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is evil, in all beings who have reason and understanding : but the guilt of transgressors increases in proportion to the knowledge they have of the will of God, and the reasonableness and equitableness of what is required of them. Some have clearer discoveries concerning duty, than others : and by the many blessings, vouchsafed them in the course of providence, they have been laid under special obligations to attend to the indications of the Divine Mind.
When I thought on my ways, I could not but own this to be my case. The divine will, and motives to obey it, have been often set before me in a clear and affecting manner. I have had many means and helps for preventing sin, and securing a virtuous conduct: and the favours of Divine Providence have laid me under strong obligations to improve those helps, and to excel, and be steady in virtue.
I see reason therefore to own, that I have acted against convictions of duty, and that by temptation I have been induced to act contrary to resolutions, formerly made. I can recollect too, that I have not kept that strict watch over myself, which I knew to be fit and needful in this present world, so beset with dangerous snares and temptations.
Upon the whole, in recollecting and reviewing my conduct I discerned many things for which no good excuse or apology can be made: and therefore I saw great reason to condemn and blame myself on that account. And considering the advantages, which I have enjoyed; my many past transgressions, and my still remaining defects are attended with no small aggravations.
7. “ I thought on my ways,” and considered the rewards and encouragements of virtuous conduct, and sincere obedience to God : and the sad conséquences of sin, and the unavoidable ruin and misery of such as persist in it.
For a difference there is in things, as I am fully persuaded, and see plain reason to believe: and God, the Lord and Governor of the world, is perfectly righteous and holy: and he certainly will some time make a difference between the obedient and faithful, and the disobedient and unfaithful among his creatures. It is altogether fit and reasonable he should do so: it is impossible therefore for me to reconcile the hopes of happiness with wilful sin, persisted in, and unrepented of. It must be confessed, and forsaken: or I can never think of finding mercy with God, so as to entertain any prospect of the reward that shall be bestowed on the righteous.
This is what is implied in the duty of consideration, or thinking on our ways.
II. Let us now observe the proper effect of this practice, which is amendment. “ I thought on my ways," says the Psalmist," and turned my feet unto thy testimonies."
“ That is one effect and advantage of this practice. But it is not the sole and only one. . For to a good man it may
be sometimes the ground and occasion of peace, joy, pleasing reflections, and comfortable hopes and expectations, and afford cause of thanksgiving to God. It will especially do so, at the end of life, to such as have made it a frequent practice, and have thereby been engaged in a strict and steady course of virtue. Like the apostle, they will be able to say: “ Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in this world," 2 Cor. i. 12. And when he was yet nearer the period of his days on earth, he reflects, and looks forward in this manner : “ I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day," 2 Tim, iv. 7, 8.
This satisfaction we may well suppose was sometimes the result of the Psalmist's thinking on his ways. For though he did not always perform agreeably to the obligations he was under, yet he never laid aside the profession of religion, nor abandoned himself to an allowed and deliberate course of wickedness. So he declares in this Psalm, ver. 102, “ I have not departed from thy judgments, for thou hast taught me."
22, “ remove away
from me reproach and contempt :” for “ I have kept thy testimonies."
"' And ver. 165–167, “ Lord, I have hoped in thy salvation, and done thy commandments. My soul has kept thy testimonies, and I love them exceedingly. I have kept thy precepts, and thy testimonies : for all my ways are before thee.”
But this was one happy effect of serious consideration, or thinking on his ways, that he was better disposed and enabled to amend what had been hitherto amiss, and to advance in piety. As he says, ver. 67, “ before I was afflicted, I. went astray, but now have I kept thy word.” There were errors and faults in his conduct, in the time of case and prosperity, which afflictions had taught him to correct and reform.
So here in the text: “ I thought on my ways:" and having on that recollection and review observed some, or even many defects and transgressions, “ I turned my feet unto God's testimonies.” Whatever I discerned to be con
trary to duty, gave me grief and concern, and I resolved to do so no more. I determined not to persist in any thing which I had seen the evil of: knowing that any one sin, wilfully indulged, is a presumptuous disrespect to the authority of the divine law; and might harden my heart, and extirpate all sense of religion in my mind, until I became totally forsaken of God, and abandoned to all manner of wickedness.
Having seen my errors, I resolved to be for the future more exact, careful, and circumspect. And I have actually found by experience, that this frequent, serious, and impartial recollecting and reviewing my past conduct has been of great use to me, and proved an excellent mean of my amendment and improvement.
III. It remains, that in the way of application I recommend this duty of consideration, or the practice of“ thinking on our ways,” by some motives.
1. It is a very fit and proper employment of rational creatures, whilst in a state of trial : wherein they labour under many frailties and imperfections, and are exposed to various snares and temptations.
What can be more proper for such beings, in such circumstances, than to “ think on their ways?” They are accountable to God. And must it not be very becoming them, to show a respect to him, and his laws, by frequently considering their behaviour : that, if at any time, through surprise, or any other means, they have been misled, they may make humble confessions of their offences, and resolve and aim and endeavour to do better in time to come.
2. I observe secondly, (which follows from what was just said,) that this practice is very proper for all men.
It is proper for such, as have not yet seriously devoted themselves to God and his service: and also for those who are really and sincerely, but only imperfectly good. It is greatly needful, and of the utmost importance for the former, “ to think on their ways.” And it may
.” And it may be very expedient and beneficial for these last likewise. The Psalmist shows as much by his own example, who ought to be placed in this latter rank. And he may be well understood to intend, by this observation, to recommend the practice to others.
3. This exercise of the mind is oftentimes expressly recommended to men by God himself, or his prophets, speaking in his name, and by his authority.
In the first chapter of the book of Isaiah God laments and complains, as it were, that “ Israel did not know, his people did not consider," Is, i. 3. And earnestly calls to them to attend to the end of things. “ Wash ye, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do well. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse, and rebel, ye shall be destroyed : for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it,” ver. 16–20. They are severely checked and reproved, who go on securely in an evil way: not considering how displeasing such a course is to the Divine Being. These things hast thou done, and I kept silence. Thou thoughtest that I was such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thee. Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver,” Ps. 1. 21, 22.
And in the New Testament, says St. Paul, “ Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith : prove your ownselves,” 2 Cor. xiii. 5. And, “ If any man think himself to
, be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself: but let every man prove his own work. Then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another," Gal, vi. 3, 4. St. John is directed by our exalted Lord to write in this manner to the church of Ephesus: “ Remember therefore, from whence thou art fallen : and repent, and do the first work," Rev. ii. 5. And St. Paul observes: “ If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged,” or condemned, “ by the Lord,” 1 Cor. xi. 31.
4. Which brings us to another argument for this practice: that God will hereafter try and judge us, and all men.
There is a day appointed for reviewing the actions of all mankind : and then every one will receive according to what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. This should be of great force to persuade us to think on our ways now, and seriously to recollect our past conduct; that all'instances of misbehaviour may be blotted out, and corrected by the tears of unfcigned and timely repentance, and by hearty reformation and amendment.
5. There is a great deal of reason to apprehend that we shall be induced to think on our ways some time before our departure out of this world.
If ever we are brought into troubles and distresses, or have near apprehensions of death and judgment, then these reflections will be unavoidable, and these thoughts will disturb us, when the benefit will be uncertain. It must therefore be prudent to think on our ways in time, freely and voluntarily, and by a speedy and effectual repentance and amendment, to lay a foundation for pleasing reflections, and comfortable prospects, in a day of affliction, or at the time of death.
6. Lastly, let us attend to the great advantages of thinking on our ways.
It is a likely mean of repentance, of amendment, and of improvement in every thing good and excellent: we shall then know ourselves : we shall see the evil of sin, and be very sensible of the sad consequences of continuing therein : we shall turn from it, and carefully keep God's commandments to the end, without any more deliberately and wilfully forsaking, or turning aside from them.
This is the lesson of the text, and of what follows: “I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy command
Which last words, God willing, shall be the subject of our meditations the next opportunity.
THE UNREASONABLENESS OF DELAYS IN THINGS OF RELIGION.
I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.
Psal. cxix. 60.
THIS psalm is equally admirable for justness and piety of sentiment, and for exactness and elegance of composition. The prevailing principle running throughout, is a high esteem and veneration for the revealed will of God: which under some expressions of law, word, statutes, ordinances,". testimonies, or some other phrase of like import, is mentioned in almost every verse of the psalm. Notwithstanding which, and the length of the meditation likewise, it is not chargeable either with tediousness or tautology. But there is a great and surprising variety, and the attention of the reader is kept up from the beginning to the end.
Indeed the variety is such, that it is somewhat difficult to make a summary of its contents, or represent in brief the several thoughts with which it is filled. However it may in general be said, that the Psalmist often professeth the regard he had for the divine law; and he aims to recommend to others the serious and diligent study of it, and a sincere and constant practice of all its precepts, as the only way to true blessedness. He declares the great and frequent ex