|« Prev||Sermon CLV. Thy testimonies, which thou hast…||Next »|
Thy testimonies, which thou hast commanded, are righteous and very faithful.—Ver. 138.
IN the former verse the prophet had spoken of the righteousness of God; now God is essentially righteous, and therefore all that proceedeth from him is righteous. A carpenter, that hath a rule without him, and a line to measure his work by, may sometimes hit and sometimes miss; but if you could suppose a carpenter, the motion of whose hand were his rule, he could never chop amiss. So must we conceive of God; his act is his rule, holiness is his essence, not a superadded quality, his righteousness is himself; therefore from this righteous God there proceedeth nothing but righteousness, and from this faithful God nothing but faith. He discovereth his nature both in the acts of his providence and the institutions of his word. We cannot reason so concerning men, that because they are righteous nothing cometh from them but what is righteous; because righteousness is not their nature, but an adventitious quality: therefore good men may make ill laws, for though they be meant for good, they may be deceived; and sometimes wicked men may make good laws, to ingratiate themselves, and for the interest of their affairs; but God being essentially, necessarily good, holy, and righteous, his laws are also good, holy, and true: ‘Thy testimonies, which thou hast commanded, are righteous and very faithful.’
In the words observe—
1. That there is a revelation of God’s will in his word: Thy testimonies.
2. The authority wherewith his revelation is backed: Which thou hast commanded.
3. The intrinsic worth and excellency of these testimonies; it is double—they are (1.) Righteous; (2.) Very faithful.
In the Hebrew, righteousness and faithfulness; that is, very right, and very faithful; the one word is referred to the agenda in religion, the other to the credenda; they are worthy to be obeyed, worthy to be believed. The sum is, God hath his testimonies extant, their authority is inviolable, and their justice and truth immutable.
Some read, praecepisti justitiam testimoniorum tuorum et fidem valde—thou hast highly charged and earnestly commanded the righteousness and faithfulness of thy testimonies, as referring to our duty. But most translations agree with ours. Our duty indeed may be inferred; but I shall not make it the formal interpretation of the place. In the texture of the words in the Hebrew these attributes are given to the word itself.
Doct. They that would profit by the word or rule of faith and manners which God hath commanded them to observe, should look upon it as righteous and very faithful.
So did David here and elsewhere: Ps. xix. 9, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.’ I shall make good the point by these considerations:—
Prop. 1. That our faith and obedience must be well grounded, or else they will have no firmness and stability. The want of a foundation is the cause of many a ruinous building. Men carry on a fair and lofty structure of profession, but when the winds of boisterous temptations are let loose upon them, all is blown down, because they build upon the sand, and not upon the rock. They take up this profession without sound evidence and conviction in their consciences; and so they are not ‘grounded or settled in the faith,’ Col. i. 23; ‘not rooted and grounded in love,’ Eph. iii. 7. They take up religion slightly, not looking into the reasons of it, upon tradition or vulgar esteem, they are not undoubtedly persuaded that it is the very truth of God. The good seed withered that fell upon the stony ground, because there was no depth of earth, Mat. xiii. 5, no considerable strength of soil to feed faith.
Prop. 2. Faith and obedience cannot be well grounded but on such a doctrine as is true and righteous; for who can depend on that which is not true, or who can obey that which is not righteous? Truth is the only sure foundation for faith to build upon, and righteousness for practice. Faith considereth truth: Eph. i. 13, ‘In whom ye trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.’ And that righteousness is that which bindeth to practice, we may gather from Ps. cxix. 128, ‘Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right, and I hate every false way.’ The word commandeth nothing but what is just and righteous.
Prop. 3. This true and righteous doctrine must be backed with a strong and powerful authority, not only recommended to us, but strictly and severely enjoined, for two reasons:—
1. Because otherwise it will not be observed and regarded, but be looked upon not as a binding law, but as an arbitrary direction. There is a difference between a law and a rule. A bare rule may only serve to inform our understandings, or to give direction; but a law is a binding rule, a rule with a strong obligation. The word of God is not his counsel and advice to us only, but his law; that men may examine and regard it with more care and diligence. God hath interposed his authority: Ps. cxix. 4, ‘Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently;’ and in the text, ‘Thy. testimonies, which thou hast commanded.’ God hath commanded us to believe all truths revealed, to obey all duties required; and if God commandeth, there is good reason why he should be obeyed.
2. Divine authority is one means to evidence the righteousness and truth of what is to be believed and obeyed. The righteousness; for if God, who is my superior, and hath a full right to govern me according to his own pleasure, doth command me anything, it is best, that I should obey it without reply and contradiction; yea, though I see not the reason of it: Acts xvii. 28, ‘For in him we live, and move, and have our being.’ All creatures have their being not only from him, but in him; and therefore sometimes God giveth no other account of his law but this, ‘I am the Lord:’ Lev. xxii. 2, 3, ‘Speak unto Aaron and to his sons, that they separate themselves from the holy things of the children of Israel, and that they profane not my holy name in those things which they hallow unto me: I am the Lord. Say unto them, Whosoever he be of all your seed, among your generations, that goeth unto the holy things, which the children of Israel hallow unto the Lord, having his uncleanness upon him, that soul shall be cut off from my presence: I am the Lord.’ Therefore it gives rules of practice to be embraced with all the heart, as holy, just, and good. God’s authority is founded upon the total dependence of all creatures upon him, and upon his infallible wisdom, truth, and goodness, by which he hath right to prescribe all points of faith to be believed and assented to. upon his own testimony, without contradiction: 1 John v. 9, ‘If we receive the testimony of man, the testimony of God is greater.’ A man that would not deceive us, we believe him upon his word, though he may be deceived himself; but God doth not deceive, nor can he be deceived: by the holy God nothing can be given but what is holy and good; and thereupon I am to receive it.
Prop. 4. This divine authority, truth, and righteousness, is only to be found in God’s testimonies, which he hath commanded, or in God’s word.
1. There is a godlike authority speaking there, and commanding that which it becometh none but God to command, who is the universal king and sovereign. For it speaketh to the whole world without respect of persons, to king and beggar, rich and poor, male and female, without reservation of honour or distinction of degrees. The word looketh on them as standing before God on the same level: Job xxxiv. 19, ‘He accepteth not the persons of princes, nor regarded the rich more than the poor; for they all are the work of his hands.’ And speaketh to them indifferently and equally: Exod. xx. 3, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods but me.’ Which is not the voice of any limited and bounded power, but of that which is supreme, transcendent, and absolute. And by these laws he bindeth the conscience and the immortal souls of men: Ps. xix. 7, ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.’ Men may give laws to the words and actions, because they can take cognisance of them; but the word giveth laws to the thoughts: Isa. Iv. 7, ‘Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts;’ Mat. v. 28, ‘Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.’ And the internal motions and affections of the heart, how we should love and fear, and joy and mourn: 1 Cor. vii. 30, ‘They that weep as though they wept not, and they that rejoice as though they rejoiced not.’ Of these things God can only take notice; the power of man reacheth not to the mind and spirit; they would be ridiculous if they should take upon them to give laws to these. Philosophers might give directions about them, but potentates would not give laws, for it doth not beseem them to inter pose their authority in such cases, where it is impossible they shall know whether they are broke or kept. The scriptures upon their disobedience make men liable not only to temporal, but spiritual and eternal punishments; and accordingly are rewards proportioned in case of obedience. The magistrate’s wrath lighteth on the body, but God’s upon the soul. All that man can do concerns life, or limb, or liberty, or estate; the inward man is exempted from their power; but God threateneth hardness of heart: Exod. vii. 13, ‘He hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them.’ A reprobate sense: Rom. i. 28, ‘And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things that are not convenient.’ A trembling heart: Deut. xxviii. 65, ‘The Lord shall give thee a trembling of heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind.’ On the contrary, obedience hath the promises of a soft heart, and peace that passeth all understanding: Phil. iv. 7, ‘The peace of God, that passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds, through Christ Jesus.’ Of an increase of grace: Prov. iv. 18, ‘The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.’ God, that punisheth sin with sin, will reward grace with grace. So for eternal rewards, God threateneth, ‘The worm that never dieth, and the fire that never shall be quenched,’ Mark ix. 44. On the other side, he promiseth ‘Rivers of pleasures that are at God’s right hand for evermore,’ Ps. xvi. 11. He that will be believed and obeyed upon terms of salvation, is a God, one that hath power of the world to come. Thus hath God scattered the strictures of his majesty, and given real evidence of interposing hi& authority everywhere throughout the word. I shall only add, that the scriptures, as God’s law, may be considered as the rule of man’s duty, and God’s judgment. In respect of the commands, they bind man to duty, and are the rule of it. In respect of the sanction, that is, promises and threatenings, they are the rule of God’s judgment. In the one God showeth his righteousness, in the other, his truth; in the precepts, righteousness; in the promises and threatenings, truth.
2. All that God hath required of us is very righteous and just, becoming God to give, and man to receive. There is a condescency in these precepts both to God’s nature and to ours. They are the copy of God’s holiness, and so a fit means to bring us not only into a subjection to him, which is just, he being our creator, but into a conformity to him, which is our happiness. To prove the righteousness which is in God’s laws, I shall produce several arguments.
[1.] Surely there is a distinction between good and evil, and all acts are not in their own nature indifferent; that was a monstrous conceit of Carpender and others, contrary to the common sense of men. If this were true, the chasteness of Lucretia should not be more to be prized than the lightness of Lais, nor the virtue of Cato than the dissoluteness of Sardanapalus; and it would be as indifferent for a man to kill his father as his neighbour’s dog, to rob in the woods as to hunt a deer or hare, to lie with his father’s wife as to contract honest matrimony, to forswear and lie as to be sincere in all our words and proceedings. Now whose heart doth not rise within them at such an apprehension? If this be thought to be only custom and received opinion that begets this abhorrence, I would ask, Whence cometh it that we all desire to be, if not really, yet seemingly honest? The most wicked are offended when they are taken for such as they are; and endeavour, as much as they can, to clothe their actions with the appearance of probity and uprightness. If men were not sensible that vice were blameworthy and virtue commendable, why should such a desire so universally possess the heart of man, were there not a natural sense of good and evil, and an essential difference between the one and the other, which we are sensible of, nature itself valuing and esteeming the one, and blasting the other with severe marks of her improbation and hatred? And I do with the more confidence urge this argument, because there is difficulty in the exercise of virtue, because of the conflict of the sensual appetite; and on the other side, many delights and pleasures accompanying vice, by which it gets an easy entrance into our souls, and dominion over our desires. Why should a thing so much against the bent and hair be accounted worthy of praise, and the contrary, which hath such a compliance with our natural desires, be accounted worthy of blame? And were there only custom and tradition for it, would men so universally conspire to decree honours for that which is contrary to their corrupt nature, and to disapprove what is suitable to it? It cannot be. Would they desire the reputation of virtue, when their desires choose vice, and impel them to it, and hold them under it, if they were not sensible that the one hath a comeliness, and the other a turpitude in it? Thus hypocrites do clearly attest the excellency of uprightness and honesty. Well, then, the testimonies which God hath commanded are very righteous, for they forbid those things which have a natural turpitude and indispensable sinfulness in them; and command those things which are plainly and evidently lovely and praiseworthy: Phil. iv. 8, ‘Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.’
[2.] It is such a rule and direction as men would choose if they were at their own liberty, provided they were wise, and not brutified by their inordinate passions, evil customs, and discomposure of soul; for all such are incompetent judges. For there is nothing preserveth the rectitude of human nature, and maketh men to live as men, according to the dictates of reason, as the serious observance of this law. Break it a little, and so far a man turneth beast: so that it was well said of one, A saint or a brute. For the law is so written upon man’s heart, and so connatural to his reason, that you must extinguish the nature of man before you can raze out all the sentiments of this law: Rom ii. 14, 15, ‘For when the Gentiles, which have not the law ‘do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves; which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing, or else excusing one another.’ As long as we have these hearts that we have, we cannot wholly except against the justice and equity of these laws and rules of commerce between God and his creatures. It is true, all truths are not alike evident, but they that seriously mind the one will be led on to the other, at least will find none contrary to such conclusions, as may be drawn from principles naturally known, and will be encouraged to go on till God reveal more to them. This is so evident, that the wiser any among the heathen are, the nearer they come to this rule, and have framed some thing like it for the regulation of men, though with great mixtures of their own folly. The perfect discovery of man’s duty God reserved to himself and his own writings, elsewhere there is but ficta rectitudo and picta justitia, poor counterfeits in the laws of civil nations and institutions of philosophy; sapientia eorum abscondit vitia, non abscindit; there was only a little hiding and disguising of sin that it might not appear too odious. In short, the less knowledge any nation or society of men have of this law, the more brutish and barbarous they have been, and so accounted to be by all that have known what civility and human converse mean; and on the contrary, the more polite and civil, the nearer they come to it. Whom would you judge to be more civil, the Romans or the Scythians? the wise and good man, or the sot and fool? Even among us, the more punctually any keepeth to this law, the more he differeth from others, as much as an angel from a man, or a man from a beast: ‘The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour,’ Prov. xii. 26. It is clear as the sun; whether men will or nill, they must acknowledge it, and do when they are serious; for they approve them while they hate them, wish their latter end like theirs, intrust them more than others, presume more from them than others. Out of all I conclude, that the very frame and constitution of the reasonable and immortal soul and body of man doth dictate the equity and justice of this law, and it doth result from the image of God, wherein man was created.
[3.] That law is just and righteous, the violation of which men judge to be justly punished. I use this argument because under punishment men are serious, for it rubbeth up and reviveth the sense of a divine power. Now, for the violation of this law God hath judged persons, families, nations, and kingdoms, and conscience is sensible of the justice of God’s judgments exercised upon them. God is clear when he judgeth, Ps. li. 4; his eminent judgments carry light and conviction with them; and wherefore have his judgments been executed? Rom. i. 18, ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;’ Heb. ii. 2, ‘Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward.’ There is a fear after some notorious breach, even in those that are not acquainted with God, a shyness of his presence, ever since Adam run to the bushes; so it is. All which doth seal the righteousness and truth of this law, and how justly God may reckon with us about it.
[4.] There is an intrinsical righteousness in all the duties commanded in God’s law. Besides the will of the lawgiver, *there is a justice in the things themselves. By what measure will we take justice? We usually understand it to be to give every one his due. So doth the law, it commandeth us to give God his due and man his due. Love is πλήρωμα νόμου, the fulfilling of the law. The law i& comprised in one word, ‘love;’ to love God, himself, and his neighbour. Is there not justice in all this? The natural relation we have to God calleth for love to him; for he made us, and is the strength of our lives, and the length of our days: Deut. xxx. 20, ‘That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave to him; for he is thy life, and the length of thy days.’ Self-love and self-preservation, if that be not a natural principle, nothing is. Our neighbours we are bound to love, because of consanguinity; they are our own flesh and blood, and God hath bidden us do to them as we would to ourselves: Mat. vii. 12, ‘Therefore all things, whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.’ There is a universal consanguinity between all mankind, which hath its root in the communion of one and the same nature, and in the dependence and derivation from one common stock. The eminence of the divine nature is the foundation of the honour which we tender to it; and the equality of our nature is the foundation of the justice which we use to one another. So that here are natural, immutable obligations and grounds of right. Go to particulars: How equal is it that we should acknowledge but one God! They are drunk that see double, strangely depraved that see more. That we should not worship him before an idol, which is very apt to taint our minds with a gross opinion of God, as if he were some limited, finite being. It is a great lessening of reverence to see what we worship. Not to take God’s name in vain by a false oath, that breedeth atheism and contempt. That there should be a day to remember the creator of all things; everyday’s work is no day’s work; but there must be a limited time. For reverence to parents, all nations call for it. For murder, adultery, stealing, false accusations, man’s interest will teach him the necessity of those laws that forbid these things. Contentation is a guard to all the rest, it is fit the God of the spirits of all flesh should give a law to the spirit: ‘Thou shalt not covet.’ Yet this is the law of God, to which scripture is subservient; and all the admonition*, reproofs, exhortations, dehortations, examples, directions, histories of the obedience and virtue of some, with their rewards; of the disobedience, apostasy, rebellion of others, with their punishments; all is to enforce this law. The doctrine of Christ, and redemption and reconciliation by him, I bring not under this first head, because that is a favour and privilege; and the justice and equity of gospel precepts will soon appear, when once we have consented to the law that it is good. But of that in the next head.
3. For the truth and faithfulness of God’s testimonies. This may be considered either in revealing or performing, making or making good his promises.
[1.] For truth and faithfulness in making such offers and promises of pardon and eternal life in case of obedience, and threatening a curse and everlasting punishment in case of disobedience. Surely there is no doubt in all this, because they are revealed by ‘God, who is the supreme and original truth, and who neither is nor can be deceived; for God’s understanding is the rule and measure of all other truths: nothing is true but what is constant to his knowledge. And he cannot deceive us; that will not agree with the goodness of his nature and love to mankind; therefore he is called ‘God that cannot lie,’ Titus i. 2.
[2.] In making good. God hath given us the most solemn assurance: Heb. vi. 17, 18, ‘God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation.’ He hath demitted himself to the terms of a covenant, given us a seal: Rom. iv. 11, ‘And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith.’ Pledge: 2 Cor. i. 22, ‘Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of his Spirit in our hearts.’ He hath stood upon his truth above all things: Ps. cxxxviii. 2, ‘I will worship towards thy holy temple, and praise thy name, for thy loving-kindness, and for thy truth; for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.’ One part of the word verifieth another; in one part you have the promise, in another the accomplishment, the great promise of sending Christ: Heb. x. 5-7, ‘Wherefore, when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: in burnt- offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure: then said I, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.’ He would not go back, being willing to keep the promise afoot. It was on our part a handwriting against us, in testification of our guilt and need of expiation; but on God’s part an obligation of debt to pay our ransom. Still he accomplisheth promises in the return of prayers; and though the great payment be in the other world, yet here God remembereth us still, accomplishing the intervening promises, and giving proof of his truth. So that they that are acquainted with his name will never distrust him: Ps. ix. 10, ‘They that know thy name will put their trust in thee; for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.’ They that have known his way, and the course of his dealings, will have a confidence in him.
Prop. 5. They that would receive the word as the word of God, must be soundly convinced of, and seriously consider, this righteousness and faithfulness in the testimonies, which he hath commanded; for till then the word worketh not on them: 1 Thes. ii. 13, ‘For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because when ye received the word of God, which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.’ And till then they are but customary Christians, and can never rightly believe nor obey: John iv. 42, ‘Now we believe: not because of thy saying, for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.’ First their faith depends on the common tradition, or the testimony of the church; afterwards on the sure ground of the word itself, in which they find such clearness and efficacy, that they cannot but yield to God. The authority of man is nothing to it, when our faith is bottomed on a surer ground, the authority of God speaking in his word.
1. There must be sound conviction, or belief of this. This is called, ‘The acknowledgment of the truth,’ Titus i. 1, ἐπίγνωσις τῆς ἀληθείας; and Col. ii. 2, ‘The riches of the assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ.’ An assurance that God will keep touch with me, that he will not delude me in the terms propounded in the gospel. This full persuasion of the truth of God’s testimonies we must all aim at, and seek after. The assurance of my interest and my salvation is another thing, and yet that I am not to neglect, but with this I am to begin.
2. There must be serious consideration; for that improveth all truths, and maketh them active and effectual. God’s complaint of his people is that they will not consider: Isa. i. 3, ‘The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.’ They do not lay truths in the view of conscience. Food without mastication and chewing nourisheth not. A thing not considered doth profit as little as if not believed, as a for getting God is a kind of denying of him. Seriously then debate it with yourselves. You must consider the authority of God. Authority is that right which a superior hath to prescribe to such as are under him. Doth God usurp upon you* when he giveth you a law? or hath he left you in the dark, that you do not know whether this be his law, yea or no? Are there no strictures of his majesty in the very economy and frame of it? Can any but a God speak at such a rate? And for his justice, hath he commanded anything to your hurt? No, it is all for thy good: Deut. vi. 24, ‘And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always.’ And for his truth, men may deceive and be deceived, and though they often speak truth, they do not always so; but God seeth by his own light, not by discourse, but vision. Truth is his nature, from which he can no more swerve than from himself; and what need he court a worm, and flatter us? Thus should we urge our hearts.
Use 1. Let us own and improve the word, as a righteous and faithful word, which God hath commanded for our good.
1. Own the authority of it. It is not an arbitrary thing; the truths revealed imply a command to believe them, the duties required imply a command to obey them: Mat. xvii. 5, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him.’ God hath commanded us to hear Christ, to believe in his name, to love one another: 1 John iii. 23, ‘And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.’ As we value his word, and would one day see his face with comfort, we should bind his precepts upon our hearts. Say to thy soul, As thou wilt answer it to God another day, take care of this.
2. Own and improve the righteousness of his testimonies. Man having a total and absolute dependence upon God, God might govern us in what manner it pleased him; for it is just ‘that one may do with his own what he will,’ Mat. xx. 15. But what hath the Lord required of thee, but to love him and serve him? Not to pluck the stars from the sky, or to guide the chariot of the sun, not such sublimity of knowledge and learning, nor such a quantity and proportion of alms, nor to lance thyself, or offer thy first-born, nor rivers of oil, nor thousands of rams, for a burnt-offering: Micah vi. 8, ‘He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?’ The Lord’s commands are not rigid and severe and unreasonable, but sweet and desirable, that we should do wrong to none, do good to all, and maintain communion with him; and is this burthensome? Go try the drunkard’s life and the adulterer’s life; you will see the temperate, the chaste, have much the sweeter life of it. Therefore let there not be one disallowing thought of what God hath required. Could we bring you to esteem the word, other things would come on more easily.
3. Own it and improve it as a faithful word, building upon the promises, fearing the threats thereof. The word will not deceive them that are ruled by it. Consider your condition, and what will be the event of things. There is a curiosity in men to know their own des tiny. We may easily know what shall become of us by the word of God; and if men were not more curious to know their end than careful to amend their lives, they need not seek any other oracle: Rom. viii. 13, ‘For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.’ So for the end of any action; if the word of God say it will be bitter in the latter end, though it bring profit and pleasure for a while, believe it against all the wicked men in the world, and say, I do more believe this one text and place of scripture than all that men can do and say. Mind the great duties of the gospel, and venture your souls in Christ’s hands upon these terms: 1 Tim. i. 15, ‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.’ I have nothing but God’s word, yet I will venture my salvation, my all, upon it, upon his bare word. Comfort yourselves in the midst of difficulties with the truth of God’s word, when all sense and outward seeming is contrary to the promise. Before a promise be accomplished there will be unlikelihoods. I will instance in Paul’s prediction: Acts xxvii. 24-26, ‘Lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island,’ &c. Yet how many difficulties came to pass! First, no isle appeareth; they are tossed in the Adriatic sea for fourteen days together; they knew not where they were, nor whither they did go. Thus doth God delay the accomplishment of the promise; they know not how nor which way it shall be made good. Another difficulty was, that, meeting with some isle, it fell out in the night-time; they deemed they drew near to some country, but yet feared they should be split upon the rocks, ver. 30; the shipmeu were ready to flee out of the ship, leave Paul and his fellows in danger, upon pretence of casting out anchors out of the fore-stern, and so they were ready to miscarry in the haven. When this difficulty was over, and it was day, they were not able to row to land, because of their long fasting, having eaten little or nothing for fourteen days. Another difficulty was, when they would have thrust the ship ashore it was broken all in pieces, what with high banks and two seas meeting. Another difficulty was, when they were to swim to land, they think of killing the prisoners, and the captain, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose, and so they escaped all to land. Therefore do not distrust the word; but especially bear up with the hope of eternal life, though remote and in another world, which we never saw: Heb. xi. 13, ‘These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them;’ Rom. ii. 7, ‘To them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for life, and glory, and immortality, eternal life.’ You will meet with bitter conflicts, heavy troubles, sad desertions; yet remember God’s word is a faithful word, and let this cheer and revive you.
Use 2. Express these virtues of the word. We must be righteous and true if the word of God be so, for the impression must answer the seal and stamp: Rom. vi. 17, ‘But God be thanked that ye were the servants of sin; but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doc trine which was delivered you;’ 2 Cor. iii. 3, ‘Ye are declared to be the epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart;’ Phil. ii. 16, ‘Holding fast the word of life, that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I1 have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.’ A Christian is the Bible exemplified; such a conformity there must be there to the law of God; the same light that shineth forth in scripture should shine forth in the lives of the godly; BO it was in Hezekiah: Isa. xxxviii. 3, ‘Remember, O Lord, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight.’ And of David it is said, 1 Kings iii. 6, ‘Thy servant David walked before thee in truth, and righteousness, and uprightness of heart’
1. For righteousness, A Christian’s business is to give to every man his due, to do what he is bound to do to God and man; Mat. xxii. 21, to ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are Gods.’ Whether by the law of nature: 1 Tim. v. 8, ‘If any provide not for his own, and especially for them of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.’ Or by relation, as Boaz did the part of a kinsman to Ruth: Ruth iii. 13, ‘Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform unto thee the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman’s part: but if he will not do the part of a kinsman, then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee, as the Lord liveth.’ Or by place or station: Neh. vi. 11, ‘And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.’ Or by paction or agreement: Col. iv. 1, ‘Masters, give to your servants that which is just and equal.’ Or according to rules of prudence, equity, charity: Phil. iv. 5, ‘Let your moderation,’ τὸ ἐπιεικὲς, ‘be known unto all men;’ whether it be fear or honour that he due: Rom. xiii. 7, ‘Render therefore to all their dues, tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour.’ Or good-will: ver. 8, ‘Owe no man any thing, but to love one another.’
2. For truth. You are to adhere to the truth, ‘not to be carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but, speaking the truth in love, ye may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ,’ Eph. iv. 14, 15. To speak nothing but truth in your ordinary communication: Eph. iv. 25, ‘Wherefore, putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour.’ To perform what you promise, though to your loss: Ps. xv. 4, ‘He sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.’ Thus should the whole course of our lives express the properties of the word.
Use 3. To show the reason why men are so backward in obedience, so prone to what is evil, so uncomfortable in trouble. We do not believe that the testimony of God is righteous and true, very true, every tittle of it; but we are slow of heart to believe; therefore is the faithfulness and truth of the word inculcated. Christ saith, ‘Believest thou this?’ John xi. 25. Could we believe the word more, what advantage should we have in the spiritual life! what fear of God! what joy of faith! what readiness of obedience! But we cannot depend upon God’s word, and therefore are easily shaken in mind. Our hearts are like a sea, one wave riseth up after another. We must be fed with sense, and God must do all immediately, or else we are apt to sink under our discouragements.
|« Prev||Sermon CLV. Thy testimonies, which thou hast…||Next »|