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which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. viii. 18). The ordinary experience of believers in lesser temptations is enough to evince this, &c.
USE I.-Is for reproof.
1. That men do so little revive the belief of God's commandments. Hence sins of omission: “ Therefore to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James iv. 17); of commission: “I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle” (Jer. viii. 6). Would men venture to break a known law, if they did consider that it was the command of God, that hath power to save and to destroy? Surely, want of faith in the precepts is a great cause of their coldness in duty, boldness in sinning: “Whoso despiseth the word, shall be destroyed; but he that feareth the commandment, shall be rewarded" (Prov. xii. 13). Now, any one would fear God's commandment, if he did consider it in all its circumstances.
2. Those that would strongly believe the promises, but weakly believe that part of the word that requireth their duty from them, all for privileges, seldom reflect upon their own qualification: it is a good temper when both go together: “I have hoped for thy salvation, and done thy commandments” (Psalm cxix. 166): so, “ The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy“ (Psalm cxlvii. 11). But, when asunder, all is naught. God's promises cannot comfort us, if we be not of the number of them to whom they do belong. Not only consider what God is, but what we are, and what is required of us; our qualification, as well as his goodness; our duty, as well as his mercy.
USE II.-To believe the commandments with a lively faith: we should be tender of disobeying God's law. The law may be considered as a covenant of works, or as a rule of life. As a covenant of works, so it is satisfied by Christ for those that have an interest in him, and serveth to quicken us to get this interest in him. As it is a rule of life, so in the new covenant we give up ourselves to God to walk according to the tenour of it, as Israel by a voluntary submission: “All that the Lord hath spoken, we will do" (Exod. xix. 8): so, in the church of the New Testament, we engage ourselves by a voluntary submission to walk according to the will of God, and confirm it by the sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper. Well then, we are still to regard it as a binding rule, looking for grace to perform it: it is not only a rule given us for advice and direction, but for a strong obligation to urge and enforce us to our duty. So, “I delight to do thy will, O my God; thy law is within my heart” (Psalm xl. 8).
USE III.- Do we believe the commandments? Then,
1. We will not please ourselves with a naked trust in the promises, while we neglect our duty to God. That which God hath joined together, no man must put asunder. The Prophet saith, “Ephraim is an heifer that is taught, and loveth to tread out the corn” (Hos. x. 11); compared with Deut. xxv. 4, “ Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn." We are addicted to our own ease, prize comforts, but loath duty. Oh! make more conscience of obedience!
2. Their faith will be lively and operative, cause to keep God's charge, and observe his commandments; otherwise, it is but an opinion, and a dead faith: “ Wilt thou know, ( vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James ii. 20.) Many may discourse of the necessity of duty, that have little sense of it; as the children in the furnace, the fire had no power
over them, neither was one hair of their heads singed, nor their coats changed: not a lust mortified, no good by their strict notions.
3. They must be obeyed as God's commands, abstaining from evil because God forbiddeth it, practising that which is good because God commandeth it. Notitia voluntatis ; - This is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication” (1 Thes. iv. 3); “But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breast-plate of faith and love, and for an helmet, the hope of salvation ; for God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ": (1 Thes. v. 8, 9); “ For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter ii. 15). Certainly, no private respect, desire of our own pleasure and profit, should hinder us; but we must respect one command as well as another : otherwise, our obedience is partial. A quatenus ad omne valet consequentia : if we believe the commandments, we must believe all. Where a disposition is allowed to break any one of God's laws, the heart is not right. God's sovereignty, once acknowledged, is alike potent to restrain every inclination to acts displeasing to God and contrary to our duty, one as well as another.
Secondly, The text may be considered relatively with respect to the matter in hand; and so it may be conceived as a reason of asking, or as a reason of granting.
Ist, As a reason of asking.
1. It giveth a character of them that believe: they that believe God's commandments, will desire to know them more; to be more accurate in knowing their duty, and the weight and consequence of it: they are willing to practise all that it requireth, and so are willing to prove what is the acceptable will of the Lord : “Wherefore, be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. v. 17): they would not do anything doubtingly : “ He that doubteth, is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith; for whatsoever is not of faith, is sin” (Rom. xiv. 23); nor according to the wills of men, “For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for, if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Gal. i. 10). They would avoid “all appearance of evil” (1 Thes. v. 22), occasions to evil : “ Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom. xii. 14). They know the weight and consequence of these things.
2. It giveth us an intimation of the necessity of growth: none believe so much, but they may believe more : “ These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God" (1 John v: 13); and they may obey more, embrace the word more. David beggeth be may do so. Always there is some new thing to be learned in the Scripture.
3. That faith planted in the beart is nourished and increased by more knowledge and understanding : “ Add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge” (2 Peter i. 5). There is an implicit, and explicit faith : oportet discentem credere ; swallowing pills, not chewing them.
2ndly, As a reason of granting: believing God's commandments is a disposition that hath a promise of more knowledge to be communicated.
1. God by one act of grace maketh way for another. First, he giveth this first favour of receiving the word by faith as Divine, worthy to be believed and obeyed; then, to understand it and apprehend it more perfectly, discretion and judgment to go about duties wisely.
2. God giveth according to the creature's receptions : they that are dutiful and docile, and willing to comply with their duty already known, shall know more.
USE.—The use is, if we expect more illumination, let us believe as much as is manifested already to us, with a mind to practise.
SERMON LXXVI. VERSE 67.—Before I was afflicted, I went astray ; but now have
I hrpt thy word. In this verse, you may observe two things :1. The evil of prosperity, “ Before I was afflicted, I went astray.”
2. The good of adversity, “but now have I kept thy word.” Before, wandering; but now, attentive to his duty. Or, if you will, here is the necessity of afflictions, and the utility of them.
1. The necessity, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray." Some think that David, in his own person, representeth the wantonness and stubbornness of all mankind. If it should be so, yet the person in whom the instance is given, is notable: if this were the disposition of the Prophet and man of God, and he needeth this discipline, we much more. If he could say it in truth of heart, that he was made worse by his prosperity, we need always to be jealous of ourselves; and, were it not for the scourge, we should forget our duty and the obedience we owe to God.
2. The utility and benefit of afflictions, “but now have I kept thy word.” Keeping the law, is a general word: the use of God's rod is to bring us home unto God, and the affliction driveth us to make better use of his word : it changeth us from vanity to seriousness; from error, to truth; from stubbornness, to teachfulness; from pride, to modesty. It is commonly said, Iaşnuara uafhuara, and the Apostle telleth us, that Jesus Christ himself learned “obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb. v. 8). And here David was the better for the cross; so should we. Or rather, you may in the words observe three things:
1. A confession of his wandering, “I went astray." 2. The course God took to reduce him to his duty, “ I was afflicted.” 3. The success or effect of that course, “ now have I kept thy word."
Theodoret expresseth this in three words, 'Hppüsnoa, étuńInv, špovo.iny, I was sick ; I was cut, or let blood; I was well, or recovered my health again.
1. The one giveth us the cause of afflictions, they are for sin : “I went astray;" wherein there is a secret ackowledgment of his guilt, that his sin was the cause of the chastisement God brought upon him.
2. The true notion and nature of affliction to the people of God: the cross changeth its nature, and is not pæna, a destructive punishment; but remedium delinquentium, a medicinal dispensation, and a means of our cure.
3. The end of them is obedience, or keeping God's word. The sum of the whole is, ‘I was out of the way ; but thy rod hath reduced me, and brought me into it again. Aben Ezra conceiveth that in this last clause he intimateth a desire of deliverance, because the rod had done its work:
rather, I think, he expresseth his frame and temper when he was delivered ; and accordingly I shall make use of it by-and-by.
I might observe many points; but the doctrine from the whole verse is,
DOCTRINE.—That the end of God's afflicting, is to reduce his afflicted and straying people into the right way.
I shall explain the point by these considerations :
1. That man is of a straying nature, apt to turn out of the way that leadeth to God and to true happiness. We are all so by nature : “ All we, like sheep, have gone astray” (Isa. liii. 6). Sheep, of all creatures, are exceedingly subject to stray, if not tended and kept in the better; unable to keep out of error, and, having erred, unable to return. This is the emblem by which the Holy Ghost would set forth the nature of mankind. But is it better with us after grace received ? No; we are in part so still. The best of us, if left to ourselves, how soon are we out of the right way! into what sad errors do we run ourselves : “ Who can understand his errors ? cleanse thou me from secret faults” (Psalm xix. 12). Since grace, we all have our deviations : though our hearts be set to walk with God for the main, yet ever and anon we are swerving from our rule, transgressing our bounds, and neglecting our duty. Good David had cause to say, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant” (Psalm cxix. 176). We go astray, not only out of ignorance, but out of perverseness of inclination : “ Thus have they loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet" (Jer. xiv. 10). We have hearts that love to wander: we love shift and change, though it be for the worse ; and so will be making excursions into the ways of sin.
2. This straying humour is much increased and encouraged by prosperity, which, though it be good in itself, yet so perverse are we by nature, that we are the worse for it. That the wicked are the worse for it, is clear : “Let favour be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness” (Isa. xxvi. 10). The sunshine upon the dunghill will produce nothing but stinks, and the salt sea will turn all that falleth into it into salt water: the sweet dews of Heaven, and the tribute of the rivers, all becometh salt when it falleth into the sea. So wicked men convert all into their humour. `Neither God's mercies nor judgments will have any gracious and kindly work upon them; but, if it be well with them, they take the more liberty to live loosely and profanely : the fear of God, which is the great holdback from all wickedness, is lessened, and quite lost in them, when they see no change: “Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God” (Psalmı lv. 19). That little, slavish fear which they have, which should keep them back from wandering, is then lost; and the more gently God dealeth with them, the more godless and secure they are. When they go on prosperously and undisturbedly, the more obdurate ever. But is it not so with the people of God also ? Yes, verily; David, whose heart smote him when he cut off the lap of Saul's garment, when he was wandering in the wilderness, could plot the death of Uriah, his faithful servant, when he was at ease in his palace. We lose much tenderness of conscience, watchfulness against sin, much of that lively diligence that we should otherwise show forth in carrying on the spiritual life, when we are at ease, and all things go well with us. We are apt to indulge the flesh when we have so many baits to feed it; and to learn “ how to abound' is a harder lesson of the two than to learn how to
be abased” (Phil. iv. 12). And therefore, did not God correct us, we should grow careless and negligent. The beginning of all obedience is the mortification of the flesh, which naturally we cannot endure. After we have submitted and subjected ourselves to God, the flesh will be seeking its prey, and be rebelling and waxing wanton against the spirit, till God snatches its allurements from us. Therefore, the Lord, by divers afflictions, is fain to break us, and bring us into order : we force him to humble us by poverty, or disgrace, or diseases, or by domestical crosses, or some inconveniency of the natural and animal life, which we value too much. Besides, our affections to heavenly things languish when all things succeed with us in this world according to our hearts' desire; and this coldness and remissness is not easily shaken off. Many are like the children of Reuben and Gad, who, when they found convenient pastures on this side Jordan, were content with it for their portion, without seeking aught in the land of promise (Num. xxxii.): so their desires insensibly settle here, and have less respect to the good of the world to come.
3. When it is thus with us, God seeth fit to send afflictions. Much of the wisdom of God's providence is to be observed, partly in the season of affliction, in what state and posture of soul it surpriseth us, when we are wandering, when we most need it, when our abuse of prosperity calleth aloud for it: when the sheep wander, the dog is let loose to fetch them in again. God suiteth his providence to our necessities: “For a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness” (1 Peter i. 6). Alas! we often see that afflictions are highly necessary and seasonable, either to prevent a distemper that is growing upon us, or to reclaim us from some evil course in which we have wandered from God. Paul was in danger to be lifted up, and then God sendeth a thorn in the flesh: this discipline is very proper and necessary before the disease run on too far. Partly in the kind of affliction : all physic doth not work upon the same humour; divers lusts must have divers remedies. Pride, envy, covetousness, wantonness, emulation, have all their proper cures. All sins are referred to three impure fountains : “ For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world" (1 John ii. 16). From the lusts of the flesh do arise, not only the gross acts of wantonness, fornication, adultery, gluttony, drunkenness, which the more brutish and base part of mankind are taken with; but an inordi. nate love of pleasures, vain company, and vain delights, carnal complacency, or flesh-pleasing, wherewith the refined part of the world are too often captivated and bewitched. The lust of the eyes, covetousness, and worldly-mindedness, produce wretchedness, rapines, contentions, strife, or that immoderate desire of having, or joining house to house, field to field, and building up ourselves one story higher in the world. From pride of life, come ambition, lofty conceit of ourselves, scorn and contempt of others, affectation of credit and repute in the world, pomp of having multitude of servants, or greatness of train, fineness of apparel, and innumerable vanities. Now, God, that he may meet with his servants when they are tripping in any kind, he sendeth our afflictions as his faithful messengers to stop them in their career, that the flesh may not fail and carry it away with a full and clear gale. Against the lusts of the flesh, he sendeth sicknesses and diseases; against the lusts of the eyes, poverty and disappointments in our relations; against pride, disgraces and shame: and solnetimes he varieth the dispensation ; for his providence doth not keep one tenour, and