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I have remembered thy judgments of old, Lord; and have comforted myself.—Ver. 52.
THE man of God had complained in the former verse that the proud had him greatly in derision. His help against that temptation is recorded in this verse; where observe—
1. David’s practice, I have remembered thy judgments of old.
2. The effect of that meditation, and have comforted myself.
The explication will be by answering two questions:—
1. What is meant by mishphatim, judgments? The word is used in scripture either for laws enacted, or judgments executed according to those laws. The one may be called ‘the judgments of his mouth,’ as Ps. cv. 5, ‘Remember the marvellous works that he hath done, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth:’ the other, the judgments of his hand. As both will bear the name of judgments, so both may be said to be ‘of old.’ His decrees and statutes, which have an eternal equity in them, and were graven upon the heart of man in innocency, may well be said to be ‘of old;’ and because from the beginning of the world God hath been punishing the wicked, and delivering the godly in due time, his judiciary dispensations may be said to be so also. The matter is not much whether we interpret it of either his statutes or decrees, for they both contain matter of comfort, and we may see the ruin of the wicked in the word if we see it not in providence. Yet I rather interpret it of those righteous acts recorded in scripture, which God as a just judge hath executed in all ages, according to the promises and threatenings annexed to his laws. Only in that sense I must note to you, judgments imply his mercies in the deliverance of his righteous servants, as well as his punishments on the wicked; the seasonable interpositions of his relief for the one in their greatest distresses, as well as his just vengeance on the other, not withstanding their highest prosperities.
2. What is meant by comfort? Comfort is the strengthening the heart against evil, when either—(1.) Faith is confirmed; (2.) Love to God increased; (3.) Hope made more lively.48
Now these providences of God, suited to his word, comforted David, had more power and force to confirm and increase these graces, than all their theistical scoffs to shake them; for he concluded from these in stances, that though the wicked flourish they shall perish, and though the godly be afflicted they shall be rewarded; and so his faith, and hope, and love to God, and adherence to his ways was much encouraged. Comfort is sometimes spoken of in scripture as an impression of the comforting Spirit, sometimes as a result from an act of our meditation; as here, ‘I comforted myself.’ These things are not contrary but subordinate. It is our duty to meditate on God’s word and providence, and God blesseth it by the influence of his grace; and the Spirit may be said to comfort us, and we also may be said to comfort ourselves.
Doct. That the remembrance of God’s former dealings with his people, and their enemies in all ages, is a great relief in distress.
The man of God is here represented as lying under the scorns and oppressions of the wicked. What did he do to relieve himself? ‘I remembered thy judgments of old, and have comforted myself.’ So elsewhere, this was his practice: Ps. lxxvii. 5, ‘I considered the days of old, the years of ancient times:’ again in the 11th and 12th verses, ‘I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember thy works of old: I will meditate also of all thy works, and talk of thy doings:’ yet again, Ps. cxliii. 5, ‘I remember the days of old, I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the works of thy hands.’ Thus did David often consider with what equity and righteousness, with what power and goodness, God carried on the work of his providence toward his people of old. The like he presseth on others; Ps. cv. 5, ‘Remember the marvellous works which he hath done, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth.’ Surely it is our duty, and it will be our comfort and relief.
I shall despatch the point in these considerations:—
1. That there is a righteous God who governeth the world. All things are not hurled up and down by chance, as if the benefit we receive were only a good hit, and the misery a mere misfortune. No; all things are ordered by a powerful, wise, and just God; his word doth not only discover this to us, but his works: Ps. lviii. 11, ‘So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily there is a God that judgeth the earth;’ that is, many times there are such providences that all that behold them shall see, and say that godliness and holiness are matters of advantage and benefit in this world, abstracted from the rewards to come, and so an infallible evidence that the world is not governed by chance, but administered by an almighty, all-wise, and most just providence. So elsewhere: Ps. ix. 16, ‘The Lord is known by the judgments which he executeth;’ by some eminent instances God showeth himself to be the judge of the world, and keepeth a petty sessions before the day of general assizes. Upon this account the saints beg the Lord to take off the veil from his providence, and to appear in protecting and delivering his children, and punishing their adversaries: Ps. xciv. 1, 2, ‘O thou judge of the earth, show thyself.’ He is the supreme governor of the world, to whom it belongeth to do right.49
2. This righteous God hath made a law according to which he will govern, and established it as the rule of commerce between him and his creatures. The precept is the rule of our duty, the sanction is the rule of his proceedings; so that by this law we know what we must do, and what we may expect from him. Man is not made to be law less and ungoverned, but hath a conscience of good and evil, for without the knowledge of God’s will we cannot obey him; nor can we know his will, unless it be some way or other revealed. No man in his wits can expect that God should speak to us immediately and by oracle; we cannot endure his voice, nor can we see him and live. Therefore he revealed his mind by the light of nature and by scripture, which giveth us a clearer and more perfect knowledge of his will. Certainly those that live under that dispensation must expect that God will deal with them according to the tenor of it. The apostle telleth us, Rom. ii. 12, ‘As many as have sinned without the law, shall perish without the law; and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law.’ God hath been explicit and clear with them, to tell them what they should do and what they should expect.
3. In the course of his dispensations he hath showed from the beginning of the world unto this day that he is not unmindful of this law, that the observance of this rule bringeth suitable blessings, and the violation of it the threatened judgments: Rom. i. 18, ‘The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.’ The impious and the unrighteous are breakers of either table, and the wrath of God is denounced and executed upon both, if there be any notorious violation of either; for in the day of God’s patience he is not quick and severe upon the world: Heb. ii. 2, ‘Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward:’ thereby his word is owned. Execution, we say, is the life of the law; it is but words without it, and can neither be a ground of sufficient hope in the promises, nor fear in the comminations. When punishments are inflicted it striketh a greater terror: when the offenders are punished, the observers rewarded, then it is a sure rule of commerce between us and God.
4. That the remembrance of the most illustrious examples of his justice, power, and goodness, should comfort us, though we do not perfectly feel the effects of his righteous government.
[1.] I will prove we are apt to suspect God’s righteous administration when we see not the effects of it. When the godly are oppressed with divers calamities, and the wicked live a life of pomp and ease, flourishing in prosperity and power, according to their own heart’s desire, they are apt to think that God taketh no care of worldly affairs, or were indifferent to good and evil, as those profane atheists, Mal. ii. 17, ‘Every one that doth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in him, or where is the God of judgment?’ as if God took pleasure in wicked men, and were no impartial judge, or had no providence at all, or hand in the government of the world. Temptations to atheism begin ordinarily at the matter of God’s providence. First men carve out a providence of their own, that God loveth none but whom he dealeth kindly with in the matters of the world; and if his dispensations be cross to their apprehensions, then his providence is 50not just. Nay, the people of God themselves are so offended that they break out into such words as these, Ps. lxxiii. 11-13, ‘How doth God know? is there knowledge in the Most High? Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed ray heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.’ They dispute within themselves, Doth God indeed so discern and take notice of all this? How cometh it about that he permitteth them? for it is visible that the wicked enjoy the greatest tranquillity and prosperity, and have the wealth and greatness of the world heaped upon them: then what reward for purity of hearts or hands, or the strict exercise of godliness? Till God doth arise, and apply himself to vindicate his law, these are the thoughts and workings of men’s hearts; at least, it is a great vexation and trouble even to the godly, and doth tempt them to such imaginations and surmises of God.
[2.] I shall prove that the remembrance of his judgments of old is one means to confirm the heart, for so we are enabled to tarry till God’s judgments be brought to the effect. We see only the beginning, and so, like hasty spectators, will not tarry till the last act, when all errors shall be redressed. We shall make quite another judgment of providence when we see it altogether, and do not judge of it by parts. Surely then they shall see ‘there is a reward for the righteous; there is a God that judgeth the earth.’ At first none seem so much to lose their labour, and to be disregarded by God as the righteous, or to be more hardly dealt withal; but let us not be too hasty in judging God’s work, while it is a-doing, but tarry to the end of things. In the word of God we have not only promises which are more firm than heaven and earth, but instances and examples of the afflictions of the righteous and their deliverance; therefore let us but suspend our censure till God hath put his last hand unto the work, and then you will see that if his people seem to be forsaken for a while, it is that they may be received for ever. All is wont to end well with the children of God, let God alone with his own methods; after a walk in the wilderness, he will bring his people into a land of rest.
But more particularly why his judgments of old are a comfort and relief to us.
1. It is some relief to the soul to translate the thoughts from the present scene of things, and to consider former times. One cause of men’s discomfort is to look only to the present, and so they are over whelmed; but when we look back, we shall find that others have been afflicted before us, it is no strange thing, and others delivered before us upon their dependence on God, and adherence to him. You were not the first afflicted servants of God, nor are likely to be the last. Others have been in the like case, and after a while delivered and rescued out of their trouble: Ps. xxii. 4, 5, ‘Our fathers trusted in thee; they trusted, and thou didst deliver them; they cried unto thee, and were delivered; they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.’ In looking back we see two things—the carriage of the godly, and their success, or the salvation of God: ‘The patience of Job and the end of the Lord,’ James v. 11. They trusted God, and trusted him patiently and constantly in all their troubles. At last this trust was not in vain; they were delivered, and not confounded; 51depending on God for rescue and deliverance, they never failed to receive it. Now, in looking back we look forward, and in their deliverance we see our own; at least, you are fortified against the present temptation, whilst you see his people in all ages have their difficulties and conflicts, and also their deliverances; so that you will not miscarry, nor be over-tempted by the present prosperity of the wicked: Ps. lxxiii. 17, ‘I went into the sanctuary, and there understood I their end:’ that is, entering into a sober consideration of God’s counsels and providences, we may easily discern what is the ordinary conclusion of such men’s felicities at last; they pay full dear for their perishing pleasures.
2. Because these are instances of God’s righteous government, and instances do both enliven and confirm all matters of faith. Here you see his justice. God hath ever been depressing the proud and exalting the humble, gracious to his servants, terrible to the wicked. These examples also of rescuing others who have been in like condition before us show us what the wisdom and omnipotency of God can do in performing promises. When the performance of them seemeth hopeless, and all lost and gone, then they are infallible evidences of his tenderness, care, and fidelity towards all that depend upon him. Now, though we have nothing of our own experience to support us, yet the remembrance of what hath been done for others, the experiences of the saints in scripture, are set down for our learning, for the support of our faith and hope. They trusted in God, and found him a ready help; why may not we? God is the same that he was in former times, and carrieth himself in the same ways of providence to righteous and unrighteous as heretofore; still promises are fulfilled, and threatenings are executed. They on whose behalf God showed himself so just, powerful, wise, good, and tender, had not a better God than we have, nor a more worthy Redeemer, nor a surer covenant. If they had a stronger faith, it is our own fault, and we should labour to increase it: the saints are as dear to God as ever. And as to the wicked, they that inherit others’ sins shall inherit others’ judgments. It is true, we live not in the age of wonders; but God’s ordinary providence is enough for our turn, and those very wonders show that he hath power and love enough to protect and deliver us. Well, then, these are instances of his righteous government, and instances which concern us, which is my second reason.
3. By these judgments of old you see the exact correspondency between his word and works. Where his voice is heard, but his hand not seen, his word is coldly entertained; but by his providence he establisheth the authority of his law. The word spoken by angels was λόγος βέβαιος, ‘a steadfast word,’ Heb. ii. 2. A word may be said to be steadfast either in respect of the unalterable will of the lawgiver, or in respect of execution, or with respect to the party to whom it is given, who firmly and certainly believeth it. The one maketh way for the other. God is resolved to govern the world by this rule, therefore he doth authorise it, own it by the dispensations of his providence; accordingly the world learneth to reverence it: Hosea vii. 12, ‘I will chastise them, as their congregation hath heard.’ God’s word against sin and sinners will at last take effect, and end in sad chastisements; 52and they that would not believe their danger are made to feel it. Now his promises will have their effect as well as his threatenings: Micah ii. 7, ‘Do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?’ The word of God doth not only speak good, but do good. The word’s saying of good, is indeed doing of good. The performance is so certain, that when it is said it may be accounted done. We are apt to despise the word of God as an empty sound. No; it produceth notable effects in the world. The sentences that are there, whether of mercy or judgment, are decrees given forth by the great judge of the world; whereupon execution is to follow, as is foretold. Now, when we see it done, and can compare the Lord’s word and work together, it is a mighty support to our faith, whether it be in our or in former ages. For you see the word is not a vain scarecrow in its threatenings, nor do we build castles in the air, when we do depend upon its promises: the judgments of his mouth will be the judgments of his hand, and providence is a real comment upon and proof of the truth of his word.
4. God’s judgments of old, or his wonderful works, were never in tended only for the benefit of that age in which they were done, but the benefit of all those who should hear of them by any credible means whatsoever. Surely God never intended they should be buried in dark oblivion, but that after-ages may be the better for the remembrance of them. Witness these scriptures: Ps. cxlv. 4, ‘One generation shall praise thy works unto another, and remember thy mighty acts;’ Joel i. 3, ‘Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.’ So Ps. lxxviii. 3-7, ‘That which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us, we will not hide them from their children; showing the generations to come the praises of the Lord, and his wonderful works which he hath done: for he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children, that the generation to come might know them, even the children to come, which should be born; who should arise and declare to their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of the Lord, but keep his commandments, and might not be as their fathers,’ &c. From all which places and many more I observe—
[1.] That we should tell generations to come what we have found of God in our time, and that we should use all ways and means to transmit the knowledge of God’s notable and wondrous providences for his people to posterity.
[2.] That this report of God’s former works is a special means of edification, for therefore God would have them recorded and told for the special benefit of the ages following.
[3.] And more particularly that this is a great means and help of faith. For in one of the places it is said ‘that they may set their faith and hope in God:’ and from all we may conclude that, by remembering God’s judgments of old, we may be much comforted; as in remembering God’s works when the church was first reformed in Luther’s time, the delivering of England from the Spanish invasion, gunpowder-treason, &c., for the confirming our faith and confidence m God. All God’s judgments that were done in the days of our forefathers, 53 and in all generations, if they come to our knowledge by a true report, or record, are of use to warn us and comfort us; yea, the bringing Israel out of Egypt and Babylon, or any notable work done since the beginning of the world till now.
Use. The use is to press us to take this course as one remedy to comfort us in our distresses. In distresses of conscience the blood of Christ is the only cure; but in temptations arising from the scorn and insultation of enemies, remember what God hath done for his people of old, and let his providence support our faith: Ps. xxiii. 4, ‘Thy rod and thy staff comfort me.’ Pedum pastorale—for the protection and guiding of the sheep and driving away the wolf, the rod and staff are the instruments of the shepherd. More particularly consider—
1. What is to be observed and remembered. All the eminent passages of God’s providence, when acts of power have been seasonably interposed for the rescue of his people, judgments of all kind, public, universal, private and personal, our own experiences: 2 Cor. i. 10, ‘Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver; in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.’ The experiences of others, not in one, but in every age; for in every place and age God delighteth to leave a monument of his righteousness, and all is for the consolation and instruction of the church. Judgments in our time, judgments in former times, blow off the dust from old mercies, and the inscription of them will be a kind of prophecy to your faith. But especially cast your eye often upon the Lord’s manner of dealing with his saints in scripture, their consolations and deliverances received after trouble; partly because the word of God is a rich storehouse of these instances and examples, and partly because of the infallibility of the record, where things are delivered to us with so much simplicity and truth; partly also because of the manner and ends in which and for which they are recorded. But if I would have recourse to scripture, should I not rather make use of the promises? Ans. We must not set one part of scripture against another; but examples do mightily help us to believe promises, as they are a pledge of the justice, faithfulness, care and love of God towards his people; and—I know not by what secret force and influence—invite us to hope for what God hath done for others of his servants.
2. How they must be considered. Seriously, as everything that cometh from God. A slight consideration will not draw forth the profitable use of them. When they are looked on cursorily, or lightly passed by, the impression of God upon his works cannot be discerned, therefore they must be well considered, with all their circumstances: Ps. cxliii. 2, David sufficed not to say, ‘I remember thy works of old,’ but ‘I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the works of thy hands;’ Ps. lxxvii. 12, ‘I remember thy works of old; I will meditate also of all thy works.’ And surely this should be a delightful exercise to the children of God, as it is for the son of a noble and princely father to read the chronicles where his father’s acts are recorded, or the famous achievements of his ancestors: Ps. cxi. 2, ‘The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.’ Some works of God have a large impression of his power and goodness, and they are made to be remembered, as it after followeth 54there. He is ready to do the like works when his church standeth in need thereof. Now they must be sought out, for there is more hid treasure and excellency in them than doth at first appear. He that would reap the use and benefit of them should take pleasure to search out matter of praise for God and trust for himself. Of all other study, this is the most worthy exercise and employment of godly men, to study and find out the works of God in all their purposes and designs; there is more pleasure in such meditations than in all other the most sensual divertisements.
3. The end is to be strengthened and confirmed in the way of our duty, in dependence upon God, and adherence to him; or that faith may be strengthened in a day of affliction, and our hearts encouraged in cleaving to the ways of God.
[1.] Dependence upon God, which implieth a committing ourselves to his power, a submitting ourselves to his will, and a waiting his leisure; all these are in trust, and all these are encouraged by remembering his judgments of old.
(1.) Committing ourselves to his power is trust and dependence: ‘Our God is able to deliver us ‘from the fiery furnace, Dan. iii. 17; Rom. iv. 21, ‘Being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform.’ Now this is abundantly seen in his judgments of old: Isa. li. 9, ‘Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art not thou he which hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon; which hast dried the sea, and the waters of the great deep?’ If God will but take to himself his great power, and bestir himself as in ancient days, what should a believer fear?
(2.) Submitting ourselves to God’s will is a great act of dependence, submitting before the event. Now, how may a believer acquiesce in God’s providence, and enjoy a quiet repose of heart? He knoweth not what God will do with him, but this he knoweth, he hath to do with a good God, who is not wont to forsake those that depend upon him; he hath wisdom and goodness enough to deliver us, or to make our troubles profitable to us. Now his judgments of old do much help to breed this composedness of mind: Ps. ix. 10, ‘They that know thy name will put their trust in thee; for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.’ They that know anything of God’s wont, and have learned from others, or experimented themselves, or by searching into the records of time have found with what wisdom and power, justice and mercy, God governeth the world, will be firmly grounded in their trust and reliance on these, without applying themselves to any of the sinful aids or policies of the world for succour, or troubling themselves about success; for God never forsook any godly man in his distress, that by prayer and faith made his humble and constant applications to him.
(3.) If you take in the third thing, tarrying or waiting God’s leisure; for ‘he that believeth will not make haste,’ Isa. xxvi. 16. God will tarry to try his people, to observe his enemies, till their sins are full, and tarry to bring about his -providences in the best time: 1 Peter v. 6, ‘Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you,’ i.e. deliver you, ‘in due time.’ It may 55be he will not at all afford temporal deliverance, but will refer it to the time when he will ‘judge the world in righteousness,’ Acts xvii. 31. Now, what will relieve the soul, engage it to wait? His judgments of old; at the long run the good cause hath prevailed, the suppressed truth hath got up, the buried Christ hath risen again, and after labours and patience the fruit sown hath been reaped; therefore in due time he will look upon our afflictions; in the sanctuary we understand the end of things: the beginnings are troublesome, but the end is peace.
[2.] Adherence to God; this followeth necessarily from the former, for dependence begets observance. Till a man trusts God he can never be true to him; for the ‘evil heart of unbelief’ will ‘draw us from the living God,’ Heb. iii. 12; but if we can depend upon him, temptations have lost their force. The great cause of all defection is the desire of some present sensible benefit, and we cannot tarry God’s leisure, nor wait for his help in the way of our duty. Now, if God’s people of old have trusted, and were never confounded, it is a great engagement in the way of his judgments to wait for him without miscarrying.
A case of conscience may be propounded: How could David be comforted by God’s judgments, for it seemeth a barbarous thing to delight in the destruction of any? It is said, Prov. xvii. 5, ‘He that is glad of calamities shall not be unpunished.’
Ans. 1. It must be remembered that judgment implies both parts of God’s righteous dispensation—the deliverance of the godly and the punishment of the wicked. Now, in the first sense, there is no ground of scruple; for it is said, Ps. xciv. 15, ‘Judgment shall return to righteousness:’ the sufferings of good men shall be turned into the greatest advantage; as the context showeth that God will not cast off his people, but judgment shall return unto righteousness.
Ans. 2. Judgment, as it signifieth punishment of the wicked, may jet be a comfort, not as it importeth the calamity of any, but either—
1. When the wicked are punished, the snare and allurement to sin is taken away, which is the hope of impunity; for by their punishments we see it is dangerous to sin against God: Isa. xxvi. 9, ‘When thy judgments are abroad in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness,’ the snare is removed from many a soul.
2. Their derision and mockage of godliness ceaseth; they do no longer vex and pierce the souls of the godly, saying, ‘Aha! aha!’ Ps. xl. 15, ‘It is as a wound to their heart when they say, Where is your God,’ Ps. xlii. 10.
3. The impediments and hindrances of worshipping and serving God are taken away: when the nettles are rooted up the corn hath more room to grow.
4. Opportunity of molesting God’s servants is taken away, and afflicting the church by their oppressions, and so way is made for the enlarging of Christ’s kingdom.
5. As God’s justice is manifested: Prov. xi. 10, ‘When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth; but when the wicked perish, there is shouting;’ Ps. lii. 6, ‘The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him: Lo! this is the man that made not God his portion:’ Rev. xviii. 20, ‘Rejoice over Babylon, ye holy apostles and prophets, for God hath avenged you on her.’ When the word of God is fulfilled, surely then we may rejoice that his justice and truth are cleared.56
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