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I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that in faithfulness thou hast afflicted me.—Ver. 75.
WE have need all to prepare for afflictions, for we are to take up our cross daily. Now, to help you to a right carriage under them, these words, well considered, will be of some use to you; they are the confession of a humble soul abundantly satisfied with God’s dispensations. In them observe:—
1. A general truth or point of doctrine concerning the equity of God’s judgments, thy judgments, O Lord, are right.
2. A particular application or accommodation of this truth to David’s case and person, in faithfulness thou hast afflicted me.
3. His sure and firm persuasion of both, I know. Let us explain these branches and parts of the text as they are laid forth.
1. The general truth, the Lord’s judgments are right. In which proposition there is the subject and the predicate. The subject or things spoken are the Lord’s judgments. The word is often put in this psalm and elsewhere for God’s statutes, or precepts, or righteous laws; and in this sense some take it here, and make out the sense thus: ‘Lord, I know that thy judgments,’ viz., thy precepts, are holy, just, and good; and this persuasion is not lessened in me, though thou hast sharply afflicted me: I have as great a value and esteem for thy word as ever. But rather, by the Lord’s judgments are meant the pas sages of his providence, as the latter clause showeth; those judicial dispensations whereby he doth punish the wicked, or correct his children. And let it not seem strange that the troubles and afflictions of the godly should be called judgments; for though there be no vindictive wrath in them, yet they are called so upon a double reason: partly because they are acts of God’s holy justice, correcting and humbling his people for sin, according to the sentence of his word. Thus it is said, 1 Peter iv. 17, that ‘judgment shall begin at the house of God;’ where the trials and troubles of the godly are plainly called 289judgments. And partly because the Lord judiciously measureth and directeth them as the state of his children requireth and their strength will bear. So it is said, Jer. x. 24, ‘Correct me, but in judgment’ The first notion implieth God’s justice, the second his wisdom. And mark, it is said distinctly in the text, ‘Thy judgments, O Lord.’ His enemies might unjustly persecute him, but ‘thy judgments;’ so far as the Lord hath a hand in it, all was just and right: this is the subject or thing spoken of. Secondly, Here is the predicate, or what is said of it, ‘are right;’ the Hebrew, tsedec; the Septuagint, ὅτι δικαιοσύνη τὰ κρίματα σου, are righteousness itself; thy dispensations are wholly made up of perfect justice; how smart soever they be, they are right as to the cause, right as to the measure, right as to the end. The first of these respects concerneth God’s justice, the two other his wisdom. First, Right as to the cause; they never exceed the value of their impulsive: Job xxxiv. 23, ‘He will not lay upon man more than is right, that he should enter into judgment with him.’ God never afflicteth his people above their desert, nor gives any just occasion to commence a suit against his providence. Secondly, Right as to the measure, not above the strength of the patient. In his own people’s afflictions it is BO: Isa. xxvii. 8, ‘In measure when it shooteth forth thou wilt debate it; he stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind.’ God dealeth with his own with much moderation, meting out their sufferings in due proportion. So Jer. xxx. 11, ‘I will correct thee in measure.’ Thirdly, Right as to their end and use. God knoweth how to strike in the right vein, and to suit his providence to the purpose for which it is appointed: the kind of the affliction is to be considered as well as the measure. The Lord chooseth that rod which is most likely to do his work. Paul had a thorn in the flesh, that he might not be exalted above measure, 2 Cor. xii. 7. He was a man inured to dangers and troubles from without, these were familiar to him, therefore he could the better bear them; but God would humble him by some pain in the flesh, which should sit near and close.
2. The particular accommodation of it to David, ‘In faithfulness thou hast afflicted me.’ Pray mark, in the general case he observeth justice; in his own, faithfulness. The book called Midrash Tillim referreth these words to David’s flight from Absalom, when he went to Mount Olivet weeping; it was an ill time then with David, he had no security for his life; being driven from his house and home, ‘He went up Mount Olivet, going and weeping,’ 2 Sam. xv. 30. Then, when so great and sore trouble was upon him, then he saith, ‘I know that in faithfulness thou hast afflicted me.’ Mark the emphasis; lie doth not barely acknowledge that God was faithful, though, or not withstanding he had afflicted him, but faithful in sending them. Affliction and trouble are not only consistent with God’s love plighted in the covenant of grace, but they are parts and branches of the new covenant administration. God is not only faithful notwithstanding afflictions, but faithful in sending them. There is a difference between these two; the one is like an exception to the rule, quae firmat regulam in non exceptis; the other makes it a part of the rule. God cannot be faithful without doing all things that tend to our good and eternal welfare: the conduct of his providence is one part of the covenant 290engagement: as to pardon our sins, and sanctify us, and give us glory at the last, so to suit his providence as our need and profit requireth in the way to heaven. It is an act of his sovereign mercy, which he hath promised to his people, to use such discipline as conduceth to their safety. In short, the cross is not only an exception to the grace of the covenant, but, a part of the grace of the covenant. The meaning is, God is obliged in point of fidelity to send sharp afflictions: Ps. lxxxix. 32, ‘I will visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.’ Sharp rods and sore stripes not only may stand and be reconciled with God’s loving-kindness and truth, but they are effects and expressions of it; it is a part of that transaction, viz., his covenant love.
3. The third thing to be explained is his sense of these truths, ‘I know.’ Knowing implies clearness of apprehension and firmness of persuasion; so that, I know, is I fully understand, or else, I am confident or well assured of this truth. But from whence had David his knowledge? how knew he all God’s judgments to be right? Not from the flesh, or from natural sense. No; the flesh is importunate to be pleased, will persuade us to the contrary. If we consult only with natural sense, we shall never believe that, when God is hacking and hewing at us, he intendeth our good and benefit, and that when sore judgments are upon us, his end is not to destroy, but to save, to mortify the sin, and save the person. Sense will teach us no such thing, but will surely misinterpret and misexpound the Lord’s dealings; for the peace of God is a riddle to a natural heart, Phil. iv. 7. Whence then had David his knowledge? Partly from the word of God, and partly from his own observation and particular experience.
[1.] From the word of God; for it is a maxim of faith that God can do no wrong, that ‘he is righteous in all his ways, and just in ‘all his works,’ Ps. cxlv. 17; and again, Deut. xxxii. 4, ‘He is the rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are judgment and truth, and without iniquity; just and right is he.’ These are undeniable truths revealed in the word of God, and must satisfy us, whatsoever sense saith to the contrary. The causes and end of God’s particular judgments are sometimes secret, but they are always just: Ps. xcvii. 2, ‘Clouds and darkness are round about him, but righteousness and truth are the habitation of his throne.’ Therefore when we see not the reason of God’s particular dispensations, we must believe the righteousness and goodness of them.
[2.] David knew by his own observation and particular experience: he had much studied his own heart, and considered his own ill-deservings and soul-distempers, and therefore saw the Lord’s discipline was necessary for him. We should better understand God’s work, and sooner justify him both in point of justice and faithfulness, if we did use more observation, and did consider what need and profit there is of affliction: ‘Tribulation worketh experience,’ Rom. v. 4, 5. We see what need there was of affliction, and how seasonable the Lord’s work was. This is a more sensible way of knowledge than the former. Faith is a surer ground, but spiritual observation hath its benefit. Natural conscience doth represent our guilt, but experience showeth 291God’s faithfulness, how seasonably God took us in our month, and suited his providence to our present condition.
Doct. That it would much quiet the minds of the people of God about all the sad dispensations of his providence, if they would seriously consider the justice and faithfulness of them.
So did David silence all his murmurings when the hand of God was sore upon him; so should we silence all our murmuring, all our suspicions of God’s dealing, when we are under the cross. I know the Lord doth nothing unjust, but is faithful; he will not retract his covenant love, and I know his covenant love binds him to lay on us seasonable affliction and correction. I shall do two things:—
First, Illustrate the point by some considerations.
Secondly, Show that there is much of justice and faithfulness in all the troubles and afflictions of God’s people.
Consid. 1. We are not only to grant in the general that God’s judgments are right, but that he hath in faithfulness afflicted us. So doth David, when the stroke of God was heavy upon himself. Many will assert the righteousness of God when they speak to others in their afflictions, but do not indeed justify him in the afflictions that come upon themselves. We are hasty to censure, but backward to humble our own souls before God: they will give him the praise of his justice when he chasteneth others, but think God dealeth harshly and rigorously with them when his scourge is upon their own backs. Such a difference is there between knowledge speculative and experimental, between that conscience which we have in others’ concernments, and that knowledge which self-love giveth us in our own. David here doth not only own the general truth, but sees God’s faithfulness when the stroke lighted upon himself. So Job iv. 3-5, you shall see this was objected to Job, that he could comfort others, but now the hand of God was upon him, his soul fainted. They that stand upon the shore may easily say to those that are in the midst of the waves and conflicting for life or death, Sail thus. When we are well, we give counsel to the sick; but if we were so, how would we take it ourselves? So can we say patiently, All is just, and keep silence to God?
Consid. 2. We must not only grant this truth, that God is faithful, when at ease, but when under the sharpest and smartest discipline. We use to praise God in prosperity, but we should bless him also when he seemeth to deal hardly with us; speak good of God when under the rod. When we view a cross at a distance, or in the doctrinal contemplation of this truth, we say that God may exercise us with the greatest evil, and that we need these methods to bring us to heaven; but when afflictions come thick, and near, and close, and we are deprived of our nearest and dearest comforts, credit, liberty, health, life, children, then we have other thoughts. It is more easy to speak of trouble than to bear it. We read of Jesus Christ that he learned by experience, Heb. v. 8. He had an actual experience by the things lie suffered; and he saith, ‘Now is my soul troubled,’ John xii. 27. There is a vast difference between the most exact apprehension in the judgment, and the experimental feeling of it in the senses: the one may be without so much vexation as the other will produce. Though 292Christ understood perfectly what his sufferings should be, and had resolved upon them, yet when he came to feel it, his very righteous soul was under perplexity, as a glass of pure water may be tossed and shaken. Affliction is another thing to present sense and feeling than it is to guess and imagination. Much more doth it hold good in us, for we have not such a perfect foresight of sufferings as Christ had. We suppose they may be avoided, or shifted off one way or other. I speak this that we may not depend upon our present resolutions when out of trouble, but labour to be more prepared than usually we are, that when trouble cometh upon us, we may glorify God.
Consid. 3. This acknowledgment must be the real language of our hearts, and not by word of mouth only: thus we must give unto God the praise of his truth and righteousness. We tip our tongues with good words, and learn such modesty in our language, as to say God is just, and do not rave against his providence in wild and bold speeches; but justice and faithfulness must be acknowledged not with the tongue so much as with the heart. It is the language of the heart which God looketh after, when the soul keepeth silence to God, and a due and suitable impression is left upon it of his justice, by a meek and humble submission: Micah vii. 9, ‘I will bear the indignation of the Lord, for I have sinned against him.’ When God is angry, and chastiseth for sin, we must stoop humbly under his afflicting hand, bear it patiently and submissively, for the rod is dipped in our own guilt; that stoppeth, our mouths and checketh repinings. So, seeing his faithfulness, it maketh us ‘accept the punishment of our iniquities,’ Lev. xxvi. 41, that is, yield to it, as a man would to a bitter potion, or a medicinal preparative for his health; so to afflict is a means to get rid of sin, which would be the bane of the soul.
Consid. 4. It is not enough to acknowledge justice, but we must also acknowledge faithfulness; not only his just severity in the punishments of the wicked, but his fidelity and love in the correction of his children: it is not enough that we justify God, and forbear to murmur against his afflicting us, but we must see his love and faithfulness in it, and that he performeth his covenant love. His wisdom and justice, that suppresseth murmurings; his love and faithfulness, that giveth hope, and comfort, and courage: the one concerneth the honour of God, he righteth himself by his just judgments; the other concerneth our benefit and eternal welfare. Faithfulness is to us, and for our good. Pharaoh could own justice: Exod. ix. 27, ‘The Lord is righteous, but I and my people are wicked.’ But it is a higher thing to own faithfulness; that supposeth faith, as the other doth conviction. Guilt will sooner fly in our faces, and extort from us an acknowledgment of God’s justice, than we can own the grace of the new covenant, especially when carnal sense and smart seemeth to speak the contrary. The sight of his justice checketh murmurings, the sight of his faithfulness fainting and discouragement. God’s dispensations are just with respect to the sentence of the law, faithful with respect to the promises of the gospel. In short, the cause of all affliction is sin, therefore justice must be acknowledged; their end is repentance, and therefore faithfulness: the end is not destruction and ruin, so they might be acts of justice, as upon the wicked; but that we may be fit 293to receive the promises, such to whom God will perform the promise of eternal life, and so acts of faithfulness.
Consid. 5. Faith must fix this as a ground not once to be questioned, much less to be doubted of or denied, that God is just, upright, and faithful in all his dealings, though weak man be not able to conceive the reasons of them. His justice may be dark, as when he permitteth us to the will of wicked men, who afflict us without a cause, and lay on without any mercy and pity, and God seemeth to befriend their cause, at least doth not restrain them, nor give check to their fury. We are apt to be tempted to thoughts of rigour and injustice in God’s dispensations, but we must consider not men’s dealing, but God’s. It is unjust as to men, but we have no cause to be angry with God, and complain of God, as if he did not do right No; though we do not see the reason of it, yet it is just. ‘God’s judgments are a great deep.’ We should believe the righteousness and goodness of God in the general, Ps. xxxvi. 7, before we can find it out. The people of God have maintained their principle, when they have been puzzled and embrangled in interpreting God’s providence: Jer. xii. 1, ‘Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee;’ and Ps. lxxiii. 1, ‘Yet God is good to Israel.’ In all such cases it is best to acknowledge our own. ignorance, and rather accuse ourselves of blindness than God of in justice. This is a fixed truth, that God is righteous, though we cannot so clearly make it out. And sometimes we are tempted to doubt of his fidelity and truth, when we feel nothing but the smart of the rod: the benefit is future, not an object of sense, but faith; and it must be evident to faith before it is evident to feeling: Heb. xii. 11, ‘No affliction for the present seemeth joyous, but grievous; but afterwards it bringeth the quiet fruit of righteousness.’ When all is sharp and hard to sense, faith can see all is for our profit, for our good. Here is nothing repugnant to God’s truth, nothing but what is necessary to make good his truth. Faith must determine it to be, when sense will not find it so. God’s works are misexpounded when we go altogether by present sense, whether internal or external: many times we know not what God is about to do, as Christ told Peter: John xiii. 7, ‘What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.’ That which the Lord is doing tendeth not to ruin and wrath, though through our ignorance and mistake we so interpret it Alas! no wonder we are in the dark, when we so judge of his work, who is ‘wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working;’ who will not always satisfy our sense and curiosity, but chooseth such a way as will most suit his intent. But ever in all such cases faith must determine that God is just and faithful, and will cast all things for the best, though we see it not; we must assent by faith, when we cannot find it by sense internal or external: ‘I know in faithfulness thou hast afflicted me.’
Secondly, I am to show you, and to prove to you, that there is much of justice and faithfulness to be observed in all the afflictions which come upon us.
First, There is much of justice in all God’s judgments. I prove it:—
1. From God’s nature: Ps. cxix. 137, ‘Righteous art thou, O Lord, and upright are thy judgments;’ his work is as his being is, holy and 294righteous; all his providences carry a condecency and becomingness with his nature. We presume it of a righteous man that he will do righteous things; and shall not we believe so of the holy God? We cannot be infallibly persuaded of a righteous man, for a righteous man may leave his righteousness, because the creature is mutable; and the most righteous and innocent man hath mixed principles, and his rule is without him, and sometimes he may hit it, and sometimes swerve from it: but God is unchangeable, his will and nature is the supreme reason and measure of all things; his acts are accordingly, he cannot err. A carpenter who hath a line in his hand may chop right or miss; but if we could suppose a carpenter whose hand was his rule, he would always hit right. We maybe confident the judge of all the earth will do right; his righteousness and the righteousness of men differ infinitely more than a candle differeth from the sun: Zeph. iii. 5, ‘The righteous God in the midst of thee will do no iniquity.’ God will not, yea, he cannot; it is contrary to his nature. Abraham might seek to wriggle out of danger by a shift, Noah might fall into drunkenness, Lot pollute himself with incest, Moses trip in his faith, David destroy his innocent servant Uriah, Jonah fall into fear and rash anger, the angels may depart from their rule, if the divine goodness should cease to support them for a moment; but it is impossible that God, who is holiness and righteousness itself, can err and fail in any of his actions.
2. God never afflicteth or bringeth on judgment without a cause: ‘For this cause many are sick,’ 1 Cor. xi. 30; there is something done on the creature’s part before punishment is inflicted. If we consider God as the Lord dispensing grace, he acts sovereignly, and according to his own will and pleasure: ‘Even so, Father, because it pleaseth thee,’ Mat. xi. 27, for he may do with his own as he pleaseth; it is no wrong to show his grace to some, and pass by others. But if we consider God as a judge, he never punisheth without a foregoing cause on the creature’s part. God, who is arbitrary in his gifts, is not arbitrary in his judgments: there is a rule of commerce between him and his creatures, stated and set forth, and allowed and appointed by him, and consented unto by us: the directive and counselling part is the rule of our obedience, and the sanction or comminatory part is the rule of his judicial process. In acts of grace, and in dispensing with the violations of his law, he sometimes maketh use of his prerogative, but not in punishing, there he keepeth to his law; and therefore it is that the saints do give him the honour of his justice: Dan. ix. 7, ‘O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of face; for we have sinned, and done wickedly, and have rebelled in departing from thy precepts:’ Neh. ix. 33, ‘Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly: ‘all our trouble is the penalty of his broken law justly inflicted on us. In short, the breach is first on our part, there is some violation of his law or contempt of his grace; but God loveth us first, there he hath the precedency; he beginneth in all acts of grace, but the reason of his judicial dispensations is first with us. We are first in the offence, and provide fuel for his wrath before it break out upon us.
3. When there is cause given, God doth not presently take it, but 295giveth sinners lime in his process against them, and doth not presently execute the sentence of his word till they are found incorrigible. He giveth them warning before he striketh; he wooeth and soliciteth by many kind messages to return to their duty, and speaketh to them sometimes in the rough, sometimes in the still voice: ‘He bringeth his judgment to light every morning,’ as the prophet speaketh, Zeph. iii. 5; lie doth so delight in mercy, and is so tender of the workmanship of his hands, especially his own people, that he never proceedeth to severity as long as there is some way unessayed to reclaim them, not yet made use of. As one that would open a door, and knows not the key; he tries key after key, one dispensation after another; he doth not take the sinner at first word, but followeth him with frequent warnings of his danger, with offers of advantage if he return; yea, at last he is loath to give them up to severe judgments, even then when he can scarce without imputation to his holiness forbear any longer: Hosea xi. 8, ‘How shall I give thee up? I am God, and not man.’ Such expostulations and speeches are very frequent in the prophets; and all these speeches do abundantly justify God when he judgeth: he would fain hold off the extremity of judgments deserved by them; the Lord maketh a stand, and would fain be prevented before he proceedeth to his strange work.
4. The judgments inflicted are always short of the cause, surely they never exceed the value of it: Ezra ix. 13, ‘Thou hast punished us less than we have deserved.’ God doth not exact the whole debt of sinners which they owe to his justice. It was a heavy stroke that then lighted upon Jerusalem. Was their wound but a scratch, or affliction little? Doleful and sad ruin was brought upon that place, the city and the temple burnt to ashes, the people carried captive to a strange land; yet ‘Thou hast punished us less than we have deserved.’ They were in Babylon, they might have been in hell; our reward is always more than our desert, but our punishment is always less than our desert. We count it a favour if forfeiture of life be punished with banishment, or if a sentence of banishment be commuted into a fine, or the fine be mitigated and brought lower; and shall we think God dealeth rigorously with us? When he layeth on some heavy cross, lie might have cast us into hell, and laid his hand upon us for ever. See Job xi. 6, ‘O know, therefore, that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth.’ We have low thoughts of sin, and therefore have grievous apprehensions of God’s judgments. We do but sip of the cup, when God might make us drink of the dregs of it.
Secondly, I am to prove that the godly may discern much of faithfulness in their afflictions; this will appear to you by these considerations:—
1. In the covenant of grace God hath promised to bestow upon his people real and principal mercies; these are promised absolutely, other things conditionally. God doth not break his covenant if he doth not give us temporal happiness, because that is not absolutely promised, but only so far forth as it may be good for us; but eternal life is promised without any such exception unto the heirs of promise. Eternal promises and threatenings, being of things absolutely good or evil, are therefore absolute and peremptory; the righteous shall not fail of the reward, nor the wicked escape the punishment; but temporal 296promises and threatenings being of things not simply good or evil, are reserved to be dispensed according to God’s wisdom and good pleasure, in reference and subordination to eternal happiness. It is true it is said, 1 Tim. iv. 8, that ‘godliness hath the promise of this life, and that which is to come:’ but with this reference, that the less gives place to the greater; if the promises of this life may hinder us in looking after the promises of the life to come, God may take the liberty of the cross, and withhold these things, and disappoint us of our worldly hope. A man lying under the guilt of sin may many times enjoy worldly comforts to the envy of God’s children, and one of God’s children may be greatly afflicted and distressed in the world, for in all these dispensations God looketh to his end, which is to make us eternally happy.
2. This being God’s end, he is obliged in point of fidelity to use all the means that conduce thereunto, that he may attain his eternal purpose in bringing his holy ones to glory: Rom. viii. 28, ‘All things shall work together for good to them that love God.’ Good! what good? It may be temporal, so it falls out sometimes a man’s temporal good is promoted by his temporal loss: Gen. l. 20, ‘Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it for good:’ they sold their brother a slave, but God meant him to be a great potentate in Egypt. It may be spiritual good: Ps. cxix. 71, ‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted.’ But, to be sure, eternal good, to bring about his eternal purpose of making them everlastingly happy. And in this sense the apostle saith, ‘All things are yours,’ 1 Cor. iii. 22. Ordinances, providences, life, death, all dispensed with a respect to their final happiness or eternal benefit; not only ordinances to work internal grace, but providences as an external help and means; for God having set his end, he will prosecute it congruously, and as it may agree with man’s nature, by external providences as well as internal grace. See Ps. cxxv. 3, ‘The rod of the wicked shall not always rest upon the back of the righteous.’ God hath power enough to give them grace to bear it, though the rod had continued; and can keep his people from iniquity, though the rod be upon them; but he considereth the imbecility of man’s nature, which is apt to tire under long afflictions, and therefore not only giveth more grace, but takes off the temptation. He could humble Paul without a thorn in the flesh, 2 Cor. xii. 7, but he will use a congruous means.
3. Among these means, afflictions, yea, sharp afflictions, are some of those things which our need and profit requireth; they are needful to weaken and mortify sin: Isa. xxvii. 9, ‘By this shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged;’ to increase and quicken grace: Heb. xii. 10, ‘But he chasteneth us for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.’ Without this discipline we should forget God and ourselves; therefore, that we may return to God, he afflicts us: Hosea v. 15, ‘In their afflictions they will seek me early;’ and come to ourselves: Luke xv. 17, the prodigal ‘came to himself.’ Afflictions are necessary for us upon the former suppositions, namely, that God hath engaged him self to perfect grace where it is begun, and to use all means which may conduce to our eternal welfare, that we may not miscarry and come short of our great hopes: 1 Cor. xi. 32, ‘When we are judged, 297we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.’ The carnal reprobate world are left to a looser and larger discipline. Brambles are not pruned when vines are. New creatures require a more close inspection than others do. Self-confidence and spiritual security are apt to grow upon them; therefore, to mortify our self-confidence, to awaken us out of spiritual sleep, we need to be afflicted, and also to quicken and rouse up a spirit of prayer. We grow cold and flat, and ask mercies for form’s sake: Isa. xxvi. 16, ‘Lord, in trouble have they visited thee, they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them.’ And that we may be quickened to a greater mindfulness of heavenly things. The best of us, when we get a carnal pillow under our heads, are apt to sleep secure. God will not let us alone to our ruin, but afflicts us that we may be refined from the dregs of the flesh, and that our gust and relish of heavenly things may be recovered, and that we may be quickened to a greater diligence in the heavenly life. Look, as earthly parents are not faithful to their children’s souls when they live at large, and omit that correction which is necessary for them: Prov. xxix. 15, ‘The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.’ The mother is mentioned, because they are usually more fond and indulgent, and spare many times, and mar the child; but our heavenly Father will not be unfaithful, who is so wise that he will not be blinded by any passion, hath such a perfect love, and does so fixedly design our eternal welfare, that he rebuketh that he may reform, and reformeth that he may save.
4. God’s faithfulness about the affliction is twofold—in bringing on the affliction, and guiding the affliction.
[1.] In bringing on the affliction, both as to the time and kind, when our need requireth, and such as may do the work: 1 Peter i. 6, ‘Ye are in heaviness for a season, if need be.’ When some distemper was apt to grow upon us, and we were straggling from our duty: Ps. cxix. 67, ‘Before I was afflicted I went astray.’ Some disappointment and check we meet with in a way of sin, which is a notable help in the spiritual life, where God giveth a heart to improve it.
[2.] As to guiding the affliction both to measure and continuance, that it may do us good and not harm: 1 Cor. x. 13, ‘God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able to bear, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.’ Violent temptations are not permitted where the Lord seeth us weak and infirm; as Jacob drove as the little ones were able to bear. So when the temptation continued is like to do us hurt, either God will remove it—2 Thes. iii. 3, ‘Faithful is the Lord, who will establish and keep you, ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ, from the evil:’ the persecutions of unreasonable men are there intended or else support them under it: 2 Cor. xii. 9, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’
Use 1. To check and reprove divers evils which are apt to grow upon our spirits in our troubles.
1. Murmuring and repining thoughts against God’s providence. Why should we murmur and complain, since we justly suffer what we suffer, and it is the Lord’s condescension that he will make some good use of these sufferings to our eternal happiness, that we may be 298capable of everlasting consolation? His justice should stop murmurings: Lam. iii. 39, ‘Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?’ If he complain, he can complain of none but himself; that evil choice he hath made for his own soul, which it may be he would never have thought of but upon this occasion. His punishment here carrieth no proportion with his offence; it is punishment in the singular number, sins in the plural; one punishment for many acts of sin: and a living man, on this side hell, what is this to everlasting torments? Life cannot be without many blessings to accompany it; while living we may see an end of this misery, or have time to escape those eternal torments which are far worse. The form of the words showeth why we should thus expostulate with ourselves, ‘Wherefore doth a living man complain?’ Why do we complain? God hath not cut us off from the land of the living, nor cast us into hell; it is the punishment of sin, and is far less than we have deserved. Again, the faithfulness of God checketh murmurings. God knoweth what way to take with us to bring us to glory; therefore trust yourselves in God’s hands, and let him take his own methods: ‘Commit your souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful creator,’ 1 Peter iv. 19. He is πιστὸς κτίστης; as he is a creator, he doth not love to destroy the work of his hands; as he is faithful in his covenant, he will take the best and safest course to bring you to heaven.
2. Let it check immoderate sorrow and uncomely dejection of spirit; he is just in the afflictions of his people, but yet so that he is also faithful; he is a father when he beateth and indulgeth, when he smiles and when he frowns. Afflictions do not make void our adoption, they rather increase our confidence of it, Heb. xii. 5. Whatever we do upon other reasons, we should not suspect his love because of our afflictions. God’s strokes do not make void his promises, nor doth he retract his gift of pardon when he chastiseth. Mere crosses and troubles are not an argument of God’s displeasure, but acts of his faithfulness; so that we have reason to give thanks for his discipline, rather than question his love. In the book of Job it is made a mark of his love, as in those words which are so frequent, Job vii. 17, 18, ‘What is man that thou art mindful of him? that thou chastiseth him every morning, and triest him every moment?’ We are not only beneath his anger, but unworthy of his care, as if a prince should take upon him to form the manners of a beggar’s child; it is a condescension that the great God should deal with us, and suit his providences for our good.
3. This should check our fears and cares; his judgments are right and full of faithfulness; he will bear us through all our trials, and make an advantage of them, and perfect that grace which he hath begun, and finally bring us to eternal glory. The Lord’s faithfulness in keeping promises is often propounded as a strong pillar of the saints’ confidence: 1 Cor. i. 9, ‘Faithful is God, by whom ye are called;’ 1 Thes. v. 24, ‘Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.’ He dispenseth all things with respect to our eternal welfare. But I am afraid of myself; I have provoked the Lord to leave me to myself; but the Lord will pardon weaknesses when they are confessed: 1 John i. 9, ‘If we confess our sins, he is just and faithful to forgive them,’ speaking to reconciled believers; and when we fall, the Lord hath 299ways and means to raise us up again, that we perish not; by checks of conscience: 2 Sam. xxiv. 10, ‘And David’s heart smote him when he had numbered the people;’ Ps. cxix. 59, ‘I thought on my ways,’ &c.; by the word, as Nathan roused up David, ‘Thou art the man.’ God, that foresaw all things, hath ordered them so that nothing shall cross his eternal purpose and promise made to us in Christ.
Use 2. Let us acknowledge God’s justice and faithfulness in all things that befall us. For motives, consider—
1. It is much for the honour of God, Ps. li. 4, that, under the cross, we should have good thoughts of God, and clear him in all that he saith and doth, see love in his rebukes.
2. It is for our profit; it is the best way to obtain grace to bear afflictions, or to get deliverance out of them. When God hath humbled his people, exercised their grace, he will restore to them their wonted privileges; he waiteth for the creatures’ humbling, Lev. xxvi. 41, 42.
[1.] You must be one in covenant with God, for to them the dispensations of God come marked not only with justice, as to all, but faithfulness: Ps. xxv. 10 ‘All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth to them that keep his covenant.’
[2.] You must examine yourselves; the Lord complains of the neglect of this, that when they were in affliction they would not consider: Jer. viii. 6, ‘No man said, What have I done?’ If you would consider, you would see cause enough to justify God: Lam. iii. 39, 40, ‘Wherefore doth a living man complain? Let us search and try our ways, and turn to the Lord.’
[3.] You must observe providence, and your hearts must be awake and attend to it: Ps. cvii. 43, ‘Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord;’ Eccles. vii. 14, ‘In the day of adversity consider.’
[4.] You must be such as value not your happiness by the increase or decrease of worldly comforts, but by the increase or decrease of grace in your souls: 2 Cor. iv. 16, ‘For this cause we faint not, because, though our outward man perish, yet our inward man is renewed day by day.’ If you value yourselves by your outward condition, you will still be imbrangled; you should more highly esteem of and be more solicitous about the welfare of your souls in a time of affliction than of all things else in the world: and you will more easily submit and more wisely consider of his doing, and the better understand your interest. When the main care is about your souls, you will value other losses the less, as long as your jewel is in safe hands.
[5.] You must resign your souls to God entirely without exception, refer yourselves to his methods, and let him take his own way to bring you to everlasting glory. When you do with quietness of heart put yourselves into God’s hands, as being persuaded of his love and faithfulness, you will be the sooner satisfied in God’s providence, seeing he doth all things well. The apostle bids them, 1 Peter iv. 19, put your souls in Christ’s hands, and hold on your duty with courage and confidence, cheerfully and constantly. You have no reason to doubt but Christ will take the custody and charge of the soul that is committed 300to him: 2 Tim. i. 12, ‘I know whom I have believed, that he is able to keep that I have committed to him.’ Venture your souls in this bottom; he hath power to keep it, he hath pawned his faithfulness in the promise.
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