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My soul is continually in my hand: yet do I not forget thy law.—Ver. 109.
IN this verse and the next, David asserts his integrity against two sorts of temptations and ways of assault—the violence and craft of his enemies. Their violence in this verse, my soul is in my hand; and their craft in the next verse, they laid snares for me. And yet still his heart is upright with God.
In this verse observe—(1.) David’s condition, my soul is continually in my hand. (2.) His constancy and perseverance, notwithstanding that condition, yet do I not forget thy law.
First, Let me speak of the condition he was now in, in that expression, ‘My soul is continually in my hand.’ The soul in the hand is a phrase often used in scripture; it is said of Jephthah, Judges xii. 3, ‘I put my life in my hands, and passed over against the children of Ammon.’ So Job xiii. 14, ‘Wherefore do I take my flesh in my teeth, and put my life in my hand?’ And when David went to encounter Goliath, 1 Sam. xix. 5, it is said, ‘He put his life in his hand, and slew the Philistine.’ In exposing ourselves to any hazard and dangers in any great attempt, it is called the putting of our life in our hand. And the witch of Endor, when she ventured against a law to please Saul, and so had exposed her life, this form of speech is used concerning her, 1 Sam. xxviii. 21, ‘I have put my life in my hand.’ Briefly, then, by soul is meant life, and this is said to be in his hand; I go in danger of my life day by day; as if he should say, I have my soul ready divorced when God calls for it. It not only notes liableness to danger, but resolution and courage to encounter it. In a sense, we always carry our souls in our hands; our life hangs by a single thread, which is soon fretted asunder, and therefore we should every day be praying that it may not be taken from us, as the souls of wicked men are, Job xxvii. 8; Luke xii. 20, but yielded up, and resigned to God. But more especially is the expression verified when we walk in the midst of dangers and in a thousand deaths: ‘My soul is in my hand;’ that is, I am exposed to dangers that threaten my life every day.
Secondly, Here is his affection to God’s word, notwithstanding this condition, ‘Yet do I not forget thy law.’ There is a twofold remembrance of things—notional and affective; and so there is a twofold forgetfulness:—
1. Notional. We forget the word, when the notion of things writ ten therein has either wholly or in part vanished out of our minds.
2. Affectively. We are said to forget the word of God when, though we still retain the notion, yet we are not answerably affected, do not act according thereunto, and this is that which is understood here, ‘I do not forget thy law.’ Law is taken generally for any part of the word of God, and implies the word of promise, as well as the word of command. As for instance:—
[1.] If we interpret it of the promise, the sense will be this: I do not forget thy law; that is, I take no discouragements from my dangers to let fall my trust, as if there were no providence, no God to take care of those that walk closely with him. Heb. xii. 5, when they fainted, they are said to have forgotten the consolation which spake unto them as unto children.
[2.] If we interpret this word ‘law’ of the commandments and directions of the word, and so I do not forget it; that is either by way of omission, I do not slacken my diligence in thy service for all this; or by way of commission, I do not act contrary to conscience; and the effect of the whole verse is this: Though I walk in the midst of dangers and a thousand deaths continually, yet at such a time, when a man would think he should not stand upon nice points, even then he should keep up a dear and tender respect to God’s law. And he doth the rather express himself thus, I do not forget it, because great temptations blind and divert the mind from the thought of our duty. Our minds are so surprised with the dangers before us, that God’s law is quite forgotten as a thing out of mind, and we act as if we had no such comfort and direction given us. The points are two:—
1. That such things may befall God’s children that they may carry their lives in their hands from day to day.
2. When we carry our lives in our hands, no kind of danger should make us warp and turn aside from the direction of God’s word.
Doct. 1. That such things may befall God’s children that they may carry their lives in their hands from day to day.
That this is often the lot of God’s people, we may prove: 1 Cor. xv. 31, ‘I protest, by our rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.’ How can that be, I die daily, since we die but once? The meaning is, I go still in danger of my life. Such times may come when we run hazards for Christ every day, so that in the morning we do not know what may fall out before night: 2 Cor. xi. 23, ‘In deaths often;’ that is, in danger of death. So 1 Peter iv. 19, ‘Let those that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.’ Let them commit their souls, that is, their lives; the soul is sometimes put for life, for life spiritual or life eternal, but there it is put for life natural; so let them commit their souls to God, that is, in times of danger and hazard. Let them go on in well-doing cheerfully, and though there be no visible means of safety and defence, let them commit their lives to God in well-doing; when they carry their lives in their own hands, let them be careful to put them into the hands of God. Let God do what he pleaseth, for he is a faithful Creator; that is, as once he created them out of nothing, so he is able to preserve them when there is nothing visible, nothing to trust to. Often this may be the case of God’s people, that they carry their lives in their hands from day to day. That you may take the force of the expression, consider when the people of God are in the midst of their enemies, then they carry their lives in their hands: Mat. x. 16, ‘Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves;’ when they are among men no better affected to them than wolves to sheep, and when men have them in their power, and there is no outward restraint of laws and government; for whatever enmity they have or act against them, laws and government are a great restraint; as Gen. xxvii. 41, ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand, then will I slay my brother Jacob.’ Till Isaac was dead, there was a check upon him; but sometimes it is in the power of their hands to do them mischief: Micah ii. 1, ‘They practise iniquity, because it is in the power of their hand.’ When men are ill affected, no restraint upon them, no impediment in their way, yea, when they begin to persecute and rage against the servants of God, and we know not when our turn comes, then we are said to have our lives in our hand; as Rom. viii. 36, ‘For thy sake are we killed all the day long;’ that is, some of that body killed, now one picked up, then another; in these cases they are said to carry their lives in their hands, when they are in the power of men that have no principle of tenderness to us, no restraint upon them, these begin to vex, molest, and trouble the Church.
For the reasons why God permits it so, that his people should carry their lives in their hands.
1. God doth it to check security, to which we are very subject. We are apt to forget changes; if we have but a little breathing from trouble, we promise ourselves perpetual exemption therefrom; as Ps. xxx. 6, ‘My mountain stands strong, I shall never be moved.’ When we have got a carnal pillow under our heads to rest upon, it is hard to keep from sleep, and dreaming of temporal felicity to be perpetuated to us; then we forget by whom we live, and by whose goodness we subsist; yea, this may be when trials are very near: the disciples slept when their master was ready to be surprised and they scattered, Mat. xxvi. 40; when we are in the greatest dangers, and matters which most concern us are at hand. Now, to prevent this security, God draws away this pillow from under our heads, and suffers us to be waylaid with dangers and troubles everywhere, that we might carry our lives in our hands, for this makes us sensible of our present condition in the world, and that we subsist upon God’s goodness and providence every moment.
2. To wean us from creature confidences and carnal dependences: 2 Cor. i. 9, ‘We received the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.’ Paul, that went up and down everywhere to hunt the devil out of his territories, and to alarm the carnal sleepy world, this Paul was very prone to trust in himself; a man that was whipped, imprisoned, stoned, opposed everywhere by unreasonable men, what had he to trust to but God’s providence? And yet he needs to be brought to this, to take his life in his hands, that he might learn to trust in God that raiseth from the dead. The best are prone to trust in themselves, and to lean to a temporal, visible interest. We would fain have it by any means, therefore sometimes we take a sinful course to get it. Well, now, God, to cure his people of this distemper, breaks every prop and stay which they are apt to lean upon, breaks down the hedge, the fence is removed, and lays them open to dangers continually, so that from day to day they are forced to seek their preservation from him.
3. To check their worldliness. We are very apt to dote upon present things, and to dream of honours and great places in the world, and seek great things for ourselves, when we should be preparing for bitter sufferings. As the two sons of Zebedee employed their mother to speak to Christ; being near of kin to him, she comes in a cunning manner, under pretence to worship him, and propounds a general question to him; she does not at first propose the particular, but says in general, ‘I have a certain thing to request of thee.’ And what was her request? ‘That one of my sons may sit on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.’ Saith Christ, ‘To sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my father.’ Mark, out of this story you learn how apt Christ’s own disciples are to dote upon worldly honour and greatness. The sons of Zebedee, James and John, those two worthy disciples, employ their mother to; Christ in such a message; they were dreaming of earthly kingdoms and worldly honour that should be shared between them, notwithstanding Christ taught them rather to prepare for crosses in this world. Do but reflect the light of this upon your own hearts. Do we think we are better than those apostles? and that it is an easy thing to shut the love of the world, and the honour thereof, out of our hearts, since they were so enchanted with the witchery of it? Therefore Christ tells them, Mat. xx. 22, ‘Alas! poor creatures, ye know not what ye ask: can you pledge me in my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ We know not what we do when we are hunting after high places in the world; we are to pledge Christ in his bitter cup before our advancement come. Nay, to prove this is not only the worldling’s disease, but it is very incident to the choicest of God’s people; for after Christ had suffered and rose again, the apostles were not dispossessed of this humour, but still did dream of worldly ease and honour, therefore they come to Christ with this question, Acts i. 6, ‘Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?’ meaning, in the Jewish sense, break the Roman yoke, and give them power and dominion over the nations, hoping for a great share to themselves when this work was done. Thus you see human weakness and the love of worldly honour bewrays itself in Christ’s own disciples. One instance more, in Jer. xlv. 5, of Baruch, ‘Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not.’ Baruch, he was Jeremiah’s scribe, had written his prophecy, and believed it, that dreadful roll, written it over, yet he was seeking some great thing for himself. The best are apt to think they shall shift well enough for themselves in the world; therefore saith Jeremiah, For thou to have thoughts of honour and credit, and a peaceful and prosperous estate, when all is going to rack and ruin, never dream upon such a matter. Now judge whether there be not great cause that God should bring his people to such a condition that they should carry their life in their hands from day to day, that he might cure them of this distemper.
4. That they may value eternal life the more, which they would not do if they had a stable condition here in the world. After death there will be a life out of all danger, and a life that is not in our hands, but in the hands of God; none can take that life from us which God keepeth in heaven. Now that they might look after this life, and value and prize it the more, they are exposed to hazards and dangers here. The apostle saith, 1 Cor. xv. 19, ‘If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.’ When they find the present life encumbered with so many sorrows, and exposed to so many dangers, then they conclude surely there is a better and safer estate for the people of God elsewhere in heaven. God’s people cannot be of all men most miserable; there is another life; they have hopes in Christ, and for other things; therefore they long for it, and look for it: Heb. xiii. 14, ‘Here we have no abiding city, but we seek one to come.’ All things are liable to uncertainties and apparent troubles, that we might look after that estate where the sheep of Christ shall be safely lodged in their eternal fold. Now God by their condition doth, as it were, say to them, as Micah ii. 10, ‘Arise, this is not your rest.’ Your stable comforts, your everlasting enjoyments are not here; here all our comforts are in our hands, ready to deliver them up from day to day.
5. God doth by his righteous providence cause it to be so, that his people carry their life in their, hands, to try their affections to him and his word. When we sail with a full stream of prosperity, we may be of God’s side and party upon foreign and accidental reasons. Now God will see if we love Christ for his own sake, and his ways as they are his ways when separated from any temporal interest, yea, when exposed to scorn, disgrace, and trouble. It is easy to be good when it costs us nothing, and the wind blows in our backs rather than in our faces, the state of affairs is for us rather than against us. Halcyon times and times of rest are times of breeding the church, but stormy times are times of trying the church: 1 Peter iv. 12, ‘Be loved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.’ God will put ‘us into his furnace, there will a fiery trial come, to see if we have the same affection to truth when it is safe to own it, and when it is dangerous to own it, when it is hated and maligned in the world. Few professors can abide God’s trial: Zech. xiii. 9, ‘I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried.’ When two parts fall away, there is a third part refined and tried by trials. When the generality proves dross, or chaff, or stubble in the furnace, there is some good metal preserved, to shine brighter, for trial as their zeal is increased and their grace kept more lively, and their faith and dependence upon a continual exercise. God will try whether we can live upon invisible supports, and go on cheerfully in the performance of our duty in the midst of all difficulty, without these outward encouragements. They are proved that they may be improved.
6. God doth cause such things to befall his people, to show his power both in their preservation and in overruling all those cross providences for their good.
[1.] His power in their preservation; when they have no temporal interests to back them, God will show he can preserve his people: Ps. xcvii. 1, ‘The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice, let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.’ It is well that the Lord reigns, else how could his people stand? The Lord reigns, and the multitude of isles they have a share in the joy and benefit. One benefit that we have by his reign is this, ver. 10, compared with ver. 1, he preserveth the souls of his saints; that is, their lives; he delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked. There is an overruling, a secret and in visible providence, by which they are kept and hidden as in a pavilion, so they have often experience of wonderful preservation in the midst of all their troubles.
[2.] God shows his power for overruling all these accidents for the increase and benefit of his church and people. When the believers were scattered, and driven up and down, when exposed to hazards and inconveniences, it is said, Acts xi. 21, ‘The hand of the Lord was with them; and a great number believed and turned unto the Lord.’ God can make their loss turn to their increase. Christ often gets up upon the devil’s shoulders, and is beholden more to his enemies than to his friends in this sense, because that which would seem to stop his course, and to obscure his glory, doth advance it so much the more: Phil. i. 12, ‘The things which happened unto me, have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.’ The gospel was not extinguished by Paul’s imprisonment, but propagated. I say, Paul’s sufferings were as necessary as Paul’s preaching, that the truth might gain, and that it might be known and heard of. God overrules all these actions for his glory, and for the benefit of his church.
Use 1. First, if we be not in this condition, let us look for it and prepare for it. Religion is a stranger in the world, and therefore it is often ill-treated; we have a stable happiness elsewhere, and here we must expect changes. All the comforts and hopes of the scriptures is suited to such a condition; a great part of the Bible would be need less, and would be but as bladders given to a man who stands upon dry land, and never means to go into the waters; the comforts and provisions God hath made for us in the word would be useless, it’ such things did not befall us. Why hath God laid in so many sup ports, if we think never to be put to distress and troubles? Oh! then, think of these things beforehand, and make them familiar to you. ‘The evil which I feared is come upon me,’ saith Job. When the back is fitted, the burden will not be so dreadful. Think of these things beforehand, that you may provide and prepare for them. Now, that you may not be strange at such kind of providences, consider four things:—
1. The world will be the world still. There is a natural enmity between the two seeds, which will never be wholly laid aside, between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, Gen. iii. 15; as natural an enmity as between the wolf and the lamb, the raven and the dove: 1 John iii. 12, ‘Cain was of that wicked one, and slew his brother; and wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.’ Separation and estrangement in course of life is a provoking thing. Men that live in any sinful course are loath any should part company with them, that there might be none to make them ashamed; therefore when they draw from their sins, and do not run with them into the same excess of riot, they think it strange; your life is a reproof to them: John vii. 7, ‘The world hateth me, because I testified of it that the works thereof are evil;’ and Heb. xi. 7, ‘Noah condemned the world; being moved with fear, prepared an ark.’ Strictness is an object reviving guilt. Every wicked man loves another—Velut factorem, adjutorem et excusatorem sui criminis, as one that favours his actions, and helps to excuse his actions. One wicked man doth not put another to the blush. It is no shame to be black in the country of the negroes. But when there is a distinction, some walk with God humbly and closely, certainly your life is a reproach to others that do not so, therefore they will hate you.
2. This enmity hath ever been working: the prophets and holy men of God have had experience of it. Abel was slain by Cain, Gen. iv. 18; Isaac scoffed at by Ishmael, Gen. xxi. 11; which example the apostle allegeth, Gal. iv. 29, ‘He that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the spirit,’ So it was then, so it is now, and so it will ever be to the world’s end. Ever it hath been the lot of God’s children to suffer hard things from the men of this world, though they are related to them in the nearest bonds of kindred and acquaintance. Jacob, because of the blessing and birthright, was pursued to death by Esau, and driven out of his father’s house, Gen. xxvii.; Moses driven out of Egypt by his unkind brethren, Acts vii. 25-27; David hunted up and down like a partridge upon the mountains; Jezebel sought Elijah’s life; Micaiah thrown into prison, and hardly used; Elisha pursued by Jehoram for his head. Instances are end less of this kind; ever there hath been an enmity, and ever will be.
3. Persecutions are more, greater, and longer in the New Testament than in the Old. Why? Partly because the Old Testament church was under tutors and governors, Gal. iv. 1, 2; neither for light of knowledge, nor ardour of zeal to be compared with the New Testament church, when ‘the kingdom of heaven suffers violence,’ Mat. xi. 11. Look, as Christ spared his disciples until they were fit for greater troubles, till fit for the new wine, Mat. ix. 17, so God spared that church. The church then had troubles, but for the most part they were not for religion, but for defection from God, for their sins. And partly, too, because the church of the Old Testament was not so dispersed, but confined within the narrow bounds of one province or country, not mixed with the profane idolatrous nations, nor exposed to their hatred, contradiction, and rage; but of Christians, the apostle tells us, this sect is everywhere spoken against. And partly because Satan then had quiet reign over the blind world for a long time; but now, when Christ comes to dispossess him, to turn out the strong man—the goods were in peace before, and now he hath but a short time—he hath great wrath, Rev. xii. 11. When Christ came to seize upon the world, it was quick and hot work, his force and violence was greater. Again temporal promises were more in the eye of the covenant, where all things were wrapped up in types and figures; when prosperity signified happiness, and long life signified eternity, there were not such exercises and trials then. But now, ‘All those that will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution,’ 2 Tim. iii. 12. But since Christ hath set up his church, and brought light and immortality to the world, now troubles are greater.
4. Persecutions from pseudo-Christians will also be hot and violent: Rev. xiv. 13, ‘Write from henceforth, saith the Spirit, Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.’ Why, the dead that die in the Lord? they were always blessed from the beginning of the world; why such a solemn notice from heaven? Why from henceforth? The meaning is this: those that suffered under pagan persecutions, all Christians would call them blessed that died in the Lord. Ay! but now, when the persecutions began under the pseudo-Christians, blessed are the dead that die in the Lord from henceforth still. Nay, the persecutions here are greater than the pagan, and of longer continuance. Why? Because they have a show of Christ’s authority, as the beast in the Revelations had horns like a lamb; that beast which spake like a dragon, deceived the nations, enchanted the world with her witchery and sorcery, that beast had a pretence of the authority of Christ, Rev. xiii. 11. And the purity of Christians is greater, and so more enraging; and the great quarrel in the latter ages of the world is about a temporal interest. The spirit of the world is the spirit of antichristianism, and all those that hang upon her are of the spirit of the world: 1 John iv. 5, ‘They are of the world, therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.’ Now, when these are contending for the world, this doth exceedingly inflame and heighten the rage against those that would endanger their worldly interest. You see there is cause to think that God will expose us also to our trials; therefore we should be forewarned and prepared for these things that they may not come upon us unawares.
Use 2. If God’s people are put into such a condition that they carry their lives in their hands, then learn from hence, that if we have greater security for our lives and interests, we ought more to bless God and to improve the season. It is a great mercy that we have laws to secure our religion and our interests, that we have Christian and Protestant magistrates to execute those laws, that we may in safety worship God in the public assemblies, and we ought to bless God. But then, if this be our condition, there are three duties required of us:—
1. To acknowledge God in this mercy, for it is he that hath the hearts of magistrates in his own hands: Prov! xxi. 1, ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; as the river of waters, he turneth it whithersoever he will.’ Their thoughts, their designs, inclinations and aversations are in God’s hands. And as God hath power, so hath he promised this blessing, Isa. xlix. 23, that he will give ‘kings to be nursing fathers, and queens nursing mothers.’ Well, there is a power and a promise. What follows then? Only that we praise God for so much of it as we have, and that we pray to God still for more, that we may, under our kings and governors, ‘lead godly and quiet lives,’ 1 Tim. ii. 1, 2; and therefore, if we have greater security for our lives and interests, God must be acknowledged.
2. Be so much the more in active obedience: Acts ix. 31, ‘Then had the churches rest.’ And what then? ‘And they walked in the fear of God, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost.’ When you have a good day, you should improve it well; when we may walk up and down in the security of laws, and serve God freely, oh! let us serve him much; we are not called to renounce our interests, therefore let us mortify our lusts. Fires are not kindled about us to consume our bodies, therefore let the fire of God burn up our lusts. If the saints are to quit their well-being, certainly it should not be grievous to us to part with our ill-being, with our sins for God’s service. Look, as Salvian de Gub. lib. iii., saith, when our kings are Christians, and religion is not troubled by them, now God calls us to be more pure and holy in our conversations; now we do not shift for our lives, let us avoid occasions of evil; now we are not cast into prisons, let us confine ourselves to our closets, that we may serve God more cheerfully there.
3. Bear the lesser troubles with more patience, when this is not our condition, that our lives are carried in our hands from day to day. It was never so well with the people of God, that if not in kingdoms, yet in families, in parishes, in lesser societies there will be some conflict; now these we should bear with more patience, because the children of God are exposed to that condition that they have carried their lives in their hands from day to day: Heb. xii. 3, ‘Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.’ You are not called unto a ‘resistance to blood.’ As Julian the apostate said to one, If he was so offended with their taunts, what would he be with the darts of the Persians? If we cannot suffer a reproach, and an angry word for Christ; if we murmur when we are a little slighted and forgotten by men, and left out of the tale of the world, oh! what would we do if we were called to suffer greater things? Jer. xii. 5, ‘If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horsemen?’ that is, if thou canst not endure the scorn, reproach, and opposition of a few private wicked men that stand upon even ground with thee, how canst thou contend with horses, when there are other manner of oppositions?
Use 3. If this should now befall you, as it hath befallen God’s choicest servants, and very likely so to do for those reasons I gave, then shrink not, but resolve to endure any extremity rather than take any sinful course for your ease; nay, be not dejected if it should happen: Acts xxi. 13, ‘I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ There was one that had his life in his hand indeed, that had the courage to lay it down. To quicken you hereto, let me give a few considerations:—
1. God hath given you greater things than possibly you can lose for his sake; though we should lose life and all, yet he hath given us his Christ. Saith Ambrose, We are indebted for a person of the. Godhead; and shall we stick at our personal interests and concernments? Shall we not die for his honour who died for our salvation? die temporally for him who maketh us to live eternally? and give that body as a sacrifice to the honour of Christ, which otherwise by the law of nature will become meat for the worms? therefore every Christian should carry his life in his hand, Phil. i. 20, either by martyrdom or ministerial labours.
2. No evil is like to that evil which will befall us in forsaking God: Mat. x. 28, ‘Fear not them which can but kill the body,’ &c. Shall we, rather than run hazards with the sheep of Christ, be contented to howl with wolves in everlasting darkness, when we for a little temporal danger refuse to run hazard with Christ’s sheep, shall be cast into hell-fire for evermore? If we are so tender of suffering, what will it be to suffer hell-fire?
3. All that we can lose is abundantly made up in the other world. Heb. xi. 35, it is said, they ‘would not accept deliverance, having obtained a better resurrection.’ There is a resurrection from death to life, when we come out upon ill terms, by accepting the enemy’s deliverance. Ay! but there is a better resurrection when we come out upon God’s terms, a resurrection to life and glory hereafter. Violence doth but open the prison door, and let out the soul that long hath desired to be with Christ; and therefore we should endure, as expecting this better resurrection.
4. Consider upon what slight terms men will put their lives in their hands for other things, and shall we not run hazards for Christ? Many venture their lives for a humour, a little vainglory, to show a greatness of spirit; or they venture their lives upon revenges, upon a punctilio of honour. Some will venture their lives in the wars for one shilling a day, and shall we not carry our lives in our hands for Christ? Scipio boasted of his soldiers, that they loved him so as to venture their lives for him, to leap into the sea, and cast themselves down a steep rock: There are none of these but if I spake the word, shall go upon a tower, and throw himself down into the sea if I bid him. So Fulgentius’ story of those that would obey their chief, whom they called Vetus, the old man of the mountain, if he bid them fall down a steep rock, to show their obedience; and shall not we venture our lives for Christ?
Doct. 2. That when our souls are continually in our hands, no kind of danger should make us warp and turn aside from the direction of God’s word. Why?
1. A Christian should be above all temporal accidents; above carnal grief, carnal joy, worldly hope, worldly fear; he should be dead to the world, or else he is not thoroughly acquainted with the virtue of Christ’s cross, Gal. vi. 14.
2. God can so restrain the malice of wicked men, that though we carry our lives in our hands, we shall be safe enough for all that: Prov. xvi. 7, ‘When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.’ Mark, the Lord can secure you against men, when a man pleaseth the Lord; but when a man pleaseth men, they cannot secure you against the Lord, they cannot save you harmless from the wrath of God, or answer for you to the Almighty, nor give you safety from the terrors of conscience. But on the other side, many a man by pleasing God finds more safety and comfort in opposing the lusts and the humours of men than in complying with them. God’s providence is wonderfully at work for his children when they are reduced to these extremities; either he can allay their fury, turn in convictions upon their consciences of the righteousness of those whom they molest and trouble, as when Saul hunted for David, 1 Sam. xxiv. 17, ‘Thou art more righteous than I.’ God puts conviction upon him. Nay, sometimes such a fear and reverence that they dare not: Mark vi. 20, ‘Herod feared John because he was a strict man.’ Or some check or bridle, some contrary interest that God can set up, that their hands are withered when they are stretched out against them, as was Jeroboam’s hand; and therefore a Christian, though his life be in his hand, he should not warp. Why? For God can mightily provide for him as to his temporal safety: 1 Peter iii. 13, ‘Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?’ It is an indefinite proposition, some times it will be true. Let a man follow that which is good, who dares harm him? There is an awe, and he is kept safe, though not always.
3. We renounced all at our first coming to Christ. Estate, credit, liberty, life, it was all laid at Christ’s feet, if our hearts were really upright with him. A man must lay down self, whatever it be, else he cannot be Christ’s disciple, Mat. xvi. 24; Luke xiv. 26. This was done in vow, in a time of peace; therefore it must be actually done and made good in a time of trouble. Your interests are God’s, and are only given back to God again; your estate, life, liberty, and credit, all given up. Why? That you may have something of value to esteem as nothing for Christ.
4. Our sufferings shall be abundantly recompensed and made up in the world to come: Rom. viii. 18, ‘I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed.’ For a man to stand comparing his interest or sufferings here in this world with the glory revealed, is as foolish a thing as if a man should set a thousand pound weight with a feather. So 2 Cor. iv. 17, ‘Our light affliction,’ &c. We are often saying, If we lose this and that, what will become of us? what shall we have? Mat. xix. 27-29, ‘We have left all.’ A great all they had left for Christ; it may be a net, a fisher-boat, a cottage; yet he speaks magnificently of it, and ‘what shall we have?’ Have! You shall have enough; ‘in the regeneration you shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’
5. You should not warp, though you carry your lives in your hands, because constancy is necessary. How necessary? For our credit and good name as we are men: ‘Do I use lightness?’ saith the apostle, 2 Cor. i. 17. Men lose their authority and esteem, they are not accounted grave, serious, and weighty, when they shift and change, and appear with a various face to the world; and certainly it is for our comfort, for our right to everlasting blessedness is most sensibly clear by constancy in God’s cause: Phil. i. 28, ‘And in nothing terrified by your adversaries, which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.’ Oh! what would a man give for to clear this, that he is an heir of God? This is an evident token; and it is necessary for the credit of the truth which we profess. When we shift, turn, and wind, we bring a dishonour upon it; but, saith the apostle, Phil. i. 14, ‘They waxed confident by my bonds;’ this puts heart and courage. And it is for the honour of God: 1 Peter ii. 14, ‘On your part he is glorified;’ and John xxi. 19, ‘Signifying by what death he should glorify God.’ Since constancy is so necessary, either we should not take up principles, or suffer for them if called thereunto.
Use 1. Caution to the people of God. Take heed you do not forget the word, when you carry your lives in your hand. Many of God’s people may do so sometimes, as when we deny the truth: Mat. xxvi. 72, ‘Peter denied before them all, saying, I know not the man.’ Or when we take any sinful course for temporal safety, as when David feigned himself mad before Achish, 1 Sam. xxi. 13. Or when our spirits are filled with passion against the instruments of our trouble, and with uncomely heats, as Peter drew a sword in a rash zeal, and had no thanks for it, but a rebuke from Christ. Or when we suffer in a heartless and comfortless manner, as God’s children sometimes are in dejections of spirit. David took notice of his drooping and disconsolateness, Ps. xlii. 5; when he flitted up and down in the wilderness, pursued with Saul’s army, he had his droopings and discomforts. In these cases we forget the word of God.
Use 2. To press you to courage and constancy in a time of danger; to endure all extremities, rather than do anything against the word of God. Here I shall inquire:—
1. What is this Christian courage? There is military valour and Christian valour. The one consists in doing, the other in suffering, great things. Peter, at Christ’s death, had more of the military valour and fierceness than of the passive valour, for he that could venture on a band of men was foiled by a damsel’s question. The one dependeth on hastiness of temper, greatness of blood and spirits; the other upon faith and submission to God’s will: Acts vii. 55, ‘He being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.’ It is spoken when the people gnashed on him with their teeth, then full of the Holy Ghost. There is the habit of fortitude, and the act of it when led on. There is a great deal of difference between the courage of wicked men, and the faith and fortitude of good Christians. We see rude men are undaunted in the face of danger, but the fortitude of Christians consisteth in lifting up their eyes and hearts to heaven; others not, for as soon as they think of God, their courage faileth; the more brave, the more they shut out the thought of divine things, all sense of God and immortality: 1 Cor. xv. 32, ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die.’ It is a brutish fury, inflamed by wine, stirred up by trumpets and drums, not stirred up by the consolations of God, or remembrance of his covenant; then they are dejected, Rev. vi. 15-17.
2. To remove such objections as may hinder your courage and constancy.
[1.] It is a sore temptation to keep our service, but we must stand to God’s providence, to honour him by service or suffering, as he shall think good. We are to honour God in his own way, we are not to stretch conscience in the least degree to continue it. God hath no need of thy sin; when God hath a mind to lay you aside, submit.
[2.] The smallness of the difference is another objection. If it were to turn Turk, or heathen, or papist, men will say, they would not do so and so. God standeth upon every peek of his word, every dust of truth is precious.
[3.] Another objection is this, we shall be interpreted to hinder the public peace.
I answer—‘If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men,’ Rom. xii. 18. But be sure not to betray the cause of God, nor lose the interest of Christ; that is not possible which is not lawful in a moral sense.
[4.] Another objection is, that we shall be accounted peevish, rash, stubborn.
I answer—We must be led to credit. There is a difference between men stubborn and obstinate and zealous. Many may sacrifice a stout body to a stubborn mind, but be courageous and constant in the service of God.
3. What is necessary to this well-tempered courage, that we may suffer not out of humour, but out of conscience towards God? Not because formerly engaged by profession, or out of a desire of a name and esteem among religious persons, but out of obedience to God, who commandeth us to choose afflictions, rather than sin. To this resolution there is necessary—
[I.] A heart weaned from the world, Mat. vi. 24, otherwise a man will act very uncertainly, and his zeal for God be very uneven.
[2.] A heart entirely devoted to God. Every one that cometh to Christ must be thus resolved, Luke xiv. 26.
[3.] A heart purged from sin, or else our zeal is not uniform, besides that our lusts will weaken our courage. A carnal person, suffering in a good cause, is of no account with God. The priests were to search the burnt-offering if sound, or had any defect or blemish upon them. He that keepeth the commandments is best able to suffer for them: Mat. v. 10, ‘Blessed are they that suffer for righteousness’ sake.’ A martyr must have all the precedent graces.
[4.] A heart that lieth under a deep sense of eternity, and things to come: 1 John v. 4, ‘This is the victory we have over the world, even our faith.’ Not any looking backward, but forward.
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