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The proud have had me greatly in derision; yet have I not declined from thy law.—Ver. 51.
IN these words are—
1. David’s temptation.
2. His constancy and perseverance in his duty notwithstanding that temptation.
First, In the temptation observe—
1. The persons from whom the temptation did arise, the proud. The wicked are called so for two reasons:—
[1.] Because either they despise God and contemn his ways, which is the greatest pride that can fall upon the heart of a reasonable creature: Rom. i. 30, ‘Haters of God, despiteful, proud.’
[2.] Or else, because they are drunk with worldly felicity. In the general, scoffing cometh from pride. What is, Prov. iii. 34, ‘He scorneth the scorners, and giveth grace to the lowly,’ is, James iv. 6, ‘He resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.’
2. Observe the kind or nature of the temptation; he was had in derision. This may be supposed either for dependence on God’s promises, or for obedience to his precepts. Atheistical men, that wholly look to the pleasing of the flesh and the interest of the present world, make a mock of both. We have instances of both in scripture.
[1.] They make a mock of reliance upon God when we are in distress; think it ridiculous to talk of relief from heaven when earthly power faileth: Ps. xxii. 7, 8, ‘They laugh me to scorn, saying, He trusted in the Lord.’ The great promise of Christ’s coming is flouted at by those mockers: 2 Peter iii. 3, 4, ‘There shall come in the last days mockers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the creation.’ Such scoffers are in all ages, but now they overflow. These latter times are the dregs of Christianity, in which such kind of men are more rife than the serious worshippers of Christ. At the first promulgation of the gospel, while truths were new, and the exercises of Christian religion lively and serious, and great concord among the professors of the gospel, they were rare and infrequent. Before men’s senses were benumbed with the frequent experiences of God’s power, and the customary use of religious duties, and the notions of God were fresh and active upon their hearts, they were not heard of; but when the profession of Christianity grew into a form and national interest, and men fell into it by the chance of their birth rather than their own choice and rational conviction, the church was pestered with this kind of cattle. But especially are they rife among us when men are grown weary of the name of Christ, and the ancient severity and strictness of religion is much lost, and the memory of those miracles and wonderful effects by which our religion was once confirmed almost worn out; or else questioned and impugned by subtle wits and men of a prostituted conscience. Therefore now are many mockers and atheistical spirits everywhere, who ask, ‘Where is the 40 promise of his coming?’ question all, and think that there are none but a few credulous fools that depend upon the hopes of the gospel.
[2.] Their obedience to his precepts. And so whosoever will be true to his religion, and live according to his baptismal vow, is set up for a sign of contradiction to be spoken against. It is supposed the mocking by the heathen of the Jews is intended in these words, Lam. iv. 15, ‘Depart ye; it is unclean; depart, depart, touch not: when they fled away and wandered.’ The words are somewhat obscure, but some judicious interpreters understand them of the detestation of the Jewish religion, their circumcision, their sabbaths, &c. But however that be, certainly the children of God are often mocked for their strict obedience, as well as their faith.
3. Observe the degree, greatly. The word noteth continually. The Septuagint translates it by σφόδρα; the vulgar Latin by usque valde and usque longe. They derided him with all possible bitterness, and day by day they had their scoffs for him; so that it was both a grievous and a perpetual temptation.
Secondly, His constancy and perseverance in the duty; that is set forth—
1. By the rule in the word, thy law. If we have God’s law to justify our practice, it is no matter who condemneth it; we have God’s warrant to set against man’s censure. It must be God’s way wherein we seek to be approved; otherwise our reproach is justly deserved, if it be for obstinacy in our own fancies.
2. The firmness and strictness of his adherence: I have not declined. The word signifies either to turn aside or to turn back. Sometimes it is put for turning aside to the right hand or to the left; as Deut. xvii. 11, ‘Thou shalt not decline from the way which they shall show to thee, to the right hand or to the left;’ sometimes for turning back: Job xxiii. 11, ‘My feet have held his steps; his way have I kept, and not declined; neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips.’ As it is taken for turning aside, it noteth error and wandering; as it is taken for turning back, it noteth apostasy and defection. Now David meaneth that he had neither declined in whole nor in part. Understand it of his faith: all their scoffs and bitter sarcasms did not discourage him, or tempt him to forsake his hold, or let go the comfort of the promise. Understand it of his obedience: he still closely cleaved to God’s way. A declining implieth an inclining first. Well, then, David did not only keep from open apostasy, but from declining or turning aside in the least to any hand. Testimonies we have of his integrity in scripture: 1 Kings xiv. 8, ‘David kept my commandment, and followed me with all his heart, to do only that which was right in my sight.’ His great blemish is mentioned elsewhere: 1 Kings xv. 5, ‘David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from anything which he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.’ However, the derision of his enemies. made him not to warp.
Doct. That a Christian should not suffer himself to be flouted out of his religion, either in whole or in part; or no scorn and contempt cast upon us should draw us from our obedience to God.41
In the managing of it observe—
1. That a holy life is apt to be made a scorn by carnal men.
2. That this, as it is a usual, so it is a grievous temptation.
3. That yet this should not move us either to open defection or partial declining.
First, That a holy life is apt to be made a scorn by carnal men, and they that abstain from iniquity are as owls among their neighbours, the wonder and the reproach of all that are about them. To evidence this, I shall give you an account of some of the scorns which are cast upon religion, with the reasons of them.
1. Some of the scorns are these:—
[1.] Seriousness in religion is counted mopishness and melancholy. When men will not flaunt it and rant it, and please the flesh as others do, but take time for meditation, and prayer, and praise, then they are mopish.
[2.] Self-denial, when, upon hopes of the world to come, they grow dead to present interests, and can hazard them for God, and can for sake all for a naked Christ; the world thinketh this humorous folly. To do all things by the prescript of the word, and live upon the hopes of an unseen world, is by them that would accommodate themselves to present interests counted madness.
[3.] Zeal in a good cause is in itself a good thing (Gal. iv. 18, ‘It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing’), but the world is wont to call good evil. As astronomers call the glorious stars by horrid names, the serpent, the dragon’s tail, the greater or lesser bear, the dog-star; so the world is grossly guilty of misnaming. God will not be served in a cold and careless fashion. See Rom. xii. 11, ζέοντες πνεύματι, ‘fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.’ But this will not suit with that lazy and dull pace which is called temper and moderation in the world.
[4.] Holy singularity; as Noah was an upright man in a corrupt age: Gen. vi. 9, ‘Noah walked with God.’ And we are bidden ‘not to conform ourselves to this world,’ Rom. xii. 2. Now, because they would have none to upbraid them in their sins, and to part ways, and the number of the godly is fewer, they count it a factious singularity in them that walk contrary to the course of the world and the stream of common examples.
[5.] Fervour of devotion and earnest conversing with God in humble prayers is called imposture and enthusiasm. The world, who are wholly sunk in flesh and matter, are little acquainted with these elevations and enlargements of the spirit, think all to be imposture and enthusiasm. And though praying by the Spirit be a great privilege,—(Jude 20, ‘Praying in the Holy Ghost;’ Rom. viii. 26, ‘Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself helpeth our infirmities with groanings which cannot be uttered;’ Zech. xii. 10, ‘I will pour upon you the spirit of grace and of supplication’)—yet it is little relished by them; a flat dead way of praying suiteth their gust better. Christ compareth the duties of the gospel, fasting, with prayer in the Spirit, to new wine, which will break old bottles, Mat. ix. 17; but the duties of the Pharisees to old, dead, and insipid wine; there is no life in them.42
[6.] Serious speaking of God and heavenly things is, in the phrase of the world, canting. Indeed, to speak swelling words of vanity, or an unintelligible jargon, betrayeth religion to scorn; but a pure lip and speech seasoned with salt, and that holy things should be spoken of in a holy manner, our Lord requireth.
[7.] Faith of the future eternal state is esteemed a fond credulity by them who affect the vanities of the world, and the honours and pleasures thereof. They are all for sight and present things, and Christianity inviteth us to things spiritual and heavenly. Now, to live upon the hopes of an unseen world, and that to come, they judge it to be but foppery and needless superstition. Thus do poor creatures, drunk with the delusions of the flesh, judge of the holy things of God.
[8.] The humility of Christians, and their pardoning wrongs and forgiving injuries, they count to be simplicity or stupidness, though the law of Christ requireth us to forgive others, as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us.
[9.] Exact walking is scrupulosity and preciseness, and men are more nice than wise; which is a reproach that reflecteth a mighty contempt upon God himself, that when he hath made a holy law for the government of the world, that the obeying of this law should be derided by professed Christians; the scorn must needs fall on him that made the law, and gave us these commands. If he be too precise that imperfectly obeyeth God, what will you say of God himself, who commandeth more than any of us all performeth? Thus the children of God are not only reproached as hypocrites, but derided as fools; and it is counted as a part of wit and breeding to droll at the serious practice of godliness, as if religion were but a foppery.
2. The reasons of this are these:—
[1.] Their natural blindness: 1 Cor. ii. 14, ‘The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ They are incompetent judges: Prov. xxiv. 7, ‘Wisdom is too high for a fool.’ Though by nature we have lost our light, yet we have not lost our pride: Prov. xxvi. 16, ‘The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason.’ Though their way in religion be but a sluggish, lazy, and dead course, yet they have a high conceit of it, and censure all that is contrary, or but a degree removed above it. From spiritual blindness it is that carnal men judge unrighteously and perversely of God’s servants, and count zeal and forwardness in religious duties to be but folly and madness.
[2.] Antipathy and prejudicate malice. The graceless scoff at the gracious, and the profane at the serious; there is a different course, and that produceth difference of affections: John xv. 19, ‘The world will love its own, but because I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you:’ and they manifest their malice and hatred this way by evil-speaking: 1 Peter iv. 4, ‘Speaking evil of you.’
[3.] Want of a closer view. Christians complained in the primitive times that they were condemned unheard, διὰ τὴν φήμην, and διὰ τὸ ὄνομα, without any particular inquiry into their principles and practices. And Tertullian saith, nolentes auditis, &c.—they would not 43 inquire, because they had a mind to hate. A man riding afar off seeing people dancing, would think they were mad, till he draws near and observes the harmonious order. They will not take a nearer view of the regularity of the ways of God, and therefore scoff at them.
[4.] Because you do by your practice condemn that life that they affect: John vii. 7, ‘The world hateth me, because I testify that their deeds are evil:’ Heb. xi. 7, ‘Noah by faith, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house, by the which he condemned the world.’ Now they would not have their guilt revived; and therefore, since they will not come up to others by a religious imitation, they seek to bring others down to themselves by scoffs, reproaches, and censures.
[5.] They are set awork by Satan, thereby to keep off young beginners, and to discourage and molest the godly themselves; for bitter words pierce deep and enter into the very soul.
Secondly, It is a grievous temptation; it is reckoned in scripture among the persecutions: Gal. iv. 29, ‘As he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the spirit, even so is it now.’ He meaneth those bitter mockings that Isaac did suffer from Ishmael: Gen. xxi. 9, ‘And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.’ When the wicked mock at our interest in God, shame our confidence, the church complaineth of it: Ps. cxxiii. 4, ‘We are filled with the scorning of those that are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud:’ the insinuations of those that live in full pomp, over the confidence and hope the saints have in God. So we read, Heb. x. 33, that the servants of God were ‘made a gazing-stock by reproaches and afflictions:’ again, of ‘cruel mockings,’ Heb. xi. 36. It is more grievous when they mock and persecute at the same time; there is both pain and shame. The parties mocked were God’s saints; the parties mocking were their persecutors and enemies, which sometimes proved to be their own brethren, of the same nation, language, kindred, religion. In short, these mockings issue out of contempt, and tend to the disgrace and dishonour of the party mocked; they make it their sport to abuse them. David saith, ‘Reproach hath broken my heart,’ Ps. lxix. 20.
Thirdly, This should not move us either to open defection or partial declining, for these reasons:—
1. It is one of the usual evils wherewith the people of God are tempted. Now a Christian should be fortified against obvious and usual evils. Let no man that is truly religious think that he can escape the mockage and contempt of the wicked. Jesus Christ him self ‘endured the contradiction of sinners,’ Heb. xii. 3; and the rather, that we might not wax weary and faint in our minds. This is a part of his cross, which we must bear after him. The Pharisees derided his ministry: Luke xvi. 14, ‘The Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things, and derided him.’ They flouted at him when he hung on the cross: Mat. xxvii. 39-44, ‘They that passed by him reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself: if thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests, mocking him with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others, himself 44he cannot save: if he be the king of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him: he trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him; for he said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also which were crucified with him cast the same in his teeth.’ So Acts xvii. 32, ‘Some mocked, and said, What will this babbler say?’ Well, then, since it is a usual evil which God’s children have suffered, it should be the less to us. Little can the wicked say if they cannot scoff, and little can we endure if we cannot abide a bad word. There needs no great deal ado to advance a man into the chair of the scorner; if they have wickedness and boldness enough, they may soon let fly.
2. This, as well as other afflictions, are not excepted out of our resignation to God. We must be content to be mocked and scorned, as well as to be persecuted and molested. It is mentioned in the beatitudes, Mat. v. 11, ‘Blessed are you when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil falsely against you for my sake.’
3. Railing and calumniating will never prevail with rational and conscientious men to cause them to change their opinions. To leave the truth because others rail at it, is to consult with our affections, not out judgments. Solid reasoning convinceth our judgments, but raillery is to our affections; and a rational conscientious man is governed by an enlightened mind, not perverse and preposterous affections: Eph. v. 17, ‘Be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.’ Therefore an honest man will not quit truth because others rail; no, he looketh to his rule and warrant. A man will not be railed out of errors; nay, often they are the more rooted because ill-confuted.
4. It is the duty of God’s children to justify wisdom: Mat. xi. 19, ‘Wisdom is justified of her children.’ What is it to justify wisdom? Justification is a relative word, opposed to crimination, so to justify is the work of an advocate; or to condemnation, so it is the work of a judge. The children of wisdom discharge both parts; they plead for the ways of God, and exalt them: so much as others deny them, they value them, esteem them, hold them for good and right. When they are never so much condemned and despised, the more zealous the saints will be for them: ‘I will yet be more vile.’
5. Carnal men at the same time approve what they seem to condemn; they hate and fear strictness: Mark vi. 20, ‘Herod feared John, because he was a just man and an holy, and observed him.’ They scoff at it with their tongues, but have a fear of it in their consciences; they revile it white they live, but what mind are they of when they come to die? Then all speak well of a holy life, and the strictest obedience to the laws of God: Num. xxiii. 10, ‘Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his;’ Mat. xxv. 8, ‘Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out.’ Oh, that they had a little of that holiness and strictness which they scoffed at whilst they were pursuing their lusts! How will men desire to die? as carnal and careless sinners, or as mortified saints? Once more, they approve it in thesi, and condemn it in hypothesi. All the scoffers at godliness with in the pale of the visible church have the same Bible, baptism, creed, pretend to believe in the same God and Christ, which they own with 45those whom they oppose. All the difference is, the one are real Christians, the other are nominal; some profess at large, the others practise what they profess; the one have a religion to talk of, the others to live by. Once more, they approve it in the form, but hate it in the power. A picture of Christ that is drawn by a painter they like, and the for bidden image of God made by a carver, they will reverence and honour and be zealous for; but the image of God framed by the Spirit in the hearts of the faithful, and described in the lives of the heavenly and the sanctified, this they scorn and scoff at.
6. Their judgment is perverse, not to be stood upon. They count the children of God foolish and crack-brained. The crimination may be justly retorted; their way is folly and madness, for they go dancing to their destruction. Though there be a God by whom and for whom they were made, and from whom they are fallen, and that they cannot be happy but in returning to him again, yet they carry it so as if there were no misery but in bodily and worldly things, no happiness but in pleasing the senses. The beginning, progress, and end of their course is from themselves, in themselves, and to themselves. They pour out their hearts to inconsiderable toys and trifles, and will neither admit information of their error, nor reformation of their practice till death destroy them. They neglect their main business, and leave it undone, and run up and down, they know not why, like children that follow a bubble blown out of a shell of soap, till it break and dissolve. Now should those that are flying from wrath to come, and seeking after God and their happiness, be discouraged because these mad and merry worldlings scoff at them for their diligent seriousness? Surely we should deride their derisions and contemn their contempt, who despise God and Christ and their salvation. Should a wise man be troubled because madmen rail at him? If they ‘glory in their shame,’ Phil. iii. 19, we must not be ashamed of our glory, nor ashamed to be found praying rather than sinning. If they think you fools for preferring heaven before inconsiderable vanities, remember they can no more judge of these things than a blind man of colours.
7. If some dishonour, others will honour us, who are better able to judge: Ps. xv. 4, ‘In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord.’ Some have as low an opinion of the world as the carnal world hath of the certainty of God’s word. They who labour to bring piety and godliness into a creditable esteem and reputation will pay a hearty honour and respect to every good and godly man: 2 Cor. vi. 8, 9, ‘By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report, as deceivers, yet true; as unknown, yet well known; as dying, but behold we live; as chastened and not killed;’ contumeliously used by some, and reverently by others; vilified and contemned, counted deceivers by some, yet owned by others as faithful dispensers of the truth of God; not esteemed and looked on by some, by others owned and valued: thus God dispenseth the lot of his servants.
8. A Christian should be satisfied in the approbation of God, and the honour he puts upon him: John v. 44, ‘How can ye believe, that receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?’ If God hath taken him into his family, and hath put his image upon him, and admitted him into present communion 46with him, and giveth him the testimony of his Spirit to assure him of his adoption here, and will hereafter receive him into eternal glory, this is enough, and more than enough, to counterbalance all the scorn of the world and the disgrace they would put upon us. If God approve us, should we be dejected at the scorn of a fool? Is the approbation of the eternal God so small in our eyes, that everything can weigh it down, and cast the balance with us? Alas! their scorning and dishonouring is nothing to the honour which God puts upon us.
9. There is a time when the promised crown shall be set upon our heads, and who will be ashamed then—the scoffer or the serious worshipper of Christ? God is resolved to honour Christ’s faithful servants: John xii. 26, ‘He that honoureth me, him shall my Father honour.’ He will honour us at death, that is our private entrance into heaven; but he will much more honour us publicly, at the day of judgment, when we shall be owned: Rev. iii. 5, ‘I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels:’ and Christ shall be admired for the glory he puts upon a poor worm: 2 Thes. i. 10, ‘When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe.’ The wicked shall be reckoned with, called to an account by Christ: Jude, 14, 15, ‘The Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodlily committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him:’ yea, judged by the saints: 1 Cor. vi. 2, ‘Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?’ Ps. xlix. 14, ‘The upright shall have dominion over them in the morning:’ that is, in the morning of the resurrection the saints shall be assumed by God to assist in judicature, and shall arise in a glorious manner, when the earth shall give up her dead. If this be not enough for us to counterbalance the scorn of the world, we are not Christians.
Use. To persuade us to hold on our course, notwithstanding all the scorns and reproaches which are cast upon the despised ways of God. Now, to this end I shall give you some directions.
1. ‘Be sure that you are in God’s way, and that you have his law to justify your practice, and that you do not make his religion ridiculous by putting his glorious name upon any foolish fancies of your own. A man that differs from the rest of Christians had need of a very clear light, that he may honour so much of Christianity as is owned, and may be able to vindicate his own particular way wherein he is engaged. The world is loath to own anything of God, and needless dissents justify their prejudice. I know a Christian is not infallible; besides his general godly course, he may have his particular slips and errors; yet because the world is apt to take prejudice, we should not but upon the constraining evidence of conscience, enter upon any ways of dissent or contest, lest we justify their general hatred of godliness by our particular error.
2. Take up the ways of God without a bias, and look straight for ward in a course of godliness: Prov. iv. 25, ‘Let thine eyes look right on, and thine eyelids straight before thee:’ that is, look not asquint upon any secular encouragements, but have thine eye to the end of the journey; make God as thy witness, so thy master and judge.47
3. Take heed of the first declinings. God’s saints may decline some what in an hour of temptation, and yet be sincere in the main. Now evil is best stopped in the beginning: Heb. xii. 3, ‘Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners, lest ye be weary and faint iii your minds.’ Weariness is a lesser, and fainting a higher degree of deficiency. I am weary before I faint, before the vital power retireth, and leaveth the outward part senseless.
4. Since the proud scoff, encounter pride with humility. Mocking is far more grievous to the proud, who stand upon their honour, than to the lowly and humble. Therefore be not too desirous of the applause of men, especially of the blind and ungodly world; make no great matter of their contempt, and scorn, or slander.
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