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unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he bave mercy upon us” (Psalm cxxiii. 2). It was in a time when they were filled with the contempt of the proud : let us be patiently submissive to God's dispensations, there is hope of help.
3. That God doth wonderfully disappoint the designs of wicked men: “ The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth. The Lord shall laugh at him; for he seeth that his day is coming" (Psalm xxxvii. 12, 13). Haman's plot was destroyed, so was the conspiracy of them that would have killed Paul : “ There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel, against the Lord” (Prov. xxi. 30). What is God now a-doing in Heaven, but defending his own kingdom? (Psalm ü.) Wherefore doth Christ sit at his right hand, but to promote the affairs of his church, and to blast the devices of the wicked ? “The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. xvi. 18).
4. That the proud are near a fall: “Every one that is proud in heart, is an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. xvi. 5). Though hand join in hand, they shall not go unpunished. Sometimes they seem to be supported by such combined interests, so woven in the laws and constitutions of a nation; but who can keep up him whom God will pull down? Pride is a sure note and forerunner of destruction (Prov. xvi. 18): “The Lord will destroy the house of the proud; but he will establish the border of the widow (Prov. xv. 25). Weak and oppressed innocence standeth upon surer terms than the proud, though they excel in wealth and opulency.
5. That God will never leave us wholly destitute, and to difficulties insupportable : “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. xii. 5); and, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able ; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. x. 13). To the eye of sense, we are lost and gone, and have no helper ; but God is never wholly gone. Hagar set herself over against the lad, would not go too far from him: God seems to throw us away; but he keeps himself within sight, he will not totally or finally forsake us.
6. That God's usual way is by contraries. The Gospel way to save, is to lose: “ Whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it” (Matt. xvi. 25). Joseph was made a slave, that he may be made governor of Egypt; his brethren sell him, that they may worship him; and he is cast into prison, that he may be preferred at court. Thus God, by shame, bringeth to honour; by misery, to happiness; by sorrow, to comfort; and by death, to life; to teach us to hope against hope (Rom. xii. 18), and to trust in him though he kill us (Job xiii. 15); for death is ours, as well as other things. If calamities shorten our lives, they hasten our glory. Persecution is the nearest way to Heaven in the eye of faith ; and the sword of the enemy is but the key to open the prison doors, and let out the soul, which hath long desired to be with Christ.
7. That it is better to suffer than to sin. In suffering, the offence is done to us; in sinning, it is done to God. The evil of suffering is but for a moment, the evil of sin for ever. In suffering, we lose the favour of men; in sinning, we hazard the favour of God. Suffering bringeth inconviency upon the body, but sinning upon the soul. The sinful estate is far worse than the afflicted (Heb. xi. 26); the evil of sufferings for the present, the evil of sin for afterwards.
8. That holiness, faith, meekness, and patience, are better treasures than any the world can take from us. Certainly, a Christian is to reckon himself by the inward man; if he hath a healthy soul, he may the better put up with a sickly body (3 John 2); if the inward man be renewed (2 Cor. iv. 16), if sore troubles discover reality of grace. Sound and saving faith discovered to the soul, is better worth than the world's best gold (1 Peter i. 9). If carnal sense were not quickest and greatest, we would judge so; and not look to the sharpness of the affliction, but to the improvement of it. If the bitter water be made sweet; if you be more godly, wise, and religious, it is enough: “No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous : nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. xii. 11). If the loss of worldly comforts make us apply ourselves to heavenly consolations; if, being disburdened of worldly encumbrances, we go on in our way of serving God with more liberty and delight; and when our dangers are greatest, we draw near to God, and adhere to him most closely; and being persuaded of his love, vigilancy and power, with these and such kind of thoughts, will a man be stocked, who is with seriousness and delight conversant in the Scriptures, and so will go on undisturbed in the course of his obedience.
II. These things must be improved by meditation ; so saith David, “I will meditate on thy precepts." · 1. Sleepy reason is unuseful to us, and truths lie hid in the heart without any efficacy or power, till improved by deep, serious, and pressing thoughts. Non-attendancy is the bane of the world : “When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart” (Matt. xii. 19). Those invited to the wedding, “made light of it” (Matt. xxii. 5). Men will not suffer their minds so long to dwell upon holy things, as to procure a good esteem of them; then in seeing they see not, and in hearing hear not, as when you tell a man of a business, whose mind is taken up about other things. A sudden carrying a candle through a room, giveth us not so full a survey of the object, as when you stand a while beholding it. A steady contemplation is a great advantage. Attending is the cause of believing, when we grow serious: “ Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul ” (Acts xvi. 14); “ These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind” (Acts xvij. 11). If people would often return to consider, they would not be hardened in sin: “ Commune with your own heart upon your bed” (Psalm iv. 4); “Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, Consider your ways" (Hag. i. 5). God's complaint was, they “ would not consider any of his ways“; (Job xxxiv. 27); “My people doth not consider” (Isa. i. 3). Running thoughts never work upon us, nor leave any durable impression; like the glance of a sun-beam or a wave. When the soul is besieged by a constant battery of truths, it yieldeth ; but a mind scattered upon impertinent vanities, groweth not up to considerable strength of faith, or joy, or comfort, or holiness.
2. God will not be served by-the-by, and at haphazard. David taketh a resolution to study his duty. The more deliberate our resolutions are, the better : “I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies” (Psalm cxix. 59). We shall never stumble upon a good course by chance : “And choose the things that please me" (Isa. Ivi. 4); not take them upon some sudden motion, but after mature and serious deliberation.
3. To divert the mind from other things. Afflictions and troubles stir up a multitude of thoughts in us: “In the multitude of my thoughts” (Psalm xciv. 19). Sometimes self-oppressing thoughts, carking thoughts, envious thoughts, and repining at God's providence; the object of our trouble is ever before us. Now, there is no way to get rid of these, but by exercising them upon better things. Troubles make us concerned about matters of weight: they employ our minds usefully, which before were scattered to impertinent vanities : “My heart was hot within me; while I was musing, the fire burned” (Psalm xxxix. 3). That our minds may not be a prey to inordinate passions, we pore upon the trouble, and the heart is heated like an oven stopped up; and therefore keep the mind well employed.
4. Frequent meditation keepeth our principles in view and memory. We are apt to forget in our sorrows: “And ye have forgotten the exhortation” (Heb. xii. 5). It is not ready at hand to support us in the time of trouble. A seasonable remembrance of truths, is a great relief to the soul; it is the Spirit's office.
III. That afflictions and molestations have a great tendency and subserviency to promote and advance these holy thoughts, where they are sanctified, and work the right way.
1. They make us understand the word more fully and clearly than before. Vexatio dat intellectum ; qui tribulantur (saith Luther), sacras literas melius intelligunt; securi et fortunati cas legunt, sicut Ovidii carmen. A full third part of the Scriptures are lost to the secure and fortunate.
2. As they clear the sight, so they purge the taste, and give us a spiritual relish. Carnal comforts cloy the spiritual appetite; when they are removed from us, then we taste heavenly things : “In the multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts delight my soul” (Psalm xciv. 19).
3. They quicken the heart to our duty, and so make us more awful and watchful: “Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law” (Psalm sciv. 12); “My soul hath kept thy testimonies; and I love them exceedingly" (Psalm cxix. 167). If God write his law upon our hearts by his stripes on our backs, it is a blessed effect. Our happiness is to be measured by our great end, which is conformity to God, and enjoyment of God; and therefore it doth not consist in outward comforts, riches, honour, health, civil liberty, and comfortable protection, but acceptance with God, and enjoyment of God. Now, as afflictions increase grace and holiness, we are the more approved of God, and enjoy more of God.
USE.-Let all our troubles drive us, then, to the word of God; there we shall find,
1. Grounds of comfort and support. 2. Hopes of deliverance.
3. Quickenings to duty, which, being concocted by serious thoughts, and blessed to us by the Spirit of God, will enable us to ride out the storm cheerfully, and allay our cares and fears; and then we shall put ourselves into the way wherein God hath engaged his protection, and so shall not be afraid of what man can do unto us.
I now come to the 79th verse, “Let those that fear thee turn unto me, and those that have known thy testimonies.” When troubled by the wicked, he prayeth for the help and comfort of the godly: there is an elegant allusion between the two words, ww2', “ let the proud be ashamed," and 4319, let the godly be turned to me; that is, let them desert the society of these proud men, and join to me.
In these words, God's people are described by a double character:1. “Those that fear thee;" 2. “ Those that have known thy testimonies." David's petition concerning those, that they may turn to him. I shall deliver the importance of these words in certain propositions.
1. Observe, the godly are described by two properties, the fear or worship of God, and the knowledge of his word. These are godly who fear to offend God, and have the sound knowledge of his will; these are fittest for God's use in the general, and for David's use in the particular condition in which he was. For God's use: fear and knowledge do make up a godly man. Knowledge, without fear, breedeth presumption; and fear, without knowledge, breedeth superstition; and blind zeal, as a blind horse, may be full of mettle, but is ever and anon stumbling. Knowledge must direct fear, and fear must season knowledge; then it is a happy mixture and composition. Deum cognoscere, et colere ; to know God, and worship him, is the whole duty of man, saith Lactantius. When we know God's testimonies so as to regard, love, and believe them, and dare not dispense with our duty to him for all the world, this is a good frame; our knowledge and fear of God must be according to his word. And these were fittest for David's case; fit comforters and strengtheners of the godly in persecution. There are many whom we cannot exclude from all fear of God, who yet know not his testimonies, run into error, darken and blemish a good cause; but those that know and fear, understand their duty and are loth to violate it, with these should our souls close. Well then, David doth in effect say, “Those whom thou hast joined to thyself, let them join to me; they will acknowledge the equity of that cause which God owneth, and will converse with him whom thou disdainest not to take into favour ; because they reverence thy providence, and are taught out of thy testimonies;' and so, weighing the cause, as well as regarding the event, will be sooner won to the truth, when God showeth mercy to his people; other godly ones will be allured to join themselves to those whom they find to be so dear to God.
2. Friendship and fellowship with such godly ones is a great blessing ; partly, as it conduceth to mutual spiritual strength: “That I may be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith both of you and me” (Rom. i. 12). It is a comfort to see our Father's children wherever we come; and to behold their faith, zeal, self-denial, mortification ; the godly are a strength to one another in evil times : “ Then they that feared the Lord, spake often one to another” (Mal. ii. 16). There are many advantages attend the communion of saints, their very sight and presence is a confirmation to us; many times that temptation befalleth us, which befell Elias: we think we are left alone (1 Kings xix. 10), that godliness is gone out of the world. To have company, is an encouragement; but we have not only company, but help; every one hath his peculiar gift to help others (1 Cor. xii.); one hath quickness of parts, but not so solid a judgment; another is solid, but not of so ready, present, and good utterance: one is zealous, but ungrounded; another well-principled, but timorous: “The eye [the knowing man) cannot say unto the hand (the active man in God's
cause], I have no need of thee" (1 Cor. xii. 21). All have their use, by mutual gifts and graces to profit one another, as the curtains of the tabernacle were coupled to one another by loops (Exod. xxvi. 3), or as a body “ fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth” (Eph. iv. 16). Every Christian hath need of another's help. And partly, as it conduceth more to public safety and honour: “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ; that, whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel; and in nothing terrified by your adversaries, which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God” (Phil. i. 27, 28). When the members are cut off, the body is less powerful: “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts iv. 33), when they were met with one heart. And the Apostle prayeth, “Now, the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus ; that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. xv. 5, 6); as if God could not be glorified by them, where there is not this Amen. Well then, if David did so earnestly desire the company of God's children, so should we.
3. Though it be so great a blessing, yet often it falleth out that there are great discords and estrangements between those that fear God and know his testimonies; godly men may be strange one to another. David complaineth: “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother's children” (Psalm Ixix. 8); and, "My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore" (Psalm xxxviii, 11): they stood afar off then when wicked men had wounded him. Now, this may come to pass,
(1.) Through carnal fear, as the godly may be deterred by the fear of the proud. Therefore he desireth they may recover their courage. An afflicted condition, as it might increase the violence of the proud, so it might diminish the affections of the godly. Affliction is harsh to flesh and blood; and good men, in their sharpest conflicts, may be deserted, not only of those who make fair profession, but are really godly, and stand in the gap alone. Christ himself hath paved the way; he was left alone : so Paul complaineth: “At my first answer, no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God it may not be laid to their charge” (2 Tim. iv. 16). The godly may forsake our fellowship, though they wish well to us when we are persecuted, as the rest of the herd forsake the wounded deer; they may shrink from us and our afflictions. It will be a great mercy if owned in our troubles. Paul took notice of Onesiphorus's not being ashamed of his chain, when some turned away (2 Tim. i. 15. 16).
(2.) They may be alienated by prejudice. Persons truly godly, may be deceived by the proud. His enemies had depraved his cause: as, in the former verse, his enemies represented him as a strange person, so they might be seduced by their slanders, and so engage against him, till they were disabused and reduced; as now he beggeth God in mercy to do for him : • The equity of my cause being known, let them join themselves to me': as Job to his friends, “Return, I pray you, let it not be iniquity; yea, return again, my righteousness is in it” (Job. vi. 29); that is, in this matter, every good man would desire this; but David was the head of the party, and chief of the godly's sight: often it falleth out, that the godly may take distaste and offence at us.