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Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counsellors.—Ver. 24.
DAVID in the former verse had mentioned the greatness of his trial, that not only the basest sort, but princes also were set against him. Then he mentions his remedy; he had recourse to God’s word, ‘But thy servant did meditate in thy statutes.’
Now he shows the double benefit which he had by the word of God, not only wisdom how to carry himself during that trouble, but also comfort; comfort in trouble, and counsel in duty; it seasoned his affliction and guided his business and affairs. What would a man have more in such a perplexed case than be directed and comforted? David had both these, ‘Thy testimonies are my delight and my counsellors.’
First, Thy testimonies are my delight; or, as it is in the Hebrew, delights.224
Secondly, They are my counsellors. In the Hebrew it is, the men of my counsel, which is fitly mentioned, for he had spoken of princes sitting in council against him. Princes do nothing without the advice of their privy council; a child of God hath also his privy council, God’s testimonies. On the one side there was Saul and his nobles and councillors; on the other side there was David and God’s testimonies. Now who were better furnished, think you, they to persecute and trouble him, or David how to carry himself under this trouble? Alphonsus, king of Arragon, being asked who were the best counsellors, answered, the dead; meaning books, which cannot flatter, but do without partiality declare the truth. Now of all such dead counsellors, God’s testimonies have the pre-eminence. A poor godly man, even then when he is deserted of all, and hath nobody to plead for him, he hath his senate and his council of state about him, the prophets and apostles, and other ‘holy men of God, that spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.’ A man so furnished is never less alone than when alone; for he hath counsellors about him that tell him what is to be believed or done; and they are such counsellors as cannot err, as will not flatter him, nor applaud him in any sin, nor discourage nor dissuade him from that which is good, whatever hazards it expose him to. And truly, if we be wise, we should choose such counsellors as these, ‘Thy testimonies are the men of my counsel.’
First, Let me speak of the first benefit, ‘Thy testimonies are my delight.’
Doct. That a child of God, though under deep affliction, finds a great deal of delight and comfort in the word of God.
This was David’s case, princes sat and spake against him, decrees were made against him, yet ‘thy testimonies are my delight.’ Let us see—
1. What manner of delight this is that we find in the word.
2. What the word ministereth or contributeth towards it.
First, What kind of delight it is? A delight better than carnal rejoicing. Wicked men, that flow in ease and plenty, have not so much comfort as a godly man hath in the enjoyment of God, according to the tenor of his word: Ps. iv. 7, ‘Thou hast put more gladness into my heart, than when their corn, wine, and oil increased.’ We have no reason to change conditions with worldly men, as merry as they seem to be, and as much as they possess in the world.
But more particularly, wherein is the difference?
1. This delight is a real joy: 2 Cor. vi. 10, ‘As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.’ Their sorrow is but seeming, but their joy is real; it is joy in good earnest: Heb. xii. 11, ‘No affliction seemeth joyous but grievous.’ As to seeming, they are in a sad condition, but it doth but so seem. A wicked man is as it were glad and merry, but indeed he is dejected and sorrowful; the godly man is as it were sorrowful, but indeed comforted.
2. It is a cordial joy: Ps. iv. 7, ‘Thou hast put more gladness into my heart.’ That is a delight indeed which puts a gladness into the heart, which not only tickles the outward senses, but affects the soul and comforts the conscience. Carnal joy makes a loud noise, and therefore it is compared to ‘the crackling of thorns under a pot;’ but 225this is that which goes to the heart, that fills it with serenity and peace. Carnal joy is like the morning dew, which wets the surface; but godly joy is like a soaking shower that goes to the root, and makes the plant flourish. They that indulge false comfort rather laugh than are merry. But now he that is exercised in the word of God, and fetcheth his comfort out of the promises, he is glad at the very heart.
3. It is a great joy: 1 Peter, i. 8, ‘In whom believing, ye rejoiced with joy unspeakable and full of glory.’ It doth ravish the heart, so that it is better felt than uttered, it is unspeakable and glorious. The higher the life, always the greater the feeling. The good and evil of no life can be so great as the good and evil of the spiritual life, because it is the highest life of all, and therefore hath the highest sense joined with it. Man is more capable of being afflicted than beasts, and beasts than plants, and a godly man more than other men; he hath a higher life, therefore the good and evil is greater. A wounded spirit is the greatest misery any creature can feel on this side hell. So answerably are its joys: as the groans and sorrows of the spiritual life are unutterable, so are the joys of it unspeakable.
4. It is a more pure joy than worldlings can have. The more intellectual any comfort is, the more excellent in the kind. Though beasts may have pain and pleasure poured in upon them by the senses, yet properly they have not sorrow and delight. The joy of carnal men is pleasure rather than delight; it is not fed by the promises and ordinances, but by such dreggy and outward contentments as the world affords, and so of the same nature with the contentment of the beasts. But now the more intellectual and chaste our delights are, the more suitable to the human nature. Well, then, none hath a delight so separate from the lees as a Christian that rejoiceth in the promises of God. He that delights in natural knowledge, hath, questionless, a purer object and greater contentment of soul than the sensualist can possibly have, that delights only in meats, and drinks, and sports, in pleasures that are in common with the beasts. Further yet, he that delights in bare contemplation of the word, as it is an excellent doctrine suited to man’s necessities, as the stony ground ‘received the word with joy,’ Mat. xiii. 20, certainly he hath yet a purer gladness than merely that man that is versed in natural studies. Oh! but when a man can reflect upon the promises, as having an interest in them, that delight which flows from faith, and is accompanied with such a certainty, surely that is a more pure delight than the other, and doth more ravish the heart; they have more intimate and spiritual joy than others have.
5. It is a joy that ends well. Carnal rejoicing makes way for sorrow: ‘The end of that mirth is heaviness,’ Prov. xiv. 13. It is a poor forced thing, saith Cooper. A man in a burning fever is eased no longer by drinking strong drink than while he is drinking of it, for then it seems to cool him, but presently it increaseth his heat; so when men seek ease and comfort in troubles from outward external things, though they seem to mitigate their heaviness for the present, yet they increase it the more afterward.
6. It is not a joy that perverts the heart. Carnal comforts, the more we use them, the more we are ensnared by them: Eccles. ii. 2, ‘I have said of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What doth it?’ For what 226serious and sober use doth carnal rejoicing serve? There is no profit by it, but much hurt and danger; therefore Solomon preferreth sorrow before it: Eccles. vii. 3, ‘Sorrow is better than laughter; for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.’ But now, the more of this delight we have, the more we delight ourselves in the word of God, the more we love God, the better the heart is.
7. It is a delight that overcomes the sense of our affliction, and all the evils that do befall us; and therefore it is said of the heirs of promise that they have ‘strong consolation,’ Heb. vi. 18. The strength is seen by the effects; therefore it is strong, because it supports and revives, notwithstanding troubles. It establisheth the heart, notwithstanding all the floods and storms of temptations that light upon it: 1 Thes. i. 6, it is said of them, that ‘they received the word with much, affliction and joy in the Holy Ghost.’
Secondly, How do we find it in the word? ‘His testimonies are my delight.’ The word requires this joy in troubles, and the word ministers it to the soul.
It requires this joy: James i. 2, ‘Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.’ We are not only with patience to submit to God’s will, but also to rejoice in it: so Mat. v. 12, ‘When men persecute and revile you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my name sake, rejoice and be exceeding glad.’ Many times when other ways of persecution cease, yet there is reviling. Those that have no strength and power to do other injuries, yet have such weapons of malice always in readiness. Some, being not good Christians themselves, will defame those that are so; that so, when they cannot reach them in practice, they may depress them by censure; when they cannot go so high as they, they may bring them as low as themselves by detraction. Now, though this be a great evil, we should bear it not heavily but cheerfully; rejoice and be exceeding glad in hope of the promises: Rom. v. 3, ‘We glory in tribulation.’ A true believer, that hath received the word of God as the rule of his life and guide of his hopes, he can not only be patient, but cheerful, glory in his tribulation. A carnal man is not so comfortable in his best estate as he at his worst.
Again, it gives us matter and ground of joy. God speaks a great deal of comfort to an afflicted spirit. It was one end why the scriptures were penned: Rom. xv. 4, ‘That we through patience and comfort of the scripture might have hope;’ and Heb. xii. 5, ‘Have you forgotten the consolation, that speaks to you as children?’ The great drift of the word is to provide matter of comfort, and that in our worst estate.
But now, what are the usual comforts that may occasion this delight and joy in the Holy Ghost in the midst of deep affliction?
1. The scripture gives us ground of comfort from the author of our afflictions, who is our Father, and never manifests the comfort of adoption so much as then when we are under chastening: Heb. xii. 5, ‘The consolation that speaks to you as children;’ and John xviii. 11, ‘The cup which my Father hath put into my hands, shall I not drink it?’ It is a bitter cup, but it is from a father, not from a judge or an enemy. Nothing but good can come from him 227who is love and goodness itself; nothing but what is useful from a father, whose affection is not to be measured by the bitterness of the dispensation, but by his aims, what he intends. If God should let us alone to follow our own ways, it were an argument we were none of his children.
2. The necessity of affliction: 1 Peter i. 6, ‘Ye are for a season in trouble, if need be.’ Before the corn be ripened, it needs all kind of weathers, and therefore the husbandman is as glad of showers as sun shine, because they both conduce to fruitfulness. We need all kind of dispensations, and cannot well be without the many troubles that do befall us.
3. The nature and use of affliction. It is a medicine, not a poison; it works out the remainders of sin: Isa. xxvii. 9, ‘By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged, and this is all the fruit, to take away his sin.’ Afflictions are useful, and help to mortification. It is a file to get off our rust; a flail, wherewith we are threshed, that our husk may fly off; a fire to purge and eat out our dross: ‘He verily for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness,’ Heb. xii. 10. If God take away any outward comforts from us, and give us graces instead of them, it is a blessed exchange, if he strip us of our garments, and clothe us with his own royal robe, as holiness is. God himself is glorious in holiness. Now, that we may be partakers of his holiness, surely that is for our profit.
4. For the manner of God’s afflicting, it is in measure: Isa. xxvii. 8, ‘In measure when it shooteth forth, thou wilt debate with it. He stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind.’ So Jer. xlvi. 28, ‘Fear thou not, Jacob, my servant, saith the Lord,’ &c. So 1 Cor. x. 13, ‘God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above measure.’ His conduct is very gentle: as Jacob drove on as the little ones were able to bear, Gen. xxxiii., so doth God with a great deal of moderation measure out sufferings in a due proportion, not to our offences only, but our strength; as a father, in correcting his children, regards their weakness as well as their wantonness, laying less upon the more infirm, though alike faulty.
5. Another comfort which the scripture propounds is the help we shall have in affliction to bear it, partly from the comforts of his Spirit, and partly from the supports of his grace.
[1.] By way of consolation: ‘The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost’ at such a time, Rom. v. 3. Cordials are for those that are fainting. In time of trouble we have most sensible experience of God’s love. God deals with his children many times as Joseph did with his brethren; he calls them spies, and puts them in prison, but at length he could hold no longer, but tells them, ‘I am your brother Joseph.’ So God seems to deal roughly with his people, and take away their dearest comforts from them. Ay! but before the trouble be over, he can hold no longer, but saith, I am your God, your father, and exceeding great reward. His bowels yearn towards us, and he opens his heart to us, and sheds abroad his love in our conscience.
[2.] Partly by the supports and influences of his grace: Ps. cxxxviii. 3, ‘In the day when I cried, thou answeredst me and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.’ When David was in trouble, this was his 228comfort, though he could not get deliverance yet he got support. God is many times gone to appearance, but he will never forsake us as to inward support and strength: Heb. xiii. 5, ‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’
6. From the fruit and final issue of all: 2 Cor. iv. 17, ‘This light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.’ He that can find Christ in his afflictions, and can see heaven beyond it, needs not to be troubled. All the notions of heaven are diversified. Why? That they may be suited to those divers trials and many evils we have in the world. Sometimes it is expressed by glory and honour, to counterbalance the disgrace which God’s children meet with here; that the reproach of men may not make us more sad than the eternal glory may make us comfortable. Sometimes it is expressed by substance, because some times God’s children are poor, and suffer loss of goods, Heb. x. 34. Sometimes it is called our redemption, our country, to comfort us in exile and banishment for the name of Christ, Heb. xi. 14, 15. Some times it is called life eternal, because we may be called to suffer even to blood. Thus the word offereth this comfort against all the evils that befall us, that we may counterbalance every particular trouble with what the promises hold forth concerning our blessed hopes.
Use 1. Well, then, let us exercise ourselves in the word of God, and let all his promises be as so many cordials to us. To this end get an interest in these promises, for the heirs of promise have ‘strong consolation,’ Heb. vi. 18. There is strong, great, real, and pure comfort, but it is to the heirs of promise. So Rom. v. 4, ‘Not only so, but we rejoice in tribulation.’ Who are those? Those that are justified by faith in Christ, ver. 1. To others, afflictions are the punishments of sin, and an occasion of despair, not of rejoicing. Ay! but when we are interested in reconciliation with God, then we take this comfort out of the word of God.
2. It informs us of the excellency of God’s testimonies above all outward enjoyments. When we have them to the full, they cannot give us any solid true peace of conscience, nor cure one sad thought. Now beg of God that he will comfort you when all things else fail: ‘When the labour of the olive shall fail, I will comfort myself in the Lord my God,’ Hab. iii. 18. I say, when we are under any burden, nay, when we are under any sorrow for sin, when afflictions revive stings of conscience, or else the word hath awakened them, yet there is comfort to be had by running to the word of God.
3. It shows us what is the property of believers, to delight in the testimonies of God, when all things go cross to them. Temporaries, when things run smoothly, they have a comfort in the word. Oh! but when the afflictions of the gospel fall upon them, they fall a murmuring presently. But a true believer can hold up his head; and though he hath much affliction, yet he can have much joy in the Holy Ghost, and a great deal of comfort from the word of God.
There follows another benefit, ‘Thy testimonies are my counsellors,’ or ‘men of my counsel.’ From thence observe—
Doct. 2. That one great benefit we have from the word of God is counsel, how to direct our affairs according to his will.229
For the clearing of this, let me lay down these propositions—
1. That our great interest is to keep in with God, or approve ourselves to him.
2. Whoever would keep in with God needs counsel and direction in all his ways.
3. The only good counsel we can have is from God in his word.
4. The counsel God hath given us in his word is sufficient and full out for all our necessities.
Prop. 1. That our great interest is to keep in with God, and approve ourselves to him in all our actions; for God is the scope and end of our lives and actions, as the thing pressed, ‘That we may walk worthy of God in all well-pleasing,’ Col. i. 10. God, being our chiefest good, must be our last end; therefore in every action there must be a habitual purpose, and in all actions of weight and moment there must be an actual purpose, to please God. Every ordinary affair must be carried forth in the strength of the habitual purpose, but in all actions we would make a business of there must be an actual purpose. And because his authority alone can sway the conscience, which is under his dominion, therefore it concerns us in all things to ‘exercise ourselves that we may have a good conscience, void of offence both towards God and man,’ Acts xxiv. 16. And again, we are to approve our ways to God, and to keep in with him, because to him we are to give an account, 2 Cor. v. 9, 10. There will a time come when every action of ours shall be taken into consideration, and weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, with all our principles and ends; therefore we strive, we are ambitious (so the word signifies); our great ambition should be, living or dying, to be accepted with God. Again, surely it should be our business to approve ourselves to God in every action, because all the success of our actions depends upon his concurrence and blessing. Now we shall find this is often asserted in scripture. When a man’s ways are full of hazards, likely to be exposed to great opposition, your great work is to keep in with God, approve your hearts to him: Prov. xvi. 7, ‘When a man’s ways please the Lord, he will make even his enemies to be at peace with him.’ God hath a mighty power over the spirits of men; therefore this is to go to the fountain-head, to stop all opposition there; and, on the other side, without this care of pleasing God, all goes to loss. Counsels, though never so wisely laid, yet are blasted if we do not make this our business, to approve our hearts to God in those actions. Remember, in one place it is said, ‘The counsel of the froward is carried headlong,’ Job v. 13; and in another place, Isa. xliv. 25, ‘The counsel of wise men he turneth back ward.’ When men do not study to please God, and approve their hearts to him, God leaves them to precipitate counsels; sometimes they are carried forward, at other times they are carried backward; the event is cross to their design. Sometimes God lets them fall into precipitant counsels that they may undo themselves, at other times disappoints their counsels, and that which they have designed.
Prop. 2. Whosoever would keep in with God, he needs good counsel and direction in all his ways. Both in regard of the darkness of his understanding, his corrupt affections, and inordinate self-love, man is not able to rule and govern himself, but needs counsel: Prov. xii. 15, 230 ‘The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.’ When a man engageth in any action, such is the darkness and perverseness of man’s heart that he should not be over-confident of his own apprehensions, or of his own inclinations, but should hearken after counsel; and Prov. xxviii. 26, ‘He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.’ Both these proverbs are to be understood not so much of wise managing of civil affairs as of spiritual direction. Surely it is ill trusting ourselves and counsels and inclinations of our own hearts. Blind affections usually govern a man’s life; and all sinners have an evil counsellor in their bosom, some lust or other, and therefore need to be directed. The counsel of the flesh is, Favour thyself. Every evil affection gives ill counsel. Covetousness saith, Preserve thy worldly interest. Voluptuousness saith, You need not be so strict and nice, and abridge yourselves of the comforts of the world. Paul saith, Gal. i. 16, ‘I conferred not with flesh and blood.’ Flesh and blood are evil counsellors, and under pretence of safety will suggest what is for our ruin. What will the flesh say when it is to be denied, and the blood say when it is to be spilt and shed for God’s sake? These will persuade us rather to please ourselves than please God. They will persuade us to desert our duty.
Prop. 3. The only good counsel that we can have is from God in his word: Ps. lxxiii. 24, ‘Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterwards receive me unto glory.’ We have it from God, and we have it from his word; for there is a guide and a rule. Man is so weak and so perverse that he needs both a guide and a rule. The guide is the Spirit of God, and the rule is the word of God: thou shalt guide me, but by thy counsel. By these two alone can we be led in the way to true happiness. The Spirit he is a sure guide; and the word, that is a clear rule. We are dark, but the scriptures are not dark. I observed out of the 18th verse, when the saints called upon God, they do not say, Lord, make a plainer law, but, Lord, give me better eyes. We are dark, and need the illumination of the Spirit; the scriptures are light: Prov. vi. 23, ‘The commandment is a lamp, and the law is light.’ In all matters of practical obedience it is clear and open.
Prop. 4. The counsel that God hath given us in his word is sufficient and full out to all our necessities. Let me instance this in particulars.
1. The word gives us counsel for our general choice; it is the rule of all faith and obedience. The scriptures are the counsel of God, sent to remedy the miseries of the fall; therefore it is said, Acts xx. 27, ‘I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God.’ It is God’s counsel how man should be reconciled, how he should be converted, and come to the enjoyment of himself. David, when he had chosen God for his portion, he saith, Ps. xvi. 7, ‘Blessed be God who hath given me counsel.’ In the word he gives us counsel how to come to him for our happiness, and by grace he sets it on upon the heart: this is the counsel of God concerning our salvation.
2. Not only in our general choice, but in all our particular actions, so far as they have a tendency unto that end: Ps. cxix. 105, ‘Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my paths.’ It is a lamp and a light. We are full of darkness and error; but as we follow 231 the direction of God, it is a lamp not only to our path, but to our steps, to our feet; not only to our path, to our general course, but it directeth us in every particular action.
3. In dark and doubtful passages, when a man multiplieth consultations and perplexed thoughts, and changeth conclusions as a sick man doth his bed, and knows not what course to take, whether this or that; then the word will direct him what to do, so as that a man may find quiet in his soul. Indeed here is the question, How far the word of God is a counsellor to us in such perplexed and doubtful cases?
[1.] The word of God will help him to understand how far he is concerned in such an action in point of duty and conscience; for other wise it were not ‘able to make the man of God perfect, and thoroughly furnished unto all good works,’ 2 Tim. iii. 17. Now it is a great relief to the soul when a man understands how far he is concerned in point of duty. The conflict many times lies not only between light and lust, or light and interest—then a gracious man knows what part to take; but when it lies between duty and duty, then it is tedious and troublesome to him. Now the word clearly will tell you what is your duty in any action, whatever it be.
[2.] As to the prudent management of the action in order to success, the word will teach you to go to God for wisdom, James i. 6, and to observe his answer.
[3.] So in all actions, the word will teach you to ask God’s leave and God’s blessing. Christians, it is not enough to ask God’s counsel, but ask his leave in any particular action, in disposing our dwellings, or our concernments of children, and the like: Judges i., ‘Who shall go up and fight against the Canaanites?’ They would fain have the Lord decide it. And again, ‘Shall I go up to Ramoth-Gilead?’ In all actions our business is to ask God’s leave. David always runs to the oracle and ephod, ‘Shall I go up to Hebron?’ And Jacob in his journeys would neither go to Laban nor come from him without a warrant and leave from God. So we ask God’s leave in prayer, and observe the bent of our hearts after prayer.
[4.] The word of God teacheth a man, when he understandeth his duty, and hath God’s leave, to submit the event to God, and that easeth the heart, because he may be sure of success, comfort, and sup port: Ps. xxxvii. 5, ‘Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass;’ and Prov. xvi. 3, ‘Commit thy work unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.’ It easeth us of a great deal of trouble and care; so that when a man hath brought his affections to submit to whatever God should determine in point of success, when he hath moderated and calmed his spirit, that he is resolved to bear the event whatever it be, this easeth the soul of a deal of trouble. Thus you see how we may make the statutes of God to be the men of our counsel.
Use 1. What a singular mercy is it that God hath given us the scripture, where we have counsel upon all occasions, how to manage our affairs prudently, bear afflictions comfortably, and with composed hearts to get through all events and dangers that we meet with in our passage to heaven! We should have groped up and down, as the Sodomites for Lot’s door, if we had not this rule of faith and obedience. 232It is a rule that teacheth us how to think well, for it reacheth to the thoughts; to speak well, for it giveth a law to all our words; to do well in all our civil actions and trading: how to keep a good conscience, and approve ourselves to God; how in natural actions, eating, drinking, to season them with God’s fear; and religious actions, how we may pray and worship; how to govern ourselves, our own hearts and affections; to converse with others in all relations, as fathers, children, masters, servants, magistrates, ministers, people; and how to hold communion with God: all which are demonstrations of the sufficiency of the scripture for our direction, and what reason there is that we should take the testimonies of God to be the men of our counsel.
Use 2. For reproof to those that turn the back upon God’s counsels. Who are those?
1. Such as neglect the general duties of Christianity, as faith, and repentance. God hath given us counsel what to do in order to eternal life, and we regard it not. The great quarrel between God and sinners is about the neglect of this counsel, which he hath given them for their soul’s good: Prov. i. 25, ‘They set at nought all my counsel;’ and ver. 30, ‘They would none of my counsel.’ Oh! when your friends have advised you, and you despise it, and take another course, it troubleth them. You know how heinously Achitophel took it when his counsel was despised. Equals, when their counsel is despised, take it very ill; much more superiors when they give counsel. The en treaty and advice of a superior carrieth the force of a command. So it is here with God; it is called counsel, not as if it were an arbitrary thing whether we did regard it or no; but because of God’s mild condescension. When men are in danger of perishing for ever, the Lord gives us counsel. You are in a miserable estate; he is pleased to tell you how to come out of your misery. The word of God, therefore, is called the counsel of God. It is sad when we shall reject the counsel of God: Luke vii. 30, ‘They rejected the counsel of God against themselves.’ There is two sentences, they rejected the counsel of God, and it was against themselves; it was to their own loss and destruction. God loseth nothing when we despise his counsel; but you lose all—your eternal happiness. This is so great an evil that God punisheth it with itself. When men will not take God’s counsel, then it is the most dreadful judgment he can lay upon us to give us up to our own counsel, Ps. lxxxi. 11. Oh, what a heavy judgment was it to be given up to the counsels of their own heart!
2. It reproves such as do not consult with God’s word about their affairs, but merely live as they are acted by their own lusts, or ‘walk at all adventures;’ so the expression in the marginal reading is, Lev. xxvi. 21. It is as the action falls; they do not care whether it please God, or be the rule of their duty, yea or nay. These are far from the temper of God’s children. It is sad in persons, much more in nations, when men run headlong upon all manner of disorders, against right and honesty; it tends to ruin: Deut. xxxii. 28, ‘They are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them.’
3. Such as go flatly against the counsel of God, and, to gratify their own interest, pervert all that is just and honest: Ps. cvii. 11, 233 ‘They rebelled against the word of the Lord, and contemned the counsel of the Most High.’ These do but expose themselves to speedy ruin. Job xviii. 7, Bildad said of the wicked, ‘His own counsel shall cast him down.’ They need no other means to ruin them than their own brutish course. When men dare break the commandment of God without any reluctancy, to gratify a worldly interest, though for the present no evil comes of it, yet afterwards they shall smart: Prov. xix. 20, ‘Hear counsel and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise for thy latter end.’ Consider what it will come to afterwards, when thou comest to die; then you will wish, Oh that I had taken God’s counsel, that I had not gone with such a daring spirit against the plain counsel of God’s word!
4. Such as pretend to ask counsel from the word, but it is according to the idol of their own hearts; that come with their own conclusions and preconceptions and prejudices, against God’s counsel: Ezek. xiv. 3, 4, ‘Son of man, these have set up their idols in their heart,’ &c. Men will come and pretend to ask God’s counsel and leave upon their undertakings, when they are resolved upon a wicked enterprise before; then God must be called upon and sought to, and so they make God’s ordinance a lacquey, merely to be a covert to their evil practices; as those in Jer. xlii., that came to the prophet, and they were prepossessed, and had their resolutions aforehand.
Use 3. To press us to this consulting with the word of God, to make the testimonies of the Lord the men of our counsel. There are many qualifications and tempers of heart necessary.
1. Fear of God: Ps. xxv. 12, ‘What man is he that feareth the Lord? him will he teach the way that he shall choose;’ he that is in doubt and perplexed, and would have counsel from God’s word. Who is the man that is like to have it? He that feareth the Lord, There is a great suitableness between the qualification and the promise. Partly he that fears God hath a greater awe of the word than others have, and is loath to do anything contrary to God’s will; he would fain know what is God’s mind in every particular case: Ps. cxix. 161, ‘My heart standeth in awe of thy word.’ To offend God, and to baulk the direction of God’s word, that is the greatest terror to him, greater than all other dangers. Now such a man is less apt to miscarry by the rashness and impetuous bent of carnal affections. And he that fears God, he aims at God’s glory rather than his own interest, and so is rather swayed by reasons of conscience and religion than of carnal concernments. Many times the doubtfulness that is upon the spirit is because of conflicts between lust and knowledge; our light is weakened by an inordinate affection to our own interest, otherwise we would soon come to the deciding our case by the word of God. Now he that would fain know God’s mind in everything, this is the man whom God will direct.
2. The second qualification is ‘the meek:’ Ps. xxv. 9, ‘The meek he will guide in judgment, and the meek he will teach his way.’ By the meek is meant a man humble, that will submit himself to God, whatever condition he shall appoint. This man God in his word will teach and direct.
3. The third qualification mentioned in order to this is a constant 234dependence upon God: Prov. v. 6, ‘Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding: in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.’ Oh! when a man is brought off from this spiritual idolatry, of making his bosom to be his oracle, and his own heart to be his counsellor, when he doth in the poverty of his spirit humbly and entirely cast himself upon the help of God, and acknowledge him in all his ways, then he shall see a clear direction what God would have him to do. You have another place to this purpose, Ps. cxliii. 8, ‘Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee.’ Oh! when a man goes every morning to God, and desires the direction of his Spirit, and professeth to God in the poverty of his own spirit that he knows not how to guide his way for that day, then God will teach him the way he shall walk. So Ps. xxv. 4, 5, ‘Show me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths.’ What is his argument? ‘On thee do I wait all the day.’ When you live in a constant dependence upon God, then will the Lord undertake to direct and guide you.
4. Obedience or Christian practice, that is one of the qualifications that make you capable for direction from the word of God: John vii. 17, ‘If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God.’ A man does not know whether this opinion or that be according to God’s mind, when there are plausible pretences on every side. He that maketh conscience of known truth, and walketh up to his light, he that doth not search to satisfy curiosity, but out of a thorough resolution to obey and submit his neck to the yoke of Christ, whatever he shall find to be the way of Christ, that man shall know what is the way in times of controversy and doubtful uncertainty. He that will say, as a famous German divine, If we had six hundred necks, let us submit them all to the yoke of Christ; he that is resolved to submit to the mind of Christ, how contrary soever to his interest, to the prejudices and prepossessions of his own heart, he shall know the doctrine that is of God.
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