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I have seen an end of all perfection; but thy commandment is exceeding broad.—Ver. 96.
IN this verse the scripture, as the charter of our hopes, and the seed and principle of our spiritual being, is recommended above all things in the world as that which doth chiefly deserve our respect and care. Consider the word by itself, and you will find it excellent; but consider it by way of comparison with the vanity and insufficiency of other things, and the excellency thereof will much more appear. As in a pair of balances, when things come to be weighed together, you will soon see the difference, and which is heaviest; so here in the text both scales are filled; on the one side there is the world and the perfections thereof, and on the other side the word of God and the benefit that we have thereby, and sensibly the beam breaketh on the word’s side; in the one scale there is limited perfection, which will soon have an end; in the other, a happiness that hath length and breadth, ‘I have seen an end,’ &c.
In the words there is a thesis or proposition, and then an antithesis, or something said by way of opposition to that position. The thesis, ‘I have seen an end of all perfection:’ and the antithesis, ‘But thy commandment is exceeding broad.’ Both together will yield us this point:—
Doct. That the serious consideration of the frailty and fadingness of all natural and earthly perfections should excite and quicken us to look 452after that better and eternal estate which is offered to us in the word of God.
I shall make good this proposition by going over the circumstances of the text as they are offered to us.
First, I begin with the thesis or proposition, I have seen an end of all perfection; and there you may take notice—
1. Of the subject or matter here spoken of, it is perfection; understand it in a natural and worldly sense, the most excellent of all the creatures, and the greatest glory of all natural accomplishments.
2. The extent, all perfection, whatever it be.
3. The predicate, hath an end.
4. The confirmation from sense, I have seen. It is either dictum experientiae, I have often seen it fall out before my eyes; or dictum fidei, I could by faith easily see to the bottom of the creature, see vanity in it whilst in its greatest glory. Let us open these things.
Mark, it is not said in the concrete, I have seen an end of perfect things; but in the abstract, I have seen an end of all perfection itself. The most perfect of worldly things are but imperfect; man, in his best estate, is altogether vanity, Ps. xxxix. 11.
And then mark the extent of it, it is ‘all perfection;’ not only some but all perfection; wisdom and learning, as well as beauty and strength, wit and wealth, honour and greatness; I have seen an end of all of it. Many will readily grant that some kind of perfections are slight; but all is vanity and vexation of spirit. Here is a meditation fit for per sons of all sort and conditions. For great ones that they presume not; for mean ones, that they repine not; for the old, whose vigour and strength is gone, in whom it is verified; and for the young, or those that are in the vigour and freshness of youth, in whom within a little while it will be verified; for the rich, that they trust not in uncertain riches; for the poor, that they be not over-dejected; for the honoured, that they please not themselves overmuch with the blasts of popular breath and vain applause; the disgraced, that they may make a sanctified use of their afflictions. All perfection, first or last, will wither and decay.
And then here is the predicate, hath an end; the word also signifieth limit or bound; there is an end in regard of length, duration, and continuance, and an end in regard of breadth and use; that also must be taken in; for the narrowness of worldly comforts and the breadth of the commandments are often opposed one to the other. I will show you—
First, That all earthly perfections have their bounds and limits as to their use and service; they are good for this and that, but not for all things; but ‘godliness is profitable for all things,’ 1 Tim. iv. 8. They are not able to bear full contentment to the mind, or give full satisfaction to the heart, at least in all conditions and sorts of afflictions; riches will help against poverty, and health against sickness, but ‘godliness is profitable to all things.’ There are many difficulties and dangers in which the limited power of the creatures cannot help us; but the word of God, applied and obeyed, and followed with his mighty Spirit, will yield us relief and comfort in all cases and conditions. All the pleasures and profits, and honours of the world are nothing to this. As, for instance, all these perfections cannot—453
1. Give us any solid peace of conscience and rest to our souls; in the midst of all our fulness there is something wanting; carnal affections must be mortified before they can be satisfied. Grace must do that for you; it is godliness that brings contentment to the heart of man: 1 Tim. vi. 6, ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain.’ Alas! wealth can never do it; our desires are increased the more we have; and the way to contentment is not to increase our substance, but to limit our desires; as in a dropsy, the way to cure the man is not to satisfy him with drink, but to open a vein to take away his thirst. We expect too much from the creature, and then the disappointment breedeth trouble; and therefore, Eccles. i. 14, why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Outward things do not bear a thorough proportion with all the wants and desires and capacities of the soul, and therefore cannot give solid peace to our souls.
2. It cannot make you acceptable to God, neither wealth nor beauty, nor honour, nor strength; it is grace that is of great price in the sight of God: 1 Peter iii. 4, ‘The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit is in the sight of God of great price.’ This is a beauty that doth never fade nor wax old: ‘Since thou wert precious in my sight, thou wast honourable, and I have loved thee,’ Isa. xliii. 4. God loveth his people for the grace he putteth into them, not for the outward gifts he bestoweth upon them. It is grace that makes us amiable to God, and fit objects of the divine complacency; you are not a jot the more pleasing to God when rich than when poor. No; but the more hateful to him, if you are not rich towards God, Luke xii. 21.
3. It cannot stead you in your greatest and deepest necessities, and therefore they are but limited. There are two great necessities wherein all creature comforts will fail:—
[1.] In troubles of conscience. Men do pretty well with their worldly portion and happiness till God sets their consciences awork, and begins to rebuke man for sin, and reviveth the sense of their own guilt and liableness to the curse. In such a case, all the glory and profit and pleasure of the creature will do no good; it cannot allay the sense of God’s wrath scorching the soul for sin: Ps. xxxix. 11, ‘When thou with rebukes doth chasten man for sin, thou makest his beauty to consume like a moth.’ Tell him of honours, friends, estates, pleasures, all is nothing; the virtue of that opium wherewith he laid his soul asleep is now quite spent. Trouble of conscience arrests the stoutest and most jovial sinners, and layeth them under sadness and horror. Judas threw away his thirty pieces of silver when his guilt stared him in the face: ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood,’ Mat. xxvii. 4. When God is angry the creatures cannot pacify him and make you friends. As when a man is going to execution with a drooping and heavy heart, bring him a posy of flowers, bid him smell them, and comfort himself with them, he will think you upbraid his misery; so in troubles of conscience, what good will it be to tell a man of riches and honours. The remedy must be according to the grief; so that if outward things could satisfy the heart, they cannot satisfy the conscience; our sore will run, among all the creatures, and there is no salve for it.
[2.] They will not stead us at the hour of death, when a man must 454launch out into eternity, and set sail for an unknown world. Can a man comfort himself then with outward things, that a man is great, rich, and honourable, beautiful or strong, or that he hath wallowed in all manner of sensualities? If men would look to the end of things, they would sooner discern their mistake: Deut. xxxii. 29, ‘Oh, that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!’ So Jer. xvii. 9, ‘At his latter end he shall be a fool.’ He was a fool before, all his life-long, but now he is so in the account of his own heart. So Job xxvii. 8, ‘What hope hath the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God cometh to take away his soul?’ The poor man would fain keep his soul a little longer; no, but God will take it now; and he doth not resign it, but God takes it by force. And 1 Cor. xv. 56, ‘The sting of death is sin.’ The dolours and horrors of a guilty conscience are revived by death, and then the weakness of worldly things doth best appear; our wealth and honour and pleasure will leave us in the dirt. When the soul is to be turned out of doors, our vain conceits are blown away, and we begin to be sensible of our ill choice. If conscience did not do its office before, death will undeceive them: Ps. xlix. 17, ‘When a man dieth he shall carry nothing away with him, his glory shall not descend after him.’ He shall be eaten out by worms as others are, when he cometh to go the way of all the earth; then for one evidence for heaven, one drachm of the favour of God, as Severus the emperor cried out, I have been all things, but now it profits me nothing.
4. It is of no use to you in the world to come. Gold and silver, the great instruments of commerce in this world, are of no value there. All civil distinctions last but to the grave. Some are high and others low, some are rich and others poor; these distinctions will last but a while, but the distinction of good and bad lasts for ever. Their works follow them, but not their wealth; outward things cannot save your souls, or bring you to heaven.
5. In this world it will not prevent a sickness or remove it. The honourable and the rich have their diseases as well as the poor; yea, more, they are bred upon them by their intemperance. All your houses and lands and honours and estates cannot ease you of a fit of the gout, or stone, nor ah aching tooth, nor keep off judgments when they are epidemical. There were frogs in Pharaoh’s bed-chamber as well as among the meaner Egyptians, and all the king’s guard could not keep them out.
Well, then, all these things show it is of a limited use; indeed they serve to make our pilgrimage comfortable, and to support us during our service—that is the best use we can put them to; but the use the most put them to is to satisfy a sensual appetite or please a fleshly mind, Ps. xvii. 14. The utmost that these things can procure is a back well clothed, and a belly well filled. This is but a sorry happiness, to feed a little better than others, to provide a richer feast for the worms, yea, a prey for hell. Take all created perfections, not as subordinate to grace, but separate from it, it serveth but to please the appetite or the fancy, make the most or best of it.
Secondly, by their time and period as to continuance. All these 455things perish in the using; like flowers, they wither in our hands while we smell at them: ‘The fashion of this world passeth away,’ 1 Cor. vii. 31; and whosoever liveth here for a while must look for changes, and reckon to act several parts in the world. Whatsoever was wonderful in former ages is lost and past with age; things that now are are not what they once were: Ps. cii. 26, 27, ‘They shall perish, but thou shalt endure for ever,’ saith the Psalmist, speaking to God; ‘yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment: as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shalt be changed; but thou art the same, and thy years have no end.’ Christ, he hath no end, but men will soon see the end of all perfection. The world and all things were made ea lege ut aliquando pereant—that they might at length fail and come to an end. That which you now have you cannot say it shall be yours this time twelvemonth, or it may be a month hence; we hold all things by an uncertain tenure. God may take away these things from us; for man is compared to grass, and the glory of man to the flower of grass, 1 Peter i. 24. What is the glory of man? Riches, wisdom, strength, beauty, credit, all these things are called the flower. Now the flower fadeth before the grass, and withers; the neglected stalk remaineth. When the leaves of the flower are shed, you may be gone and they gone. If they continue with you till death, then you must take your final farewell of all your comforts. Thus you see all perfection will have an end.
And then, here is the confirmation from sense, I have seen. Consider it—(1.) As it is matter of sense or experience; (2.) As it is an observation upon experience.
1. The vanity of the creature is matter of sense and plain experience. We have seen, and others have seen, all outward things come to their final period; goodly cities levelled with the earth, mighty empires destroyed, worldly glory blasted, honours vanished, credit and esteem shrunk into nothing, beauty shrivelled with age, or defaced by sickness; yea, all manner of greatness laid in the dust. We trample upon the graves of others, and within a little while others will do the same over ours. All things have their times and turns, their rise and ruin; there is no man that converseth with the world, but he will soon see the vanity of it David found it not only by clear reason, but by his own experience, ‘I have seen,’ saith he; and so will you say too within a while; these things will fail when you have most need of them. Credit and honour before the world; what is more uncertain than the people’s affections? They that cry, ‘Hosannah,’ to-day, will cry ‘Crucify him,’ to-morrow. Pleasures are gone as soon as they come; and when they are gone, they are as a thing of nought, but that they leave a sting in the conscience, and a sadness in the heart: ‘Riches take wings and flee away,’ Prov. xxiii. 5. You can be no more confident of them than of a flock of wild fowl that pitcheth in your field. Honour is soon gone. Haman is one day high in favour, the next day high upon the gallows. Strength and beauty are soon assaulted by diseases. It will be matter of sense; better believe it than try it; then it will prevent a great deal of vexation, and the shame of disappointment Seldom doth a man act the same part in the world for a year together; now joyful, anon sad; 456 now children, then none; now married, anon in a widowhood condition. It is much in the desire and thoughts of natural men to have a perpetual enjoyment of this life and the comforts of it; but it will never be. They perish, and we must die; and when we are gone, our glory will not be remembered. Solomon, recordeth his experience of the vanity of all earthly things. Oh, that we would believe it r without trying conclusions! You that are so eager after the world, what will you think of it when it is parting from you, or you from it? Will they then be found to be such excellent things as you once deemed them to be? Oh, no! At last you must come to this, ‘I have seen an end of all perfection;’ and then you will say, Oh, how hath the world deceived me! I have laboured for nought!
2. ‘I have seen:’ that is, with a spiritual eye; this should be observed and improved by faith. Many are sensible of the vanity of the creature, but are not a jot the wiser: Ps. xlix. 13, ‘This their way is their folly, yet their posterity approve their sayings.’ They are sensible of the folly of their ancestors, but yet do not mend by it. We should not only see with our eyes, but understand with our hearts. When the wise man went by the field of the sluggard, he saw it over grown with thorns and nettles, and the stone wall thereof broken down: Prov. xxiv. 32, ‘I saw it, and considered it well; I looked upon it, and received instruction.’ We should profit by everything. In this sense we may gather figs off thistles and grapes off thorns. Especially should we observe the vanity of all sublunary things: Eccles. vii. 2, ‘It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting; for this is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to heart.’ We should make a good use of these occasions; a man seeth his own end in the end of others, and by their death is admonished of his own frailty and mortality. It is a sad sign when this is not considered: Isa. xlii. 25, ‘Yet he laid it not to heart;’ Isa. xxvi. 11, ‘Lord, when thy hand is lifted up, they will not see, but they shall see.’ They shall be forced to take notice of what now they will not, when God’s hand is upon them to their utter confusion.
3. ‘I have seen.’ Happy they that have such eyes! But alas! there is a great deal of difference between the sight of the senses and the sight of the understanding. When we see things with our eyes, there is a natural blindness or brutishness, or a veil upon our hearts, that we mind them not. Men have eyes to see, but they have not a heart to see. So God complains, Jer. v.’21, ‘They have eyes and see not, ears and hear not.’ So Deut. xxix. 3, 4, ‘The great temptations which thine eyes have seen, and the signs and those great miracles: yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear unto this day.’ So Isa. vi. 9, 10, ‘And he said, Go and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not, and see ye indeed, but perceive not: make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears.’ Though things be never so plainly delivered, so power fully pressed, so apparently verified; and so they see and hear, and receive no more benefit than if they had never heard nor seen it, God withholding and withdrawing the efficacy of his Spirit, whereby it might be beneficial to them for good. So Isa. xlii. 20, ‘Seeing things, 457but thou observest not; opening the ears, but thou nearest not.’ They see the wonderful works of God, but do not consider them as wise people ought to do: Isa. i. 3, ‘The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider;’ Ezek. xii. 2, ‘Thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not, they have ears to hear, and hear not:’ that is, they make no use of them, but strive and endeavour to put it out of their minds. So John ix. 39-41, ‘And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see, and they that see might be made blind. And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin; but now ye say we see, your sin remaineth.’ There is a great deal of difference between the sight of believers and unbelievers; the one sees with an understanding heart, the other without it. In the one there is a free, ready, and sincere use of their disciplinable senses, that they may learn his word and walk in his ways, that they may profit in the knowledge of God, and so get understanding and spiritual prudence. The other are brutish, ignorant, or idle, negligent, and forgetful; they shut their eyes, and their ears are uncircumcised, and so they know not what they know. The causes of this are, first, non-attendancy or inadvertency, prejudicate opinions and rooted lusts, hinder their profiting. Look, as the sun, moon, and stirs, though they move with a most swift and rapid motion, seem to a vulgar eye to stand still, or at least to move very slowly, so these sublunary things, though they are always passing, yet the inward thought of worldlings is that they shall endure for ever. Oh, labour then for this spiritual and heart-affecting sight! If a man could behold this world in the light of a divine knowledge, he would find it to be but a vanishing shadow. Though the vanity of the creature be a plain truth, and taught by daily experience, and is easily and commonly acknowledged, yet it is not easy to make this truth have a deep impression upon the hearts of men. They are naturally unwilling to admit thoughts of a change, Amos vi. 2, because they are unable to sanctify themselves and look after a better and spiritual estate. But let us not grieve the Spirit of God by our unteachableness in so plain a point. When we are told of the frailty and slipperiness of worldly comforts, we shake our heads and confess it to be true, but improve it not, at best conceive some weak and faint resolutions, but they soon vanish, and we are as worldly and carnal as ever we were; and therefore pray as David, Ps. xc. 12, ‘So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.’ You have seen the first part of the text—here is perfection, all perfection; then all perfection hath an end; and this is to be seen, it is liable to sense; and it should be improved by grace. If all creature perfection hath an end:—
Use 1. Let it moderate our desires; for who would court a flying shadow, especially when these pursuits hinder us from looking after better and eternal things? Jonah ii. 8, ‘They that seek lying vanities forsake their own mercies:’ that is, they might have been their own, if they had chosen them. Within a while the world will be but a stale jest, and the laughing fit is over, and then our sorrow cometh; 458the feast will be at an end, and then we begin to feel the gripes of a surfeit.
Use 2. Let it moderate our sorrows and fears. Our sorrows; when these things befall us, it is no strange thing. 1 Peter iv. 12; it is no more strange than to see the night succeed the day, or to see a shower come after sunshine; it is no wonder to see a light thing move up ward, nor a heavy thing to move downward. So our fears; when the power and strength of the world is turned upon us, there will be an end of all our evils, but not of the word of God. We shall everlastingly find the effects of his truth and promise, though our enemies excel in worldly pomp, and seem to be grounded upon an immutable foundation; but as powerful as they seem to be, they shall at length come to an end: Job v. 3, ‘I have seen the foolish taking root, but suddenly I cursed his habitation:’ when the foolish, that is, the wicked, seemed to get rooting, then I cursed, not by way of imprecation, but by way of prediction.
Use 3. It serves to moderate our delights. No day so pleasant but the night puts an end to it, no summer so fruitful but a barren winter overtaketh it. The Philistines were sporting on their holiday, but their banqueting-house became their grave and place of burial; and Jonah’s gourd was soon withered and dried up. Worldly riches serve men as long as they live, and after death do some service in conveying their bodies to the grave by a pompous funeral; but there it leaves them. But the word of God supports us against all temptations while we live, and conveys us to death with comfort, and the fruit of it abideth with us; after we are dissolved the soul immediately hath benefit by it, and afterwards, at the resurrection, the body. We do not hold worldly things durante vita—during our life, nor quamdiu bene se gesserint—as long as we shall behave ourselves well in our places; but only durante beneplacito—as long as God pleaseth. How often is the most shining glory burned into a snuff, turned into ignominy, and honour into contempt, and our fulness into the want of all things! A cobweb that has been long a-spinning is soon swept down. Yea, the time will come when the lust of these things shall be gone, 1 John ii. 17, and the time will come when we shall take no pleasure in them. As soon as we have the creatures, many times we are weary of them, 2 Sam. xiii. 8; as Amnon hated Tamar when he had satisfied his lusts; and David longed for the waters of Bethlehem, and when he had it, he would not drink it. When we come to consider these things, the imperfections that before lay hid are discovered by fruition.
Secondly, Let us now come to the antithesis, but thy commandments are exceeding broad.
Before I come to discuss the words in particular, I observe—
First, that the stability of the word of God is often opposed to the vanity of the creature: Isa. xlvi. 8, ‘The flower fadeth and the grass withereth, but the word of God abideth for ever.’ So 1 Peter i. 25, ‘All flesh is grass, and the glory of man is as the flower of grass; but the word of God liveth and abideth for ever:’ and 1 John ii. 17, ‘The world passeth away, and the lusts thereof; but he that doth the will of God abideth for ever.’ So Luke x. 41, 42, ‘Martha, thou art 459careful and troubled about many things; but one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen the good part, which shall never be taken away from her.’ Now, what doth this teach us, but that when we see the vanity of earthly things, we should be informed what better things to set our hearts upon? The hearts of men cannot be idle, their oblectation must be upon something; when pleasures, and riches, and honours are found vain and perishing, there is a more enduring substance to be looked after.
Secondly, That these better things are discovered by the word of God, now ‘life and immortality is brought to light through the gospel,’ 2 Tim. i. 10, and he that doth the will of God shall increase his knowledge, he that doth the will of God shall know what doctrine is of God. This doth direct us in making our choice; the independent heart of man will choose something to adhere to. Now, in the word of God we have direction what to choose. The use of all things present is temporal, but the use and benefit of the word is ever lasting; this will do us good another day. All things visible have their own perfection in their kind, and do extend, some of them to one temporal use and some to another; but the word of God extendeth in its kind to all uses; as godliness is profitable to all things; it bringeth blessedness in this life and in the world to come, 1 Tim. iv. 8. A man may satisfy himself in the contemplation of any truth and virtue that is visible; but here are unsearchable riches, such deep wisdom, such rich comforts, perfect directions, that we cannot see to the bottom of them. Every perfect thing in the world hath an end, but the word endureth for ever.
More particularly in this antithesis I observe—
1. The subject, or thing spoken of, thy commandment; that is, the whole word of God.
2. The predicate or attribute, what is said of it; it is broad.
3. The amplification of this attribute, it is exceeding broad; you cannot easily understand the use and benefit of it.
1. The subject, or thing spoken of, ‘Thy commandment is exceeding broad.’ This breadth must be spoken of with respect to the former clause; it is broad for its use, and then it is broad for its duration and continuance.
[1.] It is broad for use. A man may soon see to the bottom of the creatures, but the wisdom and purity and utility of the word of God, and the mysteries therein contained, and the spiritual estate that we have thereby, you cannot see to the end of that; it extendeth to all times, places, persons, actions, and circumstances of actions; it hath an inconceivable vastness of purity and spirituality. But you will say, There is a set number of precepts, how say you then ‘it is exceeding broad’? Their use is large; and it is here put for the whole word of God. Adoro plenitudinem scripturarum tuarum, saith Tertullian. Here are remedies for every malady, and a plentiful storehouse of all comforts, satisfaction to every doubt; nothing pertaining to the holiness and happiness of man is wanting; nothing more requisite to direct, comfort, and support men in all conditions, prosperity, adversity, health, sickness, life, death. What shall I say? It is the word that sanctifies all our comforts, 1 Tim. iv. 5; it is the word that maintaineth 460our lives, Mat. iv. 4; it is the word that fitteth us to an immortal being, 1 Peter i. 23. We cannot easily express the comprehensiveness of it, and the benefit we have by it. When all earthly things fail, the word will be a sure comforter and counsellor to us; it doth not only tell us what we should do, but what we shall be. In short, the word of God describeth the whole state of the church and the world, and what shall become of it in the world to come. There is a foolish curiosity that possesseth many in the world, who desire to know their destiny, and what is in the womb of futurity; as the king of Babylon stood upon the headways to make divination. Now, let this curiosity be turned to some profitable use; nothing deserves to be known so much as this, What shall become of us to all eternity? If the question were, Shall I be rich or poor, happy or miserable in this world? it were not of such great moment, for these distinctions do not outlive time; but the question is of great moment, whether I shall be eternally miserable or eternally happy? It is a foolish curiosity to know our earthly state, the misery of which cannot be prevented by our prudence or foresight; but it concerneth us much to know whether we are in a damnable or saveable condition, while we have time to remedy our case; and this the word of God will inform you of assuredly. Well, ‘the commandment is exceeding broad.’ This is the word that discovereth to you the nature of God and the holy angels, the souls of men, the state of the world to come. Who is the author of scripture? God: ‘thy commandments.’ The matter of scripture? God; it was not fit that any should write of God but God himself. What is the end of this word? God. Why was this word written but that we might ever lastingly enjoy the blessed God? As Caesar wrote his own commentaries, so God, when there was none above him of whom he could write, he wrote of himself; by histories, laws, prophecies and promises, and many other doctrines, hath he set himself forth to be the creator, preserver, deliverer, and glorifier of mankind; and all this is done in a perfect manner. Men mingle their imperfections with their writings; though holy and laudable for their names, yet they discover themselves in all they do; their words and speeches are never so perfect but there is something wanting, and here you can find nothing but God; here God hath written a book whose words are perfect, nothing can be added, nothing taken away. To say there is an idle word in scripture, is great blasphemy, saith Basil. We have no reason to run to human inventions, for the word prescribeth every duty, everything that is to be believed and done in order to salvation. Open the gap once, and there is no end; one brings in one thing, and then another, and from hence comes all the ceremonies that do abound in the church. It is not only most perfect, but most profitable, and containeth all kinds of learning. Common crafts will teach us how to get our bread, but this how to get the kingdom of heaven. Law preserveth estates, the testament of men; this the testament of God, the charter of our in heritance. Physic cureth diseases of the body; this afflicted minds and distempered hearts. Natural philosophy raiseth men to the contemplation of the stars, but this to the contemplation of God their maker. By history we come to know of the rise and ruin of kingdoms, states, and cities; by this, the creation and consummation of the 461world. Rhetoric serves to move affection; this to kindle divine love. Poetry causeth natural delight; this delight in God: no writing like this.
[2.] As it hath a breadth for use, so for duration and continuance; it is the eternal truth of God, that shall live for ever: Mat. v. 18, ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but not one jot or tittle of the law shall fail.’ So Mat. xxiv. 35, ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but thy word shall not pass away.’ But how doth the word continue for ever? Not the word itself, but—
(1.) The obligation and authority of the word continueth for ever. It is an eternal rule of faith and righteousness to the church, that is more stable than heaven and earth. Let me show you how the doctrine is perpetual. The original draught is in God himself. The substance and matter of the moral law is perpetual, namely, the perfect love of God and of our neighbour; but the form is not; we shall have no need of precepts, and prohibitions, and promises, and threatenings in the light of glory, which we have need of in the light of grace. Fierce horses need a bridle, and there is other kind of discipline for children when grown up than when young. When they are young, we correct their bodies; but when they are grown up, we correct and punish them by disinheritance. The prop is removed when the thing standeth fast upon its own basis. When we come to heaven, we have intuitive apprehensive knowledge; we shall have no other bible but the Lamb’s face. Many things that are necessary by the way are not necessary when faith is changed into vision and hope into fruition. Scripture is necessary, as letters to the spouse from her beloved while absent, when present there is no such need. We need not a bond when payment is made; so scripture is the indenture between us and God here; but when that is past, we shall not need scripture.
(2.) It is eternal in the fruit; it bringeth forth the blessing of eternal life to them that keep it and obey it: 2 John 2, ‘For the truth’s sake that dwelleth in us, and shall be in us for ever.’ So John viii. 51, ‘He that believeth in me shall never see death.’ Why I holy men die as well as others; but they have a being in the world to come; and therefore the word of God is called ‘the word of eternal life,’ John vi. 68; that is the end and use of it, it maketh them capable of eternal life that obey it. So 1 Peter i. 25, ‘The word of God abideth and continueth for ever.’ It is the seed and principle of eternal life; it is the charter of their everlasting privileges they shall enjoy in the world to come. But how doth the word endure for ever? It is not meant subjectively, but effectively, because it assures us of eternal life upon obeying it, and threatens eternal death to all that reject it.
Use 1. Oh! then, let us be much in hearing, reading, studying, and obeying this word, that makes us everlastingly happy. If the commandment be so exceeding broad, why do we make no more use of it?
1. Let our hearts be more taken up about it; that should be our main care wherein to busy ourselves day and night, Ps. i. 1. Our delight should not be in vain books and empty histories, but in the law of God: we should often look into the charter of our great hopes.
2. Be directed by the word of God, it will direct you in every business: Ps. cxix. 105, ‘Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.’ Here is direction for you in prosperity and adversity.462
3. Study it that you may be sanctified by it: John xvii. 17, ‘Sanctify them by thy truth; thy word is truth.’ This is the great benefit that we have by the word, it is the instrument of sanctification.
4. Be much in the study of the word, that you may be assured by it, that you may make out your own qualification to the kingdom of heaven: Acts xiii. 46, ‘Since you put away the word of God from you, you judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life.’ When you let God’s book lie by neglected, and never hear it, nor read it, nor meditate on it, the thing is past all question, you judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life.
Use 2. Let this commend the word of God to us, that eternal life is in it. Other writings and discourses may tickle the ears with some pleasing eloquence, but that is vanishing, like a musician’s voice. Other writings may represent some petty and momentary advantage, but how soon shall an end be put to all that? so that within a little time the advantage of all these books shall be gone. The statutes and laws of kings and parliaments can reach no further than some temporal reward or punishment; their highest pain is killing of the body, their highest reward is some vanishing and fading honour, or perishing riches. But God’s word concerning our everlasting estate, our eternal well or ill being, eternal life and death, is wrapt up in these laws and commandments; these are rewards and punishments suitable to the eternal majesty of the lawgiver. Here is life and immortality brought to light, and offered to them who have so miserably lost it, and involved their souls in an eternal death; therefore let us have a precious esteem of the scripture, which shows us the way of escaping that misery into which we have plunged ourselves, and a way of obtaining eternal blessedness. Do not, then, go to a wrong guide and rule; nothing more necessary to be known than what our end is, and the way that leadeth to that end. The most part of men walk at random, and run an uncertain race; they have neither a certain scope nor a sure way. Men’s particular inclinations and humours are an ill guide, for they incline us to please the flesh, and so we shall miss of everlasting blessedness, and wander in a by-path that leadeth to destruction. Naturally man is more addicted to temporal things than spiritual, and to worldly vanities than to spiritual enjoyments; and it is in vain to persuade men to look after better things till the carnal affections be mortified; and one way and great means to mortify carnal affections and inclinations is to consider the vanity of the creature; and when our affections are weaned from the world, we must look after some better things to set our hearts upon. That good which satisfieth all the desires and capacities of man had need to be an infinite and an eternal good. Now, these better things are only discovered in the word of God. The word of God discovers that there is such an estate as ever lasting glory and blessedness. The word telleth us plainly and peremptorily who shall go to heaven and who to hell. Well, then, if you would have this comfort, you must see whether you have embraced it with that reverence, faith, and obedience which the importance of it doth require.463
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