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Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
WE are come to the third petition, which is fitly subjoined to the former. In the preface we own our relation to God, ‘Our Father.’ In the first petition we express our care of his glory; in the second, our desires of his kingdom; and now we beg obedience to his will. We may judge of our respect to his name and kingdom by our obedience to his will, without which we neither sanctify his name nor submit to his kingdom. The kingdom of God implieth two things, his government over us, or the privileges which we enjoy thereby.
1. As it is taken for his government over us, so there is a fair connexion between these two requests. Before, we pray that God would rule us, and now, for a soft and pliable heart, that we may be ruled by him. Christ is not our king when we do our own will. These two are distinct; government is one thing, and obedience to it another: as, Mat. vi. 33, ‘The kingdom of God,’ and ‘the righteousness thereof,’ they are distinguished. The kingdom of God we plead for in the second petition, and here for the righteousness thereof; that Christ may not be a titular prince and sovereign, as certainly he is, when we do our own will. Every sovereign stands upon his own will, and the more absolute, still the more his will is to be looked upon as a law and rule. Now, God being so absolute a sovereign, it is but fit his will should be done in the perfectest manner: ‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.’
2. If you take the kingdom of God for the privileges of his government, especially if they be considered in their consummation and final accomplishment, for that which the scripture calls the kingdom of God, by doing God’s will we enter into his kingdom: see Mat. vii. 21 , ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.’ It is not the blandishment of a spiritual compliment, but a true and hearty subjection to the will of God, that availeth in God’s kingdom, and is intended by this petitionary clause, ‘Thy will be done.’
I. The substance of the petition.
II. The circumstances thereof.121
The substance of the petition, ‘Thy will be done.’ The circum stances are two: The place where, which indeed intimateth the persons by whom, by men here ‘upon earth’ Then the manner is set down in a comparison, ‘Upon earth, as it is in heaven.’
Let me first open these passages, then observe somewhat.
I. The substance of the petition, ‘Thy will be done;’ and there:—
1. The matter about which it is conversant, the will of God.
2. The request about it, Thy will be done.
First, The matter of the request, Thy will. God’s name was under consideration in the first petition, his kingdom in the second, and now his will. And then here is a note of appropriation, Thy will, in contradistinction to all others.
God’s will, it signifieth two things, either his decree concerning future events, or else that which God hath revealed concerning our duty—his intended or commanded will. The first is spoken of, Rom. ix. 19, ‘Who hath resisted his will?’ that is, his decree and his purpose; and the second, his revealed pleasure concerning our duty, is spoken of, 1 Thes. iv. 3, ‘This is the will of God, even your sanctification.’ The will not of his purpose, but it is his law, his revealed pleasure. Now it is not meant here of God’s decree or secret will. Why? God’s secret will, that is not known, therefore how can it be done upon earth? To that all are subject,—reprobates, devils. But here this petition speaks of a will which is to be done in conformity to the good angels. Again, we may, without sin, will that which God wills not by his secret will, as the life of a sick parent, which God purposeth to take away. Nay, a man may fulfil this secret will and yet perish for ever, as Judas, and many which break his commandments and yet fulfil his decrees, that do that which God had deter mined before to be done in his secret purpose; as it is said, Acts iv. 28, ‘To do that which his hand and counsel had determined before to be done.’ Therefore his secret will is not here meant, but the will of God revealed. Therefore let me here distinguish again: The will of God is revealed two ways, in his word and in his works; the one to be done by us, the other to be done upon us: the one is Voluntas de nobis, God’s will concerning us; the other, Voluntas in nobis, God’s will in us, and to be done by us; the one maketh way for our active, the other for our passive obedience. Our active obedience hath respect to his laws and commands, but our passive to his providence. We show as much obedience in the one as in the other, in patience as in holiness: for as in holiness we own God as the supreme lawgiver, so in patience we own him as the supreme Lord, that hath a dominion over all events and all things which fall out in the world. In the one, we pray Ut nihil Dei displiceat nobis, that nothing which comes from God may provoke us to unseemly passion; in the other, we pray Ut nihil nostrum displiceat Deo, that nothing which comes from us may provoke God by unseemly and undutiful carriage. We principally pray for the latter here, that we may fulfil his will revealed in the word, and yet the other cannot be excluded. Take but this reason, because the saints in scripture express their subjection to God’s providence in words very agreeable to this request, to the form of this petition; as those believers, when they saw God had determined Paul’s 122journey to Jerusalem, when he went bound in the Spirit, notwithstanding the dangers of it, and their loss by his departure, they said, ‘The will of the Lord be done.’ Acts xxi. 14. And Christ himself, speaking of his passion, Mat. xxvi. 39, ‘Not as I will, but as thou wilt: ‘and ‘not my will, but thine, be done.’ Luke xxii. 42. So that we pray both for the one and the other, though with a plain difference. Why? For our active obedience must be even without a conditional desire that the commands of God should be repealed; we cannot so much as desire God should disannul his law, and repeal those statutes he hath enacted. Yet we may desire conditionally, if God see fit, the removal of our affliction, and that condition of life to which we are determined by his providence: ‘The commandment is not grievous’ in itself, 1 John v. 3, yet the affliction in its own nature is grievous, Heb. xii. 11. We may desire more knowledge of God’s law, yet we may not desire more experience of affliction; the one is more absolutely necessary than the other. We are not only to obey actively, but to love the commandments of God, and to have our hearts carried out in a greater esteem, and to prefer them before liberty itself; but I doubt whether we are so concerning our afflictions, to prefer them before freedom and exemption, and the welfare of our nature.
Well, then, you see what is meant by the will of God, which is the matter about which this is conversant.
Then here is the note of appropriation, Thy will, in opposition to our own will, the will of Satan, the wills of men.
[1.] To our own will, which is the proudest enemy Christ hath on this side hell, and the cause of all the mischief which doth befall us. The great contest between us and God is, whose will shall stand, God’s will, or ours? In every sin we slight the will of God, and set up our own. We ‘despise the commandment.’ 2 Sam. xii. 9: not grossly and formally; David did not slight the commandment, and say, ‘Tush! it is a foolish law;’ but by necessary interpretation we slight the law of God, and set up our own will. Therefore, when we pray that God’s will may be done, we do in effect renounce our own will, those ‘wills of the flesh and mind,’ Eph. ii. 3, which the apostle speaks of; so it is in the Greek. The soul is never renewed until the will be renewed, till the will be broken. And therefore self-denial is made one of the first principles of Christianity, the denying of our own will. The will is the leading part of the soul. Though the new creature begins with the mind, yet it comes not to any perfection, it is not formed until the will be subdued to God, until grace be seated in the heart. When a man treadeth on a dry hide, one part or other will be apt to rebound and leap up against him, till he stands in the middle and centre: so, until grace be seated in the heart, corruption will recoil. When a bird’s wings are broken, it can fly no longer; so when the will is subdued, then the work of grace begins. The mind is the counsellor, but the will is the monarch and prince, which sways and rules all in the soul. Again, the will is more corrupted than the mind; the understanding is much blinded, but the will is more depraved. The mind hath a little light, and is apt to take God’s part sometimes, by suggesting good motions; but the will doth more abhor and refuse good than the understanding is ignorant of it. “We are convinced often 123when not converted. Therefore this is the main thing, that our corrupt wills may be subdued to God: Let thy will be done, not our own.
[2.] Thy will, in opposition to Satan’s will. Our lusts are called his lusts: John viii. 44, ‘The lusts of your father the devil ye will do.’ They are of his inspiring, of his cherishing; the grand incubus of hell is the father of these brats and sinful productions. So, 2 Tim. ii. 26, the Holy Ghost speaks of carnal men, that they are ‘taken captive by Satan at his will ‘and pleasure.’ Wicked men are at Satan’s beck, and they do his will. The devil sets such a lust at work, the man obeys presently: the devil stirs such lusts by his arts and engines, and observes such a lust will be most prevalent at such a time; the man is taken by Satan’s will. Now, Thy will, &c., we desire the Lord’s grace, that we may not comply with the devil’s motions.
[3.] Thy will, in opposition to the wills of men: 1 Pet. iv. 2, ‘That he no longer should live to the lusts of men, but to the will of God;’ not according to the wills of men, but according to the will of God. In our natural state we are apt to be swayed by the lusts and humours of others, according as the posture of our interest is determined; and therefore it is a good piece of self-denial to cease from the lusts of men, from the humours and customs of those whom we fear and from whom we hope. And until we cease from men, in vain do we expect to serve God.
Thus for the matter about which this request is conversant, ‘Thy will.’
Secondly, Here is the request itself, Be done; what doth this imply, when we say, ‘Let thy will be done’?
[1.] We beg a heart to do it: Deut. v. 29, ‘Oh that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always!’ It is not enough to set ourselves to do what God hath commanded; but we must get a renewed, sanctified heart.
[2.] We beg skill to do it: Ps. cxliii. 10, ‘Teach me to do thy will, for thou art my God.’ We beg that God would teach us, and lead us forth in the obedience of his will.
[3.] We beg strength to do it. It is said, Heb. xiii. 21, ‘The God of peace, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work, to do his will.’ We beg strength, that we may do what is pleasing in his sight. In our will there is a double mischief; it is opposite to and averse from God: Rom. viii. 7, ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.’ And it is strongly inclined to other things; and this both by nature and by evil custom. There is an aversion from God, which is natural, and which is increased by custom; therefore it is God must give us a heart to do his will, and skill and strength. Thus God he must draw us off from other things, which is called the ‘circumcising of the heart.’ Deut. xxx. 6. He must draw us off, and he must draw us on too. As he pares away the foreskin, the fleshiness which cleaves to our hearts, and inclineth us to seek our own will, in hunting after pleasures, honours, profits: so doth the Lord draw us to himself: Cant. i. 4, ‘Draw me, and we will run after thee.’
II. Let us come to the circumstances of the petition, ‘In earth, as it is in heaven.’124
First, The place, wherein also the persons are noted, in earth, that is, by the men which live upon earth. Why is this mentioned, on earth?
[1.] The earth is a place of our exercise and trial, and now is the time to show our self-denial and our obedience to God, to deny our own will and do the will of God: John xvii. 4, ‘I have glorified thee upon earth.’ This is a work that must not be suspended until we come to heaven; it will not be thankworthy then, when there is no interruption, no trouble, no molestation there: but here, ‘I have glorified thee on earth,’ where so few mind the work, and where there are so many distractions and temptations to divert us.
[2.] The earth is the only place where this work is begun, or else it shall never be done hereafter: instance in anything that is the will of God. Here we must believe, or there we shall never enjoy: Luke ii. 14, ‘Peace upon earth.’ Now God offereth grace, and now it is his will we should come out of our sins, and accept of Christ to the ends for which he hath appointed him. And here we must be sanctified, else we shall be filthy for evermore. Corn grows in the field, but it is laid up in the barn. Now is the time of minding this work, here upon earth.
[3.] That while we are upon earth, we might long for that happy estate we shall have in heaven, wherein we might serve God. Therefore Christ in his prayer would have us think how God is glorified and obeyed there, that we might send up hearty wishes after that perfect estate, when we shall serve God without weariness, and without distraction.
[4.] Upon earth, to show that we pray not for those in the other world, but for those upon earth. We do not pray for the saints departed, they are out of harm’s way, past our prayers, being in their final estate. We pray not for the dead, but for the living. Thus for the first circumstance in this petition, the place where.
Secondly, There remains nothing but the last, and that is the manner how this is to be done: ‘As it is in heaven.’ Chrysostom observes that this clause may be referred to all the former petitions: ‘Hallowed be thy name upon earth, as it is in heaven;’ ‘Thy kingdom come upon earth, as it is in heaven.’ But certainly most proper it is to the matter in hand. But what is the sense? How is God obeyed in heaven?
There are in scripture three heavens, the airy heaven, the starry heaven, and the heaven of heavens. In all these heavens God’s will is done. God is obeyed in the lower heaven, you shall see in Ps. cxlviii. 8, ‘fire, hail, snow, and vapours, stormy winds, fulfilling his word.’ Winds and storms, and all those things which seem to be most tempestuous and unruly, to be the disorders of nature, they are at God’s beck. Then in the starry heaven, ver. 6, ‘He hath made a decree which shall not pass: ‘they are under a law and statute, and are not exorbitant and eccentric, do not alter their path; the sun riseth, sets, and knows the just point of his compass. But it is chiefly meant of the heaven of heavens, where angels and blessed spirits are, and they obey God perfectly: Ps. ciii. 20, 21, ‘Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, 125hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless ye the Lord, all ye his hosts, ye ministers of his that do his pleasure.’ The angels do his commandments, and are hearkening to the voice of his word, are at God’s beck, to be sent up and down, to ascend and descend as God will have them; so with respect to this doth Christ say, ‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.’
But here, again, why is this added, As it is in heaven?
1. To sweeten our subjection to God’s will. We upon earth are not held to a harder law and task than they in heaven. The angels, they are not sui juris, at their own dispose: they have many privileges above man, yet have no exemption from homage and duty to God. They have an exemption and freedom from trouble, and sickness, and disease, and the necessities of meat and drink, and all the molestations and infirmities of the flesh which we lie under, but are not freed from the will of God, but they obey his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word. These courtiers of heaven are servants of God, and fellows with us in the same obedience; none is too great to obey God. The angels, which excel in strength, they obey his will, and so must we; nay, they obey his will with a holy awe and fear, that they may not displease him in the least; for it is said of Michael the archangel, Jude 9, that ‘he durst not bring against the devil a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.’ He had not boldness to speak one uncomely word, ‘or one unseemly word, to do anything that was displeasing to God.
2. As to sweeten our obedience, so to show us the reasonableness of this obedience. We would have the happiness of the angels, and, therefore, certainly we should come into a fellowship in their duty; it is but equal we should imitate their holiness. If we would have communion with them in glory, we should have communion also with them in grace. Mat. xxii. 30, it is said, we shall be ἰσάγγελοι, ‘like the angels of God.’ We seek after the same glory and happiness which they have: to stand before the Lord and to behold his face; that is their happiness. Surely if we would have the reward of angels, which we upon earth are aspiring and looking after, it is but equal we should do the work of angels, and write after their copy.
3. Therefore doth Christ use this comparison, that we might not miscarry by a low example. How apt are we to follow the track, and to take up with an easy and low rate of obedience: Luke xviii. 11, that put great confidence in that, ‘God, I thank thee I am not as other men.’ Now because we have few good examples in the world, and those we have have their spots and defects, and are very susceptible of evils, and apt to miscarry by them, therefore Christ would carry us up to look after a heavenly and celestial pattern; he propoundeth the angelical perfection as a pattern and example. He that shoots at a star, will shoot higher than he that aims at a shrub: surely the higher the pattern that we aim at, the greater will our obedience be. Wicked men they think that everything is enough in religion, though it be never so little; but the godly cannot so easily satisfy themselves, they are pressing and hastening on more and more.
4. To teach us that we are not only to look to the quid, but to the quomodo; not only to what we do, but also in what manner we yield 126obedience to God; therefore Christ would not teach us to pray only, ‘Thy will be done,’ but ‘as it is in heaven,’ in such a manner. God respects not only the doing of what he hath required, but also the manner of it, that we may not only do good, but well; it is the adverb which crowns the action. We are to consider with what heart we go about it: Prov. xvi. 2, ‘The Lord weigheth the spirits.’ That which he putteth into the balance of the sanctuary is, with what spirit, with what heart, we go about the work; that is it he weigheth and regardeth. Now that we may look not only to the matter of obedience, but also to the manner how we do it, therefore doth Christ give us this pattern.
Object. But you will say, Our obedience is accompanied with many defects and infirmities; therefore, how can we serve God as the angels do in heaven? How shall we take comfort in our obedience if this be our pattern?
1. Though we cannot do it in the same measure, yet we should do it in the same manner; though there be not an exact equality, yet there should be some answerable resemblance. Our obedience should not be wholly different in the kind and manner of it from theirs which serve God in heaven, though for the degree and rate we cannot come up to their pattern.
2. Though we do not attain to this perfection in this life, yet we must aim after it, long for it, and pray for it. Aim after it, not sluggishly content ourselves with any low degrees of obedience, but aim at the highest. And to long for it: there is a time coming when we shall be perfect; when we shall be not only as the angels are, but as Christ is: ‘We shall be like him,’ 1 John iii. 2. And we pray for that on earth which is expected in heaven; we pray for what we do expect from the final and consummate estate, when we shall be as the angels of God, and perfectly do his will.
I come to the points; they are three:—
1. It concerns them very much that would in prayer own God as a father, and pretend a respect to his glory and kingdom, to see that his will be done here upon earth.
2. It is the Lord that giveth to will and to do those things which are pleasing in his sight.
3. God doth not only look to this, that his will be done, but to the manner how it is done.
I. It concerneth them very much that would in prayer own God as a father, and pretend a respect to his glory and kingdom, to see that his will be done here upon earth.
I shall prove it:—
First, By the arguments intimated in the point.
1. As we pray to God, we should see his will be done, upon a double account—as real and successful.
[1.] As we would express a reality and sincerity in prayer. They mock God that pray they might do his will, yet have no care to do it, that declaim against their lusts, yet hug them and keep them warm in their bosoms. We oftener pray from our memories than our consciences, and oftener from our consciences than our affections. 127From our memory, as we repeat words by rote, without sense, or feeling, or consideration of the importance of them. From our consciences, rather than affections. Austin observes of himself: while he was under the power of his lusts he would pray against concupiscence, but his heart would say, At noli modo, timebam enim ne me exaudiret Deus; ‘But, Lord, not yet; for I am afraid lest God should hear me.’ Conscience tells us that such things must be done and asked; thus we put a little of our conscience in prayer, but nothing of affection and serious desire. Many would be loth God should take them at their words, when they seem to resign up them selves to his will, and think of parting with their lusts; it is bitter and irksome to them: as Phaltiel, Michal’s husband, ‘went after her, going and weeping.’ 2 Sam. iii. 16. Now if we would manifest our prayers to be real, we should labour to perform the same; otherwise we are but like those soldiers which spat upon Christ and buffeted him, yet cried, ‘Hail, King of the Jews;’ so it is but a mockage to say, ‘Thy will be done,’ yet have no care to do it: Mat. xv. 8, ‘This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.’ There is no reality in the prayer, whatever be in it, if the heart be not in it. Some men’s prayers are but the fruit of wit and memory; others but the result of their judgments, what is fit to be done, rather than of their hearts, what they desire to be done: and they are only good so far as they do more solemnly express God’s right, not their inward desires.
[2.] If we would have our prayers successful. Ps. lxvi. 18, ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.’ Clearly, if we will not do God’s will, there is no reason he should regard our will. If I regard iniquity in my heart, there may be sin in the heart; but if I regard it there, God will not hear me, if I entertain an affection to it. When the wind blows, some cold air will get into the chamber, though the door be shut never so close; but to leave the door open for it doth not argue such a care of health as is requisite. There will be sin in the children of God, but it is not allowed. Love to any known sin makes our prayers to God to be without success. So Prov. xxviii. 9, ‘He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.’ God useth often the law of retaliation, will pay home sinners in their own coin: we will not hear him, therefore he will not hear us. The same argument we have to urge to God in prayer, that God hath to urge to us for duty and obedience. What argument will you use to awaken your confidence and affection?’ By the blood of Christ we have boldness to come to him,’ Heb. x. 19, and Eph. iii. 12. This is not only an argument to be urged in expectation of mercy, but also in the enforcement of duty, when God beseecheth you by the bowels of Christ to do his will, and to mind his work. If the blood of Christ cannot prevail with us, to bring us up to the will of God, how can we expect it should prevail with God to bring us in returns of blessing? When God speaks we slight him, therefore when we speak God may cast off our prayers.
God speaks more wisely to us than we can to him; we stammer, and lisp, and speak foolishly in our prayers to God. There is far more 128reason why we should hear God than God hear us; for there is more equity in his precepts than there is reason in our prayers, and we are bound to obey God’s will more than he is to grant our request; and therefore if we would not have God turn away his ear from our prayers, we should not turn away our ears from hearing his law and counsel: John ix. 31, ‘Now we know that God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.’ It is a general maxim, Those which were ready to deprave Christ’s actions were possessed of the truth of this: ‘If any man worship him, and do his will, him he heareth,’ John ix. 31. It is not enough to keep up a form of worshipping, but we must be tender of his will; that is the way to get a gracious answer. Thus as we pray we are bound.
2. As God’s children, so we must do his will: Mal. i. 6, ‘If I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear?’ Relations to God are not bare titles and grounds, whereby we may expect favour from God; but they carry in their bosom obligations to duty on our part. Many will give God good words and fair titles, but there is no care had of complying with his will. Nay, your owning that relation will aggravate your sin, and be a witness against you. You owned me your father, and have not done my will. So Mat. xii. 50, ‘Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.’ These may be sure of a comfortable relation to God, and that God will own them in that claim, when they make it their business to do his will; otherwise you reproach God rather than worship him. When you do your own will, and call God Father, you lay the devil’s brats at his door; you pretend to God, and take his name upon you; therefore those that say, ‘Our Father,’ must also say, ‘Thy will be done.’
3. Those that would have respect to God’s glory must do his will. This is the honour of God, when you are at his command. God gloried in Abraham; rather Cyrus than Abraham is there meant, as the context shows: see Isa. xlvi. 11. Isa. xli. 2, ‘The man from the east, whom I have called to my foot.’ When you are at his beck, ready to go step by step with God, as God leads you, you are ready to follow. It was the honour of the centurion that had his soldiers at such a command, that ‘when he said to one, Go, he went; and to another, Come, and he came,’ Mat. viii. So it is God’s honour, when he can bid you do nothing but you are ready to obey, though with the greatest hazard and loss of all.
4. Our subjection to his kingdom. God stands upon his authority. What is a king without obedience? Christ is never received as king but where his will is obeyed, otherwise we mock him with an empty title. The high priest’s servants said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews,’ in mockage; thus it is to own him as king, when we will not yield obedience. Then do we desire that his kingdom may come indeed and in power, when we resolve to do his will, to love as God will have us, and hate, fear, and hope as God will: Ps. cxliii. 10, ‘Thou art my God; teach me to do thy will.’ If you own God as sovereign, you must be in subjection to his will. Thus this prayer will yield us arguments, as we own him as a father, as we profess respect to his glory and kingdom.129
Secondly, I shall bring other arguments to persuade this, to make conscience of God’s will.
1. The example of Christ Jesus, who wholly yielded up himself to the will of God; and wilt thou stand upon thy terms? John v. 30, ‘I seek not mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.’ Christ did not seek to please his human, his own natural will, but the will of his Father. This is true religion, to be like him whom we worship. Now, we are never like Christ until we make doing of God’s will to be the great business of our lives. Wherefore doth he come into the world? He tells you; to do his Father’s will: Luke ii. 49, ‘Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?’ This was his sole employment; so it should be ours, if we have the same mind which Christ had.
2. Consider God’s right. We are not at our own dispose, but at the Lord’s use. God hath a right in us, as he created us. The perfection of everything lieth in fulfilling the Creator’s will, for that is the end wherefore they were made. The creatures ‘are all thy servants, and continue this day according to thine ordinances,’ Ps. cxix. 91. We owe our being, and all we have, from him. We see among men dependence begets observance; a man that lives upon another will be careful to please him. Thou boldest all by the indulgence and bounty of God, therefore it should be thy study to do his will. Jesus Christ hath bought thee: 1 Cor. vi. 20, ‘Glorify the Lord in your souls and bodies, which are God’s.’ That is God’s which he hath bought. A servant that was bought, when men were sold for slaves, he was his master’s money; so his strength, time, service belonged to his master. We are God’s, because he hath bought us, therefore we cannot live as we will; for this is the property of a servant, that he cannot live as he will. Again, as God hath begotten us anew, regenerated us, what is the aim of his grace?’ That we should no longer live in the flesh, to the lust of men, but to the will of God,’ 1 Pet. iv. 2. It is the aim of grace to cure the disorders of the will, and to bring us to a stricter bond of duty and service to God. And indeed if grace hath had its fruit and power upon you, you will give up yourselves to God. Cant, vii. 10, ‘I am my beloved’s.’ You are your beloved’s, to be used by him as he pleaseth. So that unless you will retract your vows, you will make conscience of doing the will of God, for he hath a manifest right in you.
3. Consider our own incapacity. There is great reason why our wills should be given up to the will of God, because we are not able to ‘manage them ourselves. By the law of nations, fools and madmen must have a guardian; they have lost the dominion and power over themselves, they are to be ruled by another, they are slaves by nature, that must be guided by another: Tit. iii. 3. We are all by nature fools, and it is the greatest mischief that can be to be left to our own wills; and therefore, when God requireth the resignation of our wills, it is but as the taking of a sword out of a madman’s hand, which will be the cause of his own mischief and ruin. Nemo laeditur nisi a seipso,—‘No man is hurt by any but himself, though he maybe troubled by others.’ Now, since we cannot manage our own will, it is fit we should have a guardian; and who is more wise than God to govern 130us? A merchant, though he owns the ship, and hath stored it with goods, yet because he hath no skill in the art of navigation, he suffereth the pilot to guide it. Certainly we shall but shipwreck ourselves unless we give up ourselves to be guided by the Spirit of God according to his will.
4. The benefit that accrueth to us by doing his will—we shall have his favour here and his glory hereafter. His favour here, which is that which endeareth us to God: Acts xiii. 22, ‘I have found a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.’ These are men after God’s own heart, that do his will. And though we have great infirmities, yet because we are bent to do his will, they will be passed over; as David had his infirmities, yet because it was in his heart to do the will of God, therefore this is a man after mine own heart. And you shall have the glory of God hereafter: 1 John ii. 17, ‘The world passeth away and the lusts thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.’ Those things that our wills carry us to they perish. The inclination of our heart carrieth us to the world, riches, honours, pleasures; but the will of God carrieth us to an ever lasting estate. ‘The world passeth away, and the lusts thereof.’ There will a time come when those things we will, and are so strongly addicted to and lust for, will be gone—we shall have no relish, no savour in them, no appetite to them. When men are leaving the world, then they cry out how the world hath deceived them; but now ‘he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.’ Never any repented of doing the will of God; this will stick by us to all eternity, and bring us to everlasting happiness.
Use 1. To show how far they are from any sincere respect to God, that upon the least occasion transgress his will, and break through bonds and restraints God hath set to them. The heart is never right but when it lieth under the awe of a command. Many will fear a punishment; but it is said, Prov. xiii. 13, ‘He that feareth the commandment: ‘if the commandment stands in his way he dares not break through, it is more than a hedge of thorns, or if lions stood in the way. But on the other side, when men make no bones of a commandment, when they will ‘transgress for a pair of shoes’ (as the prophet saith), when every small temptation is enough to draw them off from God, it showeth how little sincere respect they have to God.
Use 2. It serves to press us to a more tender regard to the will of God. To this end consider these motives:—
1. His absolute authority to command: 1 Tim. vi. 15, ‘Who is the blessed and only potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords;’ his will is enough—I am the Lord, you shall do thus and thus.
2. Consider the equity of what he hath commanded: Rom. vii. 12, ‘The commandment is holy, and just, and good.’ Nothing God commandeth but what is agreeable to his own nature, and what is suited to our benefit. It is no burden to live justly, soberly, and holily in communion with God; it is not a burden, but a great ad vantage. The yoke of Christ is a bountiful yoke. Our service and duty hath its own reward in the very mouth and bosom of it. It is no great wrong to us to govern our affections, to live soberly, chastely, and in the exercise of holy services; here is nothing but what raiseth 131and sublimates the nature of man. If the commandment of God had been to offer our children in sacrifice, or any of those barbarities which were practised among the Gentiles, yet this had been enough, ‘I am the Lord;’ but when he hath given such holy and good commands, which makes you live more like men, like reasonable creatures, you should be tender of the Lord’s will.
3. To be given up to our own will is a great judgment. When the Lord hath a mind to destroy a people, he gives them up to their own will: Ps. lxxxi. 12, ‘Israel would none of me; so I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust; and they walked in their own counsels.’ It is the greatest judgment which can be laid upon any creature, that he may have his own will. A man may be given up to Satan, yet recover: 1 Cor. v. 5, ‘Deliver such an one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.’ He may be given up to Satan for his exercise and trial; but when he is given up to himself, to the sway of his own heart, to be besotted with his own counsels, and to have his own lusts, what a heavy judgment is this! When Balaam would not be satisfied, God said to him, ‘Go,’ Num. xxii. 35. He had his answer before, again and again, but he would be inquiring still; ‘Go,’ and that was his punishment.
4. It is the truest liberty to be subject to the will of God. Then, ‘when the Son of God shall make you free, you shall be free indeed,’ John viii. 36. How doth the Son of God make us free? Not from duty, but for duty. He that lieth under the dominion and power of any sin is a very slave. But then are we free indeed, when we are loosed, not from a due subjection to God, but from the power of the devil. It is not liberty to be free to do what we please, good or evil; but the more determined we are to good, the more freedom—for that is a liberty which comes nearest to the liberty of God, who is a most free agent and yet cannot sin. Such a liberty is in God, Christ, and the angels in heaven: surely they do not live a slavish life that are ever praising and lauding of God. It will be the greatest pleasure in the issue to deny our own will and do the will of God. The more we are enlarged for this, the greater is our happiness. Then we have the happiness of the spirits of just men. None among men have greater happiness than glorified saints, yet none have less of their own will. Why should we account that a bondage which is part of our happiness? In heaven glorified spirits there are not complaining of any burden, yet they have no will of their own, but they will and nill as God doth.
5. He that hath a heart bent to do the will of God, he hath the clearest knowledge of the mind of God: John vii. 17, ‘He that will do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.’ It is not the sharpness of parts that pierceth into a truth, especially into a controverted truth, when the dust of contention is raised; but he that is most close in walking with God, it is he that knoweth his mind. A blunt iron, when hot and in the fire, will pierce deeper into an inch board than a sharper tool that is cold; so a man that hath pure affections for God, a heart to do the will of God, pierceth deeper many times into controverted truth, and sees more of 132the mind of God in that truth than a man of parts doth. There arc many mistakes about the will of God. Now make conscience of obedience, do not consult with the interest of your own private passions, and then you shall know the mind of God. It is just with God to withhold the light from them that consult with their lusts and interests and carnal humours, for these blind the mind, and only like and dislike things as they shall relish with their lusts.
6. God will surely punish the violation of his will. This implieth two things:—
[1.] That God takes notice of it; he observes whether his will be done, yea or no. The Rechabites were tender of the commandment of their dead father, who could not take cognizance of their actions; but it was the will of their father, and they would keep to the will of the dead: Jer. xxxv. 14. But now the Lord seeth whether his will be kept, yea or no: Prov. xv. 3, ‘The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.’ Wherever you are, God is with you. As the prophet said to Gehazi, ‘Went not mine heart with thee?’ 2 Kings v. 26, meaning his prophetical spirit. The Lord’s Spirit goeth along with “us wherever we go, he observes what we do. When Jesus Christ was in the throng, he saith, ‘Who is it that toucheth me?’ He was sensible virtue passed out from him when one touched him by faith. So in the throng of creatures we depend upon God—he knows what virtue goeth out to preserve thee and me in being. These are fit instances to ingenerate in our minds a sense of God’s omniscience.
[2.] He will severely punish: James iv. 12, ‘There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy.’ There are many lawgivers in the world, that have power of life and death, but that is only of life temporal; but there is one Lawgiver that can reward with eternal life, and punish with eternal death. So God truly and properly hath the power of life and death. Therefore, since he can punish so severely, we should not stand out against God’s will. Many times the doing God’s will is irksome to flesh and blood, but remember hell will be worse. When we press men to faith, repentance, and new obedience, and tell them this is the will of God concerning you, that you do believe in Christ, walk holily and humbly with God, what saith the man? Shall I mope myself, and sit mourning in a corner, and spend my life in a dark melancholy manner, in going from one duty to another? This is far better than to sit howling under the wrath of God for evermore.
For directions. If you would do the will of God, then—
1. There must be some solemn time of resigning and giving up thy will to him. Naturally we are averse. Now, whosoever is brought unto God, he comes and lays down the weapons of his defiance at God’s feet. God hath a right to us, and he will have this right confirmed by our grant and consent: Rom. xii. 1, ‘I beseech you by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.’ There cannot be a more acceptable sacrifice to God than the resignation of our own will to him: See how Paul comes and layeth down the buckler, when God had him under: Acts ix. 6, ‘And he, trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ There will be a time when you will solemnly give up the keys 133of your own hearts to God, and bid him come and enter. Paul, that now did nothing but threaten and breathe out terror to the children of God, when God had humbled him, then he lies at God’s feet. When you are truly humbled, you will desire God to come and take possession of your hearts, and resolve to come under his yoke: Mat. xi. 28, ‘Take my yoke upon you, and you shall find rest for your souls.’ Christ will force it upon none. In the matrimonial contract, consent is not to be forced: ‘Take my yoke.’
2. When you give up yourselves to God, it must be without bounds and reservations: ‘That ye may stand perfect and complete in the will of God,’ Col. iv. 42. That was his prayer for them: and, Acts xiii. 22, ‘I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he shall fulfil all my will.’ We should so perfectly obey, as if we had no will of our own, not reserving a property in anything. Our thoughts are not our own to dispose, nor our desires nor delights, but as God will. The least sin reserved is a pledge of the devil’s interest and right in us. And therefore give up all to God, resign up your selves wholly to him, as remembering that every motion, every thought, every affection, is under a rule, and in every action we should say, Will God have this to be done, yea or no?
3. There are some special things concerning which God hath more expressly signified his will and given special charge, and these we should make greatest conscience of, how distasteful soever they be to flesh and blood, or prejudicial to our own interest. For instance, concerning repentance and turning from sin, Ezek. xxxiii. 11, you have God’s oath that he delights in it: ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way, and live.’ And God ‘would not have any to perish, but that all should come to repentance,’ 2 Pet. iii. 9. This is the will of God; he hath told you what a great deal of pleasure he takes in repentance, that you should come and mourn over your sins, and bewail your stragglings. When a profane Esau knew what his father desired, he takes his bow to go and kill venison; when we know anything more pleasing to God, we should do it. And then he takes pleasure also in the work of faith, believing in Christ: John vi. 29, ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent: and 1 John iii. 23, ‘This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.’ Therefore we should be much in the work of faith, and in receiving Christ, that we may accomplish the good pleasure of God in us. It is very pleasing to God we should thus repent, believe, and return to him. The very first motion, how welcome is it to the Lord! Ps. xxxii. 5, ‘I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.’ So Luke xv. 20: the father ran to meet him when the prodigal thought of returning. So that you should live a sanctified life: 1 Thes. iv. 3, ‘This is the will of God, even your sanctification.’ That you should walk holily, God hath expressly declared his will. Then for duties of relations, God takes a great deal of pleasure in obedience to magistrates, parents, masters: 1 Pet. ii. 15, ‘For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.’ Then, that we should observe providences, ever 134be in a thankful frame: 1 Thes. v. 18, ‘In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God, in Christ Jesus, concerning you.’ It is a great rebellion and disobedience not to obey God’s solemn charge.
4. We should be willing to obey God, whatever it cost us. The least sin is not to be committed to avoid the greatest trouble. You would think it were a small sin for Moses to tarry in Pharaoh’s court, where he might be helpful to the people of God, yet he ‘chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season,’ Heb. xi. 25.
5. For the greatest good that possibly can come of it, we should not cross God’s revealed will. Many times this is a snare. Men think to be justified by their good intentions. We must not do evil that good may come thereof: Rom. iii. 8. If one lie could save the world, we were not to do it, for the least evil is not to be done contrary to God’s will, though the greatest good come of it.
Use 3. Examine how you stand affected to God’s will. This is very needful, because—
1. There be many mistakes about it.
2. Hereby we may discern whether we are thus entirely affected with the Lord’s will.
Men flatter themselves with a pretence of obedience, and cry, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but do not do his will. They give God good words, but do not break out into an actual contest; as those wretches, Jer. xviii. 12, ‘We will every one do the imagination of his evil heart:’ and Jer. xliv. 17, ‘We will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth.’ There are many things wherein we are apt to mistake. As,
[1.] We pretend to do God’s will in general, but when it comes to particulars we stick at it. Usually, when we take up duty by the lump, it doth not exasperate opposite propensions and inclinations. This is our great fault, we please and flatter ourselves with notions and abstract conceits. What say you to this will of God concerning you in particular? How forward were the Israelites! Oh, they would do the whole will of God; they run away with the general notion. Yea, but saith Joshua, chap. xxiv. 19, ‘Ye cannot serve the Lord, for he is an holy God, he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.’ We will do the will of God in general, but when it comes to cross our lusts and private inclinations, these make us grudge at it, and shrink back again.
[2.] Some commend and approve the will of God, and talk of it, but do not practise it. It is here, ‘Thy will be done;’ it is not, Let it be talked of, spoken and conferred of by me, but done. And it is not giving good words. You know the parable of the two sons: One said, ‘I will not, and did;’ the other, ‘I go, sir, and went not.’ Mat. xxi. 29, 30. Where Christ prefers the open sinner before the hypocrite, that is talking of God’s will, and seems at a distance to be like the carbuncle, all of a fire, but touch him, he is key-cold. When we are approving much of the will of God in our judgments, and commending of it, and do it not, this is in effect to say, I know what my Father commands me, but I will do as I list.
[3.] Another deceit about the will of God is this: For the present, 135while we are in a good humour, when our lusts lie low, when the heart is warm under the impulsions of a present conviction or persuasion, men have high thoughts of doing the will of God: Deut. v. 27, ‘Speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee; we will hear it, and do it.’ There are several acts of our wills; there is consent, choice, intention, and prosecution. It is not enough to consent: these things may be extorted from us by moral persuasion; but there must be a serious choice, an invincible resolution, such an intention as is prosecuted with all manner of industry and serious endeavours, whatever disappointments we meet with from God and men. Then this intention or invincible resolution is such as will not be broken by difficulties, weakened by loss of interest, not discouraged by the many disappointments we meet with, even in our waiting upon God.
[4.] We have many times a seeming awe upon the conscience, and so are urged to do God’s will, yet the heart is averse from God all the while; therefore they strive to bring God’s will and theirs together, to compromise the difference. A notable instance of this you have in Balaam. He had a message sent to him, and a great bribe. Now he had a carnal heart, which ran out upon the wages of unrighteousness, and, therefore, though he knew the people of Israel were blessed of the Lord, yet first he will go to God: Num. xxii. 8,; Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the Lord shall speak unto me.’ He is very tender, he durst not go with them, unless the Lord say, Go. But God denies him: ver. 12, ‘Thou shalt not go with them.’ What then? The Lord refuseth to give him leave. Then Balak sends more honourable messengers, and propounds rewards again. Then his carnal will is for God: ver. 18, Balaam answered, ‘If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more.’ Was not this spoken with an honest mind, think you? This was the dictate of his conscience; not for a houseful of gold durst he go against God the Lord. Yet you shall find it was a sore temptation to him, for he goes again to God: ver. 19, ‘Tarry here this night, that I may know what the Lord will say unto me more.’ Then saith God, Go, when he saw his heart was set for the wages of unrighteousness. There was a reluctancy in his conscience, he durst not go, therefore he would fain bring the will of God to his will. In many cases we are thus divided between our own affections and God’s will, between our interests and the will of God.
It is a case often falls out, when there is a quarrel between conviction and corruption. When light is active and strong in conscience, men dare not go against the apparent will of God, yet their hearts hang another way. We have one carnal affection or other, and then all our business is to bring God’s will and ours together; and how to disguise and palliate the matter, that with greatest leave to conscience we may seem to contradict the will of God.
[5.] A fifth deceit about the will of God, and that is, a wish that we were brought under the power of it, as he that stretched himself upon his bed, and said, Oh, that this were to labour! Many men have a velleity, a languid and incomplete will; they have a wish, but not a volition, not a serious desire; and sometimes they may draw it out 136to a cold prayer that God would make them better. It is just like a man that should lie down and complain, Oh, that I were at such a place! and never travel. Would I had performed such a task! yet puts not his hand to the work. Men would, but they will not, set themselves in good earnest to get the grace they wish for, there is not striving to accomplish their will. A chapman no doubt would have the wares, it is like he hath a cold wish, but will not come to the price; I will buy it whatever it cost me. They have not those active and industrious resolutions, such a strong and serious bent of heart towards God, but only a few wishes.
[6.] Halving the will of God; as in many cases many will do part of the will of God, but not all, they come not fully up to the mind of God. For instance, they will take notice of some great commandment, but not of the least. We cannot dispense with ourselves in the least: Mat. v. 19, ‘Whosoever shall break one of the least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.’ We are apt to say ‘It is but a little one, and my soul shall live.’ No sin is little which is committed against a great God. It argueth more wickedness to break with God for a trifle and a very small matter, it argueth more corruption; as a little force will make a heavy body move downward. Again, in another case, the ceremonialist stands upon some lesser things; as the Jews, John xviii. 28, ‘would not go into the judgment-hall lest they should be defiled,’ yet they could seek the life of the Lord of glory. They are not brought under the dominion of the Lord’s grace, faith, repentance, holiness, and the weightier things of the law; these are things they regard not. This is hypocrisy. Like one that comes into a shop to buy a pennyworth and steals a pound’s worth; so they are punctual in lesser things, that they may make bold with God in greater. Again, some will do the will of God in public, where they may be observed; but not in private, and when alone. They make a fair show in the world, but in their families their converse is more loose and careless: Ps. ci. 2, ‘I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.’ A man that is truly holy will show it at home and abroad, in his closet and secret retirements, everywhere he makes conscience of the will of God. Many times we strain ourselves and put forth our gifts in public; God will be served with our utmost in secret also; and the will of God is expressed concerning the inward as well as the outward man, and we must make conscience of both: Isa. lv. 7, ‘Let the wicked man forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts,’ &c. Not only make conscience of our way, our outward course, but of our thoughts as well as our actions, for the thoughts fall under a law. So some will make conscience of the first-table duties, and neglect the second; and some of the second, and neglect the first. Some are very punctual in dealing with men, but neglectful of God: Rom. i. 18, ‘The wrath of God is revealed from heaven, against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.’ Both tables are owned from heaven. Some will not wrong their neighbour of a farthing, but stick not to rob God of all that faith, fear, love, trust, worship, that is due to him. Many that will not defile their bodies with promiscuous copulation, yet are adulterers and adulteresses to God, their 137hearts straggling from God, doting upon the creature to the wrong of God. Many condemn the rebellion of Absalom, and rise up against their heavenly Father, and are murderers, that strike at the being of God. They are tender of wronging the reputation of men, yet dishonour God, and are never troubled. So, on the other side, others fear and worship, but in their dealings are very unconscionable; they will not swear an oath, but are very uncharitable, censuring their brethren without pity and remorse. This is the fashion of the world, to be in with one duty and out with another.
[7.] A loathness to know the will of God, to search and inquire into it, argueth deceit, and that we are loath to come under the power of it. Some men shrewdly suspect it is true, but are loath to inquire into it: John iii. 20, ‘Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.’ They have a shrewd guess about the ways of God, but will not search to be satisfied: 2 Pet. iii. 5, ‘They are willingly ignorant.’ As Tertullian saith of the heathens, they would not search into the Christian religion, because they had a mind to hate it; so these are loath to inquire further into the will of God. There is a great deal of deceit in it; it shows we are afraid to come too near a suspected truth. Again, now and then when lusts are under some restraint, men seem to lie much under the will of God. A horse that is kept low is easily ruled by the rider, but when fed high he grows headstrong. Many times in a mean condition a man seems to make conscience of doing the will of God; but when prosperous, he waxeth wanton and disobedient: Jer. v. 5, ‘I will get me to the great men, but these have altogether broken the yoke and burst the bonds.’
So that there are a great many mistakes about doing the will of God, therefore you had need search.
Secondly, How shall we know we are rightly affected with the will of God?
[1.] When God’s will is reason enough for what he hath required of us; when a man is so sensible of God’s will that this is instead of all reasons. Obedience is never right but when it is done upon the mere sight of God’s will. This is enough to a gracious heart, that this is the will of God, 1 Pet. ii. 15, 1 Thes. v. 18, though the duty be never so cross to our own desires and interests. This is to obey the commandment for the commandment’s sake, without any other reason or inducement. There is, indeed, ratio formalis and ratio motiva, the formal reasons of obedience and the motives of obedience. The formal reason of obedience is the sight of God’s will, the motives to obedience are rewards and a dread of punishment. The formal reason is God’s will; and this is pure obedience, to do what God wills be cause God wills it.
[2.] When a man is very inquisitive to know what is the will of his heavenly Father. When he doth not only practise what he knows, but searcheth that he may know more: Rom. xii. 2, ‘That ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God;’ and, Eph. v. 17, ‘Be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.’ When a man is desirous to know the whole will of God, not for curiosity but for practice, that he might do it. When the 138understanding hath a confused notion of a thing they will not know it distinctly, but when men search, and are willing to find out the counsel of God in all things that they may come up to it, this is a sign the heart is rightly affected to the will of God.
[3.] Hereby may you know your affection to God’s will, by keeping yourselves from your sins: Ps. xviii. 23, ‘I was upright before him, and kept myself from mine iniquity.’ There is an iniquity that we may call ours, upon which the will is most passionately addicted; be it worldliness, sensuality, inordinate desire of reputation and respect with men. Now, when we are plucking out our right eye, and cutting off our right hand, Mat. v. 29—when we are mortifying and subduing our lusts—when we can deny ourselves in those things to which the heart is most wedded, that is a sign of compliance with the will of God.
The second point.
Doct. 2. That it is the Lord which giveth to will and to do those things which are pleasing in his sight.
Therefore we ask it of him, ‘Thy will be done,’ —that is, as I explained it, we ask of him a heart, skill, and strength to do his holy will.
Here I shall tell you:—
1. What I mean by the point.
2. Give you the proof of it.
I. What I mean by the point:—
1. I mean thus, that in the work of conversion God doth all: Ezek. xi. 19, ‘I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and I will give them an heart of flesh.’ The benefit of a tender sanctified heart is God’s gift: Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 27, ‘A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh, and I will cause you to walk in my statutes.’ Mark, a new heart—that is, another heart, a heart to understand, a heart to love, a heart to do the will of God, he gives it. He doth not only offer it, or prepare it, make way for it, but ‘I will give you a heart of flesh.’
2. This is that I mean, that after conversion God still concurreth. He doth not only give the habit of grace, but actual help in the work of obedience. ‘He worketh all our works in us.’ Isa. xxvi. 12. His actual help is necessary to direct, quicken, strengthen, protect, and defend us. To direct us: Ps. lxxiii. 24, ‘Thou shalt guide me by thy counsel, and bring me to thy glory.’ In our way to heaven, we need not only a rule and path, but a guide. The rule is the law of God, but the guide is the Spirit of God. To quicken and excite us by effectual motions: a drowsiness and a deadness is apt to creep upon our hearts, and we see in the same duty it is a hard matter to keep up the same frame of spirit, the same vigour of affection, life, and warmth; and therefore we had need go to God often, as David: Ps. cxix. 37, ‘Quicken thou me in thy way.’ It is God which doth renew the vigour of the life of grace upon all occasions, when it begins to languish and droop. To corroborate and strengthen what we have received: Eph. iii. 16, the apostle prays there that he would ‘strengthen with might by his Spirit in the inner man;’ and, 1 Pet. v. 10, ‘Make 139you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.’ There are many words heaped up there to show how God is interested in maintaining and keeping afoot that which he hath planted in the soul. In protecting and defending them against the incursions and assaults of the devil, who always lieth in wait to surprise the soul, to withdraw us from God. The regenerate are not only escaped out of his clutches, but are advanced and appointed to be Satan’s judges, which an envious and proud spirit cannot endure; therefore he maligns, assaults, and besiegeth them with temptations daily. Now, it is God that defends: John xvii. 11, ‘Keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me;’ by thy name—that is, by thy power.
3. God must not only help us in the general, and upon weighty occasions, but in every act, from the “beginning of the spiritual life to the end. It is not enough to say that the first principles and motions are of God, but the flowing forth of all motions and actions, according to those principles: Phil. ii. 13, ‘It is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.’ God not only gives the desire and purpose, but he gives grace to the good which we will and purpose to do. These two are distinct; and we may have assistance in one kind and not in another; willing and doing, I mean, are different. Paul saith, Rom. vii. 18: ‘To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.’ To will is more than to think; and to exert, and put forth our will into action, it is more than both; and in all we need God’s help. We cannot think a good thought, nor conceive a holy purpose, much less perform a good action, without God, so that every moment we need renewed strength. As long as the work of grace is powerful and renewed in us, so long we are kept in a warm and healthful frame; but we grow vain, loose, earthly, carnal again, and off from God, when this heat and warmth of grace is withdrawn; and therefore God still concurreth in the whole business of our obedience to him.
II. Having showed what I mean, and how far God is interested in this work, what need we have to desire we may do his will; let us prove it. And because it is a weighty point, I shall prove it by parts.
1. As to the first grace, that it is God alone which frames our hearts to the obedience of his will.
2. That when we are thus framed by grace, after conversion, it is God still concurs, and must help us to do his will.
First, As to the first grace, I shall prove that it is God alone, by the power of his own Spirit, which frames our hearts to the obedience of his will. This will appear by considering:—
(1.) What man is by nature.
(2.) The words by which our cure is expressed, and the way God takes to put us into a course of obedience.
(3.) What the scripture speaks as to the utter impotency of man, to the framing of his heart to the obedience of God’s will.
(1.) First, This will appear by those notions or emphatical terms by which the scripture doth set forth man’s condition before God works upon him. He is one that is ‘born in sin:’ Ps. li. 5, ‘Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me;’ and things natural are not easily altered. And as he is born in sin, so he 140is greedy of sin: Job xv. 16, ‘He drinketh in iniquity like water;’ it noteth a vehement propension, as greedy to sin as a thirsty man to drink. Thirst is the most implacable appetite, hunger is far better borne. It is the constant frame of his heart: Gen. vi. 5, ‘Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually.’ Oh, how many aggravating and increasing circumstances are there named. There is a mint that is always at work; the mind is coining evil thoughts, and the heart evil desires and carnal motions; and the memory is the closet and storehouse where they are lodged and kept. This is the case of man, born in sin, greedy and thirsty of sin, and one whose thoughts are evil continually.
But may not a man be reclaimed? Oh no, for he hath a heart of stone: Ezek. xxxvi. 26, ‘I will take away the heart of stone.’ Every man that comes to be converted hath a heart of stone; and what is that? insensible, inflexible. Insensible, he hath no feeling of his condition; inflexible, he will not be moved and wrought upon by the word, and the Spirit, and providence. How many means are wasted upon him, and to no purpose! And Jer. xvii. 9, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ It invents all kinds of shifts and excuses to elude God, or rather to cheat itself. When God comes to work upon man, it slides away from under his hand, as if salvation itself should not save them. Yea, but is not the New Testament more favourable to man than the Old? Or, is not man grown better now there is so much of God’s grace discovered? I answer, there is a perfect harmony between the Testaments: there he is styled ‘a child of wrath by nature,’ Eph. ii. 3; the elect as well as others were so. There you will find him to be a ‘servant of sin.’ Rom. vi. 17. Never such an imperious master as sin is, never such a willing servant as man is. Sin never leaves commanding, and we love to work, and therefore are at its beck. There you will find him to be represented as a man that hath a ‘blind understanding,’ and a ‘hard heart,’ and one that is ‘averse from the life of God.’ Eph. iv. 18. There you will find him to be one that is an ‘enemy to the law of God,’ ‘enmity’ itself, Rom. viii. 7; one that neither will nor ‘can please God.’ One that is blind, and knows not what to do: 2 Pet. i. 9, ‘He that lacketh these things is blind.’ and with such a blindness as is far worse than bodily. A man that is blind in his bodily eyes, would think it to be a great happiness to have a fit guide: as in Acts xiii. 11, when Elymas was smitten blind, ‘he sought about for somebody to lead him by the hand.’ But he that is spiritually blind, cannot endure to have a guide; or if one would lead him, and direct him in the right way, he is angry. And as the scripture represents him as blind, so without strength: Rom. v. 9, ‘Dead in trespasses and sins;’ Eph. ii. 5, yea, worse than dead; a dead man doth no more hurt, his evil dieth with him; but there is a life of resistance and rebellion against God that goeth along. I have spoken but little, yet put all together, and then it shows what a miserable wretched creature man is.
The scripture doth not speak this by chance, it is not an hyperbole used once or twice, but everywhere, where it speaks of this matter, it sets out man to be blind, hard, dead, obstinate, and averse from God. 141Certainly man contributes little to his own conversion, if the word of God sets him out everywhere to be such a one; he cannot hunger and thirst after Christ, that drinks in iniquity like water. Nothing in his nature to carry him to grace, who is altogether sinful.
If the scripture had only said that man had accustomed himself to sin, and was not born in sin: if it had said that man is very prone, and not greedy and thirsty in iniquity: if it had only said that man .did often think evil, but not continually: if the scripture had said that man was somewhat obstinate, but not a stone, an adamant, and like the nether mill-stone: that he had been indifferent to God and the world, God and the flesh, and not a professed enemy: that he had been a captive of sin, and not a servant of sin: that man had been weak and not dead: only a neuter and not a rebel: then there might have been something in man; and the work of conversion and reducing to God had not been so great. But the scripture saith the quite contrary, that man is all this and much more, therefore this clears it up, that his conversion is not in himself, but it is God must work this good work upon him, or else he can never be renewed.
(2.) Secondly, Let us consider the terms how the cure is wrought. Certainly to remedy so great an evil, requireth an omnipotent, an almighty power. Therefore see how conversion is described in scripture, sometimes by enlightening the mind: Eph. i. 18, ‘The eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling,’ &c. Man, the best creature on this side heaven, is stark blind in the things of God. If he should go to see with the light of nature, how would he grope at noon-day! If he should put on the spectacles of art he will but be little better. Nay, let him take further the glass of the word, yet how blind in a spiritual sense. Something there must be done upon the faculty; the object must not only be revealed, but the eye must be enlightened. There are thick scales upon his eye, as Paul had in his blindness, that must be taken off, before he can see into the things of God.
But is this all, enlightening the eye? No; the scripture describeth this work of God by opening of the heart: Acts xvi. 14, ‘God opened the heart of Lydia, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.’ God doth not only knock at the heart—that he doth by his word, and by the external means—but he openeth the heart; he must open the door before he can come in, enter, and take possession.
As to the means, God trieth key after key, one providence after another. As when a man would open a door, he knows not what key will fit the lock, he trieth key after key; so God trieth one cross, one affliction after another, one sermon, one message after another; but until he puts his fingers upon the hole of the lock, we shall not open.
But these words are not emphatical enough, therefore it is expressed by a regeneration: John iii. 3, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Mark, they must not only be reformed, but must be regenerated and born again.
Now, because this is an ordinary work which falleth out in the course of causes, therefore there is a more solemn notion used, it is expressed by a resurrection: Eph. ii. 5, ‘He hath raised you up together with Christ.’ Yea, but that which hath been may be again, 142therefore it is expressed not only by a resurrection, but by a creation: Eph. ii. 10, ‘We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works:’ 2 Cor. iv. 6, ‘He that commandeth the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts.’ And we are called new creatures. And higher than this, it is expressed not only by a creation, but by a victory and overcoming. It is resembled by beating and binding of the strong man, and rescuing and taking away his prey from him: Luke xi. 21, 22; 1 John iv. 4. ‘By bringing into captivity every proud thought to the obedience of Christ,’ 2 Cor. x. 5.
These expressions the scripture useth to set out the mystery of grace, the power of God that worketh in us. What is wanting in one is supplied in another.
(3.) The third thing I shall produce; That the scripture doth expressly deny any power in man to convert himself to God: 1 Cor. ii. 14, ‘The natural man cannot know the things of the Spirit of God, because they are spiritually discerned;’ and as he cannot know, so he cannot obey: Rom. viii. 7, ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be; and they cannot please God:’ ver. 8. And they cannot come to Christ: John vi. 44, ‘No man can come to me except the Father draw him.’ And they cannot do anything without Christ, John xv. 15; and they cannot think a good thought, 2 Cor. iii. 5: and they cannot bring forth good fruit, Mat. vii. 18; and they cannot speak a good word, Mat. xii. 34; and they cannot believe, John xii. 39; and they cannot do that which is good, Jer. xiii. 23, ‘Ye that are accustomed to do evil, cannot do good.’ From whence doth all this deficiency in them arise? Partly from nature, partly from custom. Besides the natural there is a customary and habitual depravation. By nature we are averse from God, and by custom we are more confirmed in this evil aversation from God. Man, by lying long in his unregeneracy, hath his averseness from God increased and strengthened upon him. Naturally we are in love with the world, and have declined God and the things of God. Consider him in his naturals, he ‘cannot know the things of the Spirit:’ 1 Cor. ii. 14. And the carnal mind cannot be subject to the law of God, being at enmity against him, Rom. viii. 7. There are other places express this cannot, which derive it from custom; they are become slaves to their lusts, and their sins have gotten such a hand over them that they know not how to break them off: Jer. xiii. 23, ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.’ And so where it is said: John xii. 39, ‘They could not believe.’ Naturally man is unable; but that place speaks of another degree of impossibility through contracted obstinacy and judicial obduration. Thus you see man is wholly impotent as to this work, and it is the Lord alone must do it.
Object. But here is an objection. If it be so that man hath such an utter impotency to convert himself to God, how can it stand with the mercy of God, as the creator of mankind, to require the debt of obedience from him that is not able to pay? How can it stand with the justice of God to punish him with eternal death, for the neglect of that which he is not able to do? and how can it stand with the wisdom 143of the supreme lawgiver, to exhort him by promises and threatenings, who hath no power to do what he is exhorted to do?
1. As to the first; how can it stand with the mercy of God to require the debt of obedience from him that is not able to pay? God hath not lost his right, though man hath lost his power; their impotency doth not dissolve their obligation. A drunken servant is a servant still. It is against all reason a master should lose his right by the servant’s default. A prodigal debtor hath nothing to pay, yet he is liable to be sued for the debt without any injustice. God contracted with us in Adam, and gave us a power which we lost by his fall; and therefore though our power be gone, yet God may demand his due to obey and please him; especially since this obedience God required of Adam, was not only due by covenant and positive law, but by immutable right and natural justice of man. Men think it harsh to suffer for Adam’s fault, to which they were not conscious and actually consenting.
Yea, but consider, every man will find an Adam in his own heart. The old man is there, we are still sinning away those relics of natural light in conscience, and those few moral inclinations which are left. There is a little ability and strength he hath as a man, and shall not God challenge the debt of obedience from a proud prodigal debtor, that is weakening and wasting himself more and more? We are proud, therefore God may exact it of us. We think we are able to obey and do his will, when we are weak; we are poor, yet think ourselves rich; therefore God may admonish us of our duty, demand his right to show our impotency and beggary, and that we may not pretend we were not called upon for what we owe. But man is not only a proud debtor, but we are prodigal debtors; those relics of conscience and moral and human inclinations, which escaped out of the ruins of the fall, we lose those things every day, and embezzle them away by the service of sin. Therefore it standeth fully with the clemency of God, as creator of mankind, to require the debt of him that wastes that little stock he hath.
2. As to the other part, how it can stand with the justice of God to punish him with eternal death, for the neglect of that he cannot do. I answer: Besides natural impotency, there is voluntary. We must not consider man merely as impotent to good, but as delighting in evil, as loving it with all his heart. This cannot indeed is a will not, it is a voluntary impotence. ‘You will not come to me, that ye might have life:’ John v. 40. Our impotency lies in our obstinacy. So man is left without excuse, because we freely refuse the grace offered, and by continuing in sin we increase our bondage, and draw an inveterate custom upon ourselves, and so grow every day more obstinate against God.
3. As to the last, how can it stand with the wisdom of God to exhort him with promises and threatenings, that hath no power to do that which he is exhorted to?
I answer: These exhortations, they carry their own blessing with them to those to whom God means them for good. As God’s creating word carried with it its power: ‘Be there light, and there was light;’ 144and as Christ’s word carried forth his power, it was not in vain to say, ‘Lazarus, come forth,’ though he was dead, and could not hear it; there was a mighty power went with the word; so there is power goes along with the exhortations of the gospel, to work grace in the hearts of those to whom God intends it as a blessing.
Yea, but if this be for the elect’s sake only, and to convey that power to them, to what use doth it stand to others? If the elect did dwell alone, and were a distinct community among themselves, the objection were plausible; but they are hidden among others: therefore reprobates are called obiter, by the by, as others are called according to purpose; and therefore they have the benefit of the common call and the common offer. The world stands for the elect’s sake, yet others have the benefit of the world and worldly things. So the word is preached for the elect’s sake, yet others have the benefit of an external call. The sun shines, though blind men see it not. The rain falls upon rocks and mountains, as well as fruitful valleys; so God may suffer these exhortations to light upon wicked men. And again, as to them, it is for their conviction; it is to bridle their corruptions; it is at least a means to civilise them, and keep them from growing worse: therefore such kind of doctrines and persuasions restrain their wickedness. Therefore it stands well enough with the wisdom of the lawgiver to call upon men, and invite them with promises and threatenings, to repentance.
Therefore now let me show how doth God reduce and frame our hearts to the obedience of his will. The ways God useth are of two sorts, moral and real.
[1.] God works morally, so as to preserve man’s nature, and the principles thereof; therefore he works by sweet inclination, not with violence. So he comes with blandishments and comfortable words: Hosea ii. 14, ‘I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her.’ So, Gen. ix. 27, ‘The Lord shall persuade Japhet, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem.’ By fair and kindly words, he draweth on men to the liking of the gospel. He offereth no violence to our natural principles, but to our corruptions. God doth not make the will to be no will, but to be a good will; he restoreth the faculties to their right use and exercise; he layeth forth the beauty and excellency of his grace, and a glorious estate he sets before our eyes, and so outbids temptation, and draweth our hearts to himself. And God not only doth work suitably to our general nature, as we are reasonable creatures, but suitably to the particular frame of the heart. Some are of a stout and stubborn temper, and will not be subdued by milder means and motives; therefore God breaks them with fears and terrors, and with a spirit of conviction; and others, he draws them on by love, and by a gentle application.
That God hath respect to men’s particular tempers was figured in those extraordinary ways of appearance and manifestation; they are fitted according to the state of men. To Moses, that was a shepherd, and was acquainted with bushes, God appears in a bush of fire; and to the wise men, that were skilled in the motions of the heavenly bodies, he appears in a star; and to Peter, that was a fisherman, he appears to him, and shows his power first in the draught of fishes, 145So still these are pledges of this kind of dispensation: that God will work suitably, not only to our general nature as men, but to our particular state and temper. Yea, yet further, to set on this moral way of working, there is a fit subordination of the circumstances of providence. God ‘takes the wild asses in their month;’ and he hath his reason wherein to surprise the hearts of sinners: Prov. xxv. 11, ‘A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.’ God comes in in a fit season; as when a soul is humbled by some sudden accident; as one was converted by seeing a man fall down dead suddenly by him. God ordereth some providences to work, and awaken the hearts of men; or else by some great affliction: Hos. ii. 14, ‘I will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her.’ God finds many a sinner in the briars, as Abraham found the lamb. Stub born humours are then most broken. Metal in the furnace is capable of any form. God may suit and dispose us so that he may come in in a fit season to the soul, or in terrors of conscience, when the heart is scourged with remorse for great sins. All this is God’s moral work.
[2.] There is a real work, which goes along with this persuasion: there is an almighty power; for bare persuasion cannot make the blind to see, the dead to live, or open the heart of man, that is so desperately and obstinately wicked, until he puts his fingers upon the holes of the lock, until he begins to open the heart.
Concerning this real work, observe it is secret, yet thorough and prevailing, so as the effect doth follow, when God will convert. The exact manner of God’s drawing is unknown. Austin calls it an inward, hidden, and unspeakable power, which God putteth forth together with the word. It is marvellous in our eyes; but he that knew how to create souls knows how to work upon them. This power, it is like the influences of the heavens, which so insinuate themselves with the operation of second causes, that they cannot be seen; so there is such a mighty power working in us, though we cannot tell how to express it. We cannot say there is no such power, because we do not know what it is.
And as this power is secret, so when this power is put forth it is prevailing: he works prevailingly, so as the effect must necessarily follow. The grace God gives to men, to convert them, it is not a power to be converted, repent, and believe, if they will; no, but he gives repentance, he gives faith, and works so as the effect shall succeed: he works efficaciously and determinately, so as to oppose all the resistance of the will, and accomplish his work.
That is the first branch.
Secondly, When we are thus framed by grace, after conversion God still concurreth, and must help us to do his will. He doth not only give us the habit of grace, but actual help in the work of obedience: Isa. xxvi. 12, ‘Thou hast wrought all our works in us.’
But why is it that still the Lord worketh in us, both to will and to do, unto the last; and not only begins with us, but still keeps grace in his own hands, so as we shall have our supplies from heaven from day to day?
There are several reasons:—
[1.] Because it endeareth God to a gracious soul. The more visits 146we have from God, and the more he is mindful of us at every turn, the more is God endeared to us. In such a duty, there we met with comfort and enlargement, because God was there; that is noted and regarded, so that the Lord is rendered the more precious. The experiment we have of God in every duty doth the more make us prize his grace. As David, Ps. cxix. 93, ‘I will never forget thy precepts, for with them thou hast quickened me.’ I shall never forget such a sermon, and such a prayer, because there I met with God. So in affliction, Rom. v. 3, ‘Patience worketh experience;’ or in such a conflict, we had such a support: this endeareth God to the soul. As mutual acts of kindness do maintain a friendship between man and man, so do these renewed acts of love, and of God’s care and kindness over us, maintain a friendship between God and us.
[2.] It engageth us to a constant dependence upon God, and communion with him. It is dependence which maintains the commerce between heaven and earth. Now, if we did keep the stock ourselves, God and we should soon grow strangers. When the prodigal had his portion in his own hands, he goes out of his father’s house: Luke xv. The throne of grace would lie neglected and unfrequented. If we did not stand in need of daily receivings, when would the Lord hear from us? And therefore, to oblige us to a constant dependence, God will keep the grace in his own hands, that ever we may have some thing to drive us to himself, some necessities upon us; for the throne of grace is for a time of need: Heb. iv. 1 6.
[3.] This is that which keeps us humble, and that upon several considerations. All we have, it is by gift; and then what can we be proud of? Not only the habits of grace themselves, but also those actual incitements which are necessary to draw them forth into act. So that of all our excellencies we may say, Alas! it is but borrowed; and if we be proud of them, we are but proud we are more in debt than others: when most enlarged and most assisted, it is from God. We would laugh if a groom should be proud of his master’s horse and his master’s cloak; shall we usurp that honour that is due to God? ‘What hast thou that thou didst not receive?’ 1 Cor. iv. 7. And then we have it from hand to mouth. That which we have received will not bear us out, unless God come in with new influences of grace. We should soon grow proud if God did not direct us, and give out the renewed evidences of his love day after day; and we should not acknowledge our benefactor if God should do all at once: therefore he lesseneth and weakeneth our corruptions by degrees, and by the renewed influences of his grace; and by this means we are made sensible of the mutability of our own nature. God left Hezekiah, ‘to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.’ 2 Chron. xxxii. 31. God hath so dispensed grace that he will be going and coming as to actual influence; therefore sometimes he will leave us, that he may discover a man to himself. Though we have grace planted in our hearts, and are renewed, yet if God leave us, how weak and foolish are we! We are renewed, but not fully recovered of that maim and bruise we got by the fall of Adam, and we cannot do as we will. If God withdraw his quickening, his strength, secret corruption will break forth, and our indisposition to holy things will soon appear.147
[4.] Then it is for the honour of the Lord’s grace. It doth abundantly provide for the glory of grace, that from first to last we are indebted to God; not only for those permanent and fixed habits which constitute the new creature, but for those daily supplies without which the motions of the spirit are at a stand. And this is that which makes the saints still to put the crown upon grace’s head. When the servants gave an account of improving of their talents, saith one of them, Luke xix. 16, ‘Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds:’ he doth not say, ‘My industry,’ but, ‘thy pound.’ So Paul, Gal. ii. 20, ‘I live;’ yea, but he interposeth presently, ‘Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ They are ever ascribing all to God, because they see they can do nothing without him. When we come to heaven, it is a question which we shall admire most, grace or glory, the glory of that estate into which we are brought, or else grace, which was the foundation of it. Oh, when we see all that was done and suffered for God, it was from God: ‘Of thine own have we given thee.’ How will the soul admire the riches of his glorious grace! We have not only traded with his money, but by his direction; and when our stock was embezzled he supplied us at every turn. For these ends the Lord still keeps grace in his own hands, that we can do nothing to any purpose unless he be pleased to concur, by the influences and quickenings of his own Spirit.
Use. The use shall only be in these two branches:—
1. In doing any good work, let us do all things in him as well as to him. Let us not only make this our scope, that we may do it to God, but let us make his grace our principle: otherwise, when we go to work for God without God, it will befall us as it did Sampson, that thought to go out and shake himself as in former times, but his locks were cut and his strength gone. Men that have had former experiences, think to find a like vigour of affection, a like raisedness of spirit, a like savouriness of expression; but if they take not God along with them, they find their strength is gone, their affections dead, that all their spirits are dry and sapless, and that they do not go forth with such life and power as formerly. Therefore, whenever you go about a good work, say, as David, ‘I will go forth in the strength of God.’
2. It directs us in ascribing the honour of what we have done. It is dangerous to assume divine honour to ourselves or accept it from others; but we must give the Lord the glory, whose concurrence doth all the work. Remember, we have received all from God, and God must have all the glory and honour; if others should ascribe it to us, we are not to take it. To conceal and receive stolen goods, brings us within the compass of theft, as well as to steal them ourselves. So, when others would ascribe anything to us, still let the Lord have the glory of every work and business.
The third point.
Doct. 3. We are not only to look to this, that his will be done, but to the manner how it is done.
It is not for the honour of his majesty to be put off with anything; we must serve him with all our mind and strength: Mal. i. 14, ‘When ye brought that which was torn, and lame, and sick, should I accept 148this of your hands? saith the Lord. I am a great king, saith the Lord of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen.’ We are to aim at the highest manner of serving God. There is an ardent desire in the saints to be perfect: ‘If by any means they would attain to the resurrection of the dead,’ Phil. iii. 11; that is, that happy and sinless state they shall enjoy hereafter. The manner is more considerable than the work itself. A man may sin in doing good, but he cannot sin in doing well; therefore the manner is that which is mainly stood upon in scripture. God doth not only look that we pray, but it must be fervent effectual prayer, not a drowsy devotion; not only that we hear, but take heed how we hear; not only that we serve him, but serve him instantly; not only run, but so run. The great thing that is put into the balance of the sanctuary, when God comes to weigh the actions of men, what doth he consider? He weighs the spirits: Prov. xvi. 2, ‘All the ways of man are right in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits;’ that is, he considers with what frame of heart, and in what manner, we go about anything we do for him. And therefore this is the main thing we should look after, in what manner we serve him, even as the angels do in heaven; not in an ordinary but perfect manner.
But wherein doth the resemblance hold; how should we be as the angels?
1. In conformity to the angels, we must serve God readily. The angels are represented as ‘with wings,’ Isa. vi. 2: and the angel Gabriel is said to ‘fly swiftly’ upon God’s message; they are hearkening for God’s word, and go on God’s errand. So we should be ready and speedy in our obedience: Ps. cxix. 60, ‘I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.’ It is not enough to keep God’s commandments, but we must make haste; that is, before the strength of the present impulsion be lost, and those fervours which are upon us be cooled.
2. Willingly and cheerfully, and without murmuring. Angels are ready at God’s beck; they are ministering spirits, even to the meanest saints; God hath sent them abroad for the heirs of salvation; they are as guardians to them, to look after them in all their ways. The devils, what Christ bids them do, do it murmuringly; the unclean spirit would not come out without rending and tearing, Mark ix.; Christ’s presence was a burthen to them, Mat. viii. When we do things with reluctancy, murmuringly, we are more like the devils than the angels. When the devils obey his word, they are forced to it by the absolute power of Christ; yet they do it not with willingness and freeness, as the good angels do. But we are to do it freely: ‘I delight to do thy will, O my God.’ Ps. xl. 8. And, John iv. 34, ‘It is my meat and drink to do the will of him that sent me.’ That was the dish Christ loved.
3. Constantly and unweariedly. Thus do the angels in heaven. The devils they abode not in the truth; but angels, they do it without weariness; they rest not day nor night, but are still lauding, praising, and serving God, and are never weary. God in communion is ever new and fresh to them; the face of their heavenly Father is as lovely as at the first moment; no weariness or satiety creeps upon those 119good spirits. Thus should we do it without weariness, and then we shall reap if we faint not.
4. Faithfully, not picking and choosing: ‘They hearken to the voice of his word,’ whatever it be, be it to ascend or descend. So we, if it be to go backward for God, though it be against the bent of our hearts. David is said to be ‘a man after God’s heart,’ because he did ‘all God’s will.’ Acts xiii. 22: all which should be a pattern for us, and we should strive to come up to it.
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