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As, therefore, I had much rather hear David or any such eminent saint speak, than merely see the works or exercises of his body; so, much rather would I know the inmost thoughts of David's heart, and the inward conflicts and struggles of his faith. With this knowledge the Psalms furnish us most satisfactorily; so that from them we can know what he felt and what all the saints felt, under their temptations, from the ardent expressions and effusions which are uttered. For the human heart is like a ship in the midst of the sea, which is exposed to the perils of the winds and the waves on every side, and made as it were their sport. For as the ship is suddenly assaulted, so trouble, and the fear of future evil, like a sudden tempest, assaults and disarms our minds and then flow in cowardice of spirit, and sorrow of heart, which, like the waves, run over us and threaten to overwhelm us every moment. By and by, again, the confidence inspired by prosperity carries us up to heaven in full sail; and then, security under our present prospects dashes unexpectedly our ship against a rock. These, I say, and the numberless other evils and perils of this life, tend to arouse and stir up the saints, and teach and bring them to sigh and groan from the recesses within, to pour out their whole hearts, and to cry with their whole souls unto heaven. The complaints of those who thus grieve and groan in truth, are far more ardent than theirs' who only feign sorrows and straits of mind as the man, who feels joyful and glad in reality, discovers a far greater gladness, hilarity, and exultation in his countenance, expressions, and whole appearance, than he who only smoothes his brows with a feigned rejoicing.
The expressions contained in the Psalms, then, as
I have said, are uttered under the true and real feelings of the heart; and the greater part of them contain the pathetic and ardent utterances of the heart under every kind of affliction and temptation. But wherever the feelings of joy are described, you will never find the sensations of a heart, filled with gladness and exultation, more significantly and expressively described, than in the Psalms of thanksgiving, or the Psalms of praise. There you may look into the hearts of the saints, as into paradise, or into the opened heaven; and may see, in the greatest variety, all the beautiful and flourishing flowers, or the most brilliant stars, as it were, of their upspringing affections towards God for his benefits and blessings.
On the other hand, you will never find the straits, the sorrows, and the pains of a distressed mind any where described in a more expressive manner than in the Psalms of temptations, or of complaints; as in Psalm vi. and the like; where you see all dark and gloomy, all full of anguish and distress, under a sight and sense of divine wrath, and the working of despair.
And so again, where the Psalms are speaking of hope or fear, they so describe those feelings in their true and native colours, that no Demosthenes or Cicero could ever equal them in liveliness, or descriptiveness of expression. For, as I have before observed, the Psalms have this peculiarity of excellence above all other books of description,-that the saints, whose feelings and sensations are therein set forth, did not speak to the wind, under those their exercises and conflicts, nor to an earthly friend, but unto, and before, God himself, and in the sight of God. And it is this that above all things gives a seriousness, and reality to the feelings,-it is this that affects,
as it were, the very bones and the marrow,—when a creature feels itself speaking in the very sight and presence of its God! But when we are speaking otherwise, and complaining to a friend, or to a man only, our necessities are not so keenly and really felt; our feelings are not so ardent, real, and poignant.
The Book of Psalms, therefore, as it contains these real feelings of the saints, is a book so universally adapted and useful to all Christians, that whatever one that truly fears God may be suffering, or under what temptation soever he may be, he may find, in the Psalms, feelings and expressions exactly suited to his case; just as much so as if the Psalms had been indited and composed from his own personal afflictions.
It ought, therefore, godly soul, to be a great consolation to thee when the Psalms truly suit and delight thee. There is a saying of Quinctilian left on record, who says,' He that is truly delighted with Cicero may be assured that he has made a good progress: which I may not unappropriately turn thus, He that is really delighted with, and receives consolation from, the Psalms of David, may be assured that he has arrived at some knowledge and experience in divine things.' For when thou findest thyself under the same feelings that David was ; when the chords and strings of his harp are really re-echoed by the feelings and sensations of thy heart; thou mayest assure thyself that thou art in the congregation of the elect of God; seeing that thou art afflicted in the same manner as they were afflicted, and that thou prayest with the same faith, sensations, and affections as they prayed. Whereas, to a cold and frigid reader, destitute of faith, all these Psalms are insipid and unengaging.
Again, the Psalms are those parts of the lives of the saints, which you may most safely copy and imitate. Other lives and histories, which do not set forth the words and expressions, but certain works of the saints, contain many things of the saints which we cannot imitate, such as certain signs and wonders, and demonstrations of divine power. And indeed some of the recorded works of those who are considered to have been saints, are such that you cannot imitate them without eminent peril; being such works as cause sects and heresies, and draw us away from the unity of the Spirit; of which we have abundant proof in monkery. But the Psalms call us away from all sects and divisions, to the unity of the Spirit. They teach us to maintain fear in prosperity, and not to cast away our hope in adversity; and thus to be of the same mind, to have the same desires, and to have the same feelings and sensations with all the saints.
In a word, if you desire to see the Christian church painted forth, as it were, in a most beautiful picture, and in the most lively and descriptive colours, then take the Psalms into thy hands; this will be as an all-clear mirror, which will represent to thee the whole church in its true features; and if thou be one that fears God it will present to thee a true picture of thyself: so that, according to the maxim of the philosopher of old, γνωθι σεαυτον, thou wilt, by this book, come to a true knowledge of thyself, nay, and also of God and all creatures.
Let us therefore watch over our hearts, and see that we be thankful in this our day for this revelation of the word, for this unspeakable gift of God. Let us use these precious gifts to the glory of God, and the good of our neighbour, lest we be made to suffer
the deserved punishment of our ingratitude. For not many years ago, during that barbarous blindness and ignorance, what a treasure should we have had, if we had possessed one Psalm only, really and truly understood and set forth; but we had not so much as one! And now we are blessed with such an abundance of revelation-"Blessed therefore are the eyes which see the things that we see, and the ears which hear the things that we hear." But how do I fear lest, like the Israelites in the desert, we should at length nauseate this manna and say, "Our souls loathe this light food." But however, the despisers of the word shall bear their judgment, whoever they are, even as the Israelites bore the awful judgments wherewith God punished them. But may the Father of all mercies and the God of all consolation, keep and increase in us the knowledge of his word, for Jesus Christ our Lord's sake to whom, for this Book of Psalms, and for all the excellent gifts which he has richly bestowed upon us, be praise and glory, for ever and ever! Amen!