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He doth there not only speak of affliction, but of the justice and faithfulness which God showed in it.
1. Justice. Those that humbly confess the justice of his strokes, may with the more confidence implore his mercy. Judgment hath done its work when the creature is humble and penitent. There lieth an appeal then from the tribunal of his justice to the throne of his grace. Though our sins deserve affliction, yet there is comfort in the merciful nature of God and the promises of the Gospel. David first acknowledgeth that he was justly afflicted, and then he flyeth to mercy and beggeth comfort.
2. He observeth also a faithfulness in all God's dispensations : he doth not afflict his children to destroy them, but to prepare them for the greater comfort. As one of his children and servants, David sueth out his privi. lege. God, that is just and true, will also be kind and merciful. To have judgment without mercy, and desolation without consolation, is the portion of the wicked: but, “Lord,' saith he, “I am thy servant; therefore " let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort."
So that, you see, this request is fitly grafted upon the former acknowledgment. In it observe,
1. The original cause of all the good which we expect, “ Thy merciful kindness."
2. The effect now sued for, “ be for my comfort,” or to comfort me. 3. The instrument or means of obtaining it, which is double :-(1.) On God's part, the word: “according to thy word." (2.) On our part, prayer: “Let, I pray thee.”
(i.) In the word there is the relief discovered and offered, and thereby we are encouraged and assured.
(ii.) On our part, there is prayer, in which we act faith and spiritual desire.
(iii.) We have hope given in the word; and we sue it out hy prayer.
4. The subject capacitated to receive this effect, from that cause, in this order, “ thy servant.”
DOCTRINE.—That the people of God have liberty and much encourage. ment from God's merciful nature and promises to ask comfort in their afflictions.
This point will be best discussed by going over the parts and branches of the text as they have been laid forth to you.
First, The primary and principal cause of all comfort is the merciful kindness of God. We read in the 2 Cor. i. 3, that he is “the Father of mercies ;" and then it presently followeth, that he is “the God of all comfort.” The remedy of all our evils lieth in the mercy of God; and his kindness and goodness is the fountain of all our blessedness. I shall inquire,
1. What his merciful kindness is.
1st, What his merciful kindness is : you see here is a compound word, which importeth both his pity and his bounty. Here is mercifulness and kindness mentioned. First, his mercifulness. Mercy hath its name from misery. Misericordia, is nothing else but the laying of the misery of others to heart, with intention of affording them relief and succour. In God, it noteth his readiness to do good to the miserable, notwithstanding sin. The motion cometh from within, from his own breast and bowels : " The Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy” (James v. 11); and the act of it is extended and reached out unto the creature in seasonable relief. For the throne of grace was erected for this purpose (Heb. iv. 16). Two things there are in mercy: first, a propension and inclination to commi. serate the afflicted ; secondly, a ready relief and succour of them according to our power, affectus et effectus. First, there is a compassion, or a being affected with the misery of others. This properly cannot be in God, in whom, as there is no passion, so, strictly speaking, there is no compassion; yet something analogous there is, a taking notice of our misery; something like a pity arising in his heart upon the sight of it; which the Scripture frequently ascribeth to God, and we can best understand, as we consider the Divine perfections shining forth in the human nature of Christ. He “heard their groaning" (Exod. ï. 21); and, “ In all their affliction he was afflicted” (Isa. lxiii. 9); “His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel” (Judg. š. 19): forms of speech taken from the manner of men, who use to be thus affected when they see a miserable object. God, in his simple and perfect nature, cannot be said either to joy or grieve; but he carrieth himself as one thus affected. Or, these expressions were laid in aforehand to suit with the Divine perfections as manifested in Christ, who is touched with a feeling of our infirmities. Secondly, mercy noteth the actual exhibition of help and relief to the miserable. When his people cry to him, he runneth to the cry: “He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not; yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath ” (Psalm lxxviii. 38). Mark, there God's forgiving the iniquity, was not inflicting the temporal punishment, or destroying the sinner presently : the cause of all was not any good in the sinner, but pity in God; that moved him to spare them for the time. So he doth sometimes for those that cry to him but in a natural manner, as a beast maketh its moan when it is in pain. But much more will his compassion show itself to his people when they bemoan themselves in a spiritual manner : “ I have heard Ephraim bemoaning himself :" what then? “My bowels are troubled for him ; I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord” (Jer. xxxi. 18, 20). When Ephraim was bewailing his sins, God taketh notice of it, and returneth an answer full of fatherly affection, that he would surely show him mercy. God's compassion proceedeth from love as the cause, and produceth relief as the effect. Secondly, the next word is kindness, that noteth the bounty of God or his free inclination to do good without our merit, and against our merit. The cause is not in us, but himself. We draw an ill picture of God in our mind, as always angry and ready to destroy. No; the Lord is kind, and that many times “ unto the unthankful, and to the evil” (Luke vi. 35). We should all enlarge our thoughts more about God's merciful nature that we may love him more ; that we may not keep off from him. As long as we think he delighteth in the creature's misery, or seeketh occa. sions of man's ruin and destruction, God is made hateful. No; you must conceive of him as one that is kind, that “ doth not affict willingly, nor grieve the children of men” (Lam. iii. 33), but is ready to do good upon all occasions. We need not fear any hurt from God, but what we willingly bring upon ourselves. He destroyeth not humble souls, that lie at his feet and would have mercy upon his own terms.
2ndly, What encouragement this is to the people of God.
1. It is an encouragement, because the object of mercy is misery. Mercy is favour showed to a miserable person. Now, the more sense of our mi
sery, especially of our true misery which is sin, the greater hopes. So that the broken-hearted are more capable of his mercy than others are: God will revive the spirit of the contrite ones (Isa. lvii. 15). He taketh care to comfort them and to look after them, whatever be neglected. None are so apt to presume of mercy as the careless, nor any less capable of mercy or more deserve judgment. While we make nothing of sin, it is easy to believe merey. În a time of peace, sin is nothing; vanity and carnality nothing; a negligent course of profession nothing; vain talk, idle mispence of time, pleasing the flesh with all it craveth, is nothing, and there needeth no such niceness and strictness, God is merciful; but, when the conscience is awakened, and we see our actions with their due aggravations, especially at the hour of death, and when earthly comforts fail, then it is hard to believe God's mercy. Sin is a blacker thing than they did imagine, and they find it another manner of thing than ever they thought of; and the same unbelief that now weakens their faith about their duty, and what belongeth to their duty, doth now weaken their faith about their comfort, and what belongeth to their comfort. Those that now question precepts, will then question promises. Well then, the careless and negligent are not capable objects of the tenders of mercy; but the sensible, and the contrite, and the serious, these are the fittest objects, though they think themselves furthest off from mercy. Those that have a deep sense of their own unworthiness, most see a need of mercy and most admire mercy (Gen. xxxii. 10). They see that mercy doth all; that there is somewhat of the pity and kindness of God in all things vouchsafed. They apprehend they are always in some necessity, or in some dependence, and they are unworthy, and that it is at God's mercy to continue, or take away, any comfort they have: health, liberty, strength, all are dipped in mercy, continued in mercy, restored at mercy.
2. It is an encouragement to us because the Scripture saith so much of this mercy in God. Id agit tota Scriptura ut credamus in Deum, saith Luther: it is natural to him, “ The Father of mercies” (2 Cor. i. 3); not Pater ultionum, but misericordiarum: he is as just as he is merciful; but he delighteth in the exercise of one attribute more than the other (Mic. vii. 18); the other is his strange work. There is a fulness and plenty, "abundant mercy” (1 Peter i. 3); and, “ According unto the multitude of thy tender mercies” (Psalm li. 1). Our wants are many, and so are our sins; only plentiful mercy can supply and overcome them. They are tender mercies, compared with those of a father and mother. Of a father: “ As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him" (Psalm ciii. 13). We need not much entreat a father to pity his child in misery. An earthly father may be ignorant of our misery, as Jacob in Jo. seph's case : an earthly father pitieth foolishly, but God wisely, when it is most for our benefit. An earthly father's pity may go no further than affection, and cannot always help his children, and relieve their misery. But God, as he is metaphorically said to have the affection, so he hath an all-sufficient power to remove any evil present, or avert that which is imminent. With that of a mother: “ Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget; yet will I not forget thee” (Isa. xlix. 15). In the general, passions in females are more vehement, especially in human creatures; the mother expresseth the greatest tenderness and largeness of love. God hath the wisdom of a father and the bowels of a mother. Mark, it is not to an adopted child, but to her own son; "her sucking child,” that hangeth on her breast, cannot subsist without the mother's care. Mothers are wont to be most chary and tenderly affected towards them, poor, helpless infants and children that cannot shift for themselves. Nature hath impressed this disposition on them. Suppose some of them should be so unnatural as to forget their sucking babes, which is a case rare to be found, " yet will I not forget thee,” saith the Lord. They are durable compassions,“ his compassions fail not” (Lam. ii. 22). They are continual mercies, supplying daily wants, pardoning daily failings, bestowing daily mercies. Oh! that the miserable and the wretched, those that find themselves so, could believe this and plead this, and cast themselves into the arms of this merciful father. Surely the penitent are not more ready to ask than he to give: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace" (Heb. iv. 16). Let not our sins keep us from him; our misery rather than our worthiness is an object of his mercy.
3. His mercy is more to his people than to others. There is a general mercy and a special mercy. (1.) There is a general mercy, by which God sustaineth and helpeth any creature that is in misery, especially man: so Christ calleth him merciful as he showeth himself “kind unto the unthankful and to the evil” (Luke vi. 35). Had it not been for this mercy, the world had been long since reduced into its ancient chaos, and the frame of nature dissolved. (2.) There is a special mercy which he showeth to his people; pardoning their sins, sanctifying their hearts, accepting their persons. So, “ According to his mercy he saved us” (Titus iii. 4, 5); quickened us : “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ" (Eph. ii. 5). This showeth God hath more mercy for his people than for others. Now, this is a great encouragement, he that took pity upon us in our lost estate, and did then pardon our sins freely, will he not take pity upon us now we are in the state of grace, and have our sins pardoned ? Surely he will show mercy unto us still, in forbearing the punishment due unto us, or in mitigating his corrections, or sweetening thern with his love. What matter is it who hateth us, when the Almighty pitieth us and is so tender over us?
Secondly, The satisfying effect, which is comfort. Here I shall show,1. What is comfort.
2. That consolation is the gift and proper work of God to be asked of him.
Ist, What is comfort. It is sometimes put for the object or thing comfortable; sometimes for the disposition of the subject, or that sense and apprehension that we have of it.
1. The object or thing comfortable, and so comfort may note, (1.) Deli. verance and temporal blessings. These things are comfortable to the senses; and in a moderate proportion, and with submission, they may be asked of God. That comfort is put for deliverance, many Scriptures witness. Take these for a taste : after “great and sore troubles,” “thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side" (Psalm lxxi. 21): so, “Show me a token for good, that they which hate me may see it and be ashamed, because thou, Lord, hast holpen me and comforted me" (Psalm lxxxvi. 17): so, “ In that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee; though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me" (Isa. xii. 1). In all these places, comfort is put for
temporal deliverance; which is an effect of God's mercy, and may be an object of the saints' prayers. It is lawful to deprecate afflictions. There are but few of the best of God's children, that can hold out under long troubles without murmuring or fainting. (2.) Another object of comfort is the pardon of sins, or a sense of God's special love in Christ, wrought on our hearts. This is matter of comfort, indeed. This is the principal effect of God's merciful kindness in this life, and the great consolation of the saints, as offering a remedy against our greatest evil; which is trouble that ariseth from guilt and sin. This obtained, filleth them with joy and peace (Psalm iv, 6, 7), puts gladness into our hearts. To feel God's love in the soul (Rom. v. 5), is the Heaven upon earth which a believer enjoyeth, which allayeth the bitterness of all his troubles. Heaven above is nothing but comfort, and the comforts of the Spirit are Heaven below: God keepeth not all for the life to come. (3.) Another object of comfort is our happy estate in Heaven, which puts an end to all our miseries : “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Rev. vii. 17); “ There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain” (Rev. xxi. 4); “ Thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented” (Luke xvi. 25). We have not our full comfort till we come to Heaven. In the world, there still is day and night, summer and winter: here is a mixture of mourning and joy, but there all comfort (Matt. v. 4).
(4.) The highest and chiefest object of our comfort is the Lord himself: “David encouraged himself in the Lord his God” (1 Sam. xxx. 6). Though all things else fail, this should satisfy us: though we have little health, no friends, no outward supports, to rejoice in; yet thou hast God, whose favour is life, and who is the fountain of happiness, and the centre of the soul's rest. The Prophet, when reduced not only to some straits but great exigencies, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. iii. 18). The joy of sense is in the creature, the joy of faith is in God. Thus we may consider comfort objectively. All that I shall say further is this, that we should take heed what we make to be the object of our solid comfort. They are carnal men, that wholly place their comfort in earthly things, in the pleasures, and honours, and profits of the world: “Wo unto you that are rich, for ye have received your consolation” (Luke vi. 24). They have all here, and can look for no more; and, if disappointed here, they are utterly miserable. There are consolations arising from good things exhibited, but more in good things promised : “Everlasting consolation” (2 Thes. ii. 16).
2. Let us consider it subjectively. Comfort, it is the strengthening of the mind when it is apt to be weakened by doubts, fears, and sorrows: as by patience we are kept from murmuring, so by comfort we are kept from fainting. It is the strength, stay, and support of the heart against any grievance whereby it is likely to be overcome. There are three words by which that delightful sense of God's favour, as a stay and strengthening to the heart, is expressed, comfort, peace, and joy. (1.) Comfort is that sense of his love by which the sorrows that arise from the sense of sin, and the fears of God's justice, are not altogether removed and taken away, yet so mitigated and allayed that the soul is not overwhelmed by them, but hope doth more prevail. This is the nature of comfort, that it doth not altogether remove the evil, but so alleviate and assuage it, that we are able to bear it with some alacrity and cheerfulness; and this is the common