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David saith, “ Depart from me," you labour in vain to draw me to commit wickedness with you; I must keep in with my God, not with you; do his commandments, not follow your fancies. Or,
3. It is a renouncing of all society with them, lest he should be corrupted by their evil examples, or their carnal suggestions and enticements. He seems to speak this as fearing a snare and hindrance by their company and intimacy. This is the consideration that I prefer. The points may be two :
I. That they which would have God for their God, must keep his com. mandments.
II. That they that would keep his commandments, must avoid the company of the wicked.
DOCTRINE I.—They that would have God for their God, must keep his commandments.
This point I shall soon dispatch, for it often comes in this psalm.
1. A covenant relation inferreth a covenant duty. You know the tenour of the covenant runs thus, “ I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Jer. xxxi. 33; Ezek. xi. 20; Zech. xiii. 9; and other places); where observe this, the stipulation is mutual, there is something which God offers, and something which God requires. A covenant is not made up all of promises, there is a stipulation of obedience, as well as a promise of happiness, and both must concur; a keeping the commandments must be, as well as taking hold of the privileges of the covenant: “ To such as keep his covenant, and to them that remember his commandments to do them" (Psalm ciii. 18). Both must concur.
But let us observe distinctly what God offers and what God requires. What God offers : he offers himself to be our God; that is, to be a God to bless, and a God to govern and rule; and so the offer of God infers, not only dependence upon him as he will be a God to bless, but subjection to him as he will be a God to rule and govern. Those that would have God's blessing, must be under his dominion ; for the notion of our God implies a sovereignty as well as a benefactor; he doth not leave us to our liberty to live as we list, for then he is not God nor supreme. Therefore it is but equal and reasonable he should rule and govern, and we obey. But what he requires, that maketh it the more plain, “ Ye shall be my people;" that noteth separation from all others, and a dedication to God's use, and a walking according to the tenour of that dedication : “ This day thou art become the people of the Lord thy God; thou shalt therefore obey the voice of the Lord thy God, and do his commandments, to love him, obey him, fear him, trust in him" (Deut. xxvii. 9, 10). Well then, as God offers himself to be a God to rule and govern us according to his will, so we, in giving up ourselves to be his people, resign up ourselves to his government.
2. In point of gratitude, as well as covenant obligation. If God, the other contracting party, were our equal, as he is our superior, yet the kindness we receive from our God should move us to do him all the service we can. His kindness and grace in the covenant should make us fearful to offend : “ They shall fear the Lord and his goodness" (Hos. iii. 5); and careful to please God; " to walk worthy of God unto all well pleasing" (Col. iii. 10). And therefore love is said to keep the commandments. Love, which is enkindled by a sense of God's love to us in the covenant of grace, will put us upon obeying and careful pleasing of God.
Use I.-Information, to show us how we should make sin odious to ug, both by way of caution and humiliation; caution against the admission of sin, and humiliation because of the commission of it.
1. Caution. When thou art sinning, remember it is against thy God, who hath made thee, who hath kept thee, who hath bought thee, whom thou hast owned in covenant, who never showed any backwardness to thy good : Is this thy kindness to thy friend (as he said), to sin against God thy best friend? See, the covenant interest is produced to stir up indignation against the offences of others : “ Turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness” (Jude 4). There is very much in that, that “the grace of our God” should be abused. So, “ Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also ?” (Isa. viii. 13.) Wilt thou grieve the Spirit of thy God, and violate his holy law ? If we cannot endure an offence in another, much less in ourselves.
2. For humiliation. This should wound us to the quick, to sin against the Lord our God (Jer. iii. 25). Every sin is a breach of covenant. What is simple fornication in others, is adultery in you, or breach of marriage vow: “I have sinned against Heaven, and in thy sight” (Luke xv. 21).
Use II.—To press us to behave ourselves to God, as he is the Lord our God. Why?
1. Otherwise you do but mock him: “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke vi. 46.) Cui res nomine subjecta negatur, nomine illuditur, saith Tertullian; it is but a mockery of God, to give him the title, and deny him the duty included in that title. As the soldiers which saluted Christ with, “Hail, King of the Jews," yet at the same time spat in his face and buffeted him; so for us to say, My God, “ If then I be a father, where is mine honour and, if I be a master, where is my fear ?" (Mal. i. 6.)
2. Consider, God will not be mocked, but will avenge the quarrel of his covenant (Lev. xxvi. 25). A people that profess God to be their God, all the judgments that shall come upon them, they come in pursuance of God's quarrel, because they give God the covenant-title, and do not perform the covenant-duty. There is hypocrisy in them, in that they call him our God, and make a show to be his peculiar people, and in the meantime do neither serve him, love him, nor obey him, as our God. And there is plain treachery, in that we set up another God, the lust and sin which we would gratify with the displeasure of God; so that we are not a people for him, according to the covenant.
3. This God will bear us out in our works : “ Our God whom we serve, is able to deliver us” (Dan üïi. 17). You may promise yourselves all that a God can do for you; therefore let this persuade you to do as David, firmly to resolve, and exactly to observe all that he hath required of us. First, firmly to resolve upon a strict course of obedience. “I will," saith David in the text; I am resolved of it, whatever cometh of it, or whatsoerer temptations I meet with to the contrary. Many are convinced of their evil courses, and that there is a necessity to leave them, but want resolution, therefore are unconstant in all their ways. Secondly, exactly to observe, “ I will keep the commandments of my God.” He that is our God, it is fit he should be obeyed in all things : « Walk humbly with thy God” (Mich. vi. 8). You deny his sovereignty by interpretation, if you stick at any precept of his.
DOCTRINE II.—They that would keep the commandments of God, must avoid the company of the wickcd.
1. I shall show how far the company of the wicked is to be avoided. 2. Why they that would keep the commandments of God, are to do so.
First, How far the company of the wicked is to be avoided. On the one hand,
Ist, There is necessary civil converse allowed; for otherwise, as the Apostle saith, we must needs go out of the world (1 Cor. v. 10). Neces. sary converse in buying, selling, trading, performing the duties of our rela. tions, it is allowed.
2ndly, We must not forsake the church, because of some wicked men therein. In God's floor, there is wheat and chaff. Saith Augustine, Fugio paleam, ne hoc sim ; non aream, ne nihil sim: I fly from the chaff, that I may not be it; but I may not, I do not fly from the floor, lest I be nothing. Christ maintained communion with the church wherein there were men corrupt in manners, and bids us to hear those that sit in Moses's chair, though they say, and do not (Matt xxxiii. 1. 2).
3rdly, We are not hindered from endeavouring the good of their souls : whilst there is hope and opportunity to gain them, we may converse with them for their good. Thus Jesus Christ did converse with sinners to gain them: “The Pharisees and Scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them" (Luke xv. 2). It is one thing to converse with sinners to harden them in their sins, another thing to converse with them to gain them to God: as physicians to heal the sick, not as their associates to delight in their company; so we may converse with them with all gentleness, remembering that we ourselves were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, &c. Thus we must avoid them.
But yet we should avoid them so,
1. That we should not be familiar with them. Eschew all unnecessary, voluntary fellowship and familiarity: “I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers” (Psalm xxvi. 4). We are not to choose them for our companions, lest we be corrupted and deadened by their example.
2. We are not to enter into a durable relation with them, such as will put us upon continual converse. When we are at liberty, “ Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Cor. vi. 14). Parents, upon any conveniences of estate or outward emoluments, are not to dispose of their children there where they may necessarily converse with wicked per. sons: “Thou shalt not take of their daughters to thy sons, lest they go a whoring after their gods” (Exod. xxxiv. 15). Instances there are many, of the great mischief that hath come by entering into these durable relations with wicked men: “The sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose” (Gen. vi. 2). Men in the visible church are called the sons of God, they that were of the line of Seth; and they that were of the line of Cain, are called the daughters of men; to go in to them, because they are fair, or they are noble, or because they are of our rank. This was the provoking sin that helped to bring the flood upon them. So, “They were mingled among the Heathen, and learned their works” (Psalm cvi. 35). Solomon gave an instance that he was corrupted by his wives. So it is said of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat, that “he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as did the house of Ahab; for the daughter of Ahab was his wife; and he did evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings viii. 18). In ecclesiastical stories, we read of Valence the Emperor, who married with an Arian lady, and so was ensnared thereby, and became a cruel persecutor of the Catholics; as the best metals, mixed with baser metals, are embased thereby.
3. If necessitated to keep company with them, because of our dwellings, relations, and business, let us not comply with them in their sins: “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. v. 11). We may freely converse with such as we are bound to by the laws of necessity ; but we must converse with them with a great deal of caution, that we may not be ensnared. David had no great liking to his companions, yet he was forced to abide with them in the deserts : “ Wo is me that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar! My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace” (Psalm cxx. 5, 6). The Apostle would have the wife to abide with the husband (1 Cor. vii. 12), and servants to abide with their masters (1 Peter ii. 18), and children with their parents (Eph. vi. 1); but no tie of that kind doth bind us to partake with them in their sins. And being thus necessitated to their converse, we ought to have the more fear and caution. And thus Joseph lived in Egypt untainted, and Nehemiah in Ahasuerus's court, and Lot in Sodom, and Daniel in the court of Persia : necessity forced them thither; but all their care was to keep themselves unspotted from the world in the places where they lived.
Secondly, Why they that would keep the commandments of God are to do so.
Ist, Because it is hard to keep familiarity with them, and avoid and escape the contagion of their example. Example in general hath a great force, especially evil example. The force of example is great; why? Seneca gives the reason, Homines plus oculis credunt, quam auribus ; because an example strikes more upon the heart, than a bare word. Man, being a sociable creature, is mightily encouraged to do as others do, especially in an evil example; for we are more susceptible of evil than we are of good. Sickness is sooner communicated than health; we easily catch a disease one of another, but those that are sound, do not communicate health to the diseased. Or, rather, to take God's own expression, that sets it forth thus, by touching the unclean, the man became unclean under the law; but by touching the clean, the man was not purified. The conversa. tion of the wicked hath more power to corrupt the good, than the conversation of the virtuous and holy to correct the lewd. The Prophet tells us, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isa. vi. 5). We soon increase our pollution by living among them. Josephus relates, that Agrippa at first was a lover of virtue and of his country, that he stood for the liberty of the people of the Jews; but, by conversing with Caligula the Roman emperor, being intimate and familiar with him, learned his manners; and, as he affected Divine honours, so Agrippa too, and God smites him with lice (Acts xii.). In infected places, we get a disease, though we feel it not presently; so secretly our hearts are tainted by example. As a man that walks in the sun, unawares, before he thinks of it, his countenance is tanned; so our hearts are defiled: “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go" (Prov. xxii. 24). The furies of passion are so uncomely and so displeasing, that a man would think that he should not take infection there, that the sight should rather deter than invite him; but insensibly we learn their ways, when we make friendship with furious and angry men: for saith Solomon in the next verse, “Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul.” Melancthon saith, by converse familiarly with the wicked, insensibly we grow wicked. He that toucheth pitch is defiled, and “ a little leaven leareneth the whole lnmp" (1 Cor. v. 6).
2ndly, They will molest and disturb us in the exercise of godliness by their scoffs and persecutions. You can never be acceptable to them if you live as you should; why? For you will upbraid their consciences by your lives, dart conviction and reproofs into them; as Noah condemned the world (Heb. xi. 7). Christ saith, The world hates me, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil (John vii. 7). You that live up to your profession, and do not run into the same excess of riot with others, your estrangement, of course, revives guilt upon their conscience; and therefore not to follow them in all things, will be distasteful. As sore eyes cannot endure the light, so they cannot endure you if you are faithful to God. Diversity of humours cannot long agree together. You must either be like them, or be hated by them. You must either jump with them in all things, or expect a greater trouble. Now, there is less danger in the flight than sight. Now, a total withdrawment is better than a partial compliance.
3rdly, They will seek to pervert us by carnal suggestions and counsels, as the Psalmist speaks: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly" (Psalm i. 1). Like troublesome flies, they will always be buzzing about us to take share and lot with them, and importunate suitors will prevail at length. Prov. i. 10, 15, the enticings of the wicked are spoken of: “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not; walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path," &c.
4thly, Familiarity with them will be a blemish and scandal upon your good name. Every man's company declares what he is. Birds of a sort flock together. So that, if they wrong not the conscience, they wound the reputation, and we are polluted and defiled by being of the same society, which a Christian should be tender of. When a scandalous sin breaketh out in the church, the blot lies upon all. The Apostle tells us in Heb. xi. 15, when any root of bitterness springs up, thereby many are defiled; many are detiled, not only by the contagion of the example, but the imputation of the fault: much more in private and intimate familiarity doth this hold good. A carnal man delights in such as are like him, and run with him in the same folly and sin; but, when a man is changed, he will change his company: “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts” (Psalm cxix. 63). That is one thing David avoucheth for his innocency. One wicked man falls in with another, as the tenon doth into the mortise, and their spirits suit frequently: “When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers” (Psalm 1. 18). There is no such outward sign to discover our temper.
5thly, If we have any love for God, and zeal for his glory, their company must needs be grievous and offensive to us; for how can they that love God delight in their company that are always grieving the Spirit of God with unsavoury speeches and a vain conversation? “Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred : I count them mine enemies” (Psalm cxxxix. 21, 22). So Lot's righteous soul was grieved from