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which David makes to Mephibosheth, after so submissive a speech, and so full a defence of himself? It is this. “ The king said unto him: Why speakest thou any more of thy matters? I have said : Thou and Ziba divide the land.” An answer, if we may presume to judge, unworthy of David. It seems to shew that Ziba's story still made impressions upon him, and that he was not fully reconciled to Mephibosheth : or else, that he was unwilling to own how much he had been deceived and imposed upon by the artifice of Ziba, Mephibosheth's servant. Such effect had flattery and slander, improbable slander, upon the mind of king David.
David seems not now to have recollected the resolutions which he had formed, the plan of government which he had laid down to himself before his settlement on the throne of Israel. When he said: “ Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off. He that worketh deceit shall not dwell in my house. He that telleth lies shall not abide in my sight,” Psalm ci. v.7. And indeed, it may exceed the abilities of the best and wisest of men, to guard, at all times, against all the arts of detraction.
2. Another thing that should induce us to this care, is, that otherwise we cannot approve ourselves to be truly religious. It is an observation of St. James, already taken notice of. If any “man among you seemeth to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, that man's religion is vain.” And the truth of that observation is confirmed by what has been said under the foregoing particular, of the importance of this matter. That man is not truly religious, whatever profession he may make, who talks without consideration, spreads stories to the disadvantage of others, founded only on surmise, or upon testimony that ought to be suspected : or affects to recommend the principles of religion, or of any science, who has neglected inquiry; or, who gives his judgment in affairs about which he is not well informed, and has taken no care to be so.
3. It ought to induce us to aim at the government of the tongue, that it is a great excellence. It is the doctrine of the text. “ If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” It is a proof of much virtue, great discretion, a full command of the passions, and a prevailing regard to the good of others. Does a man bridle his tongue? Does nothing proceed out of his mouth to the detriment or offence of others ? nothing but what tends to edification? Does he know when to speak, and when to be silent ? “ Is his speech always with grace, seasoned with salt ?” Col. iv. 6. Are his words weighty though few? Are his discourses solid for the matter, and modest, and agreeable for the manner? Does he argue without positiveness, advise without assuming authority, and reprove without severity and harshness ? Such an one is an excellent or perfect man. And it is a character which we may desire to attain to.
III. Which brings me to the third and last thing that was proposed, to lay down some rules and directions, which may assist us in governing the tongue, and curing the faults of it.
1. Let us cherish the principle of the fear of God in our hearts. For that will deter from every kind of evil, and dispose to good words, as well as to good actions.” “ Come, ye chil. dren,” says the Psalmist,“ hearken unto me. I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good ? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile,” Psalm xxxiv. 11–13.
2. Let us also cherish and cultivate the love of our neighbour. “ For love," as the apostle says, “is the fulfilling of the law," Rom. xiii. 10. If we love our neighbour as ourselves, we shall be concerned for his credit, as well as for our own : and not willingly injure him by words, any more than by actions.
3. Let us call to mind former offences and transgressions of this kind, which we have been convinced of, and have been sorry for. This may be of great use for time to come.
It will secure our guard, and render it more effectual.
4. If we are acquainted with any excellent masters in this art, who are great examples of this virtue, we should diligently observe them for our imitation. If we know of any, who do not readily receive evil reports, who rarely speak to the disadvantage of any, who never aggravate the real faults of men, who are willing to appland commendable actions, and to excuse imprudencies, and lesser faults: whose discourses are useful and entertaining : in whose mouth is the law of kindness, and whose “wisdom” is accompanied with “meekness," James iïi. 13. they are worthy of our attentive view and observation.
5. Let us endeavour to mortify pride, envy, and inordinate self-love; and cultivate that
wisdom, which is “pure, peaceable,” ver. 17, 18, unbiassed, disinterested, and public spirited. Then we are likely to attain to this perfection, and not offend in word.
6. Let us also endeavour to improve in the knowledge of the works of nature, and the word of God. If a man's mind be filled with a variety of valuable knowledge, he will be under little temptation to divert into the topics of detraction and scandal, for the sake of shining in company.
7. Let us often recollect some of the directions which the scripture affords upon this point : Speak evil of no man," Tit. jii. 2. “ Let every one be swift to hear, slow to speak," James i.
Speak not evil one of another, brethren," ch. iv. 11.
But it is time to conclude, out of reverence to the rules that have been just laid down, some of them especially.
I add therefore but one word more, which is, that we should now make application, not to others, but to ourselves. And if we have this day seen any of our faults, and the causes of them, let us not be like a “man, who having beheld his face in a glass, goes away, and soon forgetteth what manner of man he was : but having looked into the perfect law of" virtue, “ let us continue therein : not being forgetful hearers, but doers of the word: for such shall be blessed in their deed," James i. 23, 24.
THE BENEFIT OF FEARING ALWAYS.
Happy is the man that feareth always ; but he that hardcneth his heart, shall fall into mischief.
Prov. xxviii. 14.
All know, that a large part of the book of Proverbs consists of sentences unconnected, or observations and maxims independent on each other. Where that is the case, little light is afforded by the coherence. Nevertheless I shall read the verse immediately preceding. And if any connection was intended, possibly we may perceive it, at least hereafter, when we have considered the meaning of the words of this text.
Ver. 13 and 14. “ He that covereth his sins, shall not prosper : but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them, shall have mercy. Happy is the man that feareth always: but he that hardeneth his heart, shall fall into mischief.
In discoursing on this text
IV. After which I intend to mention some remarks and observations upon this subject, and conclude.
I. In the first place I should describe the fear here recommended; or shew what is meant by fearing always.
There is a good counsel of Solom u in the twenty-third chapter of this book : “ Let not thy heart envy sinners : but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long,” Prov. xxiii. 17. This is our duty and interest. Whatever advantages some may gain by unrighteousness, we should never be thereby induced to imitate their ways: but should still persevere in the service of God, and the way of virtue, which in time will be rewarded.
But it does not appear very likely, that this is what is here particularly intended by the wise man. The fear here spoken of, seems to be apprehensiveness, diffidence, with the fruits thereof, care, caution, and circumspection : as opposite to security, inconsideration, confidence and presumption. In this text is meant a temper of mind, which is often recommended by the wise man in other words. “ The simple believeth every word : but the prudent man looketh well to his goings,” chap. xiv. 15. And, “ keep thy heart with all diligence: for out of it are the
issues of life-Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy paths be established,” chap. iv. 23, 25, 26.
This property of feariug always, may be expedient and useful in a variety of occasions : in the things of this present life, and in the great concerns of our salvation.
It would undoubtedly be of bad consequence with regard to the affairs and business of this world, for men to be void of thought and consideration : to presume upon success, and depend upon good treatment, and honest dealings from all men ; and rely upon the kind and faithful assistances of friends and servants, and others with whom we may be concerned, without any previous trial or examination.
And it must be expedient and useful for men, to be so far apprehensive of dangers and accidents, so sensible of the changes and vicissitudes that attend all earthly things, and so far aware of the unskilfulness, unfaithfulness, art and subtilty of other men, as shall induce them to take care of their own affairs themselves, and use a prudent caution and circumspection.
A like temper may be very useful in the things of religion. And to this the words of Solomon may be applied, if they are not to be directly interpreted in this sense.
Indeed there is a fearfulness, and timorousness of mind, which religion condemns : which is mean and unreasonable, groundless and indiscreet : when we are too apprehensive of the evils and afflictions of this life, or fear men more than God. Then we are to be blamed; then we act indiscreetly: when for fear of the displeasure of men, and the small evils they can inflict upon us, we do that which will offend God, and expose us to the long and grievous pains and miseries of another state, with the loss of all that happiness which we might have secured by resolution and courage in the way of religion and virtue.
But there is a fear and apprehension, which may be very useful. It is a fear of offending God, and a diffidence of ourselves and our own strength. It is founded in a persuasion of the great importance of right behaviour in this world, and a sure knowledge of the consequences thereof, either happiness or misery in a future state. It is also owing to a consideration of the power of things sensible, good and evil, agreeable or disagreeable, to bias and influence the mind : and that, oftentimes on a sudden, and to a degree beyond most men's expectations ; whereby many are diverted from right conduct, and act contrary to former convictions, and their best purposes and resolutions.
He who fears always is one who is never unmindful of what is the great design of life, and what will be the consequences of it. He is desirous of obtaining eternal salvation, even a better happiness than this present world affords any prospect of. And he dreads the being finally rejected of God, and excluded from his presence. And as the reason of things, and the express declarations of the word of God, assures us, that final happiness, or misery, depends upon men's behaviour here; he is desirous, that his behaviour may be such as shall be approved in the end by the impartial and equitable Sovereign and Judge of the world.
But he is aware that there is no small difficulty in executing this design. He therefore fears always. In every state and condition, whether prosperity or adversity, he knows there are snares and temptations. For which reason he is at no time secure; but has continually a kind of distrust of hiniself
, and is apprehensive, lest the ease and pleasure of the one should make him forget God and another world : and lest some things in the other condition, of which the afflictions are various, and very moving, should induce him to cast off the fear of God, and say, religion is vain.
He has his fears and apprehensions, arising from solitude, and from company: when alone, and when in conversation. "He is aware that there are some snares peculiar to retirement, others to business. Nor is there any age, or time of life, but has its temptations.
He is not without his fears, when he engages in the worship of God, lest his services should be defective and unacceptable; and lest through neglect, inattention, or prejudices, the opportunity afforded him should be unprofitable. And indeed, Solomon has a direction and caution to this purpose :
Keep thy foot, when thou goest to the house of God; and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools," Eccl. v. 1.
In undertakings for the honour of God, and the interests of religion among men, he is sometimes in doubt and suspense, whether his zeal, though well-meant, be right and just. And he admits a re-examination of his design, that he may act according to knowledge, and upon
the grounds of a well informed judgment; lest what he does should in the issue be rather prejudicial, than advantageous to the good cause he would promote.
After worshipping God with sincerity and fervour, and partaking in those ordinances and privileges which God has ordained for our improvement, he does not trust to the strength he has thereby gained; but still allows of apprehensions, lest he should act contrary to what he has seen to be fit and right; or some way fail to execute the purposes and resolutions which he has made and renewed in the presence of God.
And as he was beforehand afraid that he should not approve himself as he ought, so likewise, when through care and attention, he has, as he hopes, performed agreeably to his aims and wishes, he is upon his guard, lest some improper opinion and self-sufficiency should arise in his mind, inconsistent with that humility which he would ever maintain.
Nor does the man who fears always presume after the greatest successes. And though he has proceeded for some time in a course of obedience to God's commandments, and temptations have not hitherto greatly prevailed against him, he studiously declines conceit and assurance. He is still ever apprehensive of some new and unlooked for danger; and doubts, whether some time lesser temptations may not prevail, after greater have been vanquished. Like some general
, who, the more victories he has gained, is the more cautious of engaging an enemy; lest the honour of former successes should be lost and forfeited by some unhappy disaster.
This is the man, who, in a religious sense,' feareth always.
And now we may just observe the connection, which some think there is between this and the preceding observation, though it is not very clear and certain. " He that covereth his sins shall not prosper ; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy. Happy is the man that feareth always :" that is, if he would secure the mercy he has found, the advantage he has gained, it will be of use, to preserve a fear of offending, and to be cautious and circumspect in all his actions.
II. Which leads us to the second point, the happiness of this temper and disposition of mind. Happy is the man that feareth always."
The happiness of such an one is this: he will not fall into mischief. He will exceed his own fears and apprehensions. He will behave better, and wiser, than he imagined. It is very probable, that this fear of offending will prevent a great deal of grief and vexation. And he will never know by experience, what that remorse and anguish of mind is, which is the fruit of great and repeated transgressions. His apprehensions of falling, and dread of guilt, with ihe consequences of it, will secure him from those great and dreadful evils.
Probably, the life of such an one will be even and uniform. It will consist of a regular course of religious devotion, public and private : and of a great number, and large variety of beneficial actions, and kind offices to others.
He will scarce be able to refrain himself from giving some hints and instructions that shall be useful to others. Especially, if he see any secure and presuming, he will warn them affectionately and earnestly. But being sensible of his own weakness, and ever apprehensive of acting, some time, amiss himself; his admonitions, and warnings, and reproofs, if they should be needful, will be tempered with mildness and gentleness.
It seems not unlikely, that this property, of fearing always, should produce an amiable character, which shall gain a man some good degree of esteem, and qualify him for more usefulness, than very eminent attainments could do without it. The modesty and meekness of his behaviour will not only cast some lustre upon himself, but likewise adorn religion, and give it an agreeable and lovely appearance.
lives, if not more. “Blessed is the man that feareth always," Prov. xxviii. 14 ; who bas ever upon his mind such an apprehension of the great evil of sin, and his liableness • 10 it, while he is in the body, as to be continually watchful . against it. By thus fearing always he will be able to rejoice
always, both in the consciousness of his own integrity, and 'the hope of the heavenly reward. Mr. H. Grove's second volume of Additional Sermons. Serni. xvii. p. 450.
And though he never, whilst in the body, and in this state of trial, dares pass a definitive sentence in favour of himself, but refers that to the all-knowing Judge: yet it is likely, that continued innocence, and persevering integrity, will lay a foundation for growing joy, and solid satisfaction of mind, which will be preferable to all the advantages of this world.
Such is the happiness of this person, and of this temper of mind.
III. In the third place we are to observe, how this temper, of fearing always, contributes to a man's happiness.
And it is very easy for any one to perceive this. For such an one will be circumspect and watchful ; which, certainly, must be a good mean of security. He that looks well to his going, who is thoughtful and considerate, will, in all probability, act more wisely and discreetly, than the rash and unthinking.
Moreover he will be serious and diligent in the use of all proper means of security and steadfastness. He will frequent the assemblies of divine worship, and will pray and hear, not only out of form and carelessly, but with attention, and with a view of gaining confirmation and establishment. He considers acts of worship as means of improvement, and preparatory for the duties of life. And hereby he gains strength for resisting of temptations, and grows ready to every good word and work.
Nor does he neglect private meditation ; but often thinks of God and another world. He contemplates the works of God, and studies his word. He considers the perfection and extent of the divine law. He observes the reasonableness of every part of it, and fixes in his mind an abhorrence of all sin upon a reasonable foundation.
He frequently contemplates the glory set before the upright and persevering in the gospel of Christ; and thereby he is animated to duty, and set more and more at variance with every thing that might deprive him of so great a recompence.
He dreads the thought of being hardened in sin, and therefore cherishes tenderness of spirit.
He often reflects on his ways, and calls himself to an account for what he has done in public and private; and fails not to renew his repentance. If any thing unbecoming has escaped him, he does not palliate and justify it, or seek for excuses and apologies; but he condemns himself for it, and laments it. His humility is thereby increased, and his future circumspection is ren. dered more exact and vigilant.
Nor would he shun the advices and reproofs of others; but would gladly accept the reprehensions and admonitions of a knowing and faithful friend.
This course of thinking and acting cannot but be of advantage, and conduce to the happiness described under the foregoing particular.
IV. I am now to add some remarks and observations. They will be such as these.
1. The temper of mind, spoken of in this maxim of Solomon, and styled “ fearing always," is frequently recommended to Christians in the New Testament.
Our Lord cherished it in his own disciples by exhortations and arguments. They were not so perfect after he had been long with them, but he set before them the duty of watching. It -is one of those things which he inculcated upon them a little before he took his leave of them. “ And what I say unto you, I say unto all : Watch,” Mark xiii. 37. And, “ Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” Matt. xxvi. 41. They had been too positive and presuming. He assures them that they had better be, with regard to themselves, more diffident and distrustful; that they might be more upon their guard, and more constant and earnest in prayer to God for his protection and help.
This fear of offending, this distrust of ourselves, this apprehensiveness of the power of temp. tations, is implied in that petition of the prayer which Christ taught his disciples : " And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
“ Brethren," says St. Paul to the Galatians, “if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted,” Gal. vi. 1; that is, mindful of thy own weakness, and that it is not impossible, but thou also mayest at some time, and some other way or other, be tempted with effect, so as to fall.
Among divers considerations, which the apostle Paul mentions to dissuade the Corinthians from too great intimacy with the idolatrous heathens, he inserts this also : “ Wherefore let him that thinks he stands, take heed, lest he fall,” i Cor. x. 12.