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The wicked have laid a snare for me; yet I erred not from thy precepts.—Ver. 110.
HERE is the second assault made upon David’s integrity, the secret snares laid for him. The enemies of God’s people do not always go to work in the way of open persecution, and directly for righteousness’ sake; but then they lay snares; what they cannot do by open force, they seek to do by fraud. Many that have stood out with courage against the shock k of violence, have been taken in a snare; as the prophet that resisted the king was enticed by the blandishments of the old prophet, 1 Kings xiii. Persecution is a more gross way, and liable to exception, and therefore they must go secretly to work. Sometimes this life is a continued temptation, and a Christian that walketh in the world walketh in the midst of snares set for him, by his enemies bodily and spiritual. The devil is the great snare-layer, and wicked men learn it of him: ‘The wicked have laid a snare for me,’ &c. In the words observe—
1. David’s temptation, a snare laid for him.
2. The persons who managed the temptation, the wicked.
3. The success and issue, yet I erred not from thy precepts.
Doct. The godly have often snares laid for them, not only by Satan, but by wicked men.
Now snares are to entice, or endanger, or of a mixed nature.
1. Snares to entice them from their duty. Thus the blandishments of the whorish woman are called a snare: Prov. vii. 23, ‘As the bird hasteth unto the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life.’ Of this nature are crafty insinuations, baits of preferment, profit, pleasure, or any carnal advantage, to pervert our judgments, and draw us off from our duty.
2. Snares to endanger their safety, clogged with some spiteful condition to entrap others, or when there is a plot laid to endanger others, as Jeremiah complaineth, Jer. xviii. 22, ‘They have digged a pit to take me, they have hid snares for my feet;’ secretly conspired and practised his destruction. And David, Ps. cxl. 5, ‘The proud have hid a snare for me, and cords; they have spread a net by the wayside, and set gins for my feet. Selah.’ Hunters and fowlers did never go more cunningly to work to catch the prey, than those proud men had laid their design to bring his life under their power. And in Ps. xxxv. 7, ‘For without cause they have hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul;’ and Ps. lvii. 6, ‘They have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down: they have digged a pit for me, into the midst whereof they are Mien themselves. Selah.’ Now of this sort are St Bartholomew’s matins, and the plot and contrivance to out the Protestants in France, when they were invited to a wedding, that they might destroy them; and of this nature was the Gunpowder Treason; there was a snare laid. When Orestes had plotted Clytemnestra’s death, Euripides expresseth it, καλῶς ἀρ᾽ ἄρκυν ἐς μέσην πορεύεται—she fitly cometh into the snare.
3. Of a mixed nature, both to entice by endangering, and endanger by enticing.
[1.] As when they put them upon such conditions as may tempt them to folly and sin. Some think the text verified in David, at that time when he said, 1 Sam. xxvi. 19, ‘They have driven me out from abiding in the inheritance of the Lord, saying, Go serve other gods;’ meaning, they excited Saul to pursue him and persecute him, and forced him to flee into an idolatrous country, and so a snare laid to endanger his steadfastness in the true faith. It is a great temptation. Necessitas cogit ad turpia—necessity is but an evil counsellor; and this joined with the other temptation of bad company: Ps. cxx. 5, ‘Woe is me that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar.’
[2.] When they enact a law or statute, whereby to force them to sin or trouble; as they had a plot against Daniel, either to make him neglect his God, or render him obnoxious to authority, Dan. vi. 7, 8. When they burden them with such laws and statutes as the godly cannot obey without sin, or refuse without danger; they have their ends either to draw them to sin or suffer.
Now snares are laid by the wicked:—
1. Because usually they excel in policy, craftiness, and worldly wit, are superior to God’s children therein; their whole hearts run that way, and their principle is entire and unbroken; and therefore our Lord Christ telleth us, Luke xvi. 8, ‘For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.’ They applaud themselves in their artifices, idolise their wit: Hab. i. 16, ‘Sacrifice to their net, and burn incense to their drag;’ therefore use it to the saints’ destruction.
2. Because they are acted by Satan, who will ever be doing against the church, though to little purpose. Luke xxii. 3, the devil entered into Judas when he plotted against Christ. They learn their wiles from Satan, and conceive mischief by copulation with the great incubus of hell.
3. Their own hatred and malice against the people of God. Malice is a laying snares. Anger vents itself in a storm of words, or in some sudden violent action; but hatred lurketh in the soul, and puts them that harbour it upon plots and contrivances of revenge. The historian observeth of Tiberius, In malitiam statim invectus est, &c. When Absalom hated Amnon, because he forced his sister, he plotteth how to take away his life, 2 Sam. xiii. 22.
Now, whence cometh this malice against the children of God? Either by envy at their interests, or hatred at their holiness.
1. Envy at their interests, their esteem and respect in the world, when they come to be of any regard among men. Esther v. 9, Hainan plotteth against Mordecai, because he sat in the king’s gate: Ps. cxii. 9, 10, ‘His horn shall be exalted with honour; the wicked shall see it, and be grieved, and gnash with their teeth.’ When the gospel was like to get credit, Acts xvii. 5, the envious Jews raised an uproar. Pride is loath to stoop; to see opposites in glory and power whets their malice, and they contrive how to root them out. Every man would have himself and his own faction admired and magnified. The Pharisees conspired to take Christ: John xii. 19, ‘All the world is gone after him.’ When religion prevaileth, and groweth in credit and fashion, it is deeply resented by naughty men.
2. Hatred at their holiness. Men cannot endure to be outstripped in religion, and therefore hate what they will not imitate. Hatred is quick-sighted in revenge, full of plots and contrivances, and tickleth the soul with a delight in them; but especially religious hatred, when a man hateth another for his godliness, when religion, instead of a party, becomes a judge, that which should restrain our passions feeds them; no hatred so great as that against the power of godliness. Cain, when he saw Abel so punctual in God’s service, he plotteth to draw him into the field, 1 John iii. 12, and beginneth a discourse with him about providence and judgment to come, and rewards and punishments, and while Abel maintained God’s part, Cain fell upon him and slew him.
To apply this. As these snares tend to our temporal destruction, so there is a double use to be made of them.
1. To trust God with our safety in the midst of so many snares. What shall we do? Whatever remedy we have against violence, no man by his own foresight can find out all the snares that are laid for him; therefore commit your safety spiritual and temporal to the Lord; go to him and say, Ps. cxli. 9, ‘Keep me from the snare they have laid for me, and the gins of the workers of iniquity.’ Constant dependence upon God is necessary, for there can be no snare hidden from him who watcheth over us and our safety by night and by day. There is a double argument why we should trust God with our safety; because of his wisdom, and because of his watchful providence. Because of his wisdom. Alas! we are foolish and simple, and often betray ourselves into an evil condition; but God is wise for them that are foolish: Ps. xxxvii. 12, 13, ‘The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth: the Lord shall laugh at him, for he seeth that his day is coming.’ There is a wise God acting for a foolish people. I tell you, the wisdom of God for us is much greater than the wisdom of God in us. Where enemies deal proudly, God is above them; where they deal craftily, God is beyond them. The wisdom of God for us is greater than the wisdom of any against us. And also because of his watchful providence; he hath a waking love and care of us night and day: Ps. cxxi. 4, ‘Behold he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.’ He will be so far from sleeping, that he will not so much as slumber. When, we know nothing, his ‘providence finds out the secret contrivances that are against us. I tell you, God is our father; he will maintain us and take care for us, when we live by faith, and not by shifts, in a good plain downright course of honesty: Gen. xvii. 1, ‘I am God all-sufficient: walk before me, and be thou perfect;’ that is, they should go on doing their duty, and refer the care of their safety to God. Oh! then, cast yourselves upon the Lord; he will either direct your way to eschew these snares, or pluck your feet out of them if you be taken therein: Ps. xxv. 15, ‘Mine eyes are ever towards the Lord; he shall pluck my feet out of the snare.’ Look to him for direction and counsel.
2. Bless God for your safety and preservation; it is a mercy to have a being, in the midst of so many dangers and snares as waylay us everywhere; especially should we bless God when we have escaped some notable trap and pit that was digged for us: Ps. cxxiv. 7, ‘Our soul is escaped like a bird out of the snare of the fowler: the snare is broken, and we are escaped.’ This is a passage we may use to God this day. There are two grounds usually of thanksgiving for this deliverance:—
[1.] That their devices came to nought: Job xv. 35, ‘They conceive mischief and bring forth vanity.’ It discovereth the wisdom, power, goodness, and watchfulness of God, that this dark and hellish machination, that they thought so wisely laid that all devils in hell could not discover it, yet the God of heaven brought it to light: Prov. xxi. 30, ‘There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord.’
Those three words set out the quintessence of parts. Wisdom noteth a quick apprehension; understanding a wise foresight grounded upon experience; counsel a designation of some rare artifice: Isa. viii. 9, 10, ‘Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us.’
[2.] The mischief returned back upon themselves: Ps. vii. 15, ‘He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. Higgaion. Selah.’ Their instruments; it is a high note that we may observe it. An iron heated red-hot burneth their fingers that hold it; they are taken in their own pit, poisoned in their own cup, holden in cords of their own vanity, so that in the issue it appeareth they laid a snare for themselves rather than for us.
Use 2. As they are enticements to sin; so we may make many uses of it.
1. You ought to ask God’s counsel, for you walk in the midst of snares, that he would guide you and lead you: Ps. xxvii. 11, ‘Teach me thy way, O Lord; lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.’ Those that watch for our halting are many, their craft is great; therefore go to the wise God for counsel; ask of him what your way and course shall be, for he seeth that which you see not.
2. Get spiritual wisdom and understanding. An ignorant, credulous heart is soon seduced, but a man of understanding, that seeth his danger, is not easily drawn and allured into it: Prov. i. 17, ‘In vain is the snare laid in the sight of any bird.’ The vain, credulous, simple young man is soon enticed by the lewd woman, in the 7th of the Proverbs.
3. Keep the highway of duty, and walk by a sure rule, and then you are safe. David saith here, ‘I erred not from thy precepts.’ In a time of snares, often consult with your rule. It is Satan’s aim to put us out of our way; as when the fisherman would get the fishes into the net, he seeketh to rouse them out of their place. Take a man out of God’s way, and he becometh a ready prey to Satan. In doubtful cases there is no man chooseth the worst, but first he breaketh some known rule and clear moral precept. Therefore be punctual, and keep close to God’s directions in clear and known cases, and you are safe.
4. There needs a mortified heart to worldly interests; our temporal interest is to be shaken off. A man of carnal affections seeketh but the snare: Job xviii. 8, ‘He is cast into a net by his own feet, and he walketh upon a snare.’ If we will find the sin and disposition of heart, God will find the occasion; and a man that hath a commodity to put off (faith and a good conscience), will soon find a chapman to truck with him. Judas was thinking of betraying Christ, and the high priests were plotting how to do it just at the same time. Worldliness layeth us open to the snare: 1 Tim. vi. 9, ‘But they that will be rich, fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.’ But he that is dead to worldly interests remaineth firm, whatever bait be proposed.
Secondly, We come to the’ persons that managed the temptation, the wicked: ‘The wicked have laid a snare for me.’
Doct. It is the property of a wicked heart to plot and lay snares for the mischief and ruin of others, especially God’s people. David saith here, ‘The wicked have laid snares for me.’
1. It is a deliberate, voluntary sin; and the more will and advisedness in any sin, the greater it is. Laying of snares is not a thing done in passion, but in cool blood; there is art and cunning in it, and the heart dwelleth long upon it. The will sets the wit a-work, to weave the net and frame the device. Involuntarium minuit de ratione peccati—when a thing is involuntary it lesseneth sin; a man may be overtaken with a fault, Gal. vi. 1. But when he studieth it, it is much the worse. God’s children are surprised through unwariness, and made to stumble in a fit of temptation; but when men’s wits are bended to project and plot sin, it is not an infirmity but an iniquity: Prov. vi. 14, ‘Frowardness is in his heart; he deviseth mischief continually, he soweth discord.’ It is the description of a naughty heart; so the prophet, Micah ii. 1, ‘Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds: when the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hands.’ Their wickedness is premeditated, then woe to them.
2. It is a sign that evil is connatural to them, when they are plotting, as poison is to a spider; they are always working it, never out of their way by night and by day, their hearts run upon it: Prov. iv. 16, ‘Whenever they are abroad, they sleep not unless they have done mischief, and their sleep is taken away unless they cause some to fall.’ Then when others cannot rest, they examine themselves. Ps. iv. 4, ‘Commune with your hearts upon your beds.’ When our reins should instruct us, and suggest wholesome thoughts to us, Ps. xvi. 7; or when we should direct our prayer to God in the morning, Ps. v. 3, then they employ their thoughts and musings on evil. The apostle maketh it to be their disposition that are given up by God to a reprobate sense, to be ‘inventors of evil things,’ Rom. i. 30.
3. They that plot evil, they are of the devil’s trade, whose work it is to hurt and mischief those who are broken loose from him; it is his business to lay snares: 2 Tim. ii. 26, ‘And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.’ When Judas plotteth against Christ, the devil entereth into him. So Acts xiii. 10, it is said to Elymas the sorcerer, ‘O thou full of all subtlety and mischief, the child of the devil.’ They are like the devil in their hatred of God and the truth, and the persecution of the church, and like him for subtlety and politic contrivance. Bloody designs and inventions are the venom and poison of the old serpent sunk into men’s hearts; there are both cruelty and lying: John viii. 44, ‘Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do: he was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him: when he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it.’
4. It is a sin contrary to the love of God and man, against double light and double obligations, from both the tables: grace and nature condemneth it. It is against God, for if we did love him, we would love his image; the saints that are so near and dear to him, they are ‘his jewels,’ Mal. iii. 17; they cost him dear; he gave an infinite price for them, the blood of Christ: they are the apple of his eye; to strike at them is to strike at God himself. And it is against man; if reasons of grace do not restrain such, yet reasons of nature should. To plot mischief against one that is of the same nature with us, natural light will teach us we should do as we would be done by. Oh! what a cruel creature is man to man, when God lets him alone to the sway of his own heart and natural fierceness!
5. It is contrary to the gentleness and simplicity of the Christian religion. Christian religion is a simple and harmless thing: Phil. ii. 15, ‘That ye be holy and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation;’ 2 Cor. 1. 12, ‘This is our rejoicing, that in simplicity and godly sincerity we have had our conversation in the world.’ It is a sign men have drunk in a false religion when their spirits are efferated, and grow monsters in wickedness. Men addicted to false worship are subtle and cruel; subtle, for where there is real worth there is no dissimulation; they carry things open and fair; they have a God and conscience to bear them out, and this is worth all the world; and if things do not suit to their minds, they can tarry God’s leisure, without base and creeping acts, and underhand designs and machinations; but a false religion, that hath not a God to depend upon, breedeth fears, and fear and pusillanimity puts men upon plots and bloody designs, as Herod, when afraid, seeketh craftily to murder Christ, Mat. ii. And as a false religion is crafty, so it is mischievous and cruel: Jude 11, ‘These walked in the way of Cain;’ for a false religion cannot subsist without the plots of blood and tyranny and cruelty. When Judaism began to fall, the Jews bound themselves under an oath that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. False worships put men upon a blind zeal, that breaketh out in tragical effects. Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum. So much of truth, so much of meekness, openness, and plainness, as the other is of spite and malice.
Use. Oh! then, let the children of God abhor this hateful disposition; take heed of those kind of sins that have subtlety and malice in them; these are the devil’s sins, the cursed old serpent, that hath been a murderer from the beginning; take heed of plotting mischief, and secretly designing the ruin of others. I would have you Christians, that are of the true religion, carry it meekly towards others; beware of deliberate sins. It is possible in some great temptation the children of God may fall into these kind of sins, as David plotted Uriah’s death; but that sin was laid to his charge more than all the sins that ever he committed. These sins are accompanied with some notable affliction and judgment, as on David’s sad house; they leave an indelible stain and blemish, and cost us dear: 1 Kings xv. 5, ‘David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from anything that he commanded him all his days, save in the matter of Uriah.’
How many failings have we left upon record? His distrust: ‘I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul.’ His dissimulation, with his rash vow to destroy Nabal; his injustice in the matter of Ziba and Mephibosheth; indulgence to Absalom, numbering the people, wherein he showed his carnal confidence. All these are passed over in silence, as his infirmities, save only in the matter of Uriah. And they will cost dear; there is always some eminent trouble and affliction that accompany such sins. When David had sinned in the matter of Uriah, what troubles were there in his house; his daughter ravished, Amnon slain in his drunkenness, Absalom driveth him from his palace royal, and then, poor man, his subjects deserted him, he forced to go weeping up and down, and shift for his life; all Israel came to Absalom, his wives defiled by his own son. Thus you see what is the fruit of deliberate sins.
These sins cost us a great deal of bitter sorrow, sighs, and tears, to recover our peace and God’s love and favour. Again, how bitterly did David remember his sin, and beg that God would ‘restore to him the joy of his salvation!’ Ps. li. Therefore take heed of deliberate sins, when we have time enough to have serious and sufficient consideration of the evil, and yet do it; when a man knoweth a thing to be evil, and yet resolveth to go forward with it. Sin is not done suddenly, in heat of blood, but at leisure; not limited to a minute, or an hour, or any short space of time; and yet to do it, this grieves the Spirit, and will cost us dear.
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