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according to God's wordy ?" Whatever then they are solicited to do, they bring it to this touchstone, and try it “ by the law and the testimony." If they find not the precept clear, they hesitate: and, if they find not the footsteps of Christ and his Apostles, they pause. They know, that " whatsoever is not of faith is sin? :" and, till they can see their way clear, and be “ thoroughly persuaded in their own mind,” they will not proceeda; lest they lay a stumbling-block in the way of others, and bring guilt upon their own soulsb.
I may add further, that they will pray unto God to guide them. They know their privilege: they know that God has said, that, if they call upon him for direction, “they shall hear a word behind them," saying, “ This is the way; walk ye in it;" when without such a direction " they would have turned
to the right hand or to the lefto.” They therefore in every difficulty betake themselves to prayer; and experience the truth of that promise, “ The meek he will guide in judgment; the meek he will teach his waya."] 2. Principally, from the care and fidelity of God
God has promised that “ he will keep the feet of his saints,” and that “none of their steps shall slide:” and this promise he does, and will, fulfil. He fulfils it to them in a variety of ways. He “takes them, as a mother does her little child, by their hand, and guides them in their way :" and, when they are weak, " he strengthens them with might in their inward man:" and, when they would otherwise fall, he upholds them with his own almighty arms; agreeably to that express promise which he has given them; "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousnessh." Thus is fulfilled that promise which is contained within a few verses of our text, “ The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his handi.” We may wonder whence it is that the people of God in all ages have been enabled to maintain their steadfastness in such trying circumstances: but the true reason is to be found in that inviolable engagement which God has entered into, that “they shall hold on their way, and that their hands shall wax stronger and strongerk:” and this promise he has fulfilled to them, giving them "strength
according to their day?,” and enabling them "to do all things through his strength communicated to them m."] Hence then we may SEE,
1. Whence it is that so many professors of religion dishonour their high and holy calling
[It is a melancholy fact, that many who profess godliness are a disgrace to their profession And by their falls they bring the very truth of God into disrepute. But whence is it that their walk is so inconsistent? Is it from any want of power or fidelity in God to keep them? No: it arises from this; that they have taken up a profession upon false and insufficient grounds: they have got the law in their heads, and in their mouths, but have never truly received it into their hearts. None will shew more zeal for the tenets they have embraced than they, or talk more fluently respecting them: but they have never been “cast into the mould of the Gospel.” Their sentiments have been altered; but their hearts are unchanged; or, if changed at all, it is only in that they have adopted the spiritual lusts of pride and conceit, and false confidence, in the place of the carnal lusts of worldliness and uncleanness; or, it may be, they have added the former to the latter, affecting only the concealment of former evils, and not the utter extirpation of them. What then is to be expected from such persons, but that they will dishonour their profession? From such roots nothing can be hoped for, but bitter fruits. But let not the blame be cast upon religion. “They have a name to live, but they are dead.” If ever they had received the law of God into their hearts, it would have produced its due effect upon their lives; and not upon the outward deportment only, but on every temper and disposition of their minds. Religion is, and must be, the same in all ages: if it transformed the saints of other days into the image of their God in righteousness and true holiness, it will do so still: and, if the conduct of any who profess it be unworthy of their high calling, let the blame attach where it ought, not on religion, but on those who make a hypocritical profession of it. Only let the law be in the heart, and we have no fear of the fruits that will appear in the life.]
2. How inseparable is the union between duty and privilege
[The self-depending formalist who dreads the mention of privilege, and the Antinomian professor who hates the mention of duty, are equally remote from the truth of God. Depend on God we must; for it is He who must work all our works in us. And obey ?-is law we must: for “ without holiness no man shall see the Lord." Neither can supersede the other. To the Antinomian then I say, “ Let the word of God abide in you; and let it dwell in you richly in all wisdom.” And to the formalist I say, Look unto God to begin, and carry on, the whole work of grace in your hearts; for without Him you can do nothing. Let both of you know, that both confidence in God, and obedience to Him, are necessary: it is only by a reliance on Him that you can obtain strength for obedience; and it is only by obedience that you can prove the sincerity of your faith and love. But whilst to those who would lean to either extreme I would say, “ What God has joined, let no man put asunder,” I would most affectionately encourage the true Christian to expect all that God has promised. Your difficulties
1 Deut. xxxii. 25.
m Phil. iv. 13.
conflicts severe; but “your Redeemer is mighty;" and He who bought you with his blood, regards you as his purchased possession, and will suffer “none to pluck you out of his hands.” He has promised to carry on and perfect his work in your hearts; and what he has promised, he is able also to perform. Only be careful to know and do his will; and He will bear you up in his everlasting arms, and “preserve you blameless to his heavenly kingdom.”]
DAVID'S DISTRESS AND CONSOLATION.
Ps. xxxviii. 1-9. O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath, neither
chasten me in thy hot displeasure: for thine arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presseth me sore. There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin. For mine iniquities are gone over mine head; as an heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and are corrupt, because of my foolishness. I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. For my loins are filled with a loathsome disease ; and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble, and sore broken: I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart. Lord, all my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not hid from thee.
IT will be of great use to us through life to treasure up in our minds the dealings of God with us on some particular occasions. As his care over us in our difficulties may well call for “a stone of remembrance, which shall be called our Eben-ezer,” so his merciful attention to us at the first commencement of our humiliation before him may well be written in
indelible characters upon our hearts. The Prophet Jeremiah, looking back to some season of peculiar distress, records his experience in terms of lively gratitude": and, in like manner, David opens to us all his views and feelings when he sought the Lord after a season of darkness and distress; and he tells us that this psalm was written by him “ to bring to remembrance" the troubles he then endured, and the tender mercies of God towards him.
From the part we have just read, we shall be led to consider, 1. His distress
This was exceeding great.-Let us notice, 1. The source and cause of it
[He traces it to sin as its proper causeb: and sin is the true and only source of all trouble Sin is an object of God's abhorrence; and wherever it exists unlamented and dominant, he will visit it according to its desert. In whomsoever it be found, whether he be a king on his throne, or a beggar on a dunghill, he will make no difference, except indeed to punish it in proportion to the light that has been resisted, and the aggravations with which it has been committed. Doubtless the sins of David were of most transcendent enormity, and therefore might well be visited with peculiar severity: but we must not imagine that his are the only crimes that deserve punishment: disobedience to God, whether against the first or second table of the Law, is hateful in his sight, and will surely subject us to his “hot displeasure" -] 2. The extent and depth of it
[His soul was overwhelmed with a sense of God's wrath. “ God's arrows” pierced his inmost soul: and his hand was heavy upon him, and “pressed him sore.” His iniquities, which, when they were yet only committed in desire and purpose, appeared light, now were an insupportable burthen to his soul; insomuch that “he roared by reason of the disquietness of his heart." Here then we see what sinners may expect in this life. Verily such experience as this is little else than a foretaste of hell itself
But his body also was afflicted with a grievous disease, which had been sent of God as an additional mark of his righteous indignation. And no doubt, if we could certainly discover the reasons of the Divine procedure, we should often see
a Lam. iii. 1-4, 12, 13, 17-21.
ver. 3, 4, 5.
c ver. 3, 5, 7.
diseases and death inflicted as the chastisement of sind. David viewed his disorders in this light: and those, without any additional load, were heavy to be borne; but, when added to the overwhelming troubles of his soul, they almost sunk him to despair. Let those who think lightly of sin, view this monarch in the state above described, and say, whether sin, however sweet in the mouth, be not at last the gall of asps within use." yes, assuredly, it will sooner or later • bite like a serpent, and sting like an adder.”]
But in the midst of all this trouble, he makes mention of, II. His consolation
Whilst deeply bemoaning his sin, he was assured that God was privy to all the workings of his soul, beholding his desires, and hearing all his groans. Now this was a great consolation to him, because he well knew,
1. That God, in the groanings of a penitent, recognizes the voice of his own eternal Spirit
[Groans are the natural expressions of inward pain and anguish; and when they arise from a sense of sin, they are indications of a penitent heart. But no pious disposition is found in man till it is planted there by the Holy Ghost. God is “the Author of every good and perfect gift," and must " give us to will, no less than to do" whatever is acceptable in his sight. As for groanings on account of sin, they are more especially said to be the fruits of the Spirit, who thus" helpeth our infirmities, and enables us to express those feelings which are too big for utterance." To man such inarticulate sounds would convey no distinct idea ; but God understands them perfectly, because “he knoweth the mind of the Spirit:” and he delights in them, because it is in this way that “the Spirit maketh intercession for us,” and because these very intercessions are “according to the will of God."
What a consolatory thought is this to one that is overwhelmed with a sense of sin ! “ He knows not what to pray for as he ought;" and perhaps the load upon his spirit disables him for uttering what his unembarrassed judgment would dictate: but he recollects that God needeth not any one to interpret to him our desires : he understands a sigh, a tear, a look, with infallible certainty: he sees all the self-lothing and self-abhorrence that is contained in such expressions of the penitent's feelings;
1 Cor. xi. 30. f Rom. viii. 26.
e Job xx. 12-14.