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Holy Fortitude, or Remedies against Fear.
1 COR. xvi. 13.- -Stand-Fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. IN
N the first ages of christianity, the professors of the gospel had great need of divine courage, that they might stand the many shocks of opposition, reproach and violence. The Corinthian heathens, though they were a polite and learned people, yet they were blind and obstinate in their own superstitions and idolatry, and rooted in the profane and vicious customs of their ancestors. It required a large stock of holy fortitude, to profess and practise a new religion among them, that ran counter to all their former opinions, and their manners. Therefore St. Paul, who planted the gospel in that city, calls upon his converts to shake off cowardice and fear, to stand firm and unmoved in the profession of their faith, to behave like men of war, like heroes, in the practice of christianity, and to exert all their strength of soul in this glorious work. Stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.
It is true, we live not in a heathen country, among lewd and barbarous superstitions: The land where our lot is cast, is honoured with the christian name, and professes the religion of Jesus: yet let me tell you, infidelity is a growing temptation of this age, the gospel of Christ hath plentiful ridicule thrown upon it, by many of our neighbours that go under the name of christians, and we may sometimes be called to put on courage for the defence of this gospel.
But besides this, there are many things occuring in the divine life, that require us to put on this holy fortitude of soul. The very nature of men is so corrupt and vicious, their hearts are so averse to the holy precepts of christianity, the multitude of sinners is so exceeding great in every nation, even where the gospel is professed, the customs of this world are so contrary to the rules of the gospel, and the malice and rage of Satan with his evil angels, is so constant and so violent against the religion and the name of Christ, that it is true at all times, as well as in the primitive age, that all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall Buffer persecution; 2 Tim. ii 12. When we become soldiers of Christ, and resolve to be religious in good earnest, we must
reckon upon enemies and oppositions, we must be prepared to endure hardness; chapter ii. verse 3.
Our business therefore is, to seek for a spirit of power and holy fortitude, that we may be void of fear in the profession of our faith, and in the practice of our daily duties. Not the Corinthians only, but we also, must watch, and stand fast in the faith, we must quit ourselves like men, and be strong. If we are frighted at the sound of every reproach, or terrified by the fierce opposition of a wicked world, we shall be in danger of turning back from the paths of christianity, and of losing the heavenly prize. Such doctrines, and such practices as the gospel teaches, require the professors of them to be bold and
And besides the difficulties we shall meet with from a degenerate and sinful world, there are many other trials that attend the christian life. Sorrows and sufferings belong to human nature, in this fallen and unhappy state: Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward; Job v. 7. This earth is designed for a stage of conflict, a scene of probation, where each of us must act our parts, under the eye and notice of God our supreme governor, and our final rewarder. He expects that we should put on a sacred hardiness of soul; he requires that we should not indulge a spirit of fear, but be armed with power and courage, that we may endure to the end. And blessed be his name that he hath given us promises to raise our hope, that as he endued his people in ancient times with his grace, so he will bestow this spirit of holy fortitude upon us also, and that as our day is, so our strength shall be.
To cast my discourse into some method, I shall,
First, Briefly describe this divine temper of mind. In the next place, Secondly, I would represent the various occasions which we shall find for the exercise of it. Thirdly, I shall mention a few motives to incite us to acquire this holy fortitude, and to maintain it throughout our whole course of life. And Fourthly, propose some remedies against a spirit of slavish fear, which is directly opposite to this christian virtue.
The first thing proposed is, to describe what I mean by fortitude and courage; and to this end, we must distinguish it into that of the active and that of the passive kind. Active valour or courage, is such a temper of soul, as to attempt and venture upon any bold act of duty, which may endanger our present ease, and worldly interest; and prompts us to pursue it with a becoming steadiness and bravery of mind, undaunted at every opposition we meet with, and unterrified at all the threatening dangers that stand in our way. Passive valour is such an habitual firmness and constancy of soul, as enables us to bear what sufferings we
fall under, without repinings and inward vexations, and without any outward tokens of sinking and despondency. When we sustain heavy sorrows, or anguish of the flesh, without any wild and unreasonable groanings of nature, without rage and unbecoming resentment, without tumult and confusion of spirit. And this should be the temper of our souls, and our christian conduct, whether the sufferings which we feel, arise from the immediate hand of God, or from the injustice and violence of men.
In the second place, I come to represent the various occasions that we shall find in the christian life, for the exercise of this holy courage, and that under both kinds of it; viz. the active and the passive, or that which consists in doing, and that which consists in suffering; and I shall enlarge upon each of them in a practical way. Active valour is necessary for a professor of the christian faith: And when and wheresoever divine providence gives us any just occasions for the exercise of this sort of fortitude, let no christian refuse them, or shamefully withdraw from his duty. The occasions we have for it are such as these ;
I. When we are called to profess and practise strict piety, even under the special view and notice of profane sinners. Perhaps our dwelling may be cast among profligate wretches, who live without God in the world; but we must not be afraid to own, that we fear the great God, and that we worship that awful name, which their blasphemies affront and vilify. Nor must we be ashamed to let the world know, that we cannot pass a day without calling upon our God, and that prayer is as necessary to us, as our daily food. It is strange and monstrous that it should ever be accounted a matter of shame among creatures to acknowledge the God that made them, or that it should ever need any courage to profess homage and adoration to our Creator! What degenerate times do we live in, that it should require some fortitude to tell the world, that we who are creatures confess a God! And yet sometimes even this very fortitude is wanting, and we are contented to look like atheists, lest we should be thought religious. Base cowardise! and degenerate times indeed!
II. When we happen into the company of infidels and apositates from christianity, who throw their impious jests on the gospel of Christ, we may find a plain call of providence to stand up for his name and honour.
It is true, there are few of us who are sent to travel beyond the seas, and to engage in necessary converse about religion with heathens; but I hinted before, that infidelity is a growing mischief of the present age, even in our own land. It seems to be a spreading infection, and how far the great God may suffer it to prevail, he only knows. There are multitudes already that have rade shipwreck of the faith of Christ, and betake themselves
only to the dim and glimmering light of nature, as a sufficient refuge for their souls, aud their only guide in matters of religion: A poor doubtful guide, and a dangerous refuge! And yet these men are continually instructing one another to wage war against the blessed gospel, and rise in arms of defiance against the only Saviour. It is proper then for us to enquire, are we ready to declare ourselves christians if we are called to it, when deists and scoffers surround us with their abominable jests, or their wanton cavils? For though sometimes they argue against our creed with calmness and decency, yet it must be confessed that those are the most common weapons which this sort of men make use of. Dare we now make a profession of our faith among men of infidelity, and not value their banter, and their insolent reproaches? Let us remember, that christian courage must encounter mockery and slanders as well as other terrors: Courage must guard us against sinful shame, as well as against sinful fear. Can we glory in a crucified Saviour as the wisdom and the power of God, if we should be placed between the Jews on one side, and the heathens on the other, who load this doctrine with folly and scandal. St. Paul was a brave example; O that every soul of us could as bravely imitate him! But let us proceed to some more occasions of courage a-kin to this.
Perhaps we content ourselves to be christians in our closets, and to frequent the public assemblies of worship without shame or fear, because our neighbours do the same: But I would enquire of such general professors of christianity, why are you so backward to give up your names to Christ, and attend on the special ordinance of his holy supper? Is it not because you are ashamed to appear in such a strict profession of godliness, and to be known and observed by the world, as those that have devoted themselves to the Lord in his church? This is certainly the case of some younger converts. Let them here be put in mind of their former neglects, and their present duty. Be strong in the Lord, banish a shameful shame, and seal your covenant in the blood of Christ. His cross is your hope, and why should you not make it your glory too?
If you are ashamed of such a public profession in peaceful times, what will ye do if days of trial should come? Would you be ready to vindicate your separation from the church of Rome, and all its superstitions? Would you have courage enough to maintain the purity of your profession, and your close adherence to scripture, in opposition to all the inventions and traditions of men? Would your heart be strong to persist in your peculiar practices of religion, in the most scriptural forms of it, in an hour of persecution and danger? Blessed be God for a protestant king on the throne, and a glorious race of protestant princes to succeed
him. May the blessings of heaven from above descend on them all, and render them in their successions an everlasting blessing to Great Britain and all the protestant churches! But a christian indeed should be so formed, and so furnished, as to be ready to profess and practise his religion in every nation, and in every age, in the midst of storms as well as under the shining sun.
III. When we are called to practise an unfashionable virtue, or to refuse compliance with any fashionable vice. This is another occasion that demands the exercise of christian fortitude. Let us survey a few instances of this kind.
It is an unfashionable thing now-a-days to introduce a word of practical godliness into company: The polite world will tell us, it spoils conversation: Mark, what a silence is spread over the room, when any person dares to begin so disagreeable a subject; there is none to second him, he may preach alone, and it is well if he escapes a profane scoff. This is a very true, but a very shameful account of things, according to the present mode. Any thing but religion is thought fit to entertain a friend. Even where persons of piety meet together in their visits, this sort of language is banished from company and the parlour, and it is confined only to God and the closet. Alas! we are ashamed to appear truly religious; but if we had holy courage enough, one person would not be afraid to begin, nor another to carry on such divine discourse. There are surely some happy moments wherein an useful word may be introduced with prudence and decency, to warm each other's hearts, and to rekindle the holy fire of love and devotion that is almost expiring.
Again, perhaps we may be much engaged in the world among persons that make no conscience of speaking truth: But if we would be christians indeed, we must have courage enough always to shew a hatred of falsehood, and keep up a tenderness of spirit, lest we be drawn to the borders of a lie; nor must we be ashamed to let the world know that we are the devoted servants of truth. When some knavish or unjust practice has overspread a city or a country, and become almost universal, we must dare to be honest in a cheating world; we must maintain our righteousness, and let it shine in the midst of a deceitful age, though perhaps we may be called scrupulous fools. If we happen to be engaged in necessary business with persons who drink to excess, we must boldly deny the imposed glass, we must secure our own sobriety, even in the midst of drunkards, and as much as possible avoid their society: Nor should any scandalous names of puritan and precisian affright us from the paths of strict holiness. When we meet with gross affronts in the world, we may be made the scorn and jest of all the company, if we decline the modish customs of