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Righteous art thou, O Lord, and upright are thy judgments.—Ver. 137.
FOR the other part of the objection, that those which desire to be most faithful with God are calamitous and afflicted, as Lazarus lay in poverty and rags while the rich man surfeited in all manner of luxury, I answer—
1. God having an absolute right and dominion over us and our comforts, may give and take them away according to his own plea sure: Job i. 21, ‘The Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken;’ abstulit, sed et dedit; they are his own he gave at first. If he hath lent us anything for his service and our comfort, he may command it again when he pleaseth, and none can commence a suit against his providence. Whatever straits and poverty we are reduced to, we were poorer than ever we can be made by providence. We came into the world naked. If God should strip us of many comforts, we are not so poor as when we were born.
2. God having intended to bestow eternal blessings upon us, will take a liberty in disposing of outward things. Jesus Christ, when he purchased comforts for us, did not purchase only or chiefly earthly comforts and blessings: Eph. i. 3, ‘The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus.’ He did not purchase worldly blessings as our chief happiness. The world is a common inn for sons and bastards, where God will show his bounty to all, his creatures; our inheritance is elsewhere, in heavenly places; for though all things come alike to all, we cannot murmur and say, God is unjust; nay, though a child of God should be in a worse condition than the wicked are. A child during his nonage is kept under more severe discipline than a slave, which doth more live at large. We distinguish between the care of a father and the indulgence of a mother. The father loves his child; ay! but he breeds him up in a strict way. But mothers are fondly indulgent, and would have them pampered and cockered; so evil habits increase upon them. We, that so quarrel for worldly things, would have God show the fondness and indulgence of a mother, and not the wisdom and care of a father.
3. It is fit, before we go to heaven, that we should be tried; therefore God will so manifest his love to us that there may be room to exercise faith and patience, Heb. vi. 12. Never any came to reap the comfort of God’s promises but there was a time to exercise their faith with difficulties, and their patience with delays; and therefore God will try our sincerity when we have no visible encouragements. God would have us live by faith, and not by sense or present appearance only, 2 Cor. v. 8, to see if we can look above the clouds and mists of the lower world, and encourage ourselves, and grow bold upon the hopes and concernments of the world to come. Nature is purblind, but it is the property of faith to see afar off, 2 Peter i. 9. There is the excellency of faith, if we have but an eagle’s eye to see afar off. If we had the fruition of the whole blessing, alas! there were no room for faith. And then for patience, we are not only to be conformed to God, but to Christ; not only to God in purity and holiness, but to Christ in patience and submission and self-denial. There are some of our duties which imply perfection, as justice, holiness, purity, and mercy; of these we have a pattern in God: and some of our duties imply subjection and obedience, and of these we have a pattern in Christ. Now all the heirs of promise God hath conformed to the image of his Son, Rom. viii. 29. If we must have all graces, then we must have those graces that are conversant about misery. We should be ignorant of one part of human affairs were it not for these suffering graces; therefore it is agreeable to God’s justice that these suffering graces should have their exercise sometimes. Then the Lord will try our sincerity, whether we follow Christ for the loaves, John vi. 26, out of external encouragements, or out of affection for internal reasons, upon pure obedience. God’s holiness consists in loving himself, but man’s holiness consists in loving God; therefore his holiness need to be tried whether it be a sincere love to God: Ps. xliv. 17, ‘All this is come upon us, yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant.’ There is a trial of love! A man of strength seeks a fit adversary to deal withal. It is no trial to a man of strength and courage that he can bear down a child. If we would try our strength, fortitude, sincerity, and courage, we had need be exposed to difficulty sometimes; as the skill of a pilot is seen in a storm and tempest, and a valiant soldier’s in a battle. Verberat nos? lacerat nos Jehovah? patimur; non est saevitia, certamen est.—Sen. Doth the Lord scourge us? doth he break us, and tear us in all our concernments in pieces? Bear it; it is not cruelty, it is a trial. Religion must cost us something, else it is worth nothing. It will give you no comfort till it be tried, and therefore there is a necessity that we should be tried.
4. Afflictions have their profit and use, and conduce to our good, Heb. xii. 11. It yields grace and comfort to us; it is the fruit of righteousness, and the peaceable fruit of righteousness; that is, that righteousness which brings peace. Outward troubles occasion an increase of inward blessings. Outward things are but shadows of better. If God deny the shadow and give us the substance, have we cause to murmur? If God do deny the picture, but give the thing itself, hath that man cause to complain? If we have not abundance, yet if we grow rich in faith, rich in grace, James ii. 5, we have no cause to repine against God. Though we flow not in ease and plenty, yet if we have a full tide of spiritual consolation; if we have no respect in the world, yet if we have the favour of God, we have no reason to complain. Levi had no portion among his brethren, but God was his portion. So it is here; good men have comfort and support, at least in all their troubles; they may be accounted miserable, but they are not so; especially if we consider that a great part of their goodness lies in their mortification and contempt of the world. So that to a man that is as God would have him to be, that which is a misery to others is none to him, for his affections are weaned. Therefore, if we have an increase of grace and spiritual comfort, we have no reason to quarrel against God’s providence.
5. Good men are but in part good, and it is fit their carnal part should be chastised, that while there are remainders of sin there should be some trouble, that God should burn and cut here that he might spare hereafter, that we should be judged of God, and not condemned with the world, 1 Cor. xi. 32. It is better that we should have our troubles than all our consolations here, and nothing but hell and misery in the world to come.
Use 1. Information. If God be righteous, then all that comes from him is righteous. His word and his works. Modus operandi sequitur modum essendi. ‘Righteous art thou, Lord;’ and then, ‘Upright are thy judgments.’ God acts according to his being. It is true a man may be just, and yet all that proceeds from him may not always be just. Why? He is not essentially just; but God being essentially just, all that he does or says is just also. A man’s actions are one thing, and his rule another. A carpenter that hath a line without him, may sometimes chop beside his line; but a man whose hand is his own line can never chop amiss. So a man’s rule is without him; his righteousness is one thing, his nature another; he may swerve, and be just.1919Qu. ‘unjust’?—ED. But God’s act is his rule, his righteousness is himself; therefore whatever he does is just and righteous. Men may be deceived, but God deceiveth none, and is deceived by none.
1. His word, and every part of his word, is just; it is in all things right, commanding those things which natural justice exacteth, and forbidding those things which have a natural sinfulness and turpitude in them. God is just, and all his judgments are just. The way he hath set down for the justifying of sinners and receiving them are just and righteous, Rom. iii. 26; and the way he hath set down for the sanctifying of men, to guide men in holiness, it is a just law: Rom. vii. 12, ‘The commandment is holy, just, and good,’ becoming such a pure nature to give, and having nothing of exorbitancy or irregularity.
2. The way God hath prescribed for saving such as follow this way of sanctification is just. The righteous judge will give a crown of righteousness in that day, 2 Tim. iv. 8. And the way for punishing, such eternally as ‘do despise eternal mercies is just: they have. received a just recompense of reward, especially those that neglect so great salvation, Heb. ii. 3. God’s law flows from his righteous nature, and it is a copy of his righteousness; therefore it becometh those that confess God to be righteous to acknowledge his laws such, and to live according to them.
3. His works. God hath his judgments for those that do not accept the way of righteousness prescribed by him: Ps. cxlv. 17, ‘The Lord is just in all his ways, and holy in all his works.’ We are too busy in interpreting wrongs to others, but when it lights upon us we do not acknowledge it: Neh. ix. 33, ‘Thou art just in all that is brought upon us,’ &c. Nay, if thy hand be never so smart upon us, Lord, thou art righteous in all. The only way to suppress murmuring and silence disputes, and rebuke the waves and winds of discontent that toss the soul to and fro, is to remember all God’s ways are just and true. God taketh it ill when we question any of his works: ‘Are not my ways equal? saith the Lord,’ Ezek. xviii. 25. When we thus acknowledge the dispensations of God to ourselves, we may with profit observe them to others, that we may applaud his proceedings: Rev. xv. 3, ‘Great and marvellous are thy works, just and true are thy ways, O king of saints.’ So Rev. xix. 2, ‘For true and righteous are his judgments, for he hath judged the great whore which did corrupt the earth with her fornications.’ There is no hurt done, but they are confirmed in his promises, and the rule set down in the scripture, not afflicted but on just ground. It is good to observe this in all his dispensations.
Use 2. If God be a righteous God, and all his judgments right, this is terror to wicked men, that securely wallow in the pleasures of sin, without remorse and trouble. Go on in the way of your own hearts, give satisfaction to your senses, please your eye, withhold not your heart from any comfort you delight in; but remember, for all these things God will bring thee to judgment. As cold water stays the working of the boiling pot, so these sober thoughts of God’s justice and judgment may abate the fervours of youthful lusts. When you are pampering the flesh, letting loose the reins to all wanton desires, Go on in them; there is a righteous God. Men harden themselves by two things—by God’s patience for the present, and thoughts of his mercy for the future.
1. By God’s patience for the present. When God doth not strike, but withholds his hand: Ps. l. 21, 22, ‘These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; but I will reprove thee, and set them in order be fore thine eyes.’ Christians, patience and forbearance is not absolute remission and forgiveness. God may give you a long day, and yet reckon with you at last: Rom. ix. 22, ‘He endureth with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.’ Mark, there is suffering, long-suffering, and much long-suffering; and yet vessels of wrath fitted for destruction. God suffered Cain to live as a man reprieved; so you may be reprieved. He deals with ungodly men, as David with Joab and Shimei; he would not acquit them, yet forbare them, and gave order to Solomon to put them to death; your doom may yet be dreadful. Christians, bethink yourselves; there is a sentence in force, and there is but a slender thread of a frail life between you and execution, but a step between you and death; and will you add sin to sin; and heap up more wrath and condemnation to yourselves? Alas! you are but in the state of condemned male factors, and will you roar and revel as some desperate wretches in the gaol between condemnation and execution? There is but cold comfort in this, to be rescued and to be afterwards executed; and therefore remember God may forbear those whom he will not pardon. Ay! and his anger is most sharp after patience is abused, and most speedy when you begin to reckon the worst is over: Luke xii. 20, ‘Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee.’
2. Men please themselves that they shall do well enough because God is merciful; and so they fancy a God all of honey and sweetness. God is just as well as merciful. Ay! but his justice may be a friend. Can you claim that justice? 1 John i. 9, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.’ When we with remorse and humble penitence go and confess them before the Lord, then justice is our friend. It is not your friend until you be in Christ: Rom. viii. 1, ‘There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.’ Why, but am not I in Christ? am not I baptized in his name? Then I say again, there are none in Christ but those that come in in the new covenant way, for him hath God set forth through faith in his blood, Rom. iii. 2, 3. If we hope we believe in Christ; if we do, then let me say one thing more: There are none come in the new covenant way that do allow themselves in any known sin; and therefore the justice of God still remains upon you. I prove this latter thus: He that transgresses in one point is guilty of all; therefore so speak and so do as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty, James ii. 10-12. There are some that have judgment without mercy, and others that shall be judged by the law of liberty. He that allows himself to break with God in any one thing, shall not be judged by the law of liberty, but shall have judgment without mercy. Therefore take heed; you will have double condemnation if you love darkness rather than light; that is, if you allow yourselves in sinful courses, and turn your back upon the grace and mercy God offers in Christ.
3. Here is for the comfort of the godly; God is just; but to you also he will be merciful; all his dispensations to you are justice and mercy mingled: Ps. cxvi. 5, ‘Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.’ Not all mercy and no justice, nor all justice and no mercy; but so just that we may not offend, so merciful that we may yet hope in him: Ps. xxv. 8, ‘Good and upright is the Lord; therefore will he teach sinners in the way.’ He is good, therefore will he direct you; he is righteous, therefore we must take his direction. Nay, justice and mercy are both for you. You must not apprehend as if mercy were for you and justice against you. No, no; the justice of God is made your friend; that attribute which is most terrible in God is the pawn and pledge of thy salvation.
The grand inquiry of all the great rabbis and sophists of all the world was this, How justice should be made a friend? It cannot be put out of our mind but that God is just and an avenger of the sinner; but he is faithful and just, 1 John i. 9; just in justifying those that believe in Christ. You have a double claim and holdfast on God; you may come to either court, before the throne of his grace and tribunal of his justice; for there Christ interposed, and satisfied the justice of God. Here the great scruple of nature is solved; that is, how the justice of God should be made our friend. Nay, when you are fainting and discouraged with the scorns and neglect of the world, Heb. vi. 10, the just God will reward ‘your work and labour of love which ye have showed toward his name.’ It may be vain in the world, but not vain in the Lord, 1 Cor. xv. 59. Therefore be cheerful in your service. Men are not paymasters, but God. It is a noble spirit to look for it hereafter, a base spirit to look after it here: ‘They have their reward,’ saith Christ.
And then against wrongs and injuries we meet with here, the just God, who, as he will do us no wrong himself, so he will not suffer others to do us wrong without punishing of them: Ps. ciii. 6. ‘The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.’ He pities the afflictions of them that suffer unjustly, and will execute judgment for them. Mark, first from his pity, then from his justice. From his pity: Judges x. 16, ‘His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel;’ and 2 Kings xiv. 26, ‘And the Lord saw the affliction of Israel, that it was very bitter, and he saved them.’ But how much more will he pity those that are unjustly oppressed by men’s hands! Acts vii. 33, 34, ‘I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people, and I have heard their groaning;’ and Isa. lxiii. 9, ‘In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and pity he redeemed them.’ Therefore, if we look upon the compassions and pities of God, this may comfort us in all wrongs and injuries. Then out of hatred to oppression: Ps. xi. 7, ‘The righteous Lord loveth righteousness, his countenance doth behold the upright.’ So again, Ps. xciv. 15, ‘Judgment shall return unto righteousness, and all the upright in heart shall follow it.’ Some times they are asunder. Earthly judges may refuse the justice of righteousness, a judge may suspend the act of his own judgment; but they shall not long be severed; God will bring forth his righteous judgment: Zech. viii. 17, f These things I hate, saith the Lord.’ And then in regard of his providence, God will not be unmindful of his promise: Ps. ix. 7-9, ‘He hath prepared his throne for judgment, and he shall judge the world in righteousness; he shall minister judgment to his people in uprightness.’ Courts of justice among men are not always open, they have term-time; but God is always ready to hear plaintiffs. They make complaints amongst men, and they are delayed so much and so long that they are discouraged. But we have a friend that is always ready to hear: Ps. xlviii. 10, ‘Thy right hand is full of righteousness;’ for defending his people and punishing his enemies.
Use 3. To press us to acknowledge this justice of God, that he governeth all things righteously, especially when you are under his mighty hand. The Lord takes it ill when you question any of his providences: Ezek. xviii. 25, ‘Are not my ways equal?’ He will be clear when he judgeth, Ps. li. 4. God will be justified in all that he hath done or shall do for the punishment of sin; and therefore, when the hand of God is upon you, take heed you do not reproach God. When his hand is smart and heavy upon you, remember affliction opens the eyes of the worst men. Nebuchadnezzar, that knew no God but himself, no happiness but in pleasing his own humour, yet when he was whipped and scourged, hear him speak: Dan. iv. 37, ‘Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honour the king of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment, and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.’ Pharaoh: Exod ii. 27, ‘The Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.’ These acknowledgments and confessions come from wicked men, as water out of a still, forced by the fire. But if affliction opens the eyes of wicked men, surely when we are under God’s afflicting hand we should give him the glory of his justice, and acknowledge that he is clear in all that he brings upon us. He takes it ill when we murmur and tax his judgment: Micah vii. 9, ‘I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me;’ and Lam. i. 18, ‘The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled against his commandment.’ And when we submissively stoop and accept of the punishment of our sin after he hath been provoked, then God will plead for us, Lev. xxvi. 41. When we stoop humbly under God’s correcting hand, and bear it patiently, and say, God is just in all this, then it will succeed well. Observe the justice of God, especially his remarkable judgments upon others. The church is brought in acknowledging of it, Rev. xv. 3, ‘Just and true are thy ways, thou king of saints;’ and Rev. xix. 3, ‘True and righteous are his judgments.’ Not that we should sit crowners upon other men’s souls, and judge their spiritual condition, and misinterpret providence: I look upon it as a great sin of a faction, and perverse humours. But clearly when men’s sins are so great that the judgments of God have overtaken them, we ought to say, ‘Just and true art thou, O Lord, and just in all thy judgments.’
I might show here is much to keep the children of God in awe; the Lord is a righteous God; though they have found mercy and taken sanctuary at his grace, the Lord is impartial in his justice. God, that did not spare the angels when they sinned, nor his Son when he was a sinner by imputation, will not spare you, though you are the dearly beloved of his soul, Prov. xi. 31. The sinful courses of God’s children occasion bitterness enough; they never venture upon sin but with great loss. If Paul give way to a little pride, God will humble him. If any give way to sin, their pilgrimage will be made uncomfortable: God’s hand may be smart and dismal. Eli for negligence and indulgence, there is the ark of God taken, his two sons slain in battle, his daughter-in-law dies, he himself breaks his neck. Oh! the wonderful tragedies that sin works in the houses of the children of God. And David, when he intermeddled with forbidden fruit, was driven from his palace, his concubines defiled, his own son slain, a great many calamities did light upon him. Therefore the children of God have cause to fear, for the Lord is a just God, and they will find it so; here upon earth he hath reserved liberty to visit their iniquity with rods, and their transgression with scourges. I might press you to imitate God’s righteousness: 1 John ii. 29, ‘If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of God.’ You have a righteous God, and here is the thing you should copy out.
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