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Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.—Ver. 9.
IN the former part the Psalmist showeth that the word of God pointeth out the only true way to blessedness. Now, the main thing which the word enforceth is holiness. This is the way which we must take if we intend to come to our journey’s end. This David applieth to the young man in the text, ‘Wherewith shall a young man cleanse,’ &c.
In the words there is—(1.) A question asked; (2.) An answer given.
In the question there is the person spoken of, a young man. And his work, wherewith shall he cleanse his way? Omnis quaestio supponit unum, et inquirit aliud. In this question there are several things supposed.
1. That we are from the birth polluted with sin; for we must be cleansed. It is not, ‘direct his way,’ but ‘cleanse his way.’
2. That we should be very early and timeously sensible of this evil; for the question is propounded concerning the young man.
3. That we should earnestly seek for a remedy how to dry up the issue of sin^that runneth upon us. All this is to be supposed.
That which is inquired after is, what remedy there is against it? what course is to be taken? So that the sum of the question is this: How shall a man that is impure, and naturally defiled with sin, be made able, as soon as he cometh to the use of reason, to purge out that natural corruption, and live a holy and pure life to God? The answer given is, ‘By taking heed thereto according to thy word.’ Where two things are to be observed—(1.) The remedy; (2.) The manner how it is applied and made use of.
1. The remedy is the word—by way of address to God, called thy 83word; because if God had not given direction about it, we should have been at an utter loss.
2. The manner how it is applied and made use of, by taking heed thereto, &c., by studying and endeavouring a holy conformity to God’s will.
[1.] I begin with the question; for, as the careless world carrieth the matter, it seemeth very impertinent and ridiculous. What have youth and childhood to do with so serious a work? When old age hath snowed upon their heads, and the smart experience of more years in the world hath ripened them for so severe a discipline, then it is time to think of cleansing their way, or of entering upon a course of repentance and submission to God. For the present, Dandum est aliquid huic aetati—youth must be a little indulged; they will grow wiser as they grow more in years. Oh! no; God demandeth his right as soon as we are capable to understand it. And it concerneth every one, as soon as he cometh to the use of reason, presently to mind his work, both in regard of God and himself.
(1.) In regard of God, that he may not be kept out of his right too long: Eccles. xii. 1, ‘Remember thy creator in the days of thy youth.’ He is our creator; we have nothing but what he gave us, and that for his own use and service. And therefore the vessel should be cleansed as soon as may be, that it may be ‘fit for the master’s use.’ It is a kind of spiritual restitution for the neglects of childhood and the forgetfulness of infancy, when we were not in a capacity to know our creator, much less to serve him. And therefore, as soon as we come to the use of reason, we should restore his right with advantage.
(2.) In regard of himself. The first seasoning of the vessel is very considerable: Prov. xxii. 6, ‘Train up a child in the way in which he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.’ When well principled and seasoned in youth, it sticketh by them, before sin and worldly lusts have gotten a deeper rooting. If Solomon’s observation be true, a man’s infancy and younger time is a notable presage what he will prove afterwards: Prov. xx. 11, ‘Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.’ Much may be known by our young inclinations. But, alas! this is not full out the case. The vessel is seasoned already; but ‘wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way?’ which presupposeth a defilement. No infant is like a vessel that newly cometh out of the potter’s shop, indifferent for good or bad infusions. The vessel is tainted already, and hath a smatch of the old man and the corruptions of the flesh: Ps. li. 5, ‘Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.’ We came polluted into the world; our business is to stop the growth of sin. As a child walloweth in his filthiness, so we do all spiritually wallow in our blood: Ezek. xvi. 4, 5, ‘As for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born, thou wert not washed in water, nor swaddled at all. No eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out into the open field, to the loathing of thy person in the day that thou wast born. And when I saw thee polluted in thy own blood, I said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, Live,’ &c. Therefore the question is very savoury and profitable, ‘Wherewith shall a young man,’ &c.84
But why is the young man only specified?
I answer—All men are concerned in this work. Old men are not left to themselves, nor wholly given over as hopeless; but youth need it most, being inclined to liberty and carnal pleasures, and most apt to be led aside from the right way by the motions of the flesh; and being headstrong in their passions, and self-willed, need to have their fervours abated by the cool and chill doctrines of repentance and conversion to God. And, therefore, though others be not excluded, the young man is expressly mentioned: unbroken colts need the stronger bits. The word is of use to all, but especially to youth, to bridle them, and reduce them to reason.
[2.] The answer—‘By taking heed thereto according to thy word.’ The word, as a remedy against natural uncleanness, is considerable two ways—as a rule, and as an instrument.
(1.) As the only rule of that holiness which God will accept. All other ways are but bypaths, as good meaning, or the suggestions of a blind conscience, custom, example of others, our own desires, laws of men, superstitious observances, and apocryphal holiness. Nothing is holiness in God’s account, how specious soever it be, unless it be according to the word. What doth the word do about all these as the rule? It showeth the only way of reconciliation with God, or being cleansed from the guilt of sin, and the only way of solid and true sanctification and subjection to God, which is our cleansing from the filthiness of sin. All religions aim at this—Ut anima sit subjecta Deo, et peccata55 Qu. ‘pacata’?—ED. in se. No true peace without the word, nor no true holiness. The first is proved Jer. vi. 16, ‘Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.’ The second is proved John xvii. 17, ‘Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth.’ So that a young man that is, like Hercules in bivio, to choose his path to true happiness, will never attain to true peace and sound satisfaction of conscience, nor to true grace or a hearty subjection to God, but by consulting with the word. No other rule and direction will serve the turn. (1.) It is the only rule to teach us how to obtain true peace of conscience. The whole world is become obnoxious to God, and held under the awe of divine justice. This bondage is natural, and the great inquiry is how his anger shall be appeased: Micah vi. 6, 7, ‘Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ Now here is no tolerable satisfaction offered, no plaster for the wounds of conscience, no way to compromise and take up the controversy between us^and God; but by the propitiation which the gospel holdeth forth all this is effected. The Gentiles were at a loss, the Jews rested in the sacrifices, which yet ‘could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience,’ Heb. ix. 9; therefore they fled to barbarous and sinfully cruel customs, offering their first-born, &c. There was no course to recover men from their entanglements and 85perplexities of soul, how to pacify God for sin, but they were still left in a floating uncertainty, till God revealed himself as reconciling the world to himself in Christ. Now, no doctrine doth propound the way of reconciliation with God, and redemption from those fears of his angry justice which are so natural to us, with such rational advantages, and claimeth such a just title to human belief, as the doctrine of the gospel. Oh! then, if the young man would cleanse his conscience, and quiet and calm his own spirit, he must of necessity take up with the word as his sure direction in the case. Look abroad, where will you find rest for your souls in this business of atonement and reconciliation with God? What strange horrible fruits and effects have men’s contrivances on this account produced? What have they not invented, what have they not done, what not suffered upon this account? and yet continued in dread and bondage all their days. Now, what a glorious soul-appeasing light doth the doctrine of satisfaction and atonement by the blood of Christ the Son of God cause to break in upon the hearts of men! The testimony of blood in the conscience is one of the witnesses the believer hath in himself: 1 John v. 8, ‘And there are three that bear witness on earth, the spirit, the water, and the blood;’ and ver. 10, ‘He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.’ (2.) It is the only rule of true holiness. Never was it stated and brought to such a pitch as it is in the scriptures, nor enforced by such arguments as are found there; it requireth such a holiness as standeth in conformity to God, and is determined by his will. Now it is but reason that he that is the Supreme Being should be the rule of all the rest. It is a holiness of another rate than the blind heart could find out; not an external devotion, nor a civil course, but such as transformeth the heart and subdueth it to the will of God, Rom. ii. 15. If a man would attain to the highest exactness that a rational creature is capable of, not to moral virtue only, but a true genuine respect to God and man, he must regard and love the law of God that is pure. A man that would be holy had need of an exact rule, for to be sure his practice will come short of his rule; and therefore, if the rule itself be short, there will no due provision be made for respects to God or man. But now this is a rule that reacheth not only to the way, but the thoughts; that converteth the soul: Ps. xix. 7, ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.’ Take the fairest draughts of that moral perfection which yet is of human recommendation, and you will find it defective and maimed in some parts, either as to God or men. It is inferioris hemisphaerii, as not reaching to the full subjection of the soul to God. There is some dead fly in their box of ointment, either for manner or end.
(2.) The word is considerable as an instrument which God maketh use of to cleanse the heart of man. It will not be amiss a little to show the instrumentality of the word to this blessed end and purpose. It is the glass that discovereth sin, and the water that washeth it away. (1.) It is the glass wherein to see our corruption. The first step to the cure is a knowledge of the disease; it is a glass wherein to Bee our natural face: James i. 23, ‘For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass,’ &c. In the word we see God’s image and our own. It is the 86copy of God’s holiness, and the representation of our natural faces, Rom. vii. 9. What fond conceits have we of our own spiritual beauty! but there we may see the leprous spots that are upon us. (2.) It sets us a-work to see it purged; it is the water to wash it out. The word of command presseth the duty; it is indispensably required. What doth every command sound in our ears but ‘Wash you, make you clean.’? This is indispensably required: 1 John iii. 3, ‘And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure;’ and Heb. xii. 14, ‘Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.’ Some things God may dispense with, but this is never dispensed with. Many things are ornamental that are not absolutely necessary, as wealth, riches: ‘Wisdom with an inheritance is good;’ so learning. Many have gone to heaven that were never learned, but never any without holiness. (3.) The word of promise encourageth it: 2 Cor. vii. 1, ‘Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God;’ and 2 Peter i. 4, ‘Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.’ God might have required it upon the account of his sovereignty, we being his creatures, especially this being the perfection of our natures, and rather a privilege than a burden; but God would not rule us with a rod of iron, but deal with rational creatures rationally, by promises and threatenings. On the one side he telleth us of a pit without a bottom: on the other, of blessed and glorious promises, things ‘which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard of, neither have entered into the heart of man to conceive.’ Therefore the word hath a notable instrumentality that way.
(3.) The doctrine of the scripture holds out the remedy and means of cleansing—Christ’s blood; which is not only an argument or motive to move us to it. So it is urged 1 Peter i. 8, ‘Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable,’ &c. It presseth holiness upon this argument. Why? God hath been at great cost to bring it about, therefore we must not content ourselves with some smooth morality, which might have been whether Christ had been, yea or nay. Again, the word propounds it as a purchase, whereby grace is procured for us; so it is said, 1 John i. 7, He hath purchased the Spirit to bless us, and turn us from our sins. And it exciteth faith to apply and improve this remedy, and so conveyeth the power of God into the soul: Acts xv. 9, ‘Purifying their hearts by faith.’
2. The manner how the word is applied and made use of, ‘If he take heed thereunto according to thy word.’ This implieth a studying of the word, and the tendency and importance of it, which is necessary if the young man would have benefit by it. David calleth the statutes of God the men of his counsel. Young men that are taken with other books, if they neglect the word of God—that book that should do the cure upon the heart and mind—they are, with all their knowledge, miserable: Ps. i. 2, ‘His delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.’ If men would grow wise to salvation, and get any skill in the practice of godliness, they must be 87much in this blessed book of God, which is given us for direction: 1 John ii. 14, ‘I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.’ It is not a slight acquaintance with the word that will make a young man so successful as to defeat the temptations of Satan, and be too hard for his own lust; it is not a little notional irradiation, but to have the word dwell in you, and abide in you richly. The way to destroy ill weeds is to plant good herbs that are contrary. We suck in carnal principles with our milk, and therefore we are said to ‘speak lies from the womb.’ A kind of a riddle; before we are able to speak, we speak lies—namely, as we are prone to error and all manner of carnal fancies by the natural temper and frame of our hearts, Isa. lviii. 2; and therefore, from our very tender and infant-age we should be acquainted with the word of God: 2 Tim. iii. 15, ‘And that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures.’ It may be children, by reading the word, get nothing but a little memorative knowledge, but yet it is good to plant the field of the memory; in time they will soak into the judgment and conscience, and thence into the heart and affections.
3. It implieth a care and watchfulness over our hearts and ways, that our will and actions be conformed to the word. This must be the young man’s daily prayer and care, that there be a conformity between his will and the word, that he may be a walking Bible, Christ’s living epistle, copy out the word in his life, that the truths of it may appeal plainly in his conversation.
All that I have said issueth itself into three points:—
1. That the great duty of youth, as soon as they come to the full use of reason, is to inquire and study how they may cleanse their hearts and ways from sin.
2. That the word of God is the only rule sufficient and effectual to accomplish this work.
3. If we would have this efficacy, there is required much care and watchfulness, that we come to the direction of the word in every tittle; not a loose and inattentive reflection upon the word, careless inconsiderateness, but a taking heed thereunto.
Now, why in youth, and as soon as we come to the use of reason, we should mind the work of cleansing our way?
1. Consider how reasonable this is. It is fit that God should have our first and our best. It is fit he should have our first, because he minded us before we were born. His love to us is an eternal and an everlasting love; and shall we put off God to old age? shall we thrust him into a corner? Surely God, that loved us so early, it is but reason he should have our first, and also our best; for we have all from him. Under the law the first-fruits were God’s, to show the first and best was his portion. All the sacrifices that were offered to him, they were in their strength, and young: Lev. ii. 14, ‘And if thou offer a meat-offering of thy first-fruits unto the Lord, thou shalt offer for the meat-offering of thy first-fruits green ears of corn dried by the fire, even corn beaten out of full ears.’ God would not stay till ripened. God will not be long kept out of his portion. Youth is our best time. Mal. i. 13, when they brought a weak and sickly offering, ‘Should I accept this of 88your hand? saith the Lord.’ The health, strength, quickness of spirit, and vigour is in youth. Shall our health and strength be for the devil’s use, and shall we put off God with the dregs of time? Shall Satan feast upon the flower of our youth and fresh time, and God only have the scraps and fragments of the devil’s table? When wit is dulled, the ears heavy, the body weak, and affections are spent, is this a fit present for God?
2. Consider the necessity of it. (1.) Because of the heat of youth, the passions and lusts are very strong: 2 Tim. ii. 22, ‘Fly also youthful lusts.’ Men are most incident in that age to pride and self-conceit, to strong affections, inordinate and excessive love of liberty: 1 Tim. iii. 6, ‘Not a novice, lest, being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil.’ A man may make tame fierce creatures, lions and tigers; and the fury of youth needs to be tempered and bridled by the word. It is much for the glory of grace that this heat and violence is broken when the subject is least of all disposed and prepared. (2.) Because none are tempted so much as they. Children cannot be serviceable to the devil, and old men are spent, and have chosen their ways; but youths, who have a sharpness of understanding, and the stoutest and most stirring spirits, the devil loveth to make use of such: 1 John ii. 13, ‘I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one.’ They are most assaulted; but it is for the honour of grace when they overcome, when their fervency and strength is employed, not in satisfying lusts, but in the service of God and fighting against Satan. Therefore it is very needful they should be seasoned with the word betimes.
3. Consider the many inconveniencies that will follow if they do not presently mind this work. (1.) Death is uncertain, and therefore such a weighty business as this will brook no delay. God doth not always give warning. Nadab and Abihu, two rash and inconsiderate young men, were taken away in their sins; and the bears out of the forest devoured the children that mocked the prophet. The danger being so great, as soon as we are sensible of it, we should flee from it. When children come to the fulness of reason, they stand upon their own bottom; before, they are reckoned to their parents. Oh, woe be to you if you die in your sins! Certainly as soon as a man is upon his own personal account, he should look to himself, lest God cut him off before he hath made his peace with him. (2.) Sin groweth stronger by custom, and more rooted; it gathereth strength by every act. A brand that hath been in the fire is more apt to take fire again. A man in a dropsy, the more he drinks, the more his thirst increaseth. Every act lesseneth fear and strengthened inclination: Jer. xiii. 27, ‘Woe unto thee, Jerusalem! wilt thou not be made clean? when shall it once be?’ A twig is easily bowed, but when it grows into a tree it is more troublesome and unpliable. A tree newly set may be transplanted, but when long rooted, not so easily. The man that was possessed of a devil from his childhood, how hardly is he cured! Mark ix. 29. (3.) Justice is provoked the longer, and that will be a grief to you first or last. If ever we be brought home to God, it will cost us many a bitter tear; not only at first conversion: Jer. xxxi. 18, ‘I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus: Thou hast 89chastised me, and I was chastised,’ &c., but afterwards, David, though he began with God betimes, Ps. xxv. 7, yet prays, ‘Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgression;’ and Job xiii. 26, ‘For thou writest bitter things against me, and makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth.’ Old bruises may trouble us long after, upon every change of weather, and new afflictions revive the sense of old sins; they may stick by us. We think tricks of youth are not to be stood upon: you may have a bitter sense of them to your dying day. (4.) You will every day grow more useless to God: the exercise of religion dependeth much on the vigour of affections. Again, it is very profitable; it brings a great deal of honour to God to begin with him betimes. All time is little enough to declare your respects to God. And it is honourable for you. Seniority in grace is a preferment: they were ‘in Christ before me,’ saith Paul. An old disciple is a title of honour. To grow grey in Christ’s service, and to know him long, it maketh the work of grace more easy. The dedication of the first-fruits sanctified the whole lump: Lam. iii. 27, ‘It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth,’ to be inured to strictness betimes. Dispositions impressed in youth increase with us. Again, it will be very comfortable when the miseries of old age come upon you. As the ant provideth in summer for winter, so should we provide for age. Now what a sweet comfort will it be, when we are taken off from service, that while we had any strength and affections, God had the use of them! Then our age will be a good old age.
Use 1 is for lamentation that so few youths take to the ways of God. No age doth despise the word so much as this, which hath most need of it. It is a rare thing to find a Joseph, or a Samuel, or a Josiah,. that seek God betimes. Go the universities, and you will find that those that should be as Nazarites consecrated to God, live as those that have vowed and consecrated themselves to Satan: Amos ii. 11, ‘And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites,’ &c. The sons of the prophets in their youth were bred for a more strict discipline in their holy calling, separated from worldly delights, to be a stock of a succeeding ministry. But, alas I they spend their time in vanity, bringing nothing thence but the sins of the place, and vainly following the sinful customs of the country. How few regard the education of their youth in knowledge or religious practice! Families are societies to be sanctified to God, as well as churches. The governors of them have as truly a charge of souls as the pastors of churches. They offer their children to God in baptism, but educate and bring them up for the world and the flesh. They be wail any natural defect in them, if their children have a stammering tongue, a deaf ear, or a withered leg; but not want of grace. We have a prejudice, and think they are too young to be wrought upon; but God’s word can break in with weight and power on young ones: Luke xi. 1, ‘One of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples;’ and Mat. xxi. 15, 16, ‘When the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the son of David; they were sore displeased, and said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus said unto them, Yea; have ye never 90read, Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?’ They learned it of their parents: Mat. xxi. 9, ‘And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David.’ We should often be infusing good principles in youth. Corruption of youth is one of the saddest symptoms of approaching judgment.
Use 2 is exhortation to young ones. You that are to begin your course, begin with God: you have no experience, yet you have a rule; you have mighty lusts, but a stronger spirit. No age is excluded from the promise of the Spirit: Joel ii. 28, 29, ‘And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit.’ Of John the Baptist it is said, Luke i. 15, ‘He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb;’ and Mark x. 14, ‘Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.’ There is power to enlighten you, notwithstanding all your prejudices; to subdue your lusts, notwithstanding the power of corruptions: 1 John ii. 13, 14, ‘I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father,’ etc.; and see Gen. xxxix. 9. It will be a great comfort to you when you die that your great work is over. Oh, what a sad thing is it that, when the body is going to the grave, the soul hath not yet learned to converse with God! Hosea viii. 12, ‘I have written to them the great things of my law; but they were counted a strange thing.’ God hath written an epistle to us, and we will not read it nor consult with it; are wholly strangers to it. But now, when acquainted with God, it will not be so irksome to go to him.
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