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But I will meditate in thy precepts. Let those that fear thee turn unto me, and those that have known thy testimonies.—Ver. 78, 79.
WE now come to David’s resolution, but I will meditate in thy precepts. The word precepts is not taken strictly, but largely, for the whole word of God.
Doct. It is a blessed thing when the molestations we meet with in the world do excite us to a more diligent study of the word of God, and a greater mindfulness of spiritual and heavenly things.
1. I shall show what advantages we have by God’s word and precepts, for the staying and bettering of our hearts.
2. How this cometh by deep and serious meditation.
3. How afflictions and troubles in the flesh do quicken us to it. First, In the word of God there are notable comforts and supports,
First, In the word of God there are notable comforts and supports, as also clear directions how to carry ourselves in every condition. I shall show what good thoughts do become as a ground of comfort and support and direction.322
1. That God hath a fatherly care over us. Be once persuaded of that, and trouble will not be so grievous and hard to be borne. This our Saviour opposeth to worldly cares and fears: Mat. vi. 32, ‘Your heavenly Father knoweth that you have need of these things;’ and Luke xii. 32, ‘Fear not, little flock; it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you a kingdom.’ There are two notions, and they are both Christian, which are the great support of the heart under any trouble—adoption and particular providence. The heirs of promise are cared for in their nonage; and, by the way, once be persuaded of this, and it will allay our distrustful cares. Carking and shifting is a reproach to your heavenly Father, as if your child should beg or filch. God knoweth our wants, is able to relieve them, willing to supply us; this God is my Father.
2. That the humble soul which casts itself into the arms of God’s providence shall either have a full and final deliverance or present support: Isa. xl. 31, ‘They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.’ To wait on the Lord is with patience and tranquillity of spirit to expect the performance of the promises. Now these shall have what they wait for, or a supply of strength enabling them to bear up or hold out when they seem to be clean spent: Ps. cxxiii. 2, ‘Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their master, and the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress, so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until he have mercy upon us;’ it was in a time when they were filled with the contempt of the proud. Let us be patiently submissive to God’s dispensations, there is hope of help.
3. That God doth wonderfully disappoint the designs of wicked men: Ps. xxxvii. 12, 13, ‘The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth. The Lord shall laugh at him; for he seeth that his day is coming.’ Haman’s plot was destroyed, so was the conspiracy of them that would have killed Paul: ‘There is no wisdom, nor counsel, nor understanding against the Lord,’ Prov. xxi. 30. What is God now doing in heaven but defending his own kingdom? Ps. ii. Wherefore doth Christ sit at his right hand, but to promote the affairs of his church, and to blast the devices of the wicked? Mat. xvi. 18, ‘The gates of hell shall never prevail against it.’
4. That the proud are near a fall: Prov. xvi. 5, ‘Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord: though hand join in hand, they shall not go unpunished,’ Sometimes they seem to be supported by such combined interests, so woven in the laws and constitutions of a nation; but who can keep up him whom God will pull down? Pride is a sure note and forerunner of destruction, Prov. xvi. 18; Prov. xv. 25, ‘The Lord will destroy the house of the proud; but he will establish the border of the widow.’ Weak and oppressed innocence standeth upon surer terms than the proud, though they excel in wealth and opulency.
5. That God will never leave us wholly destitute, and to difficulties insupportable: Heb. xiii. 5, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee;’ and 1 Cor. x. 13, ‘God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able to bear; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.’ To the eye of sense we are lost and gone and have no helper, but God is never wholly 333gone. Hagar set herself over against the lad, would not go too far from him. God seems to throw us away, but he keeps himself within sight, he will not totally or finally forsake us.
6. That God’s usual way is by contraries. The gospel way to save is to lope, John xvi. 25; Mat. xvi. 25, ‘He that will save his life, shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it.’ Joseph was made a slave that he may be made governor of Egypt; his brethren sell him that they may worship him; and he is cast into prison that he may be preferred at court. Thus God by shame bringeth to honour, by misery to happiness, by sorrow to comfort, and by death to life, to teach us to hope against hope, Rom. iv. 18, and to trust in him though he kill us, Job xiii. 15; for death is ours, as well as other things. If calamities shorten our lives, they hasten our glory. Persecution is the nearest way to heaven in the eye of faith, and the sword of the enemy is but the key to open the prison doors and let out the soul, which hath long desired to be with Christ.
7. That it is better to suffer than to sin. In suffering, the offence is done to us; in sinning, it is done to God. The evil of suffering is but for a moment; the evil of sin for ever. In suffering we lose the favour of men; in sinning we hazard the favour of God. Suffering bringeth inconvenience upon the body, but sinning upon the soul. The sinful estate is far worse than the afflicted, Heb. xii. 28; the evil of sufferings for the present, the evil of sin for afterwards.
8. That holiness, faith, meekness, and patience are better treasures than any the world can take from us. Certainly a Christian is to reckon himself by the inward man; if he have a healthy soul, he may the better dispense with a sickly body, 3 John 2. If the inward man be renewed, 2 Cor. iv. 16, if sore troubles discover reality of grace. Sound and saving faith discovered to the soul is better worth than the world’s best gold, 1 Peter i. 9. If carnal sense were not quickest and greatest, we would judge so, and not look to the sharpness of the affliction, but to the improvement of it. If the bitter water be made sweet; if you be more godly, wise, and religious, it is enough: Heb. xii. 11, ‘No affliction for the present seemeth joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby.’ If the loss of worldly comforts make us apply ourselves to heavenly consolations; if, being disburdened of worldly incumbrances, we go on in our way of serving God with more liberty and delight, and, when our dangers are greatest, we draw near to God, and adhere to him most closely, and being persuaded of his love, vigilancy, and power, with these and such kind of thoughts will a man be stocked who is with seriousness and delight conversant in the scriptures, and so will go on undisturbed in the course of his obedience.
Secondly, These things must be improved by meditation; so saith David, ‘I will meditate on thy precepts.’
1. Sleepy reason is unuseful to us, and truths lie hid in the heart without any efficacy or power till improved by deep, serious, and pressing thoughts. Non-attendancy is the bane of the world: Mat. xiii. 19, ‘When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that 334which was sown in his heart.’ Those invited to the wedding, Mat. xxii. 5, made light of it. Men will not suffer their minds so long to dwell upon holy things as to procure a good esteem of them; then in ‘seeing they see not, and in hearing hear not:’ as when you tell a man of a business whose mind is taken up about other things. A sudden carrying a candle through a room giveth us not so full a survey of the object as when you stand a while beholding it. A steady contemplation is a great advantage. Attending is the cause of believing, when we grow serious: Acts xvi. 14, ‘Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended to the things spoken by Paul;’ Acts xvii. 11, ‘And these were more noble than they of Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind.’ If people would often return to consider, they would not be hardened in sin: Ps. iv. 4, ‘Commune with your own heart upon your bed:’ Hag. i. 5, ‘Now, therefore, thus saith the Lord of hosts, Consider your ways.’ God’s complaint was, they would not consider his ways, Job xxxiv. 27; Isa. i. 3, ‘My people doth not consider.’ Running thoughts never work upon us, nor leave any durable impression, like the glance of a sunbeam on a wave. When the soul is besieged by a constant battery of truths, it yieldeth; but a mind scattered upon impertinent vanities groweth not up to any considerable strength of faith, or joy, or comfort, or holiness.
2. God will not be served by the by and at hap-hazard. David taketh a resolution to study his duty. The more deliberate our resolutions are the better: Ps. cxix. 59, ‘I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.’ We shall never stumble upon a good course by chance: Isa. lvi. 4, ‘And choose the things that please me;’ not take them upon some sudden motion, but after mature and serious deliberation.
3. To divert the mind from other things. Afflictions and troubles stir up a multitude of thoughts in us: Ps. xciv. 19, ‘In the multitude of my thoughts.’ Sometimes self-oppressing thoughts, carking thoughts, envious thoughts, and repining at God’s providence; the object of our trouble is ever before us. Now, there is no way to get rid of these but by exercising them upon better things. Troubles make us concerned about matters of weight; they employ our minds usefully, which before were scattered to impertinent vanities: Ps. xxxix. 3, ‘My heart was hot within me; whilst I was musing the fire burned.’ That our minds may not be a prey to inordinate passions; we pore upon the trouble, and the heart is heated like an oven stopped up; and therefore keep the mind well employed.
4. Frequent meditation keepeth our principles in view and memory. We are apt to forget in our sorrows: Heb. xii. 5, ‘And ye have forgotten the consolation.’ It is not ready at hand to support us in the time of trouble. A seasonable remembrance of truths is a great relief to the soul; it is the Spirit’s office.
Thirdly, That afflictions and molestations have a great tendency and subserviency to promote and advance these holy thoughts where they are sanctified and work the right way.
1. They make us understand the word more fully and clearly than before. Vexatio dat intellectum; qui tribidantur, saith Luther, sacras literas melius intelligunt; securi et fortunati eas legunt, sicut 335Ovidii carmen. A full third part of the scriptures are lost to the secure and fortunate.
2. As they clear the sight, so they purge the taste, and give us a spiritual relish. Carnal comforts cloy the spiritual appetite; when, they are removed from us, then we taste heavenly things: Ps. xciv. 19, ‘In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.’
3. They quicken the heart to our duty, and so make us more awe-ful and watchful: Ps. xciv. 12, ‘Blessed is the man whom thou chasteneth, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law;’ Ps. cxix. 167, ‘My soul hath kept thy testimonies, and I love them exceedingly.’ If God write his law upon our hearts by his stripes on our backs, it is a blessed effect. Our happiness is to be measured by our great end, which is conformity to God and enjoyment of God; and therefore it doth not consist in outward comforts, riches, honour, health, civil liberty, and comfortable protection, but acceptance with God, and enjoyment of God. Now, as afflictions increase grace and holiness, we are the more approved of God, and enjoy more of God.
Use. Let all our troubles drive us to the word of God; there we shall find—
1. Grounds of comfort and support.
2. Hopes of deliverance.
3. Quickenings to duty, which being concocted by serious thoughts, and blessed to us by the Spirit of God, will enable us to ride out the storm cheerfully, and allay our cares and fears, and then we shall put ourselves into the way wherein God hath engaged his protection, and so shall not be afraid of what man can do unto us.
I now come to the 79th verse, let those that fear thee turn unto me, and those that have known thy testimonies. When troubled by the wicked, he prayeth for the help and comfort of the godly. There is an elegant allusion between the two words, יבשו, Let the proud be ashamed; and ישובו, Let the godly be turned to me; that is, let them desert the society of these proud men, and join to me.
In these words God’s people are described by a double character—(1.) ‘Those that fear thee;’ (2.) ‘Those that have known thy testimonies.’ David’s petition concerning those, that they may turn to him. I shall deliver the importance of these words in certain propositions.
1. Observe the godly are described by two properties—the fear or worship of God, and the knowledge of his word. Those are godly who fear to offend God, and have the sound knowledge of his will; those are fittest for God’s use in the general, and for David’s use in the particular condition in which he was. For God’s use: Fear and knowledge do make up a godly man. Knowledge without fear breedeth presumption, and fear without knowledge breedeth superstition and blind zeal, as a blind horse may be full of mettle, but is ever and anon stumbling. Knowledge must direct fear, and fear must season knowledge, then it is a happy mixture and composition. Deum cognoscere et colere—to know God, and worship him, is the whole duty of man, saith Lactantius. When we know God’s testimonies so as to regard, love, and believe them, and dare not dispense with our duty to him for all the world, this is a good frame; our knowledge and fear of God must be according 336to his word. And these were fittest for David’s case; fit comforters and strengthened of the godly in persecution. There are many whom we cannot exclude from all fear of God, who yet know not his testimonies, run into error, darken and blemish a good cause; but those that know and fear understand their duty, and are loath to violate it; with these should our souls close. Well, then, David doth in effect say, Those whom thou hast joined to thyself, let them join to me; they will acknowledge the equity of that cause which God owneth, and will converse with him whom thou disdainest not to take into favour; because they reverence thy providence, and are taught out of thy testimonies; and so, weighing the cause, as well as regarding the event, will be sooner won to the truth when God showeth mercy to his people; other godly ones will be allured to join themselves to those whom they find to be so dear to God.
2. Friendship and fellowship with such godly ones is a great blessing. Partly as it conduceth to mutual spiritual strength: Rom. i. 12, ‘That I may be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith both of you and me.’ It is a comfort to see our Father’s children wherever we come, and to behold their faith, zeal, self-denial, mortification; the godly are a strength to one another in evil times: Mal. iii. 16, ‘Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another.’ There are many advantages attend the communion of saints; their very sight and presence is a confirmation to us. Many times that temptation befalleth’ us which befell Elias; we think we are left alone, 1 Kings xix. 10, that godliness is gone out of the world. To have company is an encouragement; but we have not only company, but help. Every one hath his peculiar gift to help others, 1 Cor. xii. One hath quickness of parts, but not so solid a judgment; another is solid, but not of so ready, present, and good utterance: one is zealous, but ungrounded; another well-principled, but timorous: 1 Cor. xii. 21, ‘The eye (the knowing man) cannot say to the hand (the active man in God’s cause), I have no need of thee.’ All have their use, by mutual gifts and graces, to profit one another, as the curtains of the tabernacle were coupled to one another by loops, Exod. xxvi. 3, or as a body fitly joined and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, Eph. iv. 16. Every Christian hath need of another’s help. And partly as it conduceth more to public safety and honour: Phil. i. 27, 28, ‘Only let your conversation be as becometh the gospel of Christ, that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing terrified by your adversaries, which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.’ When the members are cut off, the body is less powerful: Acts iv. 33, ‘And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus,’ when they were met with one heart. And the apostle prayeth, Rom. xv. 5, 6, ‘Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one towards another, according to Jesus Christ; that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ:’ as if God could not be glorified by them where there is not this amen. Well, then, if David did so earnestly desire the company of God’s children, so should we.337
3. Though it be so great a blessing, yet often it falleth out that there are great discords and estrangements between those that fear God and know his testimonies; godly men may be strange one to another. David complaineth, Ps. lxix. 8, ‘I am become a stranger to my brethren, and an alien to my mother’s children:’ and Ps. xxxviii. 11, ‘My lovers and friends stand aloof from my sore;’ they stood afar off then when wicked men had wounded him. Now this may come to pass—
[1.] Through carnal fear, as the godly may be deterred by the fear of the proud; therefore he desireth they may recover their courage. An afflicted condition, as it might increase the violence of the proud, so it might diminish the affections of the godly. Affliction is harsh to flesh and blood, and good men in their sharpest conflicts may be deserted, not only of those who make fair profession, but are really godly, and stand in the gap alone. Christ himself hath paved the way; he was left alone; so Paul complaineth, 2 Tim. iv. 16, ‘At my first answer no man stood with me, but all did forsake me: I pray God it be not laid to their charge.’ The godly may forsake our fellowship, though they wish well to us when we are persecuted, as the rest of the herd forsake the wounded deer; they may shrink from us and our afflictions. It will be a great mercy if owned in our troubles. Paul took notice of Onesiphorus’s noticing ashamed of his chain, when some turned away, 2 Tim. i. 15, 16.
[2.] They may be alienated by prejudice. Persons truly godly may be deceived by the proud. His enemies had depraved his cause; as in the former verse, his enemies represented him as a strange person: so they might be seduced by their slanders, and so engage against him, till they were disabused and reduced, as now he beggeth God in mercy to do for him. The equity of my cause being known, let them join themselves to me; as Job to his friends: Job vi. 29, ‘Return, I pray you, let it not be iniquity; yea, return again, my righteousness is in it;’ that is, in this matter. Every good man would desire this; but David was the head of the party, and chief of the godly’s sight. Often it falleth out that the godly may take distaste and offence at us.
[3.] There may be some offence given by us. Chrysostom and Theodoret think it relateth to David’s sin after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba, and plotted the murder of Uriah. Theodoret thinks that he was withdrawn or separated from the communion of the church, according to his foul act; and therefore prayeth for a redintegration, and that they might return to intimacy with him again, and lie gathereth it from Symmachus’s translation, who doth not read it, Let them turn unto me, but Let them converse with me as freely as before. Thus the disciples were offended with Paul, till God hardened55 Qu. ‘softened’?—ED. their hearts towards him, Acts ix. 13. Saul was ashamed to see any of those whom he had persecuted; Ananias was afraid, as the lamb to come near the wolf, till God prepared both by an internal vision; so ver. 21-27.
[4.] From difference in judgment about lesser things. We should, Phil. iii. 15, 16, ‘Be thus minded; and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same 338things.’ There should be a union in heart, way, and scope, Rom. xiv., but often it doth fall out that passion, because of lesser differences, may occasion an unkindness between very brethren: Acts xv. 37-39, ‘And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other; and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus.’ That paroxysm between Paul and Barnabas.
[5.] From the providence of God permitting it for wise reasons. Job owneth God in it: Job xix. 13, 14, ‘He hath put my brethren far from me, and mine acquaintance are verily estranged from me. My kinsfolk have failed, and my familiar friends have forgotten me.’ So doth Heman: Ps. lxxxviii. 8, ‘Thou hast put away mine acquaintance far from me; thou hast made me an abomination to them.’ Partly to humble us and try us, for our depending too much upon man, and making us ourselves again with our party. A winnowing storm may be sent to this purpose. We think our faith and resolution strong, now God will try how we can stand alone. And partly to drive us to God: 1 With thee the fatherless find mercy,’ Hosea xiv. 3; Ps. lx. 11, ‘Give us help from trouble; for vain is the help of man;’ Ps. xii. 1, ‘Help, Lord, for the godly man ceaseth; the faithful fail from among the children of men.’ We shall not have too much comfort by any creature, to turn us to believe in God alone. We are prone to look to the creature, and to have our hearts drawn away from God. And partly to conform us to Jesus Christ: John xvi. 32, ‘Behold the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone:’ Mat. xxvi. 56, ‘But all this was done that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.’ This is part of the bitter cup.
4. When this falleth out, we should use all due means to recover those that have deserted us, and draw them unto us again; the favour is worth diligence. A man would not be cast out of the hearts of God’s people. The apostle saith, Heb. xii. 14, ‘Follow peace with all men,’ διώκετε εἰρήνην, not only embrace it when it is offered to us, and fairly droppeth into our mouths, but pursue it with earnestness;. we must pursue it as a man pursueth something running from him to take it. It is explained, Ps. xxxiv. 14, ‘Seek peace, and pursue it.’ If the issue answer not our first attempt, we must seek it again; not giving up the cause for desperate, lest despair quench our endeavours.
5. One great means to recover a good understanding among God’s people is prayer. David goeth to God about it, ‘Lord, let them turn to me.’ The Lord governeth hearts and interests, both are in his hands, and useth this alienation or reconciliation either for judgment or mercy. God, when he pleaseth, can divert the comfort of godly friends, and when he pleaseth he can bring them back again to us. The feet of God’s children are directed by God himself: if they come to us it is a blessing of God; if not, it is for a correction. He made Jacob and Laban meet peaceably, Gen. xxxi., and in the next chapter Jacob and Esau.
Use. The use is direction to us in these times, when there are such 339distances and alienation of hearts and affections between the people of God.
1. Let us not be troubled at it over-much. Godly men were estranged from David, either being misled by delusions and false reports, or loath to come to him because of his troubles and low condition. And partly because it is no strange thing for a good man to be forsaken of his friends; so Job, chap. vi. 15-17 ‘Mv brethren have dealt deceitfully as a brook, and as the stream of brooks they pass away, which are blackish by reason of the ice, and wherein the snow is hid: what time they wax warm, they vanish; when it is hot, they are consumed out of the way;’ so David: Ps. xxxi 11 ‘I was a reproach among all mine enemies, and a fear to mine acquaintance;’ yea, so Christ himself. I know the temptation is very great. Man is ζῴον πολίτικον, a sociable creature. To go alone in our duty is very hard; but we ought not to look on ourselves to be alone while God is with us, John xvi. 32. Christ is a pattern of all dispensations as well as trials: Heb. xiii. 5, ‘I will not leave thee nor forsake thee.’ He is so far from forsaking, that he will not leave us.
2. Let us recommend the case to God: Zeph. iii 9, ‘That they may call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent;’ Rom. xv. 6, 7, ‘That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God: wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.’ Non sunt ista litigandi, sed orandi tempora. Beg a coalition of all those that fear God, that, laying aside prejudice, they may turn one to another. The spirit of concord is God’s gift. Christ prayeth, John xvii. 21, 22, ‘That they may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe thou hast sent me: and the glory which thon gavest me, I have given them, that they may be one as we are one.’
3. Let us carry it so that the children of God may have no occasion to turn from us. Scandalous sins are roots of bitterness: Heb. xii. 15, ‘Lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.’ Encourage the godly to pray for you: Heb xiii. 18, ‘Pray for us; for we trust we have a good conscience in all things, willing to live honestly.’ To love you. Good men are not unworthy of our prayers, and incapable of the benefit of them; the more you excel in grace the more they will delight in you: Ps. xvi. 3, ‘But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight.’
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