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4. From a view of the interests we have at stake
[If only the life or death of our bodies were at stake, we should feel deeply interested in the event: but, when heaven and all its glory, or hell and all its misery, are the alternatives before us, one would suppose that every temporal consideration should be swallowed up, and vanish as the light of a star before the meridian sun. But the saint is not always so indifferent to the things of time and sense as he would wish to be. There are times, when every thing below the sun is in his eyes lighter than vanity itself: but there are, also, times when he finds his heart yet cleaving to the dust, and when his progress heavenward is slow and imperceptible. On such occasions he he is amazed at himself: he can scarcely conceive it possible that, with such prospects before him, he should be so stupid and brutish as he feels himself to be. Truly, at these seasons the language of our text will be often in his heart, and in his mouth too, especially if he find an Ithiel, or an Ucal, that is capable of understanding it.] After viewing this subject, we shall be at no loss to
UNDERSTAND, 1. Whence it is that saints are often dejected in their minds
[None are at all times alike joyful. St. Paul says, that “they who have the first-fruits of the Spirit," no less than others, sometimes "groan within themselves, being burthenedy." And so it ought to be. In the review of their past lives they should be humbled, even as Paul was, when he designated himself as "a blasphemer, and injurious, and a persecutor, and the very chief of sinners?." And under a sense of their remaining infirmities, it becomes them to lie low before God. Behold St. Paul, when he had preached the Gospel above twenty years, yet felt so much corruption within him, that he cried out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver mes?” The image which he here uses is that which has often been realized. He refers to a punishment sometimes inflicted on criminals, by chaining them to a dead corpse, and constraining them to bear it about with them, till they died through the offensiveness of its noxious odours. Such was his in-dwelling corruption to him, even at that advanced period of his life: and such it should be felt by every saint on earth. In truth, there should not enter so much as a ray of comfort into the soul, but from a view of the Sun of Righteousness. It is He alone that can, or ought, to “ arise upon us with healing in his wings.' And therefore the Apostle, after the lamentation just mentioned, adds, " I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lordt.” Let not this, then, prove a stumbling-block to any: nor let it be supposed, that, because a pious person uses, in reference to himself, terms which a worldly person would not deign to use, he must of necessity have committed any greater sin than others. His humiliation, as we have seen, arises out of the views which he has obtained of holy things: and the nearer his intercourse with heaven is, the more ready will he be to exclaim with the Prophet, “ Woe is me, I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips, dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips;" that is, a leper, in the midst of a leprous and ungodly world o.]
a Rom. viii. 23. 2 Cor. v. 4.
s Rom. vii. 24.
1 1 Tim. i. 13, 15.
2. How far they are from piety who are filled with self-complacent thoughts
[Persons who have been exemplary in their conduct, and punctual in their religious observances, are, for the most part, filled with a conceit of their own goodness, and confident of their acceptance with God on account of it. But little do they know how odious they are in the sight of God, whilst they are righteous in their own eyes. It is the Publican, and not the Pharisee, that will be justified before God: and "the sick, not the whole,” that will experience “ the Physician's” aid. Christianity is not a remedial law, lowered to the standard of our weakness; but a remedy, by which the soul that is sick unto death may be effectually healed. Christ is a Saviour; but he is so to those only who feel themselves lost, and renounce every other hope but him. Bear this, then, in remembrance. Bear in remembrance, that there are no terms too humiliating to express the real state of your souls before God. You have lived as without God in the world, unconscious of his eye upon you; and his address to you is, “Understand ye brutish among the people; and ye fools, when will ye be wisex?” This may be offensive to our proud hearts; but it is such an address as we merit, and such a one as it becomes an holy God to deliver. The particular ground of Agur's self-abasement was, that "he had not learned wisdom, or attained the knowledge of the Holy Oney.” And have not many amongst you the same ground for self-abasement? Yes, “ There are many amongst you who have not the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame?.” Many amongst you have never yet walked in the ways of true wisdom. Humble yourselves, therefore, for your more than brutish stupidity: and now, as the Psalmist says, “ Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him."]
t Rom. vii. 25. u Isai. vi. 5. * Ps. xciv. 8. y ver. 3.
2 1 Cor. xv. 34. a Ps. ii. 12.
AGUR's wish. Prov. xxx. 7-9. Two things have I required of thee; deny
me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me : lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.
IT is the privilege of man to make known his requests to God in prayer, and to solicit from him whatever may conduce to his real good. Even temporal things may be asked, provided it be in subserviency to our spiritual interests, and with entire submission to the Divine will. Who Agur was, we cannot certainly determine; but he was evidently an inspired person“; and his prayer in reference to his condition in this world is an excellent pattern for our imitation. He entreated the Lord with very great earnestness; yet he considered his condition in this world as altogether subordinate to his eternal welfare; and therefore in what he asked for his body, he consulted only the good of his soul.
We propose to consider, I. His request
Some interpret the former of his petitions as expressing a wish to be kept from error and delusion in spiritual matters; but we apprehend that the things which he requested were,
1. A removal from the temptations of an exalted state
[He justly characterizes the pomp and splendour of the world as "vanity and lies;" "vanity," because they are empty and unsatisfying; and “ lies," because they promise happiness to their possessors, but invariably disappoint them. In this light they are frequently represented in Scriptureb; and they who have been most competent to judge respecting them, have been most forward to declare them mere vanity and vexation of spirit.
a His words are called “ prophecies,” ver. 1. b Ps. cxix. 37. and lxii. 9. c Eccl. ii. 11.
Agur doubtless beheld them in this view, and therefore rather deprecated them as evils, than desired them as objects of his ambition.] 2. A mediocrity of state and condition
[He did not, through a dread of wealth, desire to be reduced to poverty: he wished rather to stand at an equal distance from each extreme; and to enjoy that only which God should judge “convenient for him.” It is not easy for us to say precisely what a competency is; because it must vary according to men's education and habits; that being poverty to one, which would be riches to another: yet the line drawn by Agur, seems to mark the limits most agreeably to the mind of God, because it exactly corresponds with the views of patriarchsa, of prophets, of Apostles', and particularly with the prayer which our blessed Lord himself has taught all his folTowers to use.]
In urging his request, Agur manifested great zeal and earnestness: his whole soul appeared to be engaged in it: we are therefore interested in inquiring into, II. The reasons with which he enforced it
He was not actuated by any carnal motives, though he was praying about carnal things. It was not the incumbrances of wealth, or the hardships of poverty that he dreaded; he considered only the aspect of the different states upon his spiritual advancement; and deprecated them equally on account of the temptations incident to both. 1. On account of the snares of wealth
[Riches foster the pride of the human heart, and engender a haughty and independent spirit. This was the effect of opulence on God's people of oldh; and the same baneful influence is observable in our day. The great consider it almost as an act of condescension to acknowledge God. Scarcely one of them in a thousand will endure to hear his name mentioned in private, or his will propounded as the proper rule of his conduct. The atheistical expressions in the text are indeed the language of his conduct, if not also of his lipsi. It is on this, as well as other accounts, that our Lord has spoken of riches as rendering our salvation difficult, yea impossible, without some signal interposition of divine gracek. And therefore every one who values his soul may well deprecate an exalted state.] 2. On account of the snares of poverty
d Gen. xxviii. 20. e Jer. xlv. 5. f 1 Tim. vi. 8-10.
8 Matt. vi. 11. and the first clause of ver. 13. between which and Agur's prayer there is a remarkable agreement.
h Deut. xxxii. 15. Hos. xiii, 6, i See Exod. v. 2. Ps. xii. 4. k Matt. xix. 23—26. 1 Exod. xxii. 7—12. and 1 Kings viii. 31. m Phil. iv. 11, 12. n 2 Sam. xxii. 24.
[Poverty has its snares no less than wealth: where its pressure is felt, the temptations to dishonesty are exceeding great. Even those who are in ease and affluence are too easily induced to deviate from the paths of strict integrity, especially when there appears but little probability of detection: how much more strongly then may a dishonest principle be supposed to operate, when called forth by necessity and distress! God appointed that a person suspected of theft should clear himself by an oath before a magistrate'; but this was a feeble barrier against dishonesty; for he that will cheat, will lie; and, if urged to it, will rather perjure himself to conceal his crime, than expose himself to shame by confessing it. Thus one sin leads to another; and a soul, that is of more value than ten thousand worlds, is bartered for some worthless commodity. Justly then may that state also be deprecated, which exposes us to such tremendous evils.] This subject may TEACH us, 1. Contentment with our lot
Whatever be the means used, it is God alone that fixes our condition in the world: and, if we be Christians indeed, we may be sure that our lot is that which, all things considered, is most for the good of our souls. If any variations in it have taken place, such changes have been sent to teach us that contentment, which St. Paul so richly experienced, and which it is no less our privilege than our duty to learn m. If we have that which is best for our souls, then we have that which is really best.] 2. Watchfulness against our besetting sins
[Every situation of life has its peculiar temptations. Youth or age, health or sickness, riches or poverty have their respective snares.
It is our wisdom to stand on our guard against the difficulties to which we are more immediately exposed"; and rather to seek for grace that we may approve ourselves to God in the station to which he has called us, than to desire a change of circumstances, which will change indeed, but not remove, our trials.] 3. Solicitude for spiritual advancement
[It was sin, and sin only, that Agur feared : and doubtless sin is the greatest of all evils. Let the same mind then be in us that was in him. Whether we have poverty or riches, or