, But when storms and tempests arise, then the house built upon the sand falls, but that on the rock endures. Thus in Matthew 13 when the hot sun arose, persecutions began to be violent, then that which was not deeply rooted, presently withered. So that howsoever we may not certainly gather the truth of our grace, by our perseverance in persecutions, yet troubles and oppositions do frequently discover who is false. Hence afflictions and not mercies are always in Scripture called temptations, God is never said to tempt by a mercy, but by an affliction, because it is more difficult to withstand an evil than to enjoy a good. The high and strong winds discover how well-rooted the tree is; the fire will manifest the cracked vessel. Oh then account it nothing to rest upon, that you are for the truth, you ownest God and good men! Alas as yet you lose no good, no profit by doing thus. If a man may be imprisoned, impoverished, undone for the truths of God, and yet be nothing; then what a poor nothing indeed is Christ's truth and your riches with it! Alas Christ hath not put thee upon any trials, and you know nothing by yourself as yet. It's true, outward sufferings, and that to death, are the highest expressions before men; and therefore we are to judge with charitable apprehensions of all those who are able thus to suffer for that which is the truth, especially they at the same time demonstrating all Christian deportment. Therefore it was cruelty in the Popish persecutors to charge those blessed martyrs with stoutness and pride. Hence also it is that we account the martyrdom of so many millions of all sorts for Christ, to be an eminent testimony of the truth of Christian religion. No sect could ever instance in the like, as Christians may, which we read was acknowledged by Trajane the emperor, and Justine Martyr confesses the consideration of the willingness and zeal of Christians to die for Christ was the occasion of his conversation. The heathens instance only in Socrates and some few gymnosophists for their false religion.
Secondly, from hence it follows, That wheresoever the Scripture promises salvation to any external action that is by way of patience or fortitude for Christ: that must be understood with this proviso, that as the action for the matter is good, and the cause is good; so the motives that draw out his heart be also good. Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will my Father also acknowledge before his holy angels (Matt. 10:32). In this place a glorious reward is promised to a stout confession of Christ in the midst of an adulterous generation, yet you must explain it thus, supposing he do as for Christ, so out of pure ends and holy affections, without which these external actions are but as so many glorious branches without any root at all; for we may see this fully confirmed in a parallel about giving of alms, and relieving the poor. There is scarce any religious duty that has more promises made to it in the Scripture than this has, yet a Pharisee who frequently gave alms, could take no comfort at all from those promises, because his motives were carnal and unworthy. Thus in sufferings for Christ even in imprisonments and death itself, it being possible that corrupt grounds may sway us, as well as heavenly, there can be no solid comfort from such external sufferings, though never so sad and miserable. Therefore no promise of heaven is made to the most specious external exercise of any religious action whatsoever; even now as on the contrary our Saviour saith, He that shall deny him before men, him will God also deny. This is to be understood universally, for Peter and many godly men have denied Christ, yet God did not deny them, because their denial was through infirmity out of fear, not from any malicious or purposed obstinacy against him. So then in all external duties we are not only to look to the matter that it be good, but also to what frame of heart, we do those things with, and in this lies the marrow of Christianity, to look to internals, as well as externals; the former only commends us to God, though the latter makes us admirable among men.
Thirdly, It is very possible for a man to suffer much loss, and endure hardship for Christ, and yet have not his heart sound towards God. In the apostles' times, troubles were so great, and carnal discouragements so many, that we may wonder any hypocrites or unsound men should join to that way which was so opposed and persecuted, yet there were false apostles and false brethren; There were many that sought their own, and not the things of Christ, as Paul complains in Philippians 1:22 and this was strange, for if they did seek their own, why did they not renounce Christ? Why did they not renounce the gospel, seeing that was the cause of all the violence brought upon them? All that professed Christ in those days were like sheep among wolves, doves among hawks; yet even among those acknowledging Christ in the midst of an adulterous generation, all were not upright. Judas left all as well as the other apostles, and this was a kind of suffering, this was a taking up of the cross and following him; we see when Christ required such things of others, though they seemed to prefer themselves, yet they presently revolted. Therefore Judas went further, and the Apostle in Galatians 3:4, supposes men may suffer great and grievous troubles for Christ, yet all in vain, Have ye suffered so many things for number, so grievous for quality, and all this in vain? implying that if they reverted to those Mosaical ceremonies from Christ, all their former sufferings for the truth, would be wholly unprofitable, indeed he adds a rhetorical correction (if so be in vain) as hoping better things of them. Take we heed then, that we do not only lose all our prayers, sacraments, and such like duties, but also our sufferings and troubles for a good cause. For sufferings for God are more than doings for God. Hence the Apostle speaks by way of aggravation, We account these light afflictions, not comparable to that eternal weight of glory, and for an instance of losing our sufferings for God, we have a remarkable instance in Acts 19:33 of Alexander venturing his life in the multitude enraged at Paul and others for the cause of Christ, yet by most learned interpreters, this is that Alexander, Paul does so complain of (1 Tim. 1:20) that did him so much wrong. And it is abundantly known, that many who in Queen Mary's days continued faithful to Christ, in Queen Elizabeth's days through peace and quietness grew corrupt.
Now that it may more plainly appear, our sufferings though for a good cause may be corrupted, we may take notice of what sinful ingredients there may be which will make these sufferings unprofitable.
First, A man may suffer for the truth, or a good cause, not as it is true or good, but as his interest is in it, and as it is that way he has engaged himself in. Thus a man may die for Protestantism against Popery not so much because it's the truth of God, but because it is that truth he has lived in, it is that wherein all his outward interest lies. O beloved! This cursed corruption is too common and frequent, not to look upon the truth of Christ, the cause of Christ, as his, but as it is ours, and so we become sufferers or martyrs for ourselves, and not for Christ. Among the Corinthians, some said they were for Paul, others for Apollos, others for Christ. It is judged by some interpreters, those were indeed for Christ, but they set him up by way of a party and faction, as their Christ, rather than Christ. Although therefore imprisonments, persecutions, are terrible and dreadful to flesh and blood, and they may be thought great testimonies of love to God and his cause: Yet be not too confident here, make diligent search of your heart, whether that which moves you in all these sufferings, be not your interest, you are engaged in this way; And so an argument from your propriety, not Christ's propriety, prevail over you. We may observe of Christ's kindred, how desirous they were that Christ should do miracles; now their motive was not spiritual, that hereby he might be demonstrated the true Messiah, and so men graciously receive him, but from carnal pride, because he was their kinsman, and this might exalt their glory among others, such carnal self-seeking affections men may have to the truths of Christ, desiring they may be exalted, because hereby themselves shall be exalted.
Secondly, The power of truth may undeniably so work on the conscience, that they cannot deny it, yet for all this not powerfully sanctify their hearts. Thus a man may be so convinced of the true doctrine, and his conscience set such a strong seal to it, that if he had all the world, he dared not gainsay it. Balaam, though he had a house full of gold, yet would not curse those whom he saw God would bless. There is a natural light and goad by the conscience, whereby it makes a man willing to undergo any punishment rather than contradict it. Thus Socrates he died for this truth, that there was but one God, and when he was condemned by the magistrates, staid himself with that which we read of the apostles, It is better to obey God than man. This makes it evident, that a man having no more than nature in him, may yet die for those truths he is convinced of. Thus there are many who it may be reform not their lives from gross impieties, yet would die rather than turn Papists or Socinians, I mean learned men, who have their understandings fully satisfied with the truth. And history affords us many examples of heathens, who would rather endure the most terrible death, than do anything against moral honesty, why may not there be such orthodox Protestants, venturing as much for those truths, which they are persuaded are of God? There is a known approved sentence: The cause, not the punishment, makes a martyr, but this is not enough, for neither punishment nor cause make a martyr, without a gracious frame of heart at least to God, though with man he may be judged so. So that these three must go to make a martyr: punishment; a good cause, and a good heart. Therefore in all your sufferings, say, it is not enough that I suffer for God and his truth, but do you also suffer with such a gracious, humble and heavenly heart, as God's cause doth require? Look that besides conviction of judgment, there be also renovation of affections.
Thirdly, A man may suffer, though for God's truth, yet the motive be the meer stoutness of his stomach, and undaunted resolutions of spirit. As there is a spiritual fortitude wrought in us by God's Spirit, so there is also in some men a natural height of spirit, whereby they fear not dangers or death. Now it is much to be enquired into, whether your sufferings arise from the strength of God's Spirit, or the strength of your own? Even Aristotle with his purblind light of nature could make a difference between fortitude and virtue, when a man would die for virtue's sake, and upon virtuous grounds; and an audacious man, who would contemn death out of a rash boldness in him. Oh then! How straight is the way to heaven? How rare is grace, when our very sufferings in a good cause, may be so much corrupted and polluted through sinful ingredients? when men shall say not only, Lord, we have prayed in thy name, prophesied in thy name; but Lord we have suffered in thy name, been imprisoned in thy name, died in thy name, and yet God return this answer, Depart from me, I know ye not.
Fourthly, a fourth corrupt motive in sufferings though for God, may be pride and vain-glory, ambition to get a name in the generations to come. One would think this were a poor thing to venture a man's life for such an airy bubble. Yet if we read human histories, and see how willingly men have exposed themselves to death for this outward glory; or if we peruse Ecclesiastical histories, and consider, how much the patriarchal heretics, heads of factions, have suffered to propagate their sects, we will cease to wonder; for as by the blood of martyrs, the church has flourished, so sometimes by the blood of heretics, heresies have increased; as Paul said, Many of the godly waxed bolder by his bonds; so many times do erroneous persons grow more obstinate by the sufferings of their fellow heretics. Though ashes and fire are barren things, yet pride is such a salamander that will live in these flames.
Fourthly, in the fourth general place, As sufferings for Christ, do not argue necessarily a state of grace, so much less do sufferings for those things a misguided conscience thinks the truths of God, but are indeed damnable heresies, and dangerous opinions. Yet how often do we find this in books to prove heresies' great innocency, because they go with a good conscience, they deny all carnal emoluments, patiently suffer the utmost dangers! but (alas) there is no solidity in this: For first, a false misled conscience may put a man upon all outward dangers. A deluded conscience in matters of religion, will throw a man, as that devil did the party possessed, Sometimes in the fire, and sometimes in the water: so that as our Saviour said, Some men thought they did God good service in putting others to death: So again, they may think they do God great service in suffering themselves to be put to death. Do not Socinians die? Do not Papists die for their religion? A false religion, especially if received upon conscientious, not political principles, will make a man think his blood not dear enough to lose for that. The Pharisees by what reason they compassed sea and land to make proselytes, by the same they would have lost their lives to defend their superstitious worship. Do not then hereafter admire that specious argument for heretics? Do they seek themselves? Do they not deny all worldly hopes? Do they not give their bodies to be destroyed? for this is no more than heathens do for their idols. Nor is it any wonder, if men die thus for a false religion, seeing we read of atheists who have died because they held there was no God. Vaninus who once wrote a book to prove God and his providence, yet afterwards revolted to atheism, holding no God, and was put to death for it at Paris: And being commanded by the judge, that he should ask forgiveness of God, and the king, and his judges: He answered, Of God he would not, because he did not believe there was any: Of the king he would not because he had not wronged him; Of his judges he would not, but rather if there were a hell, as he believed there was none, he would curse them all thither. You see here a miserable wretch, dying for this professedly, because he thought there was no God. So, that all sufferings even to death are not presently to move us.
And if you ask, What should make them thus venturous, if they be not in God's way?
I answer, two things, First, There is a carnal self. Secondly, a spiritual self; which also is carnal, though not gross. A carnal self is then set up, when a man prostitutes all religion to outward advantages: Of such were some false apostles Paul speaks of, Whose God was their belly, who minded earthly things, and did all they could to avoid persecution. Such an one was Theophilus, a bishop in Ecclesiastical history, nicknamed Euripus, because of his fickleness in religion, turning his conscience, as Diogenes did his barrel always against the wind. This man, when the war was between Constantine the Christian, and Lycinius the heathen persecutour, appointed his deacon to reside at Constantinople, with this direction, that he which did prevail in the battle, either Constantine or Lycinius, he should gratify his victory with some presents to him. This kind of carnal self is odious in the eyes of all men.
But then secondly, There is a spiritual-carnal self. When a man seeks not outward greatness and pomp in the world, but is inwardly proud, ambitious, affecting a name by some singular thing; And because this cannot be had in the world, without outward passages of worldly self-denial, therefore he is diligent to deny himself carnally, that he may seek himself spiritually: and this has been the temper of many heretics, prizing their opinion and intellectual abilities above all external glory. Now this spiritual-carnal self, is that which may put them upon imprisonments, and all outward ruin; So that herein they be the flesh's martyrs, pride-martyrs, not God's. Hence although they may suffer like true martyrs, yet for the most part they discover a carnal temper then, not showing that holiness, humility, self-resignation into God's hands, as the godly martyrs do. So that their very external sufferings have not such sweet concomitants, as the godly men have. The godly men burning in the fire, being like juniper in the fire, sending a sweet smell; the heretic like crackling thorns in the fire, full of discontent, rage and revenge.
2. The Devil who was a man-slayer from the beginning, he through strong delusions tempts men to such hardiness, as to be prodigal of their lives. That as when he possessed the bodies of some, he delighted to torment them, and to make them miserable; so he does also when he has bewitched their souls. It is matter of amazement to me, when I read the story of the Donatists, especially the Circumcelliones, how greedy they were to die, threatening to kill men, if they would not kill them. Whence should this madness arise, and fury to die, but from the devil? yet they thought this great piety, and contempt of the world. Therefore the devil by God's just permission, may benumb and harden a man to die, as well as the Spirit of God in a gracious manner embolden a man: And this may suffice to open the point.
Now two grounds among others there are, Why we may not judge the firmness of our spiritual estate by these sufferings.
First, Because no externals, whether in actions or passions, are any further good, than as they are animated from a spiritual life within. These outwards may be informed from a corrupt principle, as well as spiritual one. We cannot judge of the tree by this fruit, because it will grow both upon good and bad. Now herein we daily delude ourselves, because we judge our estate good by external actions, when yet reprobates may do the like. It is not here as it was with Moses, and Jannes and Jambres, Moses does many miracles, and they do the like, but at last Moses does such things which they could not imitate. If you speak of externals merely as abstracted from inwards, we cannot judge. Do the godly pray, hear? so do the reprobates: May the godly suffer, be imprisoned, die for the truth? so may reprobates. It is true our Saviour saith, Greater love than this can no man show, then to lay down one's life for another. So one would think, to give one's body to be burnt, and yet have no charity, were to speak a contradiction. But when we consider how strong and potent corruption and a false religion is, then we may no more admire. We read in the Old Testament of some superstitious parents, that would make their children pass through the fire to Moloch, that is, they offered them as a sacrifice in the fire to Moloch: who would not wonder, how the tender bowels of a father or mother could ever become thus senseless like a stone? But superstition made them thus unnatural. And certainly as they offered their tender children, so if Moloch their god had required it, or rather his priests for him, they would have given up their own bodies into the flames. Judge not then of the goodness of your estate, by any externals whatsoever, though never so specious. They are a sheath that will receive either a golden, or an iron sword in them. They are the trumpet that make no other sound, than what the mouth blows into them.
2. That is not a pillar to be relied on, which may consist with unmortified lusts and affections, yea with ungodly practices. But experience teaches us, how many men in their imprisonments, yea death itself, have been unsavory, ungodly; insomuch that their ungodliness has more dishonored the cause they suffered for, than their sufferings have honored it. Therefore if you rely upon your sufferings, and yet live in sin, say as Austin, Habes quod in to occidas, martyr your sins, before your body be martyred. If therefore you suffer for one truth, and hold anything, or practice anything against other fundamentals, it's no true martyrdom; Hence the primitive church never judged a Macedonian (for example) who denied the deity of the Holy Ghost, to be a martyr, though he were put to death by the Arrians, because he professed the deity of Christ.
Use 1. Of instruction, not to admire as signs of grace, or God's being in a man, when you see a man patient, denying all outward advantages and comforts for his opinion and doctrine he holds. As some, misunderstanding places of Scripture, have given away all their goods and estates, and one parting with his very garments that covered him: being asked, why he did so? held up the Bible, saying, Hoc me undavit, This has made me naked, whereas indeed it was his error, his mistake. Thus many may say, It is their conscience that makes them endure all misery, whereas it may be corruption or carnal motives, or at most, an erroneous, misguided conscience, which although it may excuse a tanto [and much], yet not a toto [and total]. Those that read what heathens have done in this way, will never admire at Christians.
Use 2. Of direction, if God call us to suffer, rest not on all the hardship thou hast endured for Christ. Boast not of the bonds and chains you have born for his sake, but examine with what heart you have undergone all this. It is a woeful thing to be imprisoned in chains here for Christ, and at the day of judgment, Christ to cast thee in everlasting chains of darkness. It is miserable to be burned with fire here for Christ, and afterwards Christ to bid thee, depart into everlasting fire hereafter. Lose not then your sufferings by any corrupt frame and sinful disposition of heart. It is a great matter to suffer for Christ, but it's a greater to suffer with that heart Christ requireth.