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we meet with. Alas! what sad work do honour, and wealth, and power, make in the world! Blessed be God, that he keepeth us under, low, humble, and contemned, like bottles in the smoke. Shall a little affliction, which saveth us from these opportunities of discovering our corruption, be so resented by us, as that we should wax weary of God, and forget his precepts? Great and long prosperity would be a sorer temptation to us than sharp and tedious affliction: the one keepeth us modest and humble, whereas, the other would make us vain, and proud, and wanton. When Jeshurun waxed fat, he kicked : “He forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the rock of his salvation" (Deut. xxxii. 15): slighted God, and grew cold in duty, ready to sin. As a rank soil breedeth weeds, a pleasant estate doth but fill us with vanity and folly.
(3.) God in good time will send help and deliverance. If we remember to plead the promise, God will remember to fulfil the promise ; and ihose who are not unmindful of their duty, God will not be unmindful of their safety: the Lord hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him, for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name” (Mal. iii. 17). You see there, that God will not forget those that forget not his word. Those that keep their feet in the worst times, when others reel and stagger, God hath a great care of them. Every word you speak for God, every inconvenience you suffer for him, every duty you perform to him, it is all upon record.
(4.) We may with the more confidence recommend our case to God: “ Consider mine affliction, and deliver me; for I do not forget thy law" (Psalm cxix. 153). They that do not make haste to deliver themselves, God will deliver them. The same God that requireth duty, doth assure them of comfort.
ON THE FIFTH OF NOVEMBER, 1668. VERSE 85.—The proud have digged pits for me, which are not after
thy law. This verse containeth a complaint against his enemies, whereas most of the other verses express his affection to the law of God. Yea, this verse strongly implieth it; for he censureth and condemneth his enemies mainly upon this ground, because they did what they pleased, without any regard to that law which he himself took to be the rule of his duty, and the charter of his hopes and happiness. Observe three things :
1. The character of David's enemies, “ the proud."
2. Their practice, or subtile and treacherous dealing with him, “The proud have digged pits for me.”
3. David's censure of that practice, or their manifest iniquity, “ which are not after thy law."
Let us explain the words.
“ The proud.” In the Scripture it signifieth, 1. Either the wicked in general: “Thou hast rebuked the proud that are cursed, which do err from thy commandments” (Psalm cxix. 21). It is a horrible arrogancy to oppose God's laws and interests in the world.
2. More particularly, such as are puffed up with worldly happiness and success; and so either Saul's or Absalom's counsellors may be intended.
“ Have digged pits for me." A metaphorical phrase, usual in Scripture, to represent the secret plots and treacherous dealings of wicked enemies; an allusion to them who digged pits to take wild beasts. In the Greek it is, they have told me tales. Though this rendering was occasioned by a mistake of the word, yet it agreeth well enough with the sense, for this digging of pits by false pretences and ensnaring counsels : “ An ungodly man diggeth up evil; and in his lips there is as a burning fire" (Prov. xvi. 27). But let us keep to the translation we have. The manner of toils among the Jews was digging pits, and covering them over, and hiding snares in them; that, as the beast pressed the clod, and fell therein, he might be caught and kept from getting out again. Therefore David saith, “ Without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul” (Psalm xxxv. 7).
" Which are not after thy law." Hebrew, Not after thy law. It may refer to the men or the practice; who walk not according to thy law, or which fraudulent practices of theirs are not agreeable to thy law. The law of God condemned pits for tame beasts : “If a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein ; the owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them" (Exod. xxi. 33, 34). Though it was lawful for hunters to take wild beasts, yet they were to take heed that a tame beast fell not therein, at their peril. Yet not for men innocent, and holy men. But there is a litotes in the words : that is said not to be good, or well done, which is extremely evil, very contrary to thy law. Thus we are wont to speak of a thing horrid in terms of extenuation; as when we speak of a fact, It is not very commendable, when we mean it is extremely abominable. So, crafty and subtile dealing consenteth not with the truth of God's word; that is, it is extremely opposite to it. This is produced by David as a ground of his confidence, why he hoped he should not be taken in these pits. These practices were not only injurious to himself, but contemptuous of the law of God. He layeth forth his enemies' carriage before God. Note,
I. That secret plottings against the interests of God, and his people in the world, are an ancient practice.
II. That these plots usually begin in pride.
III. That God can, when he will, and usually doth, protect his people against the plots of the proud, or the fraud, as well as the violence, of enemies.
IV. That God's law forbiddeth all mischievous, ungodly, treacherous designs, attempts, and actions.
V. That the innocent should not be much troubled to be maligned and hated by them who contemn God's laws, as well as oppose his people.
I shall gloss on these points, and then close all with application.
1. That secret plottings against the interests of God and his people, are an ancient practice.
David here complaineth that the proud had digged pits for him; and, “ The wicked plotteth against the just" (Psalm xxxvii. 12); yea, verse the 7th, it is a description of a wicked man, “ The man who bringeth wicked devices to pass." It is so known a practice, that it is gotten into their name and style. A wicked man's brain is a forge that is always hot. So, “Behold, he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood” (Psalm vii. 14). Wicked men conceive, and then travail; but, usually, the birth proveth abortive. To represent the truth to you, I shall give you a draft of some of the designs of wicked men : 1. For the suppressing of God's interest and people in the world. 2. Private persons. For the first, you cannot imagine that I should unravel all the secrets of the kingdom of darkness, and break open the Devil's cabinet ; I shall only point at some few plots and contrivances for the ruin of God's interest in the world.
First, Plots to foment and promote divisions either between them and themselves, them and their rulers, or them and God himself.
lst, Them and themselves. Ever since God had a people in the world, the Devil and his instruments have sought to divide them; that they may first ruin one another, and then become a prey to their common adversaries. Nothing bath hindered the growth of Christianity so much as the spirit of division. Iollows xpuslavičelv dnéTpETTEV (Sozomen); and Chrysostom's 72.Jev čovikog ris, in his homilies upon the Acts: there came a certain Ethnic to him, and told him, “I would fain be a Christian; but there are so many parties among you, that I know not to whom I should join myself;' and Christ's prayer intimates, “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me,” &c. (John xvii. 21.) The world are apt to look upon Christ as an impostor, and his religion as a fond superstition, when they see his people so divided and scattered one from another. Divisions in the church breed atheism in the world. Now, Satan and wicked men have endeavoured all they can to keep up these divisions and hatred among Christians. This was Julian the Apostate's design: when he had a mind to suppress Christianity, he did not openly persecute it, but took the worst sort of Christians and upheld them, that they might still maintain a quarrel between them and others. In Germany, the Jesuits go over to the Lutherans to keep up the difference : they blow the coals, and then warm themselves by the flame. And, among us, the envious man hath sown tares : “ Is not the hand of Joab with thee in all this?" (2 Sam. xiv. 19.) By what spirit are the Quakers and others actuated, and why are these things kept up, but to render Christianity odious ? Sanballat and Tobiah set up a party among the Jews, to hinder the work of their restoration (Ezra iv. 4), that they might foment division among them, and so hinder the growth of the people's prosperity; for they had now the countenance of the king of Babylon, and by this means they thought to do so.
2ndly, To divide between them and their rulers. The Devil knoweth what an advantage it is to religion to have the countenance of princes, and, on the other side, how jealous they are of their authority and prerogative; and therefore, by his instruments, seeketh to prejudice and prepossess them against it, and those that profess it in strictness and power. Thus, “ Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to Jeroboam, king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel : the land is not able to bear all his words” (Amos vii. 10). He chargeth him with treason and open rebellion, that he withdrew subjects from their duty and excited the people against his authority, and this by clancular insinuation, when Amos was not called or heard. Thus they pretend great friendship to authority, to sharpen the rage of princes against God's servants. So, “Be it known unto the king, that the Jews which came up from thee to us, are come unto Jerusalem, building the rebellious and the bad city," &c. (Ezra iv. 12.) So Saul against David, as appears by his expostulation with him about it: “Wherefore hearest thou men's words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt?” (1 Sam. xxiv. 9.) So Haman against the Jews: “Haman said unto king Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people, neither keep they the king's laws: therefore it is not for the king's profit to suffer them” (Esther ii. 8). So in primitive times ; thus did they take the Christians who were most innocent, though they were more numerous, yet still they were faithful to their prince. Bibamus pro salute Imperatoris ; they would rather endure to die, than venture upon it; for they did apprehend it as a Heathen sacrifice. Thus whisperers make princes conceive an ill opinion of religious men.
3rdly, To divide between them and God. The Devil turneth every stone. Would you ever think malice should rise so high, as to disengage God from the protection of his people, and to disaffect him against them? How can it be? Have Satan and his instruments a plot upon God himself? What else should be the meaning of all his temptations ? But see Balaam's plot : “ O my people, remember now what Balak, king of Moab, consulted, and what Balaam, the son of Beor, answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal," &c. (Mic. vi. 5.) Balak and Balaam are framing a project how to overcome the Israelites, and that can never be, as long as God is with them; and how shall they do to get away God from them? Jehovah was not as a Heathen god, to be called out by sacrifices and enchantments, as they had their charins and rites among the Heathens, to call out their tutelar gods from among the nations against whom they came to fight : Macrobius hath a chapter, De Ritu evocandi Deos. They were now to deal with the God of Israel, who would not be moved with such deceits and blandishments; therefore they will have a plot to disengage him from his people. It is insinuated : “ Come therefore, and I will advertise thee what this people shall do” (Num. xxiv. 14). Moses doth not express the counsel given, because it was whispered secretly into Balak's ear: therefore, you see, the sense is imperfect in that place; and, indeed, there is a pause in the Hebrew, to show that something must be supplied. But what the plot was, may be known by the effect, in Numbers xxv., and is in brief set forth Rev. ii. 14, where it is said of Balaam, that he caused Balak “ to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.” This was the plot, to send some beautiful women of Midian to wander about the camp of Israel, to tempt their lusty youth and martial men first to uncleanness, and then to idolatry, that so God might be provoked against them,-a plot so full of refined malice, that it can hardly be paralleled. Thus the Devil and his instruments play their part sufficiently, to divide God's people, to prejudice their rulers ; yea, to disaffect God himself.
Secondly, Plots to discourage and suppress religion. So there are many ways which wicked men take; who can name them all? I shall only instance in two policies of Julian the Apostate, the most refined in. strument the Devil used, either for wit or malice; two ways especially did he seek to undermine religion.
1st, One was, to forbid the use of schools to the Christians, and suppress human learning. To make a people irreligious, the way is to make them ignorant; discourage learning, and piety will not long be in fashion, not able long to maintain itself: in the dark, men will adore any fancy. This was like Nahash's condition to Jabesh Gilead, “Put out their right eye” (1 Sam. xi. 2). God's two famous instruments who wrote most both of the Old and the New Testaments, Paul and Moses, were both excellently skilled in secular learning.
2ndly, Another was, to put none to death for religion, but to oppress them with all manner of vexations and discouragements. To put them to death, he apprehended to be glorious, but sometimes banished them towns ; as Athanasius deprived them of all offices, civil and military, wasted them with burdensome levies and exactions: 'Let us make them poor (saith he scoffingly); for it is a hard matter for the rich to enter into the kingdom of Heaven.'
The Devil doth his work more cleverly and handsomely, when Christians are not called out to the fire and gibbet, but are wasted by lingering inconveniences and loss of privileges.
Thirdly, Plots to introduce persecution.
1st, Defamation. Infamy is the forerunner of more trouble, and the showers of slander are but presages of grievous storms of persecution. The Devil is first a liar, and then a murderer (John viii. 44). When the children of God are represented as criminal, they are more easily destroyed. It was a fashion, in the primitive persecutions, to invest Christians with a bear's skin, and then to bait them as bears; and it is a usual practice of Satan and his instruments, to blast the repute of religious persons, to clothe them with the livery of reproach, and then prosecute them as offenders: “Their throat is an open sepulchre” (Psalm v.9): the slanders of the wicked are preparatives to death, as the sepulchre, when opened, is prepared to receive the dead carcass. Men first slander, and then molest. The Devil is afraid to meddle with unstained innocency. A good report is a great security against open violence.
2ndly, To destroy the church, under the pretence of the church; as the beast in the Revelations pushed with the horns of the lamb (Rev. xiii. 11). It was a proverb, all evil began in the name of the Lord; In nomine Domini incipit omne malum ; and it hath been a false, pretended zeal for the church, that hath of later years raised and fomented all or most of the persecutions of Christians.
3rdly, To destroy Christians upon the pretence of civil quarrels and laws; and to disguise hatred against religion, under a pretence of public peace: kill you, as well as cast you out of the synagogue. The Persian noblemen “sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom, but they could find none" (Dan. vi. 4).
4thly, To make way for errors and falsehoods : so many pits do the wicked dig, to beguile unwary and unstable souls, sometimes by more than ordinary pretences of love, meekness, and sweetness. They “come to you in sheep's clothing (saith our Lord), but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matt. vii. 15). Sheep's clothing; that is, all for love and kindness, and so steal away the hearts of the people, as Absalom by his submission and servile flattery.
And then by debasing, opposing, and crying down a faithful ministry. Demosthenes's fable of the wolves agreeing with the sheep in lusu, would send away their dogs. Now, thus they do by questioning their calling, as the false teachers did Paul's. And we have been so long unministering one another, that all ministry is hated in the hearts of many an anti-ministerial spirit.
Sometimes by decrying maintenance. The lamp is starved, when not