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I have stuck unto thy testimonies: O Lord, put me not to shame.—Ver. 31.
IN the former verse David speaks of his choice, ‘I have chosen the way of truth;’ then of the accurateness of his prosecution, ‘Thy judgments have I laid before me.’ Now he comes to his constant perseverance therein, ‘I have stuck unto thy testimonies.’ These two verses follow one another in a very perfect order and coherence. We must begin with a right choice, there we must lay the foundation, ‘I have chosen the way of truth,’ and then persevere. There is a constancy in good and an obstinacy in evil. The devils sin from the beginning, as the good angels continued in their first estate. Men that are engaged in an evil course often continue in it without retractation; they are no changelings, always the same; that is no honour to them. Luther, when he was charged with apostasy for appearing against the Pope: Confitetur se apostatam esse, sed beatum et sanctum, qui fidem diabolo datam non servavit—he confesseth he was an apostate, but a holy and blessed one, that he did not keep touch with the devil. Constancy must ever be understood with respect to a right choice; for to break faith with Satan is not matter of dishonour, but of praise. We must go on with an accurate prosecution, for that giveth us experience, and causeth us to find joy and sweetness, and power in the truth, and is a great means of constancy.
If men would be constant, the next thing they must do is to practise that religion they choose, and live under the power of it. Holiness is a great means of constancy: 1 Tim. iii. 9, ‘Holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience.’ As precious liquors are best kept in clean vessels, so is the mystery of faith in a pure conscience. Men may be stubborn in their opinions out of natural courage, and the engagement of credit and interests; but this is of little worth without practical godliness: their orthodoxy and rightness in opinion will not bring them to heaven, nor shall they be saved because they are of such a sect or party. But then all must be closed up by persevering in our resolutions; otherwise all our former zeal will be lost. ‘I have chosen the way of truth; thy judgments have I laid before me;’ and then now, ‘I have stuck unto thy testimonies: O Lord, put me not to shame:’ 2 John 8, ‘Look to yourselves, that ye lose not those things which ye have wrought.’ All that a man hath done and suffered, watching, striving, praying, they come to nothing unless we stick to it and persevere. Under the law a Nazarite was to begin his days of separation again, if he had defiled himself; if he had separated himself for a year, and kept his vow within two days of the year, he was to begin all anew, Num. vi. 12; and the interpretation of that type I cannot give you better than in the prophet’s words: Ezek. xviii. 24, ‘When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, all his righteousness that he hath done shall not be remembered.’ When they turn head against their former profession, 315it comes to nothing. Thus you see what a perfect dependence there is between this verse and the former.
In the words there is—
1. A profession, I have stuck unto thy testimonies.
2. A prayer, O Lord, put me not to shame.
First, For the profession, ‘I have stuck to thy testimonies.’ Saith Chrysostom, he doth not say, I have followed thy testimonies, but stuck or cleaved; stuck so fast that nothing could remove him, no difficulties, trials, shakings; he was still firm.
Doct. Those that have chosen the way of God, and begun to conform their practice thereunto, ought with all constancy to persevere therein.
First, We have the same reasons to continue that we had to begin at first. There is the same loveliness in God’s ways; Christ is as sweet as ever; heaven is as good as ever. If there be any difference, there is more reason to continue than there was to begin. Why? Because we have more experience of the sweetness of Christ. You knew him heretofore only by report and hearsay; but now, when you have walked in the way of holiness, then you know him by experience; and if you have tasted, 1 Peter ii. 2, then certainly you should not fall off afterwards. Upon trial Christ is sweeter; and the longer you have kept to conscience, heaven is nearer; and would a man miscarry and be discouraged when he is ready to put into the haven? Rom. xiii. 11, ‘Your salvation is nearer than when you first believed.’ The nearer we are to the enjoyment of any good, the more impatient in the want of it; as natural motion we find swifter in the end, because it is nearer to the centre; but violent motion is swiftest at first; as when a stone is thrown upward, it is swifter at first, but when the impression of the external force is more spent, then the motion is weaker. It argues that you are not seriously thorough with God, if you should break with him after some profession of his name; now your motion should be more earnest, more strong towards him. I speak this, because we are so apt to ‘cast off our first faith,’ 1 Tim. v. 12; and to ‘lose our first love,’ Rev. ii. 4; and to grow remiss and lazy, and neglect our first works, 2 Chron. xvii. 3. Jehoshaphat is said to ‘walk in the first ways of his father David.’ We see many at the first are carried on with a great deal of affection and zeal; and there are many promising beginnings of a very flourishing spring; but yet they are no sure prognostications of a joyful harvest. Why, consider with yourselves, We have the same reasons to continue as to begin, yea, much more, as heaven is nearer. In a marriage relation true affection increaseth, but adulterous love is only hot while it is new. If our hearts be upright with God, we will increase with zeal for his glory and love to his testimonies.
Secondly, The danger and mischievous effects of apostasy, and falling off, that is another reason why we should stick to his testimonies.
1. It is more dishonourable to God than a simple refusal; for you bring an ill report upon him, as if he were not a good master. A wicked man that refuseth grace doth not so much dishonour God, be cause his refusal is supposed to be the fruit of his prejudice; but now 316you that cast him off after trial, your apostasy is supposed to be the fruit of your experience, as if the devil were a better master; when you have tried both, you return to him again. Tertullian, in his book De Poenitentia, hath this saying, After you have tried God, you do as it were deliberately judge Satan’s service to be better, or at least you do not find that in God you did expect. Therefore the honour of God is mightily concerned, and lies at stake when you fall off after you have seemed to begin with him with a great deal of accurateness. And God pleads for himself, and stands for his credit, which seems to be wronged by this apostasy, Jer. ii. 5, casting off his service for the idols of the nation: ‘What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me?’ and Micah vi. 3, ‘O my people, what have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.’ What! can you complain of God? Is God hard to be pleased, backward to reward? What cause of distaste have you found in him?—for implicitly you do as it were accuse him.
2. When you fall off after a taste of the sweetness and practice of godliness, your condition is worse than if you had never begun. There are two dreadful scriptures which speak of the condition of total apostates after some taste, and after they have had some savour of holy things, and some delight in the ways of God. One is Heb. vi. 4-6, ‘For it is impossible,’ &c. Christians, after they have had some taste, and some enlightening, and made a savoury profession of godliness, afterwards they split themselves; some fall forward to errors and preposterous zeal; others fall backward by an unfaithful heart; one breaks his face, the other breaks his neck, as old Eli. But a little to clear that place. Certainly all of us should stand in fear of this heavy judgment of being given up to perish by our apostasy, to an obstinate heart, never to reconcile ourselves by repentance, even the children of God; for he proposeth it to them, supposeth they are made partakers of the heavenly calling. The apostle doth not speak there of every sin against knowledge, but of apostasy from the faith of Christ, and not of apostasy of general professors, that lightly come and lightly go, as the loose sort of Christians here among us; but specially of those that had a taste, savoury experience of the sweetness of God’s ways. Again, he doth not speak of apostasy for a fit, in some great temptation of fear, but of deliberate apostasy of those that were enlightened, feeling, tasting, so as to make some strict profession; afterward turn off, lose all, turn atheists, antiscripturists, formalists, renouncing Christ and the world to come, in the hope of which they seemed before to be carried out with a great deal of delight, and strength and affection. The apostle saith, It is impossible they should be saved, because it is impossible they should repent. This is a fearful state; and yet, as fearful as it is, it is not unusual: it is a thing we see often in some that have made a savoury profession of the name of God, and afterwards have been blasted, either given up to an injudicious mind, or to vile affections, and are fallen off, and it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance. Oh, then, you that have begun, and have had a taste of the ways of God, and begun to walk closely with him, you should lay this to heart! Therefore this is propounded to believers, that they should keep at a very great distance from such a 317judgment, lest we grow to such an impenitent state as to be given up to a reprobate mind and vile affections.
The other place is 2 Peter ii. 21, 22, ‘It had been better, for them not to have known,’ &c. Mark, there are some that through the knowledge of Christ may upon some general assent to gospel truths take up a strict profession of the name of Christ, may escape the pollution of the world, that is, outward and gross sins, being enrolled among God’s children, and have the privileges of the members of his church, and yet after this may fall off dreadfully. It were far better for such never to have been acquainted with God and Christ than to return to their old bondage. A sin after knowledge and profession of the right way is greater than a sin of bare ignorance; therefore their condition is far more deplorable than the condition of other sinners, for no men sin with such malice as they do; they have had greater conviction than others, not only external representations of the doctrine of Christ, but some taste, and have made some closure with it in their own souls; they are more given over by God than others; and so there are none persecute and hate profession and strictness so much as they that are fallen from it; and they are more oppressed and entangled by Satan, as the jailor that hath recovered the prisoner which ran from him, loads him with irons. Therefore we had need betimes look to it, and continue and persevere in the practice of the ways of God, which we have owned and taken up upon experience.
Use 1. Get grace, then look after perseverance. Evil men must get grace; and God’s children their business is to persevere in that state to which they have attained.
But what should we do to persevere?
First, Be fortified against what may shake you from without; beware of being led away by offences and scandals. Three things are wont to give offence, and exceedingly shake the faith of some, viz., errors, persecutions, scandals.
1. Errors. Be not troubled when differences fall out about the truths of God, nor shaken in mind; the winds of error are let loose upon the floor of the church to sever the chaff from the solid grain: 1 Cor. xi. 19, ‘There must be heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest.’ Take heed of taking offence at errors. I do not speak now of being led captive by error. Many question the ways of God, and give over all religion because there are so many differences and sects; therefore they think nothing certain. Certainly God saw this discipline to be fittest for his people; he hath told us there must be errors; he would not have us take up religion upon trust, without the pains of study and prayer. Lazy men would fain give laws to heaven, and teach God how to govern the affairs of the world; they would have all things clear and plain, that there should be no doubt about it. But the Lord in his wise providence saw it fit to permit these things, ‘that they which are approved may be made manifest.’ Men to excuse the trouble of search, study, and prayer, would have all agreed, else they take offence at religion, and think it to be but a fancy; that is one means to draw them off, even after some profession. What the canonists say grossly, this was their blasphemy, that God were not discreet and wise, unless he had 318appointed one universal test and one infallible interpreter; this is men’s natural thoughts, they would have such a thing. The Jews say, Certainly Christ was not the true Messiah. Why? Because if he had, he would not come in such a way as to leave any of his countrymen in doubt. So many think religion is but a fancy; they fall off to atheism and scepticism at last, and irresolution in religion, because there are so many sects and divisions, and all upholding it with plausible pretences. To excuse laziness, we pretend want of certainty. But God’s word is plain to one that will do his will, John vii. 17, if we will use all the means God hath appointed, and unfeignedly and with an unbiassed heart come to search out the mind of God.
2. Persecutions, they are an offence: Mat. xi. 6, ‘Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me.’ When the people of God are exposed to great troubles when they are in the world, they have but a mean outside. What! are these the favourites of heaven? It makes men take offence. Christians, what religion is it you are of? Is it not the Christian religion, whose great interest and work it is to draw you off from the concernments of the present world unto things to come? The whole drift and frame of the Christian religion is to draw men’s hearts off from earthly things, and to comfort and support them under the troubles, inconveniences, and molestations of the flesh; therefore for a Christian to hope an exemption from them, is to make the doctrine of the gospel as incongruous and useless as to talk of bladders and the art of swimming to a man that never goes to sea, nor intends to go off from the firm land.
3. A great occasion to shake the faith of many is scandals, the evil practices of those that profess the name of God. Oh! when they run into disorder, especially into all manner of unrighteousness, and iniquity, and cruel things, and make no conscience of the duties of their relations as subjects, as children, and the like, it is a mighty offence; and we that have to do with persons and sinners of all sorts find it a very hard matter to keep them from atheism, such stumbling-blocks having been laid in their way. Scandal is far more dangerous than persecution. There are many that have been gained by the patience, courage, and constancy of the martyrs, but never any were gained by the scandalous falls of professors. Persecutions do only work upon our fear, which may be allayed by proposal of the crown of life; but by scandalous action, how many settle into a resolved hardness of heart! In crosses and persecutions a man may have secret likings of truth, and a purpose to own it; but by scandal he dislikes the way of God, of religion itself; it begets a base and vile esteem thereof in the hearts of men, so they are loose and fall off. And this mischief doth not only prevail with the lighter sort of Christians, but many times those which have had some taste, it makes them fly off exceedingly: Mat. xviii. 7, ‘There will be offences, but woe be unto them by whom they come.’ Christ hath told us all will not walk up to the religion they own; therefore we must stand out against this temptation.
Secondly, Be fortified within, by taking heed to the causes of apostasy, and falling off from the truth either in judgment or practice. What is there will make men apostates?319
1. Ungrounded assents. A choice lightly made is lightly altered. When we do not resolve upon evidence, and have not taken up the ways of God upon clear light, we shall turn and wind to and fro as the posture of our interest is changed. First we must ‘try all things,’ then ‘hold fast,’ 1 Thes. v. 21. Men waver hither and thither for want of solid rooting in truth. They take up things hand over head, and then like light chaff they are ‘driven about with every wind of doctrine,’ Eph. iv. 14. Half conviction leaveth us open to changes: James i. 8, ‘A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways;’ a man that seems to have a faith concerning such a thing, then seems to have a doubt concerning such a thing; sometimes led by his faith, at other times carried away by his doubts. If we have not a clear and full persuasion of the ways of God in our own minds, we shall never be constant.
2. Want of solid rooting in grace, that is, ‘rooted in faith,’ Col. ii. 7, or ‘rooted and grounded in love,’ Eph. iii. 17; as to both it is said, Heb. xiii. 9, ‘It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace,’ that is, by a sound sense of the love of God in Christ. A sweet superficial taste may be lost, but a sound sense of the love of God in Christ will engage us to him. Oh 1 we have felt so much sweetness, and have had such real proof of the goodness of Christ, that all the world cannot take us off. The more experience you have, and the deeper it is, the more you will be confirmed. The most of us content ourselves but in a superficial taste. When we hear of the doctrine of salvation by Christ, we are somewhat pleased and tickled with it; but this is not that which doth establish us, but a deep sense of God’s grace, or feeling the blood of Christ pacifying our consciences; this is that which establisheth our hearts, and settleth us against apostasy.
3. Unmortified lusts, which must have some error to countenance them. By an inordinate respect to worldly interests, we are sure to miscarry. A man governed by lusts will be at uncertainty, according as he is swayed by the fear or favour of men or his carnal hopes: 2 Tim. iv. 10, ‘Demas hath forsaken us, having loved this present world.’ If a man hath love to present things, if that be not subdued and purged out of his heart, he will never be stable, never upright with God. It may be he may stand when put upon some little self-denial for Christ; he may endure some petty loss, or some tender assault. Ay, but at length the man will be carried away as Joab, that turned after Adonijah, though he turned not after Absalom, 1 Kings ii. 28; there will some temptation come that will carry them away, though at first they seem to stand their ground, as long as lust remains unmortified in the heart.
4. Sometimes a faulty easiness. As there is an ingenuous facility—‘The wisdom that is from above is gentle, and easy to be entreated,’ James iii. 17 so there is a faulty easiness, when men cannot say nay; when they change their religion with their company, out of a desire to please all, and cameleon-like they change colour with every object. Some are of such a facile easy nature, soon persuaded into great in convenience. This faulty easiness always makes bold with God and conscience to please men, when we are of this temper: Jer. xxxviii. 5, ‘The king is not he that can do anything against you.’ It is not a 320good disposition, but baseness and pusillanimity. It is observed of Chrysostom, though a good man in the main, yet he ran into many inconveniences. Why? Because he was, through simplicity and plainness of his nature, easily to be wrought upon. Therefore though a good man (in regard of the sweetness of his temper and converse) should be as a loadstone, yet he should be also resolute and severe in the things of God. Paul, though they did even break his heart, they could not break his purpose.
5. Self-confidence, when we think to bear it out with natural courage and resolution, as Peter did, ‘Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I.’ We are soon overborne, and a light temptation will do it. God gives men over that trust in themselves, for the Lord takes it to be his honour to be the saint’s guardian, to ‘keep the feet of his saints,’ 1 Sam. ii. 9. He will be owned and depended upon.
6. There is an itch of novelty, when men are weary of old truths, and only rejoice in things for a season, John v. 35. There are many that look for all their virtue and their experience from their notions in religion. Thus they run from doctrine to doctrine, from way to way, so remain unmodified.
Thirdly, Take heed of the first decays, and look often into the state of your hearts. A man that never casts up his estate is undone insensibly; therefore look often into the state of your hearts, whether you increase in your affections to God, in the power of holiness, or whether you go backward. It is the devil’s policy, when once we are declining, to humble us further and further still, as a stone that runs down the hill; therefore take heed, look to the first declinings. A gap once made in the conscience, grows wider and wider every day; and the first declinings are the cause of all the rest. Evil is best stopped in the beginning. And, therefore, when you begin to be cold, careless in the profession of godliness, and not to have the like savour as you were wont to have, take heed. A heavy body, moving downward, still gets more strength, it goes down and moves faster still. Oh, therefore, stay at first! The first remitting of your watch and spiritual fervour is that which is the cause of all the mischief that comes upon many, so that they are given up to vile affections and lying errors. It is easier to crush the egg than kill the serpent. He that keeps his house in constant repair prevents the fall of it, therefore look to your hearts still. Our first declinings, though never so small, are very dangerous. Pliny speaks of the lioness, lib. viii. cap. 16; first she brings forth five lions, then four, then three, then two, then one, and for ever afterward is barren. Thus we first begin to remit of our diligence in holy things, and are not so frequent in acts of communion; then this and that goes off, till we have but little left us; and then all is gone, and men grow worse and worse. I may resemble it to Nebuchadnezzar’s image, the head of gold, the breasts of silver, the thighs of brass, the feet of iron and clay, still worse and worse. So men are embasing by degrees, and fall off from God, and their savour of the ways of God.
Fourthly, Often review your first grounds, and compare them with your after experiences, and what fresh tastes you had then of the love of God to your souls: Heb. iii. 14, ‘We are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.’ 321The first rejoicing of faith, the sweet sense that you had, oh, how precious was Christ to you then, when first you came out of your fears! Revive this upon your heart; this will stir you up to be faithful to God. When the love of Christ was fresh upon your hearts, your motions were earnest. Many begin like a tree full of blossoms, give great hope of fruit. We should labour to keep up this affection, and that a cursed satiety may not creep upon us.
Use 2. If those that have chosen the way of God and begin to conform their practice ought with all constancy to persevere, then it reproveth—
1. Those that take up religion only by way of essay, to try how it will suit with them; they do not entirely, and by a resolute fixed purpose, give up themselves to the Lord. You should resolve upon all hazards; not take up religion for a walk, but for a journey. Not like going to sea for pleasure; if they see a storm coming, presently to shore again; but for a voyage to ride out all weathers. Thus you should do, stick to the ways of God, and at first make God a good allowance, that ‘neither tribulation, nor distress, nor persecution, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor peril, nor sword, nor anything, may separate you from Christ.’ Rom. viii. 35. We should count all charges, and resolve upon the worst.
2. It reproves aguish Christians, whose purity and devotion come upon them by fits: Hosea vi. 4, ‘Their righteousness is as the morning dew.’ The morning dew, that cannot endure the rising sun, is soon wasted and spent when the sun ariseth with his heat and strength; whereas our righteousness should not be like the morning dew, but like the morning light.
3. It reproves them that are only swayed by temporal advantages, that are oft and on; as the Samaritans, when the Jews were favoured by Alexander and other princes, then they would deny the temple that was upon Mount Gerizim, and say that they were brethren to the Jews; but when the Jews were in danger, then they would disclaim them. Thus many are swayed by temporal advantages, either intending or omitting the conscience of their duty, as they are favoured by men. But we are to stick to God’s testimonies.
Secondly, Let us come to David’s prayer, ‘O Lord, put me not to shame.’ It is in the nature of a deprecation, or a prayer for the prevention of evil. The evil deprecated is shame. By shame some understand the reproaches of wicked men: Lord, let me not suffer their reproach, for I have stuck unto thy testimonies. A man that doth not stick to God’s testimonies, that is not zealous and constant, will be put to shame before God and man, and made a scorn by them, and lie under great reproach; therefore, Lord, prevent this reproach. These reproaches are grievous, to be borne. It is against the spirit of man to be contemned, especially when he doth well. But certainly this cannot be meant; he would not so earnestly deprecate this, I should think, at least, not in such an expression, ‘O Lord, put me not to shame.’ He speaks of such a shame wherein God had a great hand. It is true, God may suffer this in his providence. Well, then, this shame may be supposed to result either from his sin or from his sufferings.
First, From sin, ‘I have stuck unto thy testimonies;’ oh! suffer me 322not to fall into any such sinful course as may expose me to shame, and make me become a reproach to religion. Observe—
Doct. The fruit of sin is shame.
Shame is a trouble of mind about such evils as tend to our infamy and disgrace. Loss of life is matter of fear; loss of goods is matter of grief and sorrow; but loss of name and credit is matter of shame; and therefore it is a trouble of mind that doth arise about such evils as tend to our infamy and disgrace. Now this infamy and disgrace is the proper fruit of sin. To prove it by scripture, reason, and experience. To prove it by scripture: Shame entered into the world by sin; though they were naked, yet till they had sinned ‘they were not ashamed,’ Gen. ii. 25, with Gen. iii. 10; there was verecundia, an awful majesty, or a holy bashfulness in innocency; but not pudor, a fear of reproach and infamy; that came in by the fall. To prove it by reason: There are two things in sin, folly and filthiness, and both cause shame; it is an irrational act, and it hath a turpitude in it; therefore the fruit of sin is shame, and a fear of a just reproof. And then by experience: How do men hang the head and blush when they are taken in any unseemly action! All evil causeth shame. All sin, as soon as it is committed, it flasheth in the face of conscience. Shame is the striving of nature to hide the stain of our souls, by sending out the blood into the face for a covering; it labours most under this passion. And this shame accompanieth sin, not only when men are conscious of what we do, but it is a fear of a just reproof from God, nay, of a just reproof from themselves. There is a double loathness and fear in shame—when men sin, they are loath to look into their own heart, and loath to look God in the face: 1 John iii. 20, ‘If our heart condemn us,’ &c. When men have guilt upon their hearts, they are loath to take the candle of the Lord and look into the state of their souls. And they are loath to look God in the face; therefore the apostle adds, ‘If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God,’ that our prayers be not interrupted. As holy David had his shyness when he had been sinning away his peace; he ‘kept silence,’ Ps. xxxii. 3. He was fain to thrust forth his heart by a practical decree, and bring it by force into God’s presence. Indeed some men are grown shameless, having a depraved judgment, and corrupted all their doings, Zeph. iii. 7; such have outgrown the common principles of natural honesty; and of all diseases, those which are insensible are the worst. Therefore when men are grown into a state of insensibility, and lose those feelings of conscience, it is very sad. Yet those which are most obdurate have their hidden fears, and are afraid of God and conscience, and are loath to be alone themselves, and are fain to knit pleasure to pleasure, to keep up this victory, and are forced to live in a jolly course, that they may bring a greater brawn upon their hearts.
Use. Let this press us to avoid sin: Rom. vi. 21, ‘For what fruit had ye of those things whereof ye are now ashamed?’ If you sin, there will be shame. Sin in the greatest privacy brings shame. Though, you should be solitary and alone with yourselves, yet there is an eye sees and an ear hears all that you do. It was one of the rules of Pythagoras, Reverence thyself. If there were no other witness, there is a law of God in our own hearts that will upbraid us for sin.323
Again, David makes this request when he had professed perseverance, ‘I have stuck unto thy testimonies,’ yet, ‘Lord, put me not to shame.’ Note from thence—
Doct. A man that hath long kept close to God in the way of his testimonies, yet he should pray to be kept from falling into shameful sin. Why?
1. They which are most steadfast are not past all danger: 1 Cor. x. 12. ‘Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.’ He that hath the firmest footing may fall, and that foully too. When he begins to grow negligent and secure, he may be soon surprised, and drawn to dishonour the name of God; and as David, who was a man after God’s own heart, sinned so foully that the name of God was blasphemed among the heathen. When once we come out of our fears, and are possessed of the love of God, we think there needs not be such diligence as when we were doubtful, and kept in an. uncertain condition, and so carry the matter as if we were past all danger. Oh, no! sin many times breaks out of a sudden; and after the first labours of soul in regeneration and terrors of the law are gone, there is great danger of security, and secretly and silently things may run to waste in the soul. God’s children have been in most danger when to appearance there was least cause of fear. Lot, who was chaste in Sodom, fell into incest where there were none but he and his two daughters. He, whose righteous soul was vexed at their abominations, how was his conscience cast asleep by security! A child of God may fall into the grossest sins. David, whose heart smote him for cutting off the lap of Saul’s garment, yet afterward fell into uncleanness and blood, and his conscience falls asleep. Therefore there needs watching and praying to the last.
2. The miscarriages of God’s children are most shameful. Oh, how will the Hams of the world laugh to see a Noah drunk! So a child of God, when he hath fallen into disorder, how will this furnish the triumphs of the uncircumcised! Blind Samson did not make such sport for the Philistines as a child of God for a wicked man, when he hath fallen into some notable excess: 2 Sam. xii. 14, ‘By this deed thou hast given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.’ Wicked men have a conscience, and they would be glad of any pretext to shake off the name of religion. When the children of God keep up the lustre of it, and live up to the majesty of their religion, the awe of it falls upon wicked men. But when they run into practices condemned by the light of nature and the laws of nations, it hardens wicked men, and takes off this awe and fear upon them. It is no matter what a rude Scythian or barbarous Goth doth, if they should exercise rapine and commit uncleanness; no matter what open enemies which are at defiance with God; though they break the laws of God over and over again, it is no such dishonour; but for a child of God, he that professeth the Christian name, to walk disorderly, it reflects dishonour upon God.
3. Because of the hopes they have of speeding in prayer: 1 Tim. ii. 8, ‘I will that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting.’ Those that in a humble sense of their own weakness and fear of the mischief of being a blemish to religion, when 324they come to pray, they may be persuaded of God’s goodness, of whom they have such long experience, that he will not fail them at length.
Use. Let us pray that we may not dishonour the gospel in our trials, that God would not leave us to sin or shame, by total apostasy or by any scandals, that our crown may not be taken from us.
Secondly, As this shame may be supposed to arise from his sin, so also from his sufferings, or from the disappointment of his hopes. Hope deferred leaves a man ashamed; therefore, Rom. v. 5, the apostle saith ‘Hope maketh not ashamed.’ When a man hath given out to others he hath such defences, hopes, expectations, and these fail, then he is ashamed. Thus David begs God would own him, that he might not be a scorn to wicked and ungodly men. Note—
When they that stick to God’s testimonies are disappointed of their present hopes, it is matter of shame.
Observe it, and humble yourselves in your Father’s anger, when he seemeth to go cross to our prayers and hopes, and gives to wicked men advantages against us: Num. xii. 14, ‘If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days?’ When God doth not make good the confidence of his people, rather the contrary, the confidence of their enemies does as it were spit in their face; then it is time to take shame to themselves, and humble themselves before the Lord.
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