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For I am become like a bottle in the smoke; yet do I not forget thy precepts.—Ver. 83.
HERE is rendered a reason why he doth so earnestly beg for comfort and deliverance. The reason is taken from his necessity, he was scarce able to bear any longer delay of comfort. Not only his faith and hope was spent, but his body was even spent through the trouble that was upon him. He had told us, in the 81st verse, ‘My soul fainteth for thy salvation:’ in the 82d verse, ‘Mine eyes fail for thy word:’ and now, ‘I am become like a bottle in the smoke,’ &c.
Observe here—(1.) His condition represented; (2.) His resolution maintained. Or—
First, The heat of tribulation, I am become like a bottle in the smoke.
Secondly, His constant perseverance in his duty, Yet do I not forget thy precepts.
1. His condition is represented by the similitude of a bottle in the smoke, alluding therein to a bottle of skin, such as the Jews used; as in Spain their wine is put into borachos, or bags made of hog-skins, ἄσκῳ ἐν αἰγείῳ; in Homer; in a vessel or bottle of goat-skin. And Christ’s similitude of old bottles and new bottles relateth thereunto, 373Mat. ix. 17; for he meaneth it of skin-bottles or bladders, if such a bottle be hung up in the smoke, and by that means becometh black, parched, and dry. The man of God thought this a fit emblem of his condition. The Septuagint reads ἐν πάχνῃ, ‘in the frost.’ Kitor signifieth any fume or vapour, whether of smoke or mist; as Ps. cxlviii. 8, ‘Fire and hail, snow and vapour.’ The word for vapour is the same with this which is here rendered smoke. Here it signifieth smoke rather than vapour or mist.
2. His resolution, ‘Yet do I not forget thy precepts.’ I do not forget; that is, I do not decline from or neglect my duty; as Heb. xiii. 16, ‘To distribute and communicate forget not,’ that is, neglect it not. As on God’s part, when he will not perform what belongeth to him, being hindered by our disobedience, he threateneth to forget his people, Jer. xxiii. 39, that is, will not deliver them; so we forget God’s precepts when we do not fulfil, or neglect, our duty. Now, forget God’s precepts he might either as his comfort or his rule; both ways must the word be improved and remembered by us; yet because the notion of precepts is here used, I understand the latter. Often is this passage repeated in this psalm; as ver. 51, ‘The proud have had me greatly in derision, yet have I not declined from thy law.’ Though scorned and made a mockage by those that were at ease, and lived in pomp and splendour, yet his zeal was not abated. Ver. 61, ‘The bands of the wicked have robbed me; yet have I not forgotten thy law.’ Though plundered by the violence of soldiers; so ver. 109, ‘My soul is continually in my hand; yet do I not forget thy law:’ that is, though he was in danger of death continually. We have it again, ver. 141, ‘I am small and despised; yet do I not forget thy law:’ though contemned and slighted as a useless creature, and one that might be well spared in the world. So in the text, ‘I am become like a bottle in the smoke,’ though wrinkled and shrivelled with age and sorrow. Thus in all temptations David’s love to God and his ways was not abated.
Doct. That though our trials be never so sharp and tedious, yet this must not lessen our respect to God or his word.
In handling this point I shall show you three things:—
1. That God may exercise his children with sharp and tedious afflictions.
2. That these afflictions are apt to draw us into manifold sins and errors of practice.
3. That yet this should not be; a gracious heart should withstand the shock of temptations.
For the first, David is an instance, whose sad complaint we have had continued for three verses together. I shall only now open the similitude in the text, whereby he representeth his condition.
1. A bottle in the smoke is dry and wrinkled and shrunk up; so he was worn out and dried up with sorrow and long suspense of expectation. This noteth the decay of his bodily strength. So also elsewhere: Ps. cii. 3, ‘My days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burnt as an hearth.’ And he saith, Ps. xxxii. 4, ‘Thy hand was heavy upon me; my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.’ His chief sap, oil, was spent, humidum radicale. As a leathern sack, long hung up in a smoking chimney, so was he dried up, and 374shrivelled and wrinkled by long-continued troubles and adversity. We are told, Prov. xvii. 22, that a ‘merry heart doth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones.’ A cheerful heart helpeth well to recover health lost, but a sad one breedeth diseases, as we see grief is often the cause of death. Now so it may often be with God’s children. God may so follow them with afflictions that sorrow may waste their natural strength, and they may have such hard and long trials as to make them go into wrinkles, and what by temporal sorrows, troubles of conscience or sickness, the infirmities of age may be hastened upon them.
2. A bottle in the smoke is blacked and smutched, whereby is meant that his beauty was wasted as well as his strength; and as he was withered, so he was black with extreme misery: Job xxx. 30, ‘My skin is black upon me, and my bones are burnt with heat.’ So Lam. v. 10, ‘Our skin was black as an oven, because of the terrible famine.’ So Lam. iv. 8, ‘Their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin cleaveth to their bones, it is withered, it is become like a stick.’ So here ‘like a bottle in the smoke.’ And you must consider that this was spoken of David, that ruddy youth, of whom it was said, 1 Sam. xvi. 12, ‘Now he was ruddy, of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to.’ But great sorrows had made an alteration, and afflictions do quickly cause the beauty of the body to fade: Ps. xxxix. 11, ‘When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth.’ God’s rod may leave sad marks and prints upon the body, which do not only waste our strength, but deface our beauty. Ob serve here the difference between the beauty and strength of the body and of the soul. The beauty of the soul groweth fairer by afflictions, whereas that of the body is blasted. David was a bottle shrivelled and shrunk up, yet the holy frame of his soul was not altered; his beauty was gone, but not his grace. Outward beauty is but skin-deep; turn it inside out, it is but blood and rawness. It fadeth by sickness, age, troubles of conscience, and great and manifold afflictions. Once more; in the sight of God a man is never the more uncomely, though he be as a skin-bottle in the smoke, if he doth not ‘forget his statutes:’ if he be outwardly deformed, but yet the hidden man of the heart be well adorned, even with the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price, 1 Peter iii. 3, 4. Any great affliction soon maketh an impression upon the skin. This flower of beauty is soon blown off; age or sickness will soon shrivel it up, and make it look like a bottle in the smoke; but let us regard the beauty of the soul, which fadeth not.
3. A dried bottle in the smoke is contemned and cast aside and of no use; so was David no more esteemed and regarded among men than such a bottle would be; and to this Christ alludeth, Mat. ix. 17, ‘Men do not put new wine into old bottles, lest the bottles break, and the wine runneth out and perisheth.’ An old, dry shrivelled bottle is good for nothing, the force of wine will soon break and rend it, therefore it is cast away as a thing of no use. So many times, to the great grief of their hearts, may God’s children be laid aside as useless vessels. The world may cast them off as unworthy to live among 375them: ‘It is not for the king’s profit to suffer them,’ Esther iv. 8; and 1 Cor. iv. 13, περικαθάρματα, ‘We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things.’ So Heb. xiii. 13, ‘Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.’ At that time they were cast out of the synagogues, or cities and societies. Was not Christ himself cast off, ‘despised and rejected of men’? Isa. liii. 3, ‘The stone which the builders refused:’ though he were the corner stone of the building, yet they laid him aside as if he were of no use, as rubbish, or a refuse stone. So are his people thrust out by the world, laid by, as not deemed worthy to be employed for any use: Acts xxii. 22, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth; for it is not fit that he should live.’ This is the judgment which the world maketh on God’s servants.
Secondly, What are the usual sins which are incident to such sharp and tedious afflictions?
1. Impatience and murmuring against God. When our wills are crossed we cannot bear it. To be sick of the fret is a disease very incident to such as have not learned to deny their own wills, and entirely to give up themselves to the conduct of God’s providence: Gen. xxx. 1, ‘Give me children, or I die;’ Ps. xxxvii. 1, ‘Fret not thyself because of evil-doers.’ We should not vex and fret, but we are apt to do so, to murmur and repine against God, and that for small matters, as Jonah for a gourd: ‘I do well to be angry,’ Jonah iv. 9. So strangely are men transported! Pettish desires earnestly solicited, and finally disappointed, breed this impatience in us. In every frame of heart, when notably stirred, we should say, Is this well? God puts the question to Jonah, ‘Dost thou well to be angry?’ What! to be discontented with Gods own providence, especially in small matters? But we let loose the reins to our passions, and if we be crossed a little, then ‘Let me die.’ Some of this impatience was in good David, for it presently followeth the text, ver. 84, ‘How many are the days of thy servant?’ If the affliction must last yet longer, then even let me know when I shall die.
2. A spirit of revenge against the instruments of our trouble. When we dare not let fly against God, we vent our passions freely against men, and seek their hurt and loss, and think we are safe. Whereas Christianity establisheth a universal and diffusive charity, even to enemies, that we should pray for them, and seek their good: Mat. v. 44, ‘Love.your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.’ The command of love doth not extend only towards kindred and friends and acquaintance, but even to enemies. I say unto you, Christ will try our sincerity and obedience by this precept, by forgiving wrongs, and forbearing all unjust and unmerciful revenge, and our love by loving our enemies. It is hard to bring the revengeful heart of man to it. The faults they have committed against us do not exempt us from the general law of charity, from doing good to them according to our power. As we must not hate or curse, or requite injury with injury, so we must love, bless, do good, and pray for them, wishing them all the good in the world, especially that which they most want, the good of their souls; returning friendly words for 376railing and evil speaking; feeding and clothing them when hungry, thirsty, or naked; desiring pardon and grace. This is our rule; but how few Christians comply with it, and conquer their unruly passions 1 No; rather justify them by the greatness of their temptations, and if they be kept from retaliating of injuries, that is rare. Most have too great a coldness and indifference for enemies: Prov. xxiv. 29, ‘I will do so to him as he hath done to me; I will render to the man according to his work.’ This is to take the work out of God’s hands, to review88 Qu. ‘revive’?—ED. the arrogance of Adam, ‘Be as gods.’ Generally men are vindictive and transported with uncomely passions when wronged by men: 2 Sam. xvi. 9, ‘Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head.’ This was the ruffling humour of Abishai; but David was in a calmer, cooler frame and temper of spirit: No; ‘God bid him curse.’ Many a man can bear afflictions, but not injuries. No man is troubled at a shower of rain, but if one cast a bucket or basin of water upon us, we shall not let it pass, if it be in the power of our hands, without revenge.
3. Using indirect means for our relief. It is better to pine away in affliction than to be freed from it by sin, to be as a bottle in the smoke than to forget our duty; therefore no trouble should drive us to sin, or to use sinful means for our escape; though worn out with expectation, let our duty hold our hands from evil. Whatever our trouble be, from the hand of God or men, we have no reason to go to the devil to ease us of it; as Saul goeth to the witch of Endor: 1 Sam. xxviii. 7, ‘Seek me out a woman that hath a familiar spirit.’ And to the devil we go when we use bad means. Carnal shifts are very natural to us, and when we cannot trust God, and depend upon him, we presently are apt to take some indirect course- of our own. Affliction is often compared to a prison, and the sorrows which accompany it to fetters and chains. Now, God, that puts us into prison, can only help us out again, for he is the governor and judge of the world. Now, to use carnal shifts is an attempt to break prison. We are not able to hold out till God send a happy issue, but take some carnal course of our own. If the heart be not the better resolved, thus it will be. The devil will make an advantage of our afflictions, if he can; he tempted Christ when he was hungry, Mat. iv. 3, so he tempteth us when he seeth us needy, disgraced, reproached, trampled under foot. No; though our estate be low, and the fountain of our supplies be dried up, though our credit be smutched and blacked with slander and reproach, though we be cast out as useless things, as an old withered skin-bottle, counted unfit to hold wine, yet we must not forget God’s precepts. We need not take a sinful course for the vindication of our credit from unjust reproaches: Isa. li. 7, ‘Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law: fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be afraid of their revilings.’ You that make reckoning of keeping close to my word, that have my law not only in your heads, but in your hearts, God hath his times to vindicate you; you need not distrust the providence of God under straits. When Jacob was low, he tells Laban, ‘My righteousness shall answer for me,’ Gen. xxx. 33. The hand of God will help us and reward honest 377labours, without our being false or unfaithful to men. We need not make a foul retreat in the day of trial, nor shift for ourselves by complying with the lusts of men, nor wax weary of our duty as quite discouraged and disheartened, Heb. xii. 3, as we are apt to do when troubles are grievous, and long continued.
4. Another evil is desponding and distrustful thoughts of God. David, after all his experiences, was surprised with this kind of thoughts: 1 Sam. xxvii. 1, ‘I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul.’ He had a particular promise and assurance of the kingdom, and had seen much of God’s care over him, and yet after all this David doubted of the word of God, and bewrayed his weakness of faith and affiance in him, who had watched over him, and delivered him out of many great and imminent dangers in a marvellous manner, when there was less appearance of hope than now, 1 Sam. xxii. 5; so Ps. xxxi. 22, ‘I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless, thou heardest the voice of my supplications, when I cried unto thee.’ God hath no more care and thought of me than if I were not. This was said at the very time when deliverance was coming. Here David yielded a little to foolish haste, and lost the staidness of his faith: so Ps. lxxvii. 7, 8, ‘Will the Lord cast off for ever? will he be favour able no more? is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore?’ Questions to appearance full of despair and despondency, yet there is some faith couched under them. Will the Lord cast off? It implieth the soul cannot endure to be thrust from him. Will he be favourable no more? It implieth some former experience, and desire of new proof. Is his mercy clean gone? I have deserved all this, but God is merciful. Will not mercy help? To appearance indeed despair carrieth it from faith; that is upper most
5. Questioning our interest in God merely because of the cross. Our Lord hath taught us to say My God in the bitterest agonies; but few learn this lesson: Judges vi. 13, ‘If God be with us, why is all this befallen us?’ As if they were never exercised with trouble who have God with them. Sometimes we question the love of God because we have no afflictions, and anon because we have nothing but afflictions; as if God were not the God of the valleys as well as of the mountains, and his love did change with our outward condition, and worldly prosperity were a mark of grace, which, when lost, our evidence were gone. How hardly soever God dealeth with his people, yet he loveth them: Heb. xii. 6, ‘Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth:’ so Rev. iii. 19, ‘As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.’ A father is a father when he smileth and when he frowneth; he may have love in his heart when a rod in his hand; and we have no reason to question our adoption merely because we are put under the correction and discipline of the family.
6. Not only despairing thoughts do arise, but atheistical thoughts, as if there were no God, no providence, no distinction between good and evil, and it were in vain to serve him: Ps. lxxiii. 13, ‘I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.’ The flesh is importunate to be pleased, and therefore, when it meeteth not with desired satisfaction, we are apt to question all, and to cast off the 378fear of God, and all regard of his service: Mal. iii. 14, ‘Ye have said, It is in vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?’ When temptations are sore, and afflictions tedious, thoughts of so horrid a complexion may float in our minds.
These are the distempers which are incident to those who have been long afflicted, and are often disappointed in the issue which they expect.
Thirdly, That this should not be. David omitted not his duty for all this, though his troubles were long and tedious. How great soever our trials be, they should not weaken our love to God and our respect to his word. God’s precepts must not be forgotten, though we are withered and dried up with sorrows, as a skin-bottle is shrivelled in the smoke.
1. Because then we plunge ourselves into a greater evil, if we fall into sin because of trouble and affliction, and so make our condition so much, the worse. Job’s friends charged this upon him, that he had chosen sin rather than affliction, Job xxxvi. 21, when he would rather give way to impatience than patiently bear what God had laid upon him. Many are so transported with their pains and grievances that they care not what they say or do, as if they were loosed from all bands of duty. On the contrary, it is said of Moses, Heb. xi. 25, ‘Choosing rather to suffer afflictions,’ &c. The least sin is worse than the greatest suffering. Suffering is an offence done to us; sin is an offence done to God. By suffering we lose some worldly comfort, but by sinning hazard the favour of God. Suffering is only an inconvenience to the bodily or animal life; sinning bringeth a blot and blemish upon the soul. The sinful state is far worse than the afflicted. And therefore, how calamitous soever our condition be, we must take great care it be not sinful. Wormwood is bitter, but not poison.
2. A sincere love to God will make us adhere to him when he seemeth to deal most hardly with us. Among all his corrections, God hath not a rod smart enough to drive away a gracious and loving soul from himself: Ps. xliv. 17, ‘All this is come upon us, yet have we not forgotten thee, nor dealt falsely in thy covenant.’ God is the same, and his ways are the same, though his dispensations be changed; so different a thing it is to love the ways of God upon foreign and upon intrinsic and proper reasons; and the intent of such dispensations is to put us upon trial,—what be our reasons and motives why we love God and his ways, and whether our love be strong enough to encounter with difficulties, whether it can overcome temptations from sense and the world. Till all probabilities be spent, and our afflictions grow long and tedious, we are not tried to the purpose. Our covenant vow to God bindeth us to own him in all conditions, whatever our portion be in the world.
3. By forgetting God’s precepts we put away our own comfort from ourselves, and make our afflictions the more grievous. Take the word precepts either strictly, for his commandments or statutes, or more largely, as it may also include his promises. If any faint and fail in trouble, it is because they trust not the promises, or keep not the commandments of God: these two mutually strengthen one another. If 379you would not have your faith broken, labour to keep the commandments. In the 166th verse of this psalm, ‘I have hoped for thy salvation, and done thy commandments.’ And if you would keep the commandments, confirm your faith in the promises of forgiveness of sin, of God’s providence, and eternal life; for if thou canst believe these, no pleasure or pain shall make thee forsake thy obedience, Ps. cxxx. 4. A child of God dareth not warp and turn away from God, in part or in whole, nor slacken any part of his diligence in God’s service. Faith in God’s promises breedeth obedience, and obedience confirmeth faith in God’s promises. We apprehend promises to check that sensitive lure which would entice us from God and our obedience to him. A greater benefit is offered to counterbalance the baits and troubles of the flesh. The more we obey the precepts the more we believe the promises; for together with our obedience, our confidence and sound comfort increaseth: so that to forget the word is to throw away our strength from ourselves.
4. Afflictions rightly improved are a means to make us remember God’s precepts rather than to forget them, Heb. xii. 11. The baits of the flesh are removed that the spirit may be more at liberty, 2 Cor. iv. 16. God seeth fit to afflict the bodies of his people sometimes. The body, being in good plight, is a clog to the soul; therefore they are withered and wrinkled that the soul may thrive the more. Our worldly portion is blasted that our heavenly treasure may be increased. When we are at full we wax wanton, neglectful, forget his precepts. Now, that we may remember them the more, God sendeth such afflictions which sit near and close. The moon is never eclipsed but when it is at full; so many have eclipsed the glory of the spiritual life when full and at ease: therefore in afflictions we should not forget his word.
Use 1. To reprove us who are so soon discouraged in the ways of God. If we surfer but a little sickness, and a little trouble and contempt in the world, a little loss of honour and interest, the mocks and scorns of foolish men, we cannot bear it, but murmur and are impatient. David could submit himself to the Lord, and find sweetness in the word, though he were ‘like a bottle in the smoke.’ Few now-a-days suffer any great matter for Christ. Surely when God’s people have endured harder things, we should be ashamed of our tenderness. Were we only appointed to escape the afflictions and inconveniences of our pilgrimage? And must God make a new way to heaven for our sakes, wherein we shall meet with no difficulty in our passage? Or rather, in defiance of all sense, would we abide here for ever, and flourish in ease and plenty, and never see change? No; it becometh us betimes to prepare for the cross. None so strong now but they shall wither, so ruddy and beautiful but their beauty shall consume as a moth; nor so happy and flourishing in honour and esteem but they will be laid aside as a dried, withered bottle. We must look to have our turn, and bear it patiently.
2. Let us not for any afflictions and troubles whatsoever abate of our zeal and diligence and respect to God’s service.
First, It is not obedience to God’s precepts or godliness that is the cause of our sufferings and chastenings, but our sin and folly: Micah ii. 7, ‘Are these his doings? do not my wools do good to him that 380walketh uprightly?’ God delighteth not in dealing harshly with his people. The rod is not that he taketh pleasure in, if our case do not call for it: Lam. iii. 33, ‘He afflicts not willingly.’ We provoke him to it. And shall we grow weary of his service because we suffer justly for our sins? There is reason indeed why we should grow weary of sin, Jer. ii. 19; we find the bitterness of it; but no reason why we should grow weary of duty. Sin less and suffer less. Provoke not God, and nothing will proceed from him but what is good and comfortable; he doth not punish or chasten men for holiness and well doing; no, it is for want of holiness. Shall the physician be blamed for the trouble of physic, when the patient hath contracted a surfeit that makes it necessary? It was sin in general brought us into a state of suffering, and particular errors that actually bring it on.
Secondly, The benefits and fruit of afflictions should allay and abundantly recompense the trouble of them, that they should not be a hindrance or a snare, but a help to godliness. They prevent our surfeit of worldly prosperity, which would cost us dearer than all the troubles of the flesh which we meet with. Alas! what sad work doth honour and wealth and power make in the world! Blessed be God that he keepeth us under, low, humble, and contemned, like bottles in the smoke. Shall a little affliction, which saveth us from these opportunities of discovering our corruption, be so resented by us as that we should wax weary of God and forget his precepts? Great and long prosperity would be a sorer temptation to us than sharp and tedious affliction; the one keepeth us modest and humble, whereas the other would make us vain and proud and wanton. ‘When Jeshurun waxed fat he kicked:’ Deut. xxxii. 15, ‘He forsook God that made him, and lightly esteemed the rock of his salvation;’ slighted God, and grew cold in duty, ready to sin. As a rank soil breedeth weeds, a pleasant estate doth but fill us with vanity and folly.
Thirdly, God in good time will send help and deliverance. If we remember to plead the promise, God will remember to fulfil the promise. And those who are not unmindful of their duty, God will not be unmindful of their safety: Mal. iii. 16, ‘The Lord hearkened and heard; and a book of remembrance was written before him, for those that feared the Lord, and thought upon his name.’ You see there that God will not forget those that forget not his word. Those that keep their feet in the worst times, when others reel and stagger, God hath a great care of them. Every word you speak for God, every inconvenience you suffer for him, every duty you perform to him, it is all upon record.
Fourthly, We may with the more confidence recommend our case to God: Ps. cxix. 153, ‘Consider mine affliction, and deliver me, for I do not forget thy law.’ They that do not make haste to deliver themselves, God will deliver them. The same God that requireth duty doth assure them of comfort381
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