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LORD, in the parable of the four sorts of ground whereon the seed was sown, the last alone proved fruitful. [Matth. xiii. 8.] There the bad were more than the good: but amongst the servants two improved their talents, or pounds, and only one buried them. [Matth. xxv. 18; Luke xix. 20.] There the good were more than the bad. Again, amongst the ten virgins, five were wise and five foolish: there the good and bad were equal. [Matth. xxv. 2.] I see that concerning the number of the saints in comparison to the reprobates, no certainty can be collected from these parables. Good reason, for it is not their principal purpose to meddle with that point. Grant that I may never rack a Scripture simile beyond the true intent thereof, lest, instead of sucking milk, I squeeze blood out of it.26
LORD, thou didst intend from all eternity to make Christ the heir of all. No danger of disinheriting him, thy only son, and so well deserving. Yet thou sayest to him, Ask of me and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, &c. [Psalm ii. 8.] This homage he must do for thy boon, to beg it. I see thy goodness delights to have thy favours sued for, expecting we should crave what thou intendest we should have; that so, though we cannot give a full price, we may take some pains for thy favours, and obtain them, though not for the merit, by the means of our petitions,
LORD, I find that Ezekiel in his prophecies is styled ninety times, and more, by this appellation, Son of man; and surely not once oftener than there was need for. For he had more visions than any one (not to say than all) of the prophets of his time. It was necessary, therefore, that his mortal extraction should often be sounded in his ears, Son of man, lest his frequent conversing with visions might make him mistake himself to be some angel. Amongst other revelations it was therefore 27needful to reveal him to himself, Son of man, lest seeing many visions might have made him blind with spiritual pride. Lord, as thou increasest thy graces in me, and favours on me, so with them daily increase in my soul the monitors and remembrancers of my mortality. So shall my soul be kept in a good temper, and humble deportment towards thee.
LORD, I read how Jacob (then only accompanied with his staff) vowed at Bethel, that if thou gavest him but bread and raiment, he would make that place thy house. [Gen. xxviii. 20-22.] After his return, the condition on thy side was over-performed, but the obligation on his part wholly neglected: for when thou hadst made his staff to swell, and to break into two bands, he, after his return, turned purchaser, bought a field in Shalem, intending there to set up his rest. [Gen. xxxiii. 19.] But thou art pleased to be his remembrancer in a new vision, and to spur him afresh, who tired in his promise. Arise, go to Bethel, and make there an altar, &c. [Gen. xxxv. 1.] Lord, if rich Jacob forgot what poor Jacob did promise, no wonder, if I be bountiful to offer thee in my affliction what I am niggardly to perform in my prosperity. But O! take not advantage of the forfeitures, 28but be pleased to demand payment once again. Pinch me into the remembrance of my promises, that so I may reinforce my old vows with new resolutions.
LORD, I read when our Saviour was examined in the high-priest’s hall, that Peter stood without, till John (being his spokesman to the maid that kept the door) procured his admission in. [John xviii. 16.] John meant to let him out of the cold, and not to let him into a temptation: but his courtesy in intention proved a mischief in event, and the occasion of his denying his master. O let never my kindness concur in the remotest degree to the damage of my friend. May the chain which I sent him for an ornament never prove his fetters. But if I should be unhappy herein, I am sure thou wilt not punish my good-will, but pity my ill-success.
LORD, the Apostle saith to the Corinthians, God will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able. [1 Cor. x. 13.] But how comes he to contradict himself, by his own confession in his next epistle? where, speaking of his own sickness, he saith, We were pressed out of 29measure above strength. [2 Cor. i. 8.] Perchance this will be expounded by propounding another riddle of the same Apostle’s: who, praising Abraham, saith, That against hope he believed in hope. [Rom. iv. 18.] That is, against carnal hope he believed in spiritual hope. So the same wedge will serve to cleave the former difficulty. Paul was pressed above his human, not above his heavenly strength. Grant, Lord, that I may not mangle and dismember thy word, but study it entirely, comparing one place with another. For diamonds can only cut diamonds, and no such comments on the Scripture as the Scripture.
LORD, I observe that the vulgar translation reads the Apostle’s precept thus: Give diligence to make your calling and election sure by good works. [2 Peter i. 10.] But in our English Testaments these words, by good works, are left out. It grieved me at the first to see our translation defective; but it offended me afterwards to see the other redundant. For those words are not in the Greek, which is the original. And it is an ill work to put good works in, to the corruption of the Scripture. Grant, Lord, that, though we leave good works out in the text, we may take them in in our comment. In that 30exposition which our practice is to make on this precept in our lives and conversations.
1. Roboam begat Abia; that is, a bad father begat a bad son.
2. Abia begat Asa; that is, a bad father a good son.
3. Asa begat Josaphat; that is, a good father a good son.
4. Josaphat begat Joram; that is, a good father a bad son.
I see, Lord, from hence, that my father’s piety cannot be entailed; that is bad news for me. But I see also, that actual impiety is not always hereditary; that is good news for my son.
LORD, when in my daily service I read David’s Psalms, give me to alter the accent of my soul according to their several subjects. In such psalms, wherein he confesseth his sins, or requesteth thy pardon, or praiseth for former, or prayeth for future favours, 31in all these give me to raise my soul to as high a pitch as may be. But when I come to such psalms wherein he curseth his enemies, O there let me bring my soul down to a lower note. For those words were made only to fit David’s mouth. I have the like breath, but not the same spirit to pronounce them. Nor let me flatter myself, that it is lawful for me, with David, to curse thine enemies, lest my deceitful heart entitle all mine enemies to be thine, and so what was religion in David prove malice in me, whilst I act revenge under the pretence of piety.
LORD, I read of the two witnesses, And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. [Rev. xi. 7.] They could not be killed whilst they were doing, but when they had done their work; during their employment they were invincible. No better armour against the darts of death than to be busied in thy service. Why art thou so heavy, O my soul? No malice of man can antedate my end a minute, whilst my Maker hath any work for me to do. And when all my daily task is ended, why should I grudge then to go to bed?32
LORD, I read at the transfiguration that Peter, James, and John were admitted to behold Christ; but Andrew was excluded. [Matth. xvii. 1.] So again at the reviving of the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue, these three were let in, and Andrew shut out. [Mark v. 37.] Lastly, in the agony the aforesaid three were called to be witnesses thereof, and still Andrew left behind. [Mark xiv. 33.] Yet he was Peter’s brother, and a good man, and an apostle: why did not Christ take the two pair of brothers? Was it not pity to part them? But methinks I seem more offended thereat than Andrew himself was, whom I find to express no discontent, being pleased to be accounted a loyal subject for the general, though he was no favorite in these particulars. Give me to be pleased in myself, and thankful to thee, for what I am, though I be not equal to others in personal perfections. For such peculiar privileges are courtesies from thee when given, and no injuries to us when denied.
LORD, St. Paul teacheth the art of heavenly thrift, how to make a new sermon of an old. Many (saith he) walk, of whom I 33have told you often, and now tell you weeping, that they are enemies to the cross of Christ. [Phil. iii. 18.] Formerly he had told it with his tongue, but now with his tears; formerly he taught it with his words, but now with weeping. Thus new affections make an old sermon new. May I not, by the same proportion, make an old prayer new? Lord, thus long I have offered my prayer dry unto thee, now, Lord, I offer it wet. Then wilt thou own some new addition therein, when, though the sacrifice be the same, yet the dressing of it is different, being steeped in his tears who bringeth it unto thee.
LORD, I read of my Saviour, that when he was in the wilderness, then the devil leaveth him, and behold angels came and ministered unto him. [Matth. iv. 11.] A great change in a little time. No twilight betwixt night and day. No purgatory condition betwixt hell and heaven, but instantly, when out devil, in angel. Such is the case of every solitary soul. It will make company for itself. A musing mind will not stand neuter a minute, but presently side with legions of good or bad thoughts. Grant, therefore, that my soul, which ever will have some, may never have bad company.34
LORD, I read how Cushi and Ahimaaz ran a race, who first should bring tidings of victory to David. Ahimaaz, though last setting forth, came first to his journey’s end; not that he had the fleeter feet, but the better brains, to choose the way of most advantage. For the text saith, So Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and overran Cushi. [2 Sam. xviii. 23.] Prayers made to God by saints fetch a needless compass about. That is but a rough and uneven way. Besides one steep passage therein, questionable whether it can be climbed up, and saints in heaven made sensible of what we say on earth. The way of the plain, or plain way, both shortest and surest, is, Call upon me in the time of trouble. Such prayers, though starting last, will come first to the mark.
LORD, this morning I read a chapter in the Bible, and therein observed a memorable passage, whereof I never took notice before. Why now, and no sooner, did I see it? Formerly my eyes were as open, and the letters as legible. Is there not a thin veil laid over thy word, which is more rarefied by reading, 35and at last wholly worn away? Or was it because I came with more appetite than before? The milk was always there in the breast, but the child till now was not hungry enough to find out the teat. I see the oil of thy word will never leave increasing whilst any bring an empty barrel. The Old Testament will still be a New Testament to him who comes with a fresh desire of information.
LORD, at the first Passover God kept touch with the Hebrews very punctually; at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, in the self-same day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out of the land of Egypt; [Exod. xii. 41.] but at the first Easter God was better than his word. Having promised that Christ should lie but three days in the grave, his fatherly affection did run to relieve him. By a charitable synecdoche, two pieces of days were counted for whole ones. God did cut the work short in righteousness. [Rom. ix. 28.] Thus the measure of his mercy under the law was full, but it ran over in the gospel.36
LORD, the Apostle dissuadeth the Hebrews from covetousness, with this argument, because God said, I will not leave thee nor forsake thee. Yet I find not that God ever gave this promise to all the Jews, but he spake it only to Joshua when first made commander against the Canaanites; [Josh. i. 5.] which, without violence to the analogy of faith, the Apostle applieth to all good men in general. Is it so that we are heirs apparent to all promises made to thy servants in Scripture? Are the characters of grace granted to them good to me? Then will I say, with Jacob, I have enough. [Gen. xlv. 28.] But because I cannot entitle myself to thy promises to them, except I imitate their piety to thee, grant I may take as much care in following the one, as comfort in the other.
LORD, I read that thou didst make grass, herbs, and trees the third day. [Gen. i. 11.] As for the sun, moon, and stars, thou madest them on the fourth day of the creation. [Gen. i. 16.] Thus at first thou didst confute the folly of such who maintain that all vegetables, in their growth, are enslaved to a necessary and unavoidable 37dependence on the influence of the stars. Whereas plants were even when planets were not. It is false that the marigold follows the sun, whereas the sun follows the marigold, as made the day before him. Hereafter I will admire thee more, and fear astrologers less; not affrighted with their doleful predictions of dearth and drought, collected from the complexions of the planets. Must the earth of necessity be sad, because some ill-natured star is sullen? as if the grass could not grow without asking it leave. Whereas thy power, which made herbs before the stars, can preserve them without their propitious, yea, against their malignant aspects.
LORD, I read how Paul, writing from Rome, spake to Philemon to prepare him a lodging, hoping to make use thereof; [Philemon, ver. 22.] yet we find not that he ever did use it, being martyred not long after. However, he was no loser, whom thou didst lodge in a higher mansion in heaven. Let me always be thus deceived to my advantage. I shall have no cause to complain, though I never wear the new clothes fitted for me, if, before I put them on, death clothe me with glorious immortality.38
LORD, when our Saviour sent his Apostles abroad to preach, he enjoined them in one Gospel, Possess nothing, neither shoes nor staff. [Matth. x. 10.] But it is said in another Gospel, And he commanded them, that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only. [Mark vi. 8.] The reconciliation is easy. They might have a staff, to speak them travellers, not soldiers; one to walk with, not to war with; a staff which was a wand, not a weapon. But O! in how doleful days do we live, wherein ministers are not, as formerly, armed with their nakedness, but need staves and swords too to defend them from violence.
LORD, I discover an arrant laziness in my soul. For when I am to read a chapter in the Bible, before I begin it, I look where it endeth. And if it endeth not on the same side, I cannot keep my hands from turning over the leaf, to measure the length thereof on the other side; if it swells to many verses, I begin to grudge. Surely my heart is not rightly affected. Were I truly hungry after heavenly food, I would not complain of meat. Scourge, Lord, this laziness out of my soul; 39make the reading of thy word not a penance, but a pleasure unto me; teach me, that as amongst many heaps of gold, all being equally pure, that is the best which is the biggest, so I may esteem that chapter in thy word the best that is the longest.
LORD, I find David making a syllogism, in mood and figure, two propositions he perfected.
18. If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. [Psalm lxvi.]
19. But verily God hath heard me, he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. [Psalm lxvi.]
Now I expected that David should have concluded thus:
Therefore I regard not wickedness in my heart.
But far otherwise he concludes:
20. Blessed be God, who hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.
Thus David hath deceived, but not wronged me. I looked that he should have clapped the crown on his own, and he puts it on God’s head. I will learn this excellent logic; for I like David’s better than Aristotle’s syllogisms, that, whatsoever the premises be, I make God’s glory the conclusion.40
LORD, wise Agur made it his wish, Give me not poverty, lest I steal, and take the name of my God in vain. [Prov. xxx. 9.] He saith not, lest I steal, and be caught in the manner, and then be stocked, or whipped, or branded, or forced to fourfold restitution, or put to any other shameful or painful punishment. But he saith, Lest I steal, and take the name of my God in vain: that is, lest, professing to serve thee, I confute a good profession with a bad conversation. Thus thy children count sin to be the greatest smart in sin, as being more sensible of the wound they therein give to the glory of God, than of all the stripes that man may lay upon them for punishment.
LORD, I read that when my Saviour dispossessed the man’s son of a devil, he enjoined the evil spirit to come out of him, and enter no more into him. [Mark ix. 25.] But I find, that when my Saviour himself was tempted of Satan, the devil departed from him for a season. [Luke iv. 13.] Retreating, as it seems, with mind to return. How came it to pass, Lord, that he who expelled him finally out of others did not propel him so from himself? Sure it does not follow, that because he did not, he could not 41do it. Or that he was less able to help himself, because he was more charitable to relieve others. No; I see my Saviour was pleased to show himself a God in other men’s matters, and but a man in such cases wherein he himself was concerned. Being contented still to be tempted by Satan, that his sufferings for us might cause our conquering through him.
LORD, Jannes and Jambres, [2 Tim. iii. 8.] the apes of Moses and Aaron, imitated them in turning their rods into serpents; only here was the difference: Aaron’s rod devoured their rods. [Exod. vii. 12.] That which was solid and substantial lasted, when that which was slight, and but seeming, vanished away. Thus an active fancy in all outward expressions may imitate a lively faith. For matter of language there is nothing what grace doth do, but wit can act.
Only the difference appears in the continuance:
wit is but for fits and flashes, grace holds
out, and is lasting; and, good Lord,
of thy goodness, give it to every
one that truly desires
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