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Entries in Heart Aflame (11)

Sunday
Nov142010

Heart Flame - November 14, 2010

Psalm 119:80-88

May my heart be blameless toward your decrees.  Having a little before desired to be endued with a sound understanding he now prays, in a similar manner, for sincere affection of heart.  The understanding and affection, as is well known, are the two principle faculties of the human soul, both of which he clearly shows to be depraved and perverse, when he requests that his understanding may be illuminated, and, at the same time, that his heart may be framed to the obedience of the law.  This plainly refutes all that the Papists babble about free will.   The propher not only here says that God would help him, because his will was weak; but he testifies, without qualification, that uprightness of heart is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  We are, moreover, taught by these words, in what the true keeping of the law consists.  A great part of mankind, after having carelessly framed their lives according to the Divine law, by outward obedience, think that they want nothing.  But the Holy Spirit here declares that no service is acceptable to God, excep that which proceeds from integrity of heart.

Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your derees.  The obvious design of the Psalmist is to teach us, that, although he had been proved by severe trials, and wounded to the quick, he had yet not been withdrawn from the fear of God.  In comparing himself to a wineskin, he intimates that he was, as it were, parched by the continual heat of the adversities.  Whence we learn, that that sorrow must have been intense which reduced him to such a state of wretchedness and emaciation, that like a shrivelled bottle he was almost dried up.  It, however, appears that he want to point out, not only the severity of his affliction, but also its lingering nature - that he was tormented, as it were, at a slow fire; even as the smoke which proceeds from heat bladders by slow degrees.  The prophet experienced a long series of griefs, which might have consumed him a hundred times, and that, by their protracted and lingering nature, had he not been sustained by the word of god.  In short, it is a genuine evidence of true godlinss, when, although plunged into the deepest afflictions, we yet cease not to submit ourselves to God.

Sunday
Oct032010

Heart Aflame - October 3, 2010

Psalm 106:37-42

They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons.  The prophet here mentions one species of superstition which demonstrates the awful blindness of the people; their not hesitating to sacrifice their sons and daughters to devils.  In applying such an abominable designation to the sin of the people, he means to exhibit it in more hateful colours.  From this we learn that inconsiderate zeal is a flimsy pretext in favour of any act of devotion.  For by how much the Jews were under the influence of burning zeal, by so much does the prophet convict them with being guilty of greater wickedness because their madness carried them away to such a pitch of enthusiasm, that they did not spare even their own offspring.  Were good intentions meritorious, as idolaters suppose, then indeed the laying aside of all natural affection in sacrificing their own children was a deed deserving the highest praise.  But when men act under the impulse of their own capricious humour, the more they occupy themselves with acts of external worship, the more do they increase their guilt.

They shed innocent blood.  Should anyone object that Abraham is praised because he did not withhold his only son, the answer is plain, that he did it in obedience to God's command, so that every vestige of inhumanity was effaced by means of the purity of faith.  For if obedience is better than sacrifice (I Sam. 15:2), it is the best rule both for morality and religion.  It is an awful manifestation of God's vindictive wrath, when the superstitious heathens, left to their own inventions, become hardened in deeds of cruelty.  As often as the martyrs put their life in jeopardy in defence of the truth, the incense of such a sacrifice is pleasing to God.  But when the two Romans, by name Decii, in an execrable manner devoted themselves to death, that was an act of atrocious impiety.  It is not without just cause, therefore, that the prophet enhances the guilt of the people by this consideration, that to the perverse mode of worshipping God, they had added excessive cruelty.

Sunday
Sep122010

Heart Aflame - September 12, 2010

Psalm 103:9-13

He will not always chide, nor will he harbour his anger forever.  David, from the attributes ascribed to God in the preceding verse, draws the conclusion, that when God has been offended, he will not be irreconcilable, since, from his nature, he is always inclined to forgive.  It was necessary to add this statement; for our sins would be continually shutting the gate against his goodness were there not some way of appeasing his anger.  David tacitly intimates that God institutes an action against sinners to lay them low under a true sense of their guilt; and that yet he recedes from it whenever he sees them subdued and humbled.  God speaks in a different manner in Genesis 6:3, where he says, "My Spirit shall no longer strive with man," because the wickedness of men being fully proved, it was then time to condemn them.  But here David maintains that God will not always chide, because so easy is he to be reconciled, and so ready to pardon, that he does not rigidly exact from us what strict justice might demand.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  The Psalmit confirms that he does not treat in general of what God is towards the whole world, but of the character in which he manifests himself towards the faithful.  Whence also it is evident that he does not here speak of that mercy by which God reconciles us to himself at the first, but of that with which he continually follows those whom he has embraced with his fatherly love.  There is one kind of mercy by which he restores us from death to life, while as yet we are strangers to him, and another by which he sustains this restored life; for that blessing would forwith be lost did he not confirm it in us by daily pardoning our sins.  Whence also we gather how egregiously the Papists trifle in imagining that the free remission of sins is betowed only once, and that afterwards righteousness is acquired or retained by the merit of good works, and that whatever guilt we contract is removed by satisfactions.  Here David does not limit to a moment of time the mercy by which God reconciles us to himself in not imputing to us our sins, but extends it even to the close of life.

Sunday
Aug152010

Heart Aflame - August 15, 2010

Psalm 91:14-15

"Because he loves me," says the Lord, "I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name."  Here it is noticeable that God, in declaring from heaven that we shall be safe under the wings of his protection, speaks of nothing as necessary on the part of his people but hope or trust.  We must rest with a sweet confidence in God, and rejoice in his favour.  The language implies that we must be continually surrounded by death and destruction in this world, unless his hand is stretched out for our preservation.  Occasionally he assists even unbelievers, but it is only to his believeing people that his help is vouchsafed, in the sense of his being their Saviour to the end.  Their knowing the name of God is spoken of in connection with their trust and expectation; and very properly, for why is it that men are found casting their eyes vainly round them to every quarter in the hour of danger, but because they are ignorant of the power of God?  They cannot indeed be said to know God at all, but delude themselves with a vague apprehension of something which is not God, a mere idol substituted for him in their imaginations.  As it is a true knowledge of God which begets confidence in him, and leads us to call upon him; and as none can seek him sincerely but those who have apprehended the promises, and put due honour upon his name, the Psalmist with great propriety and truth represents this knowledge as being the spring or fountain of trust.

He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.  The Psalmist now shows more clearly what was meant by trusting in God, or placing our love and delight in him.  For that affection and desire which is produced by faith, prompts us to call upon his name.  This is another proof in support of the truth, which we had occasion to touch upon formerly, that prayer is properly grounded upon the word of God.  We are not at liberty in this matter to follow the suggestions of our mind or will, but must seek God only in so far as he has in the first place invited us to approach him.  The context, too, may teach us, that faith is not idle or inoperative and that one test, by which we ought to try those who look for Divine deliverances, is, whether they have recourse to God in a right manner.

Sunday
Jun272010

Heart Aflame - June 27, 2010

Psalm 78:38-71

Yet he was merciful ... and did not destoy them.  The Israelites no doubt deserved to be involved in one common destruction; but it is declared that God mitigated his anger, that some seed of them might remain.  That none might infer that God had proceeded to punish them with undue severity, we are told that the punishments inflicted upon them were moderate - yea, mild, when compared with the aggravated nature of their wickedness.  God kept back his hand, not looking so much to what they had deserved, as desiring to give place to his mercy.  We are not, however, to imagine that he is changeable, when at one time he chastises us with a degree of severity, and at another time gently draws and allures us to himself; for in the exercise of his matchless wisdom, he has recourse to different means by which to try whether there is really any hope of our recovery.  But the guilt of men becomes more aggravated, when neither his severity can reform them nor his mercy melt them.  It is to be observed, that the mercy of God, which is an essential attribute of his nature, is here assigned as the reason why he spared his people, to teach us that he was not induced by any other cause but this, to show himself so much inclined and ready to pardon.

He remembered that they were but fleshFlesh and spirit are frequently contrasted in the Scriptures; not only when flesh means our depraved and sinful nature, and spirit the uprightness to which the children of God are born again; but also when men are called flesh, because there is nothing firm or stable in them.  In this passage, flesh means, that men are subject to coruption and putrefaction; and spirit, that they are only a breath or a fleeting shadow.  As men are brought to death by a contnual wasting and decay, the people re compared to a wind which passes away, and which, of its own accord, falls and does not return again.  God, in the execise of his mercy and goodness, bore with the Jews, not because the deserved this, but because their frail and transitory condition called forth his pity and induced him to pardon them.