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Turn away my reproach which I fear; for thy judgments are good.—Ver. 39.
IN these words you have—
1. A request, take away my reproach.
2. A reason to enforce it, for thy judgments are good.
First, For the request, ‘Turn away,’ roll from upon me; so it signifies. He was clothed with reproach; now roll from me my reproach. Some think he means God’s condemnatory sentence, which would turn to his reproach, or some remarkable rebuke from God because of his sin. Rather, I think, the calumnies of his enemies; and he calls it ‘my reproach,’ either as deserved by himself, or as personally lighted upon him, the reproach which was like to be his lot and portion in the world through the malice of his enemies: ‘The reproach which I fear,’ that is, which I have cause to expect, and am sensible of the sad consequences of.
Secondly, For the reason by which this is enforced, ‘For thy judgments are good.’ There are different opinions about the formality of this argument. Some take the reason thus: Let me not suffer reproach for adhering to thy word, thy word which is so good. But David doth not speak here of suffering reproach for righteousness’ sake, but such reproach as was likely to befall him because of his own infirmities and failings. Reproaches for righteousness’ sake are to be rejoiced in. But he saith, This ‘I fear;’ and therefore I suppose this doth not hit the reason, neither the other sense, Why should I be looked upon as an evil-doer as long as I keep thy law and observe thy statutes? others judge badly of me, but I appeal to thy good judgment. Others, by judgments, understand God’s dealings: Thou dost not deal with men according to their desert; thy dispensations are kind and gracious. Rather thus: by judgments are meant the ways, statutes, and ordinances of God, called judgments, because all our words, works, thoughts, are to be judged according to the sentence of the word. Now these, it is pity they should suffer in my reproach and Ignominy; this is that I fear more than anything else that can happen to me. I think the reason will better run thus: Lord, there is in thy law, word, covenant, many promises to encourage thy people, and therefore rules to provide for the due honour and credit of thy people. Take it so.
I shall, with respect to the necessities of the people of God, insist a little upon the former clause, and observe this point:—
That reproaches are a usual, but yet a great and grievous, affliction to the children of God. They are usual, for David saith, ‘my reproach.’ Even this holy man could not escape the censures of his enemies; and they are grievous, for he saith, ‘which I fear.’
First, That they are usual. David often complains of it in this psalm, and mentions it as one great evil to God, ver. 22, ‘Remove from me reproach and contempt, for I have kept thy testimonies;’ and again, ver. 42, ‘So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth 411me, for I trust in thy word;’ and ver. 69, ‘The proud have forged a lie against me.’ God may let loose a barking Shimei upon a holy David, and therefore doth he so often complain of reproaches. So elsewhere: Ps. xxxi. 13, ‘For I have heard the slander of many.’ Sundry sorts of persons made him their butt, upon which they spent and let fly the arrows of censure and reproach: Ps. xxxv. 15, ‘The objects gathered themselves together against me, they did tear me, and ceased not.’ Tear me, meaning in his name; that was rent and torn pieces with their reproaches; the abjects gathered themselves, &c. Base dust will many times be flying in the faces of the children of God; and Jeremiah tells us, ‘I have heard the defaming of many;’ and Job and other servants of God, yea, our Lord himself was reviled; he ‘endured the contradiction of sinners,’ many a bitter reproach, even of the highest crimes against either table. There were objected to him blasphemy and sedition, the highest crime against the first, and the highest crime against the second table. The Son of God, that was so meek, innocent, just, and did so much good in every place, yet he met with odious aspersions; therefore we cannot say that they are faulty because they are aspersed, since this hath been the portion of the most eminent godly persons. And after that we are told, Ps. lxiv. 3, 4, ‘They whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words, that they may shoot in secret at the perfect.’ Perfection meets with envy, and envy vents itself by detraction; and when men cannot reach the height of others by a holy imitation, then by odious imputations they seek to make them as vile, low, and base as themselves. Thus it is a usual affliction.
Secondly, It is a grievous affliction; for the man of God, that was after God’s own heart, he saith, ‘The reproach which I so feared.’ It is called persecution, Gal. iv. 29; compare with Gen. xxi. 9, and you shall see it was mocking and reproach. The scourge of the tongue is one of the basest persecutions that the children of God are tried withal; and they are called ‘cruel mockings,’ Heb. xi. 36. There is as much cruelty and as deep a wound many times made by the tongue of reproach as by the fist of wickedness.
To confirm it by reasons. Reproach must needs be grievous, because it is against nature, and against grace.
1. It is against nature. Contempt is a heavy thing to bear, and as honour is more grateful to some persons, so reproach is more grievous than many ordinary crosses. Many would lose their goods cheerfully, yet are grieved with the loss of their names. According to the constitution and frame of men’s spirits so they are affected, some with shame more than with fear. There seems to be excellency and gallantry in sufferings which are honourable, and many can bear that; but the best spirits are deeply affected with shame, and disgraceful punishment is more dreadful than a painful one. Jesus Christ, that had all the innocent affections of human nature, and upon occasion showed them, he took notice of mockings and reproaches: Ps. xxii. 7, ‘All they that see me laugh me to scorn; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head.’ A good name is more precious to some than life; and possibly that may be the reason why these two are coupled together, Eccles. vii. 1, ‘A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day 412of death than the day of one’s birth.’ The coupling of these two sentences together seems to intimate this, that men had rather die than lose their names. If a man die, his memory may be fragrant, he may leave his name behind him; but it is more hateful to have their names and credit mangled than their flesh with sharp swords. Now it is grievous to nature; there is somewhat of corruption in it. Now God knows how to strike in the right vein. The godly are not so mortified to their credit in the world many times, when they are mortified to other interests. And therefore God would try them in this way, and exercise them, that he may humble them, and fit them more for his own use. All that I have spoken is but to show it is a thing grievous to nature.
2. It must needs be grievous because grace concurs; as the flood was the more violent, and did overspread the world, when not only the mouth of the great deep was opened below, but the windows of heaven above; then the floods did swell, and overspread the whole world. I bring it to this purpose; when the windows of heaven are opened above, when grace looks upon it as an affliction as well as nature, then the afflictions must needs be the more grievous. Now certainly grace concurs to the sense of our affliction, for next to a good conscience there is not a greater blessing than a good name holily got. You may observe, usually he that is prodigal of his credit certainly will not be very tender of his conscience. Grace teacheth us to value a good name, partly because it is God’s gift, a blessing adopted and taken into the covenant, as other such like blessings are. Promises are frequent, especially in the Old Testament, where heaven is sparingly mentioned. A good name is promised as ‘the reward of the righteous, and the name of the wicked shall rot;’ it is threatened as a punishment of the wicked; for a good name is a shadow of eternity. When a man dies, his name he leaves behind him, which is a pledge of our living after death. Therefore the Old Testament abounds with promises of this kind: he leaves a good name behind him, as spices when broken and dissolved leave an excellent scent. And partly too because grace gives us a right judgment of all things. Now, it is represented in scripture as better than riches, Prov. xxii. 1. It is better, as in other respects, so in this; it is a motive more pure and sublime than wealth, and in the operations of it it comes next to grace. A dreggy soul is for that which is more base, but grace teacheth us to value things. So Eccles. vii. 1, ‘A good name is better than precious ointment.’ Aromatical ointments are things of great use and esteem among the Jews; they are counted a chief part of their treasures: and so a good name is better than precious ointment; that is, it is better than other riches, for this was a great part of their riches. And partly too another reason why grace teacheth us to prize it, be cause of the great inconveniences which attend the loss of a good name, and the misrepresentation of the people of God to the world. The glory of God is much interested in the credit of his servants. When they pollute and shame themselves, the Lord is polluted in them: Ezek. xiii. 19, ‘Will they pollute me among my people;’ and Jer. xxxiv. 16, ‘Ye have polluted my name.’ Christ, that will here after be admired in his saints, will now be glorified in them. The 413shame of our miscarriages, real or supposed, redounds to God and religion itself. And therefore, when people are possessed and filled with prejudices against religious persons, they are possessed and filled with prejudices against the will of God and the unquestionable interests of Christ Jesus; and the world, that hates God, Christ, and religion, will presently say, These are your professors, and this is your profession! Therefore, since the credit of religion lieth much in it, grace teacheth us to value it. Besides, too, their safety lies in it; for by defaming the worshippers of Christ they make way for greater persecutions; and Satan is Usually first a liar, and then a murderer, John viii. 44; and when their slanders abound, troubles will not long be kept out. As heretofore they invested the primitive Christians with bears’ skins, and then baited them as bears, so they represent them to the world as a vile and infamous sort of men, and then the persecution is the better countenanced. First they smite with the tongue, and then with the fist of wickedness; and therefore their safety lies very much in this. And as their safety, so grace teacheth us to value it upon other accounts—their usefulness. Nature desires a good name, but it is for their own conveniences. But the children of God, if they desire a good name, it is to honour God; and that is the difference between vainglory or a desire of the good opinion of others. If it terminate in self-respects, it is vainglory; but if the heart be pure and right in order to God, then it comes from grace. A blemished instrument will be of little use. Most would refuse to take their meat from a leprous hand. It is Satan’s policy, when he cannot discourage instruments from the work of God, then he seeks to blemish them and blast them. The apostle tells us that those which are called to public office, they should be very careful of their credit, that they may promote their work; for he puts down this as one of their qualifications: 1 Tim. iii. 7, ‘He must have a good report of them that are without, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.’ Interpreters differ a little how διαβόλος, which we translate devil, is to be interpreted. Either it signifies devil or slanderer; both senses are good; lest he fall into the snare of the devil, or the snare of the slanderer. The devil hath his spies that watch over us, and they have set their snares, and watch for your halting, that so the service may be blemished, and the gospel obstructed and hindered. Well, then, grace prizeth a good name because of the consequences, and because the Lord’s honour and our safety and service are concerned in it.
Use 1. First, Here is advice to the person reproached. O Christians! acknowledge God in the affliction, if this be your lot and portion. David goes to God to stop it there; it is best stopped with God: ‘Turn away my reproach.’ It is a great and grievous affliction, but in all things God hath an aim. Look, what is said of afflictions in general may be applied to this particular of reproaches. Now what is God’s aim and end in afflictions? In general, ‘to try, purge, and make white,’ Dan. xi. 35; or, as it is Deut. viii. 16, ‘To humble thee, and prove thee, and do thee good at the latter end.’ Let us take that method; here is God’s end:—
First, To humble thee. Carnal men may shoot at rovers, but many times we find ourselves pricked at heart. Slanders may revive the 414sense of guilt. They may intend harm, but you should receive good by this as by every affliction. Plutarch, in his excellent treatise of profiting by a man’s enemies, illustrates it by this comparison of Jason, who had an imposthume let out by the dart of his enemy. They may fling darts at random, and intend harm, but you shall get good by it. Surely there is some special cause when the Lord permits this, when volleys of reproaches shall follow one after another j therefore he suffers others to judge you, to awaken you to self-judging. Mind this, and you will be no losers by reproaches. Well, enter into your own hearts, search them thoroughly; see what it is God aims at, whether there be any way of wickedness in you that hitherto you have not discovered; and when you come to see this sink of sin, then your enemies do but help to humble you. Many times the voice of a slanderer may do that which the voice of a preacher cannot do. And the truth is, there is such a wantonness, such a presumptuous headiness in the professors of religion, that the word cannot reclaim them, they are so radicated in certain sins; and therefore God will follow you with sharp reproaches of his enemies, and doth at this time, to call you to a more serious judging yourselves, to see your factious headiness, which certainly doth predominate among God’s professing people.
There are many sins to which this sharp kind of affliction is proper, and therefore God gives out this grievous dispensation to lay open his people to bitter reproaches and slanders. I will tell you some of the sins. My business is not now to state what is the great sin that God is judging among his people, but to help every one in particular to look to ourselves, for that I do not conceive to be so fit to be spoken here.
1. Pride. There is a twofold pride—pride in mind, which is called self-conceit, and pride in affections, which is called vainglory. Now there is no such effectual cure as reproaches for either of these.
[1.] To speak of the pride in mind, self-conceit. We are very apt to be puffed up for our doing and suffering for God poor empty bladders are soon puffed up—and think ourselves somebody, if there be but a little self-denial; as Peter said, ‘Master, we have left all and followed thee.’ He was conceited of what he had left for Christ. What had he left? A net, a fisher-boat; it was a great all indeed! Mat. xix. 27. We are easily puffed up if we suffer a little for God, and the Lord intrencheth us in our worldly conveniences, for self-conceit may grow out of self-denial. Too often we find it so. Pride is a sin that grows out of mortification of other sins; it lives in us while we live in the body; therefore, 1 John ii. 16, it is called ‘pride of life.’ And some compare it to a shirt; that garment is last put off. It is the most inward and nearest to the soul, and out of the conquest of other sins there ariseth pride. Now, if we have been too self-conceited, the Lord will humble us, either by permitting us to fall into such scandals as may remember us of our frailty, and what unworthy weak creatures we are in ourselves; sometimes by taking off the restraints of his grace and of his Spirit, and permitting us to fall. Austin is bold in saying it is profitable for proud men to fall some times into open sin, that they may know and understand themselves. 415He speaks it upon the occasion of Peter, when he was boasting of his own strength, ‘Though all men leave thee, yet will not I.’ How foully did he fall! Ay! but at other times God useth a more merciful dispensation, for he doth not let his people fall into those grievous falls but upon great provocation. But usually at other times he lets loose the tongues of virulent men to lessen us in our own opinion and in the opinion of the world. Now, how innocent soever we be of the crimes charged upon us, yet in all these cases we must look upward and inward. Upward; this is not without God; he is at the end of causes; he could blast these tongues, and stay and stop them at his pleasure; the Lord can ‘keep us from the strife of tongues,’ Ps. xxxi. 20. But now, when he permits this, his hand must be owned; look upward: Micah vii. 9, ‘I will bear the indignation of the Lord, be cause I have sinned against him.’ At such a time God spits in the faces of his people, and puts us to shame; and therefore we should look upward and see the hand of God in all this. And look inward; there you will see such a sink of sin as deserves this and much more; and therefore a sense of our sinfulness in other things should make us more submissive to the Lord’s correcting hand. We must see the hand of God; for if we do not look to that we will be drawn to sin, into reviling for reviling, and exasperation for exasperation. Many times our graces do us as much hurt as our sins. Self-conceit the Lord will mortify one way or other.
[2.] For vainglory, the other sort of pride, valuing esteem too much, our credit in the world, and pleasing ourselves in the opinion others have of us. We would usurp God’s throne and reign in the hearts of men, therefore we are so touchy. Having set a high value upon ourselves, we are troubled when others will not come up to our price. Pride is one of the oldest enemies that ever God had; it was born in heaven in the breasts of the fallen angels, but God tumbled them presently out of heaven, as soon as pride got into the heart. Now, when his children harbour it, the Lord hath a quarrel with them; and therefore, for giving entertainment to pride, he will lay us low enough: 2 Cor. xii. 7, ‘Lest I should be exalted above measure, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me.’ There is a great deal of do what this thorn in the flesh is. Some will have it to be some trouble or sickness. Most probably so, but it takes in many afflictive evils; for, ver. 10, he mentioneth reproaches. Paul was too apt to be proud. The Lord made him an eminent instrument; by his faith he had abundance of revelations. But God will prick the bladder; he doth it with thorns; and he calls it his infirmity, necessity, reproach. Infirmity, by that I mean some reigning sickness. But reproach was one ingredient. Now, lest we should fee puffed up by vain conceit, the Lord humbles us with infirmities, necessities, reproaches.
2. Another sin for which God humbles us is careless walking. When we are negligent, and do not take notice of the carnality that grows upon us, and the fleshly frame and temper of heart which breaks out into our lives, the Lord suffers others to reproach; then they gather up our filth, that we may see what cause we have to take our ways to heart. Every man that would live strictly had need either of faithful 416friends or watchful enemies; either faithful friends to admonish him, or watchful enemies to censure him; they show us the spots in our garments that are to be washed off. Many times a friend is blinded with love, and grows as partial to us as we are to ourselves, will suffer sin upon us and not tell us of it; then the Lord sets spies upon us to watch for our halting, Jer. xx. 10; and therefore we need go to God and pray: Ps. xxvii. 11, ‘Lord, lead me in a plain path because of my observers.’ They lie in wait and seek to take us tripping in aught they can. We can no more be without watchful enemies than without faithful friends. How ignorant should a man be of himself if others did not put him in mind sometimes of his failings! Therefore God makes use of virulent persons in the world as a rod to thrash the dust out of our garments.
3. To humble us for our censuring. For if we have not been so tender of others’ credit, the Lord makes us see the bitterness of the affliction in our own case, by giving us the like measure that we have meted unto others, Mat. vii. 1, 2, that is, we shall find others as hardly think of us as we have of them. Good thoughts and speeches of other men are the best preservative of our own good names. God will take care of them that are careful not to judge and censure. And therefore it is no great matter whether the report be true or false; but a Christian is to examine, Have not we drawn it upon ourselves by slandering others? for God usually payeth us home in our own coin. He that is much given to censuring seldom or never escapes great censures himself. It is said in the Psalms, ‘Let his own words grieve him,’ that is, fall upon him. How do our own words fall upon us? Why, the Lord punisheth us for our censuring of others. Oh! then, humble thyself before God for the reproaches thou hast cast upon others: Eccles. vii. 21, ‘Take no heed to all the words spoken against thee, lest thou hear thy servant curse thee,’ that is, speaking evil against thee. Hard sayings and speeches of others against us may put us in mind of God’s just hand, of measuring to us as we have measured unto others; and therefore we should be the more patient if they wrong us; it is but in the like kind that we have wronged others. God will humble us for our censuring, which is so natural and rife, especially with younger, weak, and more unmodified persons.
Secondly, The Lord doth it, as to humble us, so to try us.
1. The first thing he will try in you by such a grievous affliction and such volleys of reproaches is your faith, when all the world is set to condemn you. What faith?
[1.] Our faith in the great day of accounts, that is one great object of faith; and when the world is set to condemn us, our faith is tried, to see if we can rest with the vindication we shall have in the day of our Lord. So much you may see, 1 Cor. iv. 3-5, ‘But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness; and then shall every man have praise of God.’ Every man that deserves it, and is qualified for it, shall have praise with God. Ἐλάχιστον, it was a very small thing to be judged of man’s day, because he expected God’s day for the clearing of all things here in the world. Sin and error often 417get the major vote. Tollite impios was the cry of the rabble against Christians. If there was any trouble it was for the Christians’ sake. Take away the ungodly, meaning the Christians, because they denied the heathen gods. Now, what was their comfort? The day of the manifestation of all things. So when we are looked upon as the pests of mankind, yet when we can comfort ourselves, there will come a day of the manifestation of the sons of God, that is enough, the great day of judgment is at hand, so this will set all things right again.
[2.] To try our faith in more particular promises. The Lord hath promised to provide for the health and credit of his people; so far he hath promised for their safety, and their daily bread for their maintenance, and any earthly blessing that is good for us. Now the Lord will see if we can trust him with our credit as well as for other things: Ps. cxix. 42, ‘So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me; for I trust in thy word.’ I say, the Lord hath in his covenant undertaken to preserve a Christian in all his interests and concernments, so far as shall be for his glory and our good, and so far we receive it. And a Christian, when he gives up himself to God, gives up everything he hath to God in a way of consecration to God’s use. God is the guardian of my body and soul; I give up my estate and life that he may watch over me night and day, and I give up my name and credit: Ps. xxxi. 20, ‘Thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues;’ that the Lord may take a charge of our names as well as our persons and estates. Now, the Lord requires a trust in us according to the extent of the covenant, that is to say, a waiting, a confidence, that our lives are not in man’s power, that he can turn the hearts of men, and give you favour in their eyes, when it is for his glory and your good: Ps. xxxvii. 5-7, ‘Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him; commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass.’ There is the trust that is required. Oh! many times we seem to lose our estimation amongst men, and to be buried under calumnies and reproaches; but it will not be long. Your person and cause may be obscured, it may have a winter night of trouble; but a morning of resurrection, both of persons and names, will come; it will be brought forth as the noon-day. The Lord is able to do this; the integrity of your hearts will be made known, and you will be absolved by God. Our Lord Jesus was a pattern to us of this. Christ, when foul crimes were laid to his charge by his slanderers—they had charged him with compliance with Satan, with blasphemy and sedition—what doth he do? The apostle will tell you: 1 Peter ii. 23, ‘He committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.’ There is the faith of Christ; and therefore God will try this faith, whether we can with confidence and willingness deliver ourselves to the will of our heavenly Father and righteous Judge; whether we can resign up ourselves to him, to be disgraced or honoured as he shall think fit. When we commit and submit, perfectly resign up ourselves to the will of God, in confidence of his righteousness and faithfulness in Christ, then we behave ourselves as Christians.
[3.] God will try our faith in the eternal recompenses, whether we do so believe the glory of heaven, the glory which shall be revealed in us in the other world, that we can be contented to be humbled and 418prepared for it by the reproaches of the present world: Mat. v. 11, 12, ‘Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.’ Why? ‘Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.’ Oh! it is enough we shall have glory hereafter. Your time is now to be tried with dishonour, reproach, contempt, but hereafter to be honoured. And the heirs of promise are described to be those who, ‘by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.’ A Christian is not destitute of natural affections; he prizeth honour, but he prizeth it at the lowest rate; he looks for the glory, honour, and immortality that is in the other world, not in the fleshly vain respects of this world; and therefore now we are tried whether it be enough to us that we shall have glory hereafter, and here we are willing to take what the world will afford us. Thus God will try our faith.
2. God will try our mortification and deadness to worldly credit. The heart is never sincere with God until it be so. Hypocrites are proud, self-conceited, they must be honoured among men. Now this is such an evil spirit, that Christ makes it incapable of faith; for, John v. 44, ‘How can ye believe, that seek for glory one of another?’ when we must have glory one from another, else our hearts are exceedingly troubled. Oh! it shows we are not so dead, at least as we ought to be, to credit in the world, to have the glory that conies from God only, his image implanted in us, the testimony of his love to our souls all clear between God and our souls; and he is not upright whose peace and tranquillity of spirit doth depend upon man’s speeches and judgment rather than God’s, ‘For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth,’ 2 Cor. x. 18. Men can not defend thee if God will condemn thee; they cannot condemn thee if God acquits thee. They that run a race regard not what the standers-by say, but the agonothetes, the great judge of the sports, he that was to give them the garland, what he would determine and decide in the case. So it is in your running, working, and striving; no matter what the world saith; their applause will not shelter you from God’s judgment, nor will their condemnations or reproach expose you to God’s wrath. Look to the Judge of all things; and we should be content with that, ‘He is approved whom the Lord approves;’ 2 Cor. i. 12, ‘For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience.’ What is the great matter of joy to him? The good word of men? No; he hath studied to approve himself to God, therefore should not be troubled overmuch. Peace of conscience is better than the applause of the world; certainly a man is not fit to have so divine a plant grow in his soul till he come to live in his privilege. He lives not to opinion, but lives to God’s approbation.
3. Another thing God will try is our patience. We should prevent reproaches as much as we can, but by a holy conversation may bear them when we cannot avoid them: Ps. cix. 4, ‘For my love they are my adversaries, but I give myself unto prayer.’ That was David’s exercise, the revenge he took upon them, to pray to God for them. The Lord will try whether we have this meek humble patience, 2 Sam. xvi. 7. When Shimei went about railing to the peril of his 419life, ‘Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial,’ and reproached him for being treacherous to the house of Saul, and Abishai would have taken away his head;’ No,’ saith David, ‘let him alone; God hath bid him curse.’ A mad dog that biteth another makes him as mad as himself. Now it should not be so with Christians; if they bark or bite at us, yet we should possess our souls with patience. It is a time of reproach and rebuke, a time wherein God will humble his people; therefore we should expostulate the case with the Lord, and humble ourselves before him, and see what is the matter; God hath disposed this by his providence. We would revenge ourselves of those that reproach us if it were in our power; but David had meekness and patience that would not permit it. God will discover the patience of his servants, say the apostles: 1 Cor. iv. 13, ‘Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat; though we are set forth as the filth of the world, and are the off-scouring of all things unto this day;’ the word is, the sweepings of the city, that are fit to be carried out of the city, to be swept away, unfit to live among men in civil societies. Christians, there must be a season for the trial of our graces. Now God makes this season for the trial of patience. Such a time as this discovers the strength of grace.
4. Another thing God would have to be tried is our uprightness, whether we can hold on our way, ‘through good report and bad report, in honour and dishonour,’ as the apostle speaks, 2 Cor. vi. 8; still approve ourselves faithful servants of Christ. If you search into the records of time, you shall find many have been discouraged in Christianity because of reproaches that have been cast upon them, for the devil works much upon stomach and spleen. When Tertullian was reproached by certain priests at Rome, he turned Montanist. Now God will try our uprightness. Look, as the moon shines and holds on her course though the dogs bark, so we should hold on our course. Let men talk their pleasure, yet we should abide faithful with God: Ps. cxix. 22, ‘Remove from me reproach and contempt, for I have kept thy testimonies.’ David was not unsettled by contempt and reproach, but still kept God’s testimonies and adhered to his ways. Some can be religious no longer than they can be so with honour. When reproaches come, when their secular interests are in danger, then they fall off, questioning the ways of God, and unsettling their hearts; that is, to take a revenge upon God himself. Hypocrites take pet, like servants that run away when their master strikes them; but a good servant will take a buffet patiently, and go about his work still. So when the Lord buffets us by wicked men, still we must follow our work, and go on with God.
Thirdly, The Lord doth it to do you good, to make you better. Reproaches are like soap, that seems to defile the linen, it cleanseth. There is nothing so bad but we may make a good use of it, and a Christian may gain some advantage by it. Or as dung, which seems to stain the grass, but it makes the ground fruitful, and the grass spring up with a fresher verdure. So reproaches are a necessary help to make us more humble, heavenly—to make us walk with a holy awe This holy revenge we should take upon our enemies, to make us more strict and watchful. The way is, not to contend for esteem, but 420to grow better, more serious, more faithful in our lives; for this is the way, φιμοῦν, to muzzle the mouths of adversaries, as the mouth of a dog or wild beast is, 1 Peter ii. 15. Passionate returns do but increase sin, but a holy conversation will silence all; and therefore you should confute calumnies, you bind up their mouths thereby. In short, an innocent, meek, unblamable, profitable life will certainly have its due esteem in the consciences of men, do what men can. Therefore, do you go on, and be you the more strict, and then these reproaches will do you good. This is the first use: advice to us what to do in case we be reproached.
Use 2. To those that either devise or receive the reproach: both are very faulty and sinful.
1. First, You that devise reproaches.
[1.] You hazard the repute of your own sincerity: James i. 16, ‘If a man seems to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, that man’s religion is in vain.’ Such men, that are seldom at home, seldom look to the state of their own hearts. Alas! if they were acquainted with themselves, or their own failings, they would see themselves the worst people in the world. Paul can see himself worse than Judas I am ‘the chief of sinners’—because he hath a greater feeling of his own case. Now, he that is much in judging is seldom within. If a man had a catalogue of his own faults, he would not be so ready to blast others, but say, ‘I am the chief of sinners.’ Hypocrites have nothing in them but empty shows and appearances. It is a cheap zeal to let fly (and yet this is the religion of a great many) at the miscarriages and faults of others. No; you should rather study your own.
[2.] You rob them of a most precious treasure; for if that of Solomon be true, Prov. xxii. 1, ‘A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches;’ they are the worst thieves that rob a man of his good name. A thief that pilfers and steals anything from you, he is ashamed when found; and should not you be ashamed, that rob a man of a more excellent treasure?
[3.] You offend God, and draw public hatred upon yourselves; for censurers are always looked upon as the pests of the world. It is the devil’s business, his proper work; he is called ‘the accuser of the brethren,’ Rev. xii. 10. The devil doth not commit adultery, break the Sabbath, dishonour parents; but he will slander, and accuse, and speak evil. The other are not commandments suited to his nature, but this is a commandment that may suit with angelical nature. We are not to accuse another wrongfully.
Object. But must we in no case, you will say, speak evil of others? I answer—
Sol. 1. Be sure that it be not a downright slander. Now, it is hard to avoid that. If the evil you speak be without cause, then it is against truth; if it be for a light and slender cause, then it is against charity; if it be for things indifferent, or for lesser failings, the indiscretions and weaknesses of Christians, all this is against that charity that should pass especially between the disciples of Christ: James iv. 11, ‘Speak not evil of one another, brethren.’ It is worse in Christians always to be whispering and speaking evil one of another; you gratify the triumphs of hell. In things doubtful, you should judge the best: 421in things hidden and secret, we cannot take cognisance of them, and we know not the aims and intents of the heart; that is God’s work, 1 Cor. iv. 5; and it is the devil’s work, when the practice be good and fair, to suspect them of hypocrisy. Besides, too, if there be some grievous fault, you do not know what were their temptations, how it may be alleviated by the temptation; still you must ‘consider yourselves, lest you also be tempted,’ Gal. vi. 1; and you do not know whether they have repented of it. The devil is a slanderer. Why? He doth accuse the children of God of what they are guilty of, and they give him too much cause to accuse them. Ay! but after repentance, after they are justified by God, and quitted by the grace of God; so he is a slanderer. So after they have repented, you are insisting on those faults; it is a great evil.
Sol. 2. Speak not of him, but to him. When men are absent it is not fit they should be judged, for then they are not able to make a defence; then it is backbiting. When you thus speak of them, you exchange a duty for a sin, admonition for reproach. It is an un questionable duty to admonish one another, but it is an unquestionable sin to speak evil one of another.
Sol. 3. If of him, it should be done with tenderness and grief; when they are incorrigible, when they are like to pervert others and dishonour the gospel, or for the manifest glory of God. Oh! if we would but lay restraints upon ourselves in this kind, and never speak of others, but when manifestly the glory of God calls for it. And then it should be with grief: Phil. iii. 19, ‘Of whom I have told you often, and now weeping,’ saith the apostle. There are a crew of heretics—it is supposed he means the Gnostics—filthy and impure persons, that had debauched the gospel to a licentious life; yet the apostle speaks of them weeping; and therefore we should be very tender of speaking of them. Not out of idleness and for want of other talk; that is tattle, forbidden in many places of scripture; not out of hatred and revenge, for that is malice; there may be malice where the thing you speak is truth; not to please others, that is flattery. But if ever you speak of them (and it should be with these cautions), out of zeal for the glory of God and the good of the church. If men did consider what restraints are laid upon them, they would not so easily fall upon censuring, reproaching, and speaking evil of others. This to those that devise slanders and reproaches.
2. Secondly, To those that receive them. He is a slanderer that wrongs his neighbour’s credit, by upholding an evil report against a man. It is hard to say which is worse, railing or receiving: Ps. xv. 3, a citizen of Sion is described to be one ‘that taketh not up a reproach against his neighbour;’ and you shall see, on the contrary, Prov. xvii. 4, ‘A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips, and a liar giveth heed to a naughty tongue.’ He is a liar that receives a lie when brought to him, as well as he that brought it; if you love the lie, though you do not devise it. The Lord will curse all them that love lies, as if you did imagine them. All that are acquainted with the matter are accountable to God; you are responsible for your ear, as they for their tongue. It is good to have a healing tongue, to heal that which others wound: Prov. xii. 18, ‘The tongue of the wise is health,’ it is healing; 422and therefore we should labour to show forth this Christian meekness; as not to devise slanders against others, so not to cherish them, and uphold them against others.
Use 3. If this be a usual and grievous evil, it puts us upon seeking comforts against reproaches. Now, what are the comforts we should seek against reproaches?
1. The witness of a good conscience, for then this will be matter of great joy and great peace to you: 2 Cor. i. 12, ‘This is my rejoicing, the testimony of my conscience,’ &c. If men reproach you, yet let not your hearts reproach you, Job xxvii. 6. The heart hath a reproaching, condemning power. Conscience is register, witness, and judge; and that which troubles our quiet are these heart-smitings and heart-reproaches. Let any other man in the world be your enemy rather than your own conscience be an enemy. Certainly, where conscience is a friend, if you be innocent, you need not care for the reproaches of others. If they speak against you as faulty, they do but speak against another, whom the slanderer takes to be thee, and in time you will out-wrestle the reproach. Look, as the hair will grow again as long as the roots remain, so though the razor of censure and reproach brings on baldness, the hair will grow again.
2. Another comfort against reproaches is the approbation of God; that should satisfy against all the censures of the world. You have the greatest, best, and wisest on your side, if you have God on your side. The world decries those that profess strictness to God’s ways as hypocrites; but you are hypocrites indeed that are troubled at this, if you value man’s approbation rather than God’s. No; you should be of that temper: Rom. viii. 33, 34, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.’ If the Lord will acquit you, no matter what men say. The world’s filth may be God’s jewels. Many times a contempt doth but manifest God’s esteem, and give us a further sense of it. They cannot impose upon God; they cannot burden their cause before the Lord; and therefore, if the Lord hath covered your filth, it is no matter though they rake in it: Ps. xxxii. 1, ‘Blessed is the man whose sin is covered,’ &c. The Lord will not ask their opinion, their vote and suffrage, whether he shall condemn or acquit you; but he will go according to the laws of his own covenant, and therefore the approbation of God should be enough to you.
3. The consideration of those promises that concern the vindicating our name from contempt. God is wont to scatter the reproaches of his servants as the sun gets from within the cloud, to bring forth their righteousness as the noon-day.
4. Heaven will make amends for all the dishonour that men put upon you. Though the proud scorn you, yet if you keep God’s statutes, and go on waiting upon him for eternal life, great will be your glory in heaven.423
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