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tioned by a maid-servant, boldly preaches him before the highpriest and elders, testifying, that God had raised up Jesus, whom they slew, and hanged on a tree, and had exalted him with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins:' and when he had been beaten, and let go, he departed, rejoicing that he had been counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ :' and thus he continued constant in faith under all trials and afflictions, and at last laid down his life for his Master, with whom he now reigns in glory, distinguished with the brightest crown of martyrdom.
This example of St. Peter affords us many useful reflexions, and many excellent instructions for our conduct and behavior in the course of our lives here; some of which I beg leave to suggest to you. And,
First, hence we may learn that confidence and presumption are very unpromising signs of steadfastness and perseverance in religion. Trust in God is one thing, and trust in ourselves is another; and there is reason to think that they will differ as much in the success that attends them, as they do in the powers on which they are founded.
There is a boldness and intrepidity natural to the temper of some men, which makes them easily undertake and often achieve great things; which gives them such assurance and reliance on themselves, that they overlook the dangers and and difficulties at which others stand amazed, and at the sight of which they find all their powers forsake them. But then great spirits are generally attended with great passions, which by turns usurp the dominion, and leave little room for thought or reflexion; so that a cool head and a warm heart seems to be one of the rarest compositions in nature. How applicable such tempers are to religion, may be known by considering that the first principles of true religion are a fear of God, and a mistrust of ourselves, which will not easily insinuate into a mind that fears nothing, and is full of self-sufficiency. Hence it is that some fierce spirits set up for despisers of religion, as if even to fear God were too mean a condescension in a man of courage.
But were such men once entered into the ways of holiness,
it may be thought perhaps that the same warmth which presses them on to great attempts, would soon make them eminently virtuous; since courage and resolution are the likeliest means to carry us to the greatest heights in religion. Such indeed are Christian courage and resolution which arise from a sure trust in God, and a perfect submission to his will, which enable us not only to act with zeal, but to bear the disappointments we meet with an unshaken firmness of mind. But when men set out on their own bottom, they will soon be offended and turn back glory and success ́are the proper incitement of human courage; reproach and afflictions the necessary exercise of Christian fortitude. When St. Peter was surrounded with swords and staves, he was nothing dismayed, his heart and his hand went together in the cause of God. But yet he who could fight for his religion, could not suffer for it. This shows that the courage of a Christian is very different from that of the natural man; that it arises from other considerations, and is supported by other hopes and expectations and it is in vain for you to promise yourselves a superiority under trials and temptations, unless you lay the right foundation, by imploring the aid and assistance of God's holy Spirit, whose province only it is to confirm the faithful to the end.
Secondly, from this example of St. Peter we may learn also what little reason there is to promise ourselves success against temptations which are of our own seeking. St. Peter had warning given him, and was told by one whose word he might have taken, that he was not able to undergo the trial which he seemed so much to despise. But try he would, and learnt to know his own weakness in his miscarriage.
God knows our strength better than we ourselves do; and therefore, when he has warned us to avoid the occasions of sin, and to fly from the presence of the enemy, it is presumption to think ourselves able to stand the attack, and our preparations to meet the danger must be vain and ineffectual. When we strive not lawfully, even victory is dishonorable, and no success can justify disobedience to orders: and where our strength is not our own, but is derived to us from the great Captain of our salvation, it is impossible we should prosper whilst we disobey his authority, unless we can suppose that he will enable
us to act in contempt of his commands. When therefore we court the dangers and temptations which the Spirit of God has warned us to flee from, we fight without commission, we are no longer the soldiers of Christ, or have any pretence to expect support from him in our undertakings. The promise of the Spirit was given to comfort us in doing the work of God, and his assistance is granted to enable us to perform it. And whilst we are doing the work of our Father, we have no reason to doubt of proper encouragement; but when we step out of the road of our duty, and form to ourselves designs not authorised by the word of God, what ground have we to look for the aid of God's Spirit? which aid is no where promised to enable us to effect whatever our own hearts prompt us to undertake, but only to encourage our obedience to the laws and precepts of the gospel. When God warns us to flee from temptations, it is sufficient evidence to us that we are not able to encounter them, and a clear intimation of his will that he intends to assist us by his grace, not to meet them, but to avoid them; which of itself is a task difficult enough to exercise the courage and constancy of a Christian. When you endeavor to avoid what God has commanded to be avoided, you act under the assurance and protection of his grace; but if you face about and dare the temptation, your couragé grows to be contumacy and disobedience, and you have no title to the promises of the gospel. An imagination that we are above all temptations, and may safely venture into their company, is always a dangerous symptom, and shows that spiritual pride and presumption have got the upper hand of Christian courage and humility. Men are apt to think that caution and fear are only necessary for young beginners; but that established virtue is licensed to take a nearer view of sin, and may enter its quarters without any danger from the infection: but whence arises this confidence? If from themselves, it is vain; if from a dependence on the experienced strength of God's grace, the conclusion is no where warranted by Scripture, and is a direct contradiction to St. Paul's inference drawn from the same principles, who thus admonishes all Christians; 'Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do.' Our whole ability depending on the aid of God's
Spirit is, in the Apostle's way of reasoning, an argument for fear and trembling and if he had the Spirit of God, what spirit must they have, who, in contempt of this apostolical rebuke to presumption, thus exhort themselves and others: Be bold and fear not, for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do! St. Paul did not speak to babes in Christ Jesus only, but to those also who had attained to the fulness of stature in Christ. The best thing the most confirmed Christian can say for himself is, that God worketh in him both to will and to do; and if even this be a reason for fear and trembling, if this, which is your strength, is likewise your admonition to be cautious and wary, whence can presumption grow? For if the sense of your strength in Christ Jesus must teach you to be modest and humble, and always on your guard, what else is there that can encourage you to be bold and confident? Let no man therefore think that his trial is over, or that he is got beyond the power of sin and temptation: the enemy will watch all your unguarded moments, and your security and presumption will be his encouragement to attempt your ruin: Watch therefore and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.' And if the will of God be that your virtue should be brought to the trial, if he calls you to the combat, look up to him for aid, imploring of his goodness, that he would with the temptation also make a way for you to escape.'
Thirdly, from the example of St. Peter we may learn how great the advantages of regular and habitual holiness are. Good Christians, though they may fall like other men through passion, or presumption, or other infirmities, yet the way to their repentance is more open and easy; their minds, not being hardened by sin, are awakened by the gentlest calls, and the sense of virtue revives on the first motion and suggestions of conscience. St. Peter fell, and his fall was very shameful but his repentance was as surprising and remarkable as his fall. Whilst he was in the height of his rage for being suspected to be a disciple of Christ, whilst he was abjuring him with oaths and imprecations, one look of his Lord laid all the storm, and melted him into the tears and sorrows of repentance. The same minute saw him the most audacious sinner and the most humble penitent; he committed the fault, and begged pardon for
it, almost in the same breath. There was no need of terrifying judgments to awaken his mind to a sense of his iniquity: the eye of his Lord, though full of compassion, was a sufficient rebuke; it struck him with a sorrow not to be dissembled, and therefore he went out, and wept bitterly.' St. Peter's case is the case of every good man under the same unhappy circumstances. The hardened sinner goes on from sin to sin, despises the calls of conscience, refuses to hearken to the judgments of God, and obstinately perishes in the error of his way: but where there is a sense of virtue and religion, sin can never keep possession long; no sooner does the passion cool, and conscience begin to speak, but the heart travails with repentance, and feels the pangs of godly sorrow. How different were the calls to repentance which the rulers of the Jews had on the death of Christ, and yet how different the success of those calls! When he hung on the cross, they saw all nature thrown into convulsions; the earth trembled, the sun was darkened, and the vail of the temple was rent in two; yet still they pursued their malice, and set a guard on his sepulchre, hoping at least that the grave, so assisted, would hold him fast; but when this failed them, and their own trusty watch declared to them the wonder of his resurrection, they relented not; but throwing off all shame, they suborned the guards to witness a lie, giving out that his disciples had stolen him away by night. One compassionate look recovered St. Peter; but the Jews were not convinced, though one arose from the dead. A good man may be mistaken, surprised, misled; but the first returns of thought, the first interval he has of cool reflexion, shows him his error, and hastens his return to the obedience of holiness. This is a great security; for every man may sin; but those only will repent, who sincerely endeavor after righteousness. The wicked, as they advance in iniquity, do more and more subdue their conscience, till even repentance itself becomes impossible.
Fourthly, you may observe that the sins of the best men are expiated with the greatest sense of sorrow and affliction. It is easy for men, who have been long strangers to a sense of religion, to argue themselves into an unconcernedness for their past iniquities; and imagine that, if they do but pursue their resolutions of living virtuously for the time to come, it is of