Mining the Riches of Manton #5: A Helpful Way to Find God’s Path to Blessedness

December 5, 2009

There are two ways to err in thought, word or deed.  You can go above and beyond what God requires or you can fall short of it.  From classical times the possibility of excess or defect has been an important part of moral philosophy/theology.  The Scriptures express this principle in Deuteronomy 5:32 – ““Therefore you shall be careful to do as the LORD your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.” (cf. Deut. 17:20; Joshua 1:7; 23:6)  It is the commendation of young King Josiah that “ he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.”  (II Chronicles 34:2)  Manton’s discussion of what it means to ‘walk undefiled in the way of God’s commandments’ is structured according to excess and defect.

First he counsels his hearers that they “not act short.”  People do so by establishing a different standard than God’s.  There are many “false rules.”

(1)  ‘Good intentions’ is a false rule.  M. uses an argument ad absurdum to prove the point.  Men persecuted the Church and opposed Christ’s Kingdom through good intentions.  John 16:2 – “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.”  This is to make “a blind conscience” your guide.

(2)  The customs and example of others are a false rule.  M. cites Matthew 7:13 – “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it,” and comments, “The path to hell is most beaten; we are not always to follow the track; they are dead fish which swim down the stream:  we are not to be led away with custom and example, and do as others do.”

(3)  Our own desires and inclinations are not our rule.  M. writes very pointedly, “Oh, how miserable should we be if lust were our law…”   (cf. Jude 16)

(4)  The laws of men are not our rule.  “Men make laws as tailors do garments, to fit the crooked bodies of those they serve, to suit the whims of the people to be governed by these laws.”  He goes on to enunciate a fundamental difference between God’s moral law and the civil laws of nations:  “It is God’s prerogative to give a law to the conscience and the renewed motions of the heart.  Human laws are good to establish converse with man, but too short to establish communion with God.  Since the goal is blessedness, God’s rule must be followed.

Second he counsels his hearers that they ‘may not act over.’  He has in mind “superstitious and apocryphal holiness” which is not only contrary to true holiness, but is destructive of it.  “It is a temporary flesh-pleasing religion which consists in conforming to outward rites and ceremonies and external mortifications, such as is practiced by the Papists and formalists, ‘after the commandments and doctrines of men.’(Colossians 2:23)”   M. writes, “God will not thank them that give more than He requires.”

He concludes by writing, “Excess is monstrous, as well as defect.  Therefore still we must consult with the law and rule, that we may not come short or over.”  His discussion of these matters is very typical of Puritan teaching.  It is a pithy and memorable way to keep alert to the ways Satan seeks to undermine true godliness.  Caveat Lector!  JOB

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