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who but barely understands the words, confesses its force by the warmth it kindles in his heart, if he is a man of piety, or at least by the wings it gives to his imagination, if he hath any taste for the high and great in what he peruses.
But the psalm, if closely examined by the judicious, and thoroughly understood, discovers somewhat, beyond this, inconceivably glorious and divine. He who reads it with any portion of the spirit that penned it, hears the voice of God, speaking from heaven, and calling up his soul to the adoration of infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, displayed in the visible heavens. He hears the works of God preaching these attributes of their Creator in a language loud enough to be heard by the whole world. He sees the sun in particular, not only making his glorious circuit in the skies, and proclaiming as he goes, in an hymn clothed with light instead of words, the praises of his great original; but sees him alo poetically introduced in the psalm as a similitude for the yet brighter sun of God's law' or word, which enlighteneth the eyes' of the mind,' giving wisdom to the simple, converting the soul, rejoicing the heart, and in all these pouring on the mind that religious wisdom and warmth, which are here poetically connected with, and represented by, the light and heat which fall from the sun on our bodies.
After this, the sacred poet represents himself to the understanding reader, as doubly struck with the awful voice of God, both natural and revealed, as trembling under the reproof of nature and Scripture at once, as overwhelmed with a sense of his own infirmities and sins, and crying out, ‘who can understand his errors ? Cleanse thou me from my secret faults. Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me; then shall I be upright and innocent from the great transgression.'
Surely, if any form or act of devotion might hope for acceptance, purely on account of its excellence, it was this. Yet behold! the blessed psalmist, no less lowly in himself, than exalted as to the matter and spirit of his hymn, and fully sensible, that no address to God, howsoever excellent in itself, nor even howsoever ardently offered up, can entitle the sinful to a favourable hearing, throws himself on the mercy of his Maker, and on the merits of his Saviour, crying out in the humble language of my text, let the words
of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer; that is, 0 Almighty Ruler of the world, the rock of my salvation, who redeemest me from sin and all its dreadful effects, hear with pity even the prayers of thy unworthy creature; and, while I consider myself as nothing in the midst of thy other works, or as convicted of sin by the purity of thy law, have mercy upon me, and hear the words of my mouth; liave mercy upon me, and accept the meditation of my heart.
In this spirit of admiration ought we to meditate on the works and word of God, and in this spirit of humility and contrition on the error of our own ways. And thus in dust and ashes ought we to implore pity for our highest raptures of devotion, and forgiveness for the most sanctified thoughts of our hearts. For who are we? Or what are our devotions, that we should presume on a more gracious hearing, than he who offered up the incense of a heart, kindled into love and piety by the Spirit of God himself? But as he trusted in the Lord his strength and his Redeemer, so should we, who have the same Redeemer, the same • advocate with the Fa. ther, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation for our sins, and who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities; through whom,' after 'ordering our words aright before God, we may come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and grace to help in time of need.'
But so far as our meditations, and our prayers proceeding from those meditations, may be rendered acceptable in the sight of God, by our own endeavours, we ought to know, that we are lost to God and ourselves for ever, if we do not meditate with all the strength of our minds, and all the ardour of our hearts, on the subjects that engaged the meditations of the royal psalmist, namely, on the works and word of God, and on the state of our own souls. Without thinking deeply, keenly, and indeed almost continually on the works and word of God, we shall never know how to fear and love, nor consequently how to obey God, as we ought to do. Nor without thinking in like manner on the state of our souls, shall we ever be able rightly to judge of what we are doing, which way we are going, or wherein the course of life we are leading, is likely to end.
But before we come to be particular on these important
subjects of meditation, it will be necessary to say something on that of meditation itself, that we may set ourselves, with understandings duly awakened, and hearts strongly engaged, to a work wherein we are infinitely interested.
In the nature of things, as sorted by their Maker into kinds or classes, a man is distinguished from a beast merely by the faculty of reason; but in the eye of true wisdom and religion, he is distinguished only by the use of his reason. In philosophy, that animal is called a beast, which cannot reason ; but in religion, that is rightly called a beast, which does not reason, that is, which does not meditate in order to judge, and judge in order to choose, and choose in order to be happy. We have bodies, appetites, affections, and passions, in common with the brute creation. But it is only by our power of meditating and reasoning, that we are enabled to know God and his will, to know wherein consists the main of our happiness, and how it is to be pursued. By this power we can govern ourselves, and conduct our affairs. By this power, duly exercised, we can weigh the objects or views, which present themselves to the judgment, one against the other, and find out which of them is best entitled to our choice, especially if the difference is very great, and more especially still, if it is infinitely great. In this consists the present advantage of a man above a beast, which can do none of these things, but is forced to follow the call of appetite, even into the snare that is laid for his life.
If this is a true and just distinction, we shall be forced to call him a beast, although ever so exactly human in his outward figure, who either shews no power of choosing his ends and purposes ; or suffers sense, appetite, and passion, instead of reason, to choose for him a low and momentary, before a high and lasting enjoyment; to choose the known occasion of his own misery, rather than the known occasion of his own happiness. Nay, and if an infinite good and evil have been ever set before him, and he chooses the evil, we must pronounce him more foolish than a beast, wbich can have no notion of either, and consequently can by no act of its own incur the latter, or obtain the former. Is he not worse than a brute, who for a dish, a bottle, a strumpet, or some pieces of ill-gotten metal, forfeits heaven?
The winged brute runs into the snare, and the finned
brute into the net, because he knows not that it is for his life. But the human brute swallows the bait, though he knows it is for his soul.
Man is by nature a thinking being, but is often pronounced thoughtless, not because he ceases to think, or loses the power of thinking, but because he is judged to exercise this power improperly, that is, on useless or hurtful subjects, or because he thinks too much on subjects of little concernment, and too slightly on such as are of far greater moment to him, Strictly speaking, it is not want of thought that fills the world with so much wickedness and misery, no, nor with so much folly. There is no keener thinker than he who is enslaved to the momentary pleasures of the flesh, or the trifling profits of the world. Even the fool, who stupidly says in his heart, there is no God, says it only after having found out by a great deal of reflection, that the being of a God necessarily infers the misery of a wretch, so lost to goodness. And is he not a fool, who so thinks, plods, and schemes his life, as to give the lie to all nature, and to have nothing at the last to comfort him in the midst of dark
prospects and fearful expectations, but a weak wish to perish for ever?
What a reproach is it to the human understanding and heart, that while the author of all good, his works of creation and providence, and the interests of the soul, draw but a few, and those but rarely, to cold and almost useless me, ditations; the author of evil, and the means of making us now and for ever unhappy, employ all the rest of mankind in such meditations, as rack their understandings to the utmost stretch of thought, and steep every thought in gall, With what force does one meditate on the object of his lust; another, on that of his avarice; and a third, on that of his ambition ! How keenly is this man set a thinking by envy, and that by malice and revenge! How artful are their schemes! How vehement their pursuits! And why all this waste of thought, but for purposes as foolish, as they are wicked ? Found by universal experience, in continual disappointments and vexations, to be as foolish, as they are pronounced by the :- severe remorses of conscience to be wicked ? :
What I have here said of those who give up their understandings entirely to folly and misery, is, in too great a
measure, true of the very religious themselves, who give but half their thoughts to God. Were religion attended to by the better sort of men with any thing like that close application of thought, which even they bestow on this world, each of them would be almost a Solomon in sacred wisdom, a Paul in piety, and only a little lower than an angel in dig.nity and happiness, e'er his removal hence.
Did not experience put it beyond all question, it could never be believed, that a rational being, with his eyes open, and in all the vigour of thought, should almost universally prefer trifles to things of moment, evil to good, and the thinest appearances, to the most visible, the most glorious realities; that he should trust to prospects, ever found empty, and delusive in the pursuit, and vexatious in the end; that from the prospects set before him by religion, and for some time urged on him by faith and reason, he should wilfully turn away his attention, insomuch that as he would not think of these at first, so he could not think of them at length; and that therefore, with all his reach of thought, with all his cunning, scheming, and refining, he hath no other enjoyments, nor ever can have, than those of a beast, lives the life of a beast, wishes for the death of a beast, and, for ought appears, really desires no pre-eminence above a beast.
If everlasting happiness and misery are set before us by the express word of God himself, how is it possible we should not make them the continual subjects of meditation ? Or if the horrors of eternal vengeance are too dreadfully insupportable to minds so miserably weak as ours; why at least do we not meditate on the happiness, on the life, immortality, and glory, offered ? Why do we not taste and see, how good the Lord is? What! not so much as take a taste of his goodness! not so much as turn and behold the infinite patience of God, in all he suffers at our hands, and the inconceivable happiness he notwithstanding still invites us to! why is the deaf ear of the adder given to the ministers of his word ? why are his sabbaths kept by men, no otherwise, than as a sabbath of horses, merely by resting from labour? why, purely to avoid the trouble of self-examination, are his sacraments neglected or attended to, as little better than outward ceremonies, or burdensome formalities? How