« PreviousContinue »
afflictions, which peace in the severest trials he found to be the undivided companion of faith and obedience: this topic enlarged on. Nothing therefore was more distant from the Psalmist's thoughts, than to promise outward peace or temporal prosperity to the practice of virtue; since he speaks only of the peace of the righteous in their afflictions; he therefore adds, and nothing shall offend them; which would have been improper, had he spoken of temporal peace before, in which there is nothing to offend any man.
But to enjoy a peace which sets us above the power of evil or fortune, which opens our eyes to look through the gloomiest scenes of sorrow to the blessed hope of future glory, this is what the world cannot give; and this is the peace which the Psalmist speaks of as the peculiar inheritance of him who loveth the law of God. But it requires pains, labor, and watchfulness over the affections and appetites of the flesh, before we can love what intirely thwarts them : it is not enough to love the law in admiration, and to obey it faintly; our love must be active and fruitful, and satisfied only in the enjoyment of its righteousness; all which will more fully appear under the second head. In this psalm we find holy David often declaring how much he loved the law of God. May we therefore from his character safely draw the picture of a man who loves the law of God ? No: for David was a different man at different times : this point enlarged on. He blessed God for his afflictions, and soon afterwards he acknowleged the mercy and goodness of God in thus afflicting him : what David therefore in himself condemned when he loved the law of God, is inconsistent with the character of one who loves it: the excuses of sinners drawn from the worst part of the character of David and of other holy men, are a vain and imaginary comfort ; but there is a comfort to be drawn from hence: these examples are a great encouragement to repentance, since we see how readily God embraced the returning prodigal; but whilst men use them to
soothe their consciences in the quiet enjoyment of sin, they abuse God's mercy in setting forth these instances of his patience. Yet though the example of David be not intirely a safe direction to us, his inspired writings are; and in this psalm we may find the righteous man's character, (1-3.) The first good thing he says of himself is his repentance, (59-60.) His next step was to forsake his wicked companions, and associate with such as feared the Lord, (63.) Next he resolves to persevere in holiness, (111-112.) He then describes his sense of religion, that source of peace and joy in his bitterest afflictions, which, in the text, he comprehends under the general term of loving the law, (161-164.) From all this we may see that to hate and abhor sin, to love and delight in the law of God, are expressions implying no small degree of perfection : this point enlarged on. There are some who on different views, such as are suggested merely by fear, interest, or present conveniency, keep out of sin, and make a tolerable show in the performance of their religious duties; but alas ! their work is labor and sorrow : such persons are fond of every pretence which may help to ease them of any part of their duty, and excuse or protect them when under it; whereas they who delight in the law of God want not to be excused from the work in which they take pleasure; nor do they wish the approaches to sin to be made
easy, since they have no appetite to embrace the monster, which is their aversion. Hence St. John, in one of his epistles, has given us this mark to know whether we love God or no; his commandments are not grievous. This text explained, showing that the connexion between the love of the law and of God was evidently in the Psalmist's view; since he affirms of one, what, properly speaking, belongs to the other : this case fully laid out. Nor is it to be imagined that when the Psalmist penned the text, his thoughts were exalted no higher than to a stoical rapture in praise of virtue; or that he fetched his comfort from such uncertain and disputed principles : no; his mind
was fixed on God, from whom cometh our salvation, and in whom alone the faithful have peace
That this is the foundation which he builds on will appear, when we consider, III. 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.
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 geneșal 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 suits 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.