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Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, that seek him with the whole heart.—Ver. 2.
IN this psalm the man of God begins with a description of the way to true blessedness. In the former verse a blessed man is described by the course of his actions, ‘Blessed are the undefiled in the way.’ In this, by the frame of his heart, ‘Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, that seek him with the whole heart.’ The internal principle of good actions is the verity and purity of the heart.
Here you may take notice of two marks of a blessed man:—
1. They keep his testimonies.
2. They seek him with the whole heart.
Doct. 1. They that keep close to God’s testimonies are blessed.
By way of explication, two things take notice of:—16
1. The notion that is given to precepts and counsels in the word: they are called his testimonies.
2. The respect of the blessed man to these testimonies, to keep them.
First, The notion by which the word of God is expressed is testimonies, whereby is intended the whole declaration of Gods will, in doctrines, commands, examples, threatenings, promises. The whole word is the testimony which God hath deposed for the satisfaction of the world about the way of their salvation. Now, because the word of God brancheth itself into two parts, the law and the gospel, this notion may be applied to both. First, To the law, in regard whereof the ark is called ‘the ark of the testimony,’ Exod. xxv. 16, because the two tables were laid up in it The gospel is also called the testimony, ‘the testimony of God concerning his Son:’ Isa. viii. 20, ‘To the law, and to the testimony;’ where testimony seems to be distinguished from the law. The gospel is so called, because there God hath testified how a man shall be pardoned, reconciled to God, and obtain a right to eternal life. We need a testimony in this case, because it is more unknown to us. The law was written upon the heart* but the gospel is a stranger. Natural light will discern something of the law, and pry into matters which are of a moral strain and concernment; but evangelical truths are a mystery, and depend22 Qu. ‘opened’?—ED. by the mere testimony of God concerning his Son. Now, from this notion of testimonies we have this advantage:—
[1.] That the word is a full declaration of the Lord’s mind. God would not leave us in the dark in the matters which concern the service of God and man’s salvation. He hath given us his testimony, he hath told us his mind, what he approves and what he disallows, and upon what terms he will accept of sinners in Christ. It is a blessed thing that we are not left to the uncertainty of our own thoughts: Micah vi. 8, ‘He hath showed thee, O man, what is good.’ The way of pleasing and enjoying God is clearly revealed in his word. There we may know what we must do, what we may expect, and upon what terms. We have his testimony.
[2.] Another advantage we have by this notion is the certainty of the word; it is God’s testimony. The apostle saith, 1 John v. 9, ‘If we take the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater.’ It is but reason we should allow God that value and esteem that we give to the testimony of men, who are fallible and deceitful. Among men, ‘in the mouth of two or three witnesses everything is established,’ Deut. xix. 15;’ Now there are three that bear witness in heaven, and three that bear witness on earth,’ 1 John v. 8. We are apt to doubt of the gospel, and have suspicious thoughts of such an excellent doctrine; but now there are three witnesses from heaven, the Father, Word, and Spirit; the Father by a voice: Mat. iii. 7, ‘And lo, a voice from heaven saying, This is my beloved Son,’ &c. And the Son also by a voice, when he appeared to Paul from heaven, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?’ And the Holy Ghost gave his testimony, descending upon him in the form of a dove, and upon the apostles ‘in cloven tongues of fire. ‘And there are three that bear record on earth;’ for he saith, 1 John v. 10, ‘He that believeth, ἔχει τὴν μαρτυρίαν he hath the 17testimony in himself.’ What is that? The Spirit, water, and blood in the heart of a believer; these give testimony to the gospel. The Spirit bears witness to the gospel when it illuminateth the heart, enabling us to discern the doctrine to be of God, to discern those signatures and characters of majesty, goodness, power, truth, which God hath left upon the gospel; and water and blood testify when we feel those constant and sensible effects of God’s power coming with the gospel (1 Thes. i. 5), both by pacifying the conscience, and bringing joy and satisfaction, and by sanctifying and freeing a man from the bondage of sin. Water signifies sanctification: John xvii. 17, ‘Sanctify them by thy truth.’ The sanctifying power of God, that goes along with the gospel, is a clear confirmation of the divine testimony in it: John viii. 32, ‘The truth shall make you free.’ By our disentanglement from lust we come to be settled in the truth. God’s testimony is the ultimate resolution of our faith. Why do we believe? Because it is God’s testimony. How do we know it is God’s testimony? It evidenceth itself by its own light to the consciences of men; yet God for the greater satisfaction to the world, hath given us witnesses, three from heaven and three on earth. Every manifestation of God hath sig natures and characters of God enough upon it to show from whence it came. The creation is a manifestation of God; now, whoever looks upon it seriously and considerately, may find God there, may track him by his footprints, ‘By the things which are made, his invisible being and power.’ Rom. i. 20. The creation discovers itself to be of God; and if the lower testimony hath plain evidences, much more the gospel. Why? For ‘he hath magnified his word above all his name,’ Ps. cxxxviii. 2. The name of God is that by which he is made known. Now, there are more sensible characters and impressions of God left upon the word, that doth evidence it to be of God, than upon any part of his name.
[3.] This advantage we have by this notion, a testimony is a ground of self-examination, or a rule whereby we may judge of our state and actions; for it witnesseth not only de jure, what we must do; or de eventu, what we may expect; but de facto, whether we do good or evil, what we are, and what we may look for from God upon our obedience or disobedience: Mat. xxiv. 14, ‘The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, εἰς μαρτύριον , for a witness unto all nations;’ first to them, next against them, Mark xiii. 9. The word is a testimony to them of God’s will in Christ, if they receive it; against them if they reject, neglect, or believe it not. Hereby we may judge of our condition by our conformity, or difformity and contrariety, to the word of God. Christ saith at the day of judgment Moses will accuse you: John v. 45, ‘There is one that accuseth you, even Moses in whom ye trust.’ The gospel will accuse. What is now an offer will then be an accusation. God will not be without a witness at the day of judgment. The creatures, which had an evident impression of God upon them, they will witness against the Gentiles, ‘so that they are without excuse.’ Rom. i. 20; and the Jews, that were under the dispensation of Moses, he will accuse them; there was light sufficient to convince them. So the gospel, which is God’s testimony concerning his Son, will accuse you if it be not received. Therefore 18it is good to see what the word doth witness or testify; doth it testify good or evil? for accordingly shall we be treated with in the day of judgment. It is sad when we can only say of the scripture as that kin of the prophet of the Lord, ‘He witnesseth nothing but evil against me,’ 1 Kings xxii. 8. Let us see what God’s testimony speaks, whether it will plead for us or against us at the great day of the Lord.
[4.] It upbraids our unbelief, that when God hath not only given us a law, but a testimony, still we are backward and careless, word of God were no more but a law, we were bound to obey it, be cause we are his creatures; but when it is his testimony, we should regard it the more, for now God stands not only upon the honour of his authority, but of his truth: 1 John v. 10 ‘He that believeth not hath made God a liar, because he believeth not the testimony which (rod hath given concerning his Son.’ We may urge it thus upon our hearts—What! shall we make God a liar, after he hath so solemnly given his word, that word which hath many signatures, characters, and stamps of God upon it? Carelessness now is not only disobedience, but unbelief; it puts the highest affront upon God, to question his veracity and truth, and does not only unlord him, but ungod him, by making him a liar.
So much for the first thing, the testimony of the Lord.
Secondly, The respect of the blessed man to these testimonies; they keep them. What is it to keep the testimonies of God? Keeping is a word which relates to a charge or trust committed to us. Christ hath committed his testimonies to us as a trust and charge that we must be careful of. Look, as on our part we commit to Christ the charge of our souls to save them in his own day, 2 Tim. i. 12, so Christ chargeth us with his word—(1.) To lay it up in our hearts. (2.) To observe it in our practice. This is to keep the word.
[1.] To lay it up in our hearts. In the heart two things are considerable—the understanding and the affections. God undertakes in the covenant for both: Heb. viii. 10, ‘I will put my law in their mind, and write it in their hearts.’ The meaning is, that he will enlighten our minds for the understanding of his will, and frame our affections to the obedience of it. Well, then, you must keep it in your minds and affections.
(1.) In your minds. We must understand the word of God, assent to it; we must revolve it often in our thoughts, and have it ready upon all occasions. Understand it we must if we would be blessed: ‘He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me,’ John xiv. 21. We cannot make conscience of obedience till we know our duty. He that would keep a thing must first have it; we have the law in possession when we get knowledge of it: Mat. xiii. 23, ‘He that receiveth the word into good ground is he that heareth the word and understands it;’ and Luke viii. 13, ‘They that hear the word and keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.’ It is not enough to hear the word, but we must understand it; and yet that is not all: an adversary may understand a truth, or else he cannot rationally oppose it. There is assent required, that we believe it as God’s testimony, and accordingly embrace it, and give it place in the heart. Faith is a receiving of the word, Acts ii. 41; nay,’ we must have it ready upon 19all occasions. Rational memory belongs to the mind or understanding; therefore we keep the word in our minds when it is ever ready with us, either to check sin, or warn us of our duty, Ps. cxix. 9. Forgetfulness is an ignorance for the time: Prov. iii. 1, ‘My son, forget not my law; and let thine heart keep my commandments.’ We should be ready to every good word and work, as occasion is offered to us.
(2.) To keep it in our hearts is to have an affection to it. Keeping the word relates to our chariness and tenderness of it, when we are as chary of the word as a man would be of a precious jewel: Prov. vi. 20, 21, ‘My son, keep thy father’s commandments; bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck.’ Sometimes it alludes to the apple of the eye: Prov. vii. 2, ‘Keep them as the apple of thine eye.’ Such tender affections should we have to the testimonies of the Lord, as a man has for his eye. The least offence to the eye is troublesome; a man should be as chary of the commandment as he would be of his eye. Sometimes it implies the similitude of keeping a way: Josh. i. 7, ‘Turn not to the right hand or to the left.’ A traveller is very careful to keep his way; so when we are thus careful, tender, chary of God’s commandments and testimonies, this is an argument of a blessed condition. Thus we are to keep it in the heart.
[2.] We are to observe it in practice; Luke xi. 28, ‘Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it;’ that is, not only that hear it, but do it. Many have this word in their mind and memory, but not in their lives. Without this, hearing is nothing; liking, knowing, assent, pretended affection is all in vain: 1 John ii. 4, ‘He that saith I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.’ Our actions are a better discovery of our thoughts than our words. When we get a little knowledge, and make a little profession, we think we observe his commands; but he is a liar if he be not exact, and walk close with God. It is not enough to understand the word, to be able to talk and dispute of the testimonies of God, but to keep them. It is not enough to assent to them that they are God’s laws, but they must be obeyed. The laws of earthly princes are not obeyed as soon as believed to be the king’s laws, but when we are punctual to observe them. This is to keep the commandment of God; it implies both exactness and perseverance: Rev. iii. 8, ‘Thou hast kept my word;’ that is, thou hast not apostatised as others have done; and Prov. vi. 20, ‘Keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother,’ that is perseverance. You see by the first note who are the blessed men; they which own God’s testimony in his word, and accordingly look upon it as a great charge and trust Christ hath reposed in them and given to them that they should keep his law. Now, certainly these are blessed. Why?
(1.) They are blessed or cursed whom Christ in the last day will pronounce blessed or cursed. Now, in the last day to some he will say, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father;’ to others, ‘Go, ye cursed;’ and he hath told us beforehand, that it is he that keepeth his testimonies whom he will own in that day, Mat. vii. 20-22. Many will come and challenge acquaintance with Christ: ‘Lord, we have prophesied in thy name,’ &c.; ‘Thou hast taught in our streets’ (so it is in Luke); but Christ will disown them: ‘I know you not; depart from me, ye workers 20 of iniquity.’ Many will pretend to be of Christ’s side, take up the opinions of the country wherein they live, frequent ordinances, &c.; but because they kept not his testimonies, Christ will not own them. When men are to be posed, they count it a favour to know the questions aforehand. God hath told us what will be the great evidence according to which he will proceed in the day of judgment—Have you kept my testimonies He that keeps close to God’s word will find acceptance.
(2.) They are blessed for whom Christ mediateth. Now, Christ mediateth for those that keep his word: John xvii. 6, ‘They have kept thy word.’ It is a grief to your advocate when he cannot speak well of you in heaven. But as soon as he seeth any fruits of obedience, where they consult often with God’s testimony, though they have many failings, yet are careful as much as in them lies, then he goes to the Father and acquainteth him with it.
(3.) Those that are taken into sweet fellowship and communion with God certainly they are in a blessed condition. Those to whom God will be intimate, and manifest himself in a way of gracious communion, are blessed. Now thus he doth to those that keep his testimonies: ‘If any man love me and keep my commandments, my Father will love him, and we will make our abode with him.’ The whole Trinity will come and dwell in his heart.
But now you must know, there is a twofold keeping of God’s testimonies—legal and evangelical. Legal keeping is in a way of perfect and absolute obedience, without the least failing; so none of us can be blessed. Moses will accuse us; there will be failings in the best. But now evangelical keeping—that is, a filial and sincere obedience—is accepted, and the imperfections Christ pardoneth. If God’s pardon help us not, we are for ever miserable. The apostles had many failings; sometimes they manifested a weak faith, sometimes hardness of heart, sometimes passionateness when they met with disrespect, Luke ix.; yet Christ returns this general acknowledgment of them when he was pleading with his Father, ‘Holy Father, they have kept thy word.’ When the heart is sincere, God will pass by our failings, James v. 11, ‘Ye have heard of the patience of Job.’ Ay! and of his impatience too, his cursing the day of his birth; but the Spirit of God puts a finger upon the scar, and takes notice of what is good. So long as we bewail sin, seek remission of sin, strive after perfection, endeavour to keep close and be tender of a command, though a naughty heart will carry us aside sometimes, we keep the testimony of the Lord in a gospel sense. Bewailing sin, that owns the law; seeking pardon, that owns the gospel; striving after perfection, that argueth sincerity and uprightness. Well, then, here is the discriminating note; if we would know whether we come within the compass of David’s blessed man, if we have a dear and tender esteem of God’s testimonies, when we would fain have them impressed upon our hearts, and expressed in our lives and conversations, ‘They keep his testimonies.’
The next now is:—
2. They seek him with the whole heart.
This is fitly subjoined to the former for a double reason; partly, because the end of God’s testimonies is to direct us how to seek after God, to bring home the wandering creature to its centre and place of 21rest; partly, because whoever keeps the commandments of God, he will be forced to seek God for light and help.
Obedience doth not only qualify us for communion with God, but (where it is regarded in good earnest) necessitates us to look after it; for we cannot come to God without God; and therefore, if we would keep his testimonies, we must be seeking of God. Well, then—
Doct. 2. Those that would be blessed must make this their business, sincerely to seek after God.
1. Observe the act of duty; they seek the Lord.
2. The manner of performance, with the whole heart.
First, What it is to seek the Lord.
1. To seek the Lord presupposeth our want of God: for no man seeks what he hath, but for what he hath not. All that are seeking are sensible of their want of God. For instance, when we begin to seek him at first, it begins with a sound remorse and sense of our natural estrangement from him. The first work and great care of returning penitents is to inquire after God. So long as men lie unconverted, they are wholly neglectful of him, and think they do not want God: Ps. xiv. 2, ‘There is none that understands and seeks after God.’ They have no affection or desire of communion with God. They seek such things as their hearts lust after, but it is not their desire or care to enjoy God. But when the conversion of the Jews is spoken of, Hosea iii. 5, it is said, ‘They shall return and seek the Lord their God.’ At first conversion men are sensible of their great distance from God, and are troubled they have been so long strangers to him. Go to another sort of seekers, they are sensible of the same thing; in case of desertion it is clear: Cant. v. 6, ‘My beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone; I sought him, but I could not find him.’ They never begin to recover until they are first sensible of their loss; when they see Christ is gone, they are left dead and comfortless; yea, all believers, their seeking or looking after communion with God is grounded upon a sense of want in some degree and measure; it is little they have in comparison of what they want and expect; and therefore still the children of God are a generation of seekers, that ‘seek after God,’ Ps. xxiv. 6; whatever they enjoy, they are still in pursuit of more. They are always breathing after God, and desire to enjoy more communion with him. A wicked man is always running from God, and is never better than when he is out of God’s company, when he is rid of all thoughts of God. He runs from his own conscience, because he finds God there; he runs from the company of good men, because God is there—holy conference is as a prison; he runs from ordinances, because they bring God near to his conscience, and put him in mind of God: he avoids death, because he cannot endure to be with God. But men that have a sense and want of God upon them, will be inquiring and seeking after him.
2. This seeking may be known by the things sought. What do we seek for? Union and communion with God: Ps. cv. 4, ‘Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his face for evermore.’ It is an allusion to the ark, which was a pledge of God’s favourable and powerful presence; so that which we seek after is God’s favourable and powerful presence, that we may find the Lord reconciled, comforting and quickening our heart. Communion with God is the main thing that we seek 22 after, as to the enjoyment of his favour in the acceptance of our persons and pardon of our sins. This is that the man of God expresseth, in his own name and in the name of all the saints: Ps. iv. 6, 7, ‘Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us;’ that God would display his beams of favour upon the soul. So Ps. lxiii. 3, ‘Thy favour is better than life.’ And then his strength too, that he may subdue our corruptions, temptations, enemies, Micah vii. 19; and that he may supply our wants inward and outward by his all-sufficiency, Phil. iv. 19. God telleth Abraham, ‘I am God all-sufficient; walk before me, and be thou perfect.’
3. The formality of the duty may be explained with respect to graces and ordinances. It consists in the exercise of grace, and in the use of ordinances.
[1.] The exercise of grace—faith and love. (1.) Faith is often expressed by terms of motion—coming, running, going, seeking. Thus is the whole tendency of soul towards God expressed by terms that are proper to outward motion. Coming notes our serious resolution and purpose to make after God. Going notes the practice or progress in that resolution. Running notes the fervour and earnestness of the soul to enjoy God. And seeking, that notes our diligence in the use of means. That faith is implied in seeking appears by comparing these two scriptures: Isa. xi. 10, ‘To it shall the Gentiles seek.’ Now when this is spoken of in the New Testament, it is rendered thus, Rom. xv. 12, ‘In him shall the Gentiles trust.’ So that it notes confidence and hope. (2.) It notes love, which is exercised herein, which puts upon sallies and earnest egressions of soul after the party loved: Ps. lxiii. 8, ‘My soul follows hard after thee.’ It is grievous to those who love God to think of separation from him, or to forbear to seek after him. The great care of their souls is to find God, that he may direct, comfort, strengthen, and sanctify them, and to have sweet experience of his grace. Thus the spouse ‘sought him whom her soul loved,’ and gave not over till she found him.
[2.] Again, it is exercised in the use of the ordinances, as the word and prayer. God will be sought in his own ordinances. Christ walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks. If you would find a man, mind where is his walk and usual resort. When Christ was lost, his parents sought him in the temple; there they found him. If you would find Christ, look to the shepherds’ tents in the assemblies of his people, Cant i. 7, 8; there shall you meet him. Only let me tell you, in these ordinances it is not enough to make Christ the object of them, to worship Christ, but he must be made the end of them. To serve God is one thing, to seek him another. To serve God is to make him the object of worship, to seek God is to make him the end of worship, when we will not go away from him without him: Gen. xxxii. 16, ‘I will not let thee go unless thou bless me.’ It is not enough to make use of ordinances, but we must see if we can find God there. There are many that hover about the palace, that yet do not speak with the prince; so possibly we may hover about ordinances, and not meet with God there. To go away with the husk and shell of an ordinance, and neglect the kernel, to please ourselves because we have been in the courts of God, though we have not met with the living God, that is 23very sad. A traveller and merchant differ thus:—A traveller goes from place to place only that he may see; but a merchant goes from port to port that he may take in his lading, and grow rich by traffic. So a formal person goes from ordinance to ordinance, and is satisfied with the work; a godly man looks to take in his lading, that he may go away from God with God; that he may meet God here and there, in this duty and in that, and go away from God with God. A man that makes a visit only by constraint, and not by friendship, it is all one to him whether the person be at home or no; but another would be glad to find his friend there: so, if we from a principle of love come to God in these duties, our desires will be to find the living God.
Again, if God be not found in an ordinance, yet we must continue seeking; you may find him in the next. Sometimes God will not be found in public, that he may be found in private ordinances. The spouse ‘sought him upon her bed,’ then in every street of the city: Isa. lv. 6, ‘Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.’ In prayer we come most directly to enjoy God, and do more especially call him in to our help and relief; there all graces are acted. If you cannot find God in prayer, look for him in the supper, and in the word; if he be not comfortably present in the word, seek him by meditation: Cant. v. 6, ‘My soul failed when he spake;’ that is, when I considered his speaking, for his wooing was over, my be loved was gone; but when I thought of his speaking my soul failed David consults with Nathan, but he could give him no clear answer; what then? 2 Sam. vii. 4, ‘The word of the Lord came that night unto Nathan, saying, Go and tell my servant David,’ &c. So when we have been inquiring after God all day in public worship, all this while the oracle is silent; but at night, when going over these things again, God may be found. Acts xvii. 12, it is said, ‘Therefore many of them believed.’ How?—when they searched the word; though in the hearing they did not discern the impressions of God upon the word; but when they searched and studied, going over them in private duties, God appeared. Heb. xi. 11, it is said, ‘She judged him faithful that had promised.’ How so? at first hearing? No; Sarah laughed when God promised her a son (for it was the Son of God that was in company with the angels, Gen. xviii.); but afterwards, when she considered of it, she judged him faithful.
Thus we must follow God from ordinance to ordinance. It argues a great deal of pride in carnal men, that if God doth not meet them presently they throw off all. Now and then they will see what they shall have for calling upon God; but if God do not answer at the first knock, they are gone.
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