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true Israel" are “ a people nigh unto God.” It is their delight to draw nigh to God at all times, to make known to him their requests on all occasions, and to walk continually in the light of his countenance. He, on the other hand, like a tender parent, condescends to hear and answer their petitions, and reveals himself to them as he does not unto the world. Thus, while others perform prayer as a mere service which they would think it criminal to neglect, they account it their highest privilege to say, “ Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ."]
3. He makes all things to work together for their good
[Many dark and afflictive dispensations do they meet with; but not one more than shall issue in their good. Under the pressure of their trials they may be ready to say, “ All these things are against me:" but they shall at last see reason to confess, that it is good for them that they have been afflicted.” God has expressly promised, that “ all things should work together for their good ;” and he sooner or later fulfils the promise, to every one that loves him, and that trusts in him. The persecutions of men and the temptations of Satan shall ultimately conduce to this end: “ The wrath of men and devils shall praise him; and the remainder of it,” which would counteract his designs, “ he will restrain."}
4. He has prepared for them a glorious and everlasting inheritance
[To others he generally gives a greater measure of earthly wealth: but “ for these he has prepared a city;" being “not ashamed to be called their God.” The very hope and prospect of that far outweighs all earthly possessions; What then must the actual enjoyment of it be! With what emphasis do those in heaven say, “ Truly God is good to Israel!” Well does David exclaim, “ O how great is thy goodness which thou hast laid up for them that fear theee!" But we must wait till we come to heaven, before we can form any adequate idea of this glorious subject.] ADDRESS
1. Those who are ignorant of God
[You are ready to think of God only as a harsh Master, and a severe Judge: but if you knew him aright, you would cry out, with the prophet, “ How great is his goodness! how great is his beauty!” The fact is, that while your heart is so corrupt, you cannot form any correct judgment concerning God: your eyes are jaundiced, and you behold all his perfections, yea, and his dispensations too, under false colours: “ the light
e Ps. xxxi. 19.
shines; but your darkness doth not comprehend it.” If you would know him as he is, pray that he would “ create in you a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within you." Then shall you be disposed to admire the justice and holiness which you now hate, and, instead of denying his distinguishing grace, you will seek to obtain an interest in itf.] 2. Those who are tempted to think hardly of God,
[This had been the state of the Psalmist's mind, just before he penned this psalm: and it was on finding his error, that he abruptly exclaimed, “ Truly God is good,” notwithstanding all I have been tempted to think to the contrary. The same temptations are common with us: and when we see the ungodly triumphing and the righteous afflicted, we are ready to say, “ I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency." But go into the sanctuary, as David did, and then you will learn the different ends of the righteous and the wicked. Take eternity into your estimate, and the delusion will vanish; and you will see, that no state in which an ungodly man can possibly be, is any more to be compared with yours, than the twinkling of a taper is with the light and splendour of the meridian sun.]
f See Ps. cvi. 4, 5.
DCXXIV. PROSPERITY OF SINNERS NOT TO BE ENVIED. Ps. lxxiii. 16, 17. When I thought to know this, it was too
painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God: then understood I their end.
TO unenlightened man, there are numberless things in the dispensations of Providence altogether dark and inexplicable: it is the light of Revelation only that enables us to form any just notions respecting them. Moreover, after that men are enlightened, they still are liable to be disconcerted and perplexed by the events which daily occur, in proportion as they lean to their own understandings, and neglect to avail themselves of the means which are afforded them for the regulation of their judgment. Nor has Satan any more powerful instruments wherewith to assault the minds of Believers, than those which he derives from this source. The temptation with which he assaulted our first parents in Paradise, was furnished by the prohibition which God had given them to eat of a certain tree; “ Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden ?” insinuating, that such a prohibition could never have proceeded from a God of love. In like manner, if God have seen fit to deny his people any particular comfort which he has vouchsafed to others, or suffered them to be afflicted in any respect more than others, Satan suggests to their minds, How can these dispensations consist with his professed regard for you as his own peculiar people ? Thus their subtle adversary would instil into their minds hard thoughts of God, and a distrust of his providential care. It was in this way that he assaulted the author of the psalm before us, and caused him almost to renounce his confidence in God. The Psalmist himself (whether it were Asaph, or David, we cannot certainly declare) tells us, how nearly he was overcome by this temptation : “As for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped: for I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” He proceeds more fully to state the difficulty with which his mind was harassed, and the way in which the snare was broken: and as the subject is of universal interest, we will draw your attention to it, by stating, I. The difficulty
It is frequently seen that the wicked prosper, whilst the godly are grievously oppressed
[The godly are for the most part “ a poor and afflicted people a.” They are objects of hatred and contempt to an ungodly world”, and they suffer much from the unkind treatment which they meet with. Not unfrequently, “ their greatest foes are those of their own household." From the hand of God also they receive many strokes of fatherly correction, from which the avowed enemies of God are in great measure exempta. It is necessary also, with a view to the accomplishment of God's purpose of love towards them, that they should, for the most part, “ be in heaviness through manifold temptations e."
The wicked, on the contrary, frequently pass through life without any particular trialsf: having nothing to humble them, they are lifted up with pride, (which they glory in as their brightest ornamente;) and are encompassed with violence, as their daily habit: they gratify their sensual appetites, “ till their eyes stand out with fatness h:” they despise all restraint, whether human or divine'; and even atheistically question, Whether God notices and regards the conduct of his creatures. These are the persons who generally get forward in life, and engross to themselves the wealth and honours of a corrupt world. Doubtless, in countries where the rights of individuals are secured by just laws and a righteous administration, this inequality will be less apparent, than in places, where there is more scope afforded for the unrestrained exercise of fraud and violence: but in every place there is ample evidence, that worldly prosperity is the attainment, not of spiritual, but of carnal minds ---]
a Zeph. ii. 12. John xv. 19. c 2 Tim. iii. 12. d Heb. xii. 6—8. e 1 Pet. i. 6.
f ver. 4, 5. & Dan. v. 29. with ver. 6.
This, to the carnal mind, presents a difficulty not easy to be explained
[There is in the mind of man a general idea that the Governor of the universe will testify by his present dispensations his love for virtue, and his hatred of iniquity. The friends of Job carried this notion so far, that, without any other evidence than what arose from his peculiar trials, they concluded, that he must of necessity have been a hypocrite and deceiver, whom justice at last had visibly overtaken. Nor could Job himself understand, how it should be, that the prosperity of the wicked should be so great, whilst he, who had walked in his integrity, was so overwhelmed with troubles?. Even the Prophet Jeremiah, who might be supposed to have a deeper insight into divine truth than Job, was stumbled at the same thing m; and therefore we must not wonder that it operates as a temptation in the minds of the generality.
Under the Mosaic dispensation, the difficulty of accounting for these things was certainly very great: for all the sanctions of the Law were almost, if not altogether, of a temporal nature: temporal prosperity was promised, and that too in very general and unqualified terms, as the reward of obedience; and temporal judgments were threatened as the punishment of disobedience: and consequently, when the wicked prospered and the righteous were oppressed, it seemed as if the providence of God were in direct opposition to his word. Nor did Moses alone give ground for such expectations : even David himself had said, that “they who sought the Lord should want no manner of thing that was good.” Nay more, the same language is used in the New Testament: If we “ seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all earthly comforts shall be added unto us." And again, “ Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the eartho." Now it may be asked, How can this consist with h ver. 7.
i ver. 8, 9. Mark the language of ver. 9. k ver. 11.
1 Job xxi. 7-13. m Jer. xii. 1. * Ps. xxxiv. 10. and lxxxiv. 11. • Matt. v. 5. and vi. 33. r Prov. i. 32.
the exaltation of the wicked, and the almost universal depression of the righteous, of whom it may be said, that “ they are plagued all the day long, and chastened every morning P?”]
But the Psalmist, having stated his difficulty, gives
II. The solution
To the carnal mind the difficulty is insurmountable: but “if we enter into the sanctuary of God," it will vanish instantly. There we shall see the lamentable state of the wicked in the midst of their prosperity; 1. The danger of their way—
[" Their feet are set in slippery places," where it is, humanly speaking, impossible for them to stand. This may appear a strong assertion; but it is not at all too strong: it is the assertion of our Lord himself 9 --- Indeed, it is with great justice said by Solomon, that “ the prosperity of fools destroyeth them";" for it almost universally generates those very dispositions which are so strongly depicted in the psalm before use. If riches increase, we are immediately ready “to set our heart upon them," and to trust in them rather than in Godu. They foster pride in the heart of the possessor*; and lead not unfrequently to an oppressive conduct towards. the poor", and to the most daring impiety towards God". Are they then to be envied, who are placed in such perilous circumstances? or are they to be envied, who, when running for their lives, have " their feet laden with thick clay ?” Be it so, that the rich have many comforts which the poor taste not of: but what enjoyment can that man have of a feast, who sees a sword suspended over his head by a single hair, and knows not but that it may fall and pierce him the very next minute ? So the man who knows his own weakness, and the force of the temptations to which he may be exposed, will be well satisfied to have such a portion only of this world as God sees fit to give him; and will abundantly prefer the eternal welfare of his soul before all the gratifications that wealth or honour can afford him.] 2. The awfulness of their end
[As God raised up Pharaoh to the throne of Egypt, with an intent to shew forth in him his wrathful indignation against sina; so he loads with temporal benefits many, who shall
p ver. 14.
9 Mark x. 23—27. s ver. 6–11.
Ps. lxii. 10. u 1 Tim. vi. 17. Luke xii. 19. y Jam. ii. 6.
a Jam. ij. 7.
* Prov. xviii. 23. a Rom. ix. 17.