Transfiguration Sermon 4 - Matthew 17:4 and Luke 9:32-33The Transfiguration of Christ by Thomas Manton (1620-1677) (Volume 1)
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Transfiguration Sermon 4 – Matthew 17:4 and Luke 9:32-33
“Then answered Peter and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.” MAT. XVII. 4;
“But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said.” LUKE IX. 32,33.
WE are upon the adjuncts of Christ’s transfiguration.
The first was the appearance of Moses and Elias talking with him.
The second is the entertainment which the apostles gave to this glorious dispensation, or their behaviour under it. Three things are observable:-
1. Their posture for some while: and Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep.
2. Peter’s motion when they were awake: let us build here three tabernacles.
3. The censure of it: not knowing what he said.
First, Their posture after the transfiguration was begun: ‘And Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep.’ This sleep might arise either from a common natural cause, or from a special cause peculiar to this dispensation.
1. A common natural cause, being tired with labour in ascending the mountain, for it was upshlos lian, ‘exceeding high.’ Or it was with watching, for they tarried there all night, and Christ continued long in prayer, and possibly being a little withdrawn from them, as in his agonies, he was transfigured before them.
2. The special cause of this sleep was the extraordinary apparition, as the prophets often were in a deep sleep and trance when they saw the like: Dan. viii. 18, ‘As the angel Gabriel was speaking to me, I fell into a deep sleep, with my face towards the ground.’ Again, Dan. x. 9, ‘When I heard his voice, then was I in a deep sleep.’ So the prophet Zechariah, in the midst of his visions: Zech. iv. I ‘The angel of the Lord wakened me as one in a deep sleep.’ Any eminent passion causeth sleep, and they were astonished so with these visions and representations, that nature fainted under them, and they fell into a sleep; so the apostles seeing Christ, in the midst of fervent prayers, transfigured before them.
Now, whether it came from the one cause or from the other, we must conclude this sleep was a weakness on their parts, but directed and overruled by God for just and wise reasons.
1. It was a weakness and infirmity on their part, for questionless they were to attend with all vigilancy to this manifestation of our Saviour’s glory, and observe the passages of it. Why else did he take them into the mountain apart, but as witnesses of it, as they were to watch in his agonies? So in his transfiguration. It was a fault then: Matt xxvi. 40, ‘When he cometh he findeth them asleep. What! could you not watch with me one hour?’ But the best men are clogged with human infirmities, in the most glorious manifestations of God to them.
2. The providence of God is to be observed in this sleep. That which came to pass through their fault was ordered by God’s providence; for if they had been awake, they had heard all the discourse that passed between Christ and the two great prophets, which neither their present condition nor the state of the time did permit. Christ had told them that he should suffer an ignominious death, which they did not thoroughly understand; nor could they reconcile it with the present thoughts which they had of the Messiah; nor was it fit for them to hear all, how the death of Christ was foretold in the prophecies, prefigured in the sacrifices, shadowed out in all the rest of the types of the law, and sung of in the book of Psalms, to satisfy the justice of God, and open a way for his mercy and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Christ would not have the great work of his dying hindered, and these things they were not to learn from Moses and Elias, but he would teach them himself after the resurrection: Luke xxiv. 44 – 46, ‘These are the words that I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their eyes that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day.’ And the full knowledge of them was reserved till the pouring out of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. If ‘they had heard them now, they would have begotten scruples and troublesome thoughts in their minds, and hindered the present service.
Observe hence our weakness during the time we are environed with mortality, that we cannot bear up long under spiritual duties; either our hearts are soon overcharged with wonder and astonishment, or else we yield to natural infirmities. However, let it be a warning to us against sleepiness in the worship of God. It is true the best may be surprised with it, as here Christ’s disciples. Yet it was a sin in them to be asleep when Christ was at prayers, and it is a sin God hath severely punished; witness Eutychus: Acts xx. 9, ‘And there sat in the window a young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.’ Mark though the sermon continued till midnight, and it was a youth that slept, yet he fell down as dead. It was a small sin – a sin of infirmity – a boy’s sin; yet God would leave this warning. I do not animadvert too severely upon this infirmity, only give you caution. Christ praying all night on Mount Tabor, this weakness prevailed on these choice apostles, and elsewhere during the time of Christ’s agonies. Yet we are to strive against it, and be sure it may be said of us as of them: Mark xxvi. 41, ‘The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Make conscience of avoiding this sin; do not compose yourselves to sleep; do not come to these duties spent with labours and worldly cares, nor clogged with excess of meat or drink, nor having defrauded ourselves of necessary refreshing by sleep, by vain pleasures the night before.
Secondly, Their carriage when they were awake. When they awaked, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with them; they saw Christ transfigured before they fell asleep, but I think they saw not Moses and Elias before, but now saw them, that they might give testimony of it to the church, not by common fame and hearsay, but as eye-witnesses; and they knew Moses and Elias either by information from Christ, or some secret instinct and revelation of the Spirit, or as hearing some part of the discourse, they heard enough to show what they were, or what the general matter of their discourse was. But that which is most remarkable is Peter’s motion and proposal, ‘It came to pass, as they departed from him ‘ – just as they were parting – ‘ Peter said, Lord, it is good for us to be here: let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, one for Moses, and one for Elms.’ He mentioned no distinct tabernacle for himself and fellow-disciples, because they would be with Christ, attending on their master in his tent.
The motion in the general is rash, sudden, and unadvised; but being made by a good man, though under a passion, there is something good and something bad in it.
1. That which was good in it is, he yet retaineth his reverence.
[1.] That he submitteth his proposal to the judgment of his Lord and Master, wherein he expresseth his reverence of Christ – ‘Lord, if thou wilt.’ He desireth a continuance of this dispensation, leaveth it to his consent, acknowledging herein his wisdom and authority.
[2.] It showeth the valuableness and felicity of conversing with Christ and the glorified saints; for when but two of them appear in glory, talking with Christ, Peter said it is good to be here, to continue and abide in this place together with thyself, Moses, and Elias. What a blessed dignity is this! The glory of heaven is so ravishing and satisfactory to the soul, that the soul can rest in the least glimpse and degree of it! If a glimpse, what is the fulness? If the splendour of his humanity not yet glorified be so great, what is the glory of his God-head? If a sight of these things at a distance, what is the partici-pation when the glory shall be revealed in us, or we shall appear with him in glory? If Moses and Elias, what is the company of all the saints and angels? If it be thus at Mount Tabor, what will it be in heaven, when all the world is renewed and refined, and the church gathered together in one great assembly?
[3.] The nature of a state of glory, and how easily it maketh us to forget all things here below. Peter had a family, and household affairs to mind; for we read in the Gospel that his wife’s mother was sick and cured by Christ: Mat. viii. 14. He had friends, and a brother called Andrew, who was one of the disciples of Christ, left below in the valley: John i. 40. Nay he forgot his own present condition of life, which could not long brook his remaining in that mountain, without the supply of food, and other necessaries. Now all this showeth that when we are translated to heaven, we shall be so ravished with that kind of life we shall have there, as that all sense and memory of things that we have left behind shall cease, as Peter being ravished with this sight and spectacle, thinketh not of kindred, friends, or household, or any kind of worldly comfort, but saith only, it is good to be here; so that it teacheth us that the delights of the other world make us forget all our conceruments here below: all shall be forgotten and swallowed up in that heavenly delight we shall have there.
2. That which was evil in it.
[1.] That he mistook the nature of the present dispensation. This was to be a representation, not a fruition, to be transient and momentary; for confirmation, not possession; rather a viaticum, a bit by the way, than a feast. It was good and commendable to be affected with joy and delight in the presence and company of Christ, and Moses, and Elias, but it was not to be rested in as their full reward.
[2.] If this request had taken place, the work of our redemption had been hindered. What had become of Christ’s death and passion, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem? All our happiness dependeth on that, and if God should give way to our carnal desires, what mischief would ensue! If Christ had hearkened to him, he would not have gone up to Jerusalem to suffer, nor would any man living have dared to lay hands upon him while he continued in this glory and majesty.
[3.] This request was injurious to Moses and Elias, that they should utterly forsake their heavenly mansions for an abode on earth, and therefore to desire their continuance there was to desire their loss. They were a little time to appear on earth with Christ, and then to return to their blessedness, or to the enjoyment of the sight of God in the third heavens.
[4.] It was injurious to Christ. To hope to learn something from Moses and Elias which Christ could not teach them, and to equal them with his Lord and Master, in building tabernacles for all three alike and without difference, was some lessening of his respect to Christ. If they were to learn anything from them, they were to consult the books, not the persons: Luke xvi. 29, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And the desires of extraordinary means argueth a contempt of ordinary.
[5.] It was an error to imagine that tabernacles were necessary for Moses and Elias, who now appeared in such heavenly glory in the mount They needed not earthly houses and tents to dwell in, to defend them from the injuries of the weather, neither had they such present conveniences to prepare them.
Thirdly, The censure of the Holy Ghost: Luke saith, ‘not knowing what he said.’ In Mark, chap ix. 6, ‘He wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.’ They were words of a man in a rapture, or surprised with great astonishment. There were two affections, dazzled with the majesty of this glory, and transported with joy. There was also a great fright. Usually, ta lupnra fobera, such things as bring a hurt, occasion fear, and also things of excellent glory; such as surpass our present meanness; as here the change of Christ’s person, and the glorious appearance of the great prophets, so long since separated from the commerce of mankind.
Observe, before we proceed, the inconvenience of great and excessive passions: they make us speak we know not what. Peter is an instance in scripture. Let us keep to him. You see him surprised with a great passion of fear, when at Christ’s command a great draught of fish came to hand in an unlikely time: Luke v. 8, 9, ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, 0 Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of fishes that they had taken.’ You find him at other times transported with a passion of excessive reverence or humility: John xiii. 8,’ Lord, thou shalt never wash my feet.’ With a passion of love, or pity to his Master: ‘Lord, let it be far from thee; this shall not be unto thee,’ when his Master had foretold his death: Mat. xvi. 22, in case of contempt of Christ. Here with a passion of joy or ravishment, or transport of soul, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here.’ Now all these passions were religiously exercised; but it is dangerous when religion, which should bridle and govern our passions, is made the matter and fuel of them. Passionate joy, or passionate fear, passionate reverence, or passionate zeal, and anger, may easily transport us to some uncomely action or motion; for though in all these there was religion at top, yet sin at the bottom; and, therefore, you see how much it concerneth us to moderate and reduce ourselves to a due temper; for passion causeth us to do things without and against reason; yea, to speak and do we know not what; and when religious matters overheat our affections, we may err exceedingly.
Now, having opened this part of the history, let us observe something that conduceth to our practical instruction.
Doct. 1. That the state and condition of the glorified saints is a most delightful state and condition.
For when Peter had but a glimpse of it in the transfiguration of Christ, it seemed so ravishing and transporting, that here would he abide and stay by it; so was he affected with joy in the company and presence of Christ, and Moses and Elias appearing with him, that all his natural comforts and relations were forgotten. This would com-pensate all. If once we be gotten into this blessed estate, we shall never desire to come out of it, and part with it. This which the dis-ciples had was but a little glimpse and taste of the life to come. This must needs be so; it is called joy: Mat. xxv. 21, ‘Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord;’ and fulness of joy: Ps. xvL 11, ‘In thy presence there is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for ever-more.’ No better estate can be expected. The soul is at rest, as having obtained its end. And it is also proved by the privileges and benefits the saints shall enjoy in the world to come.
1. A freedom from all evil, which here are matter of grief to us. And
2. The fruition of all good, which may any way bring joy, and delight, and contentment.
1. There is a freedom from all evil. There is a twofold evil, either of sin or punishment. In heaven there is neither sin nor misery.
[1.] To begin with sin, that is the worst evil, because it maketh us hateful to God, and grieveth the saints most: Rom. vii. 24, ‘Oh wretehed man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ If any man had cause to complain of afflictions, Paul much more, being often imprisoned, whipped, stoned; but his lusts troubled him more than scourges; and his captivity to the law of sin more than prisons. God’s children are most weary of the world, because they are sinning here whilst others are glorifying of God, and enjoying God and the company of his blessed ones. Now in heaven there is no sin: Eph. v. 27 there is neither spot nor blemish, nor wrinkle on the face of the glorified saints. Their faces were once as black as yours, but now they are washed in the Lamb’s blood and fully cleansed; now with much ado we mortify sin, but then it is nullified. But if we subdue the power of sin, we do not get rid of the being of it, but then we are rid of all at once – of all sin, and temptation to sin. There was a serpent, a tempter in Paradise, but there is none in heaven; the devil is shut out, and the old man is left in the grave never to rise more.
[2.] There is not the least evil of affliction: Rev. xxi. 4, ‘All tears shall be wiped away from their eyes.’ Whatsoever is painful and burdensome to nature, is a fruit of sin, a brand and mark of our rebel-lion against God. Therefore, when sin is done away, affliction, which is the fruit of it, is done away also. In hell there is evil, and only evil; in heaven, happiness, and only happiness. Here our wounds are healed, but the scars remain – something to put us in mind that we have sin yet dwelling in us; but there all the effects of it cease – there is neither death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain.
2. They shall enjoy all good things, which shall bring joy and com-fort to them. In blessedness there is a confluence of all good; our joys are full and eternal.
[1.] There is the immediate sight and presence of God and Jesus Christ, who shall be all in all to them: 1 Cor. xiii. 12, ‘Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part, then shall I know as also I am known.’ And John xvii. 24, ‘Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.’ We are brought into the presence of him who is blessedness itself.
[2.] The society of all the blessed angels and saints glorified: Mat. viii. 11, ‘Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.’
[3.] The perfection of all heavenly gifts both in soul and body.
(1.) In soul: that is the heaven of heaven: 1 John iii.2,’ Now are we the sons of God; but it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but this we know, that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is;’ Ps. xvii. 15, ‘When I awake I shall be satisfied with thy image and likeness.’ By knowing we come to love, and by loving God we know him. There is vision, assimilation, satisfaction. The object is efficacious, the intimation vigorous and clear, the subject prepared for the impression.
(2.) In body: Phil. iii. 21, ‘Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body.’ The body shall be endued with all glorious qualities, as brightness, strength, agility. It is a body wholly impassible and incorruptible, fit for the operations of a glorified soul, and with it shall for ever remain, a glorious temple of the Holy Ghost; therefore it is good to be here.
Use 1. Let this draw forth our love to such a blessed estate, which is so full of delight and contentment, and wean us from these things which are most pleasing in the world.
1. The best estate in the world is but vanity, altogether vanity, Ps. xxxix. 5, mingled with some grievances. Wealth hath its incident cares, and honour its tortures, and all pleasures here are but bitter sweets; there is a worm that feedeth on our gourd, and will in time wither it. At last death cometh, and then the lust of the world is gone: 1 John ii. 17, ‘The world passeth away, and the lust thereof.’ The godly themselves have but a mixed estate, because of remaining infirmities, they live here in a vale of tears and snares, and sin doth not gasp its last till death removeth us from this sinful flesh, and puts us into the sight of God himself. Wherefore the saints are groaning and longing for the parting day, when putting off the desh we shall put off sin, and come and dwell with God for ever.
2. None are translated into heaven but such whose hearts are there first: 2 Cor. v. 2, ‘In this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven;’ Phil. i. 23, ‘I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ;’ Born. viii. 23, ‘We that have the first-fruits of the Spirit groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies.’ A Christian waiteth and longeth for a purer state of bliss and immortality. The first-fruits show what the harvest will be, and a taste what the feast will prove; though they are thankful for this refreshing by the way, yet they are longing to be at home – cannot be contented without it.
3. The excellency of this estate requireth it: if it be not worth your desires and best affections, it is little worth. Christ procured it for us by a life of labours and sorrows, and the pangs of a bitter, cursed death; and when all this is done shall not we desire it and look after it? – that is foul ingratitude. Oh then let your hearts be upon it; desire must go before delight.
Use 2. To move us to labour for it, and seek it in the first place, and to get it assured that we have a part in this blessed and joyful condition: Mat. vi. 33, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof;’ Luke xiii. 24, ‘Strive to enter in at the strait gate;’ so 2 Pet. i 10, ‘Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.’ What profit is it to know that there is such a blessed and joyful estate, if we have no interest in it? Heaven is worth our pains, and will bear all the cost we can lay out upon it. So the children of God thought: Acts xxvi. 7, ‘Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come.’ If we do not desire it, we do not believe it; if we do not labour for it, we do not desire it.
Use 3. Let us comfort ourselves with the hopes of this blessed and joyful condition.
1. Against all the miseries and afflictions of this present life. These are necessary; we would sleep too quietly in the world if we did not sometimes meet with thorns in our beds; we should be so pleased with our entertainment in the way as we should forget home. But God awakeneth us out of our drowsy fits by sharp afflictions, as if he said, ‘Arise, depart hence, this is not your rest,’ Micah ii. 10. While we wallow in sensual comforts our hearts say, it is good being here.
2. When there is a joyful and blessed condition beyond them, it is some comfort in this shipwreck of man’s felicity that we can see banks and shores, a landing-place where we may be safe and enjoy our repose. ‘To you that are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,’ 2 Thes. i. ‘7. Here our days are sorrow and our travail grief, but there is our repose.
3. That our joy and contentment is so infinitely above our sorrow and trouble, 2 Cor. iv. 7, so that in all the troubles and sorrows of this life, we may look beyond them and through them to the joy and comfort of the life to come. This joy is set before us in the promises of the gospel: Heb xii. 2, Christ, ‘for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross,’ &c., and Heb vi. 18, ‘Who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us,’ we see it by faith, though not by sense.
Doct. 2. That one of the diseases of mankind is that we catch at felicity, without considering the way that leadeth to it.
Peter seeing and apprehending this estate to be an estate of happi-ness and glory, doth not consider what he must first do and first suffer before he could come to converse with Christ and the glorified saints. Our Saviour had lately told him that he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow him; but Peter overlooketh all this, and saith, ‘It is good to be here.’ He would be glorified before he was abased and had suffered all the afflictions foretold, and would have his wages before he had done his work. Every one would enjoy Christ’s glory and happiness, but we do not like his yoke – are loth to submit to his cross. If we would enjoy happiness with Christ and the glorified saints, we must be humbled with them and suffer with them first. But we would triumph before we had fought any battle, and receive the crown before we have run our race, and reap in joy before we have sowed in tears, or performed that necessary work that God requires at our hands.
Now the reasons of it are these:-
1. Because by nature we love our own ease and contentment: Gen. xlix. 15, ‘He saw that rest was good.’ We are loth to undergo the cross, and desirous to enjoy happiness and glory before and without afflictions; but this is an untimely and preposterous desire, proceeding from self-love. God hath appointed another order, that the cross should go before the crown: Rom. viii. 17, ‘If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be glorified together.’
2. From the libertinism and yokelessness of our natures, and that spirit of unsubjection which is so natural to us: Rom viii. 7, ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can be;’ Ps. ii. 3, ‘Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.’ Duties are more displeasing to the flesh than happiness, and we like pardon and life more than we like strictness, purity, and that watching and striving, and waiting, and exercising ourselves unto godliness which the scripture calleth for.
Use. To press us to get this disease cured, and our hearts reconciled to our duty as well as to our happiness. These considerations may be a help to you.
1. God is a governor as well as a benefactor, and must be respected in both relations; and therefore we must not only desire and wait for his benefits, but submit to his government. His government is seen in his laws and providence. In his laws he appoints our duty, in his providence he appoints our trials; to refuse either is to question his sovereignty: Ps. xii. 4, ‘Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail: our lips are our own: who is lord over us?’ Exod. v. 2, ‘And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go;’ so also not to submit to his trials. Therefore now, if we love God as a benefactor, we must be subject to him as our true and proper sovereign, who will bring us to heaven in what way he pleaseth.
2. The terms and means appointed conduce to mortify our love to the false happiness, for one great part of religion is to draw off our hearts from the vain pleasures and honours of the world, the other part is to carry us on in the pursuit of the true happiness – a recess from the world and an access to God, mortification and vivification. We shall sit down with present things if we abandon ourselves to our sensual inclinations, Luke xvi. 25, so that our desires of the true happiness will be feeble and easily controlled if we submit not to the means.
3. The care and due observance of the means showeth the value and respect to the true happiness. If we do not labour for it and suffer for it, we do not value it according to its worth. There is a simple, naked estimation, and a practical esteem. Naked approbation, Rom ii. 18, ‘And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law.’ The practical esteem is a self-denying obedience, Rom. ii. 7, ‘To them who by patient continu-ance in well-doing seek for glory,’ etc. Then they respect means and end together, and submit to the one to obtain the other. If the wicked are said to despise eternal happiness, it is not simply as happiness, nor as eternal, for they that love themselves would be happy, and everlastingly happy; but it is in conjunction with the means, as the Israelites despised the pleasant land, and murmured in their tents: Ps. cvi. 24, ‘Yea, they despised the pleasant land; and they believed not his word; but murmured in their tents, and hearkened not to the voice of the Lord.’ The land was a good, fertile land, but afar off, and because of giants and walled towns, and so not thought worthy the pains and difficulties to be undergone. Heaven is a good place, but out of indulgence to the ease of the flesh we dislike difficulties and strictness of holy walking.
4. The difficulty of salvation lies not in a respect to the end but the means, and therefore the trial of our sincerity must rather be looked for there. There is some difficulty about the end, to convince men of an unseen felicity but that may be done in part by reason, but savingly and thoroughly by the Spirit of revelation: Eph. i. 18, ‘The eyes of your understandings being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.’ But man is sooner convinced than converted, than drawn off from worldly vanities, that he may seek after this happiness; and usually we have a quicker ear for offers of happiness than precepts of duty and obedience. Balaam, Num. xxiii. 10, ‘Oh that I could die the death of the righteous, and that my latter end were like his!’ John vi. 34, ‘Evermore give us this bread’ of life; but a true Christian, ‘If by any means I may attain to the resurrection of the dead,’ Phil. iii. 11.
5. The necessity of this self-denying resignation of ourselves to God, to bring us to heaven in his own way, is necessary. That we may begin with God: Luke xiv. 26, ‘If any man come to me, and hate not father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.’ And also that we may be true to him, and go on with him, and be fortified against all the difficulties we meet with in the way to heaven: Heb. xi. 35, ‘Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.’ ‘ But none of these things move us, Acts xx. 24: Mat. xx. 22, ‘Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’
6. There is such an inseparable connexion between the end and means, that God will not give us the one without the other. If we believe, mortify, wait, suffer, then shall we reign with him – otherwise not.
Doct. 3. Much evil would ensue if we had our desires in all those things that we think good for us.
Peter said, ‘It is good for us to be here;’ but, alas! how ill would it have been for the world if Christ had abode still in the mount. Peter’s instance showeth us two things:-
1. That we are apt to consult with our own profit rather than public good. The world needed him, he had great business to do in the valley; but he would be in the mount. It is our nature, if it be well with ourselves, to forget others. Peter little minded his fellow-apostles, the redemption of the world, the conversion of nations, etc.
2. How much we are out when we judge by present sense and the judgment of flesh. We consult with the ease of the flesh, and so desire rest more than pains and labour; what pleaseth rather than what profiteth. Peter saith, ‘It is good to be here,’ but he must labour first, suffer first, before he entereth into glory.
Well, then, let us learn by what measure to determine good or evil.
1. Good is not to be determined by our fancies and conceits, but by the wisdom of God; for he knoweth what is better for us than we do for ourselves, and the divine choices are to be preferred before our foolish fancies; and what he sendeth and permitteth to fall out is better for us than anything else. Could we be persuaded of this, how would we be prepared for a cheerful entertainment of all that is, or can, or shall come, upon us. God is wiser than we, and loves us better than we do ourselves. The child is not to be governed by his own fancy, but his father’s discretion, nor the sick man by his own appetite, but the skill of the physician. It is expedient God should displease his people, for their advantage: John xvi. 6, ‘7, ‘ Because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is expedient for you that I go away. We are too much addicted to our own conceits: Christ’s dealing is expedient and useful, when yet it is very unsatisfactory to us. He is to be judge of what is good for us, his going or tarrying, and not we ourselves. We are short-sighted creatures, distempered with passions; our requests many times are but ravings, we ask of God we know not what, as the two brethren, Mat. xx. 22, we pray ourselves into a mischief and a snare, and it were the greatest misery if God would carve out our condition according to our own fancies and desires.
2. That good is to be determined with respect to the chief good and true happiness. Now what is our chief happiness, but the enjoyment of God? Our happiness doth not consist in outward comforts, riches, health, honour, civil liberty; or comfortable relations, as husband, wife, children; but our relation to and acceptance with God. Other things are but additional appendages to our happiness: Mat. vi. 33, ‘they shall be added to you.’ Therefore poverty is good, afflictions are good; they take nothing from our essential, solid happiness, rather help us in the enjoyment of it, as it increaseth grace and holiness, and so we enjoy God more. Surely that is good that sets us nearer to God, and that evil that separateth us from him. Therefore sin is evil because it makes an estrangement between us and God: Isa. lix. 2, ‘ Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you.’ But affliction is good, because many times it makes us the more earnestly to seek after him: Hosea v. 116, ‘In their affliction they will seek me early.’ Therefore every condition is good or evil, as it sets us farther off or draweth us nearer to God; that is good that tendeth to make us better, more like unto God, capable of communion with him, and conduceth to our everlasting happiness. So it is good that man ‘bear the yoke from his youth,’ that he be trained up under the cross, in a constant obedience to God, and subjection to him, and so be fitted to entertain communion with him. If afflictions conduce to this end they are good, for then they help us to enjoy the chief good.
3. That good is not always the good of the flesh, or the good of outward prosperity; and, therefore, certainly the good of our condition is not to be determined by the interest of the flesh, but the welfare of our souls. If God should bestow upon us so much of the good of the outward and animal life as we desire, we could not be said to be in a good condition: if he should deny us good spiritual, we should lose the one half of the blessings of the covenant by doting upon and falling in love with the rest. The flesh is importunate to be pleased, but God will not serve our carnal appetites. We are more concerned as a soul than as a body: Heb. xii. 10, ‘He verily chasteneth us for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.’ Certain it is God will chasten us for our profit. What do we call profit? the good things of this world, the great mammon which so many worship? If we call it so, God will not; he meaneth to impart some spiritual and divine benefit, which is a participation of his own holiness. And truly the people of God, if they be in their right temper, value themselves, not by their outward enjoyments, but by their inward improvement of graces: 2 Cor. iv. 16, ‘For this cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.’ A discerning Christian puts more value upon holiness wrought by affliction than upon all his comforts; so that though affliction be evil in itself, it is good as sanctified.
4. A particular good must give way to a general good, and our personal benefit to the advancement of Christ’s kingdom and the glory of God. The advancement of Christ’s kingdom, or the good of the church, must be preferred before our personal benefit or contentment. Paul could want the glory of heaven for a while, if his continuance in the flesh were needful for the saints: Phil. i. 24, ‘To abide in the flesh is more needful for you.’ We must not so desire good to ourselves as to hinder the good of others. All elements will act contrary to their particular nature, for the conservation of the universe, so for the glory of God. That may be good for the glory of God which is not good for our personal contentment and ease. Now the glory of God is our greatest interest; if it be for the glory of God that I should be in pain, bereft of my comfort, my sanctified subjection to the will of God must say it is good: John xii. 27, 28. Here you must have the innocent inclination of Christ’s human nature, ‘Father, save me from this hour;’ and the overruling sense of his duty, or the obligation of his office, ‘but for this cause came I to this hour.’ We are often tossed between inclination of nature and conscience of duty; but in a gracious heart the sense of our duty and the desire of glorifying God should prevail above the desire of our own comforts, ease, safety, and welfare. Nature would be rid of trouble, but grace submits all our interests to God’s honour, which should be dearer to us than anything else.
5. This good is not to be determined by the judgment of sense, but by the judgment of faith; not by present feeling, but future profit. That which is not good may be a means to good. Affliction for the present is not pleasant to natural sense; nor for the present is the fruit evident to spiritual sense; but it is good, because in the issue it turneth to good: Rom. viii. 28, ‘All things work together for good to them that love God,’ etc. While God is striking, we feel the grief and the cross is tedious; but when we see the end, we acknowledge it is good to be afflicted: Heb. xii. 11, ‘No affliction for the present seems joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterwards it yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised therein.’ A good, present, is the cause of joy; and an evil, present, is the cause of sorrow. But there are two termini diminuentes, terms of abatement, pros to paron, and dokei, present sense, and the conceits of the sufferer. When we are but newly under the affliction, we feel the smart, but do not presently find the benefit; but within a while, especially in the review, it is good for me. It is matter of faith under the affliction, it is matter of sense afterwards. God’s physic must have time to work. That which is not good may be good; though it be not good in its nature, it may be good in its use; and though for the present we see it not, we shall see it. Therefore good is not to be determined by feeling, but by faith. The rod is a sore thing for the present, but the bitter root will yield sweet fruit. If we come to a person under the cross, and ask him, What! is it good to feel the lashes of God’s correcting hand? to be kept poor, sickly, exercised with losses and reproaches, to part with friends and relations, to lose a beloved child? he would be apt to answer, No. But this poor creature, after he hath been exercised, and mortified, and gotten some renewed evidences of God’s favour; ask him, then, Is it good to be afflicted? Oh yes, I had been vain, neglectful of God, wanted such an experience of the Lord’s grace. Faith should determine the case when we feel it not.
Well, then, let us learn to distinguish between what is really best for us and what we judge to be best. Other diet is more wholesome for our souls than that which our sickly appetite craveth. It is best many times when we are weakest, worst when strongest: all things are good as they help on a blessed eternity: so sharp afflictions are good. That part of the world that is governed by sense will never yield to this. You cannot convince a covetous man that the loss of an estate is good; or a worldly, rich man that poverty is good; or an ambitious man that it is good to be despised and contemned; or a sensual, voluptuous man that it is good to be in pains, that the body be afflicted for the good of the soul: they will never believe you. But those that measure all things by eternity, they know that poverty makes way for the true riches, and ignominy for the true glory, want for fulness of pleasures, and misery mortifies sin.