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BEST WORK IN THE WORST TIMES.
Wherein the Neceffity, Excellency, and Means of our readiness for Sufferings are evinced and prefcribed; our Call to fuffering cleared, and the great unreadiness of many profeffors bewailed.
THE EPISTLE TO THE READER.
T was the observation of the learned Gerson (when the world was not fo old by many years as now it is) that mundus fenefcens patitur phantafas: The aged world, like aged perfons, dotes and grows whimfical, in its old age; the truth of which obfervation is confirmed by no one thing more, than the fond and groundless dreams and phanatifms of tranquillity, and continuing profperity, wherewith the multitude please themselves, even whilft the fins of the times are fo great, and the figns of the times fo fad and lowring as they are.
It is not the defign of this Manual to fcare and affright any man with imaginary dangers, much lefs to fow jealoufies, and foment the discontents of the times; it being a juft matter of lamentation that all the tokens of God's anger produce with many of us no better fruit but bold cenfures and loud clamours, inftead of humiliation for our own fins, and the due preparation to take up our own crofs, and follow Christ in a suffering path, which is the only mark and aim of this tract.
We read the hiftories of the primitive fufferers, but not with a fpirit prepared to follow them. Some cenfure them as too prodigal of their blood, and others commend their courage and conftancy; but where are they that fincerely refolve and prepare to be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises? Heb. vi. 12. or take them for an "example of fuffering, affliction, and " of patience," Jam. v. 10.
It is as much our intereft as it is our duty to be feasonably awakened out of our pleasant but most pernicious drowzinefs. Troubles will be fo much the more finking and intolerable, by how much the more they steal upon us by way of furprizal. For look, as expectation deflowers any temporal comfort, by fucking out much of the sweetness
thereof before-hand, and fo we find the lefs in it when we come to the actual enjoyment: So the expectation of evils abates much of the dread and terror, by accuftoming our thoughts before-hand to them, and making preparation for them: So that we find them not fo grievous, amazing, and intolerable when they are come indeed.
This was exemplified to us very lively by holy Mr Bradford the martyr, when the keeper's wife came running into his chamber, faying, O Mr Bradford, I bring you heavy tidings, for to-morrow you muft be burned, your chain is now buying, and presently you must go to Newgate.' He put off his hat, and looking up to heaven, faid, O Lord, I thank thee for it; I have looked for this a long time; It comes not fuddenly to me, the Lord make me worthy of it. See in this example the fingular advantage of a prepared and ready foul.
Reader, The cup of fufferings is a very bitter cup, and it is but needful that we provide fomewhat to fweeten it, that we may be able to receive it with thanksgiving; and what thofe fweetening ingredients are, and how to prepare them, you will have fome direction and help in the following difcourfe; which hath once already been prefented to the public view; and that it may at this time alfo (wherein nothing can be more feasonable) become farther useful and affifting to the people of God in their prefent duties, is the hearty defire of Thine
and the Church's
Servant in Chrift,
ACTS xxi. 13.
Then Paul anfvered, What mean ye to weep, and to break my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerufalem for the name of the Lord Jefus.
Wherein the text is opened, and the doctrine propounded.
HE Divine providence is not more fignally discovered in governing the motions of the clouds, then it is in difpofing and ordering the fpirits and motions of the minifters of the gospel, who, in a myftical fenfe, are fruitful clouds, to dispense the fhowers of gofpel-bleffings to the world. The motion of the clouds is not fpontaneous, but they move as they are moved by the winds; neither can gofpel-ministers chufe their own stations, and govern their own motions, but muft go when and where the Spirit and providence of God directs and guides them; as will evidently appear in that dange-.
rous voyage to Jerufalem in which the apostle was at this time engaged, Acts xx. 22. "And now, behold, I go bound in the Spirit to Je"rufalem," [bound in the Spirit :] Alluding to the watry vapours which are bound up in clouds, and conveyed according to the motions of the wind. This journey was full of danger; Paul forefaw his business was not only to plant the gospel at Jerufalem with his doctrine, but to water it alfo with his blood; but fo effectually was his will determined by the will of God, that he cheerfully complies with his duty therein, whatfoever difficulties and dangers did attend it.
And indeed it was his great advantage, that the will of God was fo plainly and convincingly revealed to him touching this matter; for no fooner did he employ himself to obey this call of God, but he is presently affaulted by many strong temptations to decline it.
The first rub he met in his way was from the difciples of Tyre, who pretending to speak by the Spirit, faid unto Paul, that he fhould not go up to Jerufalem, Acts xxi. 4. The Lord by this trying the fpirit of his apostle much, as he did the young prophet coming from Judea. to Bethel, 1 Kings xiii. 18. but not with like fuccefs.
His next difcouragement was at Cæfarea, where Agabus (whom Dorotheus affirms to be of the feventy-two difciples, and had before prophefied of the famine in the reign of Claudius, which accordingly came to pafs) takes Paul's girdle, and binding his own hands and feet with it, faid, "Thus faith the Holy Ghoft, fo fhall the Jews at Je"rufalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and fhall deliver "him into the hands of the Gentiles," Acts xxi. 11. And furely he was not ignorant what he must expect whenever he should fall into their hands; yet neither could this affright him from his duty.
But then, laft of all, he meeteth with the foreft trial from his dearest friends, who fell upon him with paffionate intreaties and many tears, befeeching him to decline that journey: O they could not give up fuch a minister as Paul was! this even melted him down, and almost broke his heart, which yet was eafier to do, than to turn him out of the path of obedience: Where, by the way, we may note two things:
Firft, That divine precept, not providence, is to rule out our way of duty.
Secondly, That no hindrances or difcouragements whatsoever will juftify our neglect of a known duty.
All thefe rubs he palies over; all thefe difcouragement he overcame, with this heroic and truly Chriftian rofolution in the text; "What mean ye to weep, and to break my heart? For I am ready "not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerufalem, for the name of "the Lord Jefus."
In which words we have,
Firft, He lovingly and gently rebukes their fond and inordinate forrow for his departure, in thefe words, What mean ye to weep, and to break my heart? As if he fhould fay, What mean these paffionate intreaties and tempting tears? To what purpofe is all this ado? They are but fo many fnares of Satan, to turn my heart out of the way of obedience: You do as much as in you lies to break my heart; let there be no more of this I beseech you.
Secondly, He labours to charm their unruly paffions with a very quieting and calming argument; For I am ready, &c. trompas exe, parate habeo. I am prepared and fitted for the greateft fufferings which fhall befal me in the purfuit of my duty; be it a prifon, or be it death, I am provided for either: Liberty is dear, and life much dearer, but Chrift is dearer than either
But what was there in all this, to fatisfy them whose trouble it was to fee him fo forward? Let the words be confidered, and we fall find divers things in them to fatisfy and quiet their hearts, and make them willing to give him up.
First, I am ready; that is, God hath fitted and prepared my heart for the greatest fufferings; this is the work of God: flesh and blood would never be brought to this, were not all its interests and inclinations fubdued, and over-ruled by the Spirit of God, What do therefore in all this, but work against the defign of God, who hath fitted and prepared my heart for this fervice?
Secondly, I am ready; that is, my will and refolution stands in a full bent, my heart is fixed, you cannot therefore study to do me a greater injury, than to difcompofe and diforder my heart again, by cafting fuch temptations as thefe in my way, to caufe the flesh to rebel, and the enemy that is within to renew his oppofition.
Thirdly, I am ready; that is, my heart is fo fixed to follow the call of God, whatever fhall befal me, that all your tears and intreaties to the contrary are but caft away; they cannot alter my fixed purpose; you had as good be quiet, and cheerfully refign me to the will of God.
Thus you fee the equipage and preparation of Paul's fpirit to receive both bonds and death for Chrift at Jerufàlem; this made him victorious over the temptations of friends, and the malice and cruelty of his enemies: By this readinefs and preparation of his mind, he was carried through all, and enabled to finifh his course with joy. From hence the obfervation is,
Doct. That it is a blessed and excellent thing for the people of God to be prepared, and ready for the bardeft fervices, and worst of sufferings, to which the Lord may call them
This is that which every gracious heart is reaching after, praying, and ftriving to obtain; but, ah! how few will attain it! Certainly there are not many among the multitudes of the profeffors of this generation that can fay as Paul here did, "I am ready to be bound, or "to die for Chrift."