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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 proposition, '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 his 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 obedi- . ent. 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 conclusion 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
'man who can attain to it: but it requires pains and labor, and a constant watchfulness over ourselves, to prepare our hearts to receive so noble a guest ; for as long as we carry this flesh and blood about us, and have the affections and appetites of it to incite us to evil, the solicitations of pleasure to move us to worldly enjoyments, the temptations of honor and interest to shake our integrity, so long it must be difficult to us to resign our wills to the conduct of the law of God, and intirely to love what intirely thwarts the bent and inclination of our corrupted nature : for it is not enough so only to love the law as to approve and admire it, and to pursue the righteousness of it with faint desires and distant wishes, which is such a love as every self-condemned sinner has for it; but our love must be active and fruitful in the works of the law, and satisfied with nothing less than the possession and enjoyment of the holiness and righteousness which the law prescribes. And this will more fully appear under the second head; which was,
To consider who they are who may be said to · love the law of God.'
In this Psalm we often find holy David declaring how much he loved the law of God: “In thy law,' says he, is my delight: I have chosen thy precepts: my soul hath kept thy testimonies, and I love them exceedingly: I love thy commandments above gold, yea, above fine gold: I trust in thy word : I have hoped in thy judgments :' and many other like expressions, full of regard and affection to the laws of God, occur frequently. David then loved the law of God: may we therefore, from his character, safely draw the picture of a man who loves the law of God ? By no means; for though at the time of penning this Psalm his heart was right with God, yet at other times he had highly provoked and grievously offended him. David was a different man at different times; and when he was a lover of the law of God, he heartily condemned and ·lamented what he was before, and blessed God for visiting him with such afflictions as served to awaken his conscience, and make him see and forsake the errors of his ways. Thus, in this very Psalm, he confesses, · Before I was afflicted I went astray;' and immediately after, · It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes :' and soon
after he acknowleges the mercy and goodness of God to him in afflicting him, ' I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afficted me.' What therefore David in himself condemned when he loved the law of God, cannot be thought to be consistent with the character of one who loves the law of God. It is a vain and imaginary comfort therefore which sinners raise to themselves out of the worst part of the character of David and other holy men ; endeavoring, by their example, partly to defend and partly to excuse their sins. There is a comfort, indeed, which sinners may draw from hence: these examples are a great encouragement to repentance and the forsaking of sin; since here they may see how readily God embraced the returning prodigal. From hence they may hope, though their sins be red as scarlet, yet shall they be washed white as snow; though they, like David, are grievous sinners, yet, like him, may they become lovers and beloved of God, if, like him, they repent and condemn their iniquities. This is the instruction which the Scripture holds forth to us in these examples : but as long as men make use of them to sooth and flatter their consciences in the quiet enjoyment of sin, so long do they abuse the goodness and mercy of God in setting forth to us these instances of his patience and long-suffering towards sinners.
But though the example of David in all parts of it is no safe direction to us, yet his inspired writings are ; and we need go no farther than this Psalm for the righteous man's character: in the very beginning of it he describes him to be a man 6 undefiled in the way, who walks in the law of the Lord, who keeps his testimonies, and seeks him with the whole heart; who does no iniquity.' In speaking of himself, the first good thing he found to say was his repentance: this was his first step towards becoming a lover of God: I thought,' says he, on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies: I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.' His next step was to forsake his wicked companions, and to associate with such as feared the Lord :· I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts.' The resolutions he had formed of persevering in holiness he thus expresses : « Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: I have
inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes always to the end.' In the verses before the text, and where he is describing that sense of religion which was the source of all the peace which he found amidst his bitterest persecutions and afflictions, and which afterwards, in the words of the text, he comprehends under the general term of loving the law, he thus speaks : • My heart standeth in awe of thy word : I rejoice at thy word : I hate and abhor lying: seven times a day do I praise thee.'
You see then what firm resolutions of obedience, how constant a perseverance in holiness, how regular and frequent acts of devotion, how irreconcilable a hatred to sin and wickedness, must meet together to complete the character of the man who loves the law of God. To hate and abhor sin, to love and delight in the law of God, are expressions which imply no small degree of perfection : they suppose the main difficulties of religion to be conquered, the struggle with sin to be over, the passions and affections to be subdued to holiness and obedience, and a man's heart to be in the interest of virtue, and to lead the way to all the good he does. There are some who, on different views, such as are suggested merely by fear, or by interest, or present conveniency, keep out of sin, and make a tolerable show in the performance of the duties of religion : but alas ! their work is labor and sorrow; they have no pleasure or relish in what they are about; and so far from tasting the peace which the Psalmist speaks of, that religion is their toil and slavery, the work of a master whom they cannot love, and whom they dare not anger, and whom therefore they serve unwillingly, without cheerfulness or delight. These are they who are fond of every pretence which may help to ease them
any part of their duty; whose hearts are perpetually pleading the cause of sin, and inventing and maintaining all the excuses which may in
any wise serve to cover and protect it : whereas they who delight in the law of God, whose hearts are seasoned with an honest undesigning virtue, want not to be excused from the work they take pleasure in. They who hate and abhor sin want not to have the approaches to it made easy, or cleared from dangers, since they have no appetite to embrace the monster, which is their aversion.