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Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction.—Ver. 92.
IN the verses before the text, David meditateth upon the constancy of the course of nature, whereby is represented God’s constant fidelity in performing all his promises to his people. Now he produceth his own experience, and showeth that all this had been matter of most pleasant meditation to support him under his afflictions; when all other comforts failed, he found sufficient consolation in the word of God, unless thy law had been, &c.
In which words observe—
1. David’s condition; he was afflicted.
2. His bitter sense of that condition; he was ready to perish in his affliction.
3. His remedy; the word of God.
4. The way of application; it was his delights.
1. For his condition. Though he was a man after God’s own heart, yet he had his troubles: Ps. cxxxii. 1, ‘Remember David, Lord, and all his afflictions.’
2. For his sense and apprehension, ‘I should then have perished.’ Then; that is, long since. If you suppose him now under trouble, probably he should have sunk under the weight of it; or if out of trouble, he remembereth from experience what did comfort him when he was ready to perish. But how perished? It may be understood—
[1.] Either as given over to the will of his enemies, if he had not confided in God; for all human help and comfort was cut off, and then did divine help appear.421
[2.] Died for sorrow; for ‘worldly sorrow worketh death,’ 2 Cor. vii. 10. We are apt to despond and despair in great and sore troubles. Affliction worketh heaviness, 1 Peter i. 6, and heaviness drieth the hones and wasteth our strength. What kept him?
3. His remedy was the word of God; for he saith, ‘Unless thy law had been my delights,’ Some take the word law strictly, for the precepts of the law, which keepeth us from sin, which doth involve us in danger. But rather it is taken for the whole word of God, and chiefly for the promises of support and deliverance. I had despaired if I had not consulted with thy word. He doth not here speak of direction, but of support; elsewhere he found nothing but sorrow, but in the word of God joy and comfort.
4. The way of application, my delights. The word is plural, and increaseth the sense, in what way soever it may be interpreted. Now it may be interpreted passively or actively.
[1.] Passively, that the word of God refreshed him, and afforded him matter of delight, and so renewed his strength. David had many sorrows, but here he found delights, as many comforts as troubles. The word of God yieldeth comfort for every state of life; if there be many sorrows, there are many delights; but with advantage, heavenly comforts for earthly afflictions, eternal comforts for temporal sorrows.
[2.] Actively. He delighted in the word of God, yea, counted it his delights. It increaseth the sense.
(1.) It was his chief delight. Other things might be thankfully accepted and acknowledged, but this was the solace and delight of his soul.
(2.) His continual delight and comfort, to which he retreated upon all occasions.
(3.) His whole, or only delight; when deprived of all other things, this was instead of all delights to him: all which show his high esteem of the word.
Doct. That the afflicted man’s true consolation is in the word of God.
I will pursue the point in the method that I have laid forth in the parts of the text.
First, A man after God’s own heart, such as David was, may be afflicted. Why?
1. Because God hath chosen another way of expressing his love to his people than by outward things; for he will govern the spiritual part of the world by faith, and not by sense: therefore ‘None shall know love and hatred by things that are before him,’ Eccles. ix. 1; that is, by mere outward events, or things obvious to outward sense; the significations of his love are more hidden. Prov. iii. 31, 32, Solomon supposeth that the oppressor may be in a flourishing condition, yet all this while the Lord hates him; his secret is with the righteous. We know his fatherly love to us, not by things without us, but things within us, Rom. viii. 16; 1 John iii. 2, 4, ‘Hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us:’ Gal. iv. 6, ‘He hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.’ Outward things would soon be overvalued, and we should take them as our whole felicity and portion, if, besides their suitableness to our present needs 422and appetites, they should come to us as special evidences of God’s love.
2. Afflictions are necessary to the best. Certain it is God will conduct his people to glory, not only by his internal, but external providence. Now to humble us, to wean us from the world, there is need of afflictions: 1 Peter i. 6, ‘Ye are in heaviness for a season, if need be.’ We are wanton, vain, neglectful of God, unmindful of heavenly things; if God did not put us under the discipline of the cross, our minds and hearts would be more alienated from God and heavenly things: Ps. cxix. 67, ‘Before I was afflicted I went astray.’ Now, since the best need it, God will not be wanting in any part or point of necessary government to them.
3. That they may know the worth and benefit of God’s word, and the comfort of it may be seen and felt by experience, how able it is to support us, and to uphold a sinking heart under any trouble whatsoever, Rom. xv. 4. In full prosperity, when we seem to live upon the creature, we know not the benefit of God’s promise, nor how to live by faith; as the use of bladders in swimming is not known while we are upon firm land. The word of God provideth comforts for the obedient, not only at the end of the journey, but for their support at present, while they are in the way. These comforts would be useless if never put upon the trial; therefore none of God’s children must look to be exempted: 1 Peter v. 9, ‘All these afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.’ Our condition is no harder than the rest of the saints of God that have passed through the world.
Secondly, David was ready to sink under his burden; and so are other the people of God ready to perish, when they look to the bare afflictions. This may come:—
1. From the grievousness of the affliction, which staggereth and amazeth them: Ps. lx. 3, ‘Thou hast showed thy people hard things; thou hast made us to drink of the wine of astonishment.’ Their thoughts are confounded, as a man that has taken a poisonous potion. They know not to what hand to turn, are wholly dispirited, and put out of all comfort.
2. It comes from the weakness of the saints. There is some weakness and imbecility in the best, more than they are aware of; as when David was ready to faint under the cross before troubles came. We are like unto Peter, we think we can walk upon the sea; but some boisterous wind or other assaults our confidence, and then we cry out, ‘Help, Master, we perish,’ Mat. xiv. 30. We reckon only upon the sea, but do not think of the wind, and so our weakness is made evident by proof. Whence cometh this weakness?
[1.] Partly because we look more to the creature than to God, and to our dangers than to the power that is to carry us through them: Isa. li. 12, 13, ‘I, even I, am he that comforteth thee: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man that shall be made as grass; and forgettest the Lord thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day, because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? And where is the fury of the oppressor?’ We that have the immortal and almighty 423God to be our protector and saviour, why should we be afraid of a frail, mortal man?
[2.] If they look to God, yet God doth not seem to look to them. If a thin curtain be drawn between God and us, we are presently dismayed, as if he were wholly gone; and because of our hardships, question the love of God: Ps. lxxvii. 9, ‘Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies?’ Isa. xlix. 14, ‘Zion hath said, The Lord hath forsaken me, my God hath for gotten me;’ though our condition be everyway consistent with the fatherly love of God: Heb. xii. 5, ‘Have you forgotten the exhortation which speaketh to you as children?’ We are children, though under discipline; and God is a father, though he frowneth as well as smileth.
[3.] Impatiency of delay; if we question not his love, yet cannot tarry his leisure. Certainly it is very good to wait God’s leisure; though he seemeth asleep, he will awake for our help. Faith makes us like people that dig the pit, and wait for the rain to come down and fill it; to lay the cloth, though we know not whence the provision will be sent. But the people of God have not always the strength of faith, and therefore faint, and are ready to perish: ‘I said in my haste, I am cut off,’ Ps. xxxi. 22.
[4.] Religion itself entendereth the heart; a father’s anger is no slight thing to a gracious soul. When we are afflicted, and God is angry, the trouble is the more grievous, and it is hard to steer right between the two rocks of slighting and fainting. Well, then, pity poor creatures under their burden, and help them, but censure them not.
Thirdly, His remedy, God’s word; there is the paradise of delights, and the only requies to allay the bitter sense of all our troubles. Why?
1. As to the main blessings, there is represented to us the true fountain of all comfort, who is God, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort, 2 Cor. i. 13; who distributeth comfort when and where and to whom he pleaseth.
2. There is discovered to us the meritorious and procuring cause, who is Jesus Christ: ‘Who hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,’ 2 Thes. ii. 16.
3. The Spirit, who is the applier of all comfort, therefore called the Comforter; and he giveth us peace and joy in believing, Rom. xv. 3.
4. The true instrument, means, or condition whereby we receive comfort, and that is faith, John xiv. 1.
5. The true matter of comfort, and that is pardon and life.
[1.] Pardon and reconciliation with God, Rom. v. 10. No solid cause of rejoicing till then, when reconciled to God; then true peace, and peace that passeth all understanding, which will guard both heart and mind, Phil. iv. 7; then all miseries are unstinged. Solid peace of conscience is your best support and comfort under afflictions, the intrinsic evil of afflictions is then taken away: Lam. iii. 39, ‘Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?’ While sin remaineth unpardoned. the thorn still remaineth in the sore.
[2.] The promise of eternal life, Rom. v. 2. There is the crown set against the cross, heavenly comforts against earthly afflictions; the 424afflictions of God’s children comparatively are light and short: 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.’ Nothing should be grievous to them that know a world to come, where all tears shall be wiped from our eyes, and we shall enjoy fulness of joy and pleasure for evermore.
6. It showeth us who are the parties capable—the renewed or sanctified: Ps. xxxii. 11, ‘Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous, and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.’ To all Christ’s sincere, faithful, and obedient servants, these promises are matter of abundant joy.
As to particular comforts concerning afflictions, it is endless to in stance in all, but take a few instances.
1. The word of God teaches us not only how to bear them, but how to improve them. As it teaches us how to bear them, it breedeth quietness and submission; but as it teaches us how to improve them, it breedeth peace and joy. To bear: Micah vii. 9, ‘I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness.’ To improve them: Heb. xii. 11, righteousness brings peace along with it. The fruit is better than the deliverance, as we get spiritual advantage by them, as they promote repentance, purge out sin, bring us home to God. They rid us of the matter -of our trouble, and bring us to the centre of our rest.
2. The word teaches to depend upon God for the moderating of them, and deliverance from them, 1 Cor. x. 13. Before he giveth a passage out of our pressures, he vouchsafeth present support to us, and will not permit his servants to be tempted beyond what they are able to bear.
3. His people have most experience of God under the cross; they have a more peculiar allowance from God for sufferings than for ordinary services. Paul was strongest when weak, 2 Cor. xii. 9, 10. The greater pressures, the more sensible the divine assistance. And when ordinary means fail, and they are pressed above their own strength, the more visible the proof of God’s help. When they are most apt to have jealousies of God’s love, they have had the highest manifestations of it; never more liberty than in the house of bondage; most of God’s smiles when all things seem to frown upon them. In short, have had more understanding, not only of God’s word, but his love.
4. God’s governing all things for the benefit of his people: Rom. viii. 28, ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God;’ sure, then, afflictions. Now they submitting, and being exercised under sharp dispensations, may find it verified to them; many things seem for our hurt intendedly, many thought so by ourselves, but God knoweth how to bring good out of them, Cant. iv. 16.
Fourthly, David saith, ‘My delights.’ They that seek their solace and delight in the word shall find it there. It is an excellent frame of heart to be satisfied with the comforts which the word offereth; every one cannot be thus affected. To raise this delight:—425
1. Faith is necessary; for the comforts of the word are received and improved by faith. Unless we expect the sure accomplishment of God’s promises, how can we be supported by them? Ps. xxvii. 13, ‘I had fainted unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living:’ that is, without a full assent to the promises which God had made him of his restoration, for he had particular assurance of the kingdom, as we have of the kingdom of heaven. So for the consent, as well as assent, to take the happiness contained in the promises as our whole felicity: Ps. cxix. 111, ‘Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever; they are the rejoicing of my heart.’ There is heritage and portion rich enough in God’s promises, and this breedeth joy in all afflictions.
2. Meditation is necessary; for thereby the sweetness of the word is perceived and tasted, and the promises laid before us. It is the fruit of delight: Ps. i. 2, ‘But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night.’ And it is the cause of it: Ps. civ. 34, ‘My meditation of him shall be sweet; I will be glad in the Lord.’ They who delight in a thing will often view it and consider it, and thereby their delight is increased. The most lively truths work not on us for want of serious consideration.
3. There must be mortification and self-denial, or prizing spiritual favours before temporal benefits. The cross will not be grievous to a mortified spirit, when, they compare their gain with their loss, 2 Cor. iv. 16. To others we speak in vain, whose hearts are set upon worldly advantages; but they who value all things in order to the chief good, and have weaned their hearts from the false happiness, they have their end if they be brought nearer to God, though by a bitter and sharp means.
Use 1. Reproof to four sorts.
1. To those that know no comfort but what ariseth from the enjoyments of sense. Alas! these comforts are dreggy and base, and leave a taint upon the soul, Jude 19. Again, they leave us destitute when we most need comfort, Job xxvii. 8. When other comforts forsake us, and have spent their allowance, the comforts of the word abide with us. Again, these comforts increase our grief, though for a time they seem to mitigate and allay it. They are like strong waters, that warm the stomach for the present, but destroy the true temper and natural heat of it, and leave it the colder afterwards; they cheer us a little, but the end of that mirth is heaviness. Oh! how much better are the comforts of God’s word, which giveth us matter of joy in the saddest condition; and do not only save us from desperation in troubles, but make us rejoice in tribulation, and can bring pleasure to us in our bitterest afflictions! There are breasts of consolation for every distressed creature to suck at and be saved.
2. It reproves them that think philosophy as good, or a better institution than Christianity. Certainly we should own the wisdom of God, by what hand soever it is conveyed to us; as Elijah refused not his meat though brought by ravens. But when this is done by men of a profane wit, in a contempt of God, we must convince them of their dangerous error and mistake, and show how complete we are in Christ, that we be not spoiled by the rudiments of vain wisdom or philosophy, 426Col. ii. 8. Surely God’s comforts have greatest authority over the conscience to silence all our murmurings, Ps. xciv. 19. Man speaks to us by the evidence of reason, but in scripture God himself speaks to us, and impawneth his truth with us to do us good. They knew not the true cause of trouble, sin; nor the true remedy, Jesus Christ. And surely those great mysteries of Christ as procurer of comfort, the Spirit as the applier, heaven as the matter, the word as the warrant, faith as the means to receive, all these are a more accommodate means to settle the conscience than those little glimmerings of light which refined nature discovered. They speak of submitting out of necessity, little of reducing the heart to God; and their very doctrines for comfort were rather a libel against providence than a sure ground of peace and tranquillity of mind; and they taught men to eradicate the affections rather than to govern and quiet them; and therefore keep up your reverence to the scriptures. A Seneca may speak things more neatly, and to the gust of carnal fancy, but not with greater power and efficacy; this is reserved for the word.
3. It reproves them that undervalue the consolations laid down in the word, as if they were but slender, empty, and unsatisfactory, and would have some singular and extraordinary way of getting comfort: Job xv. 11, ‘Are the consolations of God small with thee? is there any secret thing with thee?’ God’s ordinary way is the sure way, the other layeth us open to a snare; therefore they who undervalue the ordinary comforts of the word, obtained in a way of faith and repentance, and close walking with God (as Naaman undervalued the waters of Jordan), and would have signs and wonders to comfort them, they may long sit in darkness, because if God comfort them not in their way, they will not be comforted at all. Now, though God hath sometimes, in condescension to his people, granted them their desires—as to Thomas—yet it is with an upbraiding of their weakness and unbelief, John xx. 28. We should acquiesce in the common allowance of God’s people, lest we seem to reflect on the wisdom and goodness of God, and lay open ourselves to some false consolation and dream of comfort, while we affect new means without the compass of the word; especially when we find not our expectations there speedily answered, like hasty patients, readier to tamper with every new medicine they hear of, than submit to a regular course of physic. Gregory tells us of a lady of the emperor’s court that never ceased importuning him to seek from God a revelation from heaven that she should be saved. He answers, Rem difficilem et inutilem postulas—it was a thing difficult and unprofitable; difficult for him to obtain, unprofitable for her to ask, having a surer way by the scriptures, 2 Peter i. 19, than oracles. The adhering of the soul to the promises is the unquestionable way to obtain a sound peace. Luther, as he confesseth, was often tempted to ask a sign of the pardon of his sins, or some special revelation. He tells also how strongly he withstood these temptations—Pactum feci cum Domino meo ne mihi mittat visiones, vel somnia, vel etiam angelos: contentus enim sum hoc dono, quod liabeo scripturam sanctam; quae abunde docet et suppeditat omnia, quae necessaria sunt tam ad hanc vitam, quam ad futuram,—I indented with the Lord my God, that he would never send me 427dreams and visions; I am well contented with the gift of the scriptures.
4. It shows how much they are to blame that are under a scripture institution and do so little honour it by their patience or comfort under troubles. Wherefore were the great mysteries of godliness made known to us, and the promises of the world to come, and all the directions concerning the subjection of the soul to God, and those blessed privileges we enjoy by Christ, if they all be not able to satisfy and stay your heart, and compose it to a quiet submission to God, when it is his pleasure to take away his comforts from you? Is there o balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Will not the whole word of God yield you a cordial or a cure? It is a disparagement to the provision Christ hath made for our comfort.
[1.] Surely this comes either from ignorance or forgetfulness; you do not meditate in the word, or study the grounds of comfort, and remember them: Heb. xii. 5, ‘Have you forgotten the exhortation which. speaks unto you as unto children?’ Hagar had a well of comfort nigh at hand, yet ready to die for thirst.
[2.] You indulge a distemper, and the obstinacy and peevishness of grief: Jer. xxxi. 15, ‘A voice was heard in Rama, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, and refused to be comforted.’ Certainly you do not expostulate with yourselves, and cite your passions before the tribunal of reason, Ps. xlii. 5; or else look altogether to the grievance, not to the comfort; aggravate the grievances, extenuate the comforts; you pitch too much upon temporal happiness, would have God maintain you at your own rate: Heb. xiii. 5, 6, ‘Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have; for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’ A man must be purged from inordinate affection when he would trust in God. Do not pitch too doatingly upon temporal happiness.
Use 2. Let us get these comforts settled upon our hearts. Was this peculiar to David alone? No; every godly man, as Theodoret observeth, may say in his trouble, Unless thy word had been my delights, 1 had perished in mine affliction. So Daniel when forbidden to pray; so the three children in the furnace; all the martyrs; yea, all the afflicted servants of God. Therefore let us—
1. Prize the scripture, and be more diligent in hearing, reading, meditating on the blessed truths contained therein. The earth is the fruitful mother of all herbs and plants; yet it must be tilled, ploughed, harrowed, and dressed, else it bringeth forth little fruit. The scripture containeth all the grounds of comfort and happiness, but we have little benefit unless daily versed in reading, hearing, meditation. Surely if we prize it as we should we would do so: Ps. cxix. 97, ‘Oh, how I love thy law! it is my meditation all the day.’ There is the only remedy of sin and misery, the offer of true blessedness, the sure rule to walk by.
2. If you would have these comforts, you must get such a spirit of application under afflictions: Job v. 27, ‘Lo this, we have searched it, so it is; hear it, and know thou it for thy good.’ All efficacy is conveyed by the touch; the nearer the touch, the greater the power and 428efficacy; bring it down to your hearts: Rom. viii. 31, ‘What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?’
3. The law of God must be your delight in prosperity, if you would have it your support in adversity: Ps. cxix. 105, ‘Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my paths.’ That which is our antidote against our lusts is our best cordial against our passions: 2 Peter i. 4, ‘Whereby are given to us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.’ When afflictions come upon you, consider what is your greatest burden and what is your greatest comfort, for then you are best at leisure to consider both; your greatest burden, that you may avoid it, your greatest comfort, that you may apply yourselves to it.
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