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Thou hast trodden down all them that err from thy statutes: for their deceit is falsehood.—Ver. 118.
IN the former verse, the man of God had begged establishment in the ways of God; and now, as a help to what he had prayed for, he ob serves God’s judgments on those that err from them. It is a special means to preserve us from sin to observe how mischievous it hath been to those that close with it. So the prophet here, ‘I will have respect to thy statutes.’ Why? ‘Thou hast trodden down them that err from thy statutes.’ By this means we learn to be wise at other men’s costs, and are whipped upon others’ backs: Zeph. iii. 6, 7, ‘I have cut off the nations: their towers are made desolate, their cities are destroyed; there is none inhabitant: I said, Surely thou wilt fear me,’ &c. God is very much disappointed if we be not bettered and improved by his judgments. Exemplo qui peccat, bis peccat. He that would plunge himself into a quagmire where others have miscarried before, sins doubly, because he neither fears threatenings, nor would take warning by their example. God looks to be the more reverenced for every warning he gives us in his providence, because then what was before matter of faith is made matter of sense, and needs only a little application. Thus it will be with me if I should 209 straggle from God, and go contrary to his direction: Isa. xxvi. 9, ‘When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.’ We need not doubt any more whether God will punish the disobedient, when we see his threatenings made good; only we should reflect upon our hearts: And will not God visit my transgression if I should go on breaking his laws? And what should hinder making such application? Are not all sinners alike to God? Christ tells us, ‘Ye shall all likewise perish except ye repent,’ Luke xiii. 5. They contented themselves to censure those on whom the tower of Siloam fell. The desert of sin is the same, and God’s justice as exact as ever; therefore, if others are punished, why not we? We are strangely stupid if we do not walk more exactly with God. This use David maketh of it. Whether it were a judgment past, or a judgment expected in faith, this deterred him from doing as they did: ‘Thou hast trodden down them that err from thy statutes.’ In the words observe—
1. An account of God’s judgments upon wicked men, ‘Thou hast trodden down them that err from thy statutes.’
2. The reason given of that dispensation, ‘For their deceit is falsehood.’
First, In the first place observe—
1. The notion by which the judgment is expressed, thou hast trodden down.
2. The persons described upon whom this judgment hath lighted, or shall light, them that err from thy statutes.
3. The note of universality, all, of what estate or condition soever they be.
From the first of these observe—
Doct. Those that proudly err from God’s statutes, God can, hath, and will soon pull them down with ignominy and contempt.
This point will be made good if we consider—
1. The persons described.
2. The notion by which judgment is expressed.
3. Something concerning the certainty of this judgment.
1. The persons described, ‘Them that err from thy statutes.’ Some err out of weakness, and some out of pride and obstinacy. (1.) To err out of weakness, to wander in by-paths of our own, is not safe: Ps. cxxv. 2, ‘As for such as turn aside unto their crooked ways, the Lord shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity.’ Men that do not sin out of malice, but are discouraged by the rod of the wicked resting upon the lot of the righteous, ver. 3; therefore think to shift for themselves by their own compliances, counsels, and crooked courses, God will deal with them as with his open enemies. (2.) Proudly to exalt ourselves against God, and trample his interest under foot, will bring sure judgment: Ps. cxix. 21, ‘Thou hast rebuked the proud that are cursed, which do err from thy commandments.’ Of such the text speaks, those that oppose themselves against God, and bear themselves high in sinful courses, upon account of their prosperity.
2. The notion by which the judgment is expressed, ‘Thou hast trodden down.’ The Septuagint ἐξουδένωσας, ad nihil deduxisti, 210thou hast brought to nothing; Acquila, confixisti, thou hast stricken through; Symmachus, ἀπήλεγξας, reprobasti, thou hast disproved; the vulgar, sprevisti, thou hast contemned; Apollinarius, ἀθέριξας, parvi pependisti, thou hast little esteemed: all to the same purpose. The phrase of treading under foot, used by us, implies—(1.) A full punishment; (2.) A disgraceful one.
[1.] A full punishment. God will pull them down from their altitudes, even to the dust, though never so high and proudly exalting themselves against God. A full conquest of enemies is thus often expressed in scripture: Isa. x. 6, the Assyrian is said ‘to take the prey, and to tread them down like mire in the streets;’ so Micah vii. 10, the same expression, when an adversary is laid even with the ground, that he may be crushed and trampled upon, as Jehu trode Jezebel under foot, 2 Kings ix. 32; and Isa. xxvi. 6, ‘The feet of the poor shall tread it down, even the steps of the needy.’ So the utter and final overthrow of Satan is expressed, Rom. xvi. 20, ‘He shall tread Satan under his feet.’
[2.] It implies a disgraceful punishment: Ps. cx. 1, ‘Until I make thine enemies thy footstool;’ an expression to show the ignominy and contempt God will put upon them. Christ keeps his sheep in his hands, John x. 28, his lambs in his bosom, Isa. xl. 11, and his enemies under his feet, Josh. x. 24. When he vanquished the Canaanitish kings, ‘Come near,’ saith he to his captains; ‘put your feet upon the necks of these kings.’ Thus Sapores the king of Persia trampled upon Valentinian the emperor, and Tamberlane made Bajazet his footstool. The meaning is, God will not only bring them under, but reduce them to an abject and contemptible condition. So Chrysostom on the text expoundeth this phrase, that God will make them ἐπονειδίστους, καὶ καταγελάστους, ignominious and contemptible. They shall not go off honourably, but with scorn and confusion of face, miserably broken.
3. The certainty of this judgment, that he can, hath, and will do so.
[1.] He can do so, though they be fortified with never so many advantages, for what is too hard for God who made all things? It is easier, we know, to destroy than to build up things. Things long a-building may be destroyed in a moment; and therefore, God, that made them, can destroy them: Isa. xxvii. 4, ‘Who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together.’ Briers and thorns are matter to feed the fire, not to quench it. We want faith in the power of God, and therefore we are dismayed when we see wicked men great and high.
[2.] He hath done so, notwithstanding their greatness and proud attempts. That is the Psalmist’s expression here; God hath already trodden down many such persons, and hath decreed to tread down all. Of that sort the prophet speaks as a thing already done, either in way of faith, or in part of sense, as begun to be executed: Amos ii. 9, ‘I destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath.’ Potent and mighty enemies, if they stand in the way of his people’s mercies, God can pluck them up, root and branch. When Pharaoh advanced himself against 211the people of God, God trod him down, and flung him into the bottom of the sea. So the Psalmist tells us, Ps. cxxxv. 10, ‘He smote great nations, and slew mighty kings for their sakes, all the kingdoms of Canaan, and gave their land for an heritage unto Israel his people.’ God will show what respect he hath to his people; therefore, when he ariseth to avenge their quarrel, nothing shall be able to stand before him.
[3.] He will do so, tread them down all.
(1.) Because of his invariable justice: ‘God is but one,’ Gal. iii. 20; that is, one always consonant unto himself, what he hath done he will do; his justice is the same that ever it was, and his power the same; and therefore in all his dispensations he is one; that is, ever like himself, is as ready to take vengeance on the insolences of men now as before, and keepeth a proportion in his proceedings: he is of one mind, and who can turn him?
(2.) Because of the suitableness between judgment and sin. They trample all that is holy and sacred under their feet, therefore God treadeth them under foot; they despise God, therefore are despised, 1 Sam. ii. 30; they trample upon the grace of God in Christ, therefore are said, Heb. x. 29, ‘to tread the blood of the covenant under foot;’ they trample upon the law of God: Amos ii. 4, ‘I will not turn away the punishment there of, because they have despised my law;’ they trample upon all godly admonitions and reproofs: Mat. vii. 6, ‘Cast not your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you;’ and they trample the servants of God under foot, and make his saints bow down for them to go over, Isa. li. 23; and therefore are they themselves trodden under foot. They despised God, and he therefore despiseth them, and poureth contempt upon them; and the more they esteem themselves, of the less reckoning are they with God.
(3.) For the undeceiving the world, who usually look to sensible things. While their ways are prosperous, we make another manner of judgment upon them than we do when they are under contempt and disgrace: Mal. iii. 15, ‘We call the proud happy; yea they that work wickedness are set up, and they that tempt God are even delivered.’ We dote too much upon outward things, insomuch that things wicked, if prosperous, seem good and holy. Our affections bribe our judgments, and those things that we would otherwise loathe have a fair gloss and varnish put upon them. It is a mighty temptation, even to good men, and they begin to have other thoughts of things when to appearance they are befriended by God’s providence and succeed beyond expectation; therefore God will tread them down.
(4.) To undeceive sinners themselves, that are hardened by their own prosperity and success, and make God’s providence and forbearing punishment to be an approbation of their actions against his law. So Ps. l. 21, ‘These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest I was altogether such an one as thyself, but I will reprove thee.’ God may for a long time endure very horrible provocations without any act or mark of vengeance, till sinners flatter themselves that the things they do are pleasing to God; but they shall find they have erred when they read their sins in their punishment: Mal. ii. 9, ‘Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before 212all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law.’ The great God aims at the repentance of men, both in his forbearance and his punishment. In his forbearance: Rom. ii. 4, ‘Not knowing that the forbearance of God leadeth to repentance.’ He is pleased to suffer them that offend him grievously to taste the goodness of his providence, and have their turn in this world’s felicity, to see if that will better them; if not, then he poureth contempt and shame upon them, that by his frowns he may further their conviction. When prosperity is a temptation, God will change the dispensation, and instead of general favour and respect, they meet with shame and disestimation and disgrace. This is the punishment of those that are partial in his law. It is true this is not to be taken singly without the foregoing provocation. It was the lot of Christ and his prophets and apostles to be disrespected in a wicked world, and such a trial may befall his faithful messengers. Yet when this is the fruit of foregoing unfaithfulness, and men that had nothing to commend them to the world but their height and grandeur, that only had a testimony in men’s carnal affections because of their greatness, and not a testimony in men’s consciences because of their purity and holiness and good fruits, as good men have been in the consciences of those that hate them, it is to them a judgment. But, however, when those that in the main are faithful are by a righteous providence exposed to ignominy and contempt, they ought the more to search their ways, and to see whether they have been throughout with God in the conscience of their duty to him, and whether some neglect and partiality of theirs hath not brought this judgment upon them.
(5.) To give a check to the insolency of men who abuse their power, and think they may do what they please when they have no hindrance and rub in the way: Micah ii. 1, ‘They do evil because it is in the power of their hands.’ Restraints of conscience prevail not with many, but only restraints of providence. It is no thanks to them if they are not worse than they are; it is not because they want will, but because they want power. Therefore God cuts them short, and treads them down like mire.
Use 1. A warning to them that are in prosperity, that they do not carry it proudly against God, his ways and people. God hath unhorsed many that have held their heads very high; therefore let none presume to do evil because they are high and exalted. There is a foolish and mad confidence which wicked men have in their prosperity, as if they were above the reach of providence, and therefore abuse their greatness to contempt and oppression. When men are up they know nothing moderate. Former judgments upon the proud and disobedient, that contemn God, his people and ways, should a little check them. God, that hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, Luke i. 51, can do it again, and will, when men will not take warning. As Nazianzen, when his heart was like to be corrupted and grow wanton with ease and prosperity, I thought, saith he, of reading the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and of the doleful condition of the church in former times. This means he took to reduce himself to a holy sobriety. This is the thing God aimed at in the ceremonial law. In the thank-offerings, leavened bread was required, 213which was allowed in no other sacrifice; thereby showing we should not so surfeit and run riot with our mercies as to forget the bitterness of former afflictions, together with the causes of them.
Use 2. Not to be dismayed at the prosperity of the wicked, so as to be troubled either about your own persons, or about the cause of God, or to cry up a confederacy with them that err from God’s statutes when uppermost. Wicked men are here supposed to be in power, height, and pride of spirit; but God treadeth them down: and to be full of craft and subtlety; but their deceit is falsehood; that is, for all their might and subtlety, they are not able to resist God. David was shaken with this trial, when evil men were great flourished in wealth and authority, Ps. lxxiii. 17; but how doth he settle his heart? ‘I went into the sanctuary, and there I understood their end.’ When we look to the end of things, that will settle us; but when we see God’s work by halves, we miscarry: we make another judgment when we see God’s work brought to perfection than we did when we only saw the beginning of it. Therefore let us not be altogether dismayed; a little faith will help us against the temptations from sense. When the Lord shall have tried and humbled his people, then the cup is put into the hand of the wicked, and God will throw them down from the seat of their arrogancy, and trample upon them like dust. What should hinder? Cannot God do it, or will he not? Cannot he do it? Yes; very easily. Poor earthen vessels that oppose him, they do but dash themselves against a rock, they do but break themselves in pieces; all attempts are nothing; God will laugh them to scorn. Or else will he not do it? Doth not he hate sin as much as before, or love his people as much as ever? What God punisheth in one he punisheth in all, if repentance prevent not; he oweth them a shame, therefore will pour contempt and disgrace upon those that dishonour him, Ps. liii. 5. It might soon be known what will become of them, if you would but awaken faith; you may look upon it as a thing accomplished already: he shall tread down all iniquity under his feet, Mal. iv. 3.
Use 3. Observe the judgments upon those that err from God’s statutes, that we may fear before the Lord, and believe in him, and learn to obey his statutes. David trembled to see Uzzah smitten, 2 Sam. vi. 7, 8; so should we when God revenges the quarrel of any commandment. Examples of judgments are lively instances, and are apt to strike deep upon the heart. Therefore, when we read or hear or see any of these, we should look upon it as a warning piece let off from heaven to warn us not to sin after the similitude of their transgression. God comes to speak to us in the language of sense; when we cannot understand by faith, he makes good his threatenings. The unbelieving Israelites were destroyed, Jude 5; Aaron’s sons for offering strange fire were consumed, Lev. x.; Uzzah for touching the ark; Lot’s wife for looking back turned into a pillar of salt; therefore it is said, ‘Remember Lot’s wife,’ Luke xvii. 32. So in every age there are remarkable judgments, how God treads down those that err from his statutes; which should be observed, not to censure others, but for our own caution.
But now, because men are apt to misapply providence by a malicious 214interpretation, and to make perverse judgments of the sins of others, I shall give you some rules how you may avoid censure on the one hand, yet not hinder profit on the other.
1. It is certain God’s judgments upon others must be observed: Jer. vii. 12, ‘Go unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it, for the wickedness of my people Israel;’ Amos vi. 2, ‘Pass ye to Calneh, and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines: be they better than these kingdoms?’ It is stupidness not to take notice of God’s hand. Providence is a comment upon the word of God, written many times in blood, and those that will not observe it shall feel it. ‘Remember Lot’s wife.’ One observeth upon those words, Lege historiam, nefias liistoria—observe the instances of God’s wrath upon others, lest thou be made an instance thyself. Some times God meets with this sinner, sometimes that; any that will go on in a way of sin and disobedience against God.
2. This observation must be to a good end; not to censure others, for that is malice: to speak even to the grief of those whom God hath wounded, this is condemned, as enemies did of the people of God in their affliction, Jer. l. 7. Neither must we do it to justify ourselves; that is pride and self-conceit, condemned Luke xiii. 5, ‘Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish;’ but for instruction, that we may fear for ourselves: Zeph. iii. 7, ‘Surely now thou shalt fear me.’ And that we may be cautioned against the like sins, that we may see what an evil and bitter thing it is to forsake the Lord, Jer. ii. 19; and that we may admire the Lord’s mercy to us, that we are not set out as marks of his vengeance, that we are not in their condition, Amos vi. 2; that we may give to the Lord the glory of his mercy, justice, and truth. Take one place for all: Rom. xi. 22, there the apostle doth sum up all these three, that we might not boast ourselves over others, that we may admire the justice of God, and mercy to us- ward, and may learn to fear him, and walk cautiously and humbly with him, lest we’ contract the like judgment upon ourselves.
3. In making the observation, there must be care that we do not make providence speak a language which it owneth not, the language of our fancies, and pry into God’s counsels without warrant.
[1.] When you come to observe judgment, there must be a due reasoning from the provocation to the judgment, but not e contra, not judge of the wickedness of the person by the affliction of the person. The barbarians showed little reason, and less charity, in misconstruing the passage of the viper fastening upon St Paul’s hand, Acts xxviii. 4. The foregoing provocation must be evident before we interpret the judgment The dispensations of God’s providence are common, and fall alike to good and bad, Eccles. ix. 2. God by a sudden stroke may take off the godly as well as the wicked. Good Eli broke his neck, 1 Sam. iv. 18, and Josiah died in the army in the same manner that Ahab did, by an arrow in battle after he disguised himself, 1 Chron. xxxv. 23. Therefore do not reason from the stroke of God. Shimei misinterpreted David’s afflictions: 2 Sam. xvi. 7, 8, ‘Come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial; the Lord hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead 215thou hast reigned; and the Lord hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son.’ Job’s friends thought him a hypocrite because God smote him with boils and sores. The best of God’s children may suffer greatly from his hand; but the judgment must not make you conclude a sin, but the foregoing sin must make you interpret it to be a judgment.
[2.] When the sin is written upon the judgment, and there are some remarkable circumstances wherein the sin and the judgment meet; as Judges i. 7, Adonibezek, as he served his vanquished enemies, so was he served himself, his thumbs and toes cut off. God’s retaliation is very notable. Many judgments have a signature upon them, as many herbs in nature have a signature to show for what use they serve: Obad. 15, ‘As thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee; thy reward shall return upon thine own head.’ When God payeth men home in their own coin—Gen. ix. 6, ‘Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed—it is not only a law, what ought to be done in justice, but a rule of providence, what shall be done. Pharaoh was the author of the execution in drowning the Israelites’ children, so Pharaoh and all his host, his nobility and men of war, were drowned in the sea. Ahab’s blood was licked up with dogs in the place where they licked up the blood of Naboth. Jezebel was more guilty than he; Ahab permitted it, but Jezebel contrived it; Ahab humbled himself, therefore his body was buried, but Jezebel was entombed in the bellies of dogs. Haman was hanged on the gallows set up for Mordecai. Henry III. of France was killed in the same chamber where the massacre was contrived. Charles IX. flowed with blood in his bed. Thus God will requite men in the same kind. His own people meet with this. Jacob supplanted his elder brother, and therefore the elder is brought to him instead of the younger. Asa put the prophet in the stocks, and he was diseased in his feet. Joseph’s brethren were not flexible to his request; afterwards, when they were in extremity, Joseph proves inexorable to them: Gen. xlii. 21, ‘We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.’ How comes this into their minds? This was many years after the fact was committed, some twenty years as they computed. So God deals with his children in like manner as they dealt with others, that their consciences may work the more kindly. The same is observed concerning David and Absalom, 2 Sam. xii. 10-12. He took the wife of Uriah to be his wife, and Absalom took his wives before his eyes. St Paul consented to the stoning of Stephen, and assisted in the execution, ‘They laid down their garments at his feet;’ therefore, afterwards, Paul himself for preaching the gospel is stoned and left for dead, Acts xiv. 19, 20. Barnabas was not stoned, that assisted Paul; both were alike offensive to the men of Iconium in preaching the gospel. Paul was sensible of this as a great part of his guilt, Acts, xxii. 20, and his conscience works upon that. Many other instances might be given, but this is enough.
[3.] When judgments fall upon them in the very act of their provocation. Thus many are taken away by a violent death in the very heat of their drunkenness. Zimri and Cozbi lost their lives in the 216very instant when they were unloading their lusts, and many times we see punishment treads upon the heels of sin.
[4.] When they are authors of their own destruction. Not only in such a sensible manner as Saul, Achitophel, and Judas, that murdered themselves; but thus, when men are given up to their headlong counsels, to break themselves: Prov. v. 22, ‘His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be hoi den with the cords of his sins.’ Wicked men are often whipped with their own rods; and Ps. ix. 15,16, ‘In the net which they hid, is their own foot taken. The Lord is known by the judgment which he executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Higgajon, Selah.’ When by their own errors, mistakes, and furious passions they undo themselves.
[5.] When evil men are brought down, wonderfully, suddenly, contrary to all apparent likelihood and the course of second causes: Ps. lxiv. 7, ‘God shall shoot at them with an arrow, suddenly shall they be wounded; so they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves.’ And Ps. lviii. 7, unto the 11th verse, there is this consolation given to the church, that enemies shall be destroyed before the pots feel the thorns. When they are contriving and boiling somewhat in their minds, before the pots feel the thorns, God takes them away suddenly in an instant, and then men shall say, Verily there is a rewarder of evil.
[6.] When God’s judgments are executed by unlikely means and instruments. Sisera, a great captain, destroyed by Jael, Judges iv. 21; Adrian the pope strangled by a gnat; Arius voiding his bowels in a draught after his perjury; Cora, Dathan, and Abiram, when the earth clave to receive them that had made a rent in the congregation; and Herod was eaten up with the lice.
[8.] When God supplies the defects of man’s justice, and their iniquity finds them out, when they think all is forgotten, and shall be no more heard of: Ps. ix. 12, ‘When he maketh inquisition for blood, he remembereth them; he forgetteth not the cry of the humble.’ There are many instances how God finds out men that seem to escape well enough from man’s hands, when they could not be found out by man. Zeph. iii. 5, the prophet tells us, ‘Every morning he will bring his judgments to light.’ There is some sinner or other which God notably punisheth, that men may own his providence.
[9.] When the word κατὰ τὸ ῥητὸν, in the express letter, is made good upon men: Hosea vii. 12, ‘I will chastise them, as their congregation hath heard.’ The word doth fully take effect, and what they would not believe they are made to feel. By these rules we may observe God’s judgments with profit. To quicken you to do so, consider—
(1.) It would be a mighty cure to atheism. There are a sort of men ‘settled on their lees, that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil,’ Zeph. i. 12; that think God is so shut up within the curtain of the heavens, that he takes no notice of what is done below. These vain conceits would soon vanish if men 217would but turn students in God’s providence; they would soon cry out, Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth: they would say, There is a ruler of the affairs of the world, and a righteous judge that takes care of all things here below. Usually men think amiss of God, as if, good and evil were of no respect with him, but all things were governed by chance; as Job’s wife said, ‘Dost thou yet retain thy integrity? Curse God and die.’ Mal. ii. 12, ‘Ye have wearied the Lord with your words, yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?’ We do not see his justice, and so have atheistical and evil conceits of God. When we fancy evil men are in esteem, and the good neglected and despised, it is a temptation to men to think there is no providence—no God. So when the nocent are prosperous, and the good vexed with all manner of displeasure; as Claudian the poet much doubted whether there were any such thing as providence, that had a care of sublunary things; but at length, when he saw Ruffinus was only lifted up that his fall might be the greater, then he no more calls in question God’s providence, or taxes him of indifferency to good and evil.
(2.) It will be a notable curb and awe upon us to keep us from sin; for all these things befall them for our learning. It is our stupid incogitancy when God puts these examples before our eyes, and we are not affected with them, and so are of little use to us: Josh. ix. 3, ‘When the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua did to Jericho and to Ai,’ they were wiser than we; they did not expect the coming of Joshua, but sent messengers to meet him and strike up a covenant with him. Or as that captain that came to Elijah, 2 Kings i. 13, when two captains were destroyed with their fifties, he comes and desires the prophet to spare his life, and that those he brought with him might be dear and precious in his eyes. As he did, so should we. God hath smitten this and that for sin; we should the more humble ourselves, and desire terms of grace; but our blindness and stupidness is such that we are not moved with God’s judgments on others to look to the state of our souls: Prov. xxii. 3, ‘The wise man foreseeth the evil and hideth himself, but the fool goeth on and is punished.’
Secondly, I come now to the reason rendered, ‘For their deceit is falsehood.’ The Septuagint hath on ὅτι ἄδικον τὸ ἐνθύμημα αὐτῶν—thou hast despised all those that err from thy statutes, for their thought is unjust. But to open the words. These two notions, deceit and falsehood, sometimes are taken for the vanity of outward things, the disappointment of trust; for by an ill-built trust a man deceives himself, and his hopes prove false; and sometimes they are put for craft, guile, and hypocrisy. Now, according to these different acceptions of the word, diverse senses are given. (1.) Some think these words relate to the disappointment of their trust. Thus their confidences wherein they trust will deceive them at last, and be found falsehood. Certain it is that carnal men have many imaginations and carnal confidences wherein they flatter themselves, and hope to avoid their appointed judgments, which prove in the conclusion but lying vanities. If this were the sense, that at length it shall appear how deceitful their trust 218is, then it concerns us to see to our trust, to see what in probability these confidences might he whereby they deceive their own souls. Is it their greatness and present height? This deceiveth them when they are brought down wonderfully, Isa. xiv. 12-16. Or is it meant of their devices and witty counsels wherein they trust? But their subtle devices fail, and they are often taken in the snares they laid for others: Isa. xxix. 14, ‘The wisdom of the wise men shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall be hidden.’ All their craft will do them no good; all their cunning and policy, by which they hope to fortify and defend themselves and prevent their ruin, shall come to nought. Or they do not get that by their deceit which they hope for; though they have many methods and stratagems to circumvent the people of God, yet they shall prove but vain. (2.) Most simply it seemeth to be taken for hypocrisy and guile of spirit, manifested either in shows of piety or any guileful course, whereby they would under mine others; for this reason God will bring them down.
Doct. All fraudulency and hypocrisy is hateful to God, therefore he will sooner or later discover and destroy those that practise it.
Fraudulency is twofold:—
1. Either falsehood in ordinary commerce, lying or treacherous imposing on the simplicity of upright and honest men. Most men’s wisdom and policy lies in their falsehood and deceitfulness; but this shall be manifested, and whilst they think to deceive others, they shall be deceived themselves, Job v. 13, and be taken in their own snares; and whilst they seek to ruin and undermine others, they are ruined and undermined themselves. Or—
2. There is another sort of fraudulency, pretences of piety, whereby such men deceive the world. Now this deceit is threefold either the deceit of the heretic and erroneous person, or the formalist and supertitious person, or the deceit of those that pretend to be truly religious. All these cheats put upon the world shall not long hold.
[1.] The cheat of erroneous persons and heretical seducers, who, under a fair mask and plausible appearance, carry on such designs as prove troublesome and noxious to the church of God. Though for a while they carry great sway under colour of a godly life, yet at length God will tread them to dust and nothing, and then all will be counted but deceit. The deceit of heretical seducers is often spoken of in scripture: Rev. ii. 9, ‘I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan;’ and 1 Tim. iii. 5, 9, ‘But they shall proceed no farther; for their folly shall be manifest unto all men.’ When, under a form of godliness, they carry on a horrible design unto the great disturbance of the church, of the kingdom and commonwealth, the day shall declare it, 1 Cor. iii. 13; God will bring them down.
[2.] There is the deceit of superstitious persons and formalists, who seem to be devout, and have great zeal for outward things, not commanded by God; such ‘make a fair show in the flesh,’ Gal. vi. 12, by observing outward and carnal rites, as circumcision, difference of meats, legal purifications; all their religion is but a vain show, to be guile a loose conscience. This same sort of men are again described to be those that ‘speak lies in hypocrisy,’ 1 Tim. iv. 7. These also 219do in time discover the folly of their way, manifested by some notable judgment; for these things take not hold of men’s consciences, but only of their affections; and when public countenance is gone, they are of no more esteem.
[3.] There is the deceit of those that only pretend to be truly religions, and are not so; and because false and counterfeit, they are hateful and abominable to God. Now these God will not only punish in the other world: Mat. xxiv. 51, ‘He shall appoint him his portion with the hypocrites;’ hell seems to be their freehold and patrimony; but here, sooner or later, God will pluck off these vizards, and bring disappointment and ruin upon these deceivers: Prov. xxvi. 26, the hypocrite shall be discovered before the congregation. Things that are counterfeit and false do not long hold out. God will discover them, either by some trying judgment, as he that builds upon the sand, when the winds blow and beat upon the house, down it falls. Earthen vessels, when they come to be scoured, the varnish and paint wears off. Or by some scandalous fall, for ‘that which is lame will soon be turned out of the way,’ Heb. xii. 13. This deceitfulness—
(1.) Is contrary to God, who is a God of truth, Ps. xxxi. 5; the author of truth: Eph. iv. 24, ‘Created after God in righteousness and true holiness;’ and a lover of truth: Ps. li. 3, ‘Thou desirest truth in the inward parts.’ So that it is a great affront to God when men deal falsely: Jer. v. 3, ‘O Lord, are not thine eyes upon the truth?’ Is not that the thing thou lookest after in all the works of men? This is all in all with God.
(2.) It is contrary to justice, charity, and common ingenuity; it destroys the commerce between man and man: Eph. iv. 25, ‘Put away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour; for ye are members one of another.’ It is unnatural and monstrous by lying and deceit to circumvent one another; it is as for one part of the body to destroy another. It is a sin not only unseemly for a Christian, but it tends to the overthrow of all human society, fidelity and mutual trust being the ground of all commerce. Now God will pour out his judgments upon them.
Use. Let this teach us to carry it sincerely both to God and men, for craft will not always succeed. The more real worth in any, the more openly and fairly they carry it. But for motives.
1. You will never else have true solid comfort, until you are real, without dissembling before God and men: 2 Cor. i. 12, ‘For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with guile and fleshly wisdom, we have had our conversation in the world.’ Truth breeds joy and comfort of heart when a man is sincere and acts according to his conscience.
2. You will never hold out without it; your mask will fall off: James i. 8, ‘The double-minded man is unstable in all his ways;; wavering, inconstant, up and down, off and on with God. A hypocrite is compared to a rush that grows in the mire, Job viii. 12; pluck it up, it soon withers: they are like reeds shaken with every wind. And you can have no approbation and acceptation with God; God likes those that are sincere: ‘Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile.’ Who are those who have pardon of sin sealed up to their 220souls? Oh! blessed is that man that can say his sins are forgiven him. Who is that man? ‘In whose spirit there is no guile;’ that is, without dissimulation, fraudulency, and guile: this man enjoys acceptance with God, pardon of sin, justification before God. And the contrary will certainly bring down a heavy judgment.
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