« PreviousContinue »
other. If sinful men “ forsake the evil of their
and” unfeignedly “return to God,” they will find rest for their souls; for “ he will have mercy upon them, and will abundantly pardon,” Is. Ix. 7.
A FUTURE STATE PROVEABLE BY REASON.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield. The Lord will give
grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from
them that walk' uprightly. Psal. Ixxxiv. 11. “ THE Lord God is a sun." He is not only glorious and excellent in himself: but from him issue streams of knowledge and wisdom, joy and comfort. Whatever the sun is to the material world, that God is in the most eminent manner to his people.
He is also a shield.” God is not only a light to guide and direct, but likewise a shield to protect and defend. He can secure us in the midst of dangers, and defend from the violent and artful designs and attempts of enemies.
“ The Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” He will bestow every kind of good, both favour and honour. Nor will he give sparingly: but will plentifully enrich and abundantly bless them that walk uprightly.
By which uprightness is not meant absolute perfection, but sincerity; serving God in truth, and with a willing mind; and having a respect to all his commandments : not only observing, very punctually, ordinances of positive appointment, and the stated seasons of public worship, but living in the practice of all righteousness. It is, to be faithful to God in all circumstances, in prosperity and adversity, and in the general tenor of our life and conversation. Such as these God will abundantly bless.
Having thus briefly explained these words, I shall mention some observations.
I. Here is a property of the Divine Being, which deserves our serious attention. As God is full and perfect in himself, so he favours, and has a special regard for righteous and upright men.
The Psalmist, and other good men, who lived under the Mosaic dispensation, did, possibly, expect temporal advantages for the truly religious, more than it is reasonable for us to do under the gospel. But in general the observation must be right; the truth of it may be depended upon, and ought to be maintained in all times: that “God loveth righteousness: his countenance beholds the upright,” Ps. xi. 7. These he approves and favours; whilst he is displeased with such as wilfully transgress, or contemptuously neglect and disregard, his holy laws.
II. We should improve this truth for our establishment in the steady and delightful practice of all holiness.
Virtue, real righteousness, has an intrinsic excellence; it is fit in itself, and very becoming. But we ought to take in every
other consideration that tends to secure the practice of virtue, and perseverance therein, in this state of temptation. We should strengthen ourselves by a respect to the divine will, as well as by a regard to the reason of things.
When we do so, mindful of the divine authority, desirous of his favour, and fearing his displeasure, we may be said to walk with God. There will be then a comfortable fellowship between God and his rational creatures. We steadily and conscientiously eye his commands. He graciously approves us, and the way we are in, and will manifest himself favourably to us.
III. We may hence receive encouragement to trust in God, and serve him faithfully in every circumstance of life, even though we are in some difficulties and troubles, as the Psalmist now was.
For virtue, though well pleasing to God, may be tried and exercised. The reward is sure, though deferred; and it may be the greater in the end if by afflictions it be refined, improved, and perfected.
IV. This text may teach men to be cautious how they injure, offend, or grieve any sincere and upright persons whom God approves.
It is spoken of as a remarkable instance of the folly of bad men : “ Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon God!” Ps. xiv. 4.
We ought to be careful how we offend any walking in the way of righteousness, though they appear to us to be mistaken in some things. It must be imprudent to oppose those who have God for a sun and shield. At the same time it appears to be our duty to uphold to the utmost of
our power the cause of the righteous. This seems to be what David engages to do, if settled in peace and prosperity. “ O my soul, thou hast said unto God, Thou art my Lord. My goodness extendeth not unto thee, but unto the saints that are in the earth, even to the excellent, in whom is all my delight,” Ps. xvi. 2, 3. I have always trusted in God, • and it has been my unfeigned desire to serve him. Not ' that I thereby merit of him. Nor is he advantaged by 'my services. But I shall think it a happiness, if ever I
have it in my power to protect and encourage upright * men, whom I sincerely love and esteem.'
V. We are also led to observe upon these words, that from the divine perfections may be argued a future state of recompences.
This observation I intend to enlarge upon.
1. In the first place I shall propose an argument for a future state from reason.
2. I shall consider some objections against this doctrine.
3. I will endeavour to answer divers inquiries relating to this matter.
4. And then conclude with some inferences. 1.) The argument from reason in behalf of a future state of recompeuces is to this purpose.
It appears to us agreeable to the perfections of God, that he should show favour to good and virtuous men.
But it is obvious to all, and more especially evident to careful observers, that good and bad men are not much distinguished in this world. This, I say, is obvious to all, and especially manifest to those whose observations are of the greatest compass; who have considered the consequences of virtue and vice, relating to this life; who have compared the conduct of good and bad with the prosperous or afflictive circumstances they have been in ; who have taken notice of the rules and maxims, the successes and disappointments, of the great and small, the high and low, of mankind.
How frequent and copious upon this head is Solomon, who had himself enjoyed so much power and grandeur, and had been very curious in his remarks upon men and things ! “ All things have I seen in the days of my vanity. There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness; and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness,” Ecc. vii. 15. And, “ there is a vanity, which is done upon the earth, that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked," ch. viii. 14. 66 And there wicked men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous. No man knoweth love or
hatred by all that is before him. All things come alike to all. There is one event to the righteous, and the wicked :
to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not. As is the good, so is the sinner
This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun. There is one event unto all," ch. ix, 1-3.
And afterwards : “ This wisdom have I seen under the sun; and it seemed great unto me, There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it. Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no man remembered that same poor man,” ver. 13–15. If the place had been saved by some rich citizen, the performance would have been applauded; and honour, and many distinguishing advantages would have been heaped upon him. But the great and eminent wisdom of the poor man was despised and forgotten, because of his mean condition. Such is the partiality of men! such their respect for outward appearances ! So that suitable recompences are not to be looked for from fellowcreatures, in proportion to virtue, or wisdom, from any considerations whatever, either of gratitude or interest.
These and other things said by Solomon, are not proposed with a view to disparage the divine government. For, notwithstanding all these disorders and inequalities in the present scene of things, he is persuaded of the righteousness, and of the remunerative, rewarding providence of God in due time. For which reason he shuts up his book with that important advice: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. Fear God, and keep his commandments. For this is the whole of man:” his whole duty, or his whole interest and happiness. “ For God will bring every work into judgment, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” And indeed, in the course of his observations, in that work, he more than once asserts the righteousness of God, and his favourable respect to good men. “ Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know, that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him," viji. 12.
I forbear to recite any passages at length from any of the Psalms : in which the prosperity of bad men, and the afflictions and sufferings of the righteous are taken notice of. See Ps. xvii. and Ixxiii.
With regard then to this inquiry, whether the reason of men, or light of nature, teaches a future state of recompences, we may put the issue upon this one question : “ Can we
maintain the perfections of God, and the wisdom of his government, upon the supposition, that there is to be no future state of recompence for good or badWould it be agreeable to his wisdom, his righteousness, and goodness, “ that all things should always come alike to all ? and that there should be finally one and the same event to the good and the bad ?” If it be not, then we may be assured there is another state after this. For we are persuaded of the perfection of the Deity. We have antecedent proof of this in the reason of things. God is as certainly wise and holy, as he is knowing and powerful. It may be righteous and equitable to permit virtue to be tried with afflictions and sorrows for a while; but it cannot be consistent with the perfection and rectitude of the Divine Being, the Creator and Governor of the world, to suffer good men to perish finally in their righteousness.
It may be said, that virtue has a reward in this world. For it is in itself an excellence and perfection, and cannot but be chosen by every rational and considerate person. And, if it be chosen and preferred, it must be an advantage, and contain in itself its own reward.
And it must be owned, that virtue is excellent, and therefore is approved. But yet it is exposed to many difficulties in this world, where iniquity is frequent; where there is abundance of partiality, and ingratitude, and perpetual emulation and contention; where success and prosperity are not annexed to any good dispositions, nor to the most valuable services. As Solomon says: “Wisdom is better than weapons
of But one sinner destroyeth much good,” Ecc. ix. 18.
Nor can it be allowed to be fit, that he who has a strict regard to the reason of things, who conscientiously endeavours to perform his duty to God and man, and laments all the neglects and transgressions which at any time he falls into, should upon the whole, and in the end, at the most, have only some small degree of happiness above those who without reluctance break through all the obligations of reason and religion. Would this be answerable to the descriptions of the divine perfection, sometimes given by wise and good men ? Would it be suitable to the instruction in the text, and the consequence thence deduced ? “ The Lord God is a sun and shield. The Lord will give grace and glory. No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.”
Man is the most excellent part of this lower creation.