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to them that love him." If they injure his body, and benefit his soul, what harm do they inflict? If they deprive him of earthly comforts, but occasion him to receive a richer reward in heaven, what loss does he sustain? Verily the efforts of the most malignant amongst them shall only operate as a furnace to purge him from his dross, or as a cross-wind to fill all his sails, and waft him with more rapidity to his desired haven.]
But as flesh and blood must feel, and are too apt to faint, our Lord adds,
III. An encouraging direction
[Self-possession is the privilege of all who trust in God; They that believe shall not make haste." The unreasonableness of wicked men is apt to discompose us; and their virulence, to grieve us: but by patience we are enabled to bear up against every species of oppression, and to retain the same tranquillity of mind as if we were in a state of perfect ease: "I will keep him in perfect peace," saith God, "whose mind is stayed on me." This then is the direction given us by our Lord, "In your patience possess ye your souls;" "let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing"."
Yield not to irritation. The instant that anger arises in your bosoms, you are overcome of evil :" whereas your duty is, "not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good.' Yield not to dejection. Your trials may be long and heavy, but they are all appointed in number, weight, and duration. See the experience of the Apostle Paul: that experience shall be yours; and "your strength shall be according to your day."
Yield not to fear. "Who art thou that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, or of the son of man, that shall be as grass?" However formidable your enemies may appear, the advice of Peter to you is, "Be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your heartsi." "Be careful for nothing;" but "cast all your care on him who careth for you."]
For the CONCLUSION of this subject, we shall,
1. Correct some mistakes in relation to it
[Religious people are apt to imagine, that every cross which they are called to bear, is the cross of Christ; and that they should use no means to avoid it: but it is no uncommon thing for them to bring trials upon themselves by their own imprudence, or perhaps even by very reprehensible misconduct.
Jam. i. 4.
h 2 Cor. iv. 8-10.
i 1 Pet. iii. 14, 15.
Of such St. Peter speaks; contrasting their sufferings with those which are endured for the name of Christ; and affirming, that their troubles are a ground of shame rather than of glorying. It would be well if those who make religion a pretext for neglecting their relative duties, would consider this; for, whatever they may imagine, their cross is not the cross of Christ, but their own; nor will it ever bring either honour to God, or benefit to themselves. Moreover, if a cross be really coming upon us for the name of Christ, we may without any impropriety endeavour to avoid it. We must not indeed sacrifice a good conscience, even for the avoiding of death itself. Daniel would not so much as shut his window when he prayed, because it would have been a denial of his God1: but our Lord told his Disciples, that "if men persecuted them in one city, they should flee to another:" and Paul on many occasions fled from his enemies, and made considerable sacrifices to abate their prejudicem. Thus also should we act: we should be careful never unnecessarily to bring a cross upon ourselves; we should even use any prudent means to avoid the cross of Christ: but when we have no alternative but to bear it, or to make shipwreck of a good conscience, then we must "take it up," and "glory in it."]
2. Suggest some considerations for a suitable improvement of it—
[First: If all men conspire to hate and persecute the Disciples of Christ, let the Disciples at least take care to love one another, and to strengthen each other's hands by a firm and indissoluble union amongst themselves. The ungodly will triumph not a little, if they can see Christians quarrelling among themselves, and hating and reviling each other
Next; Let us duly reflect whose cross it is that we are called to bear. Did we but consider what the Lord Jesus Christ has done and suffered for us, we should account no cross heavy, nor any affliction long
Lastly; Let us look forward to the eternal world: there, all our trials will be compensated; and "our light and momentary afflictions be recompensed with a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory"
k 1 Pet. iv. 14-16.
1 Dan. vi. 10.
m Acts ix. 25. and xxi. 21-26. and xxiii. 6.
THE BUDDING FIG-TREE.
Luke xxi. 29-31. And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig-tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.
IT was no small advantage to our Lord's stated followers, that they could ask him more particularly respecting any thing which they did not perfectly understand. Of this privilege they often availed themselves, and obtained satisfactory information on many important points. Our Lord told them that the time was coming when that temple, which they so much admired, should be utterly destroyed. This was so contrary to their expectations, that they begged to know both the period to which he referred, and the particular signs whereby its approach might be ascertained. To this our Lord gave a very full reply; and illustrated his discourse by a parable taken from the season of the year, and, most probably, from the prospect then before their eyes. This parable, with the application of it, shews us,
I. That we ought to notice the signs which God has given us
There is scarcely any thing needful for us to know, which is not discoverable by certain signs even before it actually exists, or is fully accomplished. We may notice this,
1. In the works of nature
[Our Lord justly observes that the seasons which succeed each other do not come upon us unawares, but manifest their approach by certain signs. The prophet describes the very birds of the air as instinctively observing their appointed timesa-. And it is of the greatest importance to us in all our agricultural and commercial concerns to do the same. Indeed, if we should neglect such precautions, we should deprive ourselves in many instances of the comforts, if not the necessaries, of life.]
a Jer. viii. 7.
2. In the works of Providence
[Those great dispensations referred to in the text were, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the consequent enlargement of the Redeemer's kingdom. The time when they were to take place was to be known, by impostors arrogating to themselves the Messiah's office; by bitter persecutions raised against the Church, and lamentable apostasies occasioned by them; by destructive wars on earth, and tremendous signs in heaven; and particularly by the Roman standard being planted upon holy ground, when their armies should enclose and besiege Jerusalem. It was of infinite moment to the Church to notice these signs; for, on their observation of them, under God, depended all their safety and their attention to them enabled them to embrace the interval, when the siege was raised, to effect their escape; whereby they were preserved, while the whole nation besides were left to suffer the greatest extremities.
The signs of other times are not so clearly marked; and therefore cannot be so confidently interpreted: but it is wise to notice them with care; and our Lord warns us that our observations on the weather will turn to our condemnation, if we do not endeavour to improve with equal diligence our observations on the works of Providence b.]
3. In the works of grace
[The conversion of the soul is preceded by many symptoms from which we may form a reasonable judgment. behold an humiliation for sin, a teachableness of mind, a love to ordinances, a diligence in duties, a renunciation of the world, and other similar marks, we may augur well respecting the event and it is desirable to attend to these symptoms, because we may often derive from them a comfortable hope, when other circumstances might be ready to overwhelm us with despair. Our Lord himself formed his judgment upon these grounds; and we shall turn our observations to good account, if we follow his example.]
Though we are liable to mistake when we have not God for our guide, yet we are sure,
II. That whatever God has signified to us in his word shall in due time be accomplished
The destruction of the unbelieving Jews, and the redemption of the Church from the midst of them, were emblematical of the judgments that would be executed, and the salvation that would be vouchsafed,
b Matt. xvi. 2, 3.
c Mark xii. 34.
in the last day. Indeed, the two periods are so interwoven in our Lord's discourse, that it is not easy to separate them. We may well therefore fix our attention on those events wherein we are all concerned;
1. The final destruction of God's enemies—
[This is foretold in unnumbered passages of Scripture ; and the judgments, which are now executed in the world, are so many presages of a future retribution. Whatever people may imagine, this awful event shall come to pass. The Jews supposed that, because they professed the true religion, they should never experience the threatened calamities: but, when they had filled up the measure of their iniquities, "wrath came upon them to the uttermost." Thus it shall be with all the ungodly. In vain are all their hopes founded on their external relation to Christ: the word of God will be fulfilled in its season; and sooner shall heaven and earth pass away, than one jot or tittle of it fail.]
2. The eternal salvation of God's elect
[This is asserted with the same frequency and clearness as the opposite truth and too often is it questioned by persons through the prevalence of unbelief. There may be indeed great, and, humanly speaking, insurmountable obstacles in the way. As the Christians were enclosed by the besieging army, yet escaped at last through the most unaccountable and impolitic conduct of the Roman general in intermitting the siege, so shall some way be found for the salvation of God's people: they may be hemmed in on every side; yet shall not God's purposes of love be defeated, or the "smallest grain of pure wheat ever fall to the ground."]
This subject may be further IMPROVED,
1. In a way of conviction—
[It becomes us all to inquire what is to be expected from the signs that manifest themselves in us? Is the fig-tree budding, and are the trees putting forth their leaves? or, are they stripped of their foliage, and assuming daily a more dead and barren appearance? Are our graces, though small, growing in beauty and fruitfulness; or are we mere cumberers of the ground, that bring forth no fruit to God? From these things we may know the present, and augur the future, state of our souls. O let our minds be open to conviction; and let conscience do its office.]
2. In a way of consolation
d ver. 32, 33.
e Amos ix. 9.