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can do, that cannot be profited by us, he is of so great a majesty, that his honour is rather lessened than greatened by anything we can do; the great author of all blessings, all our offerings come from himself first,“Of thine own have we given thee." And if we consider what we are, poor, impotent, sinful creatures, will God take an offering at our hands ? And if we consider what we do, nothing but imperfection, there is more of us in it, of our fleshly part in anything we do; yet that these things should be accepted with God!"
SERMON CXIX. VERSE 109.— My soul is continually in my hand ; yet do I not forget
thy law. In this verse and the next, David asserts his integrity against two sorts of temptations and ways of assault, the violence and craft of his enemies. Their violence in this verse, “My soul is continually in my hand;" and their craft in the next verse, “ They laid snares for me." And yet still his heart is upright with God.
In this verse observe, 1. David's condition, “My soul is continually in my hand.” 2. His constancy and perseverance, notwithstanding that condition, “Yet do I not forget thy law."
First, Let me speak of the condition he was now in, in that expression, " My soul is continually in my hand.” The soul in the band, is a phrase often used in Scripture; it is said of Jephthah, “I put my life in my hands, and passed over against the children of Ammon" (Judg. xii. 3). “ Wherefore do I take my flesh in my teeth, and put my life in mine hand?" (Job. xiii. 14.) And when David went to encounter Goliah, it is said, “He did put his life in his hand, and slew the Philistine” (1 Sam. xix. 5). In exposing ourselves to any hazard and dangers in any great attempt, it is called the putting our life in our hand. And the witch of Endor, when she ventured against a law to please Saul, and so had exposed her life, this form of speech is used concerning her, “ I have put my life in my hand” (1 Sam. xxviii. 21). Briefly then, by soul is meant life, and this is said to be in his hand, I go in danger of my life day by day; as if he should say, “I have my soul ready divorced when God calls for it:' it not only notes liableness to danger, but resolution and courage to encoun. ter it. In a sense, we always carry our souls in our hands : our life hangs by a single thread, which is soon fretted asunder, and therefore we should every day be praying, that it may not be taken from us, as the souls of wicked men are (Job. xxvii. 8; Luke xii. 20), but yielded up, and resigned to God. But more especially is the expression verified, when we walk in the midst of dangers, and in a thousand deaths, “My soul is continually in my hand;" that is, I am exposed to dangers that threaten my life every day.
Secondly, Here is his affection to God's word, notwithstanding this condition, “ Yet do I not forget thy law.” There is a twofold remembrance of things, notional and affective, and so there is a twofold forgetful. ness.
Ist, Notional. We forget the word, when the notions of things written therein are either wholly or in part vanished out of our minds.
2ndly, Affectively. We are said to forget the word of God, when, though we still retain the notion, yet we are not answerably affected, do not act according thereunto; and this is that which is understood here, “I do not forget thy law.” Law is taken generally, for any part of the word of God, and implies the word of promise, as well as the word of command. As for instance:
1. If we interpret it of the promise, the sense will be this, I do not forget thy law; that is, I take no discouragements from my dangers to let fall my trust, as if there were no providence, no God to take care of those that walk closely with him. When they fainted, they are said to have forgotten the exhortation which spake unto them as unto children (Heb. xii. 5).
2. If we interpret this word law of the commandments, and directions of the word, and so I do not forget it; that is, either by way of omission, I do not slacken my diligence in thy service for all this; or by way of commission, I do not act contrary to conscience; and the effect of the whole verse is this, Though I walk in the midst of dangers and a thousand deaths continually, yet at such a time when a man would think he should not stand upon nice points, yet even then he should keep up a dear and tender respect to God's law. And he doth the rather express himself thus, I do not forget it, because great temptations blind and divert the mind from the thought of our duty. Our minds are so susprised with the dangers before us, that God's law is quite forgotten as a thing out of mind, and we act as if we had no such comfort and direction given us. The points are two:
1. That such things may befall God's children, that they may carry their lives in their hands from day to day.
2. When we carry our lives in our hands, no kind of danger should make us warp and turn aside from the direction of God's word.
DOCTRINE 1.—That such things may befall God's children, that they may carry their lives in their hands from day to day.
That this is often the lot of God's people, we may prove: “I protest, by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily" (1 Cor. xv. 31). How can that be, “I die daily,” since we die but once ? The meaning is, I go still in danger of my life. Such times may come when we run hazards for Christ every day, so that in the morning we do not know what may fall out before night : “ In deaths oft” (2 Cor. xi. 23); that is, in danger of death : so, “Let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (1 Peter iv. 19). Let them commit their souls ; that is, their lives. The soul is sometimes put for life spiritual, or life eternal; but there it is put for life natural, so let them commit their souls to God ; that is, in times of danger and hazard ; let them go on in welldoing cheerfully, and, though there be no visible means of safety and defence, let them commit their lives to God in well-doing. When they carry their lives in their own hands, let them be careful to put them into the hands of God; let God do what he pleaseth, for he is a faithful Creator; that is, as once he created them out of nothing, so he is able to preserve them when there is nothing visible, nothing to trust to; often this may be the case of God's people, that they carry their lives in their hands from day to day. That you may take the force of the expression, consider, when the people of God are in the midst of their enemies, then they carry their lives in their hands : “ Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves" (Matt. x. 16); when they are among men no better affected to them than wolves to sheep, and when men have them in their power and there is no outward restraint of laws and government; for whatever enmity they have or act against them, laws and government are a great restraint; as, “ The days of mourning for my father are at hand, then will I slay my brother Jacob” (Gen. xxvii. 41). Till Isaac was dead, there was a check upon him ; but sometimes it is in the power of their hands to do them mischief: “They practise it [iniquity], because it is in the power of their hand" (Mic. ii. 1). When men are ill affected, no restraint upon them, no impediment in their way; yea, when they begin to persecute and rage against the servants of God, and we know not when our turn comes, then we are said to have our lives in our hand : as, “ For thy sake we are killed all the day long” (Rom. viii. 36); that is, some of that body killed ; now one picked up, then another. In these cases, they are said to carry their lives in their hands, when they are in the power of men that have no principle of tenderness to us, no restraint upon them; these begin to vex, molest, and trouble the church.
For the reasons why God permits it so, that his people should carry their lives in their hands,
1. God doth it to check security, to which we are very subject. We are apt to forget changes; if we have but a little breathing from trouble, we promise ourselves perpetual exemption therefrom: as, “ And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved” (Psalm xxx. 6). When we have got a carnal pillow under our heads to rest upon, it is hard to keep from sleep, and dreaming of temporal felicity to be perpetuated to us ; then we forget by whom we live and by whose goodness we subsist; yea, this may be, when trials are very near; the disciples slept when their Master was ready to be surprised, and they scattered (Matt. xxvi. 40). When we are in the greatest dangers, and matters which most concern us are at hand, now, to prevent this security, God draws away this pillow from under our heads, and suffers us to be way-laid with dangers and troubles everywhere, that we might carry our lives in our hands ; for this makes us sensible of our present condition in the world, and that we subsist upon God's goodness and providence every moment.
2. To wean us from creature confidences and carnal dependences: “ We had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead" (2 Cor. i. 9). Paul, that went up and down everywhere to hunt the Devil out of his territories, and to alarm the carnal, sleepy world; this Paul was very prone to trust in himself -a man that was whipped, imprisoned, stoned, opposed everywhere by unreasonable men, what had he to trust to but to God's providence? And yet he needs to be brought to this, to take his life in his hands, that he might learn to trust in God that raiseth from the dead. The best are prone to trust in themselves, and to lean to a temporal, visible interest. We would fain have it by any means; therefore, sometimes, we take a sinful course to get it. Well now, God, to cure his people of this distemper, breaks every prop and stay which they are apt to lean upon, breaks down the hedge, the fence is removed, and lays them open to dangers continually; so that, from day to day, they are forced to seek their preservation from him.
3. To check their worldliness. We are very apt to dote upon present things, and to dream of honours and great places in the world, and seek
great things for ourselves, when we should be preparing for bitter sufferings.
4. That they may value eternal life the more, which they would not do if they had a stable condition here in the world. After death, there will be a life out of all danger, and a life that is not in our hands, but in the hands of God; none can take that life from us which God keepeth in Heaven. Now, that they might look after this life, and value and prize it the more, they are exposed to hazards and dangers here. The Apostle saith, “ If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. xv. 10). When they find the present life encumbered with
so many sorrows, and exposed to so many dangers, then they conclude surely there is a better and safer estate for the people of God elsewhere in Heaven. God's people cannot be of all men most miserable, there is another life, they have hopes in Christ, and for other things; therefore they long for it, and look for it: “Here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Heb. xii. 14). All things are liable to uncertainties and apparent troubles, that we might look after that estate where the sheep of Christ shall be safely lodged in their eternal fold; now, God, by their condition, doth as it were say to them, as Micah ii. 10, “ Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest." Your stable comforts, your everlasting enjoyments, are not here; here all our comforts are in our hands, ready to deliver them up from day to day.
5. God doth by his righteous providence cause it to be so, that his people carry their life in their hands, to try their affections to him and his word. When we sail with a full stream of prosperity, we may be of God's side and party upon foreign and accidental reasons. Now, God will see if we love Christ for his own sake, and his ways as they are his ways when separated from any temporal interest; yea, when exposed to scorn, disgrace, and trouble. It is easy to be good when it costs us nothing, and the wind blows in our backs, rather than in our faces; the state of affairs is for us, rather than against us. Halcyon times and times of rest, are times of breeding the church; but stormy times, of trying the church: “Belored, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you” (1 Peter iv. 12). God will put us into his furnace; there will a fiery trial come, to see if we have the same affection to truth when it is safe to own it, and when it is dangerous to own it, when it is hated and maligned in the world : few professors can abide God's trial : “I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried" (Zech. xiii. 9): when two parts fall away, there is a third part refined and tried by trials. When the generality proves dross, or chaff, or stubble, in the furnace, there are some good metal preserved and shine brighter for trial, as their zeal is increased, and their grace kept more lively, and their faith and dependence upon a continual exercise. God will try whether we can live upon invisible supports, and go on cheerfully in the performance of our duty in the midst of all difficulty, without these outward encouragements. They are proved, that they may be improved.
6. God doth cause such things to befall his people, to show his power both in their preservation, and in overruling all those cross providences for their good.
(1.) His power in their preservation, when they have no temporal interests to back them; God will show he can preserve his people : “ The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof” (Psalm xcvii. 1). It is well that the Lord reigns, else how could his people stand? The Lord reigns, and the multitude of isles they have a share in the joy and benefit. One benefit that we have by his reign is this, “ He preserveth the souls of his saints ;" that is, their lives; he delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked" (verse 10, compared with verse 1); there is an overruling, a secret and invisible Providence, by which they are kept andhidden as in a pavilion; so they have often experience of wonderful preservation in the midst of all their troubles.
(2.) God shows his power for overruling all these accidents for the in