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one of the sharpest stings of poverty, that as it is pinched with wants at home, so it is met with scorn abroad. It is reckoned among the sharp sufferings of holy men”, that they suffered bitter mockings. Now, inen commonly return these in the same kind, that is, by the tongue, whereof David is here aware; he refrains himself even from good, not only from his just defence, but even from good and pious dis
We do so easily exceed in our words, that it is better sometimes to be wholly silent, than to speak that which is good; for our good borders so near upon evil
, and so easy is the transition from the one to the other, that though we begin to speak of God and good things, with a good intention, yet how quickly run we into another channel; passion and self having stolen in, turn us quite from the first design of our speech; and this chiefly in disputes and debates about religion, wherein though we begin with zeal for God, yet oft-times in the end, we testify nothing but our own passion, and sometimes we do lie one against another in defence of what we call the truth.
It cannot be denied, that, to an holy heart, it is a great violence to be shut up altogether from the speech of God. It burns within, especially in the time of affliction, as was the case of Jeremiah; Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name : but his word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I was weary with forbearing, and could not stay b; so is it here with David; therefore he breaks out; the fire burns upward, and he speaks to God,
Let this be our way, when we cannot find ease among men, to seek it in God; he knows the language of his children, and will not mistake it ; yea, where there may be somewhat of weakness and distemper, he will bear with it. In all your distresses, in all your moanings, go to him, pour out your tears to him; not only fire, but even water, where it a Heb. i.
Jerem. xx. 9.
wants a vent, will break upward ; these tears drop not in our own lap, but they fall on his, and he hath a bottle to put them in; if ye empty them there, they shall return in wine of strong consolation.
Ver. 4. Now David's request is, Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is, that I may know how frail I am.] In which he does not desire a response from God, about the day of his death, but instruction concerning the frailty and shortness of his life: but did not David know this? Yes, he knew it, and yet he desires to know it. It is very fit we ask of God that he would make us to know the things that we know, I mean, that what we know emptily and barely, we may know spiritually and fruitfully: if there be any measure of this knowledge, that it may increase and grow more.
We know that we are sinners, but that knowledge commonly produces nothing but cold, dry, and senseless confusion; but the right knowledge of sin would prick our hearts, and cause us to pour
them out before the Lord. We know that Jesus is the Saviour of sinners; it were fit to pray, that we knew more of him, so much of him as might make us shape and fashion our hearts to his like
We know we must die, and that it is no long course to the utmost period of life, yet our hearts are little instructed by this knowledge; how great need have we to pray this prayer with David here, or that with Moses, Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Did we indeed know and consider how quickly we shall pass from hence, it were not possible for us to cleave so fast to the things of this life; and, as foolish children, to wade in ditches, and fill our laps with mire and dirt; to prefer base earth and flesh to immortality and glory.
That I may know how frail I am.] Most part of men are foolish inconsiderate creatures, like unto the very beasts that perish", only they are capable of greater vanity and misery; but, in as irrational a c Psal. xc. 12.
d Psal. xlix. 12. VOL. II.
way, they toil on and hurry themselves in a multitude of business, by multitudes of desires, fears, and hopes, and know not whither all tends; but one well advised thought of this one thing would temper them in their hottest pursuits, if they would but think how frail they are, how vain a passing thing, not only these their particular desires and projects are, but they themselves, and their whole life. David prays that he may know his end : and his prayer is answered, Behold thou hast made my days as an hand-breadth If we were niore in requests of this kind, we should receive more speedy and certain answers. If this be our request, to know ourselves, our frailties and vanity, we shall know that our days are few and evil, both the brevity and vanity of them.
Ver. 5. Thou hast measured out my days as an hand-breadth.] That is one of the shortest measures; we need not long lines to measure our lives by, each one carries a measure about with him, his own hand, that is the longest and fullest measure.
It is not so much as a span; that might possibly have been the measure of old age in the infancy of the world, but now it is contracted to an hand-breadth, and that is the longest; but how many fall short of that? many attain not to a finger-breadth; multitudes pass from the womb to the grave; and how many end their course within the compass of childhood?
Whether we take this hand-breadth for the fourscore years, that is ordinarily the utmost extent of man's life in our days, or for the four times of our age, in which we use to distinguish it, childhood, youth, manhood, and old age; there are great numbers we see take up their lodging ere they come near the last of any of these, and few attain to the outmost border of them. All of us are but a handbreadth from death, and not so much: for many of us have passed a great part of that hand-breadth already, and we know not how little of it is behind. We use commonly to divide our lives by years,
e Verse 5.
months, weeks and days, but it is all but one day; there is the morning, noon, afternoon and evening; Man is as the grass that springs in the morning as for all the days that are past of our life, death hath them rather than we, and they are already in its possession; when we look back on them, they appear but as a shadow or dream, and if they be so to us, how much more short are they in the sight of God? So says David here, When I look on thee and thy eternity, mine age is as nothing before thee; what is our life, being compared to God, before whom a thousand years are but as one day, and less, like yesterday, when it is past, and that is but a thought! The whole duration of the world is but a point in respect of eternity; and how small a point is the life of man, even in comparison with that!
The brevity of our life is a very useful consideration; from it we may learn patience under all our crosses and troubles; they may be shorter than life, but they can be no longer. There are few that an affliction hath lain on all the days of their life; but though that were the case, yet a little time, and how quickly is it done! While thou art asleep there is a cessation of thy trouble; and, when awake, bemoaning and weeping for it, and for sin that is the cause of it, in the mean time it is sliding away. In all the bitter blasts that blow on thy face, thou who art a Christian indeed, mayst comfort thyself, in the thought of the good lodging that is before thee. To others it were the greatest comfort, that their afflictions in this life were lengthened out to eternity.
Likewise, this inay teach us temperance in these things that are called the good things of this world. Though a man had a lease of all these fine things the world can afford for his whole life, (which yet never any man that I know of had), what is it a feigned dream of an hour long. None of these things that now it takes so much delight in, will
f Psal. sc. 5.
accompany the cold lump of clay to the grave. Within a little while, those that are married and rejoice, shall be as if they rejoiced not $, nor ever had done it; and if they shall be so quickly, a wise man makes little difference, in these things, betwixt their presence and their absence.
This thought should also teach us diligence in our business. We have a short day, and much to do; it were fit to be up early, to remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth; and ye that are come to riper years, be advised to lay hold on what remains, ye know not how little it is.
The more you fill yourselves with the things of this life, the less desires you will have after those rivers of pleasure that are at God's right hand; those shall never run dry, but all these other things shall be dried up within a little space; at the furthest, when old age and death come, if not sooner. And on the other side, the more we deny ourselves the sensual enjoyments of a present world, we grow the liker to that divine estate, and are made the surer of it; and I am sure all will grant that this is a very gainful exchange.
Verily, every man at his best estate is altogether vanity.] It is no wonder that the generality of men are strangers to God, for they are strangers to themselves. The cure of both these evils is from the same hand. He alone can teach us what he is, and what we are ourselves. All know and see that their life is short, and themselves vanity. But this holy man thought it needful to ask the true notion of it from above, and he receives the measure of his life, even an hand-breadth. There is a common imposture among people, to read their fortunes by their hands; but this is true palmestry indeed, to read the shortness of our life upon the palms of our hands.
Our days are not only few, but we ourselves are vanity. Every man, even a godly man, as he is a partaker of this life, is not exempted from vanity,
di Cor, yii. 29.