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perplexed case, than be directed and comforted ? David had both these, “ Thy testimonies are my delight and my councellors."
I. “ Thy testimonies are my delight;" or, as it is in the Hebrew, “delights.”
II. They are “ my councellors :" in the Hebrew it is, “the men of my counsel,” which is fitly mentioned, for he had spoken of princes sitting in council against him. Princes do nothing, without the advice of their Privy-Council; a child of God hath also his Privy-Council, God's testimonies. On the one side there was Saul and his nobles and councellors ; on the other side there was David and God's testimonies. Now who was better furnished, tbink you, they to persecute and trouble him, or David how to carry himself under this trouble? Alphonsus, king of Arragon, being asked who were the best councellors ? answered, “ The dead; (meaning books) which cannot flatter, but do without partiality declare the truth.” Now of all such dead councellors, God's testimonies have the pre-eminence. A poor, godly man, even then when he is deserted of all, and hath nobody to plead for him, he hath his senate, and his council of state about him, the prophets and apostles, and “other holy men of God, that spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” A man so furnished, is never less alone than when alone; for he hath councellors about him that tell him what is to be believed or done; and they are such councellors as cannot err, as will not flatter him, nor applaud him in any sin, nor discourage or dissuade him from that which is good, whatever hazard it expose him to. And truly, if we be wise, we should choose such councellors as these : “ Thy testimonies are the men of my counsel.”
First, Let me speak of the first benefit, “Thy testimonies are my delight.”
DOCTRINE.—That a child of God, though under deep affliction, finds a great deal of delight and comfort in the word of God.
This was David's case; princes sat and spake against him, decrees were made against him, yet “thy testimonies are my delight." Let us see,
1. What manner of delight this is that we find in the word. 2. What the word ministreth or contributeth towards it.
First, What kind of delight it is? A delight better than carnal rejoicing. Wicked men that flow in ease and plenty, have not so much comfort as a godly man hath in the enjoyment of God according to the tenor of his word: “Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn, and their wine, is increased” (Psalm iv. 7). We have no reason to change conditions with worldly men, as merry as they seem to be, and as much as they possess in the world.
But inore particularly, wherein is the difference ?
1. This delight is a real joy: “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” 2 Cor. vi. 10). Their sorrow is but seeming, but their joy is real, it is joy in good earnest : “ No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous" (Heb. xii. 11). As to seeming they are in a sad condition, but it doth but so seem. A wicked man is as it were glad and merry, but indeed he is dejected and sorrowful; the godly man is as it were sorrowful, but indeed comforted.
2. It is a cordial joy : “ Thou hast put more gladness into my heart" (Psalm iv. 7). That is a delight indeed which puts a gladness into the heart ; which not only tickles the outward senses, but affects the soul, and
comforts the conscience. Carnal joy makes a loud noise, and therefore it is compared to the “ crackling of thorns under a pot.” But this is that which goes to the heart, that fills it with serenity and peace. Carnal joy is like the morning-dew, which wets the surface; but godly joy is like a soaking-shower that goes to the root, and makes the plants flourish. They that indulge false comfort, rather laugh than are merry. But now he that is exercised in the word of God, and fetcheth his comfort out of the promises, he is glad at the very heart.
3. It is a great joy: “In whom believing ye rejoiced with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter i. 8). It doth ravish the heart, so that it is better felt than uttered, it is unspeakable and glorious. The higher the life, always the greater the feeling. The good and evil of no life can be so great, as the good and evil of the spiritual life, because it is the highest life of all, and therefore hath the highest sense joined with it. Man is more capable of being afflicted than beasts, and beasts than plants, and a godly man more than other men; he hath a higher life, therefore the good and evil is greater. A wounded spirit is the greatest misery any creature can feel on this side Hell ; so answerable are its joys. As the groans and sorrows of the spiritual life are unutterable, so are the joys of it unspeakable.
4. It is a more pure joy than worldings can have. The more intellectual any comfort is, the more excellent in the kind. Though beasts may have pain and pleasure poured in upon them by the senses; yet properly they have not sorrow and delight. The joy of carnal men is pleasure, rather than delight; it is not fed by the promises, and ordinances, but by such dreggy and outward contentment as the world affords, and so of the same nature with the contentment of the beasts. But now the more intellectual and chaste our delights are, the more suitable to the human nature. Well then, none hath a delight so separate from the lees, as a Christian that rejoiceth in the promises of God. He that delights in natural knowledge hath questionless a purer object and greater contentment of soul than the sensualist can possibly have, that delights only in meats, and drinks, and sports, in pleasures that are in common with the beasts. Further yet, he that delights in bare contemplation of the word, as it is an excellent doctrine suited to man's necessities, as the stony ground received the word with joy (Mat. xiii. 20.) certainly he hath yet a purer gladness than merely that man that is versed in natural studies. Oh, but when a man can reflect upon the promises, as having an interest in them, that delight which flows from faith, and is accompanied with such a certainty, surely that is a more pure delight than the other, and doth more ravish the heart'; they have more intimate and spiritual joy than others have.
5. It is a joy that ends well. Carnal rejoicing makes way for sorrow : “the end of that mirth is heaviness" (Prov. xiv. 13). It is a poor, forced thing, saith Cooper. A man in a burning fever is eased no longer by drinking strong drink, than while he is drinking of it; for then it seems to cool him, but presently it increaseth his heat: so, when men seek ease and comfort in troubles from outward, external things, though they seem to mitigate their heaviness for the present, yet they increase it the more afterward.
6. It is not a joy that perverts the heart. Carnal comforts, the more we use them, the more we are ensnared by them. “I said of laughter, it is mad : and of mirth, what doth it?” (Eccl. ii. 2.) For what serious and sober use doth carnal rejoicing serve? There is no profit by it, but much hurt and danger; therefore Solomon preferreth sorrow before it : “ Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better” (Eccl vii. 3). But now the more of this delight we have, the more we delight ourselves in the word of God, the more we love God, the better the heart is.
7. It is a delight that overcomes the sense of our affliction, and all the evils that do befall us ; and therefore it is said of the heirs of promise, that they have “ strong consolation” (Heb, vi. 18). The strength is seen by the effects ; therefore it is strong, because it supports and revives, notwithstanding troubles. It establisheth the heart, notwithstanding all the floods and storms of temptations that light upon it : “ It is said of them, that they received the word in much affliction and with joy of the Holy Ghost" (1 Thes. i. 6).
Secondly, How do we find it in the word ? “ Thy testimonies are my delight.” The word requires this joy in troubles, and the word ministers it to the soul,
It requires this joy: “ Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (James i. 2). We are not only with patience to submit to God's will, but also to rejoice in it. So when men persecute and revile you, and “say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake, rejoice and be exceeding glad” (Matt. v. 12). Many times when other ways of persecution cease, yet there is reviling. Those that have no strength and power to do other injuries, yet have such weapons of malice always in readiness. Some being not good Christians themselves, will defame those that are so: that so when they cannot reach them in practice, they may depress them by censure ; when they cannot go so high as they, they may bring them as low as themselves by detraction. Now though this be a great evil, we should bear it not heavily but cheerfully; rejoice, and be exceeding glad in hope of the promises : “ We glory in tribulation” (Rom. v. 3). A true believer that hath received the word of God, as the rule of his life, and guide of his hopes, he cannot only be patient, but cheerful, glory in his tribulation. A carnal man is not so comfortable in his best estate, as he is at his worst.
Again, it gives us matter and ground of joy. God speaks a great deal of comfort to an afflicted spirit. It was one end why the Scriptures were penned : that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope" (Rom. xv. 4). And again : " Have you forgot the exhortatation which speaketh unto you as unto children ?" (Heb. xii. 5.) The great drift of the word is to provide matter of comfort, and that in our worst estate.
But now what are the usual comforts that may occasion this delight and joy in the Holy Ghost in the midst of deep affliction ?
1. The Scripture gives us ground of comfort from the author of our afflictions, who is our Father, and never manifests the comfort of adoption so much as then when we are under chastening : “ The exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children” (Heb. xii. 5). And again, “ The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (John xviii. 11.) It is a bitter cup, but it is from a father, not from a judge or an enemy. Nothing but good can come from him who is love and goodness itself ; nothing but what is useful from a father, whose affection is not to be measured by the bitterness of the dispensation, but by his aims, what he in
. tends. If God should let us alone to follow our own ways, it were an . argument we were none of his children.
2. The necessity of afflictions : “ Ye are for a season in trouble, if need be” (1 Pet. i. 6). Before the corn be ripened, it needs all kinds of weathers, and therefore the husbandman is as glad of showers as sunshine, because they both conduce to fruitfulness. We need all kinds of dispensations, and cannot well be without the many troubles that do befall us.
3. The nature and use of affliction; it is a medicine, not a poison, it works out the remainders of sin: “By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged, and this is all the fruit, to take away his sin” (Isa. xxvii. 9). Afflictions are useful, and help to mortification. It is a file to get off our rust; a flail, wherewith we are thresbed, that our husk may fly off; a fire to purge and eat out our dross. “ He verily for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness" (Heb. xii. 10). If God take away any outward comforts from us, and give us graces instead of them, it is a blessed exchange; if he strip us of our garments, and clothe us with his own royal robe, as holiness is. God himself is glorious in holiness; now that we may be partakers of his holiness, surely that is for our profit.
4. For the manner of God's afflicting, it is in measure: “In ineasure when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it. He stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind” (Isa. xxvii. 8). So again : “ Fear thou not, O Jacob my servant, saith the Lord,” &c. (Jer. xlvi. 28). So again : “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able" (1 Cor. x. 13). His conduct is very gentle; as Jacob drove on as the little ones were able to bear (Gen. xxxiii); so doth God with a great deal of moderation measure out sufferings in a due proportion, not to our offences only, but our strength; as a father in correcting his children, regards their weakness as well as their wantonness, laying less upon the more infirm, though alike faulty.
5. Another comfort which the Scripture propounds, is the help we shall have in affliction to bear it, partly from the comforts of his Spirit, and partly from the supports of his grace.
(1.) By way of consolation : “ The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost” at such a time (Rom. v. 3). Cordials are for those that are fainting. In time of trouble we have most sensible experience of God's love. God deals with his children many times as Joseph did with his brethren, he calls them spies and puts them in prison ; but at length he could hold out no longer, but tells them, “ I am your brother Joseph :” so God seems to deal roughly with his people, and take away their dearest comforts from them; ay, but before the trouble be over, he can hold no longer but saith, I am your God, your Father, and exceeding great reward. His bowels yearn towards us, and he opens his heart to us, and sheds abroad his love in our consciences.
(2.) Partly by the supports and influences of his grace: “In the day when I cried, thou answeredest me, and strengthenest me with strength in my soul” (Psalm cxxxviii. 3). When David was in trouble, this was his comfort, though he could not get deliverance, yet he got support. God is many times gone to appearance, but he will never forsake us as to inward support and strength : “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" (Heb. xiii. 5).
6. From the fruit and final issue of all: “Our light affliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight
of glory” (2 Cor. 4. 17). He that can find Christ in his afflictions, and can see Heaven beyond them, needs not to be troubled. All the notions of Heaven are diversified. Why ? That they may be suited to those divers trials and many evils we have in the world. Sometimes it is expressed by “ glory” and “honour," to counterbalance the disgrace which God's children meet with here, that the reproach of men may not make us more sad than the eternal glory may make us comfortable. Sometimes it is expressed by “substance," because sometimes God's children are poor, and suffer loss of goods (Heb. x. 34). Sometimes it is called our redemption, our country, to comfort us in exile and banishment for the name of Christ (Heb. xi. 14, 15). Sometimes it is called “ life eternal,” because we may be called to suffer even to blood. Thus the word offereth this comfort against all the evils that befall us, that we may counterbalance every particular trouble with what the promises hold forth concerning our blessed hopes.
USE I.–Well then, let us exercise ourselves in the word of God, and let all his promises be as so many cordials to us. To this end get an interest in these promises; for the heirs of promise “ have strong consolation" (Heb. vi. 18). There is strong, great, real, and pure comfort, but it is to the heirs of promise. So, “ Not only so, but we glory in tribulation” (Rom. v. 3). Who are those ? Those that are “justified by faith” in Christ (verse 1.) To others, afflictions are the punishments of sin, and an occasion of despair, not of rejoicing; ay, but when we are interested in reconciliation with God, then we take this comfort out of the word of God.
II.-It informs us of the excellency of God's testimonies above all outward enjoyments. When we have them to the full, they cannot give us any solid, true peace of conscience, nor cure one sad thought. Now beg of God that he will comfort you when all things else fail : “When the labour of the olive shall fail, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation" (Heb. iii. 18,19). I say, when we are under any burden, nay, when we are under any sorrow for sin, when afflictions revive stings of conscience, or else the word hath awakened them, yet there is comfort to be had by running to the word of God.
III.-It shows us what is the property of believers, to delight in the testimonies of God, when all things go cross to them. Temporaries, when things run smoothly, they have a comfort in the word: Oh, but when the afflictions of the Gospel fall upon them, they fall a murmuring presently. But a true believer can hold up his head; and though he hath much affliction, yet he can have much joy in the Holy Ghost, and a great deal of comfort from the word of God.
There follows another benefit : “ Thy testimonies are my counsellors," or, men of my counsel. From thence observe :
DOCTRINE II.—That one great benefit we have from the word of God, is counsel how to direct our affairs according to his will.
For the clearing of this, let me lay down these propositions.
1. That our great interest is to keep in with God, or approve ourselves to him.
2. Whoever would keep in with God, needs counsel and direction in all his ways.
3. The only good counsel we can have is from God in his word.
4. The counsel God hath given us in his word is sufficient and full out for all our necessities.