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of the world are disarmed by this; and by this are its flatteries also disarmed. In whatever stations of life we are fixed, let this engage us to be faithful to God in them : so shall we be most truly faithful to ourselves !
The apostles were exposed to peculiar dangers and trials ; but all that will live godly in Christ Jesus must expect some degree of persecution, (2 Tim. iii. 12,) let us therefore arm ourselves with the same mind, that we may bear it with a truly Christian fortitude. May Divine grace teach us to mingle the wisdom of the serpent with the innocence of the dove, and to shelter ourselves from the ill usage of a perverse and sinful generation, so far only as we can do it without offering any violation to our consciences!
It is indeed matter of great lamentation, that the sentiments of benevolence and goodness, which seem so natural to the human mind, and are always so ornamental and delightful, should prevail no more : and it is shameful that the name of religion, so well calculated to cultivate these sentiments, should be made use of as an engine to destroy them; and instead of cementing kingdoms and families in closer and more affectionate bonds, should inspire them even with mortal animosity. Let us bless God for our public liberties; and earnestly pray, that where persecution reigns in its utmost terror, the wrath of man may praise him, and the remainder of that wrath be restrained ! (Psalm lxxvi. 10.)
The ill usage which the blessed Jesus endured from an ungrateful world, may surely prevent our being surprised or offended, if we meet with some share of it too. May we be willing to suffer with him, that we may at length reign with him! (2 Tim. ii. 12.) And if by unexpected revolutions in providence we should be called out to the severest trials, may the spirit of glory and of God rest upon us! and may we not account even our lives dear unto us, that, approving our fidelity to him, we may finish our course with joy! (1 Pet. iv. 14, and Acts xx. 24.)
SECTION XXXI. Matt. X. 32; x1.1. MARK VI. 12, 13. Luke IX. 6. Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth : I came not to send peace, but a swa
I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake, shall find it. He that receiveth you, receiveth me: and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet's reward ; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man, shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.
Matt. XI. 1. MARK VI, 12, 13. LUKE IX. 6. And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and preach in their cities. And they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel, and that men should repent. And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed every where.
Justly may the blessed Jesus set so high a value on himself, and on the blessings of his grace: justly may he insist upon our readiness to abandon all for him, who is so just an equivalent for all. May his grace teach us to love him more than the dearest of our relations, and even to be ready for his sake to sacrifice our lives! May it make us willing to take up and bear any cross for him, who bore his cross and expired upon it for us !
The gospel has indeed been the occasion of much contention and persecution, not only in Judea but elsewhere: yet let us not charge it upon any malignity, or any deficiency in that, but on the lusts and corruptions of men, who have either directly opposed or grossly perverted it. Let us endeavour to arm ourselves with courage to encounter, and resolution to endure, whatever persecutions or injuries our adherence to it may cost us ; ever confiding in that gracious Providence which extends itself even to the meanest creatures : reposing ourselves on the support of Divine consolations, and esteeming ourselves happy, even in losing our lives in this world, if we may find them in that which is everlasting.
In the mean time, may this excellent discourse of our blessed Redeemer animate us to every work of faith, and every labour of love! Let not the poorest be discouraged from some charitable attempt for the good of others: since the munificence of our heavenly Master will remember even a cup of cold water given to the least of his servants under that character. Yet since there will be such a variety of rewards proportionable to different degrees of liberality and zeal, let us indulge a generous ambition of abounding in the work of the Lord, that we may shine with distinguished glory in the day of retribution, and have an abundant entrance into his kingdom.
SECTION XXXII. Matt. XIV. 1-12. MARK VI. 14-29. LUKE 18.
7-9. At that time king Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and of all that was done by him, (for his name was spread abroad :) and he was perplexed, because that it was said of some, that John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him; and of some, that Elias had appeared; and of others, that it is a prophet, or one of the prophets. And Herod said unto his servants, John have I beheaded : but who is this, of whom I hear such things? This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead ; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him: and he desired to see him.
For Herod himself had sent forth, and laid hold upon John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife ; for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife. Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him, but she could not. For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man, and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. But when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birth-day made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee, and when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me here by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him at meat, he would not reject her, but commanded it to be given her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went, and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel brought it and gave it to her mother. And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb: and went and told Jesus.
How dreadful a thing is it to have a guilty and accusing conscience! and how remarkable was the force of it in the instance before us! Herod was a king, yet it addressed him in language of terror, and made itself heard and felt amidst all the hurries and flatteries of a court. Vain was the power of a prince; vain the caresses of a favourite mistress, basely gratified with the blood of a prophet; and vain the yet more
besotting tenets of a Sadducee. In one instance at least a resurrection shall be believed ; and if a prophet arise in Israel, Herod shall be among the first to say, It is John the Baptist, risen from the dead; and shall be ready to forbode the sad effects of his recovered life, and to prognosticate evil to himself from the mighty works he performed. Let us make it our care to preserve a conscience void of offence, that instead of a continual torment, it may be to us a continual feast !
And if we really desire to preserve it, let us take heed that we be not excessively transported with the entertainments of life, or rashly enter into engagements which perhaps may plunge us into some degree of guilt, whether they be performed or violated.
We see, in this dreadful instance of Herodias, what an implacable degree of malice may arise in the hearts of sinners on being reproved for the most scandalous and mischievous vices. Instead of owning the obligation to one that would have plucked her as a brand out of the burning, she thirsts insatiably for his blood : and chooses rather to indulge her cruelty and revenge in taking away his life, than to gratify her avarice and ambition in demanding a gift that might have been equal to the half of a kingdom.
But how mysterious was that providence, which left the life of so holy a man in such infamous hands, and permitted it to be sacrificed to the malice of an abandoned harlot, to the petulancy of a vain girl, and to the rashness of a foolish and perhaps an intoxicated prince, who made the prophet's head the reward of a dance! The ways of God are unsearchable ! but we are sure he can never be at a loss to repay his servants in another world for the greatest sufferings they endure in this, and even for life itself, when given up in his cause.
We may reasonably conclude, that death could never be an unseasonable surprise to this excellent saint. When the executioner came into the prison by night, perhaps breaking in upon his slumbers, and executed his bloody commission almost as soon as he declared it, a soul like his might welcome the stroke, as the means of liberty and glory; assured that the transient agony of a moment would transmit it to a kingdom where the least of its inhabitants would be in holiness, honour, and felicity, superior to John in his most prosperous and successful state on earth.
His enemies might for a while insult over him, while his disciples were mingling their tears with his dust, and lamenting the residue of his days cut off in the midst. His death was precious in the sight of the Lord, and the triumphing of the wicked was short. So will he ere long plead the cause of all his injured people, and give a cup of trembling and astonish.