We live, Christians, in reproaching times. He that is so over-dainty of his name that he cannot bear to see some dirt, and that good store too, cast upon his back by reviling tongues, must seek a path to travel in by himself to heaven; but, for thy comfort, Christian, sincerity, though it cannot privilege thee from traveller’s fare, and keep thee from being dashed with calumnies, yet it will do thee this kind of office, that the dirt which lights on thy coat shall not soak into thy soul, to damp thy joy and chill thy inward comfort. Reproaches without may be comfortably endured, yea triumphantly worn as a crown, if they meet not with a reproaching conscience within. Yea, sincerity will do more than this comes to. It will not only comfort thee under the ‘persecution of the tongue, but of the hand also’—not only quench the fire, which from thence is spit on thy face by tongues set on fire by hell, but it will comfort thee in the very mouth of fire itself, if God shall thee by persecutors to be cast into it. Sincerity makes thee, indeed, fearful to sin. O thou darest not touch one of these coals; but it will make thee bold to burn, and even hug joyfully the flames of martyrdom when called to them. So little afraid was that sincere servant of Christ, an Italian martyr whom Mr. Fox makes mention of among many other undaunted champions of the truth, that, when the magistrate of the place where he was to be burned, and the officers of the bishop that condemned him, were in a hot contest —wrangling which of them should pay for the wood that should make the fire for his burning—he pleasantly sent to desire them, ‘they would not fall out upon that occasion, for he would take off the burden from them both, and be at the cost himself.’ Blessed soul! he made not so much ado of spending his blood and sacrificing his life, as they about a few pence wickedly to procure the same.
- Sincerity girds the soul with comforting strength, when conflicting with affliction from the hand of God.Many are the sorts of afflictions with which God exerciseth his sincere servants. To name a few.
(1.) When the Lord toucheth his outward man by sickness, or his inward man by spiritual conflicts, sincerity is a comfortable companion in both. The hypocrite, above all, fears falling into God’s hands. And well he may; for he is able to do him most hurt. Therefore, no sooner does God take hold of his collar, either of these ways, but his joy gives up the ghost. Like some murderer, whose doom is written plain in the law, he gives himself for a dead man, when once he is clapped up in prison. This made Job such an object of wonder to his wife, because he held up his holy course when battered so sadly by the afflicting hand of God, with renewed afflictions—‘Dost thou yet hold thy integrity?’ What! nothing but blows come from God’s hand, and yet continue to bless him? This was strange to her, but not to him, who would call her ‘foolish woman’ for her pains, but not charge God foolishly, for all he smarted so under his hand. Sincerity enables the Christian to do two things in this case, which the hypocrite cannot—to speak good of God, and to expect good from God —and the soul cannot be uncomfortable, though head and heart ache together, which is able to do these.
(a.) Sincerity enables the Christian to think and speak well of God. A false-hearted hypocrite, his countenance falls, and his heart rises, yea, swells with venom against God. Though he dare not always let it drivel out of his mouth, yet he has bloody thoughts against him in his heart. ‘Hast thou found me, O my enemy?’ saith the wretch. He loves not God, and therefore a good thought of God cannot dwell in his soul. All that God has done for him, though never so bountifully, it is forgotten and embittered with the overflowing of his gall at the present dealings of God with him. He frets and fumes. You shall hear him sooner curse God than charge himself. But the sincere soul nourisheth most sweet and amiable apprehensions of God, which bind him to the peace, that he dare not think or speak unbeseeming the glory or goodness of God; as we see in David, ‘I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it,’ Ps. 39:9. This holy man had a breach made both in his body and spirit at this time. He was sick and sad, yet he remembers from whose hand the blow came. ‘Thou, Lord, didst it:’ thou whom I love dearly, and so can take it kindly; thou whom I have offended, and so take it patiently: yea, thou who mightest have cast me into a bed of flames, instead of my bed of sickness; and therefore I accept the correction thankfully. Thus he catches the blow without retorting it back upon God, by any quarrelling discontented language.
(b.) Sincerity enables the soul to expect good from God, when his hand presseth hardest on body or soul, Ps. 38. Never was David in a worse case for body and soul; it would break a flinty heart to read the sad moans that this throbbing soul makes, in the anguish of his flesh, and bitter agony of his spirit. One would have thought they had been the pangs of a soul going away in despair; yet even in this great storm, we find him casting out his sheet-anchor of hope, and that takes sure hold of God for his mercy: ‘For in thee, O Lord, do I hope: thou wilt hear, O Lord my God,’ Ps. 38:15. This expectation of good from God corrects and qualifies the bitterness that is upon his palate, from his present sorrow. ‘I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me,’ Ps. 40:17. My state at present is sad enough, but my comfort is, ‘I am not cast out of his mind, I know that his thoughts are at work to do me good.’ Holy Job proves that he is not a hypocrite—as his friends uncharitably charged him —by his confidence he had on God in the depth of all his afflictions: ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him. I will maintain my ways before him; he also shall be my salvation, for an hypocrite shall not come before him,’ Job 13:15,16. As if he had said, “If I were not sincere, I durst not thus appeal to God, and comfortably believe, while God is killing me, that he would yet save me, ‘for a hypocrite shall not come before him.’” That is, he dare not thus trust himself in God’s hands, and acquiesce in his promise, when his neck is on the block, and God’s knife at his throat. No; if he could, he would never come in his sight. His conscience tells him God knows him too well to intend him any good, and therefore, when God begins to lay his hand on him—except his conscience be dedolent and seared, which is the curse that God now and then brands the gross hypocrite with—he presently hath the scent of hell-fire in his soul, in a fearful expectation thereof, and looks on these present afflictions, though but a cloud of a handbreadth, as those which will spread further and further, till the shades of that everlasting night overtake and encompass him in hell’s utter darkness.