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SER MON XXVIII.
Preached before my Lord Commissioner and
the Parliament, 14th November, 1669.
JOHN XXI. 22.
What is that to thee? Follow thou me.
F all that ever lived on earth, the most blessed
was this handful and small company our Lord chose for his constant attendants, to see his divine miracles, enjoy his sweetest company, and to hear his divine doctrine. What a holy flame of love must have burned in their hearts, who were always so near the Sun of Righteousness. It was indeed a sad hour, wherein that was eclipsed, and the Lord of life lay dead in the grave: And what a deluge of joy was in their hearts when he rose again ; and what a transport was it when they saw him ascend, and a shining cloud kissing his feet, and parting him from them. In the interval, as he had risen himself
, so he is raising them from their unbelief. St. Peter not content with a bare forsaking his Lord, had also denied him; but he falls not a quarrelling, but speaks of love to them, and blows up these sparks of love with this threefold question. St. Peter answers fervently, but most modestly: Whereupon his Lord gives him a service suitable to his love, Feed my sheep; for which none are qualified but they that love him. But when he grows bold to ask a question, he gets a grave check, and a holy command, What is that to thee? Follow thou me. This was a transient stumbling in one who, but lately recovered of a great disease, did
not walk firmly. But it is the common tract of most, to wear out their days with impertinent enquiries. There is a natural desire in men to know the things of others, and to neglect their own, and to be more concerned about things to come than about things present. And this is the great subject of conversation: Even the weakest minds must discant upon all things, as if the weakest capacitiescould judge of the greatest matters, by a strange levelling of understandings, more absurd and irrational than that of fortunes. Most men are beside themselves, never at home, but always roving. It is true, a man may live in solitude to little purpose, as Domitian catching flies in his closet. Many noisome thoughts break in upon one when alone; so that when one converseth with himself it had need be said, Vide ut sit cum bono viro. A man alone shall be in worse company than are in all the world, if he bring not into him better company than himself or all the world, which is the fellowship of God, and the Holy Spirit. Yet the matters of the church seem to concern all, and so indeed they do; but every sober man must say, all truths are not alike clear, alike necessary, nor of alike concernment to every one. Christians should keep within their line. If it be the will of our Great Master, that the order that hath been so long in the church continue in it, or not, What is that to thee? It is certainly a great error to let our zeal run out from the excellent things of religion, to matters which have little or no connection with them. A man though he err, if he do it calmly and meekly, may be a better man than he who is stormy and furiously orthodox. Our business is to follow JESUS, and to trace his life upon earth, and ́ to wait his return in the clouds. Had I a strong voice, as it is the weakest alive, yea, could I lift it up as a trumpet, I should sound a retreat from our unnatural contentions and irreligious strivings for religion. Oh! what are the things we fight for,
compared to the great things of God. There must be a great abatement of the inwards of religion, when it runs wholly to a scurf. God forbid any think, that except all be according to our mind, we must break the bond of peace. If we have no kindness to our brethren, yet let us have pity on our mother, and not tear her bowels; and indeed, next to the grave and silent shades of death, a cottage in some wilderness is to be wished for, to mourn for the pride and passion of mankind. How do the profane wretches take advantage from our breaches? But if there be such here, because of the weakness, folly and passions of some men, is it folly to follow Jesus? Are some ridiculous, and for that will you turn religion into ridicule? If you do, it will at last turn a Sardonick laughter. Because we contend for a little, is the whole an invention? Will the pillars be brangled, because of the swarms of flies that are about them?
There is an eternal mind that made all things, that stretched out the Heavens, and formed the spirit of man within him; let us tremble before him, and love the Lord Jesus. Our souls have indelible characters of their own excellency in them, and deep apprehensions of another state, wherein we shall receive according to what we have done upon earth. Was not Jesus the Son of God declared to be such by his miracles, but chiefly by his resurrection from the dead? Hath there not been received and transmitted to us, through all ages, many martyrs following him through racks and fires, and their own blood, to his glory? And shall we throw off all these? Better be the poorest, weakest and most distempered person upon earth, with the true fear of God, than the greatest wit and highest mind in the world, if profane; or though not such, if void of any just or deep sense of the fear of God, For a living dog is better than a dead lion. Some religious persons are perhaps weak persons, yet in all ages there have been greater nobles, and more
generous souls truly religious, than ever were in the whole tribe of atheists and libertines.
Let us therefore follow the holy Jesus. Our own concernments concern us not, compared to this. What is that to thee? may be said of all things besides this. All the world is one great impertinency to him who contemplates God, and his Son Jesus. Great things, coaches, furniture, or houses, concern the outward pomp or state of the world, but not the necessities of life; neither can they give ease to him that is pinched with any one trouble. He that hath twenty houses, lies but in one at once; he that hath twenty dishes on his table, hath but one belly to fill : So, ad super vacua sudatur. All are uncertain, sudden storms fall on; and riches fly away as a bird to Heaven, and leave those who look after them sinking to hell in sor
A christian is solicitous about nothing; if he be raised higher, it is that he desires not; if he fall down again, he is where he was. A well fixed mind; though the world should crack about him, shall be in quiet: But when we come to be stretched on our death-bed, things will have another visage; it will pull the rich from his treasure, strip the great of his robes and glory, and snatch tlie amorous gallant from his fair beloved mistress, and from all we either have or grasp at. Only sin will stick fast and follow us, these black troops will clap fatal arrests on us, and deliver us over to the jailor. Are these contrivances, or the dark dreams of melancholy? All the sublimities of holiness may be arrived at, by the deep and profound belief of these things. Let us therefore ask, Have we walked thus, and dressed our souls by this pattern ? But this hath a nearer aspect to pastors, who should be copies of the fair original, and second patterns, who follow nearer Christ; they should be imitating him in humility, meekness and contempt of the world, and particularly in affection to souls, feeding the flock of God. Should we spare labour, when he spared not his own blood ? How precious must the sheep be, who were bought at so high a rate as was the blood of God? Oh! for more of this divine and evangelick heat, instead of our distempered heat. This is the substance of religion, to imitate him whom we worship. Can there be a higher or nobler design in the world than to be God-like, and like Jesus Christ? He became like us, that we might be the more like him. He took our nature upon him, that he might transfuse his to us. His life was a track of doing good, and suffering ill. He spent the days in preaching and healing, and often the nights in prayers. He was holy, harmless and undefiled, and separate from sinners. How then can heirs of wrath follow the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world. Humility, meekness and charity were the darling virtues of Christ. He came to expiate and extirpate our pride; and when that Majesty did so humble himself, shall a worm swell? No grace can be where the mind is so swelled with this airy tumour. He was meek, and reviled not again; nor did he vent his anger, though he met with the greatest injuries. The rack of his cross could make him confess no anger against those who were draining him of his life and blood; all he did was to pray for them. Charity was so dear to him, that he recommended it as the characteristic by which all might know his disciples, if they loved one another.
But alas! by this may all know we are not his disciples, because we hate one another. But that we may imitate him in his life, we must run the back-trade, and begin with his death, and must die with him. Love is a death. He that loves is gone, and lost in God, and can esteem or take pleasure in nothing besides him. When the bitter cup of the Father's wrath was presented to our Lord, one drop of this elixir of love and union to the Father's will sweetened it so, that he