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With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.—Ver. 13.
FOR the coherence of these words, you may refer them either to the 11th or 12th verse. If to the 11th verse, there he speaks of hiding the word in his heart, and now it breaks out in his tongue. First it must be in the heart, and next in the tongue. First in the heart. It is but hypocrisy to be speaking and talking of good things, when we have not been refreshed and warmed by them ourselves. Christianity is not a religion to talk of, but to live by. There are many rotten-hearted hypocrites that are all talkers; like the moon, dark in themselves, whatever light they give out to others; or like negroes, that dig in rich mines, and bring up gold for others, when themselves are poor. The power of grace in the heart is a good foundation for grace on the lips. This is the method and order wherein David expresseth it: ‘I have hidden thy word in my heart;’ and then, ‘With my lips have I declared,’ &c. And as it must be first in the heart, so next in the tongue. John vii. 38, Christ speaks of ‘him that believeth in him, that out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’ By the belly is meant the heart. When there is true grace in the heart, the sweet influences thereof will flow forth in their common discourse for the refreshing of others; as a spring sendeth forth the streams to water the ground about it. If the heart be full, 119the tongue will drop what is savoury. I say, certainly if it be within, it will break out. The word is to be hid, but not like a talent in a napkin, but like gold in a treasury, to be laid out upon all meet occasions. Thus referring it to the 11th verse, there may be a fair connection.
Or if you refer it to the 12th verse, ‘Blessed art thou, O Lord: teach me thy statutes:’ teach me that I may teach others. Our requests for knowledge are like to speed when we are willing to exercise this knowledge for the glory of God and the good of others. Talents thrive by their use: ‘To him that hath shall be given,’ Mat. xxv. 29; that is, to him that useth his talents. Trading brings increase; and so it may be used as an argument to back that petition, Lord, teach me; for I have been ever declaring with my lips all the judgments of thy mouth.
Again, none can speak of God with such savour and affection as he that is taught by God: Teach me, and I have or will declare (it may be read either may) all the judgments of thy mouth. A heathen could say, Non loquendum de Deo sine lumine—we must not speak of God without light. The things of God are best represented with the light of his own grace. David shows that he would perform the duty of a good disciple; that he would teach others if God should teach him.
In the words two things are to be explained—
1. What he will declare, all the judgments of thy mouth.
2. In what sense he will declare them.
First, What he will declare. God’s will, revealed in the scripture, is called ‘The judgments of his mouth,’ his judgments. I have showed that, ver. 7, at large. Briefly now I will add two reasons: First, Because it is the rule according to which we must judge of all spiritual truth: Isa. viii. 20, ‘To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.’ Secondly, It is the rule according to which we must look to be judged both here and hereafter. Here, ‘I will chastise them (or judge them) as their congregation hath heard,’ Hosea vii. 12. According to the sentence of the word, so will the course of his providence be, and according to which we shall be judged hereafter: John xii. 48, ‘The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.’ God’s providences are a comment upon the scriptures. The scripture is not only a record of what is past, but a calendar and prognostication of what is to come. You may read your doom, your judgment there; for the statutes of the Lord are all called judgments, because of an answerable proceeding in the course of God’s providence: if men escape here, they will not escape the judgment of the last day, when the sentence of that God shall infallibly be made good. Now, the verdict of the word is called the judgments of his mouth, as if God himself had pronounced by oracle, and judged from heaven in the case; and these judgments of his mouth the Psalmist saith shall be the matter of his discourse and conference with others.
Secondly, In what sense it is said that he will declare all the judgments of his mouth. In this speech David may be considered as a king, as a prophet, or as a private believer.120
1. As a king; so some conceive that whenever he judged or gave sentence upon the throne, he would declare the judgments of God’s mouth; that is, decree in the case according to the sentence of the law. In favour of this sense it may be alleged—
[1.] That certainly the king was bound to study the law of God, as you shall see, Deut. xvii. 18, 19, ‘When he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests the Levites; and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life.’ Every king was bound to have a copy of the law, the Rabbis say, written with his own hand, carried about with him wheresoever he went, in city or camp.
[2.] That the kings of Judah were bound up by the judicials of Moses, ‘out of that which is before the priests and Levites;’ that is, according to thy judicial laws, so will I pass sentence upon malefactors.
[3.] That, proceeding according to this rule, their declarations in court were the judgments of God’s mouth: 2 Chron. xix. 6, ‘He said to the judges, Take heed what ye do; for ye judge not for man but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment.’ If this sense did prevail, we might observe hence, that a godly man useth the word to season the duties of all his relations. And again, that a good magistrate is so to judge upon the throne that his sentences there may be as the judgments of God’s own mouth. But that which caused this misconceit was the word judgments, which is not of such a limited import and signification as those that pitched upon this interpretation did conceive, and therefore mistook the meaning of this place.
2. David may be considered here as a prophet, and so a pattern of all teachers. He asserts his sincerity in two respects—(1.) As to the matter of his doctrine; it should be the judgments of God’s mouth, such as he had received from God. (2.) As to the extent; that he would declare all the judgments of his mouth.
[1.] As to the matter of his doctrine, it should be the judgments of his mouth. That which should be declared and taught in the church should not be our own opinions and fancies, but the pure word of God; not the vanity of our thoughts, but the verity of his revelations; otherwise we neither discharge our duty to God, nor to the children of God. Not to God, when we come in his name without his message: Jer. iv. 10, ‘Ah Lord! thou hast greatly deceived this people,’ saith the prophet Jeremiah to God. Thou hast done it; because the false prophets had done it in his name. The dishonour reflects upon him when his ordinance is abused to countenance the fancies of our own brain. Nor to the children of God, whose appetite carrieth them to pure unmixed milk: 1 Peter ii. 2, ‘As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow there by,’ λογικὸν ἄδολον γάλα—unmixed milk. The more natural the milk is, and without any mixture, the more kindly to a gracious ap petite. To mix it with sugar, and the luscious strains of a human wit, doth but disguise it, and hide it from a spiritual taste. But to mix it with lime, as Jerome saith of heretics, makes it baneful and noxious^ Thus he speaks of his faithfulness as a prophet, a public teacher in the church.121
[2.] As to the extent; all the judgments of thy mouth, without adding or diminishing. No part of God’s counsel must be forborne, either out of fear or favour. Our work is not to look what will please or displease, but what is commanded: Acts xx. 27, ‘I have not shunned to declare the whole counsel of God.’ If it be the counsel of God, let it succeed how it will, it must be spoken. So David here, all the judgments of thy mouth.
3. David may be considered as a private Christian; and so, I. would declare all the judgments of thy mouth in a way of conference and gracious discourse. This is the sense I shall manage. The consideration I shall insist upon is this:—
Doct. It concerns all that fear God to declare upon meet occasions the judgments of his mouth.
How? In the way of public teaching? Shall every one that hath, knowledge and parts teach? I answer—No. There are some separate for that work: Acts xiii. 2, ‘Separate unto me Paul and Barnabas for the work whereunto I have called them.’ Paul and Barnabas were gifted and called by the Spirit, yet were to be solemnly authorised by prophets and teachers at Antioch, by officers of the church.
Was it not enough that they were called by the Holy Ghost? What can man add more?
There must be order in the church. Though they were called, yet they were to be ordained, and to have a solemn commission. It is true, all Christians are prophets, yet they are not to invade the office ministerial; as they are also all kings, yet they are not to usurp the magistracy, or to disturb the ruler in his government. If Christians would but meditate more, and see how much they have to do to preach to their own hearts; if they would but regard the unquestionable duty that they owe to their families more, this itch of public preaching would be much abated, and many other confusions and disorders among us would be prevented; and they would sooner find the Lord’s blessing upon interchangeable discourse, gracious conferences, than this affectation of sermoning and set discourses.
Well, then, we are to declare the judgments of his mouth, not by way of public teaching, but by way of private conference, edifying others, and glorifying God by the knowledge and experience that we have—
First, In our own families.
Secondly, In our converses.
1. In our own families, in training up children and servants in the way of the Lord, and inculcating the doctrine of God upon them. This is a commanded duty, as you may see, Deut. vi. 6, 7, ‘And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart.’ What then?’ And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.’ Morning and evening, rising up and lying down, at home and abroad, they should be instructing their families. When the word of God is in the heart, thus it will break out. And chap, xi. 19, you have the same again. This is a duty God reckoneth upon, that you will not omit such a necessary piece of service: Gen. xviii. 19, ‘I know Abraham, that he will command his children and his 122household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord.’ God promiseth himself, that from Abraham and his family he should have respect. God hath made many great promises to Abraham, as he doth now to all believers; but if you would have him bring upon you that which he hath spoken, you must not disappoint him. The seasoning of youth betimes in your families is a very great advantage. The family is the seminary of the church and state; and usually those that are ill-bred in the family, they prove ill when they come abroad. A fault in the first concoction is not mended in the second; and therefore here you should be declaring the mind and counsel of God to them. Many that afterwards prove eminent instruments of God’s glory will bless you for it to all eternity. It is the best love you can express to your children, when you take care to season them with the best things. A husband is charged to love his wife. How shall he express this love? Eph. v. 25, 26, ‘Even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it,’ &c. I suppose the degree is not only commended for a pattern, but the kind; it must be such a love as Christ bore to his church: ‘He gave himself for her, that he might sanctify her.’ It must be such a love as tends to sanctification. It is a poor kind of love parents express to their children in providing great estates and portions for them, or bringing them up in trades that they may thrive in the world. But when you train them up for heaven, there is the best love: Prov. iv. 3, 4, ‘For I was my father’s son’ (he was the darling) , ‘tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother.’ And wherein was that love expressed? ‘He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words; keep my commandments and live.’ So for servants; it is not enough to provide bodily maintenance for them—so we would do for the beasts if we would use their strength and service; but we are to instruct them according to our talents. And that is the best love we can show, to provide for their souls.
2. In our converses, speaking of God and of his word in all companies, instructing the ignorant, warning and quickening the negligent, encouraging the good, casting out some savoury discourse wherever we come. So Ps. xxxvii. 30, ‘The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment.’ A good man studieth in his speeches to glorify God, to edify those he speaks to: ‘I will declare thy judgments,’ saith David. Wise and gracious discourse drops from him. So Cant. iv. 11, ‘Thy lips, my spouse, drop as the honeycomb; honey and milk are under thy tongue.’ The passages of that song are to be understood in a spiritual sense. Now the lips and the^ tongue being instruments of speech, and milk and honey things by which the word is expressed, I suppose it is meant of a conference; and because the word of God is compared to milk and honeycomb, it shows that their conference should be gracious and edifying. This is that which drops from a sanctified mouth.
For the reasons of this:—
1. I shall argue from the interest which God hath in the lips and tongue, and therefore they must be used for God. He made them, bought them, and, if we belong to him, we gave them up with other 123things to him. We did not reserve our tongues. When we resigned and surrendered ourselves to the Lord’s use, we did not make exception. The same argument which holds good for the whole body, why it should be possessed in sanctification and honour, holds good for every part of it: 1 Cor. vi. 20, ‘Ye are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your bodies, and in your spirits, which are God’s.’ Thy whole is God’s, thy spirit, thy body, and every part; thy wit, strength, hand, tongue, all are God’s; and therefore he expects to be glorified by thy tongue. They were rebels that said, Ps. xii. 4, ‘Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?’ There is nothing we have that is ours, but God’s. Our hearts are not our own, to think what we will; nor our tongues our own, to speak what we will. God expects service from the tongue, otherwise we must be answerable for it when our sovereign Lord calls us to an account. Now, it is strange God should have so clear a right to our speech and language, and yet so little a share therein: ‘Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.’ Thy tongue and thy lips, whose are they? If thou couldst make thy tongue of thyself, then thou mightst use it for thyself; but since you had it from God, you must use it for God. But, alas I how little are men mindful of this I Follow them all the day, you get not one word of God from them; they use their tongues as if they were their own, not God’s.
2. It is the glory of the tongue to serve God in this kind. It is the most excellent member in the body when it is well used for the glory of God and edification of others; therefore called our glory often in the psalms: ‘Awake, my glory;’ that is, my tongue; and what is glory in the Old Testament is rendered tongue in the New, Acts ii. Our tongue is our glory. Why? Because we have this advantage by it, we may speak for God: ‘Therewith bless we God,’ James iii. 9. The benefit of speech is our privilege above angels and beasts. Angels they have reason, but no tongues; and beasts they have tongues, but no reason to guide them and act them. But now we have tongues and reason both, that we may declare our maker’s praise. Surely this member and instrument was not given us to savour meats and drinks—that is not the highest use of it—but to express the sense and affections of the mind; not to utter vain, frothy, frivolous things what an abuse is that!—but to comfort and instruct one another in the things of God. It is our glory.
3. Every creature hath a voice like itself, and therefore so should the new creature have. The ox bellows, the ass brayeth, goats and sheep may be known by their bleat, and so is a man by the tenor of his discourse. As the constitution of the mind is, so are the words. A wicked man hath a vain heart, and therefore his discourse is idle and frivolous: Prov. x. 20, ‘The tongue of the just is as choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is little worth.’ The antithesis shows it should have been said, ‘The tongue of the wicked is little worth;’ but he would point at the cause of it, ‘the heart of the wicked.’ There is a quick intercourse between the tongue and the heart. Now, because the heart of the wicked is nothing worth, all his thoughts and musings are vain; he goes grinding chaff in his mind all the day; his mind, like a mill, is always at work, not upon corn, that it might be bread for his 124soul, but upon chaff; therefore, because his heart is nothing worth, his tongue is nothing worth. The tongue of the just is as choice silver, it brings in a great deal of treasure. But take a wicked man, all the workings of his heart, his thoughts and discourses, when summed up together, the product and total sum at night is nothing but vanity: ‘The Lord seeth all their thoughts are but vain.’ A vain heart will have vain speeches, and so a cankered sinner will have cankered discourse, as a putrid breath discovereth rotten lungs. Every man’s speech is as his humour is. Come to a covetous person, he will be discoursing of farms, oxen, bargains, wares, and such like. Come to an epicurean gallant, to a voluptuary, and he will be telling you of horses, games, dogs, meats, drinks, merry company. Go to the ambitious, they will be talking of honours, offices, and the like. As they are of the flesh, so their talk savours of fleshly things. Every man hath a voice like himself, he speaks according to the constitution of his mind. Go to the discontented man, he will be talking of his adversaries, telling of affronts, wrongs, and public offences received. But a godly man hath a voice too like himself; he will be declaring the judgments of God’s mouth; he will be speaking out of the word of God, of things within his sphere, and suitable to his kind: Mat. xii. 35, ‘A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things.’ Still the tap runs according to the liquor with which the vessel is filled, and a man’s speech bewrays him of what kind he is; and therefore, since every creature hath a voice like himself, so should the new creature have.
4. I shall argue from the nature of good, which is communicative, and loves to propagate itself—omne bonum sui diffusivum: Luke xxii. 32, ‘Thou being converted, strengthen thy brethren.’ He had had experience of a changeable heart; now go strengthen others. Fire turneth all things about it into fire; leaven pierceth through the whole lump. So grace seeks to propagate and diffuse itself. Therefore, when the work of God is written upon a man’s mind and laid up in his heart, he will be declaring and speaking of it to others. Naturalists observe that mules and creatures which are of a mongrel race do not procreate after their kind; so the false Christians are not for propagating and enlarging Christ’s interest; they are not so warm, spiritual, and heavenly in their discourses. Andrew, when acquainted with, Christ, calls Peter, and both call Nathanael: John i. 41-45, ‘We have found the Messiah,’ John calls his disciples. As a hen, when she hath found a worm or a barleycorn, clucks for her chickens that they may come and partake of it with her, so a man acquainted with Christ, who hath tasted that the Lord is gracious, he cannot hold; he will be calling upon his friends and relations to come and share with him of the same grace. As they have more of God, they will improve it for the comfort of others, and are willing to take hold of all opportunities to this end.
5. It discovereth plenty of knowledge and a good esteem of the word. (1.) Plenty of knowledge, when it is so apt to break out. When these living waters run out of the belly, it is a sign of a good spring there: Col. iii. 16, ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another.’ It is a sign 125we have gotten the riches of understanding; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. So Prov. xvi. 23, ‘The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips.’ When our speech hath weight and worth in it, and we are ready upon all occasions, it argueth a good stock of the word. You know a man that puts his hand in his pocket, and brings up gold at every draught, it is a sign he hath more plenty of it than silver; so when we are ready to bring out gracious discourses, it argueth a treasure and stock within. (2.) It argueth a good esteem of the word. Things that are dear and precious to us, we use to discourse of them. What we love, admire, and affect, the tongue will be occupied about such things: John iii. 31, ‘He that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth;’ and 1 John iv. 5, ‘They are of the world, therefore speak they of the world.’ I know it is spoken in the first place of ordinary teachers. All men, whose original is of the earth, they savour of it in their speech; when they speak of divine things, there is some earthiness in it. The other scripture is meant of false teachers, they savour of the world, all their teaching doth savour of their affections. But both places give this general truth: What a man’s affections are upon, it is most ready in his mouth. Therefore it argueth we are affected with the word of God when we are declaring it upon all occasions.
6. It is for our benefit to be talking of good things to others. The breasts that are not sucked do soon grow dry, but the more they are milked out and drawn, the greater is the increase; so in spiritual things, we gain by communicating; by discourse, truths are laid more in view. We find in any art of common learning, the more we confer about things with others, the more understanding we get ourselves: Prov. xi. 25, ‘The liberal soul shall be made fat; and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.’ It is spoken of alms; it is true of spiritual alms, as plain experience shows. By watering and refreshing others, the more are we comforted and refreshed ourselves. The loaves were increased in the dividing. Solomon compares conference to the whetting iron upon iron; the more one iron is whetted upon another, both are sharpened; so by conference our gifts are increased. Earthly goods, the more they are given out, we have the less in view and visible appearance, though God can increase them; but now, in heavenly and spiritual things, in the very giving out to others, they are increased upon our hands.
Use 1. To shame us for our unprofitableness in our relations and converses; for these are two things wherein a Christian should take occasion to declare the judgments of God’s mouth.
1. In our relations, that we do no good there in declaring the judgments of God’s mouth to one another. Surely every relation is a talent, and you will be accountable for it, if you do not improve it for your master’s use. The husband is to converse with his wife as a man of knowledge; 1 Peter iii. 7; and the wife to gain upon the husband, 1 Peter iii. 2; and both upon the children and servants. The members of every family should be helping one another in the way to heaven. With what busy diligence doth an idolatrous family carry on their way and their course! See Jer. vii. 18, ‘The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire,’ &c., saith the Lord. Every one 126will have his hand in the work, and are quickening and inflaming one another. ‘Fathers, children, husbands, wives, all find some employment or other about their idolatrous service. Oh, that every one would be as forward and zealous and helpful in the work of God! Oh, that we were as careful to train and set our families a-work in a course of godliness! Christians should reason thus: What honour hath God by making me a father, a master of a family? Every such an one hath a charge of souls, and he is to be responsible. It will be no grief of heart to you when by your means they become acquainted with God: ‘Ye are my crown and my rejoicing,’ says the apostle, of the Thessalonians converted by his ministry. It will be a crown of honour and rejoicing in the day of the Lord, when you have been instrumental, not only for their prosperity in the world, but of their increasing in grace.
2. In our converses, how little do we edify one another! If Christ’s question to the two disciples going to Emmaus were put to us: Luke xxiv. 17, ‘What manner of conversation had you by the way?’ what cause should we have to blush and be ashamed! Generally our discourse is either—(1.) Profane and sinful; there is too much of the rotten communication which the apostle forbids: Eph. iv. 29, ‘Let no corrupt communication come out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearer.’ Rotten discourse argueth a rotten heart. Or, (2.) Idle and vain, as foolish tales. The apostle bids Timothy, 1 Tim. iv. 7, to ‘refuse profane and old wives’ fables,’ or ‘vain compliments,’ though we are to give an account for idle words, Mat. xii. 36. Or else, like the Athenians, we ‘spend our time in hearing and telling news,’ Acts xvii. 21. Or we please and solace ourselves with frothy flashes of wanton wit, and ‘jesting that is not convenient,’ which the apostle forbids, Eph. v. 4. The praise of a Christian lieth not in the wittiness, but in the graciousness of his conversation. That which is Aristotle’s virtue is made a sin with Paul—foolish jesting. You should rather be refreshing one another with what experiences you have had of the Lord’s grace; that is the comfort and solace of Christians when they meet together. But when men wholly give up themselves to move laughter, all this is idle and vain discourse. It is not enough to say it doth no hurt, but what good doth it do? doth it tend ‘to the use of edifying’? A Christian that hath God and Christ, and his wonderful and precious benefits to talk of, and so many occasions to give thanks, he cannot want matter to discourse of when he comes into company; therefore we should avoid vain discourse. Or, (3.) We talk of other men’s matters or faults, as the apostle speaks of those, 1 Tim. v. 13, that wandered from house to house; that were not idle only, but tattlers also, and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not: Lev. xix. 16, ‘Thou shalt not go up and down as a tale-bearer among thy people.’ The Hebrew word signifies a merchant, or one that goeth about with spices to sell; thence the word is used for one that wandereth from place to place, uttering slanders as wares. These pedlars will always be opening their packs. Men fill up time by tattling and meddling with others: Thus have I heard of such or such an one. Or, (4.) our discourse is wholly of worldly business, not a word of God: ‘They are of the earth, and speak of the earth,’ John iii. 31. The 127habituating ourselves to worldly discourse together, without interposing something of God, is a great disadvantage. Or, (5.) vain jangling; if we speak of anything that hath an aspect upon religion, we turn it into a mere dispute about opinion; we do not use conferences as helps to gracious affections. How many are there sick of questions, as the apostle saith, and ‘dote upon strife of words’? 1 Tim. vi. 4. Thus if we did put ourselves to question at night, What have I spoken? what good have I done? what good have I received from such company?—it would make the word more sensible and active upon our souls.
Use 2. To press us to holy conference, both occasional and set.
1. Occasional. We are not left at random in our ordinary discourse, to speak as we will; but at all times and with all persons we should have an eye to the good of those with whom we speak: Col. iv. 6, ‘Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.’ In visits, walks, journeys, let your speech be always with grace. We should ever be drawing to good discourse, as remembering we must give account: James ii. 12, ‘So speak as those that shall be judged by the law of liberty.’ Certainly a gracious heart will thus do. He that doth not want a heart will not want in occasion of interposing somewhat for God. This was Christ’s manner: Luke xiv. 15, when he was eating bread in the Pharisee’s house, he discourseth, ‘Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.’ There will be a feast in heaven, when we shall ‘sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God.’ So when Christ was at Jacob’s well, John iv. 14, he discourseth of the ‘well of living waters which springeth up to eternal life’; still he draweth towards some gracious improvement of the occasion. So John vii. 37, when he was at the feast of tabernacles, and it was the custom there to fetch water from Siloa, and pour it out upon the altar of burnt-offerings—they were to make a flood of it—Christ improves it: ‘If any man will come to me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water;’ he spiritualiseth the occasion. If our hearts were as they ought to be, we would have a gracious word more ready; we would either be beginning or carrying on good conference where-ever we came. But Christians are to seek, either through barrenness or leanness of soul; they have not that good treasure or stock of knowledge in them, or through the custom of vain speech. And the great cause of all is the prevalency of an unsanctified and worldly heart; this hindereth us from being more fruitful in our converse.
2. It should press us to holy conferences set. There may be, and should be, some set time for mutual edification. It is not the duty only of the ministers, but also of private Christians, keeping within the bounds of their station and the measures of their knowledge, to teach and to instruct one another. The scriptures are full of this: Col. iii. 6; Col. i. 5-11; Heb. iii. 13; Jude 20. Christians should often meet together for prayer and spiritual edification. So Heb. x. 24, 25; Rom. xv. 14. I heap up these places because of the error of the Papists, who will not have the laity speak of scripture, or things pertaining to scripture. Whereas you see these injunctions are plain and clear, and it is a great part of that holy communion that should pass between saints, this mutual exhorting, quickening, and strengthening one another’s 128hands in the work of the Lord. These places are not to be under stood of public communion, of church societies, but of private conferences, by way of interchangeable discourse and mutual edification. It is not necessary these set conferences should be always, and all the members of the church meet and confer together; but a company of savoury Christians, whose spirits suit best in commerce, and most likely to help one another. Though I am to love all the brotherhood, and carry a respect to all in relation to me, yet I am to single out for my advantage some of the most eminent, or the most suitable; for great regard is to be had to that. Christ made a distinction in his little flock, in his family, shall I call it; some he singleth out for more immediate converses, as Peter, James, and John, in his transfiguration, in Mat. xvii. 1, and in his agonies; these were the flower, the choice, that he singled out for his special converse. I speak not of public meetings, in public societies, but set conferences with gracious Christians with whom our spirits suit best, and are likely to be of greatest help in maintaining of the spiritual life. These set times the people of God have ever made conscience of. It is a great comfort and refreshing to be conscious to the exercise of each other’s grace: Rom. i. 12, ‘That I may be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith both of you and me.’ And it is a mighty strengthening in evil times: Mal. iii. 16, ‘Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened and heard it.’ And you will find the benefit of the manifold graces of God, that what one wants will be supplied by the help of another. God doth riot so give his gifts to one but that he needs others’ help. Paul calls Aquila and Priscilla ‘fellows or helpers in Christ Jesus;’ and Apollos, a mighty man in the scriptures, had a great deal of help by Aquila and Priscilla, Rom. xvi. 3; 1 Cor. xii. 21, ‘The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor the head to the feet, I have no need of you.’ The meanest have their use, quickening and strengthening one another. This mutual edification differeth from ministerial or church society; because the one is an act of authority, the other of charity; the one in the face of the congregation, the other by a few Christians in private; and it may be improved to awaken each other to consider of God, of the ways of God, the word of God, the works of creation and providence, redemption, the judgments he executes in the world, mercies towards his people, the experiments and proofs of his grace in your Christian warfare: Ps. lxvi. 16, ‘Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.’ Ferus speaks of some old monks, Conveniebant in unum, audiebatur verbum Dei, &c.—they were wont to meet together, and after they had read the word of God, every one did acquaint one another with his weaknesses, with his temptations, and mutually asked counsel, and comforted one another out of the word of God; and after this they concluded all with prayer, and so every man went to his home. These examples, did we observe them, they would be most useful to us; we might drive on a trade to heaven, and be of very great profit in the spiritual life; if the gifts of private Christians were managed without pride, vainglory, and without despising of the weak, it would be of exceeding honour to God, use and comfort to the saints.129
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