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3. Procure, and diligently use other books which may help you to grow in this knowledge. There are many excellent books extant, which might greatly forward you in this knowledge, and afford you a very profitable and pleasant entertainment in your leisure hours. There is doubtless a great defect in many, that through a lothness to be at a little expense, they furnish themselves with no more helps of this nature. They have a few books indeed, which now and then on Sabbath days they read; but they have had them so long, and read them so often, that they are weary of them, and it is now become a dull story, a mere task to read them.
4. Improve conversation with others to this end. How much might persons promote each other's knowledge in divine things, if they would improve conversation as they might; if men that are ignorant were no ashamed to show their ignorance, and were willing to learn of others; if those that have knowledge would communicate it, without pride and ostentation; and if all were more disposed to enter on such conversation as would be for their mutual edification and instruction.
5. Seek not to grow in knowledge chiefly for the sake of applause, and to enable you to dispute with others; but seek it for the benefit of your souls, and in order to practice.-If applause be your end, you will not be so likely to be led to the knowledge of the truth, but may justly, as often is the case of those who are proud of their knowledge, be led into error to your own perdition. This being your end, if you should obtain much rational knowledge, it would not be likely to be of any benefit to you, but would puff you up with pride: 1 Cor. viii. 1. "Knowledge puffeth up.'
6. Seek to God, that he would direct you, and bless you, in this pursuit after knowledge. This is the apostle's direction, James i. 5. "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask it of God, who giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not." God is the fountain of all divine knowledge: Prov. ii. 6. "The Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding." Labour to be sensible of your own blindness and ignorance, and your need of the help of God, lest you be led into error, instead of true knowledge: 1 Cor. iii. 18. "If any man would be wise, let him become a fool, that he may be wise."
7. Practise according to what knowledge you have. This will be the way to know more. The Psalmist warmly recommends this way of seeking knowledge in divine truth, from his own experience: Psal. cxix. 100. "I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts." Christ also recommends the same: John vii. 17. "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
GOD THE BEST PORTION OF THE CHRISTIAN.
PSALM LXXIII. 25.
Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee.
In this psalm, the psalmist (Asaph,) relates the great difficulty which existed in his own mind, from the consideration of the wicked. He observes, (ver. 2, 3.) "As for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipt. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." In the 4th and following verses, he informs us, what in the wicked was his temptation. In the first place, he observed, that they were prosperous, and all things went well with them. He then observed their behaviour in their prosperity, and the use which they made of it; and that God, notwithstanding such abuse, continued their prosperity. Then he tells us by what means he was helped out of this difficulty, viz. by going into the sanctuary, verses 16, 17; and proceeds to inform us what considerations they were which helped him, viz. (1.) The consideration of the miserable end of wicked men. However they prosper for the present, yet they come to a woful end at last, verses 18-20. (2.) The consideration of the blessed end of the saints. Although the saints, while they live, may be afflicted, yet they come to a happy end at last, verses 21-24. (3.) The consideration, that the godly have a much better portion than the wicked, even though they have no other portion but God; as in the text and following verse. Though the wicked are in prosperity, and are not in trouble as other men; yet the godly, though in affliction, are in a
Dated April, 1736.
state infinitely better, because they have God for their portion. They need desire nothing else; he that hath God, hath all. Thus the psalmist professes the sense and apprehension which he had of things: Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee.
In the verse immediately preceding, the psalmist takes notice how the saints are happy in God, both when they are in this world, and also when they are taken to another. They are blessed in God in this world, in that he guides them by his counsel; and when he takes them out of it, they are still happy, in that then he receives them to glory. This probably led him in the text to declare that he desired no other portion, either in this world or in that to come, either in heaven or upon earth.Whence we learn, That it is the spirit of a truly godly man, to prefer God before all other things, either in heaven or on earth.
I. A godly man prefers God before any thing else in hea
1. He prefers God before any thing else that actually is in heaven. Every godly man hath his heart in heaven; his affections are mainly set on what is to be had there. Heaven is his
chosen country and inheritance. He hath respect to heaven, as a traveller, who is in a distant land, hath to his own country. The traveller can content himself to be in a strange land for a while, but his own native land is preferred by him to all others: Heb. xi. 13, &c. "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things, declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned: But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly."-The respect which a godly person hath to heaven may be compared to the respect which a child, when he is abroad, hath to his father's house. He can be contented abroad for a little while; but the place to which he desires to return, and in which to dwell, is his own home. Heaven is the true saint's Father's house: John xiv. 2. "In my Father's house are many mansions." John xx. 17. "I ascend to my Father and your Father."
Now the main reason why the godly man hath his heart thus to heaven, is because God is there; that is the palace of the Most High. It is the place where God is gloriously present, where his love is gloriously manifested, where the godly may be with him, see him as he is, and love, serve, praise, and enjoy him perfectly. If God and Christ were not in heaven, he would not be so earnest in seeking it, nor would he take so much pains in a laborious travel through this wilderness, nor would the
consideration that he is going to heaven when he dies, be such a comfort to him under toils and afflictions. The martyrs would not undergo cruel sufferings from their persecutors, with a cheerful prospect of going to heaven, did they not expect to be with Christ, and to enjoy God there. They would not with that cheerfulness forsake all their earthly possessions, and all their earthly friends, as many thousands of them have done, and wander about in poverty and banishment, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, in hopes of exchanging their earthly for a heavenly inheritance, were it not that they hope to be with their glorious Redeemer and heavenly Father. The believer's heart is in heaven, because his treasure is there.
2. A godly man prefers God before any thing else that might be in heaven. Not only is there nothing actually in heaven, which is in his esteem equal with God; but neither is there any thing of which he can conceive as possible to be there, which by him is esteemed and desired equally with God. Some suppose quite different enjoyments to be in heaven, from those which the scriptures teach us. The Mahometans, for instance, suppose, that in heaven are to be enjoyed all manner of sensual delights and pleasures. Many things which Mahomet has feigned, are, to the lusts and carnal appetites of men the most agreeable that he could devise, and with them he flattered his followers. But the true saint could not contrive one more agreeable to his inclination and desires, than such as is revealed in the word of God; a heaven of enjoying the glorious God, and the Lord Jesus Christ. There he shall have all sin taken away, and shall be perfectly conformed to God, and shall spend an eternity in exalted exercises of love to him, and in the enjoyment of his love. If God were not to be enjoyed in heaven, but only vast wealth, immense treasures of silver and gold, great honour of such kind as men obtain in this world, and a fulness of the greatest sensual delights and pleasures; all these things would not make up for the want of God and Christ, and the enjoyment of them there. If it were empty of God, it would indeed be an empty melancholy place. The godly have been made sensible, as to all creature-enjoyments, that they cannot satisfy the soul; and, therefore, nothing will content them but God. Offer a saint what you will, if you deny him God, he will esteem himself miserable. God is the centre of his desires; and, as long as you keep his soul from its proper centre, it will not be at rest.
II. It is the temper of a godly man to prefer God before all other things on the earth.
1. The saint prefers that enjoyment of God, for which he hopes hereafter, to any thing in this world. He looketh not so much at the things which are seen, and temporal, as at those
which are unseen and eternal, 1 Cor. iv. 18. It is but a little of God that the saint enjoys in this world; he hath but a little acquaintance with God, and enjoys but a little of the manifestations of the divine glory and love. But God hath promised to give him himself hereafter in a full enjoyment.
these promises are more precious to the saint, than the most precious earthly jewels. The gospel contains greater treasures, in his esteem, than the cabinets of princes, or the mines of the Indies.
2. The saints prefer what of God may be obtained in this life before all things in the world. There is a great difference in the present spiritual attainments of the saints. Some attain to much greater acquaintance and communion with God, and conformity to him, than others. But the highest attainments are very small in comparison with what is future. The saints are capable of making progress in spiritual attainments, and they earnestly desire such further attainments. Not contented with those degrees to which they have already attained, they hunger and thirst after righteousness, and, as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow thereby. It is their desire to know more of God, to have more of his image, and to be enabled more to imitate God and Christ in their walk and conversation. Psalm xxvii. 4. "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple." Psalm xlii. 1, 2. "As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?" Psalm lxiii. 1, 2. "O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary." See, also, Psalm lxxxiv. 1, 2, 3, and Psalm cxxx. soul waiteth for the Lord, more than they that watch for the morning; I say, more than they that watch for the morning."
Though every saint has not this longing desire after God to the same degree that the Psalmist had, yet they are all of the same spirit; they earnestly desire to have more of his presence in their hearts. That this is the temper of the godly, in general, and not of some particular saints only, appears from Isaiah xxvi. 8, 9; where, not any particular saint, but the church, in general, speaks thus: "Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee; the desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee. With my soul have I desired thee in the night, and with my spirit within me will I seek thee early." See, also, Cant. iii. 1, 2. v. 6, 8.