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Be surety for thy servant for good: let not the proud oppress me.—Ver. 122.
USE. It informeth us what reason there is to pray and wait with submission to the will of God. God will answer us according to our trouble, not always according to our will. He is wiser than we, for he knoweth that our own will would undo us. If things were in our own hands, we would never see an ill day, and in this mixed estate that would not be good for us. But all weathers are necessary to make the earth fruitful, rain as well as sunshine. We must not mistake the use and efficacy of prayer. We are not as sovereigns to govern the world at our pleasure, but as supplicants humbly to submit our desires to the supreme Being. Not to command as dictators, and obtrude any model upon God, but to solicit as servants: ‘Do good in thy good pleasure to Zion,’ Ps. li. 18. If we would have things done at our pleasure, we should be the judges, and God only would have the place of the executioner. Our wills would be the supreme and chief reason of all things. But this God cannot endure; therefore beg him to do good, but according to his own good pleasure.
1. Let us submit to God for the mercy itself, in what kind we shall have it, whether temporal, spiritual, or eternal. If God see ease good for us, we shall have it; if deliverance good for us, we shall have it, Ps. cxxviii. 2; or give us strength in our souls, or hasten our glory. We should be as a die in the hand of providence, to be cast high or low, as God pleaseth: 1 Sam. iii. 18, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good.’
2. Let us submit for the time. Though Jesus loved Lazarus, yet he abode still two days in the same place when he heard he was sick, John xi. 6. It is not for want of love if he doth not help us presently, nor want of power. Christ may dearly love us, yet delay to help us, even in extremity, till a fit time come, wherein his glory may shine forth, and the mercy be more conspicuous. He doth not slight us, though he doth delay us; he will choose that time which maketh most for his own glory. Submit to God’s dispensations, and in due time you shall see a reason of them.
3. Let us submit for the way and means. We know not what God is a-doing: John xiii. 6, 7, ‘Then cometh he to Simon Peter, and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not, but thou shalt know hereafter.’ No wonder we are much in the dark, if we consider, first, that the worker of these works is ‘Wonderful in counsel and excellent in working,’ Isa. xxviii. 29; infinitely beyond politicians, whose projects and purposes are often hidden from us; therefore much more his. Secondly, That the ways of his working are very strange and imperceptible, for he maketh things out of nothing: Rom. iv. 17, ‘And calleth those things that be not as though they were;’ one contrary out of another, as light out of darkness, 2 Cor. iv. 6, meat out of the eater, enemies catched in their own snare. Thirdly, That his end in working is not to satisfy our sense and curiosity: Isa. xlviii. 7, ‘They are created now, and not from the beginning, even before the day when thou heardest them not, lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them;’ Isa. xlii. 16, ‘I will bring the blind by a way they knew not; I will lead them’ in paths that they have not known.’ He chooseth such a way as may leave enemies to harden their hearts; Micah iv. 12, ‘But they know not the thoughts of the Lord, neither understand they his counsel; for he shall gather them as the sheaves into the floor.’
Secondly, I now come to the literal explanation; and there we have—
1. The evil deprecated, oppress me.
2. The persons likely to inflict it, the proud.
First, The evil deprecated, ‘Let not the proud oppress me.’ The Septuagint, μὴ συκοφαντησάτωσάν με ὑπερήφανοι, let them not calumniate me. The Septuagint takes this word for oppression or violent injustice, and therein are followed by St Luke iii. 14, xix. 8.
Doct. Oppression is a very grievous evil, and often deprecated by the people of God.
1. I shall show you what oppression is. It is an abuse of power to unjust and uncharitable actions. That it is an abuse of power appeareth by the object of it, who are those that are usually oppressed; that is, either the poor and needy: Deut. xxiv. 14, ‘Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of the strangers within thy gates.’ The fatherless and the widow are mentioned: Jer. vii. 6, ‘Ye shall not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.’ The stranger: Zech. vii. 10, ‘And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor;’ and Exod. xxii. 21-23, ‘Thou shalt neither vex a stranger nor oppress him, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child; if thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all to me, I will surely hear their cry.’
2. The subject or agent by whom it is practised—(1.) ‘The proud;’ the mighty, rich, great man; at least comparatively, in regard to the wronged party: Eccles. iv. 1, ‘And on the side of their oppressors there was power, but the oppressed had no comforter;’ Job xxxv. 9, ‘By reason of the multitude of oppressors they make the oppressed cry, and by reason of the arm of the mighty.’ (2.) The base and mean, when they get power into their hands, to oppress the rich, noble, and honourable: Isa. iii. 5, ‘And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour; the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honour able.’ It is commonly more insolent and cruel and contemptuous and despiteful: Prov. xxviii. 3, ‘A poor man that oppresseth the poor is like a sweeping rain that leaveth no food.’ When men do unjust and uncharitable actions, as when men bear it proudly or insolently towards them, throwing them out of their riches, denying them the liberty of their service because it is in the power of their hands, or taking advantage of their low condition to run over them, or making an advantage of their necessity and want of skill: Hosea xii. 7, ‘He is a merchant, the balance of deceit is in his hand; he loveth to oppress;’ or prejudice their testimony to the truth by our credit and esteem in the church, rendering them so weak or wicked, factious or foolish, as not to be regarded.
3. This is a grievous evil; it is so in itself, and may be specially aggravated as to cases.
[1 ] It is grievous in itself, as it is so odious to God, as being a perversion of the end of his providence. Those that excel in any quality are appointed for the protection and support of the weak and indigent. God gave them their wealth and parts and power and credit and greatness, to the end they might comfort, counsel, defend, and do good to those that want these things. Now when they make no oilier use of their power than lions and bears do, to mischief others by it, they do evil because it is in the power of their hands, Micah ii. 1. Power, if men have not a great tenderness of conscience and fear of God. is an unwieldy wilful thing, degenerates into oppression: Isa. x. 14, 15, ‘There, was none that moved the wing, or opened the month, or peeped. Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against, them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself as if it were no wood.’ Therefore he went on to oppress and tyrannise in the world, because none durst to oppose him. Power needs much balance to temper and allay it.
[2.] It is so offensive to his people, and burthensome to them: Eccles. vii. 7, ‘Oppression maketh a wise man mad;’ it shaketh and discomposeth those of the best temper, makes them pray and weep. and cry before the Lord: Eccles. iv. 1, ‘So I returned and considered all the oppressions under the sun, and beheld the tears of such as are oppressed.’ When you lay such heavy loads upon them that they are not able to bear it, but cry to God to right them.
[3.] The evil itself, oppression. It is not only theft, but murder. These expressions we have: Isa. iii. 13, 14, ‘Ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What mean ye. that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? l hat is, cause them by your hard usage to pine away? So Micah iii. 1-3, ‘And I said, Hear, I pray you, O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel, is it not for you to know judgment, who hate the good, and love the evil, who pluck off their skin and their flesh from off their bones? who also eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them, and they break their bones, and chop them in pieces, as for the pot, and as flesh within the cauldron?’ It is in God’s account human butchery and murder, beyond simple slaughter, as they make them die a lingering death.
[4.] It is especially aggravated if they be God’s servants oppressed for religion: Ps. xii. 5, ‘For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy; now will I arise, saith the Lord, I will set, them in safety, from him that puffeth at him.’ The proud persecutor doth little think of the godly, that any power he hath can do anything to help him; therefore mocketh at all his hopes: therefore, when God hath exercised the godly for a while, he will arise, Ac. I say the sin is aggravated by the innocency, the holiness, the usefulness of the party oppressed, when titled to glorify God, and do service to the public, and disabled to the prejudice of both.
[5.] It is the highest impiety to fetch power and advantage from any ordinance of God to commit it: John xix. 10, 11, ‘Then said Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above 1; therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.’ Courts of justice, that should be sanctuaries and places of refuge to oppressed innocency, they make slaughter houses and shops of cruelty. When pretexts of laws and justice are used to colour the oppression and persecution of innocent useful per sons, this makes it more odious in the sight of God.
Use 1. Oh, pity the oppressed! Job vi. 14, ‘To him that is afflicted, pity should he showed from his friend; hut he forsaketh the fear of the Almighty.’ The men of Keilah thought of delivering up David, because they feared not God, 1 Sam. xxiii. 11, 12. But men have no fear of God, but too much fear of men. When God is angry, God will suffer none to help: Ps. lxxxviii. 18, ‘Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness;’ Job xii. 5, ‘He that is ready to slip with his feet is as a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease.’ Sensuality will make us forget the afflictions of others: Amos vi. 4-6, ‘They lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and calves out of the midst of the stall; that chaunt to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music like David; that drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments, but they are not grieved for the afflictions of Joseph.’ Scruples of conscience through difference in religion: John iv. 9, ‘How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest water of me?’ Therefore we should pity others; we have God’s example: 2 Cor. vii. 6, ‘God that comforteth those that are cast down.’
Use 2. Keep from oppression; let us be far from this sin. Samuel professeth his innocency: 1 Sam. xii. 3, 4, ‘Behold here I am, witness against me before the Lord and his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received a bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? And they said, Thou hast not defrauded nor oppressed us.’
1. God will right the wrongs of the oppressed: Prov. xxii. 22, 23, ‘Rob not the poor, because he is poor, neither oppress the afflicted in the gate; for the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them;’ Prov. xxiii. 11, ‘For their redeemer is mighty, he shall plead their cause with thee.’ It belongeth to him as supreme judge and mighty potentate: Eccles. v. 8, ‘If thou seest the oppression of the poof, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter, for he that is higher than the highest regardeth, and there be higher than they.’ Who can break the power of the greatest? The poor and indigent have none to own them, to resent the things done unto them, but God, who is the supreme Lord, will not fail to own them.
2. Consider the injustice of such dealing, as being contrary to that rule of reason, Quod tibi non vis fieri, alteri ne feceris. Every man should do as he would have others do to him. Put yourself in their case. Take this rule quite away, and there is nothing so false, bad, cruel, that you would not be drawn to think or say or do against your brother. Uncharitableness, and want of sympathy with us in our troubles, much more insulting over us in our miseries, we look on it with detestation; and shall we oppress and afflict others when we have power so to do? Those that profess themselves Christians should be far from this sin. Means.
1. The fear of God should bear rule in our hearts: Job xxxi. 23, ‘For destruction from God was a terror to me; and by reason of his highness I could not endure;’ Lev. xxv. 17, ‘Ye shall not, therefore, oppress one another, but thou shalt fear thy God; for I am the Lord your God.’ We should be afraid to do them injury, as if a strong party, able to repay injuries, were ready to be avenged upon us for it.
2. Take heed of envy, covetousness, pride, revenge; these are ill-counsellors. Ahab envies Naboth’s vineyard, and covets it, and that put him upon oppressing him. So Hosea xii. 7, ‘He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand; he loveth to oppress.’ So take heed of pride: Ps. x. 2, ‘The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor.’ So when persons are of a revengeful temper, it will put them upon oppression and persecution for every fancied or supposed affront offered to them: the enemy and avenger go together, Ps. viii. 2.
3. Think of changes, that pride may not be without a curb, nor affliction without a comfort. It is the proud oppress, who are drunk with their wealth and outward prosperity. The Lord’s people are not troubled by humble souls, that are sensible of their mutableness and frailty, but by those who little think of these things, and how hard it fareth with them that fear God.
Secondly, Here are the persons to inflict it, ‘The proud.’
Doct. The proud are they that especially persecute the godly.
Who are the proud?
1. Generally those that obstinately stand it out against God and the methods of his grace: Neh. ix. 16, ‘But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not unto thy commandments;’ and ver. 29, ‘Yet they dealt proudly, and hearkened not to thy commandments;’ Jer. xiii. 17, ‘My soul shall weep in secret for your pride.’
2. More especially those that are too well conceited of themselves, seen by their affecting to meddle with things too high for them: Ps. cxxxi. 1, ‘Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty, neither do I exercise myself in great matters, nor in things too high for me.’ Murmur under crosses, quarrel with providences, finding fault with all God’s sayings and doings, trust in themselves that they are righteous, Luke xviii. 14; scoff at others for their godliness: Ps. cxix. 51, the proud ‘had me greatly in derision;’ Ps. x. 2, ‘The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor,’ ready to brawl on all occasions; Prov. xxiii. 10, ‘Only by pride cometh contention;’ would have all to stoop to them, are stiff in their opinions, boasters, lessening the gifts of others, impatient of admonition.
3. The particular pride here mentioned, when men are high-minded, and trust in uncertain riches, drunk with their prosperity. So oppressing in their honour and greatness, as if they would trample all others under foot, and crush them at pleasure. These are merciless and pitiless, disdain the poor, whatsoever presence of God they have with them; we are filled with the scorning of them that are at ease.
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