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DXXXII. God's PATHS ARE MERCY Ps. xxv. 10. All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth
unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies. IT has often been observed, that there is in the world an indiscriminate distribution of good and evil, without any respect to men's moral characters. And this is confirmed by Solomon, who says, “All things come alike to all, neither knoweth any man love or hatred by all that is before him.” This, however, must be understood with certain limitations and restrictions : for, as in chemical preparations one ingredient will entirely change the qualities of the thing prepared, so in the dispensations of Providence will one single ingredient wholly change their nature, while, in appearance, they remain the same. God often sends temporal blessings to his enemies in anger, as he raised up Pharaoh to a throne, for the purpose of displaying in him the power of his wrath. On the contrary, the bitterest cup that he puts into the hands of his friends is mixed with love. The eye of faith therefore will discern a most essential difference, where sense and reason can see none : it will see, that however God may load the wicked with benefits," he is angry with them every day;” and that however he may visit the righteous with the rod, “all his paths are mercy and truth unto them.” To elucidate this truth, let us consider, I. The character of the godly
Among the numberless marks whereby the godly are described in Scripture, there are not any more deserving of our attention than those before us : 1. They keep God's covenant
[The covenant here spoken of cannot be the covenant of works, because no man is able to keep that, seeing that it requires perfect and unsinning obedience. We understand it therefore as relating to the covenant of grace, wherein God undertakes to give us pardon, holiness, and glory, for the sake of his dear Son, who is the Mediator of it, and in whose blood it is ratified and confirmeda.
a Compare Jer. xxxi. 31-34. with Heb. viii. 10–12.
Now this covenant every godly person “ keeps." He embraces it gladly, being well persuaded, that if the tenor of it were not precisely what it is, he could have no hope. If the covenant required the performance of certain conditions on his part, without providing him with strength to perform those conditions, and pardon for his innumerable failures and defects, he would sit down in despair. But seeing that “ the covenant is ordered in all things and sure,” and that Jesus, the surety of it, has guaranteed to God the accomplishment of its demands, and to us the enjoyment of its blessings, every believer rejoices in it, and cleaves to it steadfastly with his whole heart.] 2. They keep God's testimonies
[While the believer is thus attached to the Gospel covenant, he does not relax his obedience to the law. On the contrary, whatever God has testified to be his will, that the believer labours to fulfil. He would not wish to live in sin, though he might do it with impunity: nor does he account one of the commandments grievous : but rather he esteems them all concerning all things to be right. His complaints are not against the law as too strict, but against his own heart, as treacherous and vile. With respect to the testimonies of God, he says, with David, “ I claim them as mine heritage for ever; yea, they are the rejoicing of my heart; they are sweeter to me than honey and the honey-comb."
Such, in other parts of God's word, is the description given of the godly : We should therefore inquire into our faith and practice, in order that we may ascertain our real character. For if we are harbouring self-righteousness on the one hand, or hypocrisy on the other, we have no part in this covenant, nor any interest in its blessings. Whether we reject the covenant or dishonour it, we are equally destitute of grace, and equally obnoxious to God's displeasure. To have a good evidence of our acceptance with God, we must trust as simply in the covenant as if no works were required; and be as earnest in the performance of good works, as if works only were required.]
Having delineated the character of the godly, let us next consider, II. The dealings of God towards them
It might be supposed that persons so pleasing to God should never suffer affliction : but the contrary is true, as appears, not only from the declarations of Scripturea, but from the experience of all that have been most favoured of God. But all God's dealings towards them are, 1. Mercy
b Ps. cxix. 128. c Isai. lvi. 4, 5. Ps. ciii. 17, 18. d Zeph. iii. 12. Ps. xxxiv. 19.
[There are no dispensations, however afflictive, which are not sent to them for good. They are all mercy in their source, their measure, their end. Whence do they spring, but from the love of God? for, “whom he loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” And are they not all mercifully tempered as to their number, weight, and duration? Has there not “with every temptation been opened also a way to escape,” or “strength given according to our dayf?” And have they not all wrought for good, to wean us from the world, to purge away sin, to exercise and increase our grace, to give to us the comfort of grace bestowed, and to God the glory of it? Is there one of us who must not confess, “ It is good for me that I have been afflicted?” And shall we not say that our light and momentary afflictions have been rich mercies, when we find what a weight of glory they have wrought out for us?] 2. Truth
[Truth has respect to the performance of promises. Now afflictions are expressly promised as much as salvation itself. When therefore they come, we should regard them as the accomplishment of God's word, wherein he has said, that he will withhold no good thing from us. It was in this light that David viewed them, when he said, I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted meh. And it is in consideration of this, that we are taught to consider, not merely life with all its comforts, but even death also with all its antecedent evils, as a treasure given us by God'.] INFER, 1. How excellent a grace is faith!
[It is faith, and faith only, that can enable us to view God's dispensations in this light. If we are weak in faith, we shall be easily drawn to fretfulness and murmuring; but if we are enabled to see the hand of God in our trials, they will all administer occasions of joy and gratitude. Faith is the philosopher's stone, that turns all to gold, and enables us to glory in that, which, to flesh and blood, is a source of sorrow and disquietude. Let us, then, cultivate this grace, and keep it in continual exercise : and, if any thing occurs, the reasons of which we cannot immediately comprehend, let us content ourselves with saying, 'What I know not now, I shall know hereafter.']
e Job, David, Paul, and, above all, Christ himself.
h Ps. cxix. 75. i 1 Cor. iii. 22.
2. How resigned should the believer be under all his troubles !
[Nothing can come to him which is not the fruit of God's mercy and truth. Not so much as a hair can fall from his head but by divine appointment. Believer, art thou sick and in pain? God knows that health and ease would have been prejudicial to thy soul. Hast thou sustained some heavy loss? God sees, perhaps, that the thing which thou hast lost might have been a weight about thy feet, and have retarded thee in running thy race. Art thou persecuted by the world, or tempted by Satan? It is a discipline whereby God is preparing thee for future victories, and everlasting triumphs. These may be mercies in disguise ; but they are mercies notwithstanding; and therefore should be received with resignation, and improved with diligence.) 3. How lamentable is the state of unbelievers !
[While we disregard God's covenant, and his testimonies, we neither enjoy any mercy, nor have an interest in any promise. On the contrary, our very blessings are cursed to us, and every threatening in God's word is in full force against us. Moreover, our troubles are pledges and earnests of infinitely heavier calamities, that shall come upon us in the eternal world. Let us, then, if we be yet in unbelief, embrace the covenant of grace, and set ourselves diligently to keep the testimonies of our God. So shall the blessings of the covenant flow down upon us, and we shall know by happy experience, that “ the Lord is gracious, his mercy is everlasting, and his truth endureth from generation to generation."]
PROPER METHOD OF PRAYING TO GOD. Ps. xxv. 11. For thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon mine ini
quity! for it is great. GOD is a mighty Sovereign, “ who doth according to his own will,” “ neither giveth account to us of any of his matters.”
We may indeed mark the traces of wisdom and goodness in every thing which he does; but “his ways and his thoughts are very different from ours, and far above them.” In the dispensations of his providence he pays no regard to the moral characters of men, but “ makes the sun to shine equally upon the evil and the good.” In the dispensations of his grace too he is far from preferring those whom we should think he would select. He often inclines the hearts of “publicans and harlots to enter into his kingdom,” while he leaves less abandoned Pharisees and Formalists to perish in their sins. This, if it be a humiliating truth, is also replete with comfort. If it take away all grounds of boasting, it cuts off at the same time all occasion for despondency. If he “have a right to do what he will with his own,” the vilest person in the universe may approach him with a comfortable hope of acceptance, and may address him in the language of the text.
In these words of the Psalmist we may notice, I. His Confession
David was not ashamed to confess that his sins were exceeding great
[There is no on to think that David in this psalm adverts to his transgression with Bathsheba. It is probable that the psalm was penned many years before that event. The Royal Penitent speaks rather of his in-dwelling corruptions. He had long been accustomed to observe the workings of his own heart, and had often besought God to search and try him to the uttermosta. In this way he had marked both the defects of his duties, and the evil propensities of his nature; and, from a review of all his actions, words, and thoughts, was led to acknowledge that his sin was exceeding great. Nor was this confession peculiar to him. Holy Job, as soon as he beheld his true character, exclaimed, “ Behold, I am vileb!” And Paul no sooner became acquainted with the purity and extent of God's law, than he saw himself a condemned sinner, and confessed, that “in him dwelt no good thing."] And does not a similar confession become us also ?
(Let us only review our past lives, and we shall find too much occasion for the deepest humiliation. Have not many of us been addicted to open, known iniquities? And do not the consciences of such persons testify against them that their sin is great? Have not many also devoted all their time and attention to secular concerns? And will they account it a light thing thus to despise God, and idolize the world? Have not others satisfied themselves with a formal round of duties,
a Ps. cxxxix. 23, 24.
b Job xl. 4.
c Rom. vii. 9, 18.