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And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments.—Ver. 43.
IN the first verse of this portion David had begged for deliverance according to the word; this he backeth with several arguments. His first argument was from his enemies, who would else reproach him for his trust. He now enforceth that request from another argument, lest his case and condition should make him afraid, or his disappointments ashamed to own his faith in God’s promises, and so his mouth be shut up from speaking of God and his word, for the edification of others and the confutation of the wicked. Here observe—
1. His request, and take not the word of truth out of my mouth.
2. The profession of his faith, repeated by way of argument and reasons, for I have hoped in thy judgments.
1. For his request. You may wonder why he beggeth that the word of truth may not be taken out of his mouth. Rather you would think he should ask that it might be kept in his heart. But you must consider that confession of truth is very necessary, and in a time of dangers and distresses very difficult. The proper seat of the word of truth is the heart; it must abide there. But when the heart is full, the tongue will speak: ‘I have believed, and therefore have I spoken,’ Ps. cxvi. 10. The word is first in the heart, and then in the mouth; therefore David saith, ‘Take it not out of my mouth.’ And pray, mark, he doth not only deprecate the evil itself, but the degree and extremity of it, ‘Take it not utterly out of my mouth.’ God’s children may not have liberty to speak for him, or if liberty, not such a courage as is necessary. Therefore, though he should or had failed in being ashamed to profess his hope, yet he desireth he might not wholly want either an occasion or a heart so to do; that he might not wholly want an occasion, having no relief and comfort by the promises, nor an heart, as being altogether dismayed or disconsolate.
2. The profession of his faith is renewed, ‘For I have hoped in thy judgments.’ The word משפטים, judgments, signifieth either the law, or the execution of the sentence thereof.
[1.] The law, or whole word of God, so that I have hoped in thy judgments is no more but ‘in thy word do I hope,’ as it is Ps. cxxx. 5, ‘I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.’
[2.] Answerable execution, when the promise or threatening is fulfilled.
(1.) When the promise is fulfilled, that is judgment in a sense; when God accomplisheth what he hath promised for our salvation and deliverance. Thus God is said to judge for his people when he righteth and saveth them according to his word: Lam. iii. 59, ‘O Lord, thou hast seen my wrong; judge thou my cause.’
(2.) But the more usual notion of judgment is the execution of the threatening on wicked men, which being a benefit to God’s faithful servants, and done in their favour, David might well be said to hope for it. Their judgment is our obtaining the promise. Points:—
Doct. 1. It is not enough to believe the word in our hearts, but we must confess it with our mouths.
Doct. 2. Such trials may befall God’s children that the word of truth may seem to be taken out of their mouths.
Doct. 3. At such a time God must be dealt withal, as much concerned in it. David saith to the Lord, ‘Take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth.’
Doct. 4. If it please God to desert us in some passage of our trial, we must not give him over, but deal with him not to forsake us utterly.
Doct. 5. They will not utterly be overcome in their trials who hope in God’s judgments.
Doct. 1. It is not enough to believe the word in our hearts, but we must confess it with our mouths. So it is expressly said, Rom. x. 9. 10, ‘If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved; for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.’ There is the whole sum of Christianity, and it is reduced to these two points—believing with the heart, and confessing with the mouth; an entertaining of Christ in the heart with a true and lively faith, and a confessing of Christ with the mouth in spite of all persecution and danger. So in the first solemn proposal of the gospel: Mark xvi. 16, ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned;’ where not only belief is required, but open profession; for that end serveth baptism, which is a badge and bond a badge to distinguish the worshippers of Christ from others, and a bond to bind us to open profession of the name of Christ, and practice of the duties included therein. So Heb. iii. 1, Jesus Christ is called ‘the great high priest and apostle of our profession.’ The Christian religion is a confession, not a thing to be smothered and kept in secret, or confined to the heart, but to be openly brought forth, and avowed in word and deed to the glory of Christ. If a man should content himself to own God in his heart, what would become of the Church of God, and all his ordinances, and the assemblies of his people, among whom we make this open confession?
1. This confession is necessary as well as the inward belief, because God hath required it by an express law, which law is confirmed by a sanction of great weight and moment, the greatest promises on the one hand, and the greatest penalties and threatening^ on the other. That there is an express law for confession, besides what hath been said already, see 1 Peter iii. 15, ‘Sanctify the Lord God of hosts in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every one that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear;’ where they are required not only to revere God in their hearts, but to be ready to own him with their mouths, and to give a testimony of him when it should be demanded; yea, that sanctifying God in their hearts is required in order to the testimony given with their. mouths, that having due and awful thoughts of God they may not be ashamed to own him before men. Now this is backed with the greatest promises, and on the other side with the severest threatenings. God hath promised no less than salvation to those that confess him: Mat. x. 32, ‘Whosoever will confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.’ Father, this is one of mine. He will do them more honour than possibly they can do him; and Rom. x. 10, ‘With the mouth confession is made to salvation.’ Salvi esse non possumus, saith Austin, nisi ad salutem proximorum etiam ore profiteamur fidem—we cannot be saved unless we profess the faith that we have. On the other side, the neglect of profession, either out of shame or fear, is threatened with the greatest penalties; Mark viii. 38, ‘Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed when he cometh in the glory of his Father with his glorious angels.’ Then, when all shadows flee away, and we would crouch for a little favour, that Christ should be ashamed of us, These were Christians, but cowardly and dastardly ones: I cannot own them to be of my flock and kingdom,—oh, how will our faces gather blackness! The same is Luke ix. 26, ‘Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels.’ So for fear: 2 Tim. ii. 11, ‘If we suffer, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he will deny us.’ So that you see it is not a matter of small moment whether we confess or no, but a thing expressly enjoined by God, and that upon terms of life and death.
2. This confession is of great use, as conducing much to the glory of God and the good of others.
[1.] The glory of God, which should be the great scope and end of our lives and actions, is much concerned in our confessing or not confessing what we believe. When we boldly avow the truth, it is a sign we are not ashamed of our master: Phil. i. 20, ‘According to my earnest expectation and hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also, Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death.’ Ministry or martyrdom, he calls this a magnifying of Christ; whereas flinching, concealing, halving the truth, denying confession, is called a being ashamed of Christ: Luke ix. 26, ‘Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words;’ as if his name were a thing base, unworthy, not to be owned.
[2.] The good of others and their edification is concerned in our confessing^or not confessing. No man is born for himself, and therefore is not only to work out his own salvation, but as much as in him lieth to procure the salvation of others, and to bring God and his truth into request with them; therefore not only to believe with the heart—that concerneth himself, but to confess with the mouth—that concerneth the good of others. When we own the truth, though it cost us dear, that tendeth to the furtherance of the gospel: Phil. i. 12, 13, ‘For I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places,’ &c. But when we dissemble, that is a scandal and a stumbling-block to others, whom we justify and harden in a false way; as Peter, fearing them of the circumcision, dissembled, and ‘the Jews dissembled with him, insomuch that Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation,’ Gal. ii. 12, 13, Men of public fame and-favour, when they are not men of courage and of self-denying spirits, their temporising may do a great deal of hurt, and, like a torrent, or stream, carry others with them. Oh, let us beware of this! Zuinglius saith, Ad aras Jovis et Veneris adorare, ei sub antichristo fidem occultare, idem est—as well worship before the altars of Jupiter and Venus, as hide our faith under antichrist. Fear and weakness excuseth not. The fearful and unbelieving are put with murderers and sorcerers and idolaters, and sent together to the lake that burneth with fire and brim stone, Rev. xxi. 8.
Use 1. To reprove them that think it to be enough to own the truth in their hearts, without confessing it with their mouths. This libertinism prevailed at Corinth, where they thought they might be present at idols’ feasts, as long as in their consciences they knew that an idol was nothing. The apostle argueth against them, 2 Cor. vi., and concludes his argument thus: 2 Cor. vii. 1, ‘Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.’ To pretend to serve God in my heart, whosoever thinks so mocketh God and deceiveth himself. He that warreth with the enemies of his prince, and is as forward in battle as any of the rest, can he say, I reserve the king my heart and affections? Or when a woman prostituteth her body to another, will the husband be content with such an excuse, that she reserveth her heart for him? God is not a God of half of a man: he made the whole body and soul r and will be served with both; he bought both: 1 Cor. vi. 20, ‘Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your bodies and in your spirits, which are God’s.’ Therefore you should not only love him in your hearts, but openly plead for him and maintain his quarrel. The devil asketh but Christ’s knee: Mark iv. 9, ‘Fall down and worship me.’ What I were all the martyrs of God rash, inconsiderate, that suffered so many things rather than lose their liberty in God’s service? Would we be content God should deal with us as we deal by him, glorify their souls only, love their souls, but punish their bodies eternally?
2. Them that, though not tainted with this libertine principle, yet are afraid or ashamed to own the truth.
[1.] Some afraid because of troubles and persecution. Hath Christ endured so much for us, and shall we be afraid to own his truth? God forbid! If I would fear, whom should I be afraid of? Mat. x. 28, ‘Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.’ Whom should a child fear, his father or the servants of his house? So, whom should we fear, God or man, a prison or hell?
2. Ashamed in peace and out of trouble, ashamed to own Christ in such company, or to speak of God and his word. O Christians! shall we be ashamed to speak for him that was not ashamed to die for us, or count religion a disgrace which is our glory? Would a father take it well that his son should be ashamed of him? Are we ashamed of the gospel, the great charter of our hopes, the seeds of the new life, the power of God to salvation?’ Rom. i. 1 6, ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, which is the power of God to salvation.’ Oh, shake off this baseness! John v. 44, ‘How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that comes from God only?’
Use 2. To exhort us to confess with the mouth, and to own the truths we are persuaded of. And here I shall handle the case of profession.
1. How far it is necessary. It is a matter intricate and perplexed, and therefore I care not to comprise all cases, but to the most notable I shall speak.
2. As to the manner how this profession is to be made.
1. How far we are bound to profess.
[1.] The affirmative.
[2.] The negative.
[1.1 The affirmative.
(1.) It is certain that the great truths must be owned and publicly professed, or else Christ would not have a visible people in the world, distinct from pagans and heathens. Our baptism bindeth us to this profession, and to all practices consonant and agreeable with it: Rom. x. 10, ‘With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.’ To own Christ as the Saviour of the world, evidenced by his resurrection from the dead.
(2.) It is certain we must do nothing to contradict the truth in the smallest matters: 2 Cor. xiii. 8, ‘We can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.’ Nothing contrary to the glory of God, or the prejudice of the least truth, whatever it costs us.
(3.) In lesser truths, when they are ventilated and brought forth upon the stage, and God crieth out, Who is on my side, who? we ought not to give up ourselves to an indifferency, to hide our profession for any danger: 2 Peter i. 12, ‘Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.’ The church of God is out of repair sometimes in one point, sometimes in another; the orthodoxy of the generality of men is usually an age too short in things now afoot; they go wrong, or forbear to give help to the church, be cause the god of this world hath blinded their eyes. Fight Christ, fight antichrist, they are resolved to be lookers-on.
(4.) When our non-profession shall be interpreted to be a denial. Thus Daniel, chap. vi. 10, opened his casement, which looked towards Jerusalem, and prayed three times a day as he was wont. We must rather suffer than deny the truth by interpretation, when such practices are urged as cross a principle, and we comply.
(5.) When others are scandalised by our non-profession, or not owning the truths of Christ; that is, not only with the scandal of offence or contestation, but with the scandal of seduction, in danger to sin; and to run into error by our not appearing for God, the interest of truth should prevail above our ease and private content.
(6.) When an account of my faith is demanded, and I am called forth to give testimony for Christ, especially by magistrates: Mat. x. 18, ‘Ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles: 1 Peter iii. 15, ‘Be always ready to give an answer to every one that asketh a reason of the hope that is in you,’ provided it be not in scorn: Prov. xxvi. 4, 5, ‘Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.’ Answer and answer not; not out of curiosity, as Herod questioned Christ many things, but he answered him nothing, Luke xxiii. 9; or to be a snare, Isa. xxxvi. 21, ‘They held their peace, and answered him not a word, for the king’s commandment was, saying, Answer him not,’ nor parley with Rabshakeh. In such cases you must not ‘cast pearls before swine, lest they turn again and rend you,’ Mat. vii. 6.
(7.) When impulsions are great, and fair opportunities are offered in God’s providence: Acts xvii. 16, ‘While Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.’ It is an intimation from God that then it is seasonable to interpose for his glory.
[2.] Negatively, which is to be forborne.
(1.) Till you be fully persuaded in your own mind of the truth which you would profess, for otherwise we shall appear with a various and doubtful face to the world, changing and wavering according to the uncertainty of our own thoughts, and so make the profession of religion ridiculous. We often see cause to suspect what before we were strongly conceited of. There is a certain credulity and lightness of believing which men are subject to. Now when this breaks out into sudden profession, men run through all sects and religions, and so blast and blemish their own service, therefore what is contrary to the received sense, especially of the godly, ought to be weighed and weighed again before we appear to the world to be otherwise minded.
(2.) When the profession of a lesser truth proves an offence to the weak, and a disturbance to the church, and a hindrance of some greater benefit. All private opinions must give way to the great law of edification: Rom. xiv. 22, ‘Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God.’ We must not perplex weak souls with doubtful disputations, till they be established in greater things; neither must the peace of the church be troubled with nice debates, but all things must give way to the profit and general edification.
(3.) When the unseasonable venting of things will do more hurt than good, and the sway of the times and strong tide and current of prejudices running down against us hinder all probability of doing good, then our profession now may deprive us of a more useful profession another time: Prov. xxix. 11, ‘A fool uttereth all his mind, but he that is wise keepeth it in till afterward.’ Paul was at Ephesus two years before he spake against Diana, Acts xix. 10; only intimated in general terms that they were no gods that were made with hands. When we cannot effect the good things we desire, nor in that holy manner we would, we must not obstruct our future service, but commend the cause to God. and wait further opportunity to do good.
2. The manner how to make profession.
[1.] Knowledge must be at the bottom of profession. Some will run before they can go, leap into opinions and practices before they gee the reasons of them; and then no wonder they are as children, ‘carried about with every wind of doctrine,’ Eph. iv. 14. Wherefore, that which we profess we must do it knowingly, that we may be able to render a reason of all that we do profess.
J2.] Gracious wisdom to espy the due occasion when God is glorified our neighbour edified. Bash, arrogant, and presumptuous spirits are heady, high-minded, disgrace religion more than honour it.
[3.] With boldness to do it freely and without fear of men: Acts iv. 13, ‘When they saw the boldness of Peter and John.’.&c.; ver. 29, ‘Grant to thy servants that with all boldness they may speak thy word;’ and 1 Tim. iii. 13, ‘They that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus;’ Acts ix. 27, ‘Barnabas declared unto them how he had preached boldly to them at Damascus in the name of Jesus;’ ver. 29, ‘He spake boldly in the name of Jesus;’ Acts xiv. 3, ‘Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord;’ Acts xiii. 46, ‘Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold.’ Fear and shame argueth diffidence of the truth which we profess, or else a distrust of the 3rod from whom it cometh, or at least the unsoundness of the professing party, that he hath a naughty conscience, or a great deal of fleshly fear unmodified. As he cannot walk stoutly that has a stone in his shoe, so he that hath sin in his conscience. Obmutescit facundia si aegra sit conscientia, saith Ambrose—a bad conscience stoppeth the mouth.
[4.] With sincerity, without dissimulation and guile. Profession without answerable duty is like leaves without fruit. Words must come from the heart. To be talking of God when they lie under the guilt of known sins. James ii. 16, ‘If one say unto the poor, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit?’ Ps. l. 16, 17, ‘Unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldst take my covenant into thy mouth, seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my word behind thee?’
[5.] With meekness and reverence: Peter iii. 15, ‘Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;’ not in a passionate, froward, arrogant way, but with meekness of spirit, without all show of passion, and with sober and respectful language.
[6.] The general end is the glory of God and the edification of our neighbour; and the means to this end is the fear of God, which keeps us out of all faulty extremes: Eccles. vii. 16, 17, ‘Be not righteous over-much, neither make thyself over-wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? Be not over-much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?’ Some drive all things to extremity, hot like gunpowder; others freeze into a compliance and time serving. When the heart is seasoned by the fear of God, and we are guided by reasons of conscience rather than interest, and we constantly wait upon God for direction, then will God guide us.
Doct. 2. Such trials may befall God’s children that the word of truth may seem to be taken out of their mouths.
This may come to pass two ways:—
1. They may not have liberty to own it; as Acts iv. 18, 19, ‘They commanded them not to speak at all, nor to teach in the name of Jesus: and they said, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you or unto God, judge ye.’ The magistrate’s command is a silencing of them, shutting of their mouths; only here cometh a question whether ministers forbidden by magistrates should desist from preaching? If we say they ought, it seems to be against the apostle’s reply; if we say not, we shall seem to deny obedience to secular and politic powers, who ought to be satisfied in the persons that exercise a public ministry in their dominions, and so lay a foundation for public disturbance and disorder. For answer We must distinguish between persons employed to preach the gospel; some immediately called by Christ himself, others mediately called by men; some fallible and obnoxious to errors and many failings, which render them unworthy of such a calling; others infallibly guided and assisted. These latter, without flat disobedience and injury to Christ, could not own any command contrary to the precedent authority of Christ, being the only men of that order that could witness these things. It is true ‘a necessity is laid upon us’ of preaching the gospel, 1 Cor. ix. 16, so as not voluntarily to relinquish our station, but we may be forced to give way to the greater force. Some are silenced by authority and opposition of men, a dispensation God often permitteth for despising the truth and playing the wanton with an opportunity of open profession. When men dally with the light, God removeth their candlestick, and the door is shut upon them.
2. They may not have courage to own the word of truth for fear of danger, because of many adversaries. There is a great deal of this unmortified fleshly fear in the best, and may be tongue-tied when God’s glory is concerned, and awed by the menaces and insults of evil men, or discouraged, that they dare not trust God with events, and are out of all hope of success: Ezek. iii. 26, ‘I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, and thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them for a reprover, for they are a rebellious house.’ By these and many other ways they may be discouraged from speaking of God and his truth. But now, when such a case falleth out, what shall we do? That in the third point.
Doct. 3. At such a time God must be dealt withal about it upon two grounds:—
1. Because God hath a great hand in the judgment. In the outward case, want of liberty, nothing falleth out without his providence; he seeth fit sometimes to exercise his people with unreasonable men, for ‘all have not faith,’ 2 Thes. iii. 2, that obstruct and hinder the course of the gospel; some that be like Elymas the sorcerer, ‘enemies to all goodness,’ Acts xiii. 10. And this in ecclesia constituta, in the bosom of the church, where orthodox faith is professed, where magistrates be Christians, and should be nursing fathers to the church. la Abraham’s family, which Paul makes the pattern of our estate to the end of the world: Gal. iv. 29, ‘But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the spirit, even so it is now.’ These may prevail many times to the great discouragement of the faithful. God may suffer it to be so for the punishing and trying of his people: Acts xix. 9, ‘But when divers were hardened and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.’ Then, as to the inward case, he may justly desert us in the time of trial, when we should give a testimony for him, and take the word of truth out of our mouths. All these speeches: ‘Hide not thy commandments from me,’ ver. 19; ‘Incline not mine heart to covetousness,’ ver. 26; and here, ‘Take not thy word out of my mouth,’ and many such like, relate to God’s judicial sentence, in what he doth as a judge. Upon our evil deserving he withdraweth his grace, and then we are delivered over to our own fears and baseness of spirit. Besides our own fault there is judicial tradition on God’s part, which takes away the heart and courage of men: Job xii. 24, ‘He taketh away the heart of the chief of the people, and causeth them to wander in a wilderness, where there is no way.’ Now none can suspend God’s sentence but God himself. If he shut who can open? therefore he is to dealt with.
2. God only can give us a remedy by his grace and power; therefore our great business lieth with him, in regard of the power of his providence, by which he can remove rubs and oppositions: 2 Thes. iii. 1, ‘Pray for us, that the word of God may have a free course,’ ἵνα ὁ λόγος τοῦ Θεοῦ τρέχῃ—that it may run as chariot wheels on smooth ground, without rubs and oppositions. There are many times mountains’ in the way, potent oppositions and strongly combined interests, that hinder the liberty of the word; but God can smoothe them into a plain: Zech. iv. 7, ‘Who art thou, great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain.’ Opposition seemeth insuperable. That great mountain that obstructed the work of God was the court of Persia, instigated and set on by the Samaritan faction—a great mountain indeed; but as great as it is, God can thresh it into dust, when it hindereth his interest. As to the inward case, it is God that giveth a spirit of courage and fortitude, and ‘a mouth and wisdom which all the adversaries shall not be able to gainsay or resist,’ Luke xxi. 15; he will give it us in that hour what we shall say. So God encourageth Moses when he pleadeth his slowness of speech: ‘Who hath made man’s mouth, or who maketh the dumb or deaf, or the seeing or the blind? Have not I the Lord?’ Exod. iv. 10, 11. Whatever inclination of heart there be in the creature, it is God must give a spirit and a presence, by the continual influence of his grace. He frees the heart from fears, and ordereth the tongue; for the power of the tongue is no more in our hands than the affections of the heart: Prov. xvi. 1, ‘The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord,’ παῤῥησία, is the gift of God, that we own him and his truth.
Use. Let, then, every person be dealing with God about this case, every single private person for himself; and for public persons the prayers of others are necessary; it is a common case, wherein all are concerned: Col. iv. 3, ‘Praying for us, that God would open to us a door of utterance to speak the mystery of Christ;’ Eph. vi. 19, ‘Pray for me that utterance may be given me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel.’ They that are sensible of the weight of the ministerial charge and their own many infirmities, and how much it concerns us to own all the truths of God in their season, let us beg of God this boldness, and set others a-begging for us.
1. Humbly confessing our ill-deservings. It is a sign God is angry when he suffereth his gospel to be obstructed, much more when the mouths of his ministers are shut up that they shall not plead for his interest and truths. It is a notable sign of his departure that he is not much concerned in the progress of the gospel. God’s raising spirits is a hopeful presage. Oh, therefore, let us humble ourselves before the Lord!
2. Earnestly; for it is a case that concerneth us deeply, because upon our trial we should be strict and precise: Phil. i. 20, ‘My hope and expectation is that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness’ own Christ. It would be sad if the gospel should suffer loss by us. Alas! what a torment to us will the thought of it be, that we have dishonoured God, and wronged souls, and strengthened the hands of the wicked! Origen, who had exhorted others to martyrdom, having himself bowed under the persecution, could never more open his mouth to preach the gospel, though often requested to it; only one day, having taken for his text Ps. 1. 16, ‘Unto the wicked he saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?’ he wept very much, and could speak no more. Oh, therefore, it is no slight thing!
3. Deal with God believingly; pray in faith. There are two considerations in the text which may fortify us:—
[1.] Because it is a word of truth.
[2.] There are judgments to be executed on the hinderers of the word of truth.
[1.] It is a word of truth, and that will prevail at length, however it be obstructed for a time. In the first publishing of the gospel this was manifested, when the whole world was conspired to shut the door against it: 1 Cor. xvi. 9, ‘A great door and effectual is opened to me, and there are many adversaries.’ A few fishermen, who had not the power of the long sword, yet it is spread far and near. The fathers often urged this. Clemens Alexandrinus saith, Proposition Graeciae philosophiam si quivis magistratus prohibuerit, en statim perit; nostram autem doctrinam a prima usque ejus praedicatione prohibent reges, duces, magistratus cum universis satellitibus, illa tamen non flaccescit ut humana doctrina, sed magis floret. It spread far and near, the first reformation, what small beginnings it had.
[2.] There are judgments, strange providences, by which God breaketh opposition, either changing the hearts of men, or else cutting them off in the mid-way, ‘when his wrath his kindled but a little,’ Ps. ii. 12. They dash against the corner-stone. God will show himself mighty and powerful in promoting the word of truth, and will carry on the kingdom of Christ over the backs of his enemies.
Doct. 4. We should not give over dealing with God, though he is pleased to desert us in some passages of our trials, that he may not forsake us utterly.
Many of God’s choicest servants have been tripping: Ps. lxxiii. 21, ‘As for me, my feet were almost gone, my steps had well-nigh slipped;’ but they recover themselves again. Peter fell for a time, but after wards groweth bold. Once timorous Peter, but, Acts iv. 13, ‘When they saw the boldness of Peter and John.’ The martyrs that were permitted for a while to deny the truth, yet were not permitted to deny it utterly; they bewailed their faults, and suffered the more courageously. (1.) It is fit the creatures should know themselves; therefore God will humble us, and in part leave us to our own fears, but not wholly leave us destitute of grace; as the nurse seemeth to let the child fall, that he may clasp the more strongly about her. (2.) It is fit the world should know that a zealous defence of the truth comes not from natural stubbornness and pertinacity, but from divine assistance; therefore God showeth what the flesh would do, how it would shrink in the confession of the truth, if it were permitted to prevail. (3.) It is fit we should see the necessity of continual dependence. After grace received we have not always the same presence of mind so as to plead for God, but only as he is pleased to influence us: our case doth change and alter, ebb and flow, as it pleaseth God.
Use. Not to be severe against those that fail out of infirmity, nor to cast them off, for God doth not pity them; rather than censure them, let us help them out of the mire. Unhumbled hearts, that are puffed up with pride and confidence in their own strength, when out of the temptation may judge it a task of no great difficulty to carry it with courage, and will readily condemn others of cowardice and backsliding who ride not out the storm with as much courage and cheerfulness and resolution as they conceive themselves would do: Job iv. 5-7, ‘Now it is come upon thee and thou faintest, it toucheth thee and thou art troubled. Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, and the uprightness of thy ways thy hope?’ But a humble heart, acquainted with sufferings, will not judge so: he is sensible of weakness, and how hard it is for flesh and blood to deny itself, and to prefer a good conscience before safety and worldly increase: how ready it is to faint under a continued cross, how crafty to find out evasions to beguile itself into a way of sin, that they pity the poor tempted man. In the primitive times, Novatus and his followers denied those that had fallen to be received into the communion of the church, though upon repentance.
Doct. 5. They will not be utterly overcome in their trials that hope in God’s judgments. Why?
1. Because this hope will teach us to wait upon the Lord until he show us better things: Ps. lxii. 5, ‘My soul, wait thou upon the Lord, for my expectation is from him.’ They can tarry a little while, and so are not carried away with the violence of the present temptation. It is an inclination to present things that undoeth us. ‘Demas hath forsaken us and loved this present world.’ Now, when we can wait for future things, the soul is stayed and kept from apostasy. We read of ‘the patience of hope,’ 1 Thes. i. 3. And the apostle saith, Rom. viii. 25, ‘If we do hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.’ He that believeth a better condition is not dejected with present evils.
2. It fortifieth the soul against present difficulties, so as they do not unsettle, but quicken us. It hath an apprehension that the good is hard to be obtained, therefore it gathereth all the force and strength of the soul to resist it.
For the nature of hope, see the Sermon on the 114th verse.
Well, then, hope in God’s judgments. Consider who hath made the promises. Is it not God, whose word cannot fail of its effect? Rom. iv. 20, 21, ‘He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform.’ And then consider how he standeth affected to us. Doth not he love us? And also in what relation he is obliged to us as a Father. And then consider what doth the promise say, and how it maketh for his glory to accomplish it; what plentiful means he hath in store to bring to pass what he hath spoken, and what a potent and wise intercessor we have to plead our cause at the right hand of the Father, and to mind him still of whatever concerns our comfort!
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