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versant with God is taken up with him; all its affections work and move towards him, as the Prophet's here, his fear, his joy, his trust, Ver. 16, 17, 18, 19. This is a prayer, as it is entitled, but it is both a prophetical and an unusual one, a prophecy and a song (as the word added imports) of Habakkuk the prophet on Neginoth. The strain of it is high, and full of sudden raptures and changes, as that word signifies: as here, having exprest much fear in the foregoing words, a shivering trembling horror, yet adds such an height of invincible kind of joy; as the needle of the compass fixedly looking towards him, yet not without a trembling motion. Thus, we have the temper of the Psalmist, rejoice with trembling; which suits well to so sublime an object, joying in God, because he is good; yet joy still mixed with holy awe, because he is great: And this especially in time of great judgments, or in the lively apprehensions or representations of them, whether before or after their inflicting; whether they be on the people of God for their iniquities, or on the enemies of God for their oppressions and cruelties to his people, while he made them instruments for their correction. In both, God is formidable, and greatly to be feared, even by those that are nearest to him: This we find in the prophets seeing judgments afar off, long before their day, which they had commission to denounce: So this prophet here, not only discovers great awe and fear at what he saw and foretold concerning God's own people the Jews, but at the after-reckoning with the Chaldeans, his and their enemies. When God comes to do judgment on the wicked, this will make them that stand by, and suffer not with them, yet to tremble; yea, such as are advantaged by it, as usually the people of God are, their enemies ruin proving their deliverance. The majesty and greatness of God, and terribleness of his march towards them, and seizing on them, as it is here highly set forth, this works an awful fear in
the hearts of his own children, they cannot see their Father angry but it makes them quake, though it be not against them, but on their behalf. And this were our right temper, when we see or hear of the hand of God against wicked men, that run their own courses against all warning, not to entertain these things with carnal rejoicings and lightness of mind, or with boasting insults; to applaud indeed the righteousness of God, and to give him his glory; but withal, to fear before him, though they were strangers, and no way a part of ourselves, and to have a humble sense of the Lord's dealing in it; so, Psal. lii. 6. and to learn to reverence God, in all our ways to acknowledge him; to be sure to take him along with us, and to undertake nothing without him.
And this fear of judgments in others, is the way not to feel them on ourselves. When God sees that the sound of the rod on others backs will humble a soul or a people, he will spare the stroke of it. They that have most of this holy fear of God's anger, fall least under the dint of it. Blessed is he that feareth always; but he that hardens his heart, shall fall into mischief. He that fears it not, shall fall into it; he that fears and trembles at it, shall escape: So the prophet here trusts for himself, I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble, ver. 16. and, upon his confidence, rises to this high resolution.
The words, to make no other division of them, are a conjuncture of a sad supposition, and a chearful position or purpose.
Although the fig-tree, &c. This is a thing that may come, and, possibly, that the prophet did foresee would come, amongst other judgments, and it is of all other outward scourges the sorest, most smarting, and most sweeping, cuts off most people, and can least be suffered and shifted. It lieth amongst the rest in the store-house of divine judgments; he that furnished the earth, and gave being by the
word of his mouth to all these things, hath still the sole absolute power of them; they obey his word of command; and rightly looked upon, in our use of them, and the sweetness we find in them, lead us to him, as the spring of being and goodness. He is invisible in his nature, in his works most visible and legible; not only the spacious Heavens and glorious lights in them, but the meanest things on earth, every plant and flower in their being and growing, yea, every pile of grass, declare God to us.
And it is a supernatural delight in natural things, to see and taste him in them, it is more pleasant than their natural relish: It is the chief inner sweetness, the kernel and marrow of all, and they that take not the pains, and have not the skill to draw it forth, lose the far better half of their enjoyments, even of the things of this earth. To think how wise he is that devised such a frame, how powerful that made all these things, how rich he must be that still continues to furnish the earth with these varieties of provisions; how sweet must he be, whence all these things draw their sweetness? But, alas! we are brutish, and in our use of these things we differ little or nothing from the beast. We are called to a higher life, but we live it not. Man is in honour, but he understands it not; he is as the beast that perishes. Now, because we acknowledge God so little in the use of these things, therefore he is put to it, (so to speak) to teach us our lesson, in the want and deprivement of them, which our dulness is more sensible of. We know things a great deal better by wanting them than by having them, and take more notice of that hand that hath power of them, when he withdraws, than when he bestows them.
Besides all other provocations and particular abuses of these things by intemperance and luxury, were it no more but the very neglecting of God, in his goodness; this calls for a famine,
to diet us into wiser thoughts, and remember us of our own and all other creatures dependance on that God whom we so forgot, as to serve our idols and base lusts upon his bounty. This was the case of Judah and Israel, but when more sparingly fed, and better taught in the wilderness, these were restored again, Ver. 14, 15. then all acknowledge the dowry of that blessed marriage with himself, Ver. 16. which is so far beyond all account.
How wretched ingratitude is it, not to regard and love him in the use of all his mercies; but horrid stupidity, not to consider, and seek to him in their withdrawment, or the threatning of it. Few have a right sense of his hand in any thing; they grumble and cry out, but not to him, as of oppression. So of this very judgment of famine, Ephraim howled, and cried not to me, did not humbly and repentingly seek to me by prayer; but a natural brutish sense of their wants pressed out complaints; they howled, as a hungry dog would do for bread: This is all the most do, in years of dearth, or harvests threatning it. No beast in the mountain or wilderness is so untamed as the heart of man, which, when catched in God's judgments, lies and cries as a wild bull in a net. It is true, they are somewhat nearer sober thoughts in distress and grief, though natural, yet nearer spiritual grief, than their mirth and laughter; but it must have a touch of that spirit above, to make it spiritual, to make it change to gold, to turn it to godly sorrow. No scourge carries a power of changing the heart with it; that is a superadded work. Many people, and particular persons, have been beat as in a mortar with variety, of afflictions, one coming thick upon another, and yet are never the wiser, and yet have not returned unto me, saith the Lord.
Therefore, if you be afflicted, join prayer with your correction; and beg by it, that God would join his Spirit with it: Seek this in earnest, else you
Hos ii. 8, 13. d Job. xxxv. 9, 10. Hos. vii. 14.
shall be not a whit the better, but shall still endure the smart, and not reap the fruit thereof; yea, I believe, some are the worse, even by falsely imagining they are better, partly presuming it must be so, and partly, may be, feeling some present motions and meltings in the time of afflictions, which evanish and presently cool when they are off the fire: Ay, but these two together make a happy man; blessed is he whom thou correctest, and teachest out of thy law.
Although the fig-tree shall not blossom.] This sometimes does, and at any time may befal a land; but however, it is very useful to put such cases. It is true, there is great odds betwixt real and imagined distresses; yet certainly the frequent viewing of its picture, though it is only in thy imagination, hath so much likeness, as somewhat abates the strangeness and frightfulness of its true visage, when it comes.
There is a foolish pre-apprehension of possible evils, that, whether they come or no, does no good, but makes evils to come perplexingly before-hand, and ante-dates their misery, and adds the pain of many others that will never come: These are the fumes of a dark distempered humour, vain fears, that vex and trouble some minds at present, and do not waste any thing of any grief to come after; but calmly and composedly to sit down and consider evil days coming, any kind of trials that probably, yea, or possibly, may arrive, so as to be ready to entertain them without astonishment; this is a wise and useful exercise of thy mind, and takes off much of the weight of such things, breaks them in falling on us, that they come not so sad down, when they light first upon the apprehension. Thus, it is true, nothing comes unawares to a wise man; he hath supposed all, or as bad as any thing that can come, hath acquainted his mind. with the horridest shapes, and therefore, when such things appear, will not so readily start at them.