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ON THE NATIVITY OF OUR SAVIOUR.
PSALM II. 11. the latter part.
Rejoice with trembling. The observation of festivals being one of those balls of contention which have been tossed so hotly in the religious debates of this unhappy age,
it be expected, that we should begin with a vindication of this day's solemnity from the exceptions that are wont to be taken against it; and that the one half of our sermon should be spent in apology for the other. But I hope we may well enough spare the pains, and employ the time to better purpose. For you who are assembled in this house are persuaded, I trust, of the lawfulness of your own practice; and we cannot direct our speech to those that are absent from it.
And really it were to be wished, that there were less noise and debate about matters of this nature; and that, being agreed in the more substantial parts of religion, we did all charitably acquiesce in that excellent advice of the Apostle, which he giveth in a parallel instance, Let not him that eateth, despise him that eateth not; and let not him that eateth not, judge him that eateth. And then, as we shall not abate any thing of that love and reverence which we owe to the piety and truth of those who differ from us in so small matters, so we might hope they would not be hasty to condemn us, if in compliance with the practice of the ancient church, and the present constitution of our own, we take the occasion of this season, with thankfulness, to remember the greatest benefit that ever was conferred on the children of men, and at this time perform that service which can pever be unseasonable. However, I am confident it is both more hard and necessary to rectify and amend the
abuses of this solemnity, than to justify the right observation of it; to vindicate it from the dishonour of some of its pretended friends, than to defend it from all the assaults of aggressors: and accordingly we shall make it oar work to persuade you to such a deportment on this festival, as may best suit with the holy life and religion of that person whose nativity we commemorate.
The text which we have chosen may seem somewhat general, but yet it is easily applicable to the present occasion; especially if we remember, that it is an inference drawn from a prophecy, which, though it had its literal completion in the establishment of David's throne, yet it was, in a mystical and a more sublime sense, fulfilled in the incarnation and kingdom of the Messiah; as the Apostle in several places informeth us: For to which of the angels hath he said at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? Whence he infers, that the angels themselves are inferior to Christ, of whom this was spoken. The only difficulty of the words lieth in the strange conjunction of these passions, joy, and extreme fear, which trembling seems to import; bat this will be more fully cleared in the sequel of our discouse. Meanwhile ye may observe, that both these words, fear and trembling, are used in the text, and, in the scripture-phrase, usually import humility, and diligence, solicitude and caution, and the fear of displeasing, as being the most proper qualifications of our obedience, either to God or man. Thus are we commanded to work out our salvation with fear and trembling; and servants are commanded to obey their masters with fear and trembling: so the Corinthians are said to have received Titus, being sent to them, with fear and trembling; and Chrysostom saith of the angels, that they assist with fear and trembling. All which places do import such care and diligence, as are very necessary and reconcilable to cheerful service. Rev. erence, and fear to offend, will be happily joined with holy joy in the performance of our duty; there being nothing more pleasant, than to serve him diligently whom we reverence, and fear to displease. Thus
much for explication. The text is too short to be divided into many parts, but doth naturally fall asunder into two; the former exciting and encouraging our joy; the latter qualifying and moderating the same. First, we are allowed, yea, and commanded to rejoice; and then we are cautioned to do it with trembling. And accordingly our discourse shall run in these two heads; first, to exhort you to cheerfulness and joy; then to set the right bounds and limits to the same: and, having done this in general, we shall endeavour to draw both these home to the present occasion.
To begin with the first: Joy and cheerfulness are so far from being inconsistent with religion, when rightly ordered, that we find them many times allowed and recommended in Scripture. Thus in the last verse of the 32d Psalm, Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart. And in verse 1. of the next Psalm, Rejoice in the Lord, 0 ye righteous, for praise is comely for the upright. So Psal. Ixviii. 3. Let the righteous be glad: let them rejoice before the Lord, yea, let them exceedingly rejoice. Psal. cxlix. 5. Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds. And, that you may not think this a liberty proper only for the fornier dispensations, but that Christians are obliged to greater severity, the Apostle doth no less than three times give this admonition to the Philippians, Rejoice in the Lord; Rejoice always in the Lord; yea, I say, Rejoice. In relation to this perhaps it was, that the old hermit Palladius, having five hundred scholars, used never to dismiss them without this admonition, My friends, be cheerful; forget not, I beseech you, to be cheerful. This was the constant lecture he repeated, as often as St. John was wont to do these words, My little children, love one another.
None of our natural inclinations were made in vain; and joy is neither a useless nor a small passion; but, if rightly ordered, may become an eminent exercise of religion, as proper a concomitant of thankfulness, as sorrow of repentance. Our devotion never soareth higher,
than when it is carried on the wings of joy and love, when our souls are filled with the sense of his goodness, and we heartily applaud the Hallelujahs of the blessed spirits, and all the praises of the creatures.
And as joy is an excellent instrument of devotion, so a constant serenity and cheerfulness of spirit is a fit disposition for our other duties. I should be loth to countenance any levity or dissolution of spirit; and I hope, before we have done, we shall leave no ground to suspect such a design: and yet I would not have you imagine that innocence and severity are inseparable companions, or that a free and cheerful countenance is a certain sign of an ill mind, or that men ought always to be sad, under the notion of being serious. I would not have you in love with a studied face, nor think it a crime to laugh, or scrupulously to refuse such innocent and ingenious divertisements as you find useful to refresh your spirits, and preserve their alacrity: for cheerfulness enlightens the mind, and encourages the heart, and raiseth the soul, as it were to breathe in a purer air. It misbecomes none but the wicked, in whom it is commonly a light mirth and foolish jollity. As a curious dress may set off a handsome face, which yet will render those who are ugly, more illfavoured; so doth cheerfulness exceedingly become good souls; in bad men it is most ridiculous. On the other hand, a sad and sullen humour, a dumpish, morose, and melancholy disposition, is so far from being commendable, that at best it must be looked upon as an infirmity and weakness in the best of those in whom it resideth; and if purposely affected or cherished, may deserve a severe censure; being dishonourable to God, injurious to our neighbours, prejudicial to ourselves, and a thing highly unreasonable. First, it is dishonourable to God, on whom we profess to depend, and who, through our moroseness, may be mistaken for a hard and severe master. If you should observe any man's servants to be always sad and dejected, and could not guess at the reason of it, you would be ready to conclude, that they were ill treated at home, and served an unkind, tyrannical person. And therefore, is we have any regard to the honour of
our-master, we ought carefully to avoid any thing, from which those that are strangers to him, are apt to take occasion to entertain harsh and disadvantageous thoughts of him and his service. Again, it is injurious to our neighbours; whom it doth deprive of the comforts of society, and the innocent delights of more cheerful converse; it being better to be confined to solitude than obliged to live with those who are always sullen. They are not like to be good company to others, who are so bad company to themselves; nor will they easily endure to see others cheerful and pleasant, when they cannot allow themselves so much as to smile. Peevishness and anger are the ordinary companions of melancholy; and it is hard for servants and friends to please them in any thing who are accustomed to sadness and discontent. But this is not all: there is a greater mischief in the matter; for they who are strangers to reilgion, and observe them who pretend to it to be always sad and melancholy, are thereby deterred from the study of piety, as that which would imbitter their lives, and deprive them of all their comforts; and they are apt to imagine, that if once they should undertake a course of godliness, they should never after enjoy a pleasant hour, but, by a melancholy humour, and austere behaviour, become a burden to themselves, and a burden to all about them. Then they will think devotion a comfortless employment, when they see men come from retirements with sad and heavy looks, morose and untowardly deportment: whereas really the spirit of religion is in itself most amiable and most lovely, most cheerful, free and ingenuous; and it is only men's weakness, and not their piety, that ought to be blamed for any such disorder in their minds.
Again, melancholy and sadness is prejudicial to ourselves, being an enemy to nature, and hurtful to bodily constitutions, especially when it grows prevalent and extreme; and therefore men are obliged to be cheerful for the same reasons they take physic, and to guard against melancholy as we would do against a disease. Besides, it is very troublesome to our spirits, and will make us smart even when we know not why. Al