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Mine eyes fail for thy salvation, and for the word of thy righteousness.—Ver. 123.
IN the former verse, David spake as one under oppression, here he setteth forth his longing and waiting for deliverance. In the words we have—
1. The act of faith, together with the object of it; his eyes were to the salvation of God.
2. The defect and weakness of his faith, and God’s delay, implied in the occasion of it, ‘Mine eyes fail.’
3. The ground and support of his soul in this exercise, ‘The word of thy righteousness.’
By salvation is meant temporal deliverance: his eyes were to his salvation; that is, he did with faith and patience wait for it. Bat in waiting, his eyes failed; that noteth some deficiency and weakness, but his support during all this was the word of God’s righteousness; that word wherein God promised salvation and deliverance to them that are oppressed. And he calleth it the word of his righteousness, because he is one that kept it justly and faithfully; as if he had said, Surely God is righteous, and is no more liberal in promises than faithful in performing, therefore, though mine eyes even fail, yet I will keep looking and longing still for his salvation.
I begin with the ground of his faith, and the support of his soul, which is the word of promise.
Doct. That God’s word, wherein he hath promised deliverance to his suffering servants, is a word of, righteousness.
There are three things in the promise—Veritas, fidelitas, justitia, fidelity, faithfulness, and righteousness.
1. Veritas, sincerity or truth in making the promise, according to which God doth really intend and mean to bestow what he promiseth; ‘For God is not as man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?’ To lie is to speak a falsehood with an intention to deceive; this cannot be imagined of God. What need hath he to court a worm, or to mock and flatter us into a vain hope? What interest can accrue to him thereby? Yea, the purity of his nature will not permit it: Titus i. 2, ‘According to the hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.’ He will as soon cease to be God as cease to be true, for his truth is his nature, he is truth itself. Man, that is mutable, and hath an interest to promote by dissembling, may put on a false appearance, and speak what he never meaneth; but God cannot do so, for he is truth itself, essentially so in the abstract, can admit of no mixture, though creatures may. Light itself admitteth not of any darkness, but as it is in subjects, so it doth. But God is truth, and in him is no falsehood at all. Now, of all lies, a promissory lie is the worst; it is greater than an assertory lie. An assertory lie is when we speak of a thing past or present otherwise than it is. A promissory lie is when we promise a thing for time to come, which we never intend to perform. And this is the worse, because it doth not only pervert the end of speech, but defeateth another of that right which we seem to give him, in the thing promised; which is a further degree of injustice. Therefore we must take heed how, either directly or interpretatively, we ascribe such a lie to God. The apostle telleth us, 1 John v. 10, ‘He that believeth not, maketh God a liar;’ which is the highest dishonour you can cast upon him, which in manners and civility we would not offer to our equal, and which even a mean man would scorn to put up with at our hands. God hath made many promises, as that he will be with thee in six troubles, and in seven he will not forsake thee, Job. v. 19; that he will dispose of all things for the best to them that love him, Rom. viii. 28; that no good thing shall be wanting to them that fear him, Ps. xxxiv. 10. Doth not God mean as he saith? and dare we trust him no more? Your diffidence and drooping discouragements give him the lie, and you carry it so as if these were but words of course, without any intent to make them good.
2. Fidelitas. The next thing in the promise is faithfulness, and that referreth to the keeping of the promise. A man may be real in promising, he did not intend to deceive: but afterwards lie changeth his mind: there may be verity in making the promise, but there is not fidelity in keeping the promise. But God is faithful; hath he said, and shall he not do it? All the promises are ‘Yea and Amen;’ in Jesus Christ, 2 Cor. i. 20. God’s word is not; ‘Yea and Nay,’ but ‘Yea and Amen;’ it doth riot say Yea to-day, and Nay to-morrow, but always Yea. So it is Amen, so it shall be; and this in Jesus Christ, on whose merit they are all founded, and who was the great instance of God’s truth: for the great promise wherein God stood bound to the church was to send a Saviour to redeem the world; and if God hath made good this promise, surely this is a pledge that he will make good all the rest; for if he spared not his Son, he will not stick at other things.
3. There is justitia, righteousness; for this is righteousness, jus suum cuique tribuere, to give every one his right and his due. Now by promise, another man cometh to have a right in the thing promised; therefore justice requireth that you should give him the right that accrueth to him by virtue of your promise. So God, promittendo se fecit debitorem, maketh himself a debtor by promise. It was his mercy and goodness to make the promise, but his justice bindeth him to make it good. This is often spoken of in scripture: 1 John i. 9, ‘Faithful and just to forgive us our sins;’ 2 Tim. iv. 8, ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day.’ By his promise he is be come a debtor to us; he cannot go against his own word; his justice will not suffer him to change. It is a debt of grace indeed, but a debt it is which it is justice for God to pay. Thus you see how it is a word of righteousness.
Reason 1. Because God hath in his promises pawned his truth with the creature, and so given us an holdfast upon him. Chirographa tua injiciebat tibi Domine. Promises, as in a contract, are more than simple declarations, and bare assertions of what good he will do to us. With man it is one thing to say, This I purpose to do; another, This I promise to do. A promise addeth a new bond and obligation upon a man for fulfilling his word. An intimation or signification of God’s will and purpose showeth the event will follow; but a promise doth riot only do that, but giveth us a right and claim to the things promised. Scripture prophecies will be fulfilled because of God’s veracity; but scripture promises will be fulfilled, not because of his veracity, but his fidelity and justice. And the ‘heirs of promise may have strong consolation by God’s word and oath’—‘two immutable things, wherein it is impossible for God to lie,’ Heb. vi. 18. There is a greater obligation upon God to make it good.
Reason 2. Because none that ever depended upon God’s word were disappointed; not one instance to the contrary: Ps. xviii. 30, ‘The word of the Lord is tried; he is a buckler to all that trust in him.’ Search the annals and records of time, and all experience hath found the word of God exactly true. If any build not upon it, it is because they are not acquainted with God, and the course of his proceedings: Ps. ix. 10, ‘They that know thy name will trust in thee.’ There is so little believing and trusting God upon his word, because they are men of no experience; otherwise they would find God punctual to his promise: ‘Not one thing hath failed of all the good things the Lord your God spake concerning you,’ Josh. xxiii. 14. He speaketh not only as his own observation, and the result of all his experiences, and that in a time when there was no room for dissembling: ‘I go the way of all the earth,’ but also ‘you know in all your hearts, and all your souls;’ and he repeateth it, ‘Not one thing hath failed.’ Unless you be impudent, you cannot deny it; try him, you have found support and relief hitherto.
Reason 3. Because God standeth much on the credit of his word. Heathens have acknowledged it to be the property of the gods, ἀληθεύειν καὶ εὐεργετεῖν; certainly the true God hath showed himself to the world in nothing so much as doing good and keeping promise: Ps. cxxxviii. 2, ‘Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name,’ above all that is famed or spoken or believed of God, this is most conspicuous, as being punctual in keeping covenant and fulfilling promises. God hath ever stood upon that, of being tender of the honour of his truth in the eye of the world: therefore we should build securely upon the word of his righteousness.
Use 1. To bless God that we are upon such sure terms. All people that know there is a God, wait for some good things from him; but they are left to uncertain guesses, it may be they may have them, it may be not: but we have it under hand and seal, and have God’s warrant for our hope, and so deal with God upon sure terms. Well may we take up David’s song, ‘In God I will praise his word, in the Lord I will praise his word,’ Ps. lvi. 10. It is twice repeated in that psalm: that is ground of rejoicing, that God will assure us aforehand what he will do for us. God might have dealt with man by way of dominion and command alone, without any signification of his goodness, and left us to blind guesses. Promises are the eruptions and overflows of God’s love, he cannot stay till accomplishment, but will tell us aforehand what he is about to do for us, that we may know how to look for it.
Use 2. To exhort us to rest contented with God’s word, and to take his promises as sure ground of hope. I shall show you how you should count it a word of righteousness; what is your duty; and that first you are to delight in the promise, though the performance be not yet, nor like to he for a good while: Heb. xi. 13, πεισθέντες καὶ ἀσπασάμενοι, being persuaded of them, they embraced them. Oh! how they hugged the promises at a distance, and said in their hearts, Oh, blessed promise! this will in time yield a Messiah: John viii. 56, ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and saw it, and was glad.’ You hold the blessing by the root, this will in time yield deliverance, Heb. vi. 18; not only yield comfort, but prove comfortable: Ps. cxix. 111, ‘Thy testimonies I have taken for an heritage; for they are the rejoicing of my heart.’ For your duty—
2. You are to rest confident of the truth of what God hath promised, and be assured that the performance will in time be: πεισθέντες, Heb. xi. 13. Faith is not a fallible conjecture, but a sure and certain grace: Rom. viii. 28, ‘We know that all things shall work together for good to them that love God.’ So Ps. cxl 12, ‘I know that God will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor.’ There is a firm persuasion; I know I shall find this to be a truth. Men who are conscionable and faithful in keeping their word are believed; yet, being men, they may lie: Rom. iii. 4, ‘Let God be true, and every man a liar.’ Every man is, or may be a liar, because of the mutableness of his nature; from interest he will not lie, but he can lie. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater. Surely God cannot deceive, or be deceived. He never yet was worse than his word.
3. You are to take the naked promise for the ground of your hope, however it seem to be contradicted in the course of God’s providence; when it is neither performed, nor likely to be performed, it is his word you go by, whatsoever his dispensations be. Many times there are no apparent evidences of God’s doing what he hath said, yea, strong probabilities to the contrary. It is said, Rom. iv. 18, ‘That Abraham against hope believed in hope,’ παρ᾽ ἐλπίδα ἐπ᾽ ἐλπίδα. Abraham had the promise of a son, in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed; but there was no appearance of this in nature, or natural hope of a child, both he and Sarah being old: yet he believed. It is an antanaclasis, an elegant figure, having the form of a contradiction he goeth upon God’s naked word. Then faith standeth upon its own basis and legs, which is not probabilities, but his word of promise, Everything is strongest upon its own basis, which God and nature have appointed. For as the earth hangeth on nothing in the midst of the air, but there is its place, faith is seated most firmly on the word of God, who is able to perform what he saith.
4. This faith must conquer our fears and cares and troubles: Ps. cxii. 7, ‘He shall not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.’ He must fix the heart without wavering: Ps. lvi. 4, ‘In God I will praise his word, in God have I put my trust: I will not fear what man can do unto rue.’ The force of faith is seen in calming our passions and sinful fears, which otherwise would weaken our reverence and respect to God.
5. Above all this, you are to glorify God publicly; not only in the quiet of your hearts, but by your carriage before others: John iii. 33, ‘Put to his seal that God is true.’ It is not said, Believed or professed, but, Put to his seal. We seal the truth of God as his witnesses when we confirm others in the faith and belief of the promises by our joyfulness in all conditions, patience under crosses, diligence in holiness, hope and comfort in great straits. Num. xx. 12, God was angry with Moses and Aaron, because ye ‘believe not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel.’ We are not only to believe God our selves, but to sanctify him in the eyes of others; as when the Thessalonians had received the word in much assurance, in much affliction, and much joy in the Holy Ghost, the apostle telleth them they were examples to all that believed in Achaia and Macedonia, 1 Thes. i. 5. The worthiness and generousness of our faith should be a confutation of our base fears, but a confirmation of the gospel. But we are so far from confirming the weak, that we offend the strong; and instead of being a confirmation to the gospel, we are a confutation of it.
Use 3. Reproof to us that we do no more build upon this word of righteousness.
1. Some count these vain words, and the comforts thence deduced fanatical illusions; and hopes and joys, fantastical impressions: Ps. xxii. 7, 8, ‘All they that see me laugh me to scorn; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.’ Nothing so ridiculous in the world’s eye as trust or dependence or unseen comforts. Ungodly wits make the life of faith a sport and matter of laughter.
2. Some, though not so bad as the former, they may have more modesty, yet as little faith, since they are all for the present world, present delights, present temptations. With many, one thing in hand is more than the greatest promises of better things to come, 2 Tim. iv. 10; they have no patience. Afflictions are smart for the present: Heb. xii. 11, ‘No affliction for the present seemeth joyous, but grievous.’ Yea, they do not deal equally with God and man. If a man promise, they reckon much of that, Qui petat, accipiet, &c. They can tarry upon man’s security, but count God’s nothing worth. They can trade with a factor beyond seas, and trust all their estates in a man’s hand whom they have never seen; and yet the- word of the infallible God is of little regard and respect with them.
3. The best build too weakly on the promises, as appeareth by the prevalency of our cares and fears. If we did take God at his word, we would not be so soon mated with every difficulty: Heb. xiii 5, 6, ‘Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have; for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what man can do unto me.’ There would be more resolution in trials, more hardness against troubles. Besides maintenance, there is protection in the promise. If we had faith to believe this, it would effectually quiet our minds in all our necessities and straits and perplexities. Man can do much, bring them low, even to a morsel of bread. We need not much desire the best things of the world, nor fear the worst; need not be covetous, nor fearful. Where faith is in any life and strength, it moderateth our desires and fears. It is an ill part of a believer to hang the head.
Secondly, From that clause, David’s eyes were to God’s salvation, that God’s word being passed his people do and must wait for the accomplishment of it. The lifting up of the eyes implies three things—faith, hope, and patience; all which do make up the duty of waiting for help and relief from God.
1. The lifting up the eyes implies faith and confident persuasion that God is ready and willing to help us: 2 Chron. xx. 12, ‘But our eyes are unto thee;’ Ps. cxxiii. 1, 2, ‘Unto thee I lift mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens.’ The very lifting up of the bodily eye towards heaven is an expression of this inward trust: so David in effect saith, From thee, Lord, I expect relief, and the fulfilling of thy promises. So that there is faith in it, that faith which is the evidence of things not seen. How great soever the darkness of our calamities be, though the clouds of present troubles thicken about us, and hide the Lord’s care and loving-kindness from us, yet faith must look through all to his power and constancy of truth and love. The eye of faith is a clear, piercing, eagle eye: Heb. xi. 27, ‘Moses endured, as seeing him that was invisible.’ A man is very short-sighted before: 2 Peter i. 9, ‘He that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off;’ can only skill in the things of sense and reason, see a danger near him, as beasts or a bait while it is before him; a brute thinketh of no other; or else goeth by probabilities, as it seeth things by the light of reason in their causes. But faith seeth things afar off in the promises, Heb. xi. 13, at a greater distance than the eye of nature can reach to. Take it either for the eye of the body, or the mind, faith will draw comfort not only from what is invisible at present, but not to come for a long time; it is future as well as invisible; its supports lie iii the other world, and are yet to come.
2. There is hope in it; for what a man hopeth for he will look for it, if he. can see it a-coming: ‘the earnest expectation of the creature,’ ἀποκαραδοκία τῆς κτίσεως, Rom. viii. 19; the stretching forth of the head: Judges v. 28, ‘They looked out at the window, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long a-coming?’ So by spiritual hope there is a lifting up of the eyes, or a looking out for what God hath promised, or an intent observing all together: ‘Our conversation is in heaven, from whence we look for a Saviour,’ Phil. iii. 20. Faith keepeth the eye of the mind fixed upon the promise, and is ever looking out for deliverance: Ps. cxxi. 1, 2, ‘I will lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help: my help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.’ Thence they look and wait for succour; it must come out of heaven to them. They see it, they can spy a cloud a-coming; that which a man careth not for he doth not look for. David saith, ‘I will pray and look up,’ Ps. v. 3. Hope hath expectation of the thing or object hoped for.
3. There is patience in it, in persevering and keeping on our looking till mercy come, with faith and ardency in expecting God’s help. Looking and waiting is to be conjoined, notwithstanding difficulties, till it procure deliverance: Ps. cxxiii. 2. ‘Our eyes wait on the Lord, who will have mercy on us.’ This lifting up of the eyes doth not imply a glance, or once looking to heaven; but that we keep looking till God cloth help: Isa. viii. 17, ‘I will wait on the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.’ There is a constant depending, and patient attending upon God, notwithstanding the present tokens of his wrath and displeasure. As a man withdraweth himself from a party, and will not be seen of him, nor spoken to by him, but the resolute suitor tarrieth to meet and speak with him. So Micah vii. 7, ‘Therefore I will look unto the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.’ Not give over upon every discouragement, as a merchant doth not discontinue trading for every loss at sea. Certainly it is not faith and hope, unless we can endure and bear out. Natural courage will bear out for a while, but not long. A little touch breaketh a bubble, and a slight natural expectation is soon discouraged; but to hope against hope, to pray when God forbids praying, to keep waiting when we have not only difficulties in the world, but seeming disappointments from heaven itself, when the promise and Christ seem to be parting from you, and refuse you; yet then to say, I will not let thee go until thou bless me, as Jacob said to the angel, Gen. xxxii. 25, 26, when God saith, Let me alone.
Use. Let us turn ourselves towards God for help, and have our eyes on him, and keep them there: Ps. cxli. 8, ‘But mine eyes are unto thee, O God the Lord; in thee is my trust; leave not my soul destitute.’ Let us not give way to discouragements, though God delay us so long till all our carnal provisions are spent, no meal in the barrel, nor oil in the cruse, and we are brought to the last morsel of bread; though brought to complain for pity to them that will show none, but pour vinegar into our wounds; yea, till our spiritual provisions be spent. Faith will hold out no longer, hope can do us no service, patience lost and clear gone; we fall a-questioning God’s love and care. I say, though we grow weary, let us strive against it, acquaint God with it, renew faith in the word of promise. There is a holy obstinacy in believing.
To get this eye of faith—
1. There is need of the Spirit’s enlightening. Nature is short-sighted, 2 Peter i. 9. A man cannot look into the other world till his eyes be opened by the Spirit of God: Eph. i. 17, 18, ‘The Father of glory give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.’ There needs spiritual eye-salve to get this piercing eye to look through the curtain of the clouds.
2. When your eye is opened, you must keep your eye clear from the suffusions of lust and worldly affections. A mortified heart is only a fit soil for faith to grow in. The world is a blinding thing, 2 Cor. iv. 4. While present things bear bulk in our eye, invisible things are little regarded by us. Dust cast into the eyes hindereth the sight, carnal affections send up the fumes and steams of lust to blind us.
3. The eye being clear, you must ever be looking up out of the world of temptations into the world of comforts and supports, from earth to heaven: Heb. xi. 27, ‘As seeing him that is invisible;’ and the nothing things of the world, by omnifying and magnifying God. There are the great objects which darken the glory of the world, and all created things. And there we see more for us than can be against us, 2 Kings vi. 15. Pharaoh, a king of mighty power, was contemptible in Moses’ eyes, because he saw a higher and a more glorious king; so glorious, that all the power and princes of the world are nothing to him.
4. The less sensible evidence there is of the object of faith, the greater and stronger is the faith, if we believe it upon God’s word: John xx. 29, ‘Because thou hast seen, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.’ It extenuateth our faith, when the object must be visible to sense, or it worketh not on us. Faith hath more of the nature of faith when it is satisfied with God’s word, whatever sense and reason say to the contrary: 1 Peter i. 8, ‘Whom, having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now you see him not, you rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory. Whatever faith closeth with upon sure grounds, it is spiritually present to the soul, though few sensible helps. The less we see in the world, the more must we believe. To see things to come as present, and to see things that otherwise cannot be seen, cometh near to God’s vision of all things. God saw all things before they were, all things that may be, shall be, visione simplicis intelligentiae: Prov. viii. 31, ‘Rejoicing in the habitable parts of the earth.’ So doth faith eye all things in the all-sufficiency and promise of God, long before they come to pass, and affects the believer with them, John viii. 52.
Thirdly, From the weakness and imbecillity confessed, ‘Mine eyes fail.’ The doctrine is—
Doct. That sometimes God’s people wait so long, that their eyes even fail in waiting; that is, their faith, hope, and patience is almost spent, and they are ready to give over looking.
For the phrase intimateth two things—a trial on God’s part, and a weakness on ours. First, a trial by reason of God’s dispensations. Two things make our waiting tedious—the sharpness of afflictions, and the length of them, long delays of help and great trouble, in the mean time. First, the depth of the calamity, or the sharpness of the trial may occasion this failing: Ps. xxxviii. 10, ‘My heart panteth, my strength faileth me, for the light of mine eyes is also gone.’ Secondly, the length of troubles, or the protraction of deliverance. As the. bodily eye is- tired with long looking, so doth the soul begin to be weary, when this expectation is drawn out at length: Ps. cxix. 82, ‘Mine eyes fail for thy word, saying, When wilt thou comfort me?’ The delay is tedious.
As to the matter of this failing, there are three things:—
[1.] That the sufferings of God’s children may be sometimes long. God ordereth it so, that faith, hope, and patience may have its perfect work, Heb. vi. 12. There is an intervening time between the promise and the accomplishment. Intervening difficulties, James i. 3, 4; Rom. viii. 24, ‘Hope that is seen is not hope;’ it is but natural- probability, natural courage. Those that have received a great measure of faith have a great measure of trials; their troubles are greater that their graces may be the more exercised, that many stubborn humours may be broken, Jer. iv. 3. God useth to suffer his enemies to break up the fallow ground of his people: Ps. cxxix. 2, ‘The plowers plough upon my back, they make long their furrows.’ We have proud and stiff hearts, therefore the plough of persecution goeth deep, that the seed of the word may thrive the more; till they have done their work, God doth not cut asunder the cords. The Lord of the soil experts a richer crop. The power of the Spirit is more seen: Col. i. 10, 11, ‘Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness.’ Not only patience, but long-suffering, which is patience extended under continued troubles. Men may fret; it is not unwilling, extorted by force; but they are cheerful under the cross. The length of sufferings; some can endure a sharp brunt, but tire under a long affliction. Some go drooping and heavily under it; therefore joyfulness. For these and many other reasons doth God permit our sufferings to be long.
[2.] Why faith, hope, and patience are apt to fail.
(1.) Because these graces are weak in the best, and may fail under long and sharp trials: Ps. cxxv. 3, ‘For the rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous, lest the righteous put forth their hands to iniquity.’ The strongest believer may faint in trouble, therefore God will not try them above their strength; but as he sometimes giveth more grace, so sometimes he abateth the temptations. Grace is not so perfect in any as to be above all weakening by assaults. Who would have thought that a meek Moses could be angry? Ps. cvi. 33. There are relics of sin unmortified, such as may be awakened in the best. Who would have thought that David should fall into uncleanness, an old experienced man, who had many wives of his own, when Joseph, a young man, a captive, resisted an offered occasion? But especially do these graces fail in their operation when the temptation is more spiritual; for these are mystical graces, to which nature giveth no help, when’ things dear to us in the flesh and in the Lord are made the matter of the temptation, and set an edge upon it, &c. Sins that disturb the order of the present world are not so rife with the saints as sins that concern our commerce with God.
(2.) Because temptations raise strange clouds and mists in the soul, that though they grant principles, yet they cannot reconcile providences with them. As Jer. xii. 1, ‘Righteous art thou, O Lord, yet let me plead with thee.’ It is not to be questioned, much less doubted of, that God is upright and just in his dealings; yet what mean those passages of his providence? Their thoughts are fearfully imbrangled, the minds of the godly are molested: ‘Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?’ So Hab. i. 13. ‘Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity; wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously? and boldest thy tongue, when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?’ God is pure and holy, they know; yet how can he bear with the enemy, in their treachery and violence against the church? So brutified are they, that they know not how to reconcile his dispensations with his nature and attributes; though they have faith enough to justify God, yet atheism enough to question his providence. When the heart is over-charged with fears: Ps. lxxiii. 1, ‘Yet God is good to Israel: my feet were almost gone, my steps well-nigh slipped.’ They hold fast the conclusion, ‘Yet God is good to Israel;’ yet cannot maintain it against all objections.
(3.) Carnal affections are hasty and impetuous, and if God give not a present satisfaction, they question all his love and care of them: Ps. xxxi. 22: ‘I said in my heart, I am cut off;’ Isa. xlix. 14, ‘Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken, and my God hath forgotten me;’ Jonah ii. 4, ‘And he said, I am cast out of thy sight.’ So that, did not God confute his unbelief by some sudden experience, as in the first instance, or the word contain a suitable supply, as in the second, or the principle of grace in some measure withstand (‘but I will look towards thy holy temple’), the soul would be swallowed up in the whirlpool of despair. Thus hasty and precipitant are we while we hearken to the voice of the flesh. We are apt to count all our troubles God’s total desertion of us. Such a hasty principle have. we within us, that will hurry us to desperate conclusions, as if it were in vain to wait upon God any longer.
(4.) Mutability in man. What a flush of faith and zeal have we at first, as stuffs have a great gloss at first wearing. We lose, as our first love, so our first faith: Gal. v. 7, ‘Ye did run well; who did hinder you?’ There is a great forwardness at first, which abateth afterwards; and men grow remiss, ‘faint in your minds,’ Heb. xii. 3, from one degree to another.
[3.] That this failing is but an infirmity of the saints; though their hope be weak and ready to faint, it is not quite dead.
(1.) It is an infirmity of the better sort, not like the atheism and malignity of the wicked. Some diseases show a good constitution, and seize on none but such. This distemper is not incident to carnal men: Isa. xxxviii. 14, ‘Mine eyes fail with looking up.’ It argueth a vehemency in our hope; they that do not mind things are never troubled with such a spiritual disease; for this failing cannot be but where there is vehemency of desire and expectation. Those that desire little of the salvation of God’s people, feel none of this.
(2.) There is a difference between them and others; though they have their weaknesses, yet their faith doth not quite expire; there is a twig of righteousness still to trust to; they are weary of watching, but they do not give over waiting; and say, as he, 2 Kings vi. 33, ‘What should I wait for the Lord any longer?’ Fainting is one thing, and quite dead is another: they strive against the temptation: though no end of their difficulties appeareth, they attend still, keep looking, though the vigour of the eye be abated by long exercise. There is life in the saints, though not that liveliness they could- wish; for they do not fall, and rise no more, and are quite thrown down with every blast of a temptation.
(3.) They confess their weakness to God, as David doth here, acquainteth God with it, and so shame themselves out of the temptation, and beg new strength. It is an excellent way of curing such distempers to lay them forth before God in prayer, for he helpeth the weak in their conflicts. When we debate dark cases with our own ‘hearts, we entangle ourselves the more.
Use 1. It reproveth our tenderness when we cannot bear a little while: ‘What! not watch with me one hour?’ Mat. xxvi. 40. David kept waiting till his eyes failed. Some their whole voyage is storms;—Christ indents with us to take up our cross daily, Luke ix. 22;—who are their lifetime kept under this discipline; and can we bear no check from providence? We would have all done in an hour or in a year, can bear nothing when God calleth us to bear much and long; cannot endure to abate a little of our wonted contentment, when God will strip us of all.
Use 2. Let us provide for long sufferings. All colours will not hold as long as the cloth lasts. We need a great deal of grace, because we know not how long our great troubles may last. Sometimes sufferings are like to be long. First, When the cross maketh little improvement, carrieth little conviction with it. While the stubbornness of the child continueth, the blows are continued. God will withdraw till they acknowledge their offence, Hosea v. 15. When we eye instruments, and pour our rage upon them; or instruments are minded, and wo hope to be delivered some other way, when we repent not. Secondly, When provocations are long: Deut. xxviii. 58, 59, ‘If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law, that is written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, The Lord thy God; then the Lord will make thy plagues wonderful, and the plagues of thy seed, even great plagues, and of long continuance; and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance.’
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