Article of the Month
By Thomas Manton
This is my comfort in my affliction; for thy word hath quickened me.—Psalm 119. 50.
IN the former verse the man of God had complained of the delay of the promise, and that his hope was so long suspended; now in this verse he showeth what was his support, and did revive him during this delay and the sore afflictions which befell him in the meantime. The promise comforted him before performance came, ‘This is my comfort in my affliction, thy word hath quickened me.’
1. Observe here, the man of God had his afflictions; for we are not exempted from troubles, but comforted in troubles. God’s promise, and hope therein, may occasion us much trouble and persecution in the world. Yet—
2. This very promise which occasioneth the trouble is the ground of our support; for one great benefit which we have by the word is comfort against afflictions.
3. This comfort which we have by the word is the quickening and life of the soul. The life of our soul is first received by the word, and still maintained by the same word: James 1:18, ‘Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth;’ 1 Peter 1:23, ‘Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.’
Doct. That all other comforts in affliction are nothing to those comforts which we have from the word of God.
David confirmeth it from experience; in his deepest pressures and afflictions, his soul was supported and enlivened by the word of God. The apostle Paul doctrinally asserts it: Rom. 15:4, ‘Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of the scriptures, might have hope.’ The general end of scripture is instruction; the special end is comfort and hope. Id agit tota scriptura, ut credamus in Deum (Luther)—the business and design of scripture is to bring us to believe in God, and to wait upon him for our salvation; to hope either for eternal life, which is the great benefit offered in the scriptures, or those intervening blessings which are necessary by the way, and also adopted into the covenant. The reasons are taken—
First, From the quality of those comforts which we receive from the word of God.
1. It is a divine comfort: Ps. 94:19, ‘In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.’ In all the comforts we have, it is good to consider from whence it cometh. Is it God’s comfort, or a fancy of our own? A comfort that is made up of our own fancies is like a spider’s web, that is weaved out of its bowels, and is gone and swept away with the turn of a besom. But God’s comfort is more durable and lasting; for then it floweth from the true fountain of comfort, upon whose smiles and frowns our happiness dependeth. Now God’s comforts are such as God worketh, or God alloweth. Take them in either sense, they come in with a commanding or overpowering efficacy upon the soul. If God exciteth it by his Spirit, who is the comforter, Ps. 4:7, ‘Thou hast put gladness into my heart.’ There is little warmth in a fire of our own kindling: the Holy Ghost raiseth the heart to a higher degree of a delightful sense of the love of God than we can do by a bare natural act of our own understanding. Or whether it be of such comforts as God alloweth, if we have God’s covenant for our comfort we have enough; no comfort like his comfort. In philosophy, man speaketh to us by the evidence of reason; in the scripture, God speaketh to us by way of sovereign authority: in his commands he interposeth his power and dominion; in his promises he empawneth his truth. And therefore scriptural comforts are God’s comforts, and so more powerful and authoritative.
2. It is a strong comfort: Heb. 6:18, ‘That the heirs of promise might have strong consolation,’ ἰσχυρὰν παράκλησιν. Other comforts are weak and of little force; they are not affliction-proof, nor death-proof, nor judgment-proof; they cannot stand before a few serious and sober thoughts of the world to come; but this is strong comfort, that can support the soul, not only in the imagination and supposition of a trouble, when we see it at a distance, but when it is actually come upon us, how great soever it be. If we feel the cold hands of death ready to pluck out our hearts, and are summoned to appear before the bar of our judge, yet this comfort is not the move impeached; that which supported us in prosperity can support us in adversity; what supports in life can support us in death; for the comforts of the word endure for ever, and the covenant of God will not fail us, living or dying.
3. It is a full comfort, both for measure and matter.
[1.] Sometimes for the measure; the apostle speaketh of ‘comforts abounding by Christ.’ 2 Cor. 1:5, and Acts 13:52, ‘The disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost;’ and the apostle Paul, 2 Cor. 7:4, ὑπερπερισσεύομαι τῇ χαρᾷ, ‘I am filled with comfort, and am exceeding joyful in all your tribulations.’ Paul and Silas could sing praises in the prison, and in the stocks, after they had been scourged and whipped, Acts 16:25. And our Lord Jesus Christ, when he took care for our comfort, he took care that it might be a full comfort: John 15:11, ‘These things have I spoken, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.’ The joy of believers is a full joy, needing no other joy to be added to it; it is full enough to bear us out under all discouragements. If Christians would improve their advantages, they might by their full joy and cheerfulness entice carnal men, who are ensnared by the baits of the world and the delights of the flesh, once to come and try what comforts they might have in the bosom of Christ, and the lively expectation of the promised glory.
[2.] For the matter; it is full, because of the comprehensiveness of those comforts which are provided for us. There is no sort of trouble for which the word of God doth not afford sufficient consolation; no strait can be so great, no pressure so grievous, but we have full consolation offered us in the promises against them all. We have promises of the pardon of all our sins, and promises of heaven itself; and what can we desire more? We have promises suited to every state—prosperity and adversity. What do we need, which we have not a promise of? Prosperity, that it shall not be our ruin, if we take it thankfully from God, and use it for God; for, ‘to the pure all things are pure,’ Titus 1:15. But especially for adversity, when we most need; there are promises either of singular assistance or gracious deliverance. In short, the word of God assureth us of the gracious presence of God here in the midst of our afflictions, and the eternal enjoyment of God hereafter; that he will be with us in our houses of clay, or we shall shortly be with him in his palace of glory; and so here is matter of full comfort.
(1.) His presence with us in our afflictions: Ps. 91:15, ‘I will be with him in trouble;’ and Isa. 43:2, ‘When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee;’ and many other places. Now if God be with us, why should we be afraid? Ps. 23:4, ‘When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not be afraid, for thou art with me;’ and in many other places. We see in the body, if any member be hurt, thither presently runneth the blood to comfort the wounded part; the man himself, eye, tongue, and hand, is altogether employed about that part and wounded member, as if he were forgetful of all the rest. So we see in the family, if one of the children be sick, all the care and kindness of the mother is about that sick child; she sits by him, blandisheth him, and tendeth him, so that all the rest do as it were envy his disease and sickness. If nature doth thus, will not God, who is the author of nature, do much more? For if an earthly mother do thus to a sickly and suffering child, will not our heavenly Father, who hath an infinite, incredible, and tender love to his people? Surely he runneth to the afflicted, as the blood to the hurt member; he looketh after the afflicted, as the mother to the sick child. This is the difference between God and the world; the world runneth after those that flourish, and rejoice, and live in prosperity, as the rivers run to the sea, where there is water enough already; but God ‘comforteth us in all our tribulations,’ 2 Cor. 1:4. His name and style is, ‘He comforteth those that are cast down,’ 2 Cor. 7:6. The world forsaketh those that are in poverty, disgrace, and want; but God doth not withdraw from them, but visiteth them most, hath communion with them most, and vouchsafeth most of his presence to them, even to those that holily, meekly, and patiently bear the afflictions which he layeth upon them; and one drop of this honey is enough to sweeten the bitterest cup that ever they drank of. If God be with us, if ‘the power of Christ will rest upon us,’ then we may even glory in infirmities, as Paul did.
(2.) Of our presence with God, when our afflictions are over; that is our happiness hereafter; we shall be there where he is: John 12:26, ‘There where I am shall my servant be;’ and John 17:24, ‘Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me.’ When we have had our trial and exercise, we shall live with him for ever; therefore is our comfort called everlasting consolation: 2 Thes. 2:16, ‘Who hath given us everlasting consolation, and good hope through grace.’ Nothing more can be added or desired, if we have but the patience to tarry for it, that we may come to the sight of God and Christ at last. Surely this will lighten the heart of that sorrow and fear wherewith it is surcharged. Here is an everlasting ground of comfort; and if it doth not allay our fears and sorrows, the fault is not in the comfort, for that is a solid and eternal good; but on the believer’s part, if he doth not keep his faith strong, and his evidences clear.
4. It is a reviving comfort, which quickeneth the soul. Many times we seem to be dead to all spiritual operations, our affections are damped and discouraged; but the word of God puts life into the dead, and relieveth us in our greatest distresses. Sorrow worketh death, but joy is the life of the soul. Now when dead in all sense and feeling, ‘the just shall live by faith,’ Hab. 2:4; and the hope wrought in us by the scriptures is ‘a lively hope,’ 1 Peter 1:3. Other things skin the wound, but our sore breaketh out again and runneth; faith penetrates into the inwards of a man, doth us good to the heart; and the soul reviveth by waiting upon God, and gets life and strength.
Secondly, The provision which the word hath made for our comfort; it might be referred to four heads.
1. Its commands.
[1.] Provisionally, and by way of anticipation. The whole scripture is framed so that it still carrieth on its great end of making man subject to God and comfortable in himself. Our first lesson in the school of Christ is self-denial: Mat. 16:24, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.’ Now this seemeth to be grievous, but provideth for comfort; for self-denial plucketh up all trouble by the root; the cross will not be very grievous to a self-denying spirit. Epictetus summed up all the wisdom that he could learn by the light of nature in these two words, ἀνέχου καὶ ἀπέχου—bear and forbear; to which answereth the apostle’s ‘temperance, patience,’ 2 Peter 1:6. Certainly were we more mortified and weaned from the world, and could we deny ourselves in things grateful to sense, we should not lie open to the stroke of troubles so often as we do. The greatness of our affections causeth the greatness of. our afflictions. Did we possess earthly things with less love, we should lose them with less grief. Had we more entirely resigned ourselves to God, and did love carnal self less, we should less be troubled when we are lessened in the world. Thus provisionally, and by way of anticipation, doth the word of God provide against our sorrows. The wheels of a watch do protrude and thrust forward one another; so one part of Christian doctrine doth help another: take any piece asunder, and then it is hard to be practised. Patience is hard if there be no thorough resignation to God, no temperance and command of our affections; but Christianity is all of a piece; one part well received and digested befriendeth another.
[2.] Directly, and by way of express charge, the scripture requireth us to moderate our sorrow, to cast all our care upon God, to look above temporal things, and hath expressly forbidden distracting cares, and doubts, and inordinate sorrows: 1 Peter 5:7, ‘Cast all your care upon God, for he careth for you;’ and Phil. 4:6, ‘Be careful for nothing.’ We have a religion that Maketh it unlawful to be sad and miserable, and to grieve ourselves inordinately: care, fear, and anguish of mind are forbidden, and no sorrow allowed us but what tendeth to our joy: Isa. 35:4, ‘Say to them that are of fearful hearts, Be strong, fear not;’ Isa. 41:10, ‘Fear not, I am with thee; be not dismayed, I am thy God.’ To fear the rage, and power, and Violence of enemies, is contrary to the religion which we do profess: ‘Fear not them which can kill the body,’ Mat. 10:26, 28. Now surely the word, which is full fraught with precepts of this nature, must needs comfort and stay the heart.
2. The doctrines of the word do quicken and comfort us in our greatest distresses, all of them concerning justification and salvation by Christ; they serve to deaden the heart to present things, and lift it up to better, and so to beget a kind of dedolency and insensibility of this world’s crosses; but especially four doctrines we have in the word of God that are very comforting.
[1.] The doctrine concerning particular providence, that nothing falleth out without God’s appointment, and that he looketh after every individual person as if none else to care for. This is a mighty ground of comfort; for nothing can befall me but what my Father wills, and he is mindful of me in the condition wherein I am, knoweth what things I stand in need of, and nothing is exempted from his care, ordering, and disposal. This is a ground both of patience and comfort: Ps. 39:9, ‘I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because thou didst it.’ So Hezekiah: Isa. 38:15, ‘What shall I say? He hath both spoken unto me, and himself hath done it.’ It is time to cease, or say no more; why should we contend with the Lord? Is it a sickness or grievous bodily pain? What difference is there between a man that owneth it as a chance or natural accident, and one that seeth God’s hand in it? We storm if we look no further than second causes; but one that looketh on it as an immediate stroke of God’s providence hath nothing to reply by way of murmuring and expostulation. So in loss of good children; how do we rave against instruments, if we look no further! But if we consider the providence of God, Job 1:21, not Dominus dedit, diabolus abstulit, but ‘The Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,’ So for contumely and reproaches; if God let loose a barking Shimei upon us, 2 Sam. 16:11, ‘The Lord bid him curse.’ To resist a lower officer is to resist the authority with which he is armed. So in all other cases, it is a ground of patience and comfort to see God in the providence.
[2.] His fatherly care over his people. He hath taken them into his family, and all his doings with them are paternal and fatherly. It allayeth our cares: Mat. 6:32, ‘Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye hath need of all these things.’ Our sorrows in affliction are lessened by considering they come from our Father: Heb. 12:5-7, ‘Ye have forgotten the exhortation that speaketh upon you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him; for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is that whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons;’ and so those whom God doth love tenderly, he doth correct severely.
[3.] His unchangeable love to his people. God remaineth unchangeably the same. When our outward condition doth vary and alter, we have the same blessed God as a rock to stand upon, and to derive our comforts from, that we bad before: he is the God of the valleys, as well as of the hills. Christ in his desertion saith, ‘My God, my God,’ Mat. 27:46. Surely we deserve that the creature should be taken from us, if we cannot find comfort in God: Hab. 3:18, ‘Although the fig-tree should not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vine, &c., yet will I rejoice in the Lord; I will joy in the God of my salvation;’ ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God,’ Rom. 8:36. Men may separate us from our houses, countries, friends, estates, but not from God, who is our great delight. In our low estate we have a God to go to for comfort, and who should be more to us than our sweetest pleasures.
[4.] The scripture showeth us the true doctrine about afflictions, and discovereth to us the author, cause, and end of all our afflictions. The author is God, the cause is sin, the end is to humble, mortify, and correct his children, that they may be more capable of heavenly glory. God is the author; not fortune, or chance, or the will of man; but God, who doth all things with the most exact wisdom, and tender mercy, and purest love. The cause is just: Micah 7:9, ‘I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him.’ The end is our profit, for his chastisements are purgative medicines, to prevent or cure some spiritual disease. If God should never administer physic till we see it needful, desire to take it, or be willing of it, we should perish in our corruptions, or die in our sins, for want of help in due time: 1 Cor. 11:32, ‘But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.’ Now, should we not patiently and comfortably endure those things which come by the will of our Father, through our sins, and for our good?
3. The examples of the word, which show us that the dearly beloved of the Lord have suffered harder things than we have done, and with greater patience. Christ: 1 Peter 2:21, ‘Who suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps.’ The servants of the Lord: James 5:10, ‘Take, my brethren, the prophets of the Lord, who have spoken the word of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.’ We complain of stone and gout; what did our Lord Jesus Christ endure when the whole weight of his body hung upon four wounds, and his life dropped out by degrees? We complain of every painful disease, but how was it with Christ when his back was scourged, and his flesh mangled with whips? We are troubled at the swellings of the gout in hands or feet; how was it with him when those sinewy parts were pierced with strong and great nails? We complain of the want of spiritual consolations; was not he deserted? We mourn when God Maketh a breach upon our relations; was not Abraham’s trial greater, when he was to offer his son with his own hands? Heb. 11:17, ‘By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac; and he that had received the promise offered up his only-begotten son.’ Job lost all his children at once by a blast of wind. The Virgin Mary near the cross of Christ, ‘Woman, behold thy son,’ John 19:26. She was affected and afflicted with that sight, ‘as if a sword pierced through her heart.’ We complain of poverty; Christ ‘had not where to lay his head.’ If we lose our coat to keep our conscience, others of God’s children have been thus tried before us: Heb. 10:34, ‘Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that you have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.’ The Levites ‘left their inheritance,’ 2 Chron. 11:14. Thus God doth not call us by any rougher way to heaven than others have gone before us.
4. The promises of scripture. To instance in all would be endless. There are three great promises which comfort us in all our afflictions—the promises of pardon of sins, and eternal life, and the general promises about our temporal estate.
[1.] The promises of pardon of sin. We can have no true cure for our sorrow till we be exempted from the fear of the wrath of God. Do that once, and the heart of sorrow and misery is broken. Others may steal a little peace when conscience is laid asleep, but not solid comfort till sin be pardoned: Isa. 40:1, 2, ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God; speak ye comfortably unto Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned;’ Mat. 9:2, ‘Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee;’ Rom. 5:1, ‘Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’
[2.] The promises of eternal life. Nothing will afford us so much content as one scripture promise of eternal life would do to a faithful soul. Heaven in the promise seen by faith is enough to revive the most doleful and afflicted creature: Mat. 5:12, ‘Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.’ Nothing can be grievous to him that knoweth a world to come, and hath the assurance of the eternal God that shortly he shall enjoy the happiness of it: Rom. 5:2, ‘We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.’ This comforts against troubles, sicknesses, wants. Everlasting case, everlasting joy, surely will counterbalance all that we can endure and suffer for or from God. There all our fears and sorrows shall be at an end, and all tears shall be wiped from our eyes.
[3.] The general promises concerning our temporal estate. There are many particular promises concerning the supply of all our necessities, removing of our grievances and burdens, or else that God will allay our troubles and enable us to bear them, mix with them the taste of his goodness and fatherly love. But I shall only speak of those general promises, that we may be confident that he will never utterly fail his people: Heb. 13:5, ‘He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee;’ that he will not give us over to insupportable difficulties: 1 Cor. 10:13, ‘There hath no temptation taken you but what is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.’ He will dispose of all things for the best to them that love him, Rom. 8:28. These things are absolutely undertaken, and these things should satisfy us.
Thirdly, From the manner wherein this comfort is received. They are applied by the Spirit, who is a comforter, and received by faith.
1. Applied by the Spirit, which is dispensed in a concomitancy with this word: Rom. 15:13, ‘Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.’ The Holy Ghost is purposely given to be our comforter. If we are fit to receive it, he will not be wanting to give solid joy and delight to the penitent and believing soul.
2. It is received by faith. The word of God cannot deceive us. Faith is contented with a promise, though it hath not possession; for, Heb. 11:1, ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.’ Sickness with a promise, poverty with a promise, captivity with a promise, is better than health, riches, liberty without one; yea, death with a promise is better than life. What you possess without a promise you may lose when most secure: Luke 12:19, 20, ‘I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee; then whose shall those things be that thou hast provided?’ But in the eye of faith, that which we hope for is more than that which we possess; for we have God’s word; it is set before us.
Use 1. For information.
1. How likely it is that the children of God will be exercised with afflictions, because God in his word hath laid in so many comforts before hand; a full third of the scriptures would be lost, and be as bladders given to a man that stands on dry land, and never meaneth to go into deep waters: ‘Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward,’ Job 5:7. Many think they come into the world not to bear crosses, but to spend their days in pleasure; but alas I how soon do they find themselves mistaken, and confuted by experience! If life be anything lengthened out, it is vexed with the remembrance of what is past, or trouble of what is present, or fear of what is to come. The first part of our life we know not ourselves; in the middle, we are filled with cares and sorrows; our last burdened with weakness and age. But now the godly are more appointed to troubles, because God will try their faith, perfect their patience, train them up for a better world. They are now hated by the world: 2 Tim. 3:12, ‘Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution;’ Acts 14:22, ‘We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.’ He that would not be exempted from the hopes of Christians, he must not look to be exempted from the troubles of Christians.
2. The excellency of the word of God and the religion it establisheth. It containeth store of sure comforts; and when all other comforts can do us no good, then the word of God affordeth us relief and support. Bare human reason cannot find out such grounds of comfort in all their philosophy; it doth not penetrate to the inwards of a man. It will tell us it is in vain to trouble ourselves about what we cannot help: Jer. 10:19, ‘It is an evil, and I must bear it;’ that we are not without fellows, others suffer as much as we do, &c.; but the word of God giveth us other consolations—the pardon of sin, the promises of a better life; that if we lose temporal things we shall have eternal; that we would not fear the threatenings of men, having the promises of God, &c., nor death, which hath life at the back of it; these are comforts indeed. When David was even dead in the nest, the word, that was not so clear then in these points as now, revived him. What would he have said if he had known the gospel so fully as we do? How should we be affected that live in so much light?
Use 2. For reproof to those that seek other comforts,—
1. In the vanities of the world. This is too slight a plaster to cure man’s sore or heal his wound: the comforts of this world appear and vanish in a moment; every blast of a temptation scattereth them. It must be the hope and enjoyment of some solid satisfaction that can fortify the heart and breed any solid and lasting comfort, and this the world cannot give unto us; but in the word we have it. Alas! what is a dream of honour, or the good-will and word of a mortal man? Everlasting glory is as much above all these as the treasures of a kingdom before a child’s toys. May-games, vain pleasures, are gone before we well feel that we have them.
2. Or in philosophy. That cannot give a true ground of comfort. That was it the wise men of the world aimed at to fortify the soul against troubles; but as they never understood the true ground of misery, which is sin, so they never understood the true ground or way of comfort, which is Christ. That which man offereth cannot come with such authority and power as that which God offereth. The light of reason cannot have such an efficacy as divine testimony. This is a poor moonlight, that rotteth before it ripeneth anything. In short, they were never acquainted with Christ, who is the foundation of comfort; nor the promise of heaven, which is the true matter of comfort; nor faith, which is the instrument to receive comfort; so that you leave the fountain of living water for the dead puddle of a filthy ditch, if you think the writings of the heathens will comfort you and revive you, and neglect the word of God that brings rest for the soul.
3. Those are to be reproved that are under a spiritual institution. and profess to keep to it, and do so little honour it, either by their patience or comfort, or hope under troubles. Wherefore were the great mysteries of godliness made known to us, and the promises of the world to come, and all the directions concerning the subjection of the soul to God, and those blessed privileges we enjoy by Christ, if they all be not able to satisfy and stay your heart, and compose it to a quiet submission to God when it is his pleasure to take away your comforts from you? What! ‘Is there no balm in Gilead? is there no physician there?’ Will not all the word of God yield you a cordial or a cure? Oh! consider what a disparagement you put upon the provision Christ hath made for us, as if the scripture were a weaker thing than the institutions of philosophy, or the vain delights of the world! But what may be the reasons of such an obstinacy of grief?
[1.] Sometimes ignorance. They do not study the grounds of comfort, or do not remember them; for oblivion is an ignorance for the time: Heb. 12:5, ‘Have ye forgotten the exhortation that speaketh to you as children?’ They are like Hagar, have a well of comfort nigh, and yet ready to die for thirst. The scripture hath breasts of comfort, so full as a breast ready to discharge itself, and yet they are not comforted.
[2.] They indulge and give way to the present malady, hug the distemper, and do not consider the evil of it; as ‘Rachel refused to be comforted,’ Jer. 31:15.
[3.] They do not chide themselves, ask the soul the reason, cite it before the tribunal of conscience, which is one way to allay passions: Ps. 42:5, ‘Why art thou so disquieted, O my soul?’ They look to the grievance, not to the comfort, as that which is of use; they aggravate the grievance and lessen the love of God: ‘Are the consolations of God so small with thee?’ Job 15:11. It is spoken to them who have high thoughts of their troubles, low thoughts of God’s comforts.
[4.] Uncertainty in religion. Principles must be fixed before they can be improved, and we can feel their influence and power. But people will be making essays, and try this and try that. God’s grounds of comfort are immutably fixed; God will not change his gospel laws for thy sake: and therefore, unless we would have a mountebank’s cure, we must stand to them: Jer. 6:16, ‘Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.’ When we have tried all, we must come home at length to these things; and our uncertainty in religion will be none of the meanest causes of our troubles.
[5.] They look to means and their natural operation, and neglect God; and God only will be known to be the God of all comfort: 2 Cor. 1:3, 4, ‘Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comforts, who comforteth us in all our tribulation.’
Use 3. To exhort us—
1. To prize and esteem the scriptures, and consult with them often: there you have the knowledge of God, who is best worth our knowing; and the way how we may come to enjoy him, wherein our happiness lieth. It is a petty wisdom to be able to gather riches, manage your business in the world. Ordinary learning is a good ornament, but this is the excellent, deep, and profound learning, to know how to be saved. What is it I press you to know?—the course of the heavens, to number the orbs and the stars in them, to measure their circumference and reekon their motions, and not to know him that sits in the circle of them, nor know how to inhabit and dwell there? Oh, how should this commend the word of God to us, where eternal life is discovered, and the way how to get it! Other writings and discourses may tickle the fancy with pleasing eloquence, but that delight is vanishing, like a musician’s voice. Other writings may represent some petty and momentary advantage; but time will put an end to that, so that within a little while the advantage of all the books in the world will be gone; but the scriptures, that tell us of eternal life and death, their effects will abide for ever: Ps. 119:96, ‘I have seen an end of all perfections, but thy commandments are exceeding broad.’ When heaven and earth pass away, this will not pass; that is, the effects will abide in heaven and hell. Know ye not that your souls were created for eternity, and that they will eternally survive all these present things? and shall your thoughts, projects, and designs be confined within the narrow bounds of time? Oh, no! Let your affections be to that book that will teach you to live well for ever, in comparison of which all earthly felicity is lighter than vanity.
2. Be diligent in the hearing, reading, meditating on those things that are contained there. The earth is the fruitful mother of all herbs and plants, but yet it must be tilled, ploughed, harrowed, and dressed, or else it bringeth forth little fruit. The scripture containeth all the grounds of hope, comfort, and happiness, the only remedy of sin and misery, our rule to walk by till our blessedness be perfected; but we have little benefit by it unless it be improved by diligent meditation: Ps. 1:2, ‘His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in that law doth he meditate day and night.’ This must be your chief delight, and you must be versed therein upon all occasions: Ps. 119:97, ‘Oh, how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.’ When we love it and prize it, it will be so, for our thoughts cannot be kept off from what we love and delight in.
3. Reader, hear, meditate with a spirit of application, and an aim of profit: Job 5:27, ‘Hear it, and know thou it for thy good;’ as the rule of your actions and the charter of your hopes;’ Rom. 8:31, ‘What shall we then say to these things?’ That you may grow better and wiser, and may have more advantages in your heavenly progress, take home your portion of the bread of life, and turn it into the seed of your life. It is not enough to seek truth in the scriptures, but you must seek life in the scriptures. It is not an object only to satisfy your understandings with the contemplation of truth, but your hearts with the enjoyment of life; and therefore you must not only bring your judgment to find the light of truth, but your affections to embrace the goodness of life offered. Think not ye have found all, when you have found truth and learned it. No; except you find life there, you have missed the best treasure. You must bring your understandings and affections to them, and not depart till both return full.
One of the most eminent Puritan theologians, Thomas Manton was born at Somerset and educated at Tiverton and at Wadham College, Oxford. He was ordained a deacon at nineteen, and believing this authorized him to preach, he continually refused priest’s orders. After three years at Culliton in Devon, he spent seven years ministering at Stoke-Newington, near London. While there he prepared his expositions of James and Jude. During the Revolution, Manton was frequently called to preach before Parliament. In 1653 he succeeded Obadiah Sedgwick as rector of St. Paul’s Covent Garden, remaining at this prominent Puritan church until 1662.
Manton became one of Oliver Cromwell’s chaplains during the Rebellion, but he promoted the Restoration in 1660 and was chosen as one of the king’s chaplains. At the same time he was awarded a D.D. by Oxford at the request of Charles II. In 1662, however, he was ejected with the other nonconformists by the Act of Uniformity. He led the Presbyterians in an attempt to be reinstated, but their request was denied. Manton then opened his rooms in Covent Gardens and preached to a congregation there. When he refused to take the Oxford oath, he was imprisoned for six months, after which he preached wherever he was given opportunity by Puritan congregations.
An outstanding preacher and expositor, like most of the Puritans, Manton was called by James Ussher “one of the greatest preachers in England.” Some of his writings were collected and published in five volumes from 1681 to 1701, and The Works of Thomas Manton, D.D., a complete collection, was published in twenty-two volumes from 1870 to 1875. During his lifetime Manton published Exposition of the Epistle of James (1651) and Exposition of the Epistle of Jude (1658).
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