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when we are under lamentation : thou strengthenest and confirmest us, when we are under suffering: thou makest us to dance and sing, when we are in tears : thou makest us wise, when thou makest us fools : thou makest us rich, when thou castest us into poverty: thou makest us kings, when thou makest us submit to be servants !These and numberless other miracles are comprehended in this verse, and celebrated by the church in these few words: “I thank thee, O Lord, because thou humblest me; and again becomest my salvation!”
THE SAINTS' TRIUMPH OVER DEATH.
PSALM cxviii. 17. I shall not die but live, and declare the works of the Lord.
This seventeenth verse of the Psalm, " I shall not die but live," &c. confesses and sets forth the danger from which “ the right hand of the Lord” delivereth the saints; that is, from death. The saints feel death in truth when they are under the perils of death. Nor is it a sweet taste nor a pleasant draught to the flesh, when death is before their eyes and seems immediately coming upon them. Nor does death come alone, but is accompanied with sin and the law. It always brings these with it. Hence, it is quite plain, that the saints must be martyrs, or subjects of affliction : for they are compelled to be amidst perils of death, and to struggle with and fight against death. And this does not take place from tyrants and the ungodly by fire, by sword, by prisons, and the like instruments of persecution ; but it is wrought in various ways by Satan himself. For Satan hates the word of God utterly; and therefore, cannot bear even one of those who love and teach the word. He attacks them in every way, and leaves no assault upon them untried either in life or in death. In life, he effects it by great and heavy temptations of their faith, their hope, and their love to God. By these various kinds and powers of temptations, he can so
hedge in, assault, shake, and terrify the godly heart, and hurry it into such straits of doubt and desperation, as to make it dread God, grow wrath with him, and sometimes blaspheme him : and he can bring the wretched conscience into such a state, as to make God, Satan, death, sin, hell, and all creatures, appear to it all alike, all eternal, and all its avowed enemies. Nor did either the Turk or Cæsar ever besiege any town with such impetuosity, such violence, and such fury, as that with which Satan sometimes comes upon the consciences of those who fear God.
Satan can also do this in the hour of death, if God permit him, when the godly lie down on the bed of danger, and have no hope of life. At such a time, he is a wonderful adept at increasing and exaggerating sins, and setting forth and threatening the wrath of God. He is a spirit industrious and powerful to a wonder: who, by taking advantage of some little sin, can raise an awful distress in the hearts of the godly, and set before them a very hell. For it is most true and most certain, that no one man ever truly saw his principal and greatest sins, such as, unbelief, contempt of God, his not fearing him, his not believing him, his not loving him as he ought, and such like sins of the heart. (For the greatest of all sins are those that lie in the heart.) Nor could any man fully see these without the greatest peril. And I know not whether there be any faith upon the earth, which would be able to stand before the sight of these, and not fall and despair.
And therefore it is, that God permits Satan to tempt thee upon those external and actual sins only. Even here, he can raise up in flames, and set before thee, hell and damnation in a moment, on such accounts as these:because, perhaps, thou hast once or twice drank more than thou shouldest: or because thou hast lain in bed too long.–For these things and the like, he can so tempt thee, that, from distress of conscience and wretchedness, thou mayest bring a disease upon thy body; and, from trouble of heart, bring thyself even into the perils of death.
And what is still worse, and more perilous, even the very best of thy works become instruments of temptation in the hands of Satan. For he can so detract from them, inake nothing of them, deface them, and condemn them, and so exercise and torture thy conscience with them, that all thy sins put together could not cause thee so much trouble, and render thee so distressed, as do these thy best works, which yet are truly good works. Nay, thou wilt be made to wish that thou hadst wrought real and foul sins, instead of doing those good works. And what the devil aims at in this, is, to make thee cast away those works, as if God had not wrought them in thee; or, as if they were not done by the grace and help of God; that thus, thou mightest blaspheme God. And then, death is close by thy side; nay, hell itself!
But who can enumerate all the arts, devices, and traps of Satan, whereby he can paint out, present, and set before our eyes sin, death, and hell? This is his very trade and work, and he has now practised it for more than 5000 years, and can prove himself to be a consummate proficient in that art. He knows it too well, and too perfectly; for he has been during so many years
the prince and author of death. He has practised this art from the very beginning of the world ; so that he now well knows how to prepare and present to a terrified conscience, a well-timed draught of death. The prophets
, and especially David, knew that, and deeply experienced it. For they so complain, teach, and speak of those temptations, that they by no means obscurely show, that they most deeply and very frequently conflicted with them ; while they cry out at one time concerning the gates of death, at another concerning hell, at another concerning the wrath of God.
Nevertheless, how, and at what time soever this may happen unto us, we here find, that the saints must contend with Satan and fight with death ; whether occasion for this fight be given by a persecutor, or by a pestilence, or any other diseases or perils of life. But in these contests, these strugglings, and these fights, nothing
is better, nothing more wise, no way more quick or more effectual to obtain the victory, than for the person to learn to sing this song of the saints; to deny himself, and to lay hold of, cleave to, and rest on, the “right band of the Lord.” By this stratagem, Satan is deceived and his attempt is frustrated. And nothing can gall him so much, as when he loses all his labour and pains, and finds that, instead of grasping an ear, he has got nothing but chaft.' And this victory is effected by this means, and in this way; - when I am willing to be nothing; when I take nothing on myself; when I depend upon no strength or help of my own, or of any other creature, but flee to the Lord God, and make him my strength and my courage; and when I trust to his grace and power. When I do this, then I am truly stript of myself and of all that I can call mine; and can say, why temptest thou me, Satan? What dost thou want to do? Dost thou want to blacken and reprove my good works and my righteousness before God? If thou dost, thou dost nothing but vainly spill water upon the ground: for I have no righteousness of my own. My strength is not mine. The Lord is my strength, my fortitude, and my victory. Here! come here ! pluck the hairs out of the palm of my hand, and take the money out of my empty purse? And, if thou wantest to accuse me of my sins, in this again thou labourest in vain. I have no sins. In this also the Lord is my strength. Accuse that as long as thou wilt, until thou art tired and hast had enough of it. I will not know any sin nor any holiness in myself. I will know nothing, nothing, I say, but the strength of God in me!
He who can thus deny, put off, make nothing of, and be ignorant of himself; who can thus mock and spit in the face of Satan, and deceive him with an empty porse; he can, truly, well and safely take care of himself
. He need fear no danger, who can thus mock and insult the devil; as a certain householder once did, who was in extreme necessity, and poorer than a Codrus or an Irus, and who laughed at and jeered a thief that he once caught in his house; saying, “Ah poor miserable fool, what wantest thou here? Dost thou expect to find any thing here in the dead of the dark night? If thou dost, thy hopes will be all deceived; for I cannot see or find any thing here in the broad day-light.'-And what is the use of Satan's trying and tempting, where he finds a soul so brought to nothing in itself
, that it is not able to give him any answer as to either its sins, or its holiness? In vain he tries all his arts; in vain he multiplies and exaggerates its sins; in vain he defaces its good works; when it betakes itself in this way, to the “right hand of the Lord.” He dares not assault, run upon, and tempt that “right hand :” so far is it from possibility that he should prevail against it.
But if thou leave this song, and depart from it, and Satan catch thee in thy sins or in thy good works; if thou enter into a dispute with him, and descend to contend with him ; if thou wait to hear him, and desire to see what he will bring against thee; he will so treat thee, so exercise thee, so agitate, torment, and crucify thee according to his own will and lust, that thou wilt not know where thou art ; thou wilt forget the right hand of the Lord, and wilt thus lose all things.
But, as we have heard, here is the labour, here the exercise, here the skill, -- to be able to deny one's self. This cannot be learnt so easily or so quickly: for in the attainment unto this knowledge, we must spend the whole of our lives, as all the saints have done before us, and as all must do who are now living, and who shall come after us. For as we still feel sins, so must we still feel death. “And as we must fight to be delivered from sins, and that we may cleave close to the right hand of God which his Word sets forth unto us; so must we fight and contend with death and with Satan, the prince or potentate of death, until we get into perfect liberty
, For see, and observe, how this verse sets forth and describes that battle and that contest. Satan, or some persecutor, threatens death to the saints. But what do the saints ? They turn away their eyes, yea themselves altogether, from the sight of death; they put off themselves entirely, make themselves nothing, and lay