« הקודםהמשך »
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 of any part of their duty; whose hearts are perpetually plead. ing the cause of sin, and inventing and maintaining all the excuses which
any wise serve to cover and protect it : whereas they who delight in the law of God, whose hearts are seasoned with an lionest 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,
Hence it is that St. John, in one of his Epistles, has given this mark to know whether we love God or no; · His commandments are not grievous.' If we like the work, and take pleasure in obedience, it is the best evidence that we love the Master; but it is not to be thought that we love him, as long as we hate and repine at his service. And this connexion between the love of the law and the love of God was evidently in the Psalmist's view ; since he affirms of one what, properly speaking, belongs to the other : for the peace and joy which good men feel arise from the love of God, from a sure trust and confidence in his favor, from an unshaken hope of inheriting his promises, if they faint not when they are tried. It is this only which can make them triumph in the evil which virtue exposes them to, which can give them peace amidst all the tumults of the world, and preserve the harmony of their souls when all things are out of course, and maintain the tranquillity of their minds even whilst nature is dissolving in them.
It is not to be imagined that, when the Psalmist penned the text, his thoughts were no higher exalted than to a Stoical rapture in praise of virtue; or that he fetched his comfort from such uncertain, such disputed principles : no ; his mind was *fixed on God, from whom cometh our salvation,'and in whom alone the faithful have peace and rest for evermore. This is the foundation he builds on, as will appear,
Thirdly, where we are to illustrate and confirm the truth of this proposition, 'Great peace have they which love thy law.'
How little peace and satisfaction of mind the enjoyments of the world afford, every man in his own condition knows, what pleasures or comforts soever he may imagine there are in the conditions of life which are above him, and which he has never experienced : so that, allowing men to judge as far as their knowlege extends (which is but a reasonable confinement), there is but one opinion concerning the pleasures of the world, which men of all ranks and degrees consent in; that there is no lasting peace to be had from them, no security in them against sorrow and vexation, no comfort under present evils, nor any assurance against future. But were there that enjoyment in all conditions, which most men think there is in some, yet still it would be very imperfect, and liable to frequent interruptions, unless supported by hopes of religion; for as long as men continue to be of the same nature which they now are, so long their minds will be ever looking forward beyond the limits of this world, and foreboding to them the good or evil that attends them hereafter, when they shall be stripped of all their present supports and possessions. The pleasures of this life cannot sustain the spirit of a man against these apprehensions, but must lose their own heat by degrees, from the continual damps which will arise from such reflexions.
So that let the world be as valuable as it will, we dispute it not with you; yet something else is wanting to give peace to the mind, something that can calm the fears and raise the hopes for futurity ; and this nothing but religion can do, which intitles us to his protection, before whom things past, present, and to come bow down and obey. If we have the assurance of his love and favor to us, nothing can disturb us; we stand on a rock, against which the winds and waves may spend their fury, but shall spend it in vain ; for it is immoveable. This assurance of God's favor is but one and the same thing with what we call a good conscience: for what force is there in a good conscience to give us peace, but only this, that it is our testimony that we have faithfully and diligently served our God; which is the ground of our hope and confidence in him ? And when we are thus armed, and can without reserve profess, 'I have loved thy law, O God, and my delight hath been therein ;' we shall be superior to all the evils of life. The very circumstances which give terror to the worldly man, and fill his breast with horror, will give ease and comfort to us. When he thinks of the shortness of his life, and the speedy account he must give to God, his blood retires to his heart, and hardly there maintains its post: but when the good man's thoughts are so fixed, his heart springs with joy, and all his hopes begin to bloom : the prospect of that blessed day so fills his mind, and engages all his thought, that he is lost in pleasure and delight, and forgets all the pains and calamities of life; not the tyrant's frown, nor the executioner who waits for blood, can rob him of his peace : he looks on them as messengers sent by Providence to deliver him from his pain, and to carry him to the haven of his rest, where his soul longs to be. This, this only was the art by which the saints and martyrs overcame the world, and looked on racks and gibbets, and every form of death, but as so many doors opening into the kingdom of rest and glory. By the same art still do good men triumph under all the trials of fortune : by this they preserve their peace in their latest hours, and resign with joy their spirits into his hand who gave them.
This is a trial which mortals must undergo : the time will come, and is now at hand, when we must part with all that our eyes delight to see, and when we must go to render an account to our great Judge : in that day, where shall we look for comfort, and whom shall we call to our assistance? Your parting friends will have nothing but tears and sighs to lend you. Then happy is the man whose trust hath been in God : who can with patience, full of hope, wait the coming of his Lord, and observe with comfort the degrees by which he hastens to his end. It is worth your while to lay the foundation of this peace betimes, that you may be able to look that day in the face, at which, even at a distance, the stoutest heart may tremble : for it is not courage, but folly, not to think of death with some concern, since so much depends from that moment.
And were we sure of nothing else, in consequence of our faith and obedience, but to slip quietly out of the world, without suffering the agonies which guilty sinners feel, and which none can describe ; yet still our labor would not be quite in vain : but since this peace is but the forerunner of eternal peace, the earnest of future glory and immortality, it is worth all our pains to deny ourselves in this world, to take up our cross and follow. Christ, to labor to do the whole will of God, that we may inherit that peace which belongs to those, and those only, 'who love the law of God.'
SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE LIX.
PSALM CXIX.-VERSE 63.
Nothing is more essential in the pursuit of holiness, and indeed in the whole conduct of our lives, than to observe how those who are set forth by the holy Scripture as patterns, attained to that perfection which made them shining lights of the world and declared favorites of God. If from such examples we draw rules for our own use, we shall be sure of two great advantages; viz. that these rules will be proper and practicable; practicable, because drawn from the practice of men like ourselves ; proper, because we aim at the same end which good men before us have attained to by the use of those means which experience has already found to be proper. The division of the Psalm containing the text sets before us the several steps by which David recovered himself from the sin in which he had been involved. First, he declares his choice, and his resolution to pursue that choice, (57.) This he knew by experience he could do only by the assistance of God, which he therefore applies for, (58.): then he diligently examines his heart, and forms resolutions which he immediately puts into practice, (59. 60.); to secure all this, there was need of patience and courage, and faith towards God. The way of life is beset with dangers ; we must therefore be prepared to endure hardships, like good soldiers of Christ; he therefore mentions for our learning, steadfastness under trials, (61.): he then resolves on acontinued devotion towards God, (62.): next follows the text. At first sight this seems but a little thing to mention, after so many attainments spoken of before : what should lead him so low as to add