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dureth for ever” (Psalm cxvii. 2). Surely if the foundation of the earth abideth sure, the foundation of our salvation, laid by Jesus Christ, is much more sure: “ Till Heaven and earth shall pass, one jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled" (Matt. v. 18). If the law given by Moses be so sure, much more the promises of salvation by Christ: “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him amen” (2 Cor. i. 20).
4. The stability in the midst of changes: “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh ; but the earth abideth for ever" (Eccl. i. 4). When man passeth away, the earth stayeth behind him, as a habitation for other comers, and abideth where it was, when the inhabitants go to and fro, and can enjoy it no more. All things in the world are subject to many revolutions ; but God's truth is one and the same. The vicissitudes in the world do not derogate from his fidelity in the promises; he changeth all things, and is not changed; though there be a new face of things in the world, yet we have a sure rule to walk by, and sure promises to build upon; and therefore, in all conditions, we should be the same to God, and there is no doubt but he will be the same to us.
5. In upholding the frame of the world, all those attributes are seen, which are a firm stay to a believer's heart, such as wisdom, power, and goodness. Wisdom : “ The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens” (Prov. iii. 19). Look on it, it is the work of a wise agent. So for power, this great fabric is supported by his almighty power. His goodness is seen, in that he hath made the earth to be firm and dry land, that it may be a fit habitation for men : this is a standing miracle of goodness. Luther saith, we are always in medio Rubri Maris, kept, as the Israelites were, in the midst of the Red Sea. The Psalmist telleth us, “ He hath founded it (the earth) upon the seas, and established it [the world] upon the floods” (Psalm xxiv. 2). That part of the world whereon we dwell, would suddenly be overwhelmed and covered with waters, were it not for the goodness of God; for this the order of nature showeth in the beginning of the creation (Gen. i. 7), that, next under the air, were the waters covering the whole surface of the earth; but God made such cavities in the earth, as should receive the waters into them; and such banks as should bound and bridle the vast ocean, that it might not break forth (Gen. i. 9); and so now, by his providence, the water is beneath the earth, and the earth standeth firm upon that fluid body, as upon the most solid foundation; which, as it is a work of wise disposal and contrivance, so an effect of the goodness of God for the preservation of mankind. And, though once, for the sins of the world, these waters were appointed to break out and overwhelm the earth, yet God hath firmly promised that they shall never be so again: wherein his truth is also verified, and applied to the covenant of grace: “ For this is as the waters of Noah unto me; for, as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be wrath with thee, nor rebuke thee” (Isa. liv. 9). The covenant of grace is as sure as the covenant made after the deluge; so that we cannot look upon this earth, but as an emblem of those attributes which confirm our faith, in waiting upon God till his promises be fulfilled to us.
USE.—Let us be then more firmly persuaded of God's faithfulness, that we may depend upon it, both for his preserving the church and ourselves in the way of our duty, till we enjoy our final reward.
1. For the preservation of Christ's kingdom, God's faithfulness chiefly appeareth in the government of his church, or spiritual kingdom; and this is a kingdom that cannot be moved, when all things else are shaken: “Receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved ” (Heb. xii. 28). Christ cannot be a head, without members; a king, without subjects: and we are told, that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. xvi. 18). Many disorders happen, but let us depend upon the faithful God. The world was well guided before we came into it, and other generations have had experience of God's faithfulness, though we complain that we see not our signs, nor any tokens for good.
2. For the preservation of our bodies to the heavenly kingdom. We have many discouragements within and without; but, while we persevere in our duty, God will not fail us ; his word is as sure as the earth : “ The Lord is faithful, who shall establish you and keep you from evil” (2 Thes. iii. 3). God hath promised not only to give us our final reward, but to secure and defend his people by the way, that they not be overcome by the evils they meet with in their passage.
SERMON XCVI. VERSE 91.–They continue this day according to thinc ordinances ;
for all are thy servants. The Prophet is proving the immutability of God's promises, from the conservation and continuance of the whole course of nature. He had spoken of it by parts, now conjunctly: apart, first of the heavens (verse 89), of the earth (verse 90); now both together, “ They continue,” &c.
In the words we have two things :
1. An observation concerning the continuances of the courses of nature, “ They ;" that is, the Heaven and the earth. Heaven doth continue in its motion, and earth in its station, according to the ordinance of God; that is, by virtue of that order wherein he placed things at first : “He hath stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass” (Psalm cxlviii. 6). As he ordained at first by his powerful decree, so Heaven and earth are still continued. God's laws are fixed for the government of all creatures; and in the manner, and to the end, for which God appointeth them, they stand and continue.
2. The reason, “ For all are thy servants.” The reason saith more than the assertion, and therefore doth over and above prove it; not only the heavens and the earth, but all things which are contained therein, from the angel to the worm, they all serve God, they attend upon him as their supreme Lord and Master every moment.
DOCTRINE.—That it is a great help to faith, to consider God as the omnipotent Creator, preserver, and absolute governor of the world, disposing of all things as he pleaseth.
This is the meditation which the Psalmist produceth and exposeth to our view in this verse.
His creation is implied in that, “ Thine ordinances," when God first settled the course of nature by a wise and powerful decree.
His preservation in those words, “They continue this day."
The course of nature is so settled, that it doth not fail to go on according to God's decree; everything standeth or falleth according to God's com
mand; and the order first settled by God, still obtaineth; his decree is not yet out of date.
His being the absolute governor of the world in these words, “For all are thy servants," which implieth his sovereign dominion and empire over all the creatures as his servants, who are at the beck of his will. To evidence this to you more fully, consider there are in God two things, power and authority, might and right.
First, By power we mean a liberty and sufficiency in God to do whatever he will : “ With God all things are possible” (Matt. xix. 26); or take the negative, which bindeth it the stronger : “ With God nothing shall be impossible" (Luke i. 37).
Secondly, Authority or dominion, or a right over all things, to dispose of them at his own pleasure. In this right there are three branches :
Ist, A right of making or framing anything as he willeth, in any manner as it pleaseth him, as the potter hath power over his own clay, to form what vessel he pleaseth of it. This right God exercised in his creation: “ Thou has created all things, and for thy pleasure they are, and were created ” (Rev. iv. 11). This was his absolute freedom and sovereignty to create all things according to his own pleasure.
2ndly, A right of having or possessing all things so made and framed by him ; for God is owner and possessor of whatever he made, since he made it out of nothing. Heaven is his, earth is his; so angels, man, beasts, gold, silver, all things, he challengeth as his right: “The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord's” (Psalm cxv. 16). It is the Lord's to dispose of, not only the lower, but the highest heavens, which he hath provided for his own palace and court of residence. So, “The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof” (Psalm xxiv. 1). This whole lower world is his by right of creation and providential preservation; and so are all the sorts of creatures with which he hath replenished it; it was by him produced at first, and every moment continued and preserved. And so the angels are his, they are called his ministers or servants : “ Who maketh his angels spirits, his ministers a flaming fire” (Psalm civ. 4). Though he is able to do all things by himself, or administer the whole world as he at first created it, by a word, by saying and it was done; yet he pleaseth to make use of the ministry of angels, who, some of them in subtle bodies of air, others of fire, come down to execute his commands upon earth. Men are his creatures, and his possession; we are not lords of anything we have, neither life, nor limb, nor anything : our bodies and our souls are his (1 Cor. vi. 20). Christ had power to lay down his life and take it up again; but no mere man hath; he is accountable to a higher Lord, who hath an absolute, uncontrollable right to dispose of us according to his own pleasure: “The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up, &c., for the pillars of the earth are the Lord's" (1 Sam. ii. 6-8); meaning that God is the Lord of the dwellers upon earth, from the one pole to the other. “None can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou ?" (Dan. iv. 35.) None can call him to an account: for his will is absolute. So for the beasts: “Every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills” (Psalm 1. 10). He hath a plenary dominion over all the cattle on earth, wild and tame, and the fowls of the air, and a certain knowledge where every one of them resideth, that he can readily command any or all of them whensoever he pleaseth; all is the Lord's by primitive right. So for gold and silver, and those precious things which are most valued by men: “ The silver is mine, and the gold is mine saith the Lord of hosts" (Hag. ii. 8). The absolute dominion of the riches or the splendour of the world, belongeth to the Lord of hosts, to dispose of them as he pleaseth; and therefore is to be owned, acknowledged, and submitted unto, by every man in his lot and portion: all that we want, he hath at his command, and would not withhold it, if it were not for our good,
3rdly, He hath a right of using, and disposing, and governing all things thus in his possession, according to his own pleasure. Certainly, the use, and benefit, and utility of anything belongeth to him, whose it is. Now, God, who is the disposer of all things, made them for himself; he governeth them, ultimately and terminatively for himself, immediately for man: “ The Lord hath made all things for himself” (Prov. xvi. 4). But he considereth man's good subordinately, in all sublunary things; for “the earth hath he given to the children of men” (Psalm cxv. 16), chiefly to his people (Rom. viii. 28). But, for this government of God, it is twofold, either natural or moral.
1. I begin with the last : his moral government is by laws; so he governeth angels and men, who are rational and free agents, but in the relation of subjects to God, and therefore are under his command, which if they decline, they are rebels, yet cease not to be under God; as the devils, and wicked men, who have disturbed the order of the creation, and withdrawn themselves from God's government, yet they cease not to be under his power. Of the devils we read, they sinned, and therefore were thrown down into chains of darkness (2 Peter ii. 4); meaning thereby their unappeasable horrors; and the restraints of God's invisible providence of men, that they withdrew their allegiance, and would not be subject to his laws: “Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” (Psalm xii. 4.) The car. nal mind is not subject to the law of God (Rom viii. 7); but yet they are under the restraints of his providence, and he governeth all their actions to his glory (“Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee,” Psalm lxxvi. 10), and serveth himself and the designs of his providence of their sins.
2. His natural government is that order into which, by his positive decree, God hath necessitated and disposed all creatures for the benefit of the world. Rational creatures he ruleth by moral means, as subjects, requiring duty from them, under the sanction of penalties and rewards, where the law is the rule of our duty, the sanction of his process; but other creatures he ruleth by natural motions and inclinations, or tendency, according to the decree and order which he hath settled in their creation.
Surely such a kind of empire he hath over all his creatures; for, if he had made creatures which he cannot rule, he could not carry on his providence; for there would be something beneath him which might resist his will, and that will not suit with the perfection of God. Now, this natural government is twofold, ordinary or extraordinary :
(1.) Ordinary is, that which is according to the course of second causes, or that order of nature which God hath established in the world, which is nothing else but his preserving the creatures, and working by them according to their natural motions : so it is said in the text, “ They continue this day according to thine ordinance;" and is confirmed by the Apostle, “Upholding all things by the word of his power” (Heb. i. 3); that is, in that course wherein he hath set them. The being and motion of every creature, is ordered by the will of God; they more as he hath set them, and can move no farther nor longer than he supplieth them with power.
(2.) Extraordinary is, when God doth things above or beside nature; as when he made the sun to stand still upon Gibeon and the moon in the valley Ajalon (Josh. x., 12, 13), or made the sun to go back ten degrees on Ahaz's dial (Isa. xxxviii. 8); his interdicting the Red Sea that it should not flow (Exod. xiv. 22); causing iron, which is a heavy body, that it should swim upon the top of the water, at the prayer of Elisha (2 Kings vi. 6); the fiery furnace not to burn (Dan. iii. 22); shutting the mouths of hungry lions (Dan. vi. 22); making ravens, which are by nature birds of prey, to be caterers for Elijah (1 Kings xvii. 6); the cleaving of the earth, and swal. lowing up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Num. xvi. 32, 33). Often, in the New Testament, we find the creatures acting contrary to their common na. ture, as the star that directed the wise men to Christ (Matt. ii. 2), the opening of the heavens at Christ's baptism (Matt. iii. 16), the eclipse of the sun at his death (Matt. xxvii. 45), the fishes that came to net (Luke v. 5), and furnishing money (Matt. xvii. 26), the sea to be as firm ground to Peter (Matt. xiv. 24-29), Christ stilling the tempest of a sudden (Matt. viïi. 26), the earthquake at Christ's death (Matt. xxvii. 51), the tree suddenly withered (Matt. xxi. 14). When the will of God is so, that the creatures shall depart from their own private nature, for a common good, we see how readily they obey him.
Now, I shall prove to you, that no creature can decline or avoid this dominion. The text saith, they are all his servants; that is, all at the beck and will of God.
1. The celestial bodies are his servants: “Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together” (Isa. xlviii. 13); where they are compared to servants that stand attending on great persons, ready pressed, at a word or beck, to obey their lord and master, and go instantly about whatever he doth enjoin them.
2. The angels, the inhabitants of Heaven, they are said to be his ministers and hosts; and therefore he is called the Lord of hosts; and it is said, they fulfil his pleasure, hearkening unto the voice of his word (Psalm ciïi, 20, 21).
3. The winds, and seas, and storms: “Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he, in Heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places” (Psalm cxxxv. 6); again, “ Fire and hail, snow and vapours, stormy wind fulfilling his word” (Psalm cxlviii. 8). So, “The clouds are turned about by his counsels" (Job. xxxviii. 37). The changes in the air, by storms and tempests, are not by chance, but are all directed by God for some intent of his; and in what work he doth employ them, they fail not to execute his will, and by these things many times God hath executed great matters in the world : “ The stars in their course fought against Sisera" (Judg. v. 20); by their influence, Josephus saith, caused a great storm of hail and rain, that they could not hold up their targets.
4. Sickness and diseases: “Speak the world only, and my servant shall be healed" (Matt viii. 8). Christ wondered at his faith. So that all things contained in Heaven and earth are at God's beck, and do whatsoever he hath ordained.
USE I.-Is to teach us to increase our faith by this meditation. There are two things by which we glorify God, by subjection and dependence;