Say unto the righteous, it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Isaiah 3:10
Reasonable beings, while they act as such, naturally choose those things which they are convinced are best for them, and will certainly do those things which they know they had better do than leave undone. (And, indeed, who in the world could imagine that there were such unreasonable creatures in the world, as that at the very same time that they themselves know a thing to be much to their advantage, yet will not choose or do it?) God always deals with men as reasonable creatures, and every [word] in the Scriptures speaks to us as such. Whether it be in instructing and teaching of us, he [gives us] no commands to believe those things which are directly contrary to reason, and in commanding of us he desires us to do nothing but what will be for our own advantage, our own profit and benefit, and frequently uses this argument with us to persuade us to obey his commands. For, „can a man be profitable to God as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself; is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that we are righteous, or is it gain to him, that we make our ways perfect?“ (Job 22:2–3). But God has told [us] that if we be wise, we shall be wise for ourselves, and God, in our text, gives it as a special charge to assure the godly from Him that his godliness shall be of great advantage to him. (And that we may the better understand it and see how it is brought in, let us look back on the foregoing words.) God, in the beginning of this chapter, denounced great and terrible judgments against the children of Judah, as in the first [and succeeding] verses:
For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water… and babes shall rule over them. And the people shall be oppressed, everyone by another, and everyone by his neighbor: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honorable. For Jerusalem is ruined and Judah is fallen… Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves [Isaiah 3:1, Isaiah 3:4–5, Isaiah 3:8–9].
But yet in the midst of all this, however dreadful the judgments may be upon the generality of the people, however woeful the case of the rest of them may be; yet say unto the righteous, assure him and cause him to know, „that it shall be well with him.“ And here we may observe what a particular care and concern the Almighty seems to have about [the righteous]; he suddenly stops and, as it were, breaks off abruptly the thread of the foregoing prophecy, and gives the strictest charge: go and tell the righteous that, however the people should be oppressed, however Jerusalem should be ruined and Judah should be fallen; yet, that he need not fear, for it should be well with him. Wherefore, what we shall insist upon shall be this:
A good man is a happy man, whatever his outward circumstances are.
By „happy“ in the Doctrine is not meant what in the most strict sense it is taken for, the actual enjoyment of the highest pleasure and perfection without the least mixture of the contrary, for that is reserved for every godly [person] to be enjoyed only after this life; but it is sufficient in our sense to make a man happy [if] his condition be very excellent, desirable and joyful; and we are now to show that the state of a good man is such, whatever his outward circumstances are. But we shall first observe, which is our first proposition, that
Prop. I. The outward or worldly circumstances of a good man are sometimes very afflictive. God often sees cause to afflict his children for their good, and we see no distinction made in this world, in the administration of worldly good things, between the good and [the] bad; God causes his sun to shine and his rain to fall alike on the just and on the unjust. Indeed, in some respects the good man is most liable to worldly evils; there are many godly men that enter into heaven through much tribulation, and Christ tells those who are his disciples that they must expect no other than tribulation here, and gives them the reason of it: John 15:18–19, ‚tis because they are not of this world. If they were of this world, the world would love them but because they are not of this world they are exalted clear above the world, and this spiteful and invidious world always hates and envies all that are above it; so that as things sometimes stand, the godly man may say that if there be no resurrection, he is of all men the most miserable. But,
Prop. II. The good man is happy in whatsoever condition he is in; and that,
First, because no worldly evils can do him any real hurt; secondly, because of those advantages, spiritual joys and satisfactions, he enjoys while here; and thirdly, more especially from the joyful hope and certain expectation, of the enjoyment of the perfection of happiness, eternally, hereafter. But,
First. Because no worldly evils can do him any real hurt. The good [man] is exalted out of the reach of all worldly evils; they cannot send forth their baneful influences so high as to touch him, and all the hurt they can do him is but as a sharp medicine. Although it be bitter, yet [it] takes away those diseases that would in the end, if they were let alone, be a thousand times more painful and troublesome to him. A good man may look down upon all the whole army of worldly afflictions under his feet with a slight and disregard (that is, as evils, for he ought to have the greatest regard to them as they are for his good), and consider with himself and joy therein that, however great they are and however numerous, let them all join their forces together against him and put on their most rueful and dreadful habits, forms and appearances, and spend all their strength, vigor and violence with endeavors to do him any real hurt or mischief, and it is all in vain. He may triumph over them all knowing this: light afflictions, which are but for a moment, shall only work out for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, and, that although sorrow continue for a night, yet joy cometh in the morning: remembering God’s promise that all things shall surely work together for his good, and nothing shall offend. If he loses all the worldly good things he has, his estate, friends and relations, or if his body is put to the greatest tortures and pains imaginable, he may consider that it is all best for him that it should be, and that all the hurt they can do him is only to his body. And our Savior has commanded us not to fear them that even kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do; and whatever the world does against him, he has that to comfort him, that Christ has overcome the world.
How happy, then, must the condition of such a man be! Let any man now ask himself whether he should not think himself happy if he were delivered so from all those evils, that he was assured they would never trouble him more: if he were sure that he should never feel any more pain in his body, never have any want of any good things the world can afford, and never have any care and trouble [about] them; well then, is it not all one as if they never happened to him, if when they do happen to him they do him no hurt? Yea, is it not more than equivalent, if when they happen they not only do him hurt, but good? But this is the condition of a good man, and although good men are often grieved and troubled by worldly afflictions, and indeed they ought to be grieved for their sins, for the purging away of which their afflictions come, yet the godly has no occasion to be troubled any further about them (Matthew 5:3–4, Matthew 5:10–12).
Second. The godly man is happy in whatever circumstances he is placed because of the spiritual privileges and advantages, joys and satisfactions, he actually enjoys while in this life. How great a happiness must needs [it] be to a man to have all his sins pardoned and to stand guilty of nothing in God’s presence: to be washed clean from all his pollutions; to have the great and eternal and almighty Jehovah, who rules and governs the whole universe, and doth whatsoever he pleases in the armies of heaven and amongst the inhabitants of the earth, reconciled to him and perfectly at peace with him. How great a pleasure and satisfaction must it be to him to think of it, and not only that God is reconciled to him or has nothing against [him], inasmuch as all is pardoned; but also that this same almighty being who created him, who keeps him in being and who disposes of him and all other things every moment, loves him, and that with a great and transcendent love; and that He has adopted him and taken him to be His child, and given Himself to him to be his father and his portion, and that takes care of him as one that is very dear to Him, continually guides and directs him, and will lead him to the fountain of living waters. And how joyful and gladsome must the thoughts of Jesus Christ be to him, to think with how great a love Christ has loved him, even to lay down His life and suffer the most bitter torments for his sake, Who also now continually intercedes for him at the throne of grace; to consider that so great a person as the eternal Son of God, who also made the worlds, is his lord and master, and is not ashamed to call us brethren, Who will come in and sup with him, and He with him, and to see His arms expanded to embrace him and offering Himself to be embraced by him. And beside, what a satisfaction and pleasure must it give to his mind to think that he is now sanctified and made holy, adorned and beautified with those lovely graces that make him lovely in the sight of God and excellent in the sight of saints and angels; to reflect on himself and consider that he acts rationally and doth that which the best of beings has commanded, that he in some measure acts worthy of the nature of a man, in some measure answers the end of his coming into the world in glorifying God and doing good to his fellow creatures, and that he has not lived altogether in vain: not as it is with many; they live in the world and burthen the same, and had better be dead than alive for all the good they do in it, or any they do towards manifesting the glory of him that made them. The reflection on these things affords such a peace and pleasantness to the mind, as far exceeds and is immensely above all outward delights. What there is no wicked man doth know, neither; neither hath it entered into their hearts to conceive how great are the comforts and pleasures of the godly, and how great [the] things God hath prepared for all those that love [him], even in this life; their pleasures are of vastly a more refined, higher and more noble kind than those of the wicked, besides the many other advantages that this has above that, but especially that taken notice of in the Doctrine: that no worldly afflictions in the world are able to deprive them of them, but they, as rightly improved, do only serve to give them a quicker and more lively sense of spiritual enjoyments. But the time would fail to stay to enumerate all the happinesses of a good man, even in this life; I shall therefore pass to the next particular.
Third. And lastly, from the joyful hope and assured expectation of the enjoyment of the completion of happiness eternally hereafter, to pretend to describe the excellence, the greatness, or duration of the happiness of heaven, by the most artful composition of words, would be but to darken and cloud it. To talk of raptures and ecstasies, joy and singing, is but to set forth by very low shadows of the reality, and all we can say by our best rhetoric is really and truly vastly below what is but the bare and naked truth, and if St. Paul, who had seen them, thought it but in vain to endeavor to utter it, much less shall we pretend to do it, and the Scriptures have gone as high in the descriptions of it as we are able to keep pace with in our imaginations and conception. We shall only say this, that the good man has the assurance and certainty of this: that he shall at last surely enjoy such a happiness as the Scripture describes to us. He has the best testimony, and the strongest security of it; he has a well-grounded hope that what he loves now above all things he shall then enjoy to the full of his desires, and whatsoever little beginnings of pleasure he feels now, he is assured, shall bestow3 the highest perfection without the least mixture of the contrary. And now I leave it to every particular man’s consideration, how great the happiness is in the actual enjoyment, and how great in the expectation of it, and with this consideration, the grounds of the hope of this happiness can’t be in the least lessened by the greatest worldly afflictions. And now I hope I have sufficiently cleared it up: the godly man is happy in whatsoever worldly circumstances he is placed.
Inf. I. Then we may infer that the godly man need not be afraid of any temporal afflictions whatsoever. This, no man in the world can deny that grants what has been asserted, for surely if none of these worldly afflictions are able to do him any hurt, and if he is a happy man in the midst of them all, then he has no cause to be afraid of them.4 His God has promised to defend him from the baneful influence of them all, and what need a man be afraid of storms and tempests without, that has so good a shelter? The Lord Jesus Christ is the captain of his salvation—to fight against them for us, to defend us from them and overcome them—and why should a man fear his enemies when the captain who undertakes for his defense is so potent as certainly to be able to overcome them, and besides what, he knows his afflictions in a few moments will have an end, and that after that he shall enjoy an eternity of the greatest bliss and happiness? And is there any man here present that would be at all afraid of the pain of the prick of a pin for a minute, if he knew that after it he should enjoy a life of—suppose—seventy years of the greatest prosperity imaginable, without the least molestation? No more reason to fear a short life of seventy years filled up with trouble and affliction, when he knows that, at [the] end of it, he shall enjoy an eternity of the highest happiness. For there is infinitely more difference between an eternity and seventy years, than between seventy years and a minute; and vastly a greater difference between heavenly happiness and the greatest torments of this world, than between the greatest worldly prosperity and the pain of the prick of a pin.
Inf. II. Hence we may see the excellent and desirable nature of true godliness. That which will cause that a man be a happy man in whatsoever condition he is in, and carrieth immutable happiness along with it, and such a happiness as by nothing in the world can be taken from him, that secures against all worldly evils so far as that they shall not be able to hurt him, must be of a very excellent and desirable nature. But this godliness doth, and hath a tendency to keep a man’s mind bright, serene and calm, and that in the midst of the most raging and impetuous worldly storms to keep it always joyful and cheerful, and maintain always a clear sunshine of joy and comfort in it. Indeed, Christianity is now so low in the world, and there is such a want of the lively and vigorous actings of grace, even in those that are godly, that one, upon a cursory view, would think there was no such a tendency in religion as we talk of; but howe’er the case is now in this degenerate age, yet there has been a time in the first ages of the church when the Christian religion had so great an influence on the minds of almost all that professed the name of Christ, that they did not regard all the worst the world could do to them. They slighted and despised all the tortures and pains that could be invented against them, and even the very women and children disregarded them and triumphed over them, and showed themselves to be happy, and were joyful in the midst of flames or on a gridiron, and enjoyed much more pleasure and satisfaction there than the wicked man does in the greatest affluence of the highest sensual delights: so that we see this certainly is the nature and tendency of Christianity. However, for want of due exercise it fails, and it is always either for want of a sufficiency of it, for5 want of the exercise of it, or from the natural imbecility and weakness of human nature, that it doth not always produce those effects.
Inf. III. We may hence learn that to walk according [to] the rules of religion and godliness is the greatest wisdom. It is surely a great point of wisdom for any man to shun and avoid, if he can, troubles and afflictions, and it [is] also certain that it is as great a part of wisdom for a man, if he can, to get into such a state as that, if troubles and afflictions do come, they can do him no real hurt, or be sure that6 they not only do him no hurt but good: but such is the state of the good man, and however troublesome those afflictions may seem to a good man at present, yet if they do him but good, it is really and truly as good for him—yea, better—than if they did not befall him. Although this may be a hard lesson to receive, yet it is as certain as that God is true, and however some may endeavor to dissuade to the contrary, every man’s reason will give testimony to it, and surely ‚tis the part of a wise man to choose what his reason tells him is best for him. They certainly are the wisest men that do those things that make most for their happiness, and this in effect is acknowledged by all men in the world, for there is no man upon earth but what is earnestly seeking after happiness, and it appears abundantly by their so vigorously trying all manner of ways; they will twist and turn every way, ply all instruments, to make themselves happy men; some will wander all over the face of the earth to find [it]: they will seek it in the waters and dry land, under the waters and in the bowels of the earth, and although the true way to happiness lies right before ‚em and they might easily step into it and walk in it and be brought in it to as great happiness as they desire, and greater than they can conceive of, yet they will not enter into it. They try all the false paths; they will spend and be spent, labor all their lives‘ time, endanger their lives, will pass over mountains and valleys, go through fire and water, seeking for happiness amongst vanities, and are always disappointed, never find what they seek for; but yet like fools and madmen they violently rush forward, still in the same ways. But the righteous are not so; these only, have the wisdom to find the right paths to happiness.
Inf. IV. Hence learn the great goodness of God in joining so great happiness to our duty. God seems to have contrived all methods to encourage us in our duty; he has not only told us that by our faith and obedience we should escape eternal torments, although indeed, if it were only that it would be enough, one would think, to persuade any man that had the least spark of reason in him, that was not stark mad and had a mind to be always as miserable as he could be; but he has done more than this, but has told us that by it we should gain eternal happiness, and he has given us not only encouragement that we shall enjoy happiness after this life, but we shall have God to be our director, our guide while here, and even in this life [he] will be a tender father to us and will keep off all evils that may do us any real harm, and provide for us whatever we stand in need of; and yet not only so, but the thing required of us shall not only be easy but a pleasure and delight, even in the very doing of it. How much the goodness of God shines forth even in his commands! What could the most merciful being have done more for our encouragement? All that he desires of us is that we would not be miserable, that we would [not] follow those courses which of themselves would end in misery, and that we would be happy; and God, having a great desire to speak after the manner of man, that we should not be miserable but happy, has the mercy and goodness that he forwards us to it, to command us to do those things that will make us so. Should we not think him a prince of extraordinary clemency, he a master of extraordinary goodness, he a father of great tenderness, who never [commanded] anything of his subjects, his servants, or his children, but what was for their good and advantage? But God is such a king, such a lord, such a father to us.
Inf. V. We hence learn [what] we are to do for a remedy when we are under affliction: even embrace religion and godliness. All men in trouble and affliction are ready to embrace any remedy that will help them out of it. Here has been now set before [you] that which is a sovereign remedy, which doth as good as perfectly free a man from all manner of worldly troubles and afflictions, and is proof against the greatest, worst, most terrible of afflictions in this world, and this is the only remedy that will in all cases help a man against [them], so that if we are in affliction, or when we are—as we all, first or last, must be—without hope, we know our remedy.7 We know what we are to do, and any man [who] is in affliction and knows what is the only help he can have, and will not embrace it, he must e’en sit down and bear his remediless afflictions; so that the wicked man has no pretense to any comfort under afflictions that does not resolve to reform, for he is one that knows the help of his affliction and yet won’t take it and therefore, without any manner of comfort, must e’en bear to be afflicted still.
Exh. I. To the ungodly: to forsake his wickedness and to walk in the ways of religion. You have now heard of the happiness of the religious man, and it [is] such a happiness as you never yet experienced; you never yet have had experience of the spiritual comforts of the noble, exalted, and pure pleasures of the godly. You, for your part, have had experience of no other sort of pleasure but those of sense and fancy; you have taken up, contented hitherto, with such a sort of pleasure as the beasts enjoy as well as you. You now are invited to the excellent and noble satisfactions of religion; you are invited to such a happiness as is the happiness of angels, and happiness that will be able to satisfy your desires. Be persuaded, then, to taste and see how good it is; keep no longer grovelling in the dirt and feeding on husks with hogs. Don’t exercise yourself any longer in such things as are beneath the nature of a man in serving the devil. One would think that a man that had any spark of reason and was so noble a creature as a man, would never bring himself down to be always at the devil’s beck, and to be led about just like blind fools, through ditches and sloughs and all the worst and most filthy places, to make sport for the devil. Don’t follow him any [longer]: he is leading of you directly to hell. Assert your own liberty, and don’t suffer yourselves to be such mean and abject slaves. Don’t exercise yourselves any longer in acting below yourselves, in pleasing and tickling yourselves any longer, and thinking yourselves happy in wallowing and rolling yourselves in the mire. You perhaps think yourselves mighty happy in enjoying your hateful and abominable lusts, and so are the beasts ten times as happy as you are in the same things: those be not the pleasures of a man. The pleasures of loving and obeying, loving and adoring, blessing and praising the Infinite Being, the Best of Beings, the Eternal Jehovah; the pleasures of trusting in Jesus Christ, in contemplating his beauties, excellencies, and glories; in contemplating his love to mankind and to us, in contemplating his infinite goodness and astonishing loving-kindness; the pleasures of [the] communion of the Holy Ghost in conversing with God, the maker and governor of the world; the pleasure that results from the doing of our duty, in acting worthily and excellently: these, these are the pleasures that are worthy of so noble a creature as a man is. And those that take up, satisfied, with other sort of satisfactions as don’t answer the end for which a man was made, and as they degrade themselves below the nature of a man and divest themselves of their manhood and seem rather to choose the nature of beasts, and as they invert8 the order of nature, for the God of Nature hath set man above the beasts and made him ruler over them, but make themselves even with them, or rather below them: so it is [a] pity they be not allowed to be beasts, and are not thought unworthy of the name of a man. But you are now exhorted to leave off your beneath practices and embrace that which will make you happy men in whatever condition you are in, and whatsoever your outward circumstances are.
Exh. II. Is to the godly to go on and persevere and make progress in the ways of religion and godliness. Go on in those excellent ways in which you have begun; let nothing in the world discourage you. You are happy men in whatsoever condition you are; you, for your parts, have got into those ways which are ways of pleasantness and those paths which are paths of peace; you are happy and you will be happy in spite of all the world, men and devils. Do not be discouraged by any evils that you meet with while here, neither be overmuch concerned about any troubles that you may expect. It is said of the good man, Psalms 112:7–8, „He shall not be afraid of evil’s tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in God. His heart is established, he shall not be afraid.“ And indeed, when God is a man’s refuge, what need he fear what man can do unto him? And remember that all the afflictions are just at an end, and then you shall enjoy the greatest happiness without any interruption. The greater your goodness, the greater your comfort will be whilst here; the firmer your faith is, the stronger your hope; the more live and vigorous your grace, the more ardent your love, the more comfort, pleasure and satisfaction will you enjoy in this life.
Go on, therefore, and forgetting the things which are behind, be pressing forward towards those which are before, even towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God; and those afflictions will seem less and less to you, and your path will shine brighter and brighter, even till at length the night of this life shall be turned into perfect day, when God shall wipe away all tears from your eyes and there shall be no more death; neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things will then be passed away.