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disobey, but upon you it brings the greatest mischief imaginable; God is not hurt by your sins, he is above our injury : “If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself; but, if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it” (Prov. ix. 12). There is no hurt done to God, all the hurt is to our own souls: “He that sinneth against me, wrongeth his own soul : all they that hate me, love death” (Prov. viii. 36). Every sinner is his own murderer and his own destroyer. All those arrows we shoot up against Heaven, they fall down with more violence upon our own heads. That is folly for a man to hazard a jewel for a trifle, to stake his soul, and Heaven, and eternal happiness, against a little flesh-pleasing and carnal satisfaction : “ They that observe lying vanities, forsake their own mercy" (Jonah ü. 8). Poor, fugacious comforts, lying vanities, to follow after, and forsake their own mercy; that is, all that happiness which might have been their own. A sinner is a mad gamester, that throws away the kingdom of Heaven at every cast, for a little, momentary, short delight and vain contentment. That is folly, to break with him upon whom our all depends, our life, being, comfort, happiness; so doth sin make us break with God : “ Your iniquities have separated between you and your God” (Isa. lix. 2). Well then, if sin be to do foolishly, to depart from sin, this is wisdom, this is understanding. Certainly, he that provides against the greatest mischief, doth escape the greatest danger, he is the wise man; and not he that provides against temporal inconveniences only, as poverty and disgrace. He that escapes sin, escapes Hell, the wrath of God, the extremest misery that can light upon a poor creature: “ The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from Hell beneath" (Proy, xv, 24); and therefore it is a high point of wisdom to hate sin.
2ndly, As it is a high point of understanding, so it is a fruit and effect of understanding. According to the degree of understanding that we have, so will our hatred of sin be ; for he saith, “ Through thy precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.” To prove this by two reasons:
1. Our affections follow our apprehensions. There is no way to come to the heart, but by the mind, by the understanding. Look, as there is no way to come to the bowels to purge our distempers that are there, but by the mouth, stomach, and other passages that lead to the bowels, so there is no way to come to the heart and affections, but by the understanding ; knowledge, that begets all other affections, those which belong to choice and pursuit, or those that belong to flight or aversation. Those that belong to choice and pursuit, desire, delight: there is no desire of that which is unknown. So, in those things that belong to flight and aversation, those affections, be it grief or shame for sin already committed, or fear or batred that sin may not be committed, Grief or shame : “ After that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh ; I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth" (Jer. xxxi. 19). It is light which humbles, and the soul is affected according to the sight it hath of things. Or go to those affections which serve to prevent the commission of sin, as hatred and fear. Hatred in the text; a good under, standing goes before, a thorough hatred will follow.
2. When the mind is fraught with truths, and has gotten a good stock of knowledge by God's precepts, then it will be checking and urging the soul to caution against sin; and therefore the more understanding you get by God's precepts, the more are you warned and put in mind of things : “ Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee" (Psalm cxix. 11). When the word hath laid up in the heart a good stock of knowledge, there will be one thought or other that will be rising up and defying all temptations wherewith you are assaulted. “ Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. vi. 17). In the spiritual conflict, we need weapons not only defensive, but offensive; not only the shield of faith, but the sword of the Spirit, that we may destroy and slay sin, and withstand temptation, and chase away Satan from us. What is this sword of the Spirit? The word of God. The more seasonable relief, the more fresh thoughts you have to withstand temptations which are apt to come in upon you: “Bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck; when thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee" (Prov. vi. 21, 22). This will always be urging him to duty, and warning him of his danger.
Use.-1. Get understanding. 2. Never count yourselves to understand anything, but as you increase in hatred of sin.
1. Get understanding. Partly,—
(1.) Because there are many false ways you will never discern without much understanding. There are many false ways that are palliated and represented under the show of good; and we are easily ensnared, unless we have light to choose our way: “Had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Cor. ii. 8). A man will be carried on with a great deal of life and activity in a way contrary to God: “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts xxvi. 9). Oh! the tyranny and madness of an erring conscience and an ignorant zealot! What a ready prey is a man to Satan, and is carried headlong to destroying courses, when a man hath more zeal and earnestness of spirit, than knowledge, to guide him! How will he stumble and dash upon things that are very contrary to the will of God!
(2.) If they can discern them, they shall not have a heart and skill to remedy them without understanding. We shall not have a heart; for light will be urging, calling upon us, minding us of our duty, warning us of danger; whereas, otherwise, we shall go on tamely, like an ox to the slaughter, and like a fool to the correction of the stocks; we shall not have this restless importunity of conscience, which is a great restraint of sin. And then, we shall not have the skill; for all is misapplied and misconceived by an ignorant spirit; for the whole business of his religion is making cordials instead of purges, and potions instead of antidotes; catching at promises, when threatenings belong to him; lulling his soul asleep with new strains of grace, when he should awaken himself to duty,
2. Never count yourselves to have profited in anything, till your hearts are awakened into a further hatred of sin. Christians! they are but notions ; it is not saving knowledge, unless it be in order to practice; men have no understanding, that have not this active and rooted enmity against sin: “A good understanding have all they that do his commandments” (Psalm cxi. 10). They hate sin more, and are more weary of corruption. He is made wiser by the word, that is made better by it. It is not the talker against, but the hater of iniquity, that is the wise man. If wisdom enters upon the heart, and breaks out in our practice, by that is our thriv,
ing in knowledge to be measured : “ Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John ii. 3).
This was God's scope in giving the word, not to make trial of men's wits, who could most sharply conceive : or of their memories, who could most faithfully retain; or of their eloquence, who could most nimbly discourse; but of the sincerity of the heart, who could most obediently submit to the will of God. When he had spoke of hating of sin, and doing good, “ Was not this to know me, saith the Lord ?" (Jer. xxi. 16.) This is to know God, to hate sin. Outward things were not made for sight only, but for use, as herbs, plants, and stars; so our reason, and the Scriptures the Lord hath given us, they are not only for sight, but for use, that we may be wise to salvation; not that we may please ourselves with acute notions about the things of God, but seriously set our hearts to practise.
Fourthly, The fourth thing in this general point is, that this wisdom and understanding is gotten by God's precepts. Mark, “I hate every false way;" why? Because by thy precepts I get understanding. Where have we it? By studying God's word : “ By the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. iii. 20). How is the knowledge of sin by the law? Three ways, according to the nature of the sin, according to who is the sinner, and according to the guilt and dreadful estate of them that lie in a state of sin: so the knowledge of sin; that is, the nature of it, and where it lives, and where it reigns, and what will be the effects of it, all this knowledge is by the law.
1. By the law is the knowledge of sin, quoad naturam peccati. There are many things we should never know but by the law of God, though we have some general notions of good and evil. The Apostle saith, “I had not known sin, but by the law; for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. vii. 7). Those first stirrings and secret lingerings of heart and inclinations to that which is cross to the will of God, that they go before all consent of will, and all delight, these things we could never discern by the light of nature.
2. Quoad subjectum, what is the sinner, and who is guilty of it. So, “I was alive without the law once; but, when the commandment came. sin revived, and I died” (Rom. vii. 9). He saw his lost, miserable, undone condition by the law of God. The acts of sin are discovered by the word of God; it discovers “ the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. iv. 12), and state of sin; our natural face, the condition wherein we are, is to be seen in this glass.
3. Quoad reatum et magnitudinem peccati, what will be the effects of it : “ The law entered, that the offence might abound” (Rom. v. 20). Therefore the law was given, that it might work a deep sense of the evil consequence of sin, and what wrath man was bound over to, for violating the righteous law. The law represents the heinous nature of sin as it is åvopia, a transgression of the law, as it strikes at God's being, or at God's authority, seeks to justle him out of the throne; as it contradicts his sovereignty, and plucks the sceptre out of his hand, and the crown from his head, and makes men to say, “ Who is Lord over us?” As if we had nothing to guide us but our own lusts. The word of God discovers this pride of heart; and then, the manifold mischiefs of sin are discovered; we get this understanding by the word. It is better to know these mischiefs
of sin by the threatenings of the word, than by our own bitter experience; it is sin that separates from God, and renders us incapable of all blessings,
USE.-1. Study yourselves, and take a view of the case and state of your souls by the glass of the word. See what you gain by every reading, hearing, every time you converse with him; what is given out to convince you of sin, or awaken your soul against sin.
2. When you consult with the word, beg the light of the Spirit, which only is lively and efficacious. The Apostle speaks of knowing things in the evidence and “ demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. ii. 4). There is the same demonstation of the Spirit; there is a manifest difference between the evidence of reason and arguments held out from a natural understanding, and between the illumination or the demonstration of the Spirit. There are many that may have a full knowledge of the letter and the sense of the words, as they lie open to the evidence of reason, yet be without the light and power of those truths; for that is a fruit of the demonstration of the Spirit, the lively light of the Holy Ghost that goes along with the word.
SERMON CXII. Verse 105.-Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my
path. The present world, as much as it suits with our carnal nature, it is but like a howling wilderness with respect to Canaan, in which there are many crooked paths and dangerous precipices; yea, many privy snares and secret ambushes laid for us by the Devil and his instruments; so that, unless we have a faithful guide, a clear, full, and sure direction, we shall certainly miscarry, and every day run into the mouth of a thousand mischiefs. Now, God, out of his abundant mercy, hath given us a light, a rule to walk by, to set us clear from these rocks and precipices, and to guide us safe to true happiness. And what is this light? It is his word; so David acknowgeth in this verse, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
Here you may observe, 1. The double notion by which the direction of the word is set forth. 2. You have the object, or the matter wherein we are directed; that also is expressed by a double notion, “a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." Let me explain these a little.“
1. The two notions whereby the direction is expressed; it is a light, that is a more general expression; the other is more particular, it is a lamp, possibly with allusion to the lamp of the sanctuary. The use of a lamp is to light in the night, and the light shines in the day. The word of God is both a light and lamp ; it is of use to us by day and night; in all conditions, in adversity, in prosperity, in all the condition, we pass through in this world. Chrysostom hath an observation, but I doubt a little too curious: ‘0 vóuos lúkvog óvopãout, ò Xp15og vioç ins Okaloo ūvns. Saith he, The law shineth in narrow limits, within small bounds, therefore that is called a lamp; but Christ, in the Gospel, is called a son of righteousness.
2. Let us come to the term by which the object is expressed, path and feet. By path, is meant our general choice and course of life; the law will direct to that. Not only so, but it is a light to our feet; that is, will direct us in every step, in every particular action.
DOCTRINE.—That the word of God is a clear and a full rule to direct us, in all the conditions and affairs of the present life.
It is a clear rule, for it is called “a lamp;" and it is a full rule, for it is a lamp, not only for our path, but for our feet. I shall speak of both severally, that it is “a lamp” and “ a light."
First, it is a clear rule, and therefore called “a light;" and that in three regards :
Ist, By reason of its direction, as it shows us the right way to our desired end. He that would come to his journey's end needs a way, and needs a light to see and find it out. Our end is eternal life, and that to be enjoyed in Heaven: “ The commandment is a lamp, and the law is light: and reproofs of instruction are the way of life" (Prov. vi. 23). God hath stated the way that leads to eternal happiness by his wisdom and justice, and revealed it in the Scriptures. See that place, “Oh! send out thy light and thy truth; let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles" (Psalm xlüi. 3). We should have wandered up and down in various uncertainties, and have neither pitched upon the right end or way, but have lost ourselves in a maze of perplexities, if God had not sent forth his light and truth. Austin reckons up two hundred and eighty-eight opinions about the chiefest good. Men are seeking out many inventions, looking here and there to find happines; but God hath showed the true way.
2ndly, It is a light, in regard of conviction, as it convinceth of all errors and mistakes both in judgment and practice, Verum est index sui et obliqui. In this respect it is said, because of this convincing light that is in the word, “ All things that are reproved, are made manifest by the light; for whatsoever doth make manifest, is light” (Eph. v. 13). It discovereth to us our sins, as well as our duties. Light doth manifest itself, and make all other things manifest. Now, this convictive power of the word is double, by way of prevention and by way of reproof.
1. By way of prevention. The word of God shows us our danger, pits, precipices, and stumbling-blocks that lie in our way to Heaven; it shows us both our food and our poison ; and therefore he that walks according to the direction of the word, is prevented from falling into a great deal of mischief: “He that loveth his brother, abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes” (1 John ü. 10,11). The meaning of that place is this, he that walks according to the light of Scripture, and lives in obedience thereto, avoids stumbling; but he that is blinded by his own passion, he wants his light, knows not whither he goes, neither in what way he goes; respectu viæ, et respectu termini ; what will be the end of his going. He mistakes the way, sins for duties, and good for evil; or he mistakes the end, thinking he is going to Heaven, when he is in the highway to Hell.
2. By way of humiliation and reproof. It discovers our sins to us in their own colours, so as to affect the heart; yea, our secret sins, which could not be found out by any other light: “One that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all” (1 Cor. xiv. 24, 25). The light of the word, it brings a sinner upon his face, makes him fall down, acknowledging the majesty of God in his word. God's word it hath his signature upon it, it is like himself, and bewrayeth its author,