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Princes also did sit and speak against me: but thy servant did meditate in thy statutes.—Ver. 23.
THIS psalm expresseth David’s affection to the word, as the result of all that experience which he had of the comfort and use of it. In the present verse two things:—
1. David’s trouble.
2. His remedy.
1. His trouble, princes did sit and speak against me.
2. The remedy that he used, but thy servant did meditate in thy statutes.
First, The evil wherewith he was exercised. There are several circumstances produced by way of aggravation of his trouble:—
1. Who? ‘Princes also;’ his trial came not only from the contempt and reproach of base people, spoken of in the former verse, but from princes also, by whom are meant Saul’s courtiers and counsellors.
2. How? ‘Did sit;’ not only when occasionally met together in private in their chambers or at their tables, but when they sat in council, or when they sat together on the seat of judgment, they consulted to ruin him; or upon the throne (where nothing but just and holy should be expected) passed a judicial sentence against him.
3. What? ‘Did speak against me;’ it was not reproach only that troubled him, but the powers of the world gave false sentence against him. To be spoken of as an evil-doer is a less temptation than to be condemned as a malefactor.
Secondly, His remedy; where observe—
1. The title he gives himself, but ‘thy servant.’ He speaketh 215modestly of himself, in the third person; and fitly doth he say, ‘thy servant.’ We owe duty to a higher master, when they decree anything contrary to God’s word.
2. His practice and exercise, ‘Did meditate on thy statutes.’ This is spoken for two reasons:—
[1.] That he was not discouraged by their opposition, but held to his duty; he was maligned for God’s word’s sake, and yet kept up his respect to the word of God, and never left meditating therein.
[2J To show the way of his relief and cure under this trouble, by exercising himself in the word, which in the next verse he showeth. yielded him a double benefit—comfort and counsel.
(1.) It was of use to comfort him and strengthen faith.
(2.) To direct him that he might keep within the bounds of true obedience; there being in the word of God both sweet promises and a sure rule.
Observe from the evil wherewith he was exercised:—
Doct. It is many times the lot of God’s people that princes do sit and speak against them in councils and upon the throne of judgment.
1. For consulting against them to their ruin. We have instances of a council gathered against Christ: John xi. 47, ‘Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doth many miracles.’ They meet together, and plot the ruin of Christ and his kingdom; and they were those that were of chief authority in the place. Another instance: Acts iv. 27, 28, ‘For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.’ There is their agreement to put Christ to death. In the Old Testament, Pharaoh and his nobles: Exod. i. 10, ‘Come on, κατασοφιζώμεθα, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.’ And against Daniel the princes of the Persian empire consult how to entrap him in the matter of his God, Dan. vi. 4-6, &c.
2. For abusing the throne of judgment and civil courts of judicature, to the molestation of the saints. I shall cite but two places: Ps. xciv. 20, ‘Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?’ It is no strange, but yet no small temptation, that the oppression of God’s people is marked with a pretence and colour of law and public authority, and the mischief should proceed from thence where it should be remedied, namely, from the seat of justice. So, Mat. x. 17, 18, Christ foretelleth they shall have enemies armed with power and public authority: ‘Beware of men, for they will deliver you to the councils, and they shall scourge you in their synagogues, and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake.’ Not only subordinate, but supreme governors may be drawn to condemn and oppress the godly. In so plain a case more instances need not.
Reasons of it, on God’s part, and on the part of the persecutors.216
First, On God’s part, he permitteth it—
1. To show that he can carry on his work though authority be against him, and that his people do not subsist by outward force, but the goodness of his providence, and so hath the sole glory of their preservation. When the Christian religion came first abroad in the world, ‘not many noble nor many mighty were called;’ the powers of the world were against it, and yet it held up the head, and was dispersed far and near. Falsehoods need some outward interest to back them, and the supports of a secular arm; but God’s interest doth many times stand alone, though God doth now and then make ‘kings nursing-fathers, and queens nursing-mothers,’ according to his promise, Isa. xlix. 23. Oftentimes the church is destitute of all worldly props: Micah v. 7, ‘And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men.’ Yea, the power of the world is against it, and yet it subsists. Thus it was in the primitive times; there were only a handful of contemptible people that professed the gospel; yet it got ground daily, not by force of arms or the power of the long sword, but by God’s secret blessing. Ambrose giveth the reason why God suffered it to be so, Ne videretur auctoritate traxisse aliquos, et veritatis ratio non pompae gratiâ praevaleret—lest this new religion should seem to be planted with power rather than by its own evidence, and the authority of men should sway more with the world than the truth of God. There is a wonderful increase without any human concurrence, as the Lord saith, ‘The remnant of his people shall be as a dew from the Lord, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men,’ without man’s consent or concurrence. So that God alone hath the glory of their preservation.
2. That the patience of his people may be put to the utmost probation. When they are exercised with all kinds of trials, not only the hatred of the vulgar, but the opposition of the magistrate, carried on under a form of legal procedure. In the primitive times, sometimes the Christians were exposed to the hatred and fury of the people, lapidibus nos invadit inimicum vulgus; at other times exposed to the injuries of laws, and persecutions carried on by authority against them. There was an uproar at Ephesus against the Christians, Acts xix., and there seemed to be a formal process at Jerusalem, Acts iv. This latter temptation seemeth to be the more sore and grievous, because God’s ordinance, which is magistracy, is wrested to give countenance to malicious designs, and because it cuts off all means of human help, and so ‘patience hath ἔργον τέλειον., its perfect work,’ James i. 4. There is some glory in suffering the rage and evil word of the vulgar, for they are supposed not to make the wisest choice; but when men of wisdom and power, and such as are clothed with the majesty of God’s ordinance, are set against us, then is patience put to the utmost proof, and whether we regard God or man most, and who is the object of our fear, those that have power of life and death temporal, or him that hath power of life and death eternal.
3. That his people may be weaned from fleshly dependencies, and doting upon civil powers, and so be driven to depend upon him alone. Ps. xciv. 20-22, ‘Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with 217 thee, which establish mischief by a law? They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the innocent blood. But the Lord is my defence, and my God is the rock of my refuge.’ There would not be such use of faith and dependence upon God if our danger were not great. It is harder to trust in God with means than without means. We are beaten out when outward helps fail, otherwise we are apt to neglect God, and then a world of mischief ensueth. When the emperor of the Romans began to favour the Christians, poison was said to be poured into the church; and in the sunshine of worldly countenance, like green timber, they began to warp and cleave asunder; and what religion got in breadth it lost in strength and vigour. God’s people never live up to the beauty and majesty of their principles so much as when they are forced immediately to live upon God, and depend upon him for their safety.
4. That their testimony and witness-bearing to God’s truths may be the more public and authentic in the view of the world. This testimony is either to them for their conviction and conversion: Mat. xxiv. 14, ‘And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations;’ or against them: Mat. x. 18, ‘And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.’ It is for a testimony, and that should comfort them in all their sufferings: Mark xiv. 9, ‘Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.’ The testimony is more valid as being confirmed by their courage in troubles; they are principles that they will suffer for; which, as it is a warning to the professors of religion that they should own no principles in a time of peace but what they would confirm by their avowed testimony in the extremity of trials; so also it should convince their enemies in case they be put upon this exercise. It is needful that every truth should have a sealed testimony; that is, we should not only vent opinions, but be willing to suffer for them if God should call us out so to do. God hath been ever tender of imposing upon the world without sufficient evidence, and therefore would not have his people stand upon their lives and temporal concernments, that thereby they may give greater satisfaction to the world concerning the weight of those truths which they do profess.
Secondly, On the persecutors’ part, or the persons molesting; so the causes are—
1. Their ignorance and blind zeal: John xvi. 2, ‘They shall put you out of their synagogues; yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that they do God good service.’ They think it to be an acceptable service to God to molest and trouble those that are indeed his people. Those princes that sat and spake against David were not pagans and men of another religion, but of Israel; and it is often the lot of God’s people to be persecuted, not only by pagans and openly profane men, but even by men that profess the true religion—pseudo-Christians, Rev. xiv. 13, those that pretend they are for God and his cause, and seem to be carried on with a great zeal, and do not oppose truth as truth, but their quarrel is coloured by specious pretences.218
2. Their prejudices lightly taken up against the people of God. Satan is first a liar, and then a murderer: John viii. 44, ‘Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do: he was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him: when he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar, and the father of it.’ By lies he bringeth about his bloody design. Christ was first called a Samaritan, and one that had a devil; and then they did persecute him as such a one. And, as was observed before, as Christians of old were covered with the skins of wild beasts, that dogs and lions might tear them the more speedily, so by odious imputations God’s people are brought into distaste with the world, and then molested and troubled, represented as a company of hypocrites and unjust dealers; and under that cloak, true religion is undermined. Now, in the persecutor, this is faulty, because they lightly take up every false suggestion; and so Christians are condemned διὰ τὴν φήμην, as Justin Martyr complained, because of the common reproach, without any distinct inquiry into their way and practice, nolunt audire quod auditum damnare non possunt.
3. Their erroneous principle in civil policy, that Christ’s kingdom and the freedom of his worshippers is not consistent with civil interests. Whatever hath been the matter, worldly rulers have been jealous of Christ’s interest and kingdom, as if it could not consist with public safety, and the civil interests of that state and nation where it is admitted; and suggestions of this kind do easily prevail with them: Esther iii. 8, ‘It is not for the king’s profit to suffer them;’ and John xi. 48, ‘If we let him alone, all men will believe on him, and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.’ Reason of state is an ancient plea against the interest of religion. In the Roman empire, though the Christians were inconsiderable as to any public charge, yet they had a jealous eye upon them. Justin Martyr showeth the reason of it, ὅτι βασιλείαν ὀνομάζομεν, because they were often speaking of a kingdom; though they meant it of the kingdom of heaven, and were far enough from all rebellion.
Use 1. It informeth us that we should not measure the verity of religion by the greatness of those that are with it or against it. This was one of the Pharisees’ arguments, ‘Do any of the rulers believe in him? But this people, that know not the law, are accursed.’ John vii. 48, 49. Alas! men of authority and great place may be often against God’s interest: James ii. 1, ‘Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, in respect of persons.’ Mark that title that is given to Christ, ‘the Lord of glory;’ he is able to put glory enough upon his worshippers, though they have nothing of outward pomp and splendour; and ‘not many mighty are called,’ 1 Cor. i. 26. Many will say they have none of quality to join with them, none but ignorant people. If a man had judged so in the first times, when the gospel came first abroad in the world, would not Christianity itself have seemed a very contemptible thing? Therefore a simple, plain-hearted love to Christ and his truth, whether powers be averse or friendly, is that which is required of us.
2. It reproveth those who are soon discouraged with the reproach base people cast upon the ways of God. David stood both in 219the one temptation and in the other, the reproach and contempt of the vulgar, and also when princes sat and spake against him. But to these we may say, as Jer. xii. 5, ‘If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how wilt thou contend with horses?’ If we be such tender milksops that we cannot suffer a disgraceful word from the basest of the people, what shall we do when we meet with other manner of conflicts and oppositions in the farther progress of our duty to God? If we are tired out with-the disgrace and affronts of these mean ones, and cannot put up with a scornful word at their hands without disorder, what shall we do when we are to contest for God’s interest with those great and masterly ones that are armed with power and authority, and it may be the advantage of laws against us? Scommata nostra ferre non potes, said the Antiochians to Julian in another case, quomodo feres Persarum tela? God’s servants do often receive discouragement from the people and from authority, but the goodness of their cause and the favour of God makes them joyfully persevere.
3. It teacheth us what to do when this is not our case. I have treated as this scripture hath led me of the oppositions of princes and worldly powers against the people of God; it may be you may judge it unseasonable; but how soon it may be seasonable you cannot tell, considering the spirit of enmity against the power of godliness. Blessed be God that it is not so seasonable now. But what use shall we now make of it?
[1.] To bless God when he giveth religious rulers, and such as are well affected to religion. It is a fulfilling of his promise: Isa. xlix. 23, ‘And kings shall be thy nursing-fathers, and queens thy nursing-mothers.’ God’s interest in the world is usually weak, and his people, like little children, had need to be nursed up by the countenance and defence of worldly potentates. Now, when they discharge their duty, and do afford patronage and protection, it should be acknowledged to God’s glory, in whose hands their hearts are; and the rather by us, because of the iron yoke that was upon us, and those hard task masters under which we formerly groaned. We have our own discontents, as well as former ages; but because all things are not as we could wish them, shall we be thankful for none? The liberty of religion is such a blessing as we cannot enough acknowledge, and doth sufficiently countervail other inconveniences. Oh! therefore let us not sour our spirits into an unthankful frame, by dwelling too much upon our discontents and private dissatisfactions; it is a mercy that the sword of authority is not drawn against religion. When God meaneth good or evil to a nation, he usually dispenseth it by their magistrates. If good, then he puts wisdom and grace into the hearts of those that govern, or government into the hands of those that are wise and gracious. When he meaneth evil, he sendeth them evil magistrates: Isa. xix. 4, ‘The Egyptians will I give over into the hands of a cruel lord, and a fierce king shall rule over them.’ But when good governors, it is a mercy, and a presage of good.
[2.] To pity those whose case it is that princes sit and speak against them, as it is of many of the people of God now in the world. When we suffer not by immediate and direct passion, we should suffer by 220way of fellow-feeling and compassion. It is charged as a great crime that ‘those that were at ease in Sion were not grieved for the afflictions of Joseph,’ Amos vi. 6, compared with the 1st verse. It may be used proverbially; as the butler forgat Joseph when he was well at court; and his brethren did eat bread and little regarded the afflictions of his soul when cast into the pit. But I suppose them literally, because the half tribe of Manasseh was carried captive by Tiglath Pileser, that they did not sympathise with them, propter confractionem Joseph—for the breach made upon Joseph. God layeth affliction upon some of his people, to try the sympathy of others; as on Protestants in Poland, the emperor’s dominions, Savoy, some parts of France, and elsewhere.
[3.] To be the more strict and holy, and improve this good day of the church’s peace. They that are not holy in a time of peace will not be holy and constant in a time of trouble: Acts ix. 31, ‘When the churches had rest, they walked in the fear of God, and in the comforts of the Holy Ghost.’ When we are not called to passive obedience and suffering, our active obedience should be the more cheerfully performed. Now where is it so? Our fathers suffered more willingly for Christ than we speak of him. Our inward peace and comfort will cost us more in getting, and therefore we should be more in service. Oh! let us not abuse this rest we have, to the neglect of God, or to vain contentions, as green timber warpeth and breaketh in the sun shine. The contentions of the pastors, saith Eusebius, did usher in the truth,99 Qu. ‘tenth’?—ED. which was Diocletian’s persecution.
[4.] Here is caution, and a word of counsel to the princes of the nations, or the heads of the people, that now are met together and sit in council. Oh! do not sit and speak against such as are God’s people; that is, do not decree anything against them. Some would have the magistrate to do nothing in religion; but that would leave things at a strange loose and disorder. Certainly you should at least provide for the liberties of God’s people, that they should ‘lead a quiet life in godliness and honesty,’ 1 Tim. ii. 2; that they may be secured, and the peace kept, not only as to their civil interests, but whilst they worship God according to their conscience, which can never be as long as those swarms of libertines are publicly tolerated, which every day increase in number, power, and malice. And again, the great security of magistrates lieth in an oath of fealty, which only receiveth value from religion; therefore the magistrate is concerned in what religion is professed in a nation, as well as in things civil. But now, whilst you interpose in religion, be sure you do not contradict or undermine God’s interest; and be not courted by any prepossessions of your own, or the crafty insinuations of others, to oppress by your sentence and suffrage those that fear God in the land, and do make conscience of their ways. The magistrate’s interposing in religion is to me an un questionable duty, and yet to be managed with great caution: Ps. ii. 10, ‘Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings, and be instructed, ye judges of the earth.’ What by natural prejudices against the strict and more severe ways of godliness, what by private whispers and subtle disguises, men may be tempted to oppose Christ’s kingdom, cause, and 221people; therefore they should be wary, as they would be faithful in their places, and love their own souls, to go upon sure clear grounds. You are to promote Christ’s service, otherwise you will be answer able for your neglect; and yet you are to take heed, lest, whilst you think you do God service, you subvert not his interest, and so you be answerable for your mistake. To deal more particularly would be a diversion. I only intend it as a warning, and to show you the necessity of consulting with those who are best able to judge in the case where your duty lieth.
Secondly, David’s remedy: ‘But thy servant did meditate in thy statutes.’
Doct. The best way to ease the heart from trouble that doth arise from the opposition of men of power and place, is by serious consulting with God’s word.
Because the time will not bear a large prosecution, I shall open the force of this clause in three propositions.
1. A holy divertisement is the best way to ease the trouble of our thoughts. Certainly it is not good altogether to pore upon our sorrows; a diversion is a prudent course. David did not merely sit down and bemoan the calamity of his condition, and so sink under the burden, but runneth to the word. As husbandmen, when their ground is overflowed by waters, make ditches and water-furrows to carry it away; so when our minds and thoughts are overwhelmed with trouble, it is good to divert them to some other matter. But every diversion will not become saints; it must be a holy diversion: Ps. xciv. 19, ‘In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.’ The case was the same with that of the text, when the throne of iniquity frameth mischief by a law; as you shall see here, when he had many perplexed thoughts about the abuse of power against himself. But now where lay his ease in diversion? Would every diversion suit his purpose? No; ‘Thy comforts,’ of God’s allowance, of God’s providing, comforts proper to saints. Wicked men in trouble run to their pot and pipe, and games and sports, and merry company, and so defeat the providence rather than improve it; but David, who was God’s servant, must have God’s comforts. So else where, when his thoughts were troubled about the power of the wicked, ‘I went into the sanctuary, there I understood their end:’ Ps. lxxiii. 17. He goeth to divert his mind by the use of God’s ordinances, and so came to be settled against the temptation.
2. Among all sorts of holy divertisements none is of such use as God’s word. There is matter enough to take up our thoughts and allay our cares and fears, and to swallow up our sorrows and griefs, to direct us in all straits. In brief, there is comfort there and counsel there.
[1.] Comfort, whilst the word teacheth us to look off from men to God, from providence to the covenant, from things temporal to things eternal, from men to God, as Moses ‘feared not the wrath of the king when he saw him that is invisible,’ Heb. xi. 27; and Eccles. v. 8, ‘If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perversion of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter; for he that is higher than the highest regardeth, and there be higher than 222they.’ There is a higher judge that sitteth in heaven; and if he pass sentence for us when they pass sentence against us, we need to be the less troubled. If he give us the pardon of sins and the testimony of a good conscience, it is no matter what men say against us: Ps. xl. 4, ‘Blessed is the man that maketh the Lord his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.’ Is not God able to bear you out in his work? From providence to the covenant: providence is a very riddle; we shall not know what to make of it till we gather principles of faith from the covenant: Heb. xiii. 5, ‘He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’ God overrules all for good: Rom. viii. 28, ‘We know that all things work together for good to those that love God, to those that are the called according to his purpose.’ From things temporal to eternal: 2 Cor. iv. 17, 18, ‘For our light affliction, that is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal;’ Rom. viii. 18, ‘For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.’ A feather or a straw against a talent, a man would be ashamed to compare them together.
[2.] For counsel. A Christian should not be troubled so much about what he should suffer, as what he should do, that he may do nothing unseemly to his calling and hopes, but be kept blameless to the heavenly kingdom. Now, the word of God will teach him how to carry himself in dangers, to pray for persecutors (fire is not quenched with fire, nor evil overcome with evil); how to keep ourselves from unlawful shifts and means, how to avoid revenge, lying, flattering, yielding against conscience, or waxing weary of well-doing, that we may not fight against Satan or his instruments by their own weapons, for so we shall be easily overcome. The wicked shall not be so wise to contrive the mischief, as a saint instructed by the word is how to carry himself under it: Ps. cxix. 98, ‘Through thy commandments thou hast made me wiser than my enemies.’ Malice and policy shall not teach them to persecute, as God’s word to carry yourselves in the trouble.
3. The word must not be slightly read, but our hearts must be exercised in the meditation of it. A cursory reading doth not work upon us so much as serious thoughts. In all studies, meditation is both the mother and nurse of knowledge, and so it is of godliness, without which we do but know truths by rote and hearsay, and talk one after another like parrots; but when a truth is chased into the heart by deep inculcative thoughts, then it worketh with us, and we feel the power of it. Musing maketh the fire burn, ponderous thoughts are the bellows that blow it up. Eggs come to be quickened by sitting abrood upon them. In a sanctified heart the seeds of comfort by meditation come to maturity; by constant meditation our affections are quickened, this turneth the promises into marrow: Ps. lxiii. 5, 6, ‘My soul shall be filled as with marrow and fatness, when I meditate on thee in the night watches.’ It giveth more than a vanishing taste, which hypocrites have.
Use 1. In all your troubles learn this method, to cure them by 223gracious means, prayer or meditation. By meditation on the word of God, that will tell you that we are born to trouble, and therefore we should no more think it strange to see God’s children molested here than to see a shower of rain fall after a sunshine, or that the night should succeed the day: 1 Peter iv. 12, ‘Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial, as though some strange thing happened unto you.’ It were strange if otherwise; as if a man were told that his journey lay through a rough stony country, and should pass over a smooth carpet-way. Our waymark is many tribulations: Acts xiv. 22, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ God had one Son without sin, none without the cross.
2. That afflictions, though in themselves they are legal punishments, fruits of sin, yet by the grace of God they are medicinal to his people: 1 Cor. xi. 32, ‘When we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.’
3. We never advance more in Christianity than under the cross: Heb. xii. 10, ‘They verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure, but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness;’ Ps. cxix. 71, ‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes.’
4. Rather undergo the greatest calamities than commit the smallest sin: Heb. xi. 25, ‘Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.’
5. That all crosses are nothing to desertions of God and terrors of conscience: Prov. xviii. 14, ‘The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmities; but a wounded spirit who can bear?’
6. That a meek suffering conduceth much to God’s glory: 1 Peter iv. 14, ‘If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified;’ whilst you do nothing unworthy of his presence in you and the truth you profess.
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