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I. To shew what is implied in consideration, or thinking on our ways.
II. To observe the proper effect thereof, which is amendment.
III. After which, in the way of application, I would recommend the practice of consideration by some motives.
I. I am to shew, in the first place, what is implied in consideration, or thinking on our ways. 1. It implies a recollecting, and taking a survey of our past conduct, with a view of detecting the sins and errors of it, as well as observing the good we have done.
To think on our ways is to recollect and bring to remembrance the past actions of our life, good and bad: more especially our latter, but also our former conduct nor only our outward actions, but likewise our thoughts and intentions, the principles and views of our actions, in the several past periods of our life, and the various circumstances we have been in: how far our behaviour has been suitable to the dispensations of Divine Providence towards us: what we have been, and what we have done: how we have behaved in times of prosperity, or of adversity: how far we have regarded and performed, or neglected and omitted, the duties owing to God or men, in the stations we have been in; by which it may appear, that this is a wide field of meditation to expatiate in.
2. In the practice of this duty is implied seriousness and deliberation.
"I thought on my ways. I recollected them, as just shewn: and that seriously and deliberately. I did not bestow only some few slight and cursory reflections on myself and my past conduct: but I acted with seriousness and deliberation, being sensible, it is a thing of no small moment. I allotted some time to this work, and called off my thoughts from other matters, to think of myself and my ways. I laid aside other business, and redeemed some time from the hurries of life, for the sake of this necessary review. I desisted from farther pursuits until I had surveyed my past conduct, and could judge how far it has been right, or how far wrong: whether I ought to proceed in the present course, or whether it ought not in several respects to be altered and corrected.
3. "I thought on my ways:" I considered and examined them impartially.
This I did, knowing that God sees all things, and that he is acquainted with all my wanderings. He tries the hearts, and knows all the ways of the sons of men. He is the best judge of integrity, and will approve of it: he is not to be deceived by false pretences, and specious appearances. All the actions of my life, and all the purposes of my heart, ever since I have enjoyed this rational nature, and have arrived to the exercise of its powers, have been under his notice: and he discerns the present frame and actings of my mind.
When therefore I thought on my ways, I resolved to do it in the fear, and as in the presence of God. I set aside partial and too favourable regards for myself, and resolved not to heed now the fair, and too agreeable speeches of friends or flatterers: but to know the truth concerning myself, and to pass a right judgment upon my ways.
I examined myself, then, and weighed my actions in an equal balance, without a favourable and partial indulgence: but yet, as I was persuaded I ought to do, without a rigour and severity that has no bounds, and directly, and necessarily leads to despair and despondency: believing, that equity, mercy, and compassion, are branches of eternal righteousness, and some of the glories of that infinitely perfect Being who made the world. He certainly is not strict to mark iniquity: he knows all the weaknesses and disadvantages of his creatures, as well as the powers and advantages he has bestowed upon them. He does not equally resent involuntary and undesigned failings, and deliberate and wilful wickedness. He is ever ready to pardon the penitent, and accepts the sincere and upright, though they are not perfect.
As therefore I would confess and acknowledge all the offences I can descry, with hopes of finding favour with God; so would I humbly rejoice, and take satisfaction in every instance of virtuous conduct, hoping it may be graciously approved of and accepted by him to whom I am accountable; and who is greater than my heart, and knoweth all things.
4. "I thought on my ways." It may be herein implied, I have done it frequently.
"I thought on my ways:" This is a practice, which I have supposed to be incumbent on The heat of action, and the hurry and business of life, occasion much inconsideration: and various circumstances there are which throw us off our guard: and temptations prevail, before we are aware.
Various are the temptations of this world: and my strong affections are apt to carry me
beyond the bounds of reason. In the multitude of my words, in my many thoughts and actions, I fear there has not wanted some, if not much sin and folly. I have therefore thought it, in the course of my life, a fit and proper practice, frequently to review my conduct, and call myself to an account, and not to suffer any long space of time to pass without this exercise of
5. "I thought on my ways:" and when I did so, I carefully compared them with the rule of right; the reason of things, and the revealed will of God.
As already observed, I have recollected my past conduct; I have reviewed it seriously and deliberately; sincerely and impartially; and frequently, laying hold of all fit opportunities for so doing: and whenever I did so, it was my concern, carefully to compare my actions by the rule of right; the reason of things, and the will of God, as revealed in his word.
I then observed the intrinsic excellence, and the beauty and comeliness of virtue, and all holiness; and the real evil and foul deformity of vice. I discerned the reasonableness and perfection of God's precepts: that what he commands is fit to be done, and that what he forbids ought to be avoided by every rational being: "All the statutes of the Lord are right," Ps. xix. 8, and should be steadily regarded by his creatures. I perceived therefore, that all my thoughts and actions, which agreed not with the rule of God's word, were foolish and wicked, such as ought to be condemned by me, of which I have reason to be ashamed, and for which I now humble and abase myself. All such actions have been contrary to the will and pleasure of my sovereign, and unsuitable to the dignity of my nature. And all the while I have wandered from the right way of holiness and obedience to God, I have been weakening and sinking the powers of my mind, and have more and more indisposed myself for the enjoyment of true happiness.
6. "I thought on my ways:" and when I did so, I considered the several advantages I have enjoyed, and the peculiar obligations I have been under; and was thereby led to take notice of the many aggravations of my transgressions, and my defects.
Every thing contrary to truth, purity, and righteousness is evil, in all beings who have reason and understanding: but the guilt of transgressors increases in proportion to the knowledge they have of the will of God, and the reasonableness and equitableness of what is required of them. Some have clearer discoveries concerning duty, than others: and by the many blessings, vouchsafed them in the course of providence, they have been laid under special obligations to attend to the indications of the Divine Mind.
When I thought on my ways, I could not but own this to be my case. The divine will, and motives to obey it, have been often set before me in a clear and affecting manner. I have had many means and helps for preventing sin, and securing a virtuous conduct: and the favours of Divine Providence have laid me under strong obligations to improve those helps, and to excel, and be steady in virtue.
I see reason therefore to own, that I have acted against convictions of duty, and that by temptation I have been induced to act contrary to resolutions, formerly made. I can recollect too, that I have not kept that strict watch over myself, which I knew to be fit and needful in this present world, so beset with dangerous snares and temptations.
Upon the whole, in recollecting and reviewing my conduct I discerned many things for which no good excuse or apology can be made: and therefore I saw great reason to condemn and blame myself on that account. And considering the advantages, which I have enjoyed; my many past transgressions, and my still remaining defects are attended with no small aggravations.
7. "I thought on my ways," and considered the rewards and encouragements of virtuous conduct, and sincere obedience to God: and the sad consequences of sin, and the unavoidable ruin and misery of such as persist in it.
For a difference there is in things, as I am fully persuaded, and see plain reason to believe: and God, the Lord and Governor of the world, is perfectly righteous and holy: and he certainly will some time make a difference between the obedient and faithful, and the disobedient and unfaithful among his creatures. It is altogether fit and reasonable he should do so it is impossible therefore for me to reconcile the hopes of happiness with wilful sin, persisted in, and unrepented of. It must be confessed, and forsaken: or I can never think of finding mercy with God, so as to entertain any prospect of the reward that shall be bestowed on the righteous.
This is what is implied in the duty of consideration, or thinking on our ways.
II. Let us now observe the proper effect of this practice, which is amendment. "I thought on my ways," says the Psalmist, "and turned my feet unto thy testimonies."
That is one effect and advantage of this practice. But it is not the sole and only one.
to a good man it may be sometimes the ground and occasion of peace, joy, pleasing reflections, and comfortable hopes and expectations, and afford cause of thanksgiving to God. It will especially do so, at the end of life, to such as have made it a fréquent practice, and have thereby been engaged in a strict and steady course of virtue. Like the apostle, they will be able to say: "Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in this world," 2 Cor. i. 12. And when he was yet nearer the period of his days on earth, he reflects, and looks forward in this manner: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day," 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8.
This satisfaction we may well suppose was sometimes the result of the Psalmist's thinking on his ways. For though he did not always perform agreeably to the obligations he was under, yet he never laid aside the, profession of religion, nor abandoned himself to an allowed and deliberate course of wickedness. So he declares in this Psalm, ver. 102, “I have not departed from thy judgments, for thou hast taught me." And ver. 22, " remove away from me reproach and contempt:" for "I have kept thy testimonies." And ver. 165-167, "Lord, I have hoped in thy salvation, and done thy commandments. My soul has kept thy testimonies, and I love them exceedingly. I have kept thy precepts, and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee.'
But this was one happy effect of serious consideration, or thinking on his ways, that he was better disposed and enabled to amend what had been hitherto amiss, and to advance in piety. As he says, ver. 67, "before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now have I kept thy word." There were errors and faults in his conduct, in the time of ease and prosperity, which afflictions had taught him to correct and reform.
So here in the text: "I thought on my ways:" and having on that recollection and review observed some, or even many defects and transgressions, "I turned my feet unto God's testimonies." Whatever I discerned to be contrary to duty, gave me grief and concern, and I resolved to do so no more. I determined not to persist in any thing which I had seen the evil of: knowing that any one sin, wilfully indulged, is a presumptuous disrespect to the authority of the divine law; and might harden my heart, and extirpate all sense of religion in my mind, until I become totally forsaken of God, and abandoned to all manner of wickedness.
Having seen my errors, I resolved to be for the future more exact, careful and circumspect. And I have actually found by experience, that this frequent, serious, and impartial recollecting and reviewing my past conduct has been of great use to me, and proved an excellent mean of my amendment and improvement.
III. It remains, that in the way of application I recommend this duty of consideration, or the practice of" thinking on our ways," by some motives.
1. It is a very fit and proper employment of rational creatures, whilst in a state of trial: wherein they labour under many frailties and imperfections, and are exposed to various snares and temptations.
What can be more proper for such beings, in such circumstances, than to "think on their ways?" They are accountable to God. And must it not be very becoming them, to shew a respect to him, and his laws, by frequently considering their behaviour: that, if at any time, through surprise, or any other means, they have been misled, they may make humble confessions of their offences, and resolve and aim and endeavour to do better in time to come.
2. I observe secondly, (which follows from what was just said) that this practice is very proper for all men.
It is proper for such, as have not yet seriously devoted themselves to God and his service: and also for those who are really and sincerely, but only imperfectly good. It is greatly needful, and of the utmost importance for the former, "to think on their ways." And it may be very expedient and beneficial for these last likewise. The Psalmist shews as much by his own
example, who ought to be placed in this latter rank. And he may be well understood to intend, by this observation, to recommend the practice to others.
3. This exercise of the mind is oftentimes expressly recommended to men by God himself, or his prophets, speaking in his name, and by his authority.
In the first chapter of the book of Isaiah God laments and complains, as it were, that "Israel did not know, his people did not consider," Is. i. 3. And earnestly calls to them to attend to the end of things. "Wash ye, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do well. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse, and rebel, ye shall be destroyed: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it," ver. 16-20. They are severely checked and reproved, who go on securely in an evil way: not considering how displeasing such a course is to the Divine Being. "These things hast thou done, and I kept silence. Thou thoughtest that I was such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thee. Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver," Ps. 1. 21, 22.
And in the New Testament, says St. Paul, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith: prove your ownselves," 2 Cor. xiii. 5. And, "If any man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself: but let every man prove his own work. Then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another," Gal. vi. 3, 4. St. John is directed by our exalted Lord to write in this manner to the church of Ephesus: "Remember therefore, from whence thou art fallen: and repent, and do the first work," Rev. ii. 5. And St. Paul observes: "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged," or condemned, "by the Lord," 1 Cor. xi. 21.
4. Which brings us to another argument for this practice: that God will hereafter try and judge us, and all men.
There is a day appointed for reviewing the actions of all mankind: and then every one will receive according to what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. This should be of great force to persuade us to think on our ways now, and seriously to recollect our past conduct; that all instances of misbehaviour may be blotted out, and corrected by the tears of unfeigned and timely repentance, and by hearty reformation and amendment.
5. There is a great deal of reason to apprehend that we shall be induced to think on our ways some time before our departure out of this world.
If ever we are brought into troubles and distresses, or have near apprehensions of death and judgment, then these reflections will be unavoidable, and these thoughts will disturb us, when the benefit will be uncertain. It must therefore be prudent to think on our ways in time, freely and voluntarily, and by a speedy and effectual repentance and amendment, to lay a foundation for pleasing reflections, and comfortable prospects, in a day of affliction, or at the time of death.
6. Lastly, let us attend to the great advantages of thinking on our ways.
It is a likely mean of repentance, of amendment, and of improvement in every thing good and excellent: we shall then know ourselves: we shall see the evil of sin, and be very sensible of the sad consequences of continuing therein: we shall turn from it, and carefully keep God's commandments to the end, without any more deliberately and wilfully forsaking, or turning
aside from them.
This is the lesson of the text, and of what follows: "I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments." Which last words, God willing, shall be the subject of our meditations the next opportunity.
THE UNREASONABLENESS OF DELAYS IN THINGS OF RELIGION.
I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.-Psal. cxix. 60.
THIS psalm is equally admirable for justness and piety of sentiment, and for exactness and elegance of composition. The prevailing principle running throughout, is a high esteem and veneration for the revealed will of God: which under some expression of law, word, statutes, ordinances, testimonies, or some other phrase of like import, is mentioned in almost every verse of the Psalm. Notwithstanding which, and the length of the meditation likewise, it is not chargeable either with tediousness or tautology. But there is a great and surprising variety, and the attention of the reader is kept up from the beginning to the end.
Indeed the variety is such, that it is somewhat difficult to make a summary of its contents, or represent in brief the several thoughts with which it is filled. However it may in general be said, that the Psalmist often professeth the regard he had for the divine law: and he aims to recommend to others the serious and diligent study of it, and a sincere and constant practice of all its precepts, as the only way to true blessedness. He declares the great and frequent experience he had of support and comfort from it in his distresses and afflictions. He vows perpetual obedience and conformity to it, notwithstanding the discouragements he might meet with from the world about him, and the multitude, or the greatness of transgressors. He prays also for farther instruction in God's word, and help to keep it to the end. The psalm is suited to comfort the dejected, to assist those who aim at the greatest perfection in virtue, to quicken the slothful and indolent, and to awaken sinners, and reclaim them from their wanderings.
The words of the text are more especially adapted to some of the last mentioned cases.
In the preceding verse he declares, that he had "thought on his ways:" the result of which was, that he was thereby disposed and enabled to amend them: and "I turned my feet unto thy testimonies." He adds here a very happy and commendable circumstance of that conversion, or alteration for the better: it was speedy, and immediate. "I made haste, and delayed not, to keep thy commandments."
Having lately explained and recommended to you the duty of consideration, or "thinking on our ways:" I now intend to recommend the imitation of the Psalmist in this circumstance, speediness of amendment wherever any thing has been amiss. The want of which is, probably, one of the most common failings which men are incident to. There are few, or none, but have some convictions of the evil of sin, and some perception and persuasion of the excellence and necessity of real holiness. They are aware that sin, unrepented of, must be of fatal consequence: and that without holiness no man can attain to the happiness of a future state. They intend therefore and hope to be truly holy in time. They would not die in sin, nor continue in it always. No, they propose to repeat of it, and forsake it. They design to humble themselves greatly for all their transgressions, and to turn themselves from them to a sincere obedience to all God's commandments. But the time for putting these resolutions in practice is not yet come, and they hope it may be well done hereafter. This is very different from the example in the text. Which that all may be disposed to follow and imitate,
I. I will in the first place mention some considerations, shewing the evil of delays in the things of religion.
II. I will consider those pleas and excuses which some make for delaying to reform, and their objections against immediate compliance with the commands of God.
III. I intend also at the end to offer some motives and arguments, tending to induce men to perform what is their duty.
I. In the first place I shall mention some considerations, shewing the evil of delays in the things of religion.