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SUMMARY OF SERMON XXXVI.
LUKE, CHAP. XXII.-VERSE 42.
THE great controversy between God and man is this; whose will shall take place, his or ours. The Almighty, by whose protection and mercy we subsist, claims the authority of regulating our practice, and disposing of our fortunes: but we affect to be our own masters, not willingly admitting any law which does not suit our fancy. To make good his right God applies all his forces, both of kindness and severity; yet commonly nothing avails, our will opposing itself with invincible obstinacy.
Herein as the chief worth, so the main difficulty of religious practice consists, in bending that iron sinew; in bringing our proud hearts to stoop, so as to resign our wills to the just, wise, and gracious will of God. We may accuse our nature, but in fact it is our pleasure; we may pretend weakness, but it is wilfulness, which is the chief cause of our guilty misdemeanors. Half the resolution with which we serve sin, would engage us in the service of virtue.
Wherefore in overcoming our will the stress lies: this is the fortress which holds out against omnipotence, and often, as it were, baffles it: since God does not choose to overpower our will, but only to win its consent and compliance by rational inducements: his victory would be no true victory over us, if gained by main force, or without the concurrence of our will. We must take the yoke on us, for God is served only by volunteers.
Our will indeed, of all things, is most our own; the only gift and proper sacrifice which we can offer, and therefore that which God chiefly desires, and most prizes. The free submission of it to the will of God is what our Lord came to teach us by his word and his example; especially in that great emergency which occasioned the words of the text.
For the more fully understanding this case, we must consider that our Lord, as partaker of our nature, and in all things, sin only excepted, like unto us, had a natural human will, so that what is innocently grateful to us, he relished with delight; whatever is distasteful to us, he resented with grief: hence his virtue shone more brightly, being in all points tempted, and perfected through suffering. Hence was the whole course of his life among men so designed as to be one continual exercise of thwarting that human will, and closing with the Divine pleasure. Of him indeed it was predicted, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God: and as such a practice is little seen in achieving easy matters, it was ordered that he should encounter the severest trials.
Nature likes respect, and loathes contempt; therefore he was born of mean parentage, lived in a humble state, and was exposed to contumely. Nature affects the good opinion and good-will of men, especially in the way of gratitude; therefore the world's benefactor could say, the world hateth me, &c. Nature loves plentiful accommodations, and abhors want; therefore extreme penury was appointed to him. Nature delights in ease, quiet, and liberty; therefore did he spend his days in continual labor and travel, having taken on him the form of a servant. Nature covets good success to its designs and undertakings; therefore was he sent to instruct a dull, and reform a perverse generation, &c. In fine, natural will seeks pleasure, and shuns pain; but what pleasure did he taste? what appetite did he gratify 7 rather, what afflictions and torments did he not undergo?
Had his condition and fortune been otherwise framed, where had been the pious resignation of his will; where the precious merit of his obedience; where the glorious lustre of his examinple How would he have shown so much charity, or laid such mighty obligations on us? Such in general was the case: but there was something peculiar, and beyond all this occurring to him, which drew forth the words of the text. This explained and enlarged on : the intention of our Lord in these words not to be misrepresented, as implying any wish to shift off his passion, or any wavering in his resolution ; but as uttered for our instruction, importing that what our human frailty was apt to suggest, his divine virtue was more ready to smother. The contemplation of this example ought strongly to engage us; for if our blessed Lord had not his will, can we in reason expect, or in modesty desire, to have ours? Can we think much, for our trial and correction, to bear a little want, disgrace, or pain, when the Son of God was put to discharge the hardest tasks, to endure the sorest adversities? But farther to enforce these duties, let us cast a glance on two considerations: 1. what the will is to which, 2. who the willer is to whom, we must submit. 1. What is the will of God 7 Is it any thing unjust, unworthy, dishonorable, injurious, or grievous? No, quite the contrary. Two things he willeth ; that we should be good, and that we should be happy; the first in order to the second. The will of God is our sanctification, saith St. Paul. And what is this but the renewal and restoration of our fallen nature, fitting us for the converse of angels and for paradise. Again, God willeth all men to be saved. And what is this, but that we should obtain all the good we are capable of; that we should be filled with joy, and crowned with glory, &c. This is God's will : and do we reject that which would save us, and adhere to a will that would ruin us?
Before we do this, let us consider, 2. whose will it is that requires our compliance. It is the will of him, whose will did found the earth, and rear the heaven; which will sustaineth all things, and is the great law of the universe; which reigneth in heaven, and swayeth hell itself. And shall we presume to kick against it ! It is the will of our Maker—of our Preserver—of our Sovereign Lord— of our Judge—of our Redeemer—of our best friend, who loves us far better than we love ourselves. Thus every relation of God recommends his will to us; and each of his attributes does no less; for, * It is the will of him who is most holy; who is perfectly just; who is infinitely wise; who is immensely good: finally, who is uncontrollably powerful. As to his commands, we may lift up ourselves against them, we may fight stoutly, we may in some sort prove conquerors; but it will be a miserable victory, the trophies of which shall be erected in hell, and stand on the ruins of our happiness. Conclusion.
The great controversy, managed with such earnestness and obstinacy between God and man, is this, whose will shall take place, his or ours. Almighty God, by whose constant protection and great mercy we subsist, doth claim to himself the authority of regulating our practice and disposing our fortunes: but we affect to be our own masters and carvers; not willingly admitting any law, not patiently brooking any condition, which doth not sort with our fancy and pleasure. To make good his right, God bendeth all his forces, and applieth all proper means both of sweetness and severity, (persuading us by arguments, soliciting us by intreaties, alluring us by fair promises, scaring us by fierce menaces, indulging ample benefits to us, inflicting sore corrections on us, working in us and on us by secret influences of grace, by visible dispensations of providence;) yet so it is, that commonly nothing doth avail, our will opposing itself with invincible resolution and stiffness.
Here indeed the business pincheth; herein as the chief worth, so the main difficulty of religious practice consisteth, in bending that iron sinew; in bringing our proud hearts to stoop, and our sturdy humors to buckle, so as to surrender and resign our wills to the just, the wise, the gracious will of our God, prescribing our duty, and assigning our lot unto us. We may accuse our nature, but it is our pleasure; we may pretend