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3. "I thought on my ways:" I considered and examined them impartially.
This I did, knowing that God sees all things, and that he is acquainted with all my wanderings. He tries the hearts, and knows all the ways of the sons of men. He is the best judge of integrity, and will approve of it: he is not to be deceived by false pretences, and specious appearances. All the actions of my life, and all the purposes of my heart, ever since I have enjoyed this rational nature, and have arrived to the exercise of its powers, have been under his notice: and he discerns the present frame and actings of my mind.
When therefore I thought on my ways, I resolved to do it in the fear, and as in the presence of God. I set aside partial and too favourable regards for myself, and resolved not to heed now the fair, and too agreeable speeches of friends or flatterers: but to know the truth concerning myself, and to pass a right judgment upon my ways.
I examined myself, then, and weighed my actions in an equal balance, without a favourable and partial indulgence: but yet, as I was persuaded I ought to do, without a rigour and severity that has no bounds, and directly and necessarily leads to despair and despondency: believing, that equity, mercy, and compassion, are branches of eternal righteousness, and some of the glories of that infinitely perfect Being who made the world. He certainly is not strict to mark iniquity: he knows all the weaknesses and disadvantages of his creatures, as well as the powers and advantages he has bestowed upon them. He does not equally resent involuntary and undesigned failings, and deliberate and wilful wickedness. He is ever ready to pardon the penitent, and accepts the sincere and upright, though they are not perfect.
Ås therefore I would confess and acknowledge all the offences I can descry, with hopes of finding favour with God; so would I humbly rejoice, and take satisfaction in every instance of virtuous conduct, hoping it may be graciously approved of and accepted by him to whom I am accountable; and who is greater than my heart, and knoweth all things.
4. "I thought on my ways." It may be herein implied, I have done it frequently.
"I thought on my ways:" This is a practice, which I have supposed to be incumbent on me. The heat of action, and the hurry and business of life, occasion much inconsideration; and various circumstances there are which throw
us off our guard: and temptations prevail before we are
Various are the temptations of this world: and my strong affections are apt to carry me beyond the bounds of reason. In the multitude of my words, in my many thoughts and actions, I fear there has not wanted some, if not much sin and folly. I have therefore thought it, in the course of my life, a fit and proper practice, frequently to review my conduct, and call myself to an account, and not to suffer any long space of time to pass without this exercise of my mind.
5. "I thought on my ways:" and when I did so, I carefully compared them with the rule of right; the reason of things, and the revealed will of God.
As already observed, I have recollected my past conduct; I have reviewed it seriously and deliberately; sincerely and impartially; and frequently laying hold of all fit opportunities for so doing: and whenever I did so, it was my concern, carefully to compare my actions by the rule of right; the reason of things, and the will of God, as revealed in his word.
I then observed the intrinsic excellence, and the beauty and comeliness of virtue, and all holiness; and the real evil and foul deformity of vice. I discerned the reasonableness and perfection of God's precepts: that what he commands is fit to be done, and that what he forbids ought to be avoided by every_rational being: "All the statutes of the Lord are right," Psal. xix. 8, and should be steadily regarded by his creatures. I perceived therefore, that all my thoughts and actions, which agreed not with the rule of God's word, were foolish and wicked, such as ought to be condemned by me, of which I have reason to be ashamed, and for which I now humble and abase myself. All such actions have been contrary to the will and pleasure of my sovereign, and unsuitable to the dignity of my nature. And all the while I have wandered from the right way of holiness and obedience to God, I have been weakening and sinking the powers of my mind, and have more and more indisposed myself for the enjoyment of true happiness.
6. "I thought on my ways:" and when I did so, I cousidered the several advantages I have enjoyed, and the peculiar obligations I have been under; and was thereby led to take notice of the many aggravations of my transgressions, and my defects.
Every thing contrary to truth, purity, and righteousness,
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 consequences 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." And ver. 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 ease 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 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