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So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever.—Ver. 44.
FIRST, David prays for deliverance, ver. 41, ‘Let thy salvation come,’ &c. Next he prays, if he might not have deliverance, yet a little liberty to own God in the time of his trouble, ‘Take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth;’ and with what argument doth he enforce it? In the close of the former verse he had pleaded, ‘I have hoped in thy judgments.’ Now he pleads his steadfast purpose to serve God, conceived in the form of a vow, ‘So shall I keep thy law,’ &c. They that hope in God’s promises must have a tender regard to his precepts. First he saith, ‘I hope in thy judgments,’ then, ‘I shall keep thy law.’ The tender regard of God’s precepts. How? What! to talk of them only? No. As in the former verse he speaks of the word of truth in his mouth, so here he speaks of keeping and observing the law in his practice, to show we should not own God in word only, but in deed also. He spoke of profession there, and now we are to fill up our profession with answerable practice: ‘So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever.’
The text contains a promise of obedience.
1. The matter promised, I shall keep thy law.
2. The manner and constancy of that obedience, continually for ever and ever.
Mark, the promise of obedience is brought in by way of argument, ‘So shall I keep;’ so, that is, this will encourage me, this will enable me.
1. The granting of his requests would give him encouragement. When God answers our hope and expectation, gratitude should excite and quicken us to give him all manner of obedience. If he will give us a heart, and a little liberty to confess his name and serve him, we should not be backward or uncertain, but walk closely with him.
2. This would give him assistance and strength. If God do daily give assistance, we shall stand; if not, we fall and falter. This will be a means of his perseverance; not only engage and oblige him, but help him to hold out to the end.
Then mark the constancy of this obedience, ‘Continually, and for ever and ever.’ David would not keep it for a fit, or for a few days, or a year; but always, even to the end of his life.
Here are three words to the same sense, ‘Continually, for ever, and ever.’ And the Septuagint expresseth it thus: I shall keep thy law always, and for ever, and for ever and ever; four words there. This heaping of words is not in vain.
1. It shows the difficulty of perseverance. Unless believers do strongly persist in the resistance to temptation, they will soon be turned out of the way; therefore David binds his heart firmly. We must do it now, yea, always, unto the end.
2. He expresseth his vehemency of affection. Those that are deeply affected with anything are wont to express themselves as largely as they can. As Paul, that had a deep sense of God’s power: Eph. i. 19, 471 ‘Exceeding greatness of his power,’ ‘according to the working of his mighty power.’ He heaps up several words, because his sense of them was so great. So David here doth heap up words, continually, and for ever, and for ever and ever.
3. Some think the words are so many, that they may express not only this life but that which is to come. I will keep them ‘continually, and for ever and ever;’ that is, all the days of my life, and in the other world. So Chrysostom, ‘I will keep them continually,’ &c., points out the other life, where there will be pure and exact keeping of the law of God. Here we are every hour in danger, but then we shall be put out of all danger; and without fear of sinning, we shall remain in a full and perfect righteousness. We hope for that which we have not attained unto, and this doth encourage us for the present; so would he make David express himself.
4. If we must distinguish these words, I suppose they imply the continuity and perpetuity of obedience: the continuity of obedience, that he would serve God continually without intermission; and the perpetuity of obedience, that he would serve God for ever and ever, without defection and revolt, at all times, and to the end.
Doct. Constancy and perseverance in obedience is the commendation of it.
When David promiseth to obey, he saith he would do it ‘continually for ever and ever.’ This is the obedience God longs for: Deut. v. 29, ‘Oh, that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always!’ Here we find all things which are requisite to God’s service: the sincerity of it, that they had a heart; the gracious principle which works in obedience, a heart to fear me; the universality of it, to keep all my commands; and the perpetuity of it, to keep them always. They are in a good mood now. As if God had said, Oh, that they bad a heart to do it always! Christ redeemed us to this end: Luke i. 74, 75, ‘Delivered us out of the hands of our enemies, that we might serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him;’ not for a while only, but ‘all the days of our life.’
I shall distinguish of a double constancy and perseverance, and under ach branch give some reasons, with their applications.
1. A perseverance without intermission.
2. Without defection. Both are necessary.
First, A perseverance without intermission. We should at all times and in all places serve God, and not by fits and starts; as it is said of the twelve tribes, Acts xxvi. 12, they ‘served God instantly clay and night;’ alone and in company, in all conditions, adverse and prosperous. In all actions, common and sacred, God must be served and obeyed.
Let me give some considerations to enforce it, to serve God continually.
1. The law of God doth universally bind, and the obligation thereof never ceaseth, so as there can be no truce with sin for a while, nor any intermission of grace for a moment: Prov. vi. 21, 22, ‘O my son, keep thy father’s commandments, and forsake not the law of thy mother; bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about 472thy neck.’ The commandments of God, he calls them the law of the father and mother; for Solomon speaks as to young ones and children, as those that had been trained up by their parents. Now these must be looked upon as having a perpetual obligation to direct us and keep us: sleeping and waking we must have them always in our sight. Every motion and every operation of ours is under a law; our thoughts and words are under a law, and our actions are under a law; all that we speak and all that we do, it is still under a rule. The law of God is of perpetual use to show us what we must do and what we must leave undone. Oh, how exact should we be if we did regard this, and were mindful of the perpetual obligation of the law!
2. Grace planted in the heart should be always working. The fire on the altar was never to go out; and so grace should be always working, and influence all our actions, civil and sacred: 1 Peter i. 15, ‘Be ye holy, as he that hath called you is holy, in all manner of conversation.’ There is no part of a Christian’s conversation which should not savour of holiness; not only his religious, but his common and civil actions. The pots in Jerusalem and the horses’ bells were to bear God’s impress, as well as the vessels and utensils of the temple, Zech. xiv. As the sun is placed in the middle of the heavens to diffuse his influence and scatter his beams up and down the world, and nothing is hid from his light, so is grace planted in the heart to diffuse its influence into every part of his conversation; and therefore grace, where it is true, it is always at work. There are some parts of the body that are never out of action, as the heart and lungs; wherever a man goes, and whatever he goes about, yet they always do their office. So some graces are of continual exercise; as the fear of God: Prov. xxiii. 17, ‘Be thou in the fear of God all the day long.’ A Christian doth not only pray in the fear of God, but eat, drink, and trade in the fear of God. So the love of God, in referring all things to his glory, whether they be acts of worship, or acts of charity, or of our callings, or recreations: grace hath an influence upon these, and is still to be at work upon these, 1 Cor. x. 31. And so faith is always at work in depending upon God and looking up to him; it is our life, ‘That which I live in the flesh:’ Gal. ii. 20, ‘All that I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.’ Well, then, the law of God is always binding, and every operation of ours is under a law, and grace should always be working.
3. God’s eye is always upon us; he is alike everywhere; therefore a Christian should be alike everywhere, always like himself, at home and abroad, alone and in company: Phil. ii. 12, ‘As ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but much more in my absence.’ Many are devout abroad, but carnal, careless, profane, if you follow them home to their families. When you are alone you are not alone, God is there; we have a heavenly Father that seeth in secret, Mat. vi. 4; what you do in your closets, the doors made fast, and all company shut out. A man might allow himself in carnal liberty if he could go anywhere where God doth not see him; but his eye is still upon us; and therefore we should say with David, ‘I will keep thy law continually.’ ‘Will he force the queen before my face?’ saith Ahasuerus. We break God’s laws before his face; his eye is always upon us, and all our ways are before him.475
4. God is always at work for us: John v. 17, ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.’ He sustains us every day, hour, moment, and waketh ^for us, watcheth over us by night and by day. When we sleep, the devil is awake to do us mischief. Ay! but the God of Israel, ‘he that keepeth Israel neither slumbereth nor sleepeth,’ but watcheth for our good. As soon as we arise, ‘his compassions are new every morning,’ Lam. iii. 22, 23. Now, can we offend him from whom we receive life and breath every moment? If God should intermit his care but for one day, nay, but suspend it for one hour, what would become of thee?
5. All our actions concern eternity. This life is compared to a walk, Eph. ii. 10. Everything we do or speak is a step either to heaven or hell, therefore to have an influence or tendency on that action. The more good we do, the more we are acted with a fear of God, and love of God, to do all things to his glory, the nearer heaven; and the more evil, the nearer hell. We should not stand still or go back, but always be getting ground in our journey.
6. To be off and on with God will cost us much sorrow; it will be bitterness in the end. Either it will cost us the bitterness of repentance here, or of weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth for ever; either holy compunction or everlasting horror. When you straggle from God, there is no returning to your former husband but by Weeping-cross, Hosea ii. 14. And who would provide matter of sorrow for himself? I say, when you thrust your hand into Satan’s dish, there is some sauce mingled with his meat, and then everlasting horror if not compunction, for that will be the end of them that are always un stable in all their ways, James i. 8. God will not always bear with them; he may at first, while they are children, poor weak novices, but will not always, Eph. iv. 14. God expects that at length we should grow more constant, and grow up to a radicated state of grace; therefore, if we are always children, off and on with God, then he will cast us off.
7. By every intermission we may lose ground, and possibly may never wholly, if we recover it in part again. We may lose ground, for ‘the way of the Lord is strength to the upright,’ Prov. x. 29. The more we continue in it the fitter we are to walk in it. A bell, when once up, is kept up with greater ease than if we were to raise it anew. A horse warm in his gears is more fit for his journey than at first setting forth; and therefore keep up while you are in the way of God. If it be hard to keep in with God, it will be harder to recover when you are out of the way. The only way to make religion easy is to be still in it, and to have our hearts still upon it; and therefore you lose by your intermission. And if you recover yourselves after intermission, it is not always to that degree of largeness of heart and fulness of spiritual comfort. A prodigal that hath rioted away his estate, if set up again, is not trusted with the like stock; and after a great disease, though a man recovers, yet it is not to the degree of his former health many times. Therefore we should without intermission persevere in our duty to God.
To apply this part.
Use 1. It should humble us all that we are so fickle and inconstant 474 in that which is good. Our hearts are unstable as water. In the space of an hour, how are our thoughts changed from good to evil, and from evil to good in a moment! What a monster would man seem, if his heart were visible, in the best duty that ever he performed! Our devotion and goodness comes by pangs and fits; now humble, anon proud; now meek, anon passionate; now confident, then full of fear and anguish. Like men sick of an ague, sometimes well, some times ill, we do not seem to be the same men in a duty and out of a duty; nay, sometimes in the same duty we do not seem to be the same men, are not carried on with the same largeness of heart, and confidence in God, and savouriness and spirituality. Oh, how changeable and fickle are our hearts! This should humble us.
2. It reproveth them that would have a dispensation at times, and take liberty to cast off all Christian modesty and gravity; that think if they be serious sometimes, they may be light and vain at others; and therefore sometimes like angels of light, at other times like fiends of darkness. Sometimes we would take them for grave, serious Christians, at other times for loose libertines; and they cast the fear of God behind their backs: Ezek. xxxiii. 13, ‘If he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity,’ &c.; that is, if upon presumption that he hath been righteous, he dispenseth with himself, and takes an indulgence from his former duty to be light, vain, careless, all his righteousness shall be forgotten. Such a dissimilitude is there between men; now they seem to be grave and serious, anon vain, light, and wanton; so very uncertain and uneven are we in our temper and practice.
3. It shows what need there is of a constant watchfulness, that in all things we may behave ourselves as God’s children. Sin is always at work: Gen. vi. 5, ‘The imaginations and thoughts of our heart are only evil, and that continually:’ and Satan is always at work, espying advantages against us, 1 Peter v. 8, to draw us off from God. Oh, then, let grace be in its continual exercise! Live as knowing all the motions and operations of the soul are under a rule; live as being always under the eye of God; live as being sensible God takes care of us himself, remembereth us every moment, therefore it is but reason we should take him.
Secondly, A perseverance without defection and apostasy, that we may not fall off from God when we have taken a profession of his name upon us. Now, the considerations to quicken you to that will be these:—
1. Consider how equal it is that our duty should last so long as we would have God’s blessings last, that one part should answer another. We would have God bless us to the end, therefore we must serve and obey him to the end: Ps. xlviii. 14, ‘For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even unto death.’ He doth not lay down the conduct of his providence until we come to heaven, and therefore we should keep his law for ever and ever. How can we desire God to be ours to the end, if we are not his to the end? The stipulation of our part of the covenant must answer that of God’s.
2. We have the same reasons to continue that we had to begin at first; there is the same loveliness in God’s ways; Christ is as sweet as 475 ever, and heaven as worthy and as great as ever. If there be any difference, there is more reason to continue than there was to begin. Why? Because we have more experience of the sweetness of Christ; you knew him before only by report and hearsay, but now you have tasted he is gracious, you know him by experience, 1 Peter ii. 3. Surely when we have made trial, Christ should be sweeter and heaven nearer: Rom. xiii. 11, ‘Our salvation is nearer.’ The nearer to the enjoyment of any good, the more impatient in the want of it. A Christian, as he is nearer to his hopes and happiness, and the more experience of God and Christ, the more stable should his heart be in the ways of God. I speak of this, because at first men are carried out with great affection and zeal, and are of very promising beginnings. There is no reason of altering our course, or why we should grow remiss, lazy, and changeable in God’s service. What is more usual with men than to cast off their first faith, 1 Tim. v. 12, and their first love, Rev. ii. 4, and their first diligence and obedience, 2 Chron. xvii. 3. We read of ‘the first ways of David.’ Many that seem to have set forth with a great deal of forwardness and zeal tire afterward. In the marriage relation true affection increaseth, but adulterous love is hot only while it is new.
3. Consider the danger and mischievous effects of apostasy and declining from God.
[1.] This is somewhat, that you lose your crown: Rev. iii. 11, 4 ‘Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.’ The honour and comfort of all we have hitherto done and suffered will be lost and gone, ‘Therefore take heed to yourselves, that ye lose not the things which ye have wrought.’ All your watchings, strivings, prayings, fastings, professing the name of God, all is come to nothing. The Nazarite under the law was to begin again if the days of his separation were defiled, Num. vi. 12. If he had separated himself for such a while, though he kept almost all his time, yet if he defiled himself before the time was out, he was to begin all again: Ezek. xviii. 24, ‘When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness and committeth iniquity, all his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned.’ When you turn head against your former profession, all comes to nothing.
[2.] Consider, falling off is more dishonourable to God than a simple refusal. Why? You bring an ill report upon him, as if he were not a good master. A wicked man that refuseth grace, he does not so much dishonour God, because his refusal is supposed to be the fruit of his prejudice. But now you cast him off after trial, and so your refusal is supposed to be the fruit of your experience, as if the devil were a better master. When you have tried both, you do as it were deliberately judge that Satan’s service is best, or that you do not find in God that which he promised, and you expected from him. And that is the reason why God stands upon his credit, and pleads with apostates, Jer. ii. 5, ‘What iniquity have your fathers found in me that they are gone far from me?’ and Micah vi. 3, ‘my people, what have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.’ Is he hard to please, or backward to reward? What cause of distaste have you found in him? for you do implicitly accuse him.476
[3.] When you fall off after a taste of the sweetness and comfort of the practice of godliness, your condition is worse than if you had never begun, and you will be more unable than you were at first A man that is climbing up a tree or ascending a ladder, if after he hath gotten up many steps he let go his hold and falls down, he doth not only lose the benefit of his former pains, but gets a bruised body and broken bones, and is less able to climb up than he was before.
[5.] The more you persevere, the more assurance you have of the goodness of your condition: Heb. vi. 11, ‘We desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.’ When a man keeps up his warmth, his hope increaseth, and he grows to more assurance and more establishment, and keeps up his diligence in God’s service.
Use 1. For reproof.
1. Those that take up religion only by way of essay and trial, that do not resolve upon all hazards, but take it only as a walk, and not a journey, like men that go to sea for pleasure, not to make a voyage. But whenever we begin with God, we should say, I will keep thy law continually for ever and ever. We should sit down and count the charges, make God a good allowance, resolve that nothing shall with draw us from him, Rom. viii. 35, 36.
2. It reproveth aguish Christians, whose piety and devotion takes them by fits. Their righteousness is like ‘the morning dew,’ Hosea vi. 4, that cannot endure the rising sun, and so they are off and on with God.
3. Those that are of the Samaritan temper, swayed altogether by temporal advantages. The Samaritans, sometimes they would be of the Jews’ religion, when favoured by Alexander; when the Jews were pursued by other princes, then they would be against the Jews, and deny the temple of God: sometimes their temple was dedicated to the God of Israel, sometimes to the God of the heathens, as their interests did fall or rise. So there are many that do intend or remit the conscience of their duty according to their interests; and therefore, when trouble ariseth, they are offended, Mark iv. 17.
Use 2. For exhortation, to press you thus to keep God’s law for ever and ever. To this end—
Direct. 1. Be fortified within. After you have gotten grace—I suppose men that they are in a good way—oh, be fortified from that which may shake you from without. Three things are wont to hurry men from one extreme to another—errors, persecutions, and scandals.
1. Errors. Be not troubled when differences fall out about the truths of God, nor shaken in mind: 1 Cor. xi. 19, ‘For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.’ Many question the ways of God and all religion; because there are so many differences about them, therefore they think nothing certain. These winds God lets loose upon the church to distinguish the chaff and the solid grain. God saw this discipline necessary, that we might not take up religion upon trust, without the pains of study and prayer.477
2. Persecutions are an offence: Mat. xi. 6, ‘Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me;’ that is, offended because of troubles that accompany the profession of the truth. The whole drift of the Christian religion is to draw us off from the interests and concernments of the present world, to look after another.
3. Scandals of professors. All that profess the name of God are his witnesses; their lives should be a confirmation of the gospel, but indeed they often prove a confutation of it we should confirm the weak, and we offend the strong. Many have been gained by persecution, when they have seen the courage of God’s servants; but the scandals of those that profess the name of God have proved a stumbling-block. Those that are offended by crosses, yet they have a secret liking of the truth; but those that are offended by scandals, they loathe the truth itself, and so are hurried away against the profession of God. Therefore be fortified against all these.
Direct. 2. Be fortified within by taking heed to the causes of apostasy and falling off from the truth, either in judgment or practice. What are those things?
1. Ungrounded assent. A choice lightly made is lightly altered, when men do not resolve upon evidence. We are to ‘try all things,’ 1 Thes. v. 21. When we take up a profession without evidence, we soon quit it: men waver hither and thither for want of solid rooting in the truth.
2. Ungrounded profession, want of solid rooting in grace, when not rooted either in faith, Col. ii. 7, or grounded in love, Eph. iii. 17, or established by grace, Heb. xiii. 9. There must be a foundation before a building, a thorough sense of the love of God, and a being rooted, when our hearts are sound in God’s statutes.
3. Unmodified lusts. That which is lame is soon turned out of the way. While men keep up their respects to the pleasures, profits, and honours of the world unbroken, they are sure to miscarry; though they should stand for a while, yet temptation will come that will take them away. Lusts put us upon great uncertainty, as fear, or the favour of men, or as carnal hopes sway: 2 Tim. iv. 10, ‘Demas hath forsaken us, having loved this present world.’
4. A fond easiness. Men change their religion with their company, out of a desire to please all, as the cameleon changeth colours according as it touches. True religion is indeed ‘easy to be entreated,’ James iii. 17. But now, to make bold with God and conscience, to please men, is a sad adventure; it is not a good disposition, but pusillanimity.
5. Self-confidence, when we think to bear it out with natural courage and resolution, and will be playing about the cockatrice’s hole, and dallying with temptation; as Peter’s confidence; you know how dear it cost him, John xviii. 16, 17. It is God which ‘keepeth the feet of his saints,’ and he will be known to be their guardian, 1 Sam. ii. 9; therefore he will be depended on.
Direct. 3. Take heed of the first decays, and look often on the state of your hearts. A man that never casts up his estate is undone insensibly. It is the devil’s policy, when once we are a-declining, to carry us further and further. A gap once made in the conscience, 478grows wider and wider every day. The first declinings are the cause of all the rest. Evil is best stopped in the beginning. When first you begin to be careless, mindless of God, and neglectful of communion with him, oh! then take heed. It is easier to crush the egg than kill the serpent. He that keeps the house in constant repair prevents the ruin and fall of it; so do you keep your soul in constant repair, take notice of the first swerving, lest it carry you further and further. Men fall off by degrees, and grow worse and worse, neglect this duty and that, till they cast off all. Like Nebuchadnezzar’s image, which was of gold, silver, iron, clay, from worse to worse, they presently run from one extremity to another. There are degrees of hardness: Heb. iii. 14, ‘Let us hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.’ The first sense, taste, and liveliness of it: learn from whence you are fallen. And then a steadfast expectation of the reward, 1 Cor. xv. 58. You have but a few years’ service more, a little while to be put upon labour and striving, then you shall be as happy as heart can wish. Then a religious use of the Lord’s Supper, for here you renew again the oath of allegiance to God. The great purport of this duty is to bind yourselves to this firm and close walking. The Lord’s Supper is a renewing of covenant, to fix our hearts by new promises of obedience. When we begin to waver and faint, and stand, we receive new strength; as they, when they had a little refreshing, then they went on from strength to strength, Ps. lxxxiv. 7, 8. The Lord’s Supper is our viaticum, our well and refreshing by the way, that we may hold out to our journey’s end.
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