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PREACHED UPON THE PENITENTIAL PSALMS.
PSALM xxxii. 7.
Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt
compass me about with songs of deliverance.
As rhetoric is said to be a fist extended and displayed into an open hand, and logic a hand re-collected, and contracted into a fist; so the church of God may be said to be a soul dilated and diffused into many congregations, and a soul may be said to be the church contracted and condensed into one bosom. So not only the Canticle of Solomon is taken indifferently by the ancient and later expositors, by some for an epithalamium, and marriage song between Christ and his church, by others, for the celebration of the same union between every Christian soul and him, but also many other places of Scripture have received such an indifferent interpretation, and are left in suspense, whether they be to be understood of the church in general, or of particular souls; and of this nature and number is this text, Thou art my hiding place, &c. For St. Hierome takes these words (and the whole psalm) to be spoken collectively, others distributively; he in the person of the church, they of every, or at least of some particular souls. To examine their reasons is unnecessary, and would be tedious; it will ask less time, and afford more profit to consider the words both ways. In them therefore, considered twice over, we shall see a threefold state of the Christian church, and a threefold mercy exhibited by God to overy Christian soul. First, we shall
see the church under the clouds, in her low estate, in her obscurity, in her inglorious state of contempt and persecution, and yet then supported by an assurance that God overshadowed her, Tu absconsio, tu latibulum, Thou art my hiding place; and in that first part we shall consider the state of a timorous soul, a soul that for fear of temptations dares scarce look into the world, or embrace a profession. Secondly, we shall see the church emancipated, enfranchised, unfettered, unmanacled, delivered from her obscure and inglorious state, and brought to splendour, and beauty, and peace, and blessing God in that acknowledgment, Thou shalt preserce me from trouble. And in that part, we shall consider the state of that soul exalted to a 'holy confidence and assurance, that though she come into the world, and partake of the dangers thereof, in opening herself to such temptations, as do necessarily and inseparably accompany every calling, yet the Lord will preserve her from trouble. And thirdly and lastly, we shall see a kind of triumphant state in the church in this world, a holy exultation, God shall compass her with songs of deliverance. In which part, we shall also see the blessed state of that soul which is come, not to a presumptuous security, but to modest certainty of continuing in the same state still. And these will be our three parts in these words, as they receive a public accommodation to the church, and a more particular application to ourselves.
We enter into these considerations, with this observation, that as God himself is eternal and cannot be considered in the distinction of times, so hath that language in which God hath spoken in his written word, the Hebrew, the least consideration of time of any other language. Evermore in expressing the mercies of God to man, it is an indifferent thing to the Holy Ghost whether he speak in the present, or in the future, or in the time that is past : what mercies soever he hath given us, he will give us over again ; and whatsoever he hath done, and will do, he is always ready to do at the present. This verse is especially an exultation for mercies past, and yet the two last clauses are delivered in the future, Thou shalt preserve me, Thou shalt compass me, and the first is delivered without any limitation at all; the present word, Thou art, is but inserted by our translators;
in the original it is only, Tu refugium, Thou my hiding place, there is no fuisti, nor es, nor eris, that he was, or is, or will be so, but it is an expressing of a perpetual and everlasting mercy, for his mercy endureth for ever,
First then, this is an acknowledgment of the church, contemplating herself in her low estate ; for the word sether implies, Tu absconsio, Though I were in the dark, it was thou that didst overshadow me, though I were in danger, it was thou that didst hide me from them. This the church hath had occasion to say more than once; once in the primitive plantation thereof, and again in her reformation : at both times God showed mercy to her that way, in hiding her.
First then God hid the primitive church from the eye of envy, by keeping her poor; and from the eye of jealousy and suspicion, by keeping her in an humble devotion towards him. But yet even her poverty, and her humility hid her not so, but that persecution found her out, and raged so against her, as that those emperors which raised the ten persecutions against the church, seem to have laboured to have gone beyond God in the ten plagues of Egypt, and to have done more at Rome than he did there. All the power of the Roman world was bent against Christians; more home-Christians slain than foreign enemies. All the criminal justice of the world bent upon them; all other men's crimes, even Nero's burning of Rome, imputed to the Christians. All the wit of the world bent against them; all their epigrammatists, and satirists, having their wits exalted, with rage, with wine, with rewards, to multiply libels, and calumnies, and defamations upon the Christians. All the mechanics of that world bent against them; all the engineers employed to invent racks and tortures for the Christians. Truly, if I were to work upon heathen men, Western Americans, or Eastern Chinese, for their conversion to Christ, I should scarce adventure to propose to them the histories of the martyrs of the primitive church, because to men that had no taste of religion before, they would rather seem fables than truths; and I should as soon be believed, that a virgin had a son, or in any main article of our religion, as that man could inflict, or that man could bear such things, as we are sure the martyrs in the primitive church