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the perfection of our joys appear, though in the meantime we suffer many tentations, yet are they all but arguments unto us of God's fatherly kindness, winnowing us from the pleasures of this world. But unto the wicked it is far otherwise, for all their afflictions in this life come from another court; they are but as it were a part or earnest of a greater sorrow, a part in payment, a blow to show a greater which shall follow. Therefore are we counselled, by the apostle to the Corinthians, to judge ourselves betimes. "For if we would judge ourselves (saith he) we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world." The most part of us, it is our fault that we love to judge others and not ourselves; but we must learn to judge ourselves first, remembering that the end of all our sufferings here, is but to preserve us from greater in the world to come, that we should not be condemned with the world. Such is also St. James's counsel. "My brethren", count it all joy, when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. And let patience have her perfect work." For be thou sure that wheresoever the Lord bestoweth any gifts, he will have them put to a trial of patience. Patience must have her perfect work. He armeth us with courage to endure, that we may know what is in ourselves, and whether we be such, to whom the promises belong or not, by our patience causing us to possess our souls (as our blessed Saviour in Luke speaketh"). And lastly, the author to the Hebrews affirmeth, "That' whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth;" adding, that if we receive not chastening (whereof all are partakers) then are we bastards, and not sons. But as for the wicked he letteth them alone until another day; for he knoweth when to meet with them, when they shall have many sorrows. But is here all? Doth this mercy us no more good? Doth it end here? No ve
• 1 Cor. chap. 11. ver. 31, 32.
James, chap. 1. ver. 2.
rily; for this mercy doth compass us about in our greatest
3. In sin and death mercy is seen.
He compasseth us about with his mercy in sin and death. Our sins he maketh us occasions to come unto him, to cry for help at his hands maintaining our acquaintance anew. For it is our nature, it is natural unto us to fly from God, to delight in vanities. So that when once we have begun to taste of his favour, obtaining thereby some peace, then we begin to give back, our familiarity with God decayeth, the world and other enticements, by degrees (if not all) yet steal away a great part of our hearts, we begin to be secure, and though we pray, yet is it faintly and coldly, not proceeding from fervent feeling of want, but carnally, for fashion's sake. In this estate the longer we continue, the worse we are. What then? The Lord he seeing us thus secure, he suffereth us to fall into the fire, to teach us to beware hereafter. And, therefore, as Absalom3 did first send for Joab to come at him again and again, but seeing he would not come, caused Joab's corn therefore to be set on fire; which at the last brought him to come. Even so the Lord, when he seeth us slow, backsliders from him, he sendeth for us again and again, by his servants the prophets, public and private admonitions, checks of conscience, and the like. Which if they avail not, then doth he suffer us to fall into some grievous sins, wherein perhaps we lie mourning for a great while. Then sendeth he fiery trials, burning up our corn, until at last we come unto him to renew our obedience. I say he sendeth sins as serpents to sting us, that we may come to be healed. The wicked, it is their property to fly still from God, whatsoever messengers the Lord sendeth for them. But the child of God, he cometh running unto God with the blood about his heels. So it is said, "When he slew them, then they sought him, and they returned and enquired early after God."
2. In mercy.
He useth our sins as means of humiliation, to keep us
2 Sam. chap. 14. ver. 30.
1 Psalm 78. ver. 34.
under. We are of a proud wanton nature, which if it were not tamed, warring continually with some sins would quickly run out in offending God, and therefore our God of his infinite mercy sendeth, yea keepeth his children under the perpetual yoke of some sins and corruptions of divers sorts, according to his great wisdom. Groaning under which burden he giveth them experience of his love, trial of tentations, experience of infirmities, a view of their misery, assurance of mercy, purging their corruptions, exercising and strengthening their faith and hope, teaching them patience, and the true practice of repentance. So that chosen vessel, St. Paul (although he was so beloved of God, as to be wrapped up into the third heavens), yet we see" he confesseth that lest he should be exalted above measure, through the abundance of revelations, there was given unto him a prick in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him, because he should not be exalted out of measure. For this he besought the Lord thrice to have it removed. But it would not be. The Lord did not see it fitting. His answer was, it is enough Paul, that my power shall be made perfect in thy weakness. Thou demandest that which is not expedient for thee. This thy seeming enemy shall do thee best service. This infirmity by my mercy shall keep thee, as a watch over thy ways, until thy course be finished. In the mean time, my power shall be made perfect in thy weakness. My mercy therein shall compass thee. Thy sins shall turn to thy good, keeping thee prepared for the fulness of glory.
Again; death also is turned into mercy to God's children. They triumph over it (as the apostle to the Corinthians speaketh) "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" Death is swallowed up in victory, and we have victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore the child of God he feareth not death. Now sin and death are subdued upon their own dunghill. Death by Christ is overcome, even in the den of death. Whatsoever force it had before, now it hath short horns, it is captived. Death now to us being
in Christ, shall do us good service, how cruel soever it appear in show. It captives the law of sin, and freeeth us that we shall never sin any more, nor anger so gracious a God. It shall free us from all sorrows and cares: and being in show our deadliest enemy, shall yet do us the best service. It shall free us from all corruption, from all kind of our now cruel fears. It shall be unto us that most cunning physician, which shall at one instant ease all our infirmities, and give unto us perfect health. It shall bring us from this valley of tears into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. It shall possess us of our ardent desires, it shall bring us into the presence of God, the unspeakable joys of heaven, to the society of saints, since the beginning of the world, to the company of all our dear friends departed, and lastly, to eternal life more than all. Therefore the prophet David, being encouraged with this comfortable help and presence of God in so infinite joys to come, confesseth, that though he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, yet would he fear none evil; God's rod and staff still comforting him, though hell were in his way, yet, he saith, he would fly through the same unto heaven. This is that violent affection in God's children, which causeth them with all forcible means to assail this kingdom, contemning all things which oppose against them, for the prize of that eternal weight of glory
So should all of us resolve, that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, yet to fear none evil, because our God is with us; his rod and his staff shall comfort us. All things shall turn to the best unto those who fear him, even in death itself also mercy shall compass us. O infinite unspeakable mercy! But now let us pray, that for Christ Jesus his sake, we may still be compassed with this mercy. To whom with the Father and his Blessed Spirit, be all honour, glory, praise, power, now and evermore. Amen.
PSALM XXXII. VER. 10.
Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him.
THE drift of the prophet in this verse (as you have heard) is an exhortation to obedience and submission, following upon the former verse, where the prophet, knowing the vanity of our crooked nature, how stubborn and wayward we are, still seeking rather by other means, than those which lead unto true happiness, to attain our desires, he at the last exhorteth us unto submission to the will of God, which is the way of true happiness; because he saw there was a sort of brutish and hard-hearted men, like mules and horses, who would by no means be subdued unto God's will. Therefore now chiefly, he would have the wicked to cast off the stubbornness of nature, which resisted God, and not to be like horses and mules, who have no understanding, and must be bound with bit and bridlea. Such wicked men lay all the blame upon the ministers of the word; their burdens, they cry out, are intolerable. Therefore, say they, let us break their bonds, and cast their cords from us; we will none of their yoke. When yet this their fury is against God; but it is hard for them to kick against the pricks; it shall be hard for them to withstand God; they shall be curbed with bit and bridle, they (he telleth them in this verse) shall have many sorrows. Again, because there is a generation of the just whose souls are continually ready to seek the face of God, rejoicing in nothing so much, as in his loving kindness, to these he assureth mercy, yea an in