Tag Archives: The comforting strength of sincerity

The comforting strength of sincerity 4/4

(3.) Sincerity girds the Christian with strength of comfort, when deprived of those opportunities which sometime God had intrusted him with for serving of him.  [This is] an affliction which, considered in it­self, [is] so grievous to a gracious soul that he knows none he fears more.  He could choose any, might he be his own carver, before it; yea, to be poor, dis­graced, persecuted, anything rather than be laid aside as a broken instrument, unserviceable to his God.  Indeed, he values his life, and all the comforts of it, by the opportunities they afford for the glorifying God.  David stops the mouth of his soul, which began to whisper some discontented language, with this, that he should yet praise God.  ‘Why art thou disquieted, O my soul,… I shall yet praise him,’ Ps. 42:5.  All is well with David, and no cause of disquiet in his soul, whatever besides goes cross to him, may he but praise God, and have opportunity of glorifying him.  Joseph, when God had so strangely raised him pinnacle high, as I may say, to honour in a strange land, he doth not bless himself in his preferment, carnally to think how great a man he is, but interprets the whole series of providence, bringing him at last to that place, wherein he stood compeer to a mighty king, to be no other than giving him an opportunity of being eminently serviceable to God in the preserva­tion of his church, which was at that time contained in his father’s family.  ‘God hath sent me hither,’ saith he, ‘before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance,’ Gen. 45:7.  This holy man made his place give place to the work he was called to act in it for God, counting the honour of his honour, to lie in the opportunity he had by it of serving God and his church.  It must therefore needs be a sad affliction to a saint, when such opportunities are taken from him that at any time he hath enjoyed.  But sincerity can make good work of this also, if God will have it so.  It is sad to the Christian to be laid aside, but it is comfortable to him to remember that when he was not, he did not melt his talents away in sloth, nor waste them away in riot, but was faithful in improving them for God.  He counts it his affliction that God employs him not as he hath done, but he is not sorry that God can do his work without him; yea, it is a sweet comfort to him, as he lies at the grave’s mouth, to think that the glory of God shall not go down tot he grave with him.  Though he dies, yet god lives to take care of his own work; and it is not the cracking of one string, or of all, that can mar the music of God’s providence, who can perform his pleasure without using any creature for his instrument.  In a word, it is sad to him to be taken from any work wherein he might more eminently glorify God; yet this again comforts him that God counts that done which the Christian sincerely desires to do. David’s good-will in desiring to build the temple, was as much in God’s account as if he had done it.  Many shall be at the last day rewarded by Christ for clothing and feeding the poor, who, when on earth, had neither clothes nor bread to give, yet having had a heart to give, shall be reckoned amongst the greatest benefactors to the poor.  This appears from Matt. 25:34, where Christ is represented speak­ing not to some few saints that had great estates to be­stow on charitable uses, but to all his saints, poor as well as rich.  ‘Then shall the king say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you,’ &c.  ‘For I was hun­gered and ye gave me meat,’ &c.  Mark, not ‘ye that were rich,’ but ‘ye’—that is, ‘all—such as had bread,’ you gave that out, you that had not bread or money to give, when you could not draw out your purse, you yet drew out your souls to the hungry.  Hear this, O ye precious souls that God hath made sincere, and take comfort.  May be you stand low in the world; your calling is mean; your estate next to nothing; which makes you little regarded by your neighbours that overtop you.  Canst thou say, though thou beest but a servant to some poor cobbler, that thou desirest to walk in the truth of thy heart, approving thyself to God in thy whole course?  This bird will sing as sweet a note in thy breast, as if thou wert the greatest mon­arch in the world.  That which brings comfort to the greatest saint in a time of distress, is the same which comforts the meanest in the family, and that is the love and favour of God, interest in Christ, and the precious promises which in him are ‘yea’ and ‘amen.’ Now, sincerity is the best evidence for our title to those.  It will not be so much insisted on, whether much or little has been done by us, as whether that much or little were in sincerity.  ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’  Not ‘well done, thou hast done great things, ruled states and kingdoms, been a famous preacher in thy time,’ &c.; but ‘thou hast been faith­ful;’ and that thou mayest be that standest in the ob­scurest corner of the world.  Good Hezekiah knew this, and therefore, on his sick-bed, he doth not tell God of his great services he had done—though none had done more—but only desires God to take notice of the truth and sincerity of his heart, ‘Remember, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight,’ Isa. 38:3.

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(2.) Sincerity comforts the Christian when he wants success, visibly to crown his endeavours, in his place and calling.  A great affliction this is, no doubt, to a gracious soul.  It is as when a minister of the gos­pel spends his strength and sweals out his life to a gainsaying people, that sit like stocks and stones un­der his ministry, no more moved than the seats they sit on and the pillars they lean to; ignorant and profane he found them, and such he sees he is like to leave them, after twenty years may be, almost twice told, spent among them.  This must needs be a heart-aching trial to one whom God hath given a compassionate heart to souls.  It costs the mother no small pains to bring forth a living child; but what are the bitter throws of one that travails with a dead child?  Such is the travail of a poor minister with a dead-hearted people, yet the portion of none of the meanest of God’s messengers; indeed, God sets his most eminent servants about the hardest work.  Now sincerity lightens this affliction, and sends in what may cheer the soul under it.  Paul saw he should not carry all to heaven with him he preached unto—to many the gospel was ‘a savour of death unto death.’ The sweet perfume of the gospel proved a deadly scent to hasten and heighten their damnation.  This could not be but sad to so tender a physician—to see his patients die under his hands—yet he thanks God that makes him ‘triumph in Christ,’ II Cor. 2:14.  But how can he do this? poor souls drop to hell from un­der his pulpit hearing him, and he triumph?  This is as strange as to see the father follow his child’s mournful hearse, not weeping, but singing and danc­ing.  Mark, and the wonder will cease.  He doth not triumph that they perish, but that he is not guilty of their blood; not that they are damned, but that he sincerely endeavoured their salvation.  ‘For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ,’ ver. 17.  Had Paul dropped some wild gourd of error into his doctrine, or mingled some ingredient of his own, with what Christ the great physician had ordered, he would have had little list to triumph; but preaching pure gospel, and that purely, with a sincere heart, he might triumph in Christ that made him faithful, and shall triumph over them when he meets them again at the great day of the bar of Christ, where, to their face, he shall witness against them, and vote with Christ for their eternal destruc­tion.  Methinks I hear all the faithful ministers of Christ giving an account to him, on whose errand they were sent, in the language of Jeremiah’s prayer, ‘Lord, we have not desired the woful day, thou knowest,’ Jer. 17:16, which now hath taken hold of these wretched souls, and which we warned them of.  That which came out of our lips, in our preaching to them, was right before thee.  The life of their souls was dear and precious to us.  We could have sacrificed our tempo­ral lives, to save the eternal life of their souls; but nothing we could say, or do, would stay them; to hell they would go over all the prayers, tears, and entrea­ties out of thy word, which stood in their way.  This will make the sincere ministers of Christ lift up their head with joy, and such forlorn wretches hang down their heads with shame to look Christ or them in the face, though now they can brazen it out with an impu­dent forehead.  So for parents and masters, sincerity in your relations will comfort you, though you see not your seed come up which you have sown upon them in your godly examples, holy instructions, and season­able corrections.  David was one that ‘walked in his house with a perfect heart,’ Ps. 101:2—careful in the nurture of his children, as appears in his pious coun­sel to Solomon, I Chr. 28:9, though not without fail­ings.  But many of his children were none of the best; one incestuous, another imbruing his hands in his brother’s blood, a third catching traitorously at his crown while he was himself alive—a fact which made this holy man sadly foresee how the squares would go when he was dead and gone.  Yet in this great dis­order of his family, how comfortable do we find him on his dying bed!  ‘Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting cove­nant, ordered in all things and sure,’ II Sam. 23:5.  Surely he had done his duty sincerely.  This was his evidence for his interest in the covenant, and the covenant was all his desire and salvation.

In a word, in times of public calamity, when the flood of God’s wrath comes rolling in upon a nation, like waves irresistibly, at the wide breach which the high crying sins of the times make, and the few righteous that are found upon the place labour to stand in the gap, by their prayers, begging the life of the nation, but God will not hear, even then sincerity will be a sweet support while we share with others in the common calamity.  Thus, indeed, it sometimes falls out—although the righteous ones be, like Noah, Job, and Daniel, beloved of God—that no bail will be taken for a nation under the arrest of God’s judg­ments.  Jeremiah, he bestirred him zealously for God in testifying against the sins of the times, and for the people faithfully and earnestly with God by prayer; but he could neither convert them by his preaching, nor divert the wrath of God by his praying.  The Jews bade him hold his peace, and prophesy no more against them.  God stops his mouth also, and bids him pray no more for them.  Now in the dismal state of things, what easeth his sorrowful heart, swollen with grief for their sins, and judgments hastening up­on them, like an eagle to her prey?  Truly nothing can, but the remembrance of his sincerity to God and man in those debauched times.  ‘Remember that I stood up before thee to speak good for them, and to turn away thy wrath from them,’ Jer. 18:20.  As if he had said, ‘O Lord, though I cannot prevail with this rebellious generation to repent of their sins, or with thy majesty, to repent of thy wrath gone out by an ir­reversible decree against them; yet remember that I have been faithful in my place both to thee and them.’  Whereas on the contrary, horror and amaze­ment of spirit is the portion, in such times of public calamity of hypocrites, as we see in Pashur, Jer. 20; who was a man that bare great sway at court in Jeremiah’s time, a bitter enemy tot he prophet himself and to the message he brought from God to the Jews, labouring to soothe up the king and princes with vain hopes of golden days coming—point blank against the word of the Lord in the mouth of Jere­miah.  And what becomes of him when the storm falls on that unhappy people?  Jeremiah tells him his doom, ver. 4—that God will make him a magor missabib—a terror to himself.  He should not only share in the common calamity, but have a brand of God’s special wrath set upon him above others.

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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.

  1. 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.

 

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Third. Sincerity hath a supporting, comforting strength.  It lifts the head above water, and makes the Christian float atop the waves of all troubles, with a holy presence and gallantry of spirit.  ‘Unto the up­right there ariseth light in the darkness,’ Ps. 112:4, not only light after darkness, when the night is past, but in darkness also.  Out of the eater cometh meat, and out of the strong, sweetness.  Those afflictions which feed on, yea, eat out the hypocrite’s heart, the sincere soul can feed on, suck sweetness from, yea, hath such a digestion, that he can turn them into high nour­ishment both to his grace and comfort.  A naughty heart is merry only while his carnal career is before him.  God tells Israel he will take away her feasts, and all her mirth shall cease, Hosea 2:11.  Her joy is taken away with the cloth.  Sincerity makes the Christian sing when he hath nothing to his supper.  David was in none of the best conditions when in the cave, yet we never find him merrier.  His heart makes sweeter music than ever his hasp did.  ‘My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise,’ Ps. 57:7.  The hypocrite’s joy, like the strings of musical instruments, crack in wet weather; but sincerity keeps the soul in tune in all weather.  They are unsound bodies that sympathize with the season—cheery in fair, but ill and full of aches in foul.  So the unsound heart.  A few pinching providences set him going, kill him as a sharp winter doth weak bodies.  Whereas the sincere soul never is more hale, never more comfort­able.  Afflictions do him but this courtesy—to call in his affections, which in the summer of pros­perity were possibly too much diffused and scattered among creature delights, and unite them more entirely and closely upon Christ, into whose bosom it goes as directly, when storms come, as the bee to its hive; and he must needs be comfortable that hath so oft a pillow to lay his head on as Christ’s lap. Sincerity keeps the soul’s mouth open, to receive the sweet consolations that drop from word and Spirit; indeed all the promises are directed to such.  But hypocrisy is like the squinancy in the throat of the sick man, he burns within, and can get nothing down to quench the fire which his sins have kindled in his soul.  Con­science tells him, when sweet promises are offered, ‘These are not for me, I have dealt falsely with God and man.  It is the sincere soul God invites; but I am a rotten-hearted hypocrite.’  And how much short comes such a poor wretch of Dives in his misery in hell, I pray?  Dives burns, and hath not a drop to quench his tongue.  The hypocrite in affliction, he burns too, and hath indeed, not a drop, but a river, a fountain full of water, yea of blood, presented to him, but he cannot drink it down, he cannot make any use of it for his good.  His teeth are set so close, no key can open them.  His hypocrisy stares him in the face; it lies like a mastiff at his door, and suffer no comfort to come near him.  And which is worst—he that hath no bread, or he that hath and cannot eat it?  None so witty and cunning as the hypocrite—in prosperity to ward off the reproofs, to shift from the counsels of the word; and in affliction, when conscience awakes, none so skilful to dispute against the comforts of the word.  Now he is God’s close prisoner, no comfort can come at him.  If God speak terror, who can speak peace?  ‘Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them,’ Lam. 3:65.  Sorrow of heart is the hypocrite’s curse from God in affliction; and what God lays on sticks close.  The word for sorrow in the Hebrew sig­nifies a shield that fenceth and covers over; and, saith one upon this place, it denotes the disease physicians call cardiaca passio, which so oppresseth the heart that is covered sicut scuto—as with a shield or lid over it, and keeps all relief from the heart.  Such is the sorrow of the hypocrite in affliction, when once his conscience awakes, and God fills him with the amazing thoughts of his own sins, and God’s wrath pursuing him for them.  But I shall descend to in­stance in a few particular kinds of afflictions, and show what comfort attends sincerity in them all.

  1. Sincerity supports and comforts the soul un­der reproaches from men.These are no petty trials; they are reckoned among the saints’ martyrdoms, Heb. 11:36, called there ‘cruel mockings,’ yea, not unworthy to be recorded among the sufferings of Christ.  The matchless patience and magnanimity of his spirit ap­peared not only in enduring the cross, but in ‘despis­ing the shame,’ which the foul tongues of his bloody enemies loaded him unmerci­fully with.  Man’s aspir­ing mind can least brook shame.  Credit and applause is the great idol of men that stand at the upper end of the world for parts or place.  Give but this, and what will men not do or suffer?  One wiser than the rest could see this proud humour in Diogenes, that en­dured to stand naked, embracing a heap of snow, while he had spectators about him to admire his pa­tience, as they thought it, and therefore was asked, ‘whether he would do thus, if he had none to see him?’  The hypocrite is the greatest credit-monger in the world; it is all he lives on almost, what the breath of men’s praise sends him in; when that fails, his heart faints; but when it turns to scorn and re­proaches, then he dies, and needs must, because he has no credit with God while he is scorned by man; whereas sincerity bears up the soul against the wind of man’s vain breath, because it hath conscience, and God himself, to be his compurgator, to whom he dare appeal from man’s bar.  O how sweetly do a good conscience, and the Spirit of God witnessing with it, feast the Christian at such a time! and no matter for the hail of man’s reproaches that rattle without, while the Christian is so merry within doors. David is a pregnant instance for this: ‘By this I know that thou favourest me, because mine enemy doth not triumph over me,’ Ps. 41:11.  How, David? does not thy enemy triumph over thee?  I pray see the condi­tion he at present was in.  He had fallen into a great sin, and the hand of God was on him in a disease, chastening him for it, as appears, ver. 4.  His enemies from this take advantage to speak him all to naught, ver. 5.  ‘Mine enemies speak evil of me’—no doubt, charging him for a hypocrite.  When they come to visit him, it is but to gather some matter of reproach, which they presently blab abroad, ver. 6; yea, they are not ashamed to say, ver. 8, that an evil disease, or as it is in the Hebrew, ‘a thing of Belial’—that is, his sin—‘cleaveth to him.’  Now God had met with him; now he lieth, he shall rise no more; yea, his familiar friend, in whom he trusted, serves him as ill as the worst of his enemies, ver. 9.  Was ever poor man lower? and yet he can say his enemy triumphs not over him?  His meaning therefore we must take thus: that notwithstanding all these reproaches have been cast upon him, yet his spirit did not quail.  This was above them all.  God kept that up, and gave him such inward comfort as wiped off their scorn as fast as they threw it on.  Their reproaches fell as sometimes we see snow, melting as fast as they fell.  None lay upon his spirit to load and trouble it.  And how came David by this holy magnanimity of spirit—these inward comforts?  He tells us, ‘And as for me, thou up­holdest me in mine integrity, and settest me before thy face for ever,’ ver. 12.  As if he had said, ‘Thou dost not by me, O Lord, as mine enemies do.  They pick out my worst, and revile me for it.  If there be but one sore plat—one sinful part in my life—like flies, they light there, but thou overlookest my sinful slips and failings, pardoning them, and takest notice of my up­rightness, which amidst all my infirmities thou up­holdest, and so settest me before thy face, communi­cating thy love and favour to me, notwithstanding the sins that are found, mingled with my course of obedi­ence.’  This kept up the holy man’s spirit, and makes him end the psalm joyfully.  ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting, and to everlasting’ ver. 13.