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contentments of the flesh. Look, as sick men have lost their taste, and that which is sweet seems sour and ungrateful to a distempered appetite, so a carnal appetite hath not this taste for the word of God; to a carnal heart, it is no more savoury than the white of an egg ; yea, it is as gall to them. But now, to others, it is exceeding sweet; it is their joy, the life of their souls. Well then, you see what is this spiritual taste, that relish which a renewed soul hath for spiritual comforts.
USE.—To persuade you to get this taste; and, when once you have got it, take heed you do not lose it.
Ist, It concerns you very much to get this taste. Take these arguments :
1. It is a good evidence of the new nature; it is a sign you have gotten that other heart, that new spirit, which must have new comfort, new supports: “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, &c., if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Peter ü. 2, 3). Hereby we may know the new man, by his appetite and savour. Life is known by this, as much as by any one thing else.
2. This will give you a more assured knowledge of the truth and worth of spiritual and heavenly things; whereas, otherwise, we shall but talk of them by rote, until we experiment the comfort and sweetness of them in our own souls. Then we shall see there is more than notions in promises, the word of God is not a well-devised fable and golden dream; for our taste will be our confirmation. The greatest demonstration is from the senses: the believer hath a testimony of the truth of religion within himself, in his own heart (1 John v. 10). Oh! it is a great advantage to have our remedy there where our danger lies, in the heart; where atheism and disbelief lurk, to have spiritual sense there. When you have real experience of them, then Satan cannot have such advantage, and atheistical and unbelieving thoughts such advantage ; for you have felt the benefit of spi. ritual things. It is a great advantage against temptation, wlien you have had a sense, when you do not only know by hearsay and guess that the word is sweet, but you have had a taste, as a man that hath been at the fire, knows it warms; when we can not only say with him, 'We have heard the kings of Israel are merciful kings;' but with the men of Sainaria, · We have seen him ourselves.'
3. The life of grace mightily depends upon it; all your liveliness in grace depends upon this taste; therefore get it. When you have no taste, you lose your appetite; and, when you lose your appetite, you lose your strength; and, when you lose your strength, all goes to ruin in the soul; sin prevails, and deadness increaseth upon the soul. All the strength, comfort, and vitality of your lives, depend upon your taste.
4. It is this taste that will make you more useful to others. That which we have seen, heard, and tasted, that we commend to others. A report of a report, and tradition, it may be, or not; that is a cold thing, this is not a valid testimony. Ay; but, when you can speak of that which you have felt and tasted, your eyes have seen and hands handled of the word of life (1 John i. 1), when it is matter of sense, then we can speak boldly and affectionately; as the Apostle, “ That we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the confort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God" (2 Cor. i. 4). When we ourselves are comforted of God, and that which we speak is the result of our own experience, it makes us more useful in our Christian converse. The Prophet Ezekiel was to
eat his own prophecies, and St. John to eat the book; the meaning is, they must digest it. What we communicate to others, we must digest it ourselves; that, finding it sweet, we may speak the more effectually for God.
2ndly, Do not lose this taste. Oh! it is a sad thing to lose these spiritual senses. Hypocrites, their taste doth lightly come and lightly go; they have a little vanishing sweetness now and then ; but it is soon gone; it is a sad thing to lose our spiritual taste. It may be lost in a great measure; sometimes a Christian hath it, and sometimes he hath it not, at least not in such a degree as formerly. Experience shows it may be lost too, too often; all the business will be, to discern the first tendencies of this evil, when we begin to lose our taste and spiritual senses. This may be discerned, with respect to the threefold object of this taste, heavenly gift, the. good word of God, and powers of the world to come.
1. Heavenly gift; that is, Christ Jesus. When we do not so highly value the love of God in Christ, and prize his blood, and the precious effects of it; when we do not so earnestly beg pardon of sin, and hunger and thirst after his righteousness; when we have not that former earnestness and strength of desire to enjoy Christ. Time was when thou thoughtest no terms too dear for him, when thy heart made hard pursuit after him; but now thou art grown cold and careless, and so pass him by lightly, as a full stomach doth with meat which it is cloyed. When you are not so earnest and zealous for Christ, it is a sign that you have lost your taste.
2. Your tasting of the good word of God, when you slight the word, either in not reading, hearing, meditating in it, so frequently as you were wont to do.' Oh! time was, when you could say, 'No honey or honeycomb so sweet as this, to my poor soul!' (Psalm xix. 10;) when you could hardly call off your thoughts. Now you are more unfrequent in these godly exercises, or else, if conversant about it, not with that life and that affection, in a more customary manner. You can read of the love of God, and sufferings of Christ Jesus, without any love to him again; can read the promises, and they seem to be but like dry chips, and withered flowers, and not yield that marrow and fatness to you. You can read the promises of eternal life, and have not that joy, thankfulness, and blessing of God. You could hardly contain yourselves before, but cry out, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and blessed be God that hath visited and redeemed his people.' Now your affections are more flat and cold, and have not that relish in holy conference, sweetness in hearing, and that contentment of soul in meditating.
3. You may lose your taste in the powers of the world to come; when you grow more mindless of God and eternal blessedness; when you have not such fresh and warm thoughts as you were wont to have; when your desires, hopes, expectations of the life to come, are abated; you have not that “lively hope” (1 Peter i. 3), to quicken you for the attaining of eternal blessedness. While this taste is fresh upon the hearts of Christians, they are for Heaven, for God, carried on with vigour and strength in the way of holiness; but, when your hearts are carried out to worldly vanity, and your elish more the honour, applause, fulness of estate, worldly increase, and you are grown more cold in heavenly things, you have lost this taste of the powers of the world to come (Heb. vi. 5).
The causes of this, One is, want of a due esteem; not an esteem in an idea, naked or abstract notion, from those thoughts out of a temptation. No man is so unreasonable, but, if he be a little enlightened with Christianity, will say
the favour of God is better than all things. Ay; but want of that practical es. teem, when they can forfeit this taste for every tritle, and flesh-pleasing vanity; or when they carelessly look after him, are indifferent as to communion with God, and think it not much whether they are accepted of God, yea or nay; or manifest himself to you in Christ; when the comforts of the Spirit are things you can spare, and the consolations of God seem to be small, it is all one to you whether you have experiences from God in duty or not, your souls are satisfied, this is a cause of decaying. Then negligence in duties; pray lazily, hear carelessly, not meditate often. Inordinate savour of carnal pleasure, that is another cause. What is the reason the tempo. rary seems to be so affected ? He loseth his taste altogether, carnal things have the first possession of his heart; and, being confirmed there by long use and custom, being so suitable to us, and so long rooted in us, and we have such a vanishing glance of things to come, this will work out that taste, the love, the sense we have of better things: godly men, when they turn out to the contentments of the flesh, they lose their taste, it becomes dead. This is a considerable loss as to the vitality of your graces; for, without a taste of good or evil, we shall neither eschew the evil, nor follow that which is good, with that serious constancy and diligence that is necessary. A man that hath tasted of the poison of asps, and the bitterness of the gall and wormwood that is in sin, will be afraid of it (Rom. vi. 21): so a man that hath tasted of the sweetness of communion with God in Christ, he is quickened and carried on with life, courage, and constancy. That is a dreadful place, Heb. vi. 4–6: the loss of their taste is a decree to final apostasy. Oh! how many lose their taste, their relish of Christ, the good word of God, the powers of the life to come, and are fallen foully, some forward into error, some backward into a licentious course; so that it is impossible to recover themselves by repentance.
SERMON CX. VERSE 104.-- Through thy precepts I get understanding : therefore I
hate every false way. In the former verse, the man of God had spoken of the pleasure that was to be had by the word, now of the profit of it. There is a great deal of pleasure to spiritual sense; if we could once get our appetite, we should find a world of sweetness in it; and there is as much profit as pleasure. As the pleasure is spiritual, so also is the profit to be measured by spiritual considerations. To escape the snares of the Devil, and the dangers that wavlay us in our passage to Heaven, is a great advantage. Now, the word doth not only warn us of our danger, but, where it is received in the love of it, breedeth a hatred of all those things that may lead us into it: “ Through thy precepts I get understanding : therefore I hate every false way.”
in which sentence, the Prophet seems to invert the order set down verse 101. He had said, “I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word,” where the avoiding of evil is made the means of profiting by the word; here his profiting by the word is made the cause of avoiding evil. In the one verse, you have an account of his beginning with God; in the other, of his progress.
In this verse here is,
1. The benefit he received by the word; and that is, sound and saving knowledge.
2. The fruit and effect which this knowledge produceth in his heart, “ Therefore, I hate every false way."
Mark, First, The firmness of this effect, “I hate.” He doth not say, “I abstain;' but, “I hate.”
Secondly, The note of universality, “every."
Thirdly, The object, “false way.” It is not said, “ evil way, but“ false way:" or, as it is in the original, every path of lying and falsehood.
Falsehood is either in point of opinion or practice. If you take it in the first sense, for falsehood in opinion, or error in judgment, or false doctrine, or false worship, this sentence holds good. Those that get understanding by the word, are established against error; and not only established against error, or against the embracing or possession of it, but they hate it.
First, They are established. All error cometh from ignorance, or else judicial blindness.
Ist, From ignorance, or unacquaintedness with the word of God; so Christ said to the Sadducees, “ Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures”. (Matt. xxii. 20). When men study not the word, which is the rule of truth, no wonder if they lie open to every fancy; they take up things hand over head, and, by a fond credulity, are led away by every suggestion presented to them. So it is said, that the unstable and unlearned wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter iii. 16). By the unlearned, is meant, not those that are unskilful in human literature (though that be a great help), but those that are unskilful in the word of righteousness, poor deluded souls that lie under a great uncertainty.
2ndly, Judicial blindness. For men that have great parts, and a presumption of their own wit, are given up to be blinded by their own lusts; and, though they know the Scriptures, yet they wrest them, to speak according to the sense of their carnal interest; and so they see not what they see, being given up to the witchery and enchantment of error: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?" (Gal. iii. 1.) So that all false ways proceed from the want of reason and the pride of reason. The one is the cause of the simple's erring, who believeth every word; the other, of those that are knowing, and are otherwise of great parts, but they make their wit their idol, and so would be wise above the Scriptures, or else are swayed by their own lusts; they do not fix themselves in the power, love, and practice of truths revealed in the Scriptures, and so are given up to hellish delusions. Now, in this sense, I might speak with great profit of these words; especially now, when so many errors are broached, and all the errors of Christianity come abreast to assault it at once; and such changeable times as produce several interests, whereby men are blinded, and such levity in the professors of religion. Why, then, study the word with a teachable heart; that is, renouncing your own wit, and giving up yourselves to God's direction; and practise what is plain, without being swayed with the profits and pleasures of the world, and you may come to know what is the mind of God. Men think all is uncertain in religion, and are apt to say with Pilate, “ What is truth?” (John xvii. 38.) No, the Scriptures are not obscure; but our hearts are dark and blind with worldly lusts. Otherwise, the counsel is plain, and you might say with David, “Through thy precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way."
1. Where the Spirit of God doth affect men with an earnest desire VOL. II.
of knowledge, and so affect them as to desire to know the will of God, for no other reason but that they may avoid what is displeasing to God and do what is pleasing in his sight, and therefore hear, pray, read, meditate, and study the Holy Scriptures, they are sure to be right for the main.
2. Not only avoid the belief and profession of falsehood, but hate it : “ I hate every false way." Not the persons, but pity them: “Tell you even weeping” (Phil. ii. 18). It should be the grief of our hearts to see them misled; but, as for the error, hate it, whatever is not agreeable to the rule of truth, or dissenteth from the purity of the word. There is too great a coldness and indifferency about the things of religion, as if truth were not to be stood upon. Carnal men hate the truth: “Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee” (Psalm 1. 17). Truly we have much more reason to hate error, without which we cannot be safe, it is so catching with our natures.
Secondly, In point of practice, and so every falsehood may be applied,
Ist, To craft, or carnal wisdom: I hate fraud and deceit, true understanding makes us hate false wisdom; a simple, honest conversation suits best with Christians: “In simplicity and godly sincerity, &c., we have had our conversation in the world” (2 Cor. 1. 12).
2ndly, Carnal or worldly vanities, and flattering and fallacious pleasures. These entice us with a fair outside, and promise a great deal of happiness and comfort to us; but, when we neglect better things, and run after them, they deceive us in the issue. They are called deceitful riches (Mark iv. 19); and beauty is said to be deceitful (Prov. xxxi. 30); and those that run after these things, are said to run after lying vanities (Jonah ii. 8); those that fail, when we hope to enjoy them.
Thirdly, I take it more generally for all sin. Sinful ways are false ways, and will surely deceive those that expect good from them, or walk in them: “Deceitfulness of sin ” (Heb. Üï. 13); and, “ Deceitful lusts" (Eph. iv. 22); and, “Sin deceived me, and slew me,' saith Paul (Rom. vii. ii). Sin is false and deceitful many ways.
Ist, It presents itself in another dress than its own, proposing evil under the name of good; calling light darkness, and darkness light (Isa. v. 20); or shadows of good, for that which is really good ; gilded trash, for perfect gold.
2ndly, As it promiseth happiness and impunity, which it never performeth or maketh good (Deut. xxix. 19, 20); and so the poor sinner is led as an ox to the slaughter (Prov. vii. 22, 23). And we do not see the danger of it, till it be too late to help it; and it appeareth in its own colours, in the foulness of the act and the smartness of the punishment. Esau, when he had sold the birthright, bewailed it with tears when it was too late (Heb. xii. 16, 17). The foolish virgins tarried till the door was shut (Matt. xxv. 11, 12). It is good to have our eyes in our head, to see a plague when we may prevent it (Prov. xxii. 3). The foulness of the act terrifieth, as it did Judas, when he betrayed his master (Matt. xxvii. 4). Their hearts give evidence against them: “Accusing or else excusing one another” (Rom. ii. 15); as Cain, “ My punishment is greater than I can bear” (Gen. iv. 14). The unclean person shall mourn at the last, when his flesh and his body shall be consumed (Prov. v. 11). Adam and Eve were sensible too late, when their eyes were opened.
DoctrinE.-By the word of God we get that true, sound wisdom which maketh us to hate every false way.