The worst is the not the loss of any outward thing.
What is the most pernicious and destructive evil which a man is in danger of? Not the loss of any outward good things whatsoever, for they are all in their nature perishable; we enjoy them on the very condition of parting with them again; no wisdom can keep them: “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats; but God shall destroy both it and them,” 1 Cor. 6:13. Not the suffering of any outward troubles, which the best of men have suffered and triumphed over.
The greatest danger is the loss of the soul.
But the greatest loss is the loss of a precious soul, which is more worth than all the world, Matt. 16:26; and the greatest suffering is the wrath of God on the conscience, Psal. 90:11; Isa. 33:14; Heb. 10:31; Matt. 10:28. Therefore, to avoid this danger, and to snatch this “darling from the paw of the lion,” is of all other the greatest wisdom. It is wisdom to deliver a “city,” Eccl. 9:15; much more to deliver “souls,” Prov. 11:30. Angelical, seraphical knowledge, without this, is all worth “nothing,” 1 Cor. 13:1, 2.
How to show ourselves wise.
Therefore we should learn to show ourselves wise indeed, by attendance on God’s word. If the most glorious creatures for wisdom and knowledge that ever God made, the blessed angels, were employed in publishing the law of God, Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19, and did with great admiration “look into” the mysteries of the gospel, and stoop down with their faces towards the mercy-seat, 1 Pet. 1:12; Eph. 3:10; Exod. 37:9; it cannot but be also our chiefest wisdom to hide the word in our hearts, and to make it our companion and “counsellor,” Psal. 119:24. We esteem him the wisest man who follows the best and safest counsel, and that which will most preserve and promote his interest, his honour, and his conscience. Herein was Rehoboam’s weakness, that by rash and passionate counsels he suffered his honour to be stained, his interest to be weakened, and his conscience to be defiled with resolutions of violence and injustice.
There is no counsel to be compared
Now there is no counsel to be compared with that of God’s word. It enlightens the eyes, it “maketh wise the simple,” Psal. 19:7, 8. It is able to make a man “wise” for himself, and “unto salvation,” which no other counsel can do, 2 Tim. 3:15, 16. No case can be put, though of never so great intricacy and perplexity, no doubt so difficult, no temptation so knotty and involved, no condition where-into a man can be brought so desperate, no employment so dark and uncouth, no service so arduous or full of discouragements, in all which, so far as respects conscience and salvation, there are not most clear and satisfactory expedients to be drawn out of God’s word, if a man have his judgment and senses after a spiritual manner exercised therein.
The difficulty with understanding lies in us
That we are so often at a stand how to state such a question, how to satisfy such a scruple, how to clear and expedite such a difficulty, how to repel such a temptation, how to manage such an action, how to order our ways with an even and composed spirit in the various conditions whereinto we are cast in this world, arises not from any defect in the word of God, which is “perfect,” and able to furnish us “unto every good work,” but only from our own ignorance and imperfect acquaintance with it, who know not how to draw the general rule, and to apply it to our own particular cases.
The sorrow of conflict
And this cannot but be matter of great humiliation to us in these sad and distracted times, when, besides our civil breaches, which threaten desolation to the state, there are so many and such wide divisions in the church; that, after so long enjoyment of the word of God, the Scripture should be to so many men as a sealed book, and they, like the Egyptians, have the dark side of this glorious pillar towards them still; that men should be “tossed to and fro” like children, “and carried about with every wind of doctrine,” and suffer themselves to be bewitched, devoured, brought into bondage, spoiled, led away captive, unskilful in the word of righteousness, unable to discern good and evil, to prove and “try the spirits whether they are of God,” always learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth; and this not only in matters problematical, or circumstantial, wherein learned and godly men may differ from one another, and yet still the peace and unity of the church be preserved, (for things of this nature ought not to be occasions of schism, or secessions from one another,) but in matters which concern life and godliness, touching the power of God’s law, the nature of free grace, the subjection of the conscience to moral precepts, confession and deprecation of sin in prayer to God; the distinguishing true Christian liberty from loose, profane, and wanton licentiousness, and a liberty to vent and publish what perverse things soever men please; the very being of churches, of ministers, of ordinances, in the world; the necessity of humiliation and solemn repentance in times of public judgments; the toleration of all kinds of religions in Christian commonwealths; the mortality of the reasonable soul, and other the like pernicious and perverse doctrines of men of corrupt minds, (the devil’s emissaries,) purposely by him stirred up to hinder and puzzle the reformation of the church.
A cause for humiliation
These things, I say, cannot but be matter of humiliation to all that fear God, and love the prosperity of Zion; and occasions the more earnestly to excite them to this wisdom in the text, to hear what God the Lord says, and to lay his righteous ways so to heart, as to walk stedfastly in them, and never to stumble at them, or fall from them.
Edward Reynolds, “Israel’s Prayer in Time of Trouble, with God’ Gracious Answer Thereunto an Explication of the Fourteenth Chapter of Hosea,” in An Expostion of the Prophecy of Hosea, ed. James Sherman (Edinburgh; London: James Nichol; James Nisbet & Co., 1863), 680–681.