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Thou, through thy commandments, hast made me wiser than mine enemies; for they are ever with me.—Ver. 98.
I COME now to the second consideration, they are wiser than their enemies as to security against their attempts, and that enmity and opposition that they carry on against them; they are far more safe by walking under the covert of God’s protection, than their enemies can possibly be, to have all manner of worldly advantages. I shall prove it by this argument, because they are more prepared and furnished as to all events. A godly wise man is careful to keep in with God; he is more prepared and furnished, can have a higher hope, more expectation of success, than others have; or if not, he is well enough provided for, though things fall out never so cross to his desires.
1. As to success. Who hath made wiser provision, think you, he that hath made God his friend, or he that is borne up with worldly props and dependences? they that are guided by the Spirit of God, or they that are guided by Satan? those that make it their business to walk with God step by step, or those that not only forsake him, but provoke him to his face? those that break with men and keep in with God, or those that break with God? Surely a child of God hath more security from piety than his enemies can have by secular policy, whereby they think to overreach and ruin him. The safety of a child of God lieth in two things—(1.) God is his friend; (2.) As long as God hath work for him to do, he will maintain him and bear him out in it.
[1.] God is his friend; and that must needs be a man’s wisdom when he complies with the will of him upon whom he depends. All things do absolutely depend upon the providence of God; he hath wisdom, strength and dominion over all events. The wisdom of God is on his side, and therefore it is but the wisdom of men against him. If the difference only lay between men and men, the craft and policy of their enemies and their own craft and policy, the scales would soon break of their enemies’ side, for they are wiser in their generation, Luke xvi. They have great abilities and great malice, which sharpens men’s understandings; they have a large conscience, and more liberty to do what they will; so that a child of God is gone if it were to oppose craft with craft; and usually they carry their matters more subtilly, laying hidden snares and profound counsels; whereas the children of God carry it simply and plainly. But then there is a wise God to act for a foolish people, and sometimes God may give his people great abilities; as Joseph was wiser than his brethren, Moses wiser than the Egyptians, Daniel than all the magicians of Babylon. But yet usually parts and secular wisdom are given to the enemies. Only a child of God hath this point of wisdom above the enemies, he taketh in with the wise God, which is the ready and compendious way to success; whereas secular wisdom takes a long way about, and must work through many mediums and subordinate causes before the intended effect can be brought about: Ps. xxxvii. 12, 13, ‘The wicked plotteth against the just.’ God is the other party: ‘The Lord shall laugh at him; for he seeth that his day is coming.’ He doth not say the just counterbalance the wicked, or strains his wit to match his enemy with craft, but God hath a providence and love, ever waking on his behalf; therefore it lies not between policy and piety, but between men’s craft and God’s wisdom. Then he hath the power of God on his side, and therefore he is wiser than his enemies, he is of the stronger side: Gen. xvii. 1, ‘I am God all-sufficient; walk before me and be thou perfect.’ All warping comes from doubting of God’s all-sufficiency, evidenced by our carnal fear, and our distrustful care what shall become of us and how we shall do to live. Certainly, if God be able, we need not doubt, or run to in direct courses. Again, he hath him of his side who hath dominion over all events. Carnal policy is full of jealousies; they know not what will succeed, they have no sure bottom to stand upon; they are not sure of events, when their business is never so well laid. But now a child of God is wiser, and hath much the more comfortable course, as well as successful; he can do his duty, and leave the event to God. When a business is never so well and cunningly laid, yet God loves to dispose of events, and to take the wise in their own craft,’ Job v. 12, 13. They are outwitted, and they outreach themselves, that so Christ may, as it were, get upon the devil’s shoulders, and even be beholden to his enemies. Never are they such fools as when they seem to say things wisely against God and his people. Carnal wisdom is the greatest folly: it brought Moses to the flags, but Pharaoh to the bottom of the sea. The devil was the first fool of all the creation, and ever since his first attempts against his God he hath been playing the fool for these thousands of years. The tempting our first parents seemed a masterpiece of wit, but it was indeed the ruin of his kingdom. So in the attempts of wicked men against his people, God still disposeth of the event contrary to their aim.
[2.] As long as God hath work for him to do, he will maintain him and bear him out in the midst of all dangers; that is certain; as he did David in the very face of Saul. There is an invisible guard set upon plain-hearted and zealous Christians; every day they do as it were, by their pleading against the corruptions of wicked men, exasperate them; they are in the secret of God’s presence, and are kept none know how; none so nigh to dangers, yet none so free from them; in the lion’s mouth, yet preserved, as Christ lived in the midst of his enemies, yet they could not touch him till his hour was come, John xi. 8-10. Christ had work to do in Judea: ‘Master,’ say the disciples, ‘the Jews of late sought to stone thee, and goest thou thither again? And Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world; but if a man walk in the night he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.’ In the disciples’ question is bewrayed the true genius of carnal fear. Oh, men say, why will you go run yourself into the mouth of danger? They think the discharge of duty will cost them their utter ruin: ‘Master, the Jews sought to kill thee.’ Now Christ’s answer showeth that men should not choose their way according to their apprehensions of danger and safety, but as God cleareth a call to them; he answers by a similitude taken from God’s order in the course of nature. God made the day for work, and the night for rest and sleep; now as long as men have daylight they will not stumble, but if they set forth in the night, then they would stumble. The meaning is, as long as a man hath a clear call from God (for a call from God is compared to the day), and can say, This is a duty God hath put upon me, he hath daylight, he shall not stumble; though he doth come and go in the face and teeth of enemies on God’s cause, and plead against their corruptions and base miscarriages, he shall not stumble. Indeed, when a man is in the dark, and knows not what God’s mind is, then he is ever and anon stumbling. A Christian is to study his duty rather than his danger, and then leave t he care of all events to God; he is in a safe course when he is in God’s way, and shall not be interrupted till he have finished his work: Luke xiii. 31, 32, ‘The Pharisees said unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence, for Herod will kill thee. And he said, Go tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’ If he cast himself into troubles, he is sure they are not sinfully procured; but men that run on danger without a calling may meet with many a snare, or he that doth not observe his call meet with more difficulties than ever he thought of: 1 Peter iii. 13, ‘And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?’ The best way to eschew trouble is to adhere closely to what is right in the sight of God; he can allay their fury, putting convictions upon their conscience. A man would think to stand nicely upon terms of duty is to run in harm’s way; and there are none so much harmed, maligned, and opposed in the world as those that follow that which is good, as those that will have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but will reprove them rather; possibly they may hate and malign you if you keep to that which is good, but they cannot harm your consciences. God can allay the rage of men, by putting convictions upon their consciences, evidencing your sincerity; as the history saith, when the Arians persecuted the orthodox Christians, they durst not meddle with Paulinus out of reverence. Therefore who will harm you if you be followers of that which is good?
2. In case things succeed ill with him, and contrary to his expectation, yet they are wiser than their enemies can be, because they have provided for the worst. Carnal policy is but wisdom in opinion for a time, not always, while they have matter to work upon in the world; but these always, in prosperity and adversity.
[1.] Because he hath secured his great interest, which lies in the favour of God and in hopes of eternal life. God, by his commandment, hath taught him this wisdom, to make sure of the kingdom of God, and then a man is safe; whatever happens, nothing can befall him that doth endanger his hopes, or endamage his interest in Christ; if they kill him, they do but put him there where he would be; he hath secured his great interest; persecutors cannot reach the better part: Luke xii. 4, they ‘kill the body, after that they can do no more.’ A good man, let them do what they can, can come to no hurt; he is indeed like a die; cast him high or low, still he falls upon his square; he hath a bottom to stand upon, hopes to support him.
[2.] Because he hath fitted his spirit for all kind of conditions. A man that is to go a long journey must prepare for all weathers; so a Christian must learn to be abased as well as to abound, Phil. iv. Now a mortified man hath the advantage of all the world; a man that is dead to worldly interests hath the advantage of all others for doing and suffering for God, and in noble and generous actions. It is our affections that increase our afflictions, that make us so base and pusillanimous: 1 Cor. vii. 31, ‘Rejoice as if you rejoiced not, weep as though ye wept not.’ If our hearts did not rejoice so much in the creature, if we were in a greater indifferency to worldly things, the loss and miscarriage of them would not surprise us with so great terror. A mortified man is wiser than other men, because he hath plucked out the root of all trouble, which is an inordinate affection; and then let his condition be never so bad, he is fortified. Temperance makes way for patience: 2 Peter i. 6, ‘Add to temperance, patience.’ Temperance, or a moderation in the enjoyment of all things, tends to patience in the loss of them. A man that possesseth them without love can lose them without grief. They may lessen his estate, but cannot lessen his comfort. Therefore this is the man that can ‘pray always, rejoice evermore, in everything give thanks,’ for giving and taking, for the word of God hath taught him this holy weanedness from worldly things.
[3.] He can look to the end of all things, not only to the present, but the future: Heb. xi. 1, ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ He can see victories in a down fall; and this is a wisdom proper to faith, to see the overthrow of the church’s enemies when they rise up and prosper. A natural man may look above his condition as long as he seeth any probability in second causes, but ‘faith is the evidence of things not seen.’ When there is no probable way, then it can look above them. Reason usually is short-sighted, it ‘cannot see afar off,’ 2 Peter i. 9; it cannot look be yond the cloud and veil of present discouragement. But now faith can see one contrary in another, see a good end in bad means, and those things that make against them to make for them; and what in itself is hurtful, is altogether tempered by God’s hand, and to the greatest good, Rom. viii. 28; Ps. xxxvii. 37, 38, ‘Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace but the end of the wicked shall be cut off;’ and Ps. lxxiii. 17, ‘I went into the sanctuary, and there I understood their end.’ Those that are governed by sense, will, and passion, cannot be wise, for they do not see to the end; but he that lives by faith looks not to appearances, but seeth the end; therefore this man can bear up with hope and courage in the midst of all difficulties and troubles.
Use 1. Caution against two things—carnal fear and carnal policy.
1. Against carnal fear. Many are troubled when they consider the power and cunning of the enemies of God’s people. Ay! but you need not be dismayed when you do, in the simplicity of your hearts, give up yourselves to the direction of God’s word; you need not fear all their craft; when they are confounded and broken to pieces by their own devices, you shall stand firm. It seemeth to be the greatest folly in the world to keep at a distance from the rising side; in time it will be found to be the greatest wisdom. You think they carry their matters with a great deal of cunning, whilst they slight God and tread the unquestionable interests of Christ under foot, and that the cause of God will never get up again. Since they reject the word of God, what wisdom have they? Jer. viii. 9. When you fail, will you believe the word of God, or the doubtful face of outward things? Be sure once you are in God’s way, and then you cannot miscarry finally. Will not Christ uphold the ministry in despite of the devil and evil men? Have we not the word of God to secure these hopes for us? Therefore what need we fear what wicked wretches attempt against us? Doth not God love righteousness? Will he not take vengeance? And in their highest prosperity, may not we see their downfall? Therefore why should we be afraid?
2. Then take heed of carnal policy; for we are made wiser than our enemies through the commandment. We must not oppose craft with craft, for so Satan will be too hard for us in the use of his own weapons. That is not wisdom to run to shifts, and to carnal and sinful devices. There is a wisdom that is necessary for the children of God: Mat. x. 16, ‘I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be wise as serpents, simple as doves.’ Ever it was so with God’s people; they are sheep in the midst of wolves, destitute of all outward support: ‘Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.’ Carry yourselves prudently and holily in my service. That wisdom and knowledge which doth not agree with justice, but puts upon doing things that are unjust, that is craft, not wisdom. Now though Christ hath bid us be wise, yet he hath forbidden us to be crafty. When you run to carnal shifts, you think to be wiser than God. All the mischiefs of the present age have merely been occasioned by unbelief. We durst not trust God in his own way, but will run to carnal practices merely to prevent evil, and you see how we are entangled in all manner of confusion. Jeroboam would be wiser than God; God would have settled the kingdom upon him, but he ran to a way of his own, and that was his undoing. Take heed of this fleshly wisdom: 2 Cor. i. 12, ‘Not in fleshly wisdom, but in simplicity and godly wisdom.’ The more simple and plain a Christian walks according to the direct letter of the scripture, the more safe he is; but when he doth run to those baser courses, merely out of distrust to God, all things come to ruin. Carnal policy never succeeds well with the children of God; never did a Christian thrive by carnal policy, or using carnal fetches for carnal ends; God crosseth them. A man that will walk by the light of his own fire is sure to be led out of the way of peace and happiness. When they for sake the light of God’s word and Spirit, and follow a false light, they run into sorrow and inconvenience; and therefore weaker Christians are sometimes safer than those of stronger parts, that lean to their own understandings and trust to carnal policy.
Use 2. To prize the scriptures, because of this wisdom, that is to be gotten in them. A very poor creature that walks in the fear of God is wise to avoid the chiefest danger, to secure the greatest interest, to avoid hell beneath, Prov. xv. 24; that wisdom hath escaped the greatest danger, the wrath of God, and made sure of heaven, Christ, and salvation, his great interest. He that gives up himself to be governed by God’s word, though never so plain and simple, will be found to be the wisest in the issue: Ps. cxix. 24, ‘Thy testimonies are my delight and my counsellors.’ When God’s testimonies are the men of our counsel, this is that which will give true wisdom. All things in this world are mutable and uncertain, they continue not long; we cannot foresee all changes, therefore a wise man may be mistaken sometimes, and do things he could wish were never done if he had consulted with God. Therefore now be wise; this will tell you when to act and when to forbear, not to be over-wise nor over-foolish.
Use 3. To get this wisdom from, the word of God that will make you wiser than your adversaries: Prov. iv. 7, ‘Get wisdom, that is the principal thing, and with all thy gettings get understanding.’ There are some maxims (if we would have this wisdom so as to be wiser than our enemies) and some graces.
First, Some maxims:—
4. All that befalls the people of God is either, good, or tends to good, Rom viii. 28.
5. That when deliverance is more for our turn than bondage, yokes, and oppression, we shall be sure to have it. God hath engaged himself by covenant that ‘he will withhold no good thing,’ Ps. lxxxiv. 11.
6 Close adherence to God, and constancy in obedience, is the surest way to present ease and future deliverance Ps. cxxv. 3.
7. It is better to attend God’s leisure than to get out of trouble by any carnal means of our own, Isa. xxxviii. 15.
9. Then is our adversary wiser than we, when his opposition draws us to sin; then and then only are we foiled by our adversary.
Secondly, There are some graces also make us wise
1. To this wisdom faith is necessary. If we could but depend upon God in a good, plain, and downright course, we would not run to shifts, nor change ourselves into all shapes and colours, cameleon-like (unless it be white); but you would support yourselves with this, that he would maintain you and bear you out.
2. Fear of God, which makes us tender of spirit, that we dare not offend God nor break a rule for all the world; he fears a commandment more than a thousand dangers: Prov. xiii. 13, ‘He that fears the commandment shall be safe from fear of danger.’ If a commandment stand in his way, he dares not go through; it is more than if all the terrors of the world stand in his way; he will endure all hazards rather than break through a command.
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