The prior post in this series may be found here
Upon Health of Body & Peace of Conscience
It was a high and eminent testimony given by St. John the Elder to Gaius in the prayer that he made for him, with an earnest the he might prosper and be in health, even as his soul prospered. (3 John 2) It is a crown that I could heartily desire might be deservedly set upon the head of everyone that is called by the honorable name of Christian; than I doubt not, but those reproaches which are daily cast upon them would fall as far short of them as stones that thrown at the Sun; and those scandals at which those who are without do stumble would be removed, and they also won by their own conversation [conduct/manner of life] to the obedience of faith.
But alas, I must invert the apostle’s wish, and I will wish true prosperity to the saints themselves; and pray that their souls may prosper and be in health as their bodies prosper: so unequal is the welfare for the most part that is between the one and the other. Where may I find the man? Or, who can tell me what is his name whose care and observance has so far prevailed as to make his soul an equal plight [agreement: he has agreed with his soul to take care of it to the same degree he has agreed to take care of his body] with his body; and to keep one as free from lusts as the other from diseases?
Whoever thought it necessary that pension should be given to orators to dissuade men from running into infected houses [a house where people were suffering from the plague]? Or to be out of love with moral poisons? Is not the least jealousy and suspicion of such things an argument enough to secure themselves against managers that may fall out?
But is there not need to admonish and warm the best and holiest of men that they abstain from fleshly lusts which war against these soul? Is it not requisite to bid the most watchful to take heed of lethargy when the Wise Virgins fall aside [Matt. 25:1, et seq.]? Did not Christ himself caution his disciples against having their hearts at any time over-charge with surfeiting and drunkenness and the cares of this life [Luke 8:14 & 12:37]?
And yet the meanest [lowly, not-noble] of their condition might seem to exempt them from such snares?
From whence then is ti that the welfare of the body should be mores studiously endeavored by all than the well-being of the soul in peace and serenity is almost by any? Is it not from the strength of fleshy principles which abide in the best and darken oft times the eye of understanding that it cannot right apprehend its concernments?
If there were but a clear insight into that blessedness into which peace of conscience does estate a believer, it could not be but that, it being laid in the balance with the health of the body, it should as far overweigh it as a full bucket a single drop, or as the vintage of a particular wine [to a] cluster [of grapes].
True it is that health of the body is a salt of all outward blessing which without it have no relish or flavor; neither riches nor honors nor delights for the belly or back, can yield the least pleasure where this is wanting; so the the enjoyment of it alone may be set against many other wants [things which are lacking]. And better it is to enjoy health without other additional comforts than to posses them under a load of infirmities.
And yet I may still say, What is the chaff to the wheat. Though it be the greatest outward good that God bestows in this life, it is nothing to that peace which passes understanding. Sickness destroys it [the body]; age enfeebles it; and extremities embitter it. But is the excellency of this divine peace that works joy in tribulation, that supports in bodily languish, and creates confidence in death.
Who is it that can throw forth the gauntlet, and bid defiance to the armies of trials, to persecutions, distress, famine, nakedness, perils, and sword [Rom. 8:35], but he whose heart is established with this peace (the ground of which is God’s free love; the price of which is Christ’s satisfaction [atoning death on the cross]; and the worker of which is the Holy Spirit; and the subject of which is a good conscience).
This was that that filled Simeon’s heart with joy and made him to beg a dimission [permission to depart] of his Savior [Luke 2:29] whom his eye had seen, his arms embraced and his soul trusted in. What a strange thing it is then that there should be so few merchant men that seek this godly pearl, which is far above all treasures of the earth, that are either hid in it or extracted from it?
Many say, Who will show us any good. [Ps. 4:6a]. But is David only that prays, Lord lift up the light of thy countenance upon us. [Ps. 4:6b] Others, like the scattered Israelites in Egypt go up and down gathering straw and stubble [Ex. 5:12]; when he, like an Israelite indeed, in the wilderness of this world, seeks mana which his spirit gathers up and seeds upon with delight and cries, Thou hast put gladness in my heart more than in the time that their corn and their wine increase. [Ps. 4:7]
It is the love of God shed abroad in the heart [Rom. 5:5] that doubles the sweetness of prosperity and sweetens also the bitterness of affliction: A wonder only therefore it is, not that few should seek but a much greater that any in this world should live without it.
Can any live well with the King’s favor, either in court or kingdom? And yet there are many places wherein such persons may lie hid in his dominions, when the utmost ends of the earth cannot secure the against God’s frowns. But if any be so profligate as Cleopatra-like to dissolve this jewel of peace in his lusts, and to drink down, in one prodigious draught that which exceeds the world in its price, and yet think they can live well enough without it; let them consider how they will do to die without it.
Sweet it is in life, but will be more sweet in death. It is not then the sunshine of his creatures but the Savior-shine that refresh them. It is not the wine that can cheer the heart, but the blood of sprinkling that will pacify it. [Heb. 10:22]
The more perpendicular death comes to be over our head, the lesser will the shadow of all earthly comforts grow and proves useless, either to assuage the pains of it or to mitigate the fears of it.
What is a fragrant posey put into the hands of a malefactor [here a condemned criminal] who is in the sight of the place of execution, and his friends bidding him to smell on it? Or, what is the delivering to him a sealed conveyance that entitles him to great revenues who has only minutes to live?
But, O what excess of joy does fill and overflow such a poor man’s heart when a pardon form his Prince comes happily in to prevent the stroke of death and to assure him both of life and estate?
This indeed is health and marrow to the bones.
And is it not thus to a dying sinner, who expects in a few moments to be swallowed up by those flames of wrath, the heat of which already scorches his conscience and cause agonies and terrors which embitter all the comforts of life and extract cries from him that are like the yelling of the damned: I am undone, without hope of recovery! Eternity itself will as soon end as my misery: God will forever hold me as his enemy, and with his own breath will enliven those coals that must be heaped upon me.
Of what value now would one smile of God’s face be to such a person? How joyfully would the softest whisper of the Spirit be that speaks any hope of pardon or peace. Would not one drop of this sovereign balm of God’s favor, let fall upon the conscience, heal and ease more than a river of all other delights whatsoever?
Think therefore upon it, O Christians, so as not any longer through your own default to be without the sense of blessing in your heart; that so in file as well as in death you may be filled with this Peace of God which passes understanding. [Phil. 4:7]
If prayer will obtain it, beg every day a good look form Him, the light of whose countenance is the only health of yours. If a holy and humble walking will preserve it, be more careful of doing anything to lose your peace than to endanger your health; remember that peace is so much better than health, as the soul is better than the body.
But grant, Holy Father
However others may neglect or defer to seek peace with Thee
And from thee
Yet I may now find thy peace in me
By thy pardoning all my iniquities
And may be found of thee in peace without spot
And blameless in the great day.