SERMON: Of Submission To The Divine Will by Isaac Barrow

Of Submission To The Divine Will Isaac Barrow

Nevertheless let not my will, but thine be done. (Luke 22:42)

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 binds all his forces, and applies all proper means both of sweetness and severity (persuading us by arguments, soliciting us by entreaties, alluring us by fair promises, scaring us by fierce menaces, indulging ample benefits to us, inflicting sore corrections on us, working in us and upon 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 pinches; 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, 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 weakness, but it is willfulness, which is the guilty cause of our misdemeanors; for by God’s help (which doth always prevent our needs, and is never wanting to those who seriously desire it) we may be as good as we please, if we can please to be good; there is nothing within us that can resist, if our wills do yield themselves up to duty: to conquer our reason is not hard; for what reason of man can withstand the infinite cogency of those motives, which induce to obedience?  What can be more easy, than by a thousand arguments, clear as day, to convince any man, that to cross God’s will is the greatest absurdity in the world, and that there is no madness comparable thereto?  Nor is it difficult, if we resolve upon it, to govern any other part or power of our nature; for what cannot we do, if we are willing?  What inclination cannot we check, what appetite cannot we restrain, what passion cannot we quell or moderate; what faculty of our soul or member of our body is not obsequious to our will?  Even half the resolution with which we pursue vanity and sin, would serve to engage us in the ways of wisdom and virtue.

Wherefore in overcoming our will the stress lies; this is that impregnable fortress, which everlastingly doth hold out against all the batteries of no discouragement of terror can reduce: this puny, this impotent thing it is, which grapples with Omnipotency, and often in a manner baffles it.  And no wonder; for that God doth not intend to overpower our will, or to make any violent impression on it, but only to “draw it” (as it is in the Prophet) “with the cords of a man,” or by rational inducements to win its consent and compliance; our service is not so considerable to him, that he should extort it from us; not doth he value our happiness at so low a rate as to obtrude it on us.  His victory indeed were no true victory over us, if he should gain it by main force, or without the concurrence of our will; our works not being our works, if they do not issue from our will; and our will not being our will, if it be not free; to compel it were to destroy it, together with all the worth of our virtue and obedience: wherefore the Almighty doth suffer himself to be withstood, and bears repulses from us; nor commonly doth he master our will otherwise than by its own spontaneous conversion and submission to him.  If ever we be conquered, as we shall share in the benefit, and wear a crown; so we must take the yoke upon us; for God is only served by volunteers; he summons us by his Word, he attracts us by his Grace, but we must freely come unto him.

Our will indeed of all things is most our own; the only gift, the most proper sacrifice we have to offer; which therefore God doth chiefly desire, doth most highly prize, doth most kindly accept from us.  Seeing then our duty chiefly moves on this hinge, the free submission and resignation of our will to the will of God; it is this practice, which our Lord (who came to guide us in the way to happiness, not only as a teacher by his word and excellent doctrine, but as a leader, by his actions and perfect example) did especially set before us; as in the constant tenor of his life, so particularly in that great exigency which occasioned these words, wherein, renouncing and deprecating his own will, he did express an entire submission to God’s will, a hearty complacence therein, and a serious desire that it might take place.

For the fuller understanding of which case, we may consider, that our Lord, as partaker of our nature, and, “in all things” (bating sin) “like unto us,” had a natural human will, attended with senses, appetites, and affections, apt from objects incident to receive congruous impressions of pleasure and pain; so that whatever is innocently grateful and pleasant to us, that he relished with delight, and thence did incline to embrace; whatever is distasteful and afflictive to us, that he resented with grief, and thence was moved to eschew; to this probably he was liable in a degree beyond our ordinary rate; for that in  him mature was most perfect, his complexion very delicate, his temper exquisitely sound and fine; for so we find, that by how much any man’s constitution is more sound, by so much he hath a smarter gust of what is agreeable or offensive to nature.  If perhaps sometimes infirmity of body, or distemper of soul (a savage ferity, a stupid dullness, a fondness of conceit, or stiffness of humor, supported by wild opinions, or vain hopes) may keep men from being thus affected by sensible objects; yet in him pure nature did work vigorously, with a clear apprehension and lively sense, according to the design of our Maker, when into our constitution he did implant those passive faculties, disposing objects to affect them so and so, for our need and advantage: if this be deemed weakness, it is a weakness connected with our nature, which he therewith did take, and “with which” (as the Apostle saith) “he was encompassed.”  Such a will our Lord had, and it was requisite that he should have it; that he thence might be qualified to discharge the principal instances of obedience, for procuring God’s favor to us, and for setting an exact pattern before us; for God imposing on him duties to perform, and dispensing accidents to endure, very cross to that natural will, in his compliance, and acquiescence thereto, his obedience was thoroughly tried; his virtue did shine most brightly; therefore (as the Apostle saith) “he was in all points tempted”; thence, as to meritorious capacity, and exemplary influence, “he was perfected through suffering.”

Hence was the whole course of his life and conversation among men, so designed, so modeled, as to be one continual exercise of thwarting that human will, and closing with the Divine pleasure: it was predicted of him, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God”; and of himself he affirmed, “I came down from Heaven not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me”; whereas therefore such a practice is little seen in achieving easy matters, or in admitting pleasant occurrences; it was ordered for him, that he should encounter the roughest difficulties, and be engaged in circumstances most harsh to natural apprehension and appetite; so that if we trace the footsteps of his life from the sordid manger to the bloody cross, we can hardly mark anything to have befallen him apt to satisfy the will of nature.  Nature likes respect, and loathes contempt; therefore was he born of mean parentage, and in a most homely condition; therefore did he live in no garb, did assume no office, did exercise no power, did meddle in no affairs, which procure to men consideration and regard; therefore an impostor, a blasphemer, a sorcerer, a loose companion, a seditious incendiary were the titles of honor, and the eulogies of praise conferred on him; therefore was he exposed to the lash of every slanderous, every scurrilous, every petulant, and ungoverned tongue.

Nature doth affect the good opinion, and goodwill of men, especially when due in grateful return for great courtesy and beneficence; nor doth anything more grate thereon than abuse of kindness; therefore, could he (the world’s great friend and benefactor) say, “the world hates me”; therefore were those, whom he, with so much charity and bounty had instructed, had fed, had cured of diseases (both corporal and spiritual) so ready to clamor, and commit outrage upon him; therefore could he thus expostulate, “Many good works have I showed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?”  Therefore did his kindred slight him, therefore did his disciples abandon him, therefore did the grand traitor issue from his own bosom; therefore did that whole nation, which he chiefly sought and labored to save, conspire to persecute him, with most rancorous spite and cruel misusage.

Nature loves plentiful accommodations, and abhors to be pinched with any want; therefore was extreme penury appointed to him; he had no revenue, no estate, no certain livelihood, not “so much as a house where to lay his head,” or a piece of money to discharge the tax for it; he owed his ordinary support to alms, or voluntary beneficence; he was to seek his food from a fig tree on the way; and sometimes was beholden for it to the courtesy of publicans; di hēmas eptocheuse, “he was” (saith Saint Paul) “a beggar for us.”

Nature delights in ease, in quiet, in liberty; therefore did he spend his days in continual labor, in restless travel, in endless vagrancy, “going about and doing good”; ever hastening thither, whither the needs of men did call, or their benefit invite; therefore did he “take on him the form of a servant,” and was among his own followers “as one that ministers”; therefore he “pleased not himself,” but suited his demeanor to the state and circumstances of things, complied with the manners and fashions, comported with the humors and infirmities of men.

Nature covets good success to its design and undertakings, hardly brooking to be disappointed an defeated in them: therefore was he put to water dry sticks; that is, to instruct a most dull and stupid, to reform a most perverse and stubborn generation; therefore his ardent desires, his solicitous cares, his painful endeavors for the good of men did obtain so little fruit; had indeed a contrary effect, rather aggravating their sins than removing them, rather hardening than turning their hearts, rather plunging them deeper into perdition, than rescuing them from it: therefore so much in vain did he, in numberless miraculous works, display his power and goodness, convincing few, converting fewer by them; therefore although he taught with most powerful authority, with most charming gracefulness, with most convincing evidence, yet, “Who” (could he say) “hath believed our report?”  Though he most earnestly did invite and allure men to him offering the richest boons that Heaven itself could dispense, yet, “Ye will not” (was he forced to say) “come unto me, that ye may be saved”; although with assiduous fervency of affection he strove to reclaim them from courses tending to their ruin, yet how he prospered, sad experience declares, and we may learn from that doleful complaint, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not”; ouk ēthelasate, your will did not concur, your will did not submit.

In fine, natural will seeks pleasure, and shuns pain; but what pleasure did he taste; what inclination, what appetite, what sense did he gratify?  How did he feast, or revel?  How, but in tedious fastings, in frequent hungers, by passing whole nights in prayer, and retirement for devotion upon the cold mountains?  What sports had he, what recreation did he take, but feeling incessant gripes of compassion, and wearisome roving in quest of the lost sheep?  In what conversation could he divert himself, but among those, whose doltish incapacity, and forward humor, did wring from his patience those words, “How long shall I be with you, how long shall I suffer you?”  What music did he hear?  What but the rattlings of clamorous obloquy, and furious accusations against him? to be desperately maligned, to be insolently mocked, to be styled a King, and treated as a slave; to be spit on, to be buffeted, to be scourged, to be drenched with gall, to be crowned with thorns, to be nailed to a cross; these were the delights which our Lord enjoyed, these the sweet comforts of his life, and the notable prosperities of his fortune: such a portion was allotted to him, the which he did accept from God’s hand with all patient submission, with perfect contentedness, with exceeding alacrity, never repining at it, never complaining of it, never flinching from it, or fainting under it; but proceeding on in the performance of all his duty, and prosecution of his great designs, with undaunted courage, with unwearied industry, with undisturbed tranquility and satisfaction of mind.

Had indeed his condition and fortune been otherwise framed; had he come into the world qualified with a noble extraction; had he lived in a splendid equipage, had he enjoyed a plentiful estate and a fair reputation, had he been favored and caressed by men; had he found a current of prosperous success, had safety, ease, and pleasure waited on him, where had been the pious resignation of his will, where the precious merit of his obedience, where the glorious luster of his example?  How then had our frailty in him become victorious over all its enemies; how had he triumphed over the solicitations and allurements of the flesh; over the frowns and flatteries of the world; over the malice and fury of hell; how then could he have so demonstrated his immense charity toward us, or laid so mighty obligations upon us?

Such in general was the case, and such the deportment of our Lord; but there was somewhat peculiar, and beyond all this occurring to him, which drew forth the words of our text: God had tempered for him a potion of all the most bitter and loathsome ingredients that could be; a drop whereof no man ever hath, or could endure to sip; for he was not only to undergo whatever load human rage could impose, of ignominious disgrace, and grievous pain; but to feel dismal agonies of spirit, and those unknown sufferings, which God alone could inflict, God only could sustain; “Behold, and see,” he might well say, “if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me; wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger?”  He was to labor with pangs of charity, and through his heart to be pierced with deepest commiseration of our wretched case: he was to crouch under the burden of all the sins (the numberless most heinous sins and abominations) ever committed by mankind: he was to pass through the hottest furnace of divine vengeance, and by his blood to quench the wrath of Heaven flaming out against iniquity; he was to stand (as it were) before the mouth of Hell, belching fire and brimstone on his face: his grief was to supply the defects of our remorse, and his suffering in those few moments to countervail the eternal torments due to us: he was to bear the hiding of God’s face, and an eclipse of that favorable aspect, in which all bliss doth reside; a case which he that so perfectly understood, could not but infinitely resent: these things with the clearest apprehension he saw coming on him; and no wonder that our nature started at so ghastly a sight; or that human instinct should dictate that petition, “Father, if thou wilt, let this cup pass from me”; words implying his most real participation of our infirmity; words denoting the height of those sad evils which encompassed him with his lively and lowly resentment of them; words informing us, how we should entertain God’s chastisements, and whence we must seek relief of our pressures (that we should receive them, not with a scornful neglect or our pressures (that we should receive them, not with a scornful neglect of sullen insensibility, but with a meek contrition of soul; that we should entirely depend on God’s pleasure for support under them, or a releasement from them), words which in conjunction with those following do show how instantly we should quash and overrule any insurrection of natural desire against the command or providence of God.  We must not take that prayer to signify any purpose in our Lord to shift off his passion, or any wavering in resolution about it; for he could not anywise mean to undo that, which he knew done with God before the world’s foundation; he would not unsettle that, which was by his own free undertaking, and irreversible decrees; he that so often with satisfaction did foretell this event, who with so “earnest desire” longed for its approach; who with that sharpness of indignation did rebuke his friend offering to divert him from it; who did again repress Saint Peter’s animosity with that serious expostulation, “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”  Who had advisedly laid such trains for its accomplishment, would he decline it?   Could that heart all burning with zeal for God and charity to men admit the least thought or motion of averseness from drinking that cup, which was the sovereign medicine administered by divine wisdom for the recovery of God’s creation?  No; had he spake with such intent, legions of Angels had flown to his rescue; that word, which framed the worlds, which stilled the tempests, which ejected devils, would immediately have scattered his enemies, and dashed all their projects against him; wherefore those words did not proceed from intention, but as from instinct, and for instruction; importing, that what our human frailty was apt to suggest, that his divine virtue was more ready to smother; neither did he vent the former, but that he might express the latter.

He did express it in read effect; immediately with all readiness addressing himself to receive that unsavory potion; he reached out his hand for it, yielding fair opportunity and advantages to his persecutors; he lifted it up to his mouth, innocently provoking their envy and malice; he drank it off with a most steady calmness, and sweet composure of mind, with the silence, the simplicity, the meekness of a lamb, carried to the slaughter; no fretful thought rising up, no angry word breaking forth, but a clear patience, enlivened with a warm charity, shining in all his behavior, and through every circumstance of his passion.

Such in his life, such at his death was the practice of our Lord; in conformity whereto we also readily should undertake whatever God proposes, we gladly should accept whatever God offers, we vigorously should perform whatever God enjoins, we patiently should undergo whatever God imposes or inflicts, how cross soever any duty, any dispensation, may prove to our carnal sense or humor.

To do thus, the contemplation of this example may strongly engage us: for if our Lord had not his will, can we in reason expect, can we in modesty desire to have ours?  Must we be cockered and pleased in everything, when he was treated so coarsely, and crossed in all things?  Can we grudge at any kind of service, or sufferance; can we think much (for our trial, our exercise, our correction) to bear a little want, a little disgrace, a little pain, when the Son of God was put to discharge the hardest tasks, to endure the sorest adversities?

But farther to enforce these duties, be pleased to 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?  Is it anything unjust, unworthy, or dishonorable, anything incommodious or hurtful, anything extremely difficult, or intolerably grievous that God requires of us, to do or bear?  No: he wills nothing from us, or to us, which doth not best become us, and most behoove us; which is not attended with safety, with ease, with the solidest profit, the fairest reputation, and the sweetest pleasure.

Two things he wills, that we should be good, and that we should be happy; the first in order to the second, for that virtue is the certain way, and a necessary qualification to felicity.

“The will of God,” saith Saint Paul, “is our sanctification.”  What is that?  What, but that the decays of our frame, and the defacements of God’s image within us should be repaired; that the faculties of our soul should be restored to their original integrity and vigor; that from most wretched slaveries we should be translated into a happy freedom, yea, into a glorious kingdom; that from despicable beggary and baseness we should be advanced to substantial wealth, and sublime dignity; that we should be cleansed from the foulest defilements, and decked with the goodliest ornaments; that we should be cured of most loathsome diseases, and settled in a firm health of soul; that we should be delivered from those brutish lusts, and those devilish passions, which create in us a hell of darkness, of confusion, of vexation; which dishonor our nature, deform our soul, ruffle our mind, and wrack our conscience; that we should be endowed with those worthy dispositions and affections, which do constitute in our hearts a Heaven of light, or order, of joy and peace; dignify our nature, beautify our soul, clarify and cheer our mind; that we should eschew those practices, which never go without a retinue of woeful mischiefs and sorrows, embracing those which always yield abundant fruits of convenience and comfort; that, in short, we should become friends of God, fit to converse with Angels, and capable of paradise.

“God (saith Saint Paul again) “wills all men to be saved.”  “He wills not” (saith Saint Peter) “that any man should perish.”  He saith it himself, yea, he swears it, “that he hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked should turn from his way and live.”  And what is this will?  What, but that we should obtain all the good whereof we are capable; that we should be filled with joy, and crowned with glory; that we should be fixed in an immovable state of happiness, in the perpetual enjoyment of God’s favor, and in the light of his blissful presence: that we should be rid of all the evils to which we are liable; that we should be released from inextricable chains of guilt, from incurable stings of remorse, from being irrecoverably engaged to pass a disconsolate eternity in utter darkness, and extreme woe?  Such is God’s will; to such purposes every command, every dispensation of God (how grim, how rough soever it may seem) doth tend: and do we refuse to comply with that goodwill; do we set against it a will of our own, affecting things unworthy of us, things unprofitable to us, things prejudicial to our best interests; things utterly baneful to our souls?  Do we reject the will that would save us, and adhere to a will that would ruin us; a foolish and a senseless will, which slighting the immense treasures of Heaven, the unfading glories of God’s Kingdom, the ineffable joys of eternity, doth catch at specious nothings, doth pursue mischievous trifles; a shadow of base profit, a smoke of vain honor, a flash of sordid pleasure; which passes away like “the mirth of fools,” or “the crackling of thorns,” leaving only soot, black and bitter behind it.

(2) But at least ere we do thus, let us consider, whose will it is, that requires our compliance.

It is the will of him, whose will did found the Earth, and rear the Heaven; whose will sustains all things in their existence and operation; whose will is the great law of the world, which universal nature in all its motions doth observe; which reigns in Heaven, the blessed spirits adoring it, which sways in Hell itself, the cursed fiends trembling at it.  And shall we alone (we pitiful worms crawling on Earth) presume to murmur, or dare to kick against it?

It is the will of our Maker, who together with all our other faculties did create and confer on us the very power of willing: and shall we turn the work of his hands, the gift of his bounty against him?

It is the will of our Preserver, who together with all that we are, or have, continually doth uphold our very will itself; so that without employing any positive force, merely by letting us fall out of his hand, he can send us and it back to nothing: and shall our will clash with that, on which it so wholly depends; without which it cannot subsist one moment, or move one step forward in action?

It is the will of our sovereign Lord, who upon various indisputable accounts hath a just right to govern us, and an absolute power to dispose of us: ought we not therefore to say with old Eli, “It is the Lord, let him do to me as it seems good to him”?  It is not extreme iniquity, is it not monstrous arrogance for us, in derogation to his will, to pretend giving law, or picking a station to ourselves?  Do we not manifestly incur high treason against the King of Heaven by so invading his office, usurping his authority, snatching his scepter into our hands, and setting our wills in his throne?

It is the will of our Judge, from whose mouth our doom must proceed, awarding life or death, weal or woe unto us; and what sentence can we expect, what favor can we pretend to, if we presumptuously shall offend, oppose that will, which is the supreme rule of justice, and sole fountain of mercy?

It is the will of our Redeemer, who hath bought us with an inestimable price, and with infinite pains hath rescued us from miserable captivity under most barbarous enemies, that obeying his will we might command our own, and serving him we might enjoy perfect freedom.  And shall we, declining his call and conduct out of that unhappy state, bereave him of his purchase, frustrate his undertakings, and forfeit to ourselves the benefit of so great redemption?

It is the will of our best friend; who loves us much better than we do love ourselves; who is concerned for our welfare, as his own dearest interest, and greatly delights therein; who by innumerable experiments hath demonstrated an excess of kindness to us; who in all his dealings with us purely doth aim at our good, never charging any duty on us, or dispensing any event to us, so much with intent to exercise his power over us, as to express his goodness toward us; who never doth afflict or grieve us more against our will, than against his own desire; never indeed but when goodness itself calls for it, and even mercy doth urge thereto; to whom we are much obliged, that he vouchsafes to govern and guide us, our service being altogether unprofitable to him, his governance exceedingly beneficial to us.  And doth not such a will deserve regard, may it not demand compliance from us?  To neglect or infringe it, what is it; is it not palpable folly, is it not foul disingenuity, is it not detestable ingratitude?

So doth every relation of God recommend his will to us; and each of his attributes doth no less: for,

It is the will of him who is most holy, or whose will is essential rectitude: how then can we thwart it, without being stained with the guilt, and wounded with a sense of great irregularity and iniquity?

It is the will of him who is perfectly just; who therefore cannot but assert his own righteous will, and avenge the violation thereof: is it then advisable to drive him to that point by willful provocation; or to run upon the edge of necessary severity?

It is the will of him who is infinitely wise; who therefore doth infallibly know what is best for us, what doth most befit our capacities and circumstances; what in the final result will conduce to our greatest advantage and comfort; shall we then prefer the dreams of our vain mind before the oracles of his wisdom; shall we, forsaking the direction of his unerring will, follow the impulse of our giddy humor?

It is the will of him who is immensely good and benign; whose will therefore can be no other than goodwill to us; who can mean nothing thereby but to derive bounty and mercy on us.  Can we then fail of doing well, if we put ourselves entirely into his hands; are we not our own greatest enemies, in withstanding his gracious intentions?

It is finally the will of him who is uncontrollably powerful; whose will therefore must prevail one way or other: either with our will, or against it, either so as to bow and satisfy us, or so as to break and plague us: for “My counsel” (saith he) “shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.”  As to his dispensations, we may fret, we may wail, we may bark at them, but we cannot alter or avoid them: sooner may we by our moans check the tides, or by our cries stop the sun in his career, then divert the current of affairs, or change the state of things established by God’s high decree; what he lays on, no hand can remove; what he hath destined, no power can reverse; our anger therefore will be ineffectual, our impatience will have no other fruit than to aggravate out guilt, and augment our grief.

As to his commands, we may “lift up ourselves against them,” we may fight stoutly, we may in a sort prove conquerors; but it will be a miserable victory, the trophies whereof shall be erected in Hell, and stand upon the ruins of our happiness; for while we insult over abused grace, we must fall under incensed justice.  If God cannot fairly procure his will of us in way of due obedience, he will surely execute his will upon us in way of righteous vengeance; if we do not surrender our wills to the overtures of his goodness, we must submit our backs to the strokes of his anger.  He must reign over us, if not as over loyal subjects to our comfort, yet as over stubborn rebels to our confusion; for this in that case will be our doom, and the last words God will design to spend upon us: “Those mind enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring them hither, and slay them before me.”

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory forever and ever.

Amen.

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