by Thomas Manton
The bands of the wicked have robbed me: but I have not forgotten thy law.—VER. 61.
IN the words observe—
1. David's trial.
2. His constancy under that trial.
1. His trial is set forth by two things:—
[1.] The persons from whom it came, the bands of the wicked.
[2.] The evil done him, have robbed me.
[1.] The persons, 'The bands חֶבְלֵי of the wicked.' חֶבֶל signifieth a cord, and also a troop or company, not of soldiers only, but others: 1 Sam. 10:5, 'Thou shalt meet a company or troop of prophets;' it is the same word. Those that interpret it cords or ropes, understand it some one way, some another. Aben Ezra, the griefs and sorrows prepared for the wicked have taken hold of me, and parallels it with Ps. 116:3, 'The sorrows of death compassed me, the pains of hell gat hold of me.' Others understand it of the snares the wicked laid for him. But the word is better translated by the Chaldee paraphrase, catervœ, the bands; in our old translation, 'The congregations of the wicked:' he meaneth the multitude of his enemies leaguing together against him.
[2.] The evil done him, they 'have robbed me.' A man may suffer in his name by slander, in his dwelling by his exile, in his liberty by imprisonment, in limbs or life by torture and execution, in his estate by fine and confiscation. Many are the troubles of the righteous; this last is here intended. There are the depredations of thieves and robbers, but they do not spoil for religion's sake, but the supply of their lusts; the plunderings of soldiers by the license of war, when laws cease, so men are robbed or have their goods taken from them by violence; or else it may be by pretence of law, by fine and confiscation, as it is said: Acts 8:3, 'Saul made havoc of the churches, and entering into every house, haling men, committed them to prison;' Acts 9:1, 'Saul, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples, desires letters of the high priest, that if he found any of this way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.' At that time the favourers of the gospel suffered much rapine and spoil of goods. Applying it to David's case, some think it fulfilled when the Amalekites spoiled Ziklag, 1 Sam. 30, and took the women captives, and the spoil of the city. Some understand it of the time when Absalom and his party rifled his house and defiled his concubines, 2 Sam. 15.
2. His constancy. No calamity had wrought upon him so far as to forsake God's truth, or go against his conscience in anything.
Doct. That no temporal loss which can accrue to us by the violence of evil men should make us forsake our duty to God.
1. That this temptation may be greater or less as it is circumstantiated. It is here represented by David by this word, the bands or the troops of the wicked, which implieth—
[1.] Their multitudes. One froward wicked man may do much harm in his neighbourhood, as there are some whom God reserveth as scourges to his people and goads and thorns to their sides; but when many rise up against us, the temptation is the greater: Ps. 3:1, 'Lord, how are they increased which trouble me? many are they which rise up against me.' The sincere are but few themselves, and they have many enemies: 1 John 5:19, 'We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.' There was a whole world against a handful of Christians, but we must not 'follow a multitude to do evil.'
[2.] Their confederacy, 'The bands of the wicked:' Ps. 83:5–7, 'They have consulted together with one consent, they are confederate against thee, Gebal, Ammon, Amalek.' Though the wicked be at enmity one with another, yet they will all agree to destroy the people of God.
[3.] These were set on mischief; for the bands of the wicked are spoken of here as a society opposite to that which is spoken of afterwards, ver. 63, 'I am a companion of them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy commandments.' There are two seeds which have enmity one against another, 'the seed of the woman,' and 'the seed of the serpent,' Gen. 3:15. The far greatest part of the world live an ungodly sensual life, and therefore cannot endure those that give an example of a holy self-denying life, John 15:19; therefore the life of godliness is usually made matter of common hatred, scorn, and opposition, for the sensual and ungodly cannot endure the godly and the heavenly. The more exactly any man setteth himself to obey God, the more he crosseth the lusts and carnal interests of the wicked, and so the more he commonly suffereth in the world. The world is full of malice and prejudice against them; they slander them, oppress them, represent them under an odious character; and they often meet with disturbances from the assaults and injuries of wicked men.
[4.] The hurt they did him was spoiling and taking away the conveniences of the temporal life, they 'robbed me.' Though it go no further, yet to be deprived of those necessary and convenient comforts is matter of sorrow in itself. It goeth near to the hearts of worldlings to part with them, and therefore by this means they think to discourage the people of God; and many times God permitteth it that their lives, liberties, and estates shall be much in their power: Ps. 44:10, 'They that hate us spoil for themselves.' God leaveth them in their hands to dispose of them at their pleasure, which is a great and sharp temptation to his people. The Amalekites 'left no sustenance in Israel,' Judges 6:4.
2. When a man is said to forsake his duty to God by such trials.
[1.] When he loseth his patience and meek submission to his will. Thus the Lord tried Job by the Sabæans and Chaldæans, Job 1:15, 17, who 'took away his oxen, and camels, and all his stock;' yet Job meekly submitteth to the Lord's will: ver. 21, 'The Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' Not ὁ Χαλδαῖος ἀφήλατο, but Job eyeth God both in giving and taking: if he take, he gave before, or else we had it not to lose. When we look to instruments we are full of wrath: a bucket of water cast upon us enrageth us more than a soaking shower that cometh from heaven. Let us see God, without whom nothing cometh to pass.
[2.] When he loseth his comfort and confidence in God, for that is a sign we live upon the creature, and cannot trust God without the creature. Man knoweth how to put a cheat upon his own heart. When he hath all things at full, then he talketh of living by faith; as those women who 'would eat their own bread, and wear their apparel, only call us by thy name,' Isa. 4:1. So they, though all their happiness be bound up with the creatures, yet have the wit to give God the name. Now God will take away the creature to see how we can live upon himself alone: 1 Sam. 30:6, 'David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.' He still maintained his hope in the Lord when all was gone, when the emptiers had emptied him.
[3.] When we desert the truth, or go against conscience in anything. David telleth us here, when 'the bands of the wicked,' &c.; that is, 'the congregations,' says the old translation, as decreeing an unjust sentence against him; or 'bands,' says the new, as appointed to attack him; or troops, when the wicked combined against him by troops. So the primitive Christians 'suffered the spoiling of their goods,' Heb. 10:34; the Jews endeavoured to make them poor and miserable, that they might forsake their Christianity. But we must, with Joseph, leave our coat to keep our conscience; and these trials, in short, should be but the exercise of our patience and hope, and we should be provoked to do nothing but what best becometh God's servants.
3. That we should not forsake our duty to God for temporal losses.
[1.] We entered upon the profession of Christianity on these terms: Mat. 16:24, 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.' Life, wealth, and honours must be forsaken: Luke 14:26, 'If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.' Only relations and life are there mentioned, goods are not; but afterwards, ver. 33, 'He that forsaketh not all he hath,' voto et præparatione animi. Yet Christ may permit some to break through at a cheaper rate, but all must resolve on it, prepare for such a temptation. God hath not excepted it out of his covenant and dispensations; he may when he pleases suffer a righteous man to be stripped to the skin, therefore we must not except it out of our resignation. The wise merchant 'sold all,' Mat. 13:45, 46. When a man cometh to accept of Christ, there is a competition. Without this—
(1.) No true faith. True faith includes in it an election and choice or esteem and valuation of Christ, not only as good, but as more excellent, more necessary for us, more beneficial to us than all other things. It is prælatio unius rei præ altera, a preference of Christ above other things: Phil. 3:7–9, 'I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ,' &c. Christ is apprehended as more necessary for the soul; it cometh to him under an apprehension of a deep want, and with a broken-hearted sense of misery; we are undone without him. We are not so though we want or lose the world; God can repair us here, will at last save us without these things: Luke 10:42, 'But one thing is needful.' Christ is esteemed more excellent; the rarest comforts of the world are but base things to his grace, but dung and dross in comparison; not only uncertain, but vain and empty as to any real good: Job 27:8, 'For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he has gained, when God taketh away his soul?' Christ is more beneficial to a poor sinner; in him alone true happiness is to be found; therefore we must suffer anything rather than offend our Saviour: Rom. 8:39, 'No creature is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'
(2.) No true love. Religion without self-denial in one kind or another is Christianity of our own making, not of Christ's. We cull out the easy safe part of religion, and then we call this love to God and love to Christ. No; the true Christian love is to love God above all. Now, one branch of loving God above all is to part with things near and dear to us when God calleth us so to do. We must be contented to be crucified to the world with our Lord and Master: Mat. 10:37, 'He that loveth father, or mother, or son, or daughter, more that me, is not worthy of me.' An underling love Christ will not like or accept.
[2.] On this condition we possess and enjoy the good things of this world, namely, to part with them when God calleth us thereunto. We are not absolute owners, but tenants at will: Haggai 2:8, 'The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts.' The absolute disposal of the riches and wealth of the world belongeth unto God, who hath all these things, with the power to dispose of them as he pleaseth. Therefore he is to be eyed, acknowledged, and submitted unto in the ordering of our lot and portion: Hosea 2:9, 'I will return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness.' God still retaineth the dominion of the creatures in his own hand, and we have but the stewardship and dispensation of them: he will give and he will take away at his own pleasure. They are deposited in our hands as a trust, for which we are accountable; therefore, if God demand, there should be an act of voluntary submission and subjection on our part. If we enjoy them as our own, by an original right exclusive of God, we are usurpers but not just possessors. We have indeed a subordinate right to prevent the encroachment of our fellow-creatures, but that is but such a right as a man hath in a trust, or a servant to his working tools. Surely God may dispose of his own as he will. If we give it for God's glory, or lay out our wealth in his service, God's right must be owned: 1 Chron. 29:14, 'For all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee.' If God take it away by immediate providence, it was his own: Job 1:21, 'The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.' If by men, if we lose anything for God, it is his own that we lose.
[3.] Our gain in Christ is more than our loss in the world, both here and hereafter. So his promise: Mark 10:29, 30, 'Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake and the gospel's, but he shall receive a hundred-fold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions, and in the world to come eternal life.' Our religion promiseth us spiritual recompense in this world, and eternal in the other, but exempteth us not from persecutions. He that hath a heart to quit anything for Christ, shall have it abundantly recompensed in the world, with a reward much greater in value and worth than that which he hath forsaken, sometimes more and better in the same kind; as Job's estate was doubled, and Valentinian, that left the place of a tribune or captain of soldiers for his conscience, and got that of an emperor. If not this, he giveth them a greater portion of his Spirit and the graces thereof, more peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost, and this is a hundred-fold better than all that we lose. Now this we have with persecution: John 16:33, 'These things have I spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace; in the world you shall have tribulation.' But then, for the world to come, then all shall be abundantly made up to us in eternal life, when we shall reign with Christ in his heavenly kingdom. This is all in all to a Christian; that which is lost for God is not lost. Surely in heaven we shall have far better things than we lose here.
[4.] Because the wicked never overcome but when they foil us of our innocency, zeal, and courage. The victory of a Christian doth not consist in not suffering, or not fighting, but in keeping that which we fight for: a Christian is 'more than a conqueror,' Rom. 8:37. Scias hominem Christo deditum mori posse, vinci non posse. He may lose goods, lose life, yet still he overcomes whilst he is faithful to his duty. Those that were 'as sheep appointed to the slaughter,' and 'killed all the day long,' they were oppressed and kept under, yet were 'more than conquerors.' The way to conquer is by patience and zeal, though we be trodden down and ruined; not by getting the best of opposite factions, but by keeping a good conscience, and patience, and contentedness in sufferings. If God be honoured, if the kingdom of Christ be advanced by our sufferings, we are victorious: Rev. 12:11, 'They overcame by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto the death.' That is an overcoming indeed, to die in the quarrel, and be the more glorious conquerors. As long as a Christian keepeth the faith, whatever he loses in the contest he has the best of it: 2 Tim. 4:7, 'I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith,' &c. Our victory is not to be measured by our prosperity and adversity, but our faithful adherence to God. Though the devil and his instruments get their will over our bodies and bodily interests, yet if he get not his will over our souls, we conquer, and not Satan. Christians have not only to do with men who strike at their worldly interests, but with Satan, who hath a spite at their souls: Eph. 6:12, 'For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.' God may give men a power over the bodily lives of his people, and all the interests thereof; the devil aimeth at the destruction of souls. He will let you enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, that deprive you of your delight in God and celestial pleasures. He can be content you shall have dignities and honours if they prove a snare to you; if he seeketh to bring you to trouble and poverty, it is to draw you from God.
[5.] Fainting argueth weakness, if not nullity of grace: Prov. 24:10, 'If thou faintest in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.' A zealous, constant mind will overcome all discouragements: 2 Tim. 1:7, 'For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.' Trees, well rooted, will abide the blasts of strong winds. It is hard to those that are guided by flesh and blood to overcome such temptations, but to the heavenly mind it is more easy.
Use 1. Of information.
1. That loss of goods for adhering to God's word by the violence and rapine of evil-minded men is one temptation we should prepare for: such trials may come. Such as mind to be constant must prepare themselves to quit their goods. We all study to shift off the cross, but none studieth to prepare for the cross. Profession goeth at too low a rate when people leap into it upon the impulsion of carnal motives, or some light conviction or approbation. God taketh his fan in his hand, and the chaff is distinguished from the solid grain. All love ἀδάπανον εὐαγγέλιον, a cheap gospel: the gospel will have many summer friends, gaudy butterflies, that fly abroad in the sunshine; but what cost are we content to be at for the gospel's sake?
2. That where men make conscience of their ways, they are not apt to be reduced by penalties, for they are guided by a higher principle than the interests of the flesh. Conscience looks to the obligation of duty, what we must do or not do; not to the course of our interests—not what is safe, but what is duty. Oh! but their sufferings may make them serious and wise, and so reflect upon their error, and change their mind. Ans. It rather puzzleth the case when a man is divided between his conscience and his interests. The unsound are blinded by their interests; but a gracious heart in a clear case is more resolute, in a doubtful is more afraid and full of hesitancy, lest he gratify the flesh, and so the case is more perplexed. Men sooner come to themselves and relinquish errors if interest be not in the case.
Use 2. To exhort us to keep a good conscience, and to be faithful with God, though our temporal interests should be endangered thereby. The conscience of our duty should more comfort us than the loss of temporal things should trouble our minds. But because this is not a by-point that I am now upon, nor a small thing that I press you to, but necessary for every candidate of eternity or true disciple of Jesus Christ, I must direct to get this constancy of mind.
1. I will show you what is necessary to it by way of disposition or qualification.
2. What is necessary to it by way of consideration.
1. By way of disposition.
[1.] There is required a lively faith concerning the world to come, with some assurance of our interest therein. That faith is necessary to draw off the heart from the conveniences and comforts of this life appeareth by that, Heb. 10:34, 'Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing of yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and a more enduring substance.' There is both faith implied, and also some assurance of our interest; they knew there was substance to be had in the other world. They that live by sense count present things only substance, but the world to come only fancy and shadows; but the gracious heart, on the contrary, looketh upon this world as 'a vain show.' Ps. 39:6, the world to come to be only the enduring substance, or that true solid good which will make us everlastingly happy. And there is some assurance of our interest; they had this substance; that is, by virtue of God's promise they had a title and right to it, and some security for the full possession of it in due time, by the first fruits and earnest of the Spirit. This they knew in themselves; they discerned their own qualifications, and fulfilling the conditions of the promises; and the Spirit did in some measure testify to them that they were the sons of God; and from all this flowed their suffering of the loss of worldly goods, and their suffering of it joyfully.
[2.] A sincere love to Christ is necessary, for then they will not quit his interest for what is most near and dear to them in the world: Rom. 8:35, 'What shall separate us from the love of Christ?' Love there is not only taken passively, for the love wherewith Christ loveth us, but actively, for the love wherewith we love Christ. For the things mentioned there, 'tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword,' belong not to the latter; for tribulation is not wont to withdraw God from loving us, but us from loving God. It is we that are assaulted by tribulation, and not God nor Christ: it is our love which the temptation striketh at. A man that loveth Christ sincerely will be at some loss for him. Christ is rather held by the heart than by the head only. They that make a religion of their opinions will find no such effect, if they have a faith that never went deeper than their brains and their fancies, that reacheth not their heart, and doth not stir up their love to Christ, that will not enable them to hold out against temptations. Though men may sacrifice some of their weaker lusts and petty interests, yet they will not forsake all for his sake: he that loveth Christ will not leave him. Why doth a sinner deny himself for his lusts? he loveth them, and sacrifices his time, strength, estate, conscience. So a Christian that knoweth Christ hath loved him, and therefore loveth Christ again; he will not easily quit him and his truth. A bare belief is only in the head, which is but the entrance into the inwards of the soul; it is the heart which is Christ's castle and citadel. A superficial assent may let him go, but a faith which worketh by love produceth this close adherence. Well, if we would endure spoiling of our goods, it is our wisdom to consider what we love most, and can least part withal. Christ is infinitely to be valued, as more precious than all the wealth in the world.
[3.] A well-grounded resolution in the truth: 1 Thes. 5:21, 'Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.' When we take up the ways of God upon fashion, or half conviction, or probable reasons, and do not resolve upon sound evidence, we are in danger to be shaken when it is a costly thing to be a sincere Christian; but when conscience is soundly informed, then all things give way to conscience. If the wicked spoil us of our goods, they should not spoil us of our best treasure, which is a good conscience. Whatever power they have by God's permission over our outward estates, they have no power over our consciences; that is the best friend or the worst enemy. No bird singeth so sweetly as the bird in our bosoms; here heaven or hell is begun, and the solaces of the outward life are nothing to this.
[4.] A contempt of the world. Our earthly affections must be mortified, and that upon a twofold account:—
(1.) That we may freely part with them; for if they be overvalued, our affliction will be according to the degree of our affection: Mark 10:22, 'He was sad at that saying, and went away grieved, for he had great possessions.' We cannot so freely resign them to God, and leave all for treasure in heaven.
(2.) That we may more entirely depend upon God: Heb. 13:5, 'Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have; for he hath said, I will never leave you nor forsake you.' Till the heart be purged from carnal affections, the promises of God have little force and respect with us. A little satisfieth a contented and a weaned mind, and he can the better cast himself upon God's providence.
[5.] A sound belief of God's providence; this hath a great influence upon a free parting with our estates for our conscience' sake: Heb. 11:8, by faith Abraham left his country, kindred, possessions, and trusted himself blindfold with God's providence. This principle was made use of when the king was troubled about the hundred talents: 2 Chron. 25:9, saith the man of God, 'The Lord is able to give thee much more than this.' God's providence is enough for a gracious heart. Indeed it is hard to maintain such a faith in providence when exposed to great injuries. We are apt to doubt of it; goodness seemeth to be neglected by him: Ps. 73:14, 'Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.' Doth God know? But a Christian must believe in hope against hope.
2. Remedies by way of consideration.
[1.] They cannot rob us of spiritual and eternal riches, of the fear of God, love of God; treasures in heaven are out of their reach: Mat. 6:19, 20, 'Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through or steal.' Your joy shall no man take from you,' John 16:22. Heavenly things can never be taken from their owners.
[2.] If they cannot take away our God and Christ, we shall be certainly happy. All things in the world depend on God and Christ: 'The favour of the Lord maketh rich,' Prov. 10:22; without his blessing nothing prospereth. All judgment is in the hands of Christ, John 5:22. He hath the government of the world, or dominion over all things which may conduce to help or hinder his people's happiness. Things are not left to their arbitrament or uncertain contingency, but are under the government of a supreme providence, in the hand of him that loves us.
[3.] Tried friendship is most valuable: James 1:12, 'Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.'
[4.] If we suffer with Christ, we shall also be glorified with him: Rom. 8:17, 'If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.'
From An Exposition of Psalm 119, by Thomas Manton