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USE I.—The use is, to caution us against our murmurings, and taxing of God's providence. How few are there that give him thanks for his seasonable discipline, and observe God's faithfulness and the benefit they have by afflictions, but rather murmur, repine, and fret through impatience! If it be good to be afflicted, let us accept of it; for good is matter of choice: “ If then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity” (Lev. xxvi. 41). Now, all affliction on this side Hell is good; as it is a lesser evil: hic uret, hic seca ; if God will cut here, burn here, lance here, as a surgeon, that we may not be destroyed for ever; corrected, that we may not be condemned (1 Cor. xi. 32). It is good, as it is a means to good; for the end putteth a loveliness also upon the means, though things in themselves be harsh and sour. We must not consider what things are in themselves, but what they are in their reduction, tendency, and final use; so all things are yours, crosses, deaths (1 Cor. iii. 22): all their crosses; yea, sometimes their sins and snares, by God's overruling. We lose the benefit of our afflictions by our murmurings, repinings, faintings, carnal sorrows and fears : an impatient, distrustful mind spoileth the working of God. “ Tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience:" it is not the bare affliction worketh, but the affliction meekly borne. Let us not misconstrue God's present way of dealing with us: there may be a seeming harshness in some of his dealings; but yet, all things considered, you will find them full or mercy and truth. Murmuring is a disorder in the affections, nisinterpreting in the understanding. To prevent it,
1. Consider you must not interpret the covenant by God's providence, but God's providence by his covenant. Certain it is that all new-covenant dispensations be “mercy and truth” (Psalm xxv. 10), our crosses not excepted: by them God is pursuing his covenant and eternal purpose con. cerning our salvation. There is sometimes a seeming contradiction between his promises and his providences, word and works: his voice is sweet like Jacob's, but his hands rough like Esau's. Go into the sanctuary, and God will help you to reconcile things (Psalm 1xxiii. 16, 17): otherwise, the difficulty will be too hard for you. The children of God that have suspected or displeased him, have always found themselves in an error (Isa. xlix. 14, 15). His promise is the light side, his providence is the dark side, of the cloud : “ Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known” (Psalm lxxvii. 19). We cannot trace him, nor find out the reason of everything which God doth ; only in the general, that “ he hath done all things well” (Mark vii. 17); nay, what is best.
2. We must distinguish between a part of God's work and the end of it. We cannot understand God's providence till he hath done his work : he is an impatient spectator that cannot tarry till the last act, wherein all errors are reconciled : “ What I do, thou knowest not now ; but thou shalt know hereafter" (John xii. 7). No wonder if we are much in the dark, if we look only to present sense and present appearance; then his purposes are hidden from us, he bringeth one contrary out of another, light out of darkness, meat out of the eater. God knoweth what he is a-doing with you, when you know not: “ I know the thoughts that I think toward you, &c., to give you an expected end” (Jer. xxix. 11). When we view providences by pieces, we know not God's mind : for the present, we see him (it may be) rending and tearing all things; therefore let us not judge of God's work by the beginnings, till all work together. Our present state may be very sad and uncomfortable; and yet God is designing the choicest mercies to us: “I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes; nevertheless, thou heardest the voice of my supplications, when I cried unto thee” (Psalm xxxi. 22); “I said in my haste, All men are liars” (Psalm cxvi. 11). Haste never speaketh well of God, nor his promises, nor maketh any good comment upon his dealings.
3. We must distinguish between that which is really best for us, and what we judge best for us : “ Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water ; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of fint; who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end” (Deut. viii, 15, 16). Other diet is more wholesome for our souls, than that which our sick appetite craveth. It is best with us many times when we are weakest : “ When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. xii, 10); worst when strongest : “ When he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction” (2 Chron. xxvi. 16). Lot chose Sodom, a fair and pleasant situation ; but you know what inconveniences he met with there. Many times the buffetings of Satan are better for us than a condition free from temptations; so is poverty, emptiness, better than fulness; loss of friends, than the enjoyment of them.
USE II.-Is of information.
1. By what note we may know, whether God chastens us in anger, yea or nay; whether our crosses be curses. The cross that maketh thee better, cometh with a blessing : it is not the sharpness of the affliction we should look to, but the improvement of it: the bitter waters may be made sweet by the experiences of grace : if we are made more godly, wise, religious, it is a good cross; but, if it leave us as careless and stupid, or no better than we were before, that cross is but a preparation to another : if it hath only stirred up our impatience, done us no good, God will follow his stroke, and heat his furnace hotter.
2. It informeth us, that it is our duty not only to be good in afflictions, but we must be good after afflictions. David, when escaped, saith, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted,” Wicked men are somewhat good in afflictions; but, as soon as they are delivered, they return to their old sins; as metals are melted while they are in the furnace, but, when they are taken out, they return to their natural hardness; but the godly are better afterwards.
3. That every condition is as the heart is. Afflictions are good, if we have the grace to make a good use of them. Look, as the good blessings of God by our corruption are abused to wantonness, and so made hurtful to us ; so crosses that are evil in themselves, when sanctified, are good. All things are sanctified to us, when we are sanctified to God. Other things that would be snares, prove helps and encouragements; are great furtherances: the creature is another thing to the saints : if they are advanced, their hearts are enlarged to God; if afflicted, they grow more humble, watchful, serious : all things work together for the worst to the wicked : if God made Saul a king, Judas an apostle, Balaam a prophet, their preferment shall be their ruin. Haman's honour, Achitophel's wit, and Herod's applause, turned to their hurt. If in prosperity, they contemn God; if in adversity, they deny and blaspheme him: “For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them” (Prov. i. 32). As the salt sea turneth all into salt water, so a man is in the constitution of his soul: all things are converted to that use.
USE III.—Is to persuade us to make this acknowledgment, that affliction is good. There needs many graces before we can thus determine.
1. Faith; it is not present, but it must be believed, hoped, and waited for. It is not fit all should be done in a day, and as early as we would : in the Lord's time, the fruit will appear. The word doth not work byand-by, so not the rod. Faith can see good in that in which sense only can find smart: “ I know this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. i. 10); “ And we know that all things work together for good” (Rom. viii. 28). Though it doth not appear, yet we know.
2. Love: the children of God, out of their love to God, and present submission to God, do count whatsoever he doth to be good : “ Truly God is good to Israel” (Psalm Ixxiii. 1): though he seemeth to deal with his people hardly, yet love pronounceth the dispensation to be good: it can see a great deal of love in pain, and smart, and chastenings. I have read once and again of such a rabbin, that when told of an affliction would say, • This is good, because it cometh from God.'
3. Spiritual wisdom and choice to esteem things according to their intrinsic worth ; a high value of holiness, profiting in sanctification, is more than enough to recompense all the trouble we are put to in learning it. This will make us yield to be lessened in our worldly comforts, for the increase of spiritual grace; as Paul would cheerfully part with his health, that he might have more experience of Christ : “I will take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake" (2 Cor. xii. 10). Surely the loss of outward things should trouble us the less, and we should be the sooner satisfied in God's dispensation, if he will take away our earthly comforts, and make us more mindful of that which is heavenly : if, by an aching head, God will give you a better heart; by the death of friends, promote the life of grace.
< (1.) To observe 4. Diligence and heedfulness, }
"? (2.) To improves (1.) To observe what falleth out, from what hand it cometh, to what issue it tendeth: otherwise, if we observe it not, how can we acknowledge it, give God the glory of his wisdom and goodness? In Heaven, when we shall know as we are known, it will be a great part of our lauding of God, to look back on his providence conducting us through troubles, as it is pleasant for travellers in their inn to discourse of the deepness and danger of the ways : and now, when we rather are known than know (Gal. iv. 9), it is useful and comfortable to take notice of God's dealing with us. Oh! what a deal of wisdom, faithfulness, and truth, may we see in the conduct of his providence! “ I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant ; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan ; and now I am become two bands'' (Gen. xxxii. 10); “I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afficted me” (Psalm cxix. 75). What necessity of his chastisement to prevent our pride, security, negligence !
with what wisdom was our cross chosen! how did God strike in the right vein! you were running on apace in some neglect of God, till he awakened you. This observation will help us to love God, who is vigilant and careful of our welfare : it will allay all the hard thoughts that we have of the seeming severity of his dispensations.
(2.) Diligence to improve it for the bringing about of this good. We must not be idle spectators, but active under God: we must more stir up ourselves, and exercise ourselves to godliness. The affliction, of itself, is a dead thing, there must be help : “For I know that this shall turn to my salvation, through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. i. 19); “Ye also helping together by prayer for us” (2 Cor. i. 11). It is not the nature of the cross, nor the power of inherent grace, without the actual influence of the Spirit, that makes troubles profitable. We must excite ourselves also ; for the saints are not only passive objects, but active instruments, of Providence. We are not merely to be passive: “ It yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. xii. 11). God exerciseth us with the rod, and we must exercise ourselves under the rod. We are engaged to use all holy means to this end, searching, praying, rousing up ourselves, learning our proper lessons; then we shall come and make our acknowledgment, “ It is good for me that I have been afflicted."
SERMON LXXX. VERSE 72.—The laro of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands
of gold and silocr. These words may be conceived as a reason of what was said in the foregoing verse. David hath told us there, that it was good for him that he was afflicted, because of the benefit obtained by his afflictions : he had learned God's statutes, knew more of his duty, and had a heart to keep closer to it. Now, this gain was more to him than his loss by affliction; for he doth not value his happiness by his temporal interests, so much as by his thriving in godliness : all the wealth in the world was not so much to him as the spiritual benefit which he got by his sore troubles ; for, “The law of thy mouth,' &c.
The text is a profession of his respect to the word, a profession which containeth in it the very spirit of godliness, a speech that becometh only such a man's mouth as David was, one that is sincerely godly. Many will be ready to make this profession, but other things do not suit : the profession of their mouths is contradicted by the disposition of their hearts, and the course and tenour of their lives. Observe here two things:
1. The things compared.
1. The things compared: on the one side, there is the law of God's mouth; on the other, “ thousands of gold and silver.”
2. The value and preference of the one above the other: it is better to me. It is better in itself: there was reason for his esteem and choice. Many will say it is better in itself; but David saith it is better to me. Let us explain these circumstances as they are laid.
Ist, The things compared. 1. On the one side, there is the law of God's mouth: it is God's own
word; and we should be as sure of it as if we had heard him utter it and pronounce it with his own mouth, or had received it immediately by oracle from him. And indeed, that is one way to raise this esteem: “Ye received it, not as the word of men, but as it is in truth the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe" (1 Thes. ii. 13). In the word we must consider two things, the authority of it and the ministry of it: if we consider the authority of it, so it cometh from God's mouth; if we consider the ministry of it, so it cometh by man's mouth, for he speaketh to us by men: “ Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter i. 21). If we look to the ministry only, and not to the authority, we are in danger to slight it ; certainly, shall not profit by it. Many do so, as Samuel thought Eli called him, when it was the Lord (1 Sam. ïï. 7,8); but, when we consider who is the author of it, then it calleth for our re. verence and regard.
2. On the other side, “thousands of gold and silver.” Where wealth is set out, (1.) by the species and kind of it, gold and silver; gold for hoarding and portage, silver for present commerce. (2.) The quantity, " thousands;" that is, thousands of pieces, as that addition is used: they shall submit themselves with pieces of silver (Psalm lxviii. 30), or talents, as the Chaldee paraphrase expoundeth it. “Money answereth all things" (Eccl. x. 19): it can command all things in the world, as the great instrument of commerce.
2ndly, The value and preference of the one above the other, it is “ better,” and it is “better unto me." It is better in itself, that noteth the intrinsic worth of the word; it is better to me, that implieth his own esteem and choice. To say in the general only it is better, implieth but a speculative approbation which may be in carnal men: “And approvest the things that are more excellent” (Rom. ii. 18); but to say it is better to me, implieth a practical esteem, which is proper only to the regenerate. It is more dear, precious, and sweet to them than the greatest treasure. Could we have such a holy affection to the word, and say also to me, and to me, we should thrive more in a course of godliness; for a man is carried on powerfully by his choice and esteem, his actions are governed and determined by it.
DOCTRINE.—The word of God is dearer to a gracious heart than all the riches in the world.
Let me bring proofs : “ More to be desired are they than gold; yea, than much fine gold” (Psalm xix. 10). So, speaking of spiritual wisdom, which is only to be had by the word of God, he saith, that “the merchandize of it is better than the merchandize of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold” (Prov. iii. 14). So, “For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired, are not to be compared to it" (Prov. viii. 11). These expressions are frequently used, because the greatest part of mankind is miserably bewitched with the desire of riches; but God's children are otherwise affected: they have a better treasure.
Let me prove two things :
1. That the word of God, and the benefit that we get by it, is better than thousands of gold and silver.
2. That the children of God do so esteem it. Both must be proved : the one, to show the worth and excellency of the word; the other, to show the gracious disposition of the hearts of God's children. There is no question