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and profits, they will never have this practical knowledge ; and therefore the only way to know Divine things (as Nazianzen well observes), is conscientiously to keep the commandments of God. If you would know the will of God, do not spend your time in heaping up notions, but framing your heart to obedience, governing your affections by the fear of God, and suiting your hearts to the word of God. Alas! those that seek knowledge out of ambition, curiosity, and vain ostentation, and lie under the power of vile affections, get but very little true spiritual light; they may have the understanding of teachers, but not the understanding to season them, and guide them in their communion with God.
Thirdly, The more we practise, the more religion is exemplified and made sensible ; so that we come to understand more of the sweetness of it; and, on the other hand, the more of difficulty is in it when there is nothing but bare notions and naked apprehensions. There we have a double advantage, an exact rule and more experience of the sweetness of religion : “ Her ways are ways of pleasantness" (Prov. iii, 17). When we practise what we know, then we come to know the sweetness of entertaining communion with the Lord; and they know more of the difficulty of religion, they know where their hearts are more averse, and more in danger : whereas, others that soar aloft in notions, and idle and lofty speculations, have not this experience.
Fourthly, They that practise, study things with more affection than others, mightily help their understanding. The more piety and zeal any man hath, the more will the Lord bless his studies. Paul profited in the Jewish religion above many of his equals; why? “ Being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers” (Gal. i. 14). A man that hath a zeal in anything, will profit more than others; so he that hath a zeal for the things of God, profits above others. A blunt iron, if red hot, will pierce through an inch board, sooner than a cold tool, though never so sharp; so those that have blunt parts in comparison of others, yet, if they have zeal and good affections, they will pierce deep into the mysteries of religion: they that have sharper parts, want the fire of zeal.
Fifthly, The more fruitful any grace is, the more doth it abound with us; and therefore, when your knowledge is fruitful, you will find it increased by laying out your talents. “Be fruithful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. i. 10). First he presseth knowledge in order to practice, then he presseth practice in order to knowledge: saving knowledge is the cause of practice, and it is the effect of it.
Use I.-Learn how much practice exceeds speculation, and whereby a man's understanding is to be valued. Who is to be accounted a spiritual understanding man? Not he that hath finer notions, but he that is most skilful, and ready to every good work. Do not content yourselves with a few fine opinions well drest, and curiously set forth; for all this is nothing to practice. It must needs be so; for practice is the end of knowledge. Now, the end is always more worthy than the means : all the means have their loveliness from their end, and all the means have their order and measure from their end ; that is, we must so use the means that we may come to such an end. Well then, knowledge is worthy for practice's sake, and only to be sought after in order to practice; not to soar aloft, but we are to be wise to sobriety; nor as wanton fancies, such as affect conceits of wit, and empty, frothy notions; all should be suited to practice, USE II.- Again I might apply it, how ill they do that sever knowledge and a good conscience! When the age grew more knowing, they were less moral, in Seneca's time; as it was so with them, so it is with Christianity many times. It was the saying of one, When I compare former times with ours, times of ignorance, darkness, superstition, they had more zeal, we have more light: where there was less knowledge, there was more practice. Now, we have notions like a carbuncle, which seems at a distance to be all fire, though it is quite cold; so we seem to have high-floating notions concerning godliness, the head is stored with these; but hearts empty of grace, hands idle, less circumspect, more careless and loose, fruitless in good works. It shows us the cause why many that have great dexterity in wit, and excellent gifts in other things, yet are very stupid and blockish in the things of God. There is now a decay of gifts and knowledge; why? Because professors do not refer all to practice; and then, ungodliness and less practice provokes the Lord to withdraw the light. God punished the Heathens with spiritual blindness, because they did not improve their knowledge; and we may justly fear it may prove so with us, who are all head, little heart; much in speculations, little, very little, in practical holiness.
SERMON CVII. VERSE 101.--I have refrained my feet from every eril ray, that
I might keep thy word. The great work of a fast-day is to put away the evil of our doings ; as, when a fire is kindled in a house, and begins to rage and burn fiercer, it concerns those that would stop the fury of it, to remove the combustible matter. The fire of God's wrath hath been kindled amongst us, and is not yet quenched, I suppose none of you doubt: your business is to remove the combustible matter, to put away your sins. This Scripture will be of some use to you to that purpose.
David had spoken of that wisdom which he had got by the word of God, above enemies, teachers, ancients. It was not such a wisdom as consisted in speculation, but practice; not only such as did enable him to talk high, and set his tongue awork; no, it was such as did enable him to do things worthy of God, as did set his feet awork. Our feet are slow and heavy in God's ways, but very swift to that which is evil; and therefore herein did David's wisdom consist, to bridle himself, to refrain his feet, that he might not run headlong into all manner of evil; and not only so, but that he might be also more ready to that which is good : “I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word.” Where,
1. We have David's practice, “I have refrained my feet from every evil way."
2. His end or motive, “ That I might keep thy word;" that he might be exact and punctual with God in a course of obedience.
Ist, In his practice. You may note the seriousness of it, “ I have refrained my feet.” By the feet are meant the affections: “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God” (Eccl. v. 1). Our affections, which are the vigorous bent of the soul, do engage us to practice; therefore fitly resembled by the feet, by which we walk to any place that we do desire; so that, “ I have refrained my feet,” the meaning is, I keep a close
and strict hand over my affections, that they might not lead me to sin. Then you may note the extent of it; he doth not only say, I refrained from evil; but universally, “ from every evil way.” But how could David say this in truth of heart, because of his offence in the matter of Uriah ? Answer: This was the usual frame and temper of his soul, and the course of his life ; and such kind of assertions concerning the saints, are to be interpreted voce et conatu, licet non semper eventu. This was his errand and drift, his purpose and endeavour, his usual course, though he had his failings.
What was his motive and end in this ? " That I might keep thy word ;'' that I might be exact and punctual with God in a course of obedience, and adhere to his word uniformly, universally, impartially,
DOCTRINE.—He that would keep the word, must refrain his feet; that is, stand at a great distance in heart and practice from all sin.
For the illustration of the point, observe,
First, A Christian must do both; he must stand at a distance from sin, and he must keep the word. There is a negative and an affirmative part in every commandment, precepts and prohibitions; we need both the bridle and the spur; the bridle, to refrain the feet from sin; and the spur, to quicken us to walk closely with God, according to the direction of his holy word. A simple abstinence from sin, without exercising ourselves unto godliness, will not serve the turn: “Depart from evil, and do good” (Psalm xxxiv. 1). So, Psalm xxxvii. 27. There is a double principle in every renewed man, flesh and spirit; and his work is to restrain the one, to keep in the flesh that would fain break out, and range abroad in unseemly actions; and to encourage and put forth the other, the spirit, in its necessary operation with vigour and life (Gal. v. 17). There is a double estate laid before us, Heaven and Hell; therefore we are not only to forbear sin, which is walking to Hell; but we must walk worthy of God in all wellpleasing, and be fruitful in good works, which is our way to Heaven; forbearing evil, and doing good. The Pharisee's religion ran upon negatives;
I am not an adulterer, an extortioner,' &c. (Luke xviii. 28.) Many are not vicious rather than godly : they keep themselves in a middle, lukewarm estate; and, though they be not defiled with foul sins, yet do not set themselves seriously to serve the Lord.
Secondly, Both must be done with the whole man, or regarded both in heart and practice. It is not enough to leave off evil, but to hate it; nor to do good, but we must do it with a love and affection. Compare three places; “ Cease to do evil, learn to do well” (Isa. i. 16, 17); “Hate the evil, and love the good” (Amos v. 15); and it is expressed with a further emphasis, “ Abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good” (Rom. xii. 9). These places, compared together, will show that the outward act is not only to be regarded, but the frame of the heart. There should not only be an abstinence from the act of sin, but mortifying of the love of it; for there are many that outwardly forbear sin, but yet do not inwardly hate it. On the other side, we are not only to do good, but there must be a love to good; for many may externally do good when the heart abhors it. And, on the other side, if there be a love to good, God passeth by many failings: it should not be a bare hatred, or a cold love, but such as hath life and vehemency in it, abhorring that which is evil, and cleaving to that which is good (the soul of Jonathan cleaved to David); it must be a knitting love. There is Haman's refraining, and David's refraining. It is said
“Ilaman refrained himself'(Esther v. 10), when his heart boiled with rancour and malice against Mordecai; and there is David refraining in the text, “ I have refrained my feet from every evil way." His heart is engaged; when the heart cleaves to him, not easily to separate.
Thirdly, Both are regarded, and both with the whole man. Now, the one is required in order to the other : we must refrain from evil, that we may do good; and do good, that we may refrain from evil; mortification and vivification do mutually help each other. The more lively grace is, the more sin droopeth; the more lively sin is, the more is the new nature oppressed. Without refraining our feet from evil, there is no doing of good; for vivification is increased according to the degree of mortification : “That we, being dead to sin, should live unto righteousness” (1 Peter ii. 21). As long as we are alive to sin, active and delighting in the commission thereof, we are dead to righteousness; but now, as the love and life of sin is weakened in our hearts, so is grace introduced, and we are quickened and carried on with more strength in holy duties. The strength and fervour of the soul is diverted, and runs in another channel; the same affections that are carried out to sin, the same current and stream of soul that ran out towards ourselves, then is carried in a way of grace; the same affections, but carried out to other objects. And so, on the other side, wherever there is an affection to good, there will be a cordial detestation to evil; the affection to the one will awaken and increase the hatred of the other; for still the soul draws that way which our affections carry them.
Fourthly, As the one must be done in order to the other, so our care, in the first place, must be to avoid evil, or to stand at a distance from every known sin. He begins with that as necessary to the other; first, “I have refrained my feet;" and then, “that I might keep thy word;" he was to be more exact in a course of obedience. In planting of grace, God keeps this method : he roots up the weeds, and then plants us wholly with a right seed; and, so far as we are active under God in the work, we first put off the old man with his deceitful lusts, and then put on the new man (Eph. iv. 22, 24). We put off the rags of sin, before we put on the garments of salvation. The plants of righteousness, they will not thrive in an unhumbled, proud, impenitent heart; therefore God's first work is the destruction of sin, and then the introduction of grace. The heart is purified for faith, as well as purified by faith. First, it must be purified for faith, that being the work of the Spirit of God; for, “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another?" (John v. 44.) As long as any fleshly lust remains unmortified, be it ambition, vain-glory, affecting honour, reputation, esteem in the world, the heart is not purified. Secondly, the heart is purified by faith (Acts xv. 9); more and more this corruption is wrought out. And then, the heart is purified for fear: “I will put my fear in their hearts” (Jer. xxxii. 40); and then purified by fear, as Job feared God (Job i. 1). So the heart is purified for love, and by love; for love, “ And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul” (Deut. xxx. 6). A believer is to be considered in the act of conversion, and in the state of conversion; in the act of conversion, so first we turn from evil by a sound remorse : true grace is first planted, first purified for grace, then purified by grace; Job feared God, then eschewed evil. Preparing grace is inplanted in us, then it hath an exercise upon us for the weakening of sin more and more.
Fifthly, Keeping at a distance from evil; it must be as it is evil, and contrary to the holy nature and will of God. I observe this, because David did not refrain his feet from evil upon any foreign and accidental reasons, for fear of men, or any sinister and by-respect; but merely out of tender love and respect to the law of God, to testify his obedience to him; “I have refrained my feet from every evil way.” And what was his motive? “ That I might keep thy word.” A child of God hates sin, as it is contrary to his drift and purpose. If we do not love good for good's sake, it is not good we love, but some other thing that cleaves to it, the temporal benefit that we think will come thereby; so, if we do not hate evil as evil, but because of the loss and detriment that attends the practice of it, it is not sin that we hate, but inconveniences. As Austin saith of the eternal reward, there are many, non peccare metuunt, sed ardere; they are not afraid to sin, but are afraid to be damned: so a natural conscience may, upon foreign and accidental reasons, stand aloof off from sin. As a dog may forbear a morsel for fear of the cudgel, convinced men may forbear sin out of horror of conscience, and not out of any serious dislike of heart against it. Briefly, there is a custom, education, penalty of law, infamy, shame of the world, difficulty of compassing sin, shame in practisi:g; these are but accidental reasons, these may make us refrain; they may breed a casual dislike, but not a natural hatred; for a gracious refraining must be upon a religious reason. David gives an account, not only of his practice, but his motive: “I have refrained my feet from every evil way;” and why? " That I might keep thy word.”
Sixthly, This refraining must be from every sinful course. The grace of justification will teach us, and the grace of sanctification : the grace of justification, that pardoneth all sin, will teach us to deny all (Titus ii. 12); and the grace of sanctification will teach us to deny, not one, but all; for that introduceth a settled hatred against sin in the soul. Now, hatred is a poc Tà yévn, to the whole kind: he that hates one sin as sin, hates all sin : as Haman thought scorn to lay his hands upon Mordecai alone, but sought to destroy all the seed of the Jews (Esther iïi. 6), so this hatred is universally carried out against all sin. Indeed, they do not mortify any sin, that do not mortify every sin; one lust remaining unmortified, it keeps the Devil's interest afoot in the soul. Pharaoh, when the Israelites would have gone, would fain have a pawn for their return, their flocks, their herds, or their children, that they might be sure to come back again: so Satan, if a man be touched in conscience, and will bethink himself, and look after religion, if he can but get a pawn, a corner of the heart, one, sin, he knows his interest is still kept. Herod did many things; but he had his Herodias, and that held him fast and sure to Satan. The young man had a sense of eternal life upon him, and he did many things : “ All these things have I kept from my youth” (Matt. xix. 20); but he was worldly. There are certain tender parts in the soul that are loth to be touched; but now, if we would be sincere with God, we must refrain from every evil way. Any one man entertained besides the husband, it breaks the marriage-covenant; any one sin allowed in the soul, be it never so small, it forfeits our privileges by grace.
But now, because particulars are more effective, and do strike upon the soul with a more smart blow than generals, briefly consider,
1. We must refrain from every evil way; not only notorious sins, but those that are plausible, and of more reputation in the world, that are not