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I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me.—Ver. 102.
IN the former verse he had spoken of his vigilancy against evil, as the result of that wisdom which he got by the word; now he speaketh of his constant adherence to God’s direction. Here you may take notice of two things—(1.) David’s exactness and constancy in obedience, I have not departed from thy judgments. (2.) The reason of it, for thou hast taught me.
Branch 1. By misphalim, judgments, is meant God’s law, for thereby he will judge the world. And the word departed not intimateth both his exactness and constancy; his exactness, that he did not go an hair’s-breadth from his direction: Deut. v. 32, ‘Ye shall observe to do what the Lord your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.’ And his constancy is employed in it; for then we are said to depart from God and his law when we fall off from him in judgment and practice, Jer. xxxii. 40.
Branch 2. God’s institution and continual instincts. The Septuagint, ἐνομοθέτησάς με; and thence the vulgar, Legem posuisti mihi—thou hast given me that law; and so the reason would be drawn from God’s authority; but rather it is meant of his internal illumination and constant direction. Observe—
1. A man that would show love to the word must show it by a constant and exact adherence to the directions thereof, whatever temptations he meet with to the contrary. David produceth this as one evidence of that affection in the first verse of this section or part: ‘Oh, how I love thy law!’ I shall show you—
1. What temptations there are to the contrary.
2. What reason there is to be exact and constant. First, What temptations to the contrary.
1. From the natural instability of our own hearts; nothing is so changeable as man. We have certain heats for the present, but we soon cool again; and when temptations arise, are carried off from God, and that exactness and care that we were wont to show in our obedience to him. What was said of Reuben is true of every man in some degree, Gen. xlix. 4, ‘Unstable as water.’ It is carried hither and thither, in various and uncertain motions. So are we up and down, off and on, ebbing and flowing, not steadfast in any good frame; some times seen to have strong motions towards God and holiness, but anon grow cold and careless, or as a bird is now upon the top of a tree, by and by upon the under branches, and then upon the ground. Such a different posture or spirit may every one observe in himself, and some times in the same duty. God is always the same, and so are his ways; they have the same loveliness which they had before, but we are not; always the same. The rock standeth where it did, but the waters flow to and again. The least blast of a temptation maketh us break off our course. Now this natural levity of spirit is a great hindrance to us. We do not always see with the same eyes, nor have we the same degree of affection. ‘You did run well, who hindered you?’ Gal. v. 7. There may be a ready forwardness, and yet a great defection afterwards. This uncertainty is not only at first, before, we are settled by grace, or have any sound acquaintance with God’s ways. Then it is most, James i. 8. But after conversion it remaineth with us in part. Those measures of affection and zeal which we once obtained are not constant with us, but suffer some notable decay, and our edge is often taken off and blunted. Especially our first love is not of long standing, and our after-carriage not answerable to our promising beginnings. Now, there is no satisfying reason for this change, why we should make a halt, and grow remiss and lag in the profession of godliness, and leave off our first works; nothing but our changeableness of spirit.
2. From the furious oppositions and malice of Satan and his instruments.
[1.] Satan pursueth after men that would cleave to God’s ways, as Pharaoh did after the Israelites; either to bring them back again, or to weary them and vex them, and make their present course uncomfortable to them. Now, the violent assault of multiplied temptations is apt to make us stagger and depart from that good course that we have propounded to ourselves; as the Israelites were running back to Egypt because of the inconveniences of the wilderness. But it should not be so; a Christian should stand his ground, ‘Whom resist, steadfast in the faith; knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world,’ 1 Peter v. 9. They that make conscience of their duty, and are most set to serve and honour God, must reckon upon the hottest battle, and sorest conflict from Satan, to hinder or discourage them therein: he watcheth all advantages, and is still in action against them. Now this should not shake us, or loosen our adherence to the truths of the gospel; for so it is with every one that goeth to heaven: he must be watching, praying, striving. Yielding is not the way to be quiet, but resisting; if you yield to him in the least, he will carry you farther and farther, till he hath left thee under a stupefied or terrified conscience: stupefied till thou hast lost all thy tenderness. A stone at the top of a hill, when it beginneth to roll down, ceaseth not till it come to the bottom. Thou thinkest it is but yielding a little, and so by degrees art carried on, till thou hast sinned away all thy profession, and all principles of conscience, by the secret witchery of his temptations: and of the other side, terrified, till thy peace, comfort, and sweet sense of God’s love be gone; and thou brought under the black horrors of a dreadful despair. Therefore a stout and peremptory resistance is the only means of safety. Consider, your case is not singular, your lot is no harder than the rest of God’s children therefore do not depart from God.
[2.] Satan’s instruments may rage against us, and yet we must not depart: Ps. xliv. 17, 18, ‘All this is come upon us, yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant: our heart is not turned back, neither hath our steps declined from thy way.’ All this! What? Scorn, disgrace, bloody, cruel, reproved, maligned, butchered, yet steadfast with God in the profession of the faith. Hazards and troubles are no excuse; this is but a time to show our love to God, our duty to God is the same still.
3. From the example of others, especially who are of esteem for godliness. Example hath a mighty force upon men. Man is a ductile creature; like sheep, they run for company; not what we ought to do, but what others do. There are three reasons—of natural corruption, the flesh, the devil. But first, example of others: Eph. ii. 2, ‘In time past ye walked according to the course of this world.’ The universal corrupt course and custom of those among whom we live is a great snare. Te follow a multitude to do evil is a strong excitement, but no sufficient excuse, especially of good men. They that are gracious may stagger strangely in reeling times, and be overtaken with dangerous mistakes. Now their sins authorise others, and draw them into the snare: Gal. ii. 12, ‘Carried away with their dissimulation.’ A strong stream or current impetuously doth carry all things away with it. They take all for current that they do, without examining their actions, and so run away from the rule by their errors.
4. From the providence of God, which may seem to be against those that are exact right, or the sure way pointed out to us in his word, two ways:—
[1.] In the manifold disappointments as to his favouring a good cause; their endeavours blasted, many troubles befall them. God’s people are often put to trials by God himself, to try the sincerity of their love. Blind Bartimeus rebuked by the disciples: Mark x. 48, ‘Many charged him that he should hold his peace, but he cried the more a great deal, Thou Son of David, have mercy upon me.’ And so Christ to the woman of Canaan, Mat. xv. 22-27, puts her off. And are not we put to such trials in these latter times? When we own him, God seemeth to put us off; providence appeareth with a doubtful face. They that take to the better part may be reduced to great straits; therefore sometimes it may ‘happen to the righteous according to the work of the wicked, and to the wicked according to the work of the righteous,’ Eccles. viii. 4. So variously doth God dispense external good and evil, and may seem to frown upon those that are faithful now; yet we should not depart from his judgments: Job xiii. 14, ‘Though he kill me, yet will I trust in him.’ We should wrestle through many disappointments here, or hereafter God will not own us.
[2.] By giving success to a wrong party, that layeth claim to him, to his favour in an evil way, and interpret when his providence seems to be an approbation of an evil course. It is a great temptation. God’s choicest servants have been staggered by it; yet it is but a temptation: Ps. l. 21, ‘I kept silence, and thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself.’ God may hold his hand, though they strangely transform him in their thoughts, and entitle their actions to his patronage. God trieth you: Deut. xiii. 2, 3, ‘The Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God, with all your heart and with all your soul.’ God’s word is so clear and satisfactory, that by a righteous judgment he may permit it, to try our steadfastness and obedience, not as chaff, but as solid grain. But must we not regard providences? Yes, but not interpret them against the word, but with it. It is comfortable to see the word backed with a providence, Rom. ii. 18; Heb. ii. 2; and Hosea vii. 12; when the word is made good, and they feel that which they would not believe. Not interpret it against the word. Providence is never against the word; it is an exact comment upon it, if we had eyes to see it; and when we see it altogether we shall find it so. But now we view it by pieces, and so mistake: Rom. viii. 28, ‘For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to purpose;’ Ps. lxxiii. 17, ‘Until I went into the sanctuary, then understood I their ends.’ When we look to the end of things, all hazards are over.
Secondly, The reasons why we must be exact and constant, not withstanding these temptations. ‘I will name but two, implied in the two words of the text, ‘Thy judgments’—(1.) It is God’s word; (2.) God’s word is judgment.
1. It is God’s direction, who cannot deceive or be deceived; you may venture your soul’s temporal and eternal estate, and all upon it, upon God’s bare word; for it is impossible for him to lie in his promises, Heb. vi. 18, or to be deceived in his directions. The word of the Lord is a pure rule: 1 John ii. 27, ‘The unction teacheth you all things, and is truth, and is no lie.’ There is no erring while we walk by this direction, the Spirit of God teaching us by his word; and in deed this is the effect of that great faith, to believe God upon his bare word, to believe what he hath spoken is true, and to act accordingly. If this were rooted in our hearts, we should not be so unstable, so easily foiled by Satan, discouraged by the oppositions of evil men, or live by example, but by rule, and would interpret the providence of God to the advantage, and not the prejudice of obedience: ‘Whom resist, steadfast in the faith,’ 1 Peter v. 9. Adhere to the truth of the word: I know here is my direction, and in the issue will be my safety and happiness. But either we do not believe this is God’s word, or do not urge the heart with God’s authority and veracity, and therefore we are up and down. But now, when we determine this is God’s word, and so receive it, 1 Thes. ii. 13, ‘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.’ And then it is my rule; whatever it cost me. There you urge the heart with the authority of God, Mat. xvi. 24: a resolute giving up ourselves to God’s direction, and to receive the law from his mouth. And it is a certain rule, whatever cross accidents fall out, it should be received with such certainty and absolute authority as nothing should move us. So assured of it, ‘that if an angel should preach any other doctrine, let him be accursed,’ Gal. i. 8; 2 Tim. iii. 16; and 2 Peter i. 2. When it is believed to be the Lord’s mind, it is a sure ground for faith to rest upon; it is not a doctrine found out by the wit of man, no private invention of others, but God’s inspiration. God hath wisdom to direct me the safest way, and goodness and faithfulness enough not to mislead me: ‘Good and upright is the Lord, therefore will he teach sinners in the way,’ Ps. xxv. 8. It is not the devices of their heads that wrote it, but the public mind of God. And saith the apostle, ‘Knowing this first;’ this is the first and supreme principle: he had said, ver. 19, that we should consult with the word for direction and comfort before we can get any saving light or true comfort.
2 It is judgments. Every man’s doom is contained in the word, and if you can but stay a little, you shall see it verified by sensible and plain experiences. Do but wait and observe how God maketh good his promises, and accomplished his threatenings, and you will see no cause to depart; you will find you have done right in the issue, and that close obedience is the only way of safety and happiness here and hereafter. David did so as to his own case: Ps. xviii. 21, ‘I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.’ And was he a loser by it? No; ‘God hath recompensed me according to the cleanness of my hands.’ On the other side, those that depart from God are destroyed; his word will be made good against them: Ps. cxix. 119, ‘Thou puttest away the wicked of the earth like dross.’
Use 1. Direction to us both in public and private cases. Be sure you follow such ways as God’s word doth allow, for otherwise it is not constancy, but obstinacy; and then whatever troubles and discouragements you meet with, this will be a comfort to you, that you are in God’s way.
First, As to your private case, be not discouraged by the instability of your heart and the temptations of Satan. You will be up and down with God; but observe these two rules:—
1. It is necessary to watch against your first declinings, lest by little and little the heart be stolen away from God. When you lose your savour of holy things, lessen your diligence, and are not so exact and watchful, you begin to depart from God. The gap once made in the conscience groweth wider and wider every day. The first declinings are a cause of all the rest; remitting your watch and spiritual fervour, by degrees you do not walk with such a straight foot: he that looketh to the house to keep it tight and in constant repair, prevents the fall of it.
2. If through our infirmity we miscarry at any time, we must not persist in a wrong course, but reclaim speedily, not depart wickedly, Ps. xviii. 21, not lie in the dirt when we have caught a fall. There is a departing out of infirmity, and a departing wickedly. A candle sucketh light if presently kindled again; the longer we lie in our sins the worse; the more care, the more speedy, the more likely to succeed, when there is any breach between us and God; not lie in it.
Secondly, As to public actions. We live in changeable times, but it is well that we have a sure rule; this may stablish your hearts. If governed by sense and interest, with what a gracious face shall we appear to the world? Though you meet with troubles for being exact and punctual as to principles of conscience, and many disappointments from God, yet in the issue that will be found to be the best course for you and yours. Now, when you see your duty, for which you must consult both with word and Spirit, take heed of two things:—
1. Unbelief: Heb. iii. 12, ‘Take heed lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.’ The cause of apostasy is unbelief; they do not look upon God’s directions as judgments. Men that look to the present face of things cannot see things to come, and so miscarry. Hezekiah, in the midst of dangers and difficulties, was steady to God: 2 Kings xviii. 5, 6, ‘He trusted in the Lord God of Israel: he clave to the Lord, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses.’ Every duty hath a sanction, invested with promises and threatenings; therefore, as there needeth obedience to make conscience of the precept, so faith to believe the sanction, which doth enliven the duty, and keep our hearts under the awe of it.
2. Mortification; for till there be an indifferency to all events in temporal things, we shall ever be departing and turning off from God; sometimes allured out of our obedience, sometimes affrighted out of it; therefore, till dead to worldly accidents and interests, we are easily turned out of the way: Heb. xii. 13, ‘Lest that which is lame be turned out of the way;’ that which is lame, feeble, and fearful. Good men may be carried away thus, as Peter. Too weak and inconstant are the best of men; the least blast of temptation will make them leave off the course of well-doing, and, without respect had to conscience or credit, openly desert it. For fear of man’s offence Peter slipped from his duty. Fear of losing applause, or incurring hatred with men; maketh us venture on God’s dishonour; unmodified lusts make us more tender of ourselves than of God.
Second point. That divine teaching causeth constancy; for therefore David saith, ‘I departed not, for thou hast taught me.’ Here—
1. What it is to be taught of God; it is often spoken of in scripture: Isa. liv. 13, ‘All thy children shall be taught of the Lord’; John vi. 45, ‘All taught of God.’ Now God teacheth outwardly by his word, but inwardly by his Spirit; these two must not be severed. Our hearing is necessary: Eph. iv. 21, ‘If so be ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus;’ the ordinary means of hearing him preached, and set forth in the gospel and public ministry, and by that means doth Christ make use of it to teach us by his Spirit. So John vi. 45, ‘Heard and learned of the Father;’ it doth not seclude a teaching ministry in the gospel; but it is said, 1 Thes. iv. 9, ‘Ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another;’ and 1 John ii. 27, ‘But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you; and ye need not that any man teach you, but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie; and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.’ It is a rhetorical insinuation, the negative to be understood comparatively; man’s teaching is nothing to what you have already by the Spirit. On the other side, much more doth it not exclude the Spirit, upon whom the efficacy dependeth. God teacheth by men, but the effect is from his grace: Mark xvi. 20, ‘They went forth preaching the word, the Lord working with them;’ 1 Cor. iii. 6, ‘Paul may plant, and Apollos water, but God giveth the increase.’ The internal efficacy worketh by external means: Docet Spiritus Sanctus, sed per verbum, saith Ferus, docent apostoli; sed per co-operationem Spiritus Sancti—God worketh in and by the means.
2. Inwardly God teacheth two ways—(1.) By common illumination; (2.) Special operation.
1. Common illumination, barely enlightening the mind to know or understand what he propoundeth by his messengers. So Rom. i. 20, God showed it to the heathen, ‘For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and godhead; so that they are without excuse.’
2. But then, by way of special operation, effectually inclining the will to embrace and prosecute duties so known: Jer. xxxi. 33, ‘I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.’ This way of teaching is always effectual and persuasive. Now in this sense they are taught of God, that they do not only get an ear to hear, but a heart to understand, learn, and practise.
Secondly, Why this teaching is the ground of constancy.
1. They that are thus taught of God see things more clearly than others do: God is the most excellent teacher. One man seeth a thing by candlelight, another by daylight; he seeth most clearly that seeth by noonday. The light of the Spirit doth clearly manifest things, both object and faculty. The unction teacheth us all things, 1 John ii. 20, 2 Cor. iii. 18.—a distinct, clear, abiding light. Carnal men are blind, 2 Peter i. 9. How sharp-sighted soever in other things, yet blind; they do not see so as to affect their hearts.
2. They know things more surely, and with certainty of demonstration; whereas others have but dubious conjectures, and loose and wavering opinions about the things of God: John vi. 69, ‘We believe, and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God;’ John xvii. 8, ‘Known surely that I came out from thee.’ The many temptations and assaults we meet with need such a certain apprehension.
3. This teaching is so efficacious and powerful, as that the effect followeth: Ps. lxxxvi. 11, ‘Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth;’ 1 Cor. ii. 4. It is a lovely teaching, causing us to cleave to what is taught.
4. God reneweth this teaching, and is always at hand to guide us, and give counsel to us, which is cause of our standing. We need this continual teaching to keep us mindful, that we may not forget things known. The Spirit puts us in remembrance, because of the decay of fervency, and dulness of spirit that groweth upon us; therefore are truths revived to keep us fresh and lively, that we may not neglect our duty. Because of incogitancy and heedlessness we mistake our way, and are apt to run into sin in the time of trial and temptation. Therefore we need a monitor on all occasions, Isa. xxx. 31, that we may not be carried away with the corrupt bent of our own hearts. Well, then, this abiding in us is the cause of perseverance, 1 John ii. 27.
Use. To show the reason of men’s fickleness and inconstancy, both in opinion and practice. He that is led by man unto man, both as to opinion and practice, may be led off by man again, when we take up truth upon tradition and human recommendation. Oh! seek it of God: Isa. xlviii. 17, ‘I am the Lord your God, that teacheth you to profit.’ Not our own ability, but the light of the Holy Ghost; wait upon God, learn something of him every day, and give God all the glory.
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