Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

was fixed on God, from whom cometh our salvation, and in whom alone the faithful have peace for ever. That this is the foundation which he builds on will appear, when we consider, IlI. how little peace of mind worldly enjoyments afford; this every man in his own condition knows, though inexperienced in the pleasures of the station above him. So that, allowing men to judge according to their knowlege, all must agree that there is no lasting peace to be had from the pleasures of this life, no security in them against affliction, no comfort under present evils, no assurance against future ones : and even if there be some enjoyment, it is imperfect, and liable to interruptions, unless supported by the hopes of religion : this point enlarged on, from a consideration of the unchanging nature of man, and his mind always looking forward beyond the limits of this world. So that, however valuable the world may be, something else is wanting to calm our fears, and raise the hopes for futurity; and this nothing but religion can do, which alone intitles us to God's protection. Having the assurance of this, we stand on an immoveable rock, against which the winds and waves vainly spend their fury: this is what we call a good conscience: this topic enlarged on, showing that when we are thus armed, and can without reserve profess the sentiment, I have loved thy law, O God, and my delight hath been therein, we shall be superior to all the evils of life. That which fills the breast of the worldly man with horror, gives us ease and comfort: when he thinks how soon he must give an account to God, his blood retires to his heart, and hardly there maintains its post : but to the good man this thought so fills his mind, that lost in pleasure and delight, he forgets all the pains and calamities of life: this point illustrated by the example of the holy martyrs. Concluding remarks.

DISCOURSE LVIII.

PSALM CXIX.-VERSE 165.

Great peace have they which love thy law.

IN expounding this and such-like passages of Scripture, and in applying them to themselves, men are apt to commit two great mistakes; which, though they are of a very different kind, in their consequences are equally fatal and pernicious. On one hand, they think they can never sufficiently enlarge the promise of the text, or build too great expectations on the assurances of peace that are given to them ; easily suffering themselves to be persuaded that under the general name of peace is to be comprehended whatever the world calls good : and because the peace which they most affect, and which most strongly possesses their imaginations, is that which the world supposes to be placed in power and affluence, in an easy fortune, and a healthy body, they fondly conclude that the promise of peace infers the promise of these good things, which they esteem as the genuine and necessary effects of peace, On the other hand, to strengthen and secure their title to these things, which they so passionately admire, they consider the condition to which the promise of peace is annexed in quite a different view. Here all their force is employed to limit and restrain, and to expound away the rigor of this article, and to show on how easy terms, on how small a portion of righteousness and obedience, a man may be numbered with those who love the law of God, and to whom the assurances of peace are given. Under this head they make very reasonable allowances to themselves on account of the great perfection of the law, which renders it extremely hard to practise ; on account of their own weakness and infirmities, through which they can hardly avoid often mistaking, and often offending against the law; and on account of the mercy of God, which will incline him to overlook their errors, and to accept their general good meaning, and their imperfect performance, for righteousness and holiness. After these deductions are made in the proportion that best pleases them, and that best guits their own condition, they can without difficulty find themselves to be within the articles of the peace which the text promises; and then they are in eager expectation of being put into the possession of those good things, to which they think they have so well made out their title.

But as error naturally produces error and falsehood, so these mistakes are in their kind exceedingly fruitful, and directly lead men to misapprehensions of God, themselves, and religion: for as long as men conceive the

peace

and

prosperity of the world, and the enjoyments of it, to be necessary attendants on virtue and holiness, they will be apt to judge of their own attainments in religion, and of the favor of God towards them, according to the measure of the good things which they enjoy in this life : which can serve only to fill rich men and prosperous men with spiritual pride and presumption, whilst they esteem their fortune as the reward of their virtue; and poor men and miserable men with desponding fears and horror of mind, whilst they look on their misery to be their punishment, and the sure forerunner of their condemnation.

As to the kind allowances which men make to their own vices and imperfections, whilst they labor to crowd into the number of those who love the law, I need not say of what pernicious consequence they are: if men are once persuaded that little religion will serve their turn, a little shall serve it; it is not likely that those who take pains to convince themselves and others that a small degree of righteousness is sufficient for all the ends of religion, should be so little of a piece with themselves as to take pains to obtain more than what they judge to be necessary. So that these candid interpretations of the conditions of religion seem to lead to as candid a compliance with the modes and fashions of the world; and the same good inclinations which tempt men to expound away one half of their duty, will as easily tempt them to forget or neglect the other.

To avoid these inconveniences then it is necessary to consider,

First, the nature of the peace here spoken of in the text.

Secondly, who they are that may be said to · love the law of God.' And,

Thirdly, to illustrate and confirm the truth of this proposi-. tion, 'Great peace have they which love thy law.'

First, then, it is necessary to consider the nature of the peace here spoken of in the text.

It is plain the Psalmist makes this observation on the experience of bis own circumstances and condition, and the many trials he had of the favor and protection of God; and yet to come at this conclusion he does not set forth the great state and splendor of his kingdom, or the triumphs and glories of his reign, or describe any circumstances of the outward and worldly prosperity he enjoyed ; which yet he ought to have done, had he intended to infer that worldly peace and security, and an exemption from the pains and evils of life, were the never-failing blessings and reward of holiness and obedience. His life perhaps offered as ample matter to build such an observation on as any man's whatever : he was, by the special appointment of Providence, drawn out of obscurity, and raised to the throne of Israel : his life, often attempted by men, was as often guarded by heaven; and the dangers to which he was exposed served but to convince him how much he was the care of the Almighty. When prosperity weakened his virtue, and at last betrayed him into the crying sins of murder and adultery, he suffered not only under the lashes of a guilty conscience, and the torments of a wounded spirit, but was humbled likewise under the afflicting hand of Providence : his glory was darkened, and his afflictions were many and sore. On his repentance the clouds again dispersed; and he grew happy, as he grew obedient. Thus it seemed good to God to deal with him: but so far is the Psalmist from considering these circumstances of outward glory, and making a general rule from his own case, that in the text he regards only that peace which he felt and enjoyed during the course of his afflictions and persecutions; which peace he found was the undivided companion of faith

and obedience in all, even the most afflicting circumstances of life. Do but mind what steps he takes to come at the conclu

sion of the text: he sets out with describing the evil treatment : he met with in the world ; • Princes,' says he, ‘have persecuted

me without a cause :' in the next place, he declares what it was that sustained him under these persecutions ; · But my heart,' says he, 'standeth in awe of thy word : I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil : I hate and abhor lying ; but thy law do I love. Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments. This love of the law of God, this constancy in the discharge of his duty, he found was a perpetual spring of joy and comfort in his mind, amidst all the varieties and unpromising circumstances of life: and this leads him to sing the triumphs of virtue and religion in this exalted strain ; Great peace have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them.'

From hence it is evident that nothing was more distant from the Psalmist's thoughts, than to promise outward peace or temporal prosperity to the practice of virtue ; since he speaks of that peace only which the righteous enjoy in the day of their affliction; and for this reason he adds, and nothing shall offend them ;' which would have been very improperly added, had he spoken of temporal peace before, in which there is nothing apt to offend any man; and therefore not to be offended at it is no peculiar prerogative, or just distinction of the righteous man's tranquillity. But to enjoy a peace which sets us above the power of evil ; which places us out of the reach of fortune; which inspires us with courage in the midst of danger; which opens our eyes to look through the gloomiest scenes of sorrow to the blessed hope of future glory; which establishes our hearts in a patient expectation of God's deliverance, so that nothing can terrify or dismay us; is that which the world can never give, and which can only proceed from the blessed Spirit of God, whose province it is to confirm the faithful to the end, and so to arm their faith, that nothing can offend them.'

This is that peace of which the Psalmist speaks, and which is the peculiar lot and inheritance of the righteous, of him who loveth the law of God. Great is the gift, and happy is the

« ZurückWeiter »