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hearing the word, prayer, &c.; though no sensible comfort comes, yet in obedience perform holy duties: “At thy command (says Peter) I will cast out the net (Luke v.). Be diligent and frequent in waiting upon God, and look with more seriousness and earnestness of soul after the business of eternal life.
SERMON LXIX. VERSE 61.—The bands of the ricked have robbed me; but I have not
forgotten thy law. In the words observe, 1. David's trial. 2. His constancy under that trial. 1. His trial is set forth by two things. (1.) The persons from whom it came, “ The bands of the wicked." (2.) The evil done him, “ have robbed me." (1) The persons, “The bands of the wicked," San Heb.
3277 signifieth a cord, and also a troop or company, not of soldiers only, but others: “ Thou shalt meet a company sor troop] of prophets” (1 Sam. x. 5), it is the same word. Those that interpret it cords or ropes, understand it, some one way, some another : Aben Ezra, the griefs and sorrows prepared for the wicked have taken hold of me; and parallel it with, " The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me" (Psalm cxvi. 3). Others understand it of the snares the wicked laid for him. But the word is better translated by the Chaldee paraphrase, caterre, the bands; in our old translation, the congregation of the wicked: he meaneth the multitude of his enemies leaguing together against him.
(2.) The evil done him, they “have robbed me.” A man may suffer in his name by slander, in his dwelling by his exile, in his liberty by imprisonment, in limbs or life by torture and execution, in his estate by fine and confiscation. Many are the troubles of the righteous, this last is here intended. There are the depredations of thieves and robbers; but they do not spoil for religion's sake, but the supply of their lusts : the plunderings of soldiers by the licence of war, when laws cease; so men are robbed, or have their goods taken from them by violence; or else, it may be by pretence of law, by fine and confiscation; as it is said, “ As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and, haling men and women, committed them to prison" (Acts viii. 3); “ Saul, · breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the High Priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that, if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem” (Acts ix. 1, 2). At that time the favourers of the Gospel suffered much rapine and spoil of goods. Applying it to David's case, some think it fulfilled when the Amalekites spoiled Ziklag (1 Sam. xxx.), and took the women captives, and the spoil of the city. Some understand it of the time when Absalom and his party rifled his house and defiled his concubines (2 Sam. xv.).
2. His constancy. No calamity had wrought upon him so far as to forsake God's truth, or go against his conscience in anything.
DOCTRINE.—That no temporal loss which can accrue to us by the violence of evil men, should make us forsake our duty to God.
I. That this temptation may be greater or less as it is circumstantiated. It is here represented by David by this word, the bands or the troops of the wicked, which implieth,
1. Their multitudes. One froward, wicked man may do much harm in his neighbourhood, as there are some whom God reserveth as scourges to his people, and goads and thorns to their sides; but, when many rise up against us, the temptation is the greater : “Lord, how are they increased which trouble me! many are they that rise up against me” (Psalm iii. 1). The sincere are but few themselves, and they have many enemies: “ We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness" (1 John v. 10). There was a whole world against a handful of Christians; but we must not follow a multitude to do evil.
2. Their confederacy, “ The bands of the wicked:” 66 They have consulted together with one consent, they are confederate against thee” (Psalm lxxxiii. 5). Though the wicked be at enmity one with another, yet they will all agree to destroy the people of God.
3. These were set on mischief: for “the bands of the wicked” are spoken of here as a society opposite to that which is spoken of afterwards, “ I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts” (verse 63). There are two seeds which have enmity one against another, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Gen. iii. 15). The far greatest part of the world live an ungodly, sensual life, and there. fore cannot endure those that give an example of a holy, self-denying life (John xv. 19): therefore, the life of godliness is usually made matter of common hatred, scorn, and opposition ; for the sensual and ungodly cannot endure the godly and the heavenly. The more exactly any man setteth himself to obey God, the more he crosseth the lusts and carnal interests of the wicked; and so the more he commonly suffereth in the world. The world is full of malice and prejudice against them : they slander them, oppress them, represent them under an odious character; and they often meet with disturbances from the assaults and injuries of wicked men.
4. The hurt they did him, was spoiling and taking away the conveniences of the temporal life, “have robbed me." Though it go no further, yet to be deprived of those necessary and convenient comforts is matter of sorrow in itself. It goeth near to the hearts of worldlings to part with them, and therefore by this means they think to discourage the people of God; and many times God permitteth it, that their lives, liberties, and estates shall be much in their power: “ They which hate us, spoil for themselves" (Psalm xliv. 10). God leaveth them in their hands to dispose of them at their pleasure, which is a great and sharp temptation to his people. The Amalekites lest no sustenance in Israel. (Judges vi. 4).
II. When a man is said to forsake his duty to God by such trials.
1. When he loseth his patience and meek submission to his will. Thus the Lord tried Job by the Sabeans and Chaldeans, who took away his oxen, and camels, and all his stock (Job i. 15, 17); yet Job meekly submitteth to the Lord's will: “ The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away ; blessed be the name of the Lord” (verse 21). Not ở Xaliaios ảoñlato; but Job eveth God both in giving and taking: if he take, he gave before; or else we had it not to lose. When we look to instruments, we are full of wrath; a bucket of water, cast upon us, enrageth us more than a soaking shower that cometh from Heaven. Let us see God, without whom nothing cometh to pass.
2. When he loseth his comfort and confidence in God; for that is a sign we live upon the creature, and cannot trust God without the creature. Man knoweth how to put a cheat upon his own heart : when he hath all things at full, then he talketh of living by faith. As those women who would eat their own bread, and wear their own apparel, only call us by thy name' (Isa, iv. l); so they, though all their happiness be bound up with the creatures, yet have the wit to give God the name. Now, God will take away the creature, to see how we can live upon himself alone : “ David encouraged himself in the Lord his God" (i Sam. xxx. 6): he still maintained his hope in the Lord, when all was gone, when the emptiers had einptied him.
3. When we desert the truth, or go against conscience in anything. David telleth us here, when “ the bands of the wicked," &c.; that is, the congregations, says the old translation, as decreeing an unjust sentence against him; or bands, says the new, as appointed to attack him; or troops, when the wicked combined against him by troops. So the primitive Christians suffered the spoiling of their goods (Heb. x. 34): the Jews endeavoured to make them poor and miserable, that they might forsake their Christianity. But we must, with Joseph, leave our coat to keep our conscience; and these trials, in short, should be but the exercise of our patience and hope, and we should be provoked to do nothing but what best becometh God's servants.
III. That we should not forsake our duty to God for temporal losses.
1. We entered upon the profession of Christianity on these terms: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me' (Matt. xvi. 24). Life, wealth, and honours must be forsaken : “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke xiv. 26). Only relations and life are there mentioned, goods are not; but afterwards, he " that forsaketh not all that he hath” (verse 33), voto et præparatione animi. Yet Christ may permit some to break through at a cheaper rate ; but all must resolve on it, prepare for such a temptation. God hath not excepted it out of his covenant and dispensations : he may, when he pleases, suffer a righteous man to be stripped to the very skin ; therefore, we must not except it out of our resignation. The wise merchant sold all (Matt. xiii. 45, 46). When a man cometh to accept of Christ, there is a competition. Without this,
(1.) No true faith. True faith includes in it an election and choice, or esteem, valuation of Christ, not only as good, but as more excellent, more necessary for us, more beneficial to us, than all other things. It is prælatio unius rei prve altera, a preference of Christ above other things : “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ," &c. (Phil. iii. 7-9.) Christ is apprehended as more necessary for the soul : it cometh to him under an apprehension of a deep want, and with a broken-hearted sense of misery: we are undone without him. We are not so, though we want or lose the world : God can repair
us here, will at last save us without these things : “But one thing is needful" (Luke x. 42). Christ is esteemed more excellent : the rarest comforts of the world are but base things to his grace, but dung and dross in comparison ; not only uncertain, but vain and empty as to any real good : " For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul ?” (Job xxvii. 8.) Christ is more beneficial to a poor sinner; in him alone true happiness is to be found ; therefore, we must suffer anything rather than offend our Saviour: no creature is “ able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. viii. 39).
(2.) No true love. Religion without self-denial, in one kind or another, is a Christianity of our own 'making, not of Christ's. We cull out the easy, safe part of religion, and then we call this love to God, and love to Christ. No; the true Christian love is to love God above all. Now, one branch of loving God above all is, to part with things near and dear to us, when God calleth us so to do. We must be contented to be crucified to the world with our Lord and Master: “ He that loveth father or mother (or son or daughter) more than me, is not worthy of me" (Matt. x. 37). An underling love Christ will not like or accept.
2. On this condition we possess and enjoy the good things of this world; namely, to part with them when God calleth us thereunto. We are not absolute owners, but tenants at will: “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of Hosts” (Hag. ii. 8). The absolute disposal of the riches and wealth of the world belongeth unto God, who hath all these things, with the power to dispose of them as he pleaseth. Therefore he is to be eyed, acknowledged, and submitted unto, in the ordering of our lot and portion: “I will return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness" (Hos. ii. 9). God still retaineth the dominion of the creatures in his own hand; and we have but the stewardship and dispensation of them: he will give and he will take away at his own pleasure. They are deposited in our hands as a trust, for which we are accountable; therefore, if God demand, there should be an act of voluntary submission and subjection on our part. If we enjoy them as our own, by an original right exclusive to God, we are usurpers, but not just possessors. We have, indeed, a subordinate right to prevent the encroachment of our fellow-creatures; but that is but such a right as a man hath in a trust, or a servant to his working tools. Surely, God may dispose of his own as he will; if we give it for God's glory, or lay out our wealth in his service, God's right must be owned : “For all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee” (1 Chron. xxix. 14)." If God take it away by immediate providence, it was his own: “ The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away” (Job. i. 21): if by men, if we lose anything for God, it is his own that we lose.
3. Our gain in Christ is more than our loss in the world, both here and hereafter. So his promise : “Verily, I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake and the Gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions, and in the world to come eternal life" (Mark x. 29, 30). Our religion promiseth us spiritual recompense in this world and eternal in the other, but exempteth us not from persecutions. He that hath a heart to quit anything for Christ, shall have it abundantly recompensed in the world, with a reward much greater in value and worth than that which he hath forsaken, sometimes more and better in the same kind; as Job's estate was doubled, and Valentinian, that left the place of a tribune or captain of soldiers for his conscience, and got that of an emperor. If not this, he giveth them a greater portion of his Spirit and the graces thereof, more peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost; and this is an hundredfold better than all that we lose. Now, this we have with persecution : “ These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace: in the world, ye shall have tribulation” (John xvi. 33). But then, for the world to come, then all shall be abundantly made up to us in eternal life, when we shall reign with Christ in his heavenly kingdom. This is all in all to a Christian; that which is lost for God, is not lost. Surely, in Heaven we shall have far better things than we lose here.
4. Because the wicked never overcome, but when they foil us of our innocency, zeal, and courage. The victory of a Christian doth not consist in not suffering, or not fighting, but in keeping that which we fight for: a Christian is more than a conqueror (Rom. viii. 37). Scias hominem Christo deditum mori posse, vinci non posse : he may lose goods, lose life; yet still he overcomes, whilst he is faithful to his duty. Those that were as sheep appointed to the slaughter, and killed all the day long, they were oppressed and kept under, yet were more than conquerors. The way to conquer is by patience and zeal, though we be trodden down and ruined ; not by getting the best of opposite factions, but by keeping a good conscience, and patience, and contentedness in sufferings. If God be honoured, if the kingdom of Christ be advanced, by our sufferings, we are victorious: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death" (Rev. xii. 11). That is an overcoming indeed, to die in the quarrel, and be the more glorious conquerors. As long as a Christian keepeth the faith, whatever he loses in the contest he has the best of it: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith,” &c. (2 Tim. iv. 7, 8). Our victory is not to be measured by our prosperity and adversity, but our faithful adherence to God: though the Devil and his instruments get their will over our bodies and bodily interests, yet, if he get not his will over our souls, we conquer, and not Satan. Christians have not only to do with men who strike at their worldly interests, but with Satan who hath a spite at their souls: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. vi. 12). God may give men a power over the bodily lives of his people, and all the interests thereof, the Devil aimeth at the destruction of souls. He will let you enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, that deprive you of your delight in God and celestial pleasures. He can be content you shall have dignities and honours, if they prove a snare to you ; if he seeketh to bring you to trouble and poverty, it is to draw you from God.
5. Fainting argueth weakness, if not nullity of grace: “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small” (Prov. xxiv. 10). A zea. lous, constant mind will overcome all discouragements: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. i. 7). Trees well rooted will abide the blasts of strong