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And I will walk at liberty; for I seek thy precepts.—Ver. 45.
THE copulative in front of the text showeth some dependence which the words have upon the former. His last request was, ver. 43, for an opportunity and heart to own the ways of God. His arguments are—
1. His present hope, in the end of that verse.
2. His perseverance in obedience, ver. 44. Now—
3. The freedom of his heart in that continued course of obedience. A free and open confession of the truth may seem to cast us into bonds and straits, but yet it giveth us liberty: the truth sets us free, John viii. 32. If it bring the body under fetters, yet it enlargeth the heart, We never have greater freedom than when we are pleasing God, though at our bitter cost: ‘I will walk at liberty,’ non in angustiis timoris, sed in latitudine dilectionis—not straitened by fear, but set at large by love: ‘I will walk at liberty; for I seek thy precepts.’ In the words observe—
1. David’s privilege, and I will walk at liberty.
2. The ground of it, for I seek thy precepts.
The points are two:—
Doct. 1. To walk in the way of God’s precepts is to walk at liberty.479
Doct. 2. The more we take care to do so, the more we find this liberty. I seek, that noteth an earnest diligence. Both these points will be made good by these three considerations:—
1. The way of God’s precepts is in itself liberty.
2. There is a liberty given to walk in that way.
3. Upon walking in that way we find it liberty.
First, The way of God’s precepts is liberty. Therefore his law is called a ‘law of liberty,’ James i. 25. No such freedom as in God’s service; and, on the contrary, no such bondage as to be held with the cords of our own sin: 2 Peter ii. 19, ‘While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption.’ A liberty to do all we please is the greatest bondage. There are three pairs of notions in which men are extremely mistaken—in misery and happiness, wisdom and folly, liberty and bondage. Men think none miserable but the afflicted, and none happy but the prosperous, because they judge by the present ease and commodity of the flesh; therefore Christ in his Sermon on the Mount maketh it his drift to undeceive the world, to show that the mourners and the persecuted, the pure and the meek, they are the happy men, Mat. v. So in the notions of wisdom and folly the world are mistaken. Man, that is an intelligent creature, affects the reputation of wisdom, and would rather be accounted wicked than weak. But how do they mistake? He is the wise man in their account that can carry on his worldly business with success. They judge of wisdom and folly, not by the concernments of the other world, but by present interests. Therefore the whole drift of the scripture is to make us ‘wise to salvation,’ 2 Tim. iii. 15, to call us off from secular wisdom, and to teach us to become fools that we may be wise. So they are put in the notions of liberty and bondage. All men desire liberty, especially from tyranny and base servitude; and so far they do well in the general: but then they think that is only liberty to do what they please; and so the more they think to be, and labour to be, free in a carnal way, the more slaves they are. The service of God, and strict walking with him, they count a very prison and thraldom; and therefore cry out of bonds and yokes and cords: Ps. ii. 3, ‘Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their cords from us;’ and are impatient of any restraint. Whereas, on the other side, to do what we list without check or control, and to speak what we list, and think what we list, this they think the only freedom: ‘Our tongues are our own: who is Lord over us?’ Whereas, indeed, he liveth the freest life that lieth under the bonds of duty, that maketh conscience of praying and praising God, and conversing and walking with him in a course of holiness; and the true liberty is in walking in God’s statutes. So that true bondage and liberty is little or nothing at all known and discerned in the world. To make this evident unto you, I shall prove—
1. That carnal liberty is but thraldom.
2. That the true liberty is in the ways of God.
1. That carnal liberty is but thraldom. To understand this, I^must lay down one proposition that conduceth to cure the great mistake about liberty and bondage: That liberty is not potestas vivendi ut velis a power to live as we list; no, it is to live as we ought—potestas 480volendi quod lex divina jubet. The life and spirit of liberty lieth in that, a power to do what we ought, not a power to do what we will. Ever since we drank in that poison, ‘Ye shall be as gods,’ Gen. iii. 5, man affecteth a dominion over himself, and would be lord of his own actions, sui juris, at his own dispose, do what he pleaseth. Indeed, if we had a perfectly holy understanding to guide us, the danger would not be so great; but now it is the greatest misery that can befall a man to be at his own dispose, to do lawlessly what he will: and therefore God’s fearful and dreadful judgment, after all other courses tried, is to give up men to the sway of their own hearts, to do what they please: Ps. lxxxi. 12, ‘So I gave them up to their own hearts’ lust, and they walked in their own counsels;’ to be left to our brutish affections. But to prove it.
[1.] That infringeth a man’s liberty that hindereth and disableth him from prosecuting his great end, which is to be truly happy. Now thus doth the carnal life, and therefore this is true and perfect bondage. Though men live in their bonds with as much delight as fishes in their own element, yet that doth not alter the case; they are slaves for all that: ‘They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh.’ Rom. viii. 5. They seem to live at large, but indeed they are in a spiritual prison; they cannot use the means that should make them happy. They employ their whole time in the remote subservient helps to a happy life, in pleasures, and honours, and profits; as dissolute and carnal factors and servants, who, finding contentment at the first inn they come at, spend most of their time and money there, which should be spent at the fairs and mart for which they are bound. Plea sure, and delight, and contentment of mind and body, is a remote subservient help; so competency of wealth, and some place wherein we may glorify God: these things are not to be desired for themselves, nor in any great measure, but subordinately, in order to our great end. ‘Now, when they entice and detain our affections, and we cannot look after our great end, they break our liberty; for the less power we have to do that which we should desire to do, the more slaves are we.
[2.] That which disordereth the constitution of the soul, and puts reason out of dominion, that certainly is spiritual bondage and thraldom. Now, when the base prevail above the honourable, it is a sign a country is enthralled; where beggars are on horseback, and princes walk on foot; or, as it is monstrous in the body if the head be there where the feet should be, and the feet where the head should be; such a de-ordination is there in the soul when the affections carry it, and lust taketh the throne instead of reason: Titus iii. 3, ‘Serving divers lusts and pleasures.’ When a man yieldeth up himself to his own desires, he becometh a proper servant: Rom. vi. 16, ‘Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?’ Now, man rightly constituted, his actions are thus governed: The understanding and conscience prescribe to the will; the will, according to right reason and conscience, moveth the affections; the affections, according to the command and counsel of the will, move the bodily spirits and members of the body. But by corruption there is a manifest inversion and change; pleasures affect the 481senses, the senses corrupt the phantasy, phantasy moveth the bodily spirits, they the affections; and by their violence the will is carried captive, man blinded, and so man goeth on headlong to his own destruction. The corrupt passions are like wild horses, that do not obey the driver, but draw to precipices for his destruction. Therefore Basil of Seleucia calleth a carnal man a slave, that runs after the chariots of his own passions and corrupt affections.
[3.] Consider the great tyranny and power of sin; it leaveth us no right and power to dispose of ourselves and our actions, and so men cannot help themselves when they would; as is sensible in them that are convinced of better, and do worse: they see what they should do, but do not do it, being drawn away by their own lusts. Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor. Sin hath gotten such a deep interest in their actions, and command over their affections, that they cannot leave what they know to be naught, or follow that which they conceive to be good. And this bondage is more sensible in them that have some kind of remorse and trouble with their convictions, either from temporal inconvenience, shame, or loss, and yet cannot leave their lusts, and so in despair resolve to go on, and make the best of it: Jer. xviii. 12, ‘And they said, There is no hope, but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart;’ Jer. ii. 25, ‘Thou hast said, There is no hope; no, for I have loved strangers, and after them will I go;’ yea, further, that have a kindly remorse from the conviction of the Spirit: Jer. xxxi. 18, ‘I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself, thus, Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke.’ And so Paul: Rom. vii. 14, ‘I am carnal, sold under sin.’
[4.] Consider how this bondage is always increased by custom, which is a second nature, or an inveterate disease not easily cured: Jer. xiii. 23, ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good who are accustomed to do evil.’ The more he continueth in this course, the less able to help himself; the more he sinneth, the more he is enthralled to sin; as a nail, the more it is knocked, the more it is fastened in the wood. First a man yields up himself to sin as a servant by covenant: Rom. vi. 16, ‘Know ye not to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey?’ that is, gives up his principal time, actions, and employment. Then a servant of conquest: 2 Peter ii. 19, ‘While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption; for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.’ A sinner is under the dominion of sin, as a hired servant and a captive. We first willingly, and by our own default, run into it, and after cannot rid ourselves of it. Ligatus eram nonferro alieno, sed mea ferrea voluntate; velle meum tenebat inimicus, et me mihi catenam fecerat, et constrinxerat me—Lord, I am bound, not with iron, but with an obstinate will; I gave my will to mine enemy, and he made a chain of it to bind me, and keep me from thee. Quippe ex voluntate perversa facta est libido, et dum servitur libidini facia est consuetudo, et dum consuetudo non resistitur facta est necessitas (Aug. Confes. lib. viii. cap. 5)—a perverse will gave way to lustings, and lustings made way for a custom, and a custom let alone brought a 482necessity upon me, that I can do nothing but sin against thee. And after that, Reformidabam quasi mortem consuetudinis mutationem (Aug. Confes. lib. viii. cap. 7). Thus are we by little and little en slaved, brought under the power of every toy. Things are lawful as subordinate helps; but we, contrary to the law of reason, and the inclination to true happiness, immoderately desire them; and these desires being excessive, get a complete victory Over our souls: and at length we are brought under the power of every creature: 1 Cor. vi. 12, ‘All things are lawful, but I will not be brought under the power of any.’
[5.] There is one thing more that maketh the carnal life to be a mere slavery; and that is, the fear and terror which doth arise from the consciousness of sin, the fear of death and damnation, and wrath to come, which doggeth sin at the heels. When Adam sinned, he was afraid, Gen. iii. 7; and carnal men are ‘all their lifetime subject to bondage through the fear of death,’ Heb. ii. 15. There is a fire smothering in the bosom of a sinner, and sometimes it flashes out in actual gripes and horrors; they have grievous damps of heart; so that sinners are so far bondmen, that they dare not seriously call themselves to an account for the expense of their time and employments, which every one should do, nor think seriously of death, or God’s judgment, or hell. He that is always under the check of a cruel master cannot be said to be a freeman. Now so is every man that is not in Christ; let him be never so great, and mighty, and powerful, he is ἔνοχος δουλείας, ‘subject to bondage,’ in danger of hidden fears, easily awakened in his heart. Well, then, call you this a free life? As jolly and jocund as wicked men seem to be, or as great as they are, it is a liberty of the flesh taken by men, not given by God; the quietness of the flesh, but bane of the soul.
2. On the contrary, the true liberty is in the ways of God.
[1.] There we are directed how to attain to our great end, which is true blessedness: Mat. vii. 14, ‘Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.’ A way of sin seemeth broad and easy to the flesh, but it is strait and hard to the spirit; and the way of duty strait and narrow to the flesh, but, because it is to life, it is broad to the spirit or new nature: ‘I shall walk at liberty.’ To a renewed heart the divine commandments are not grievous, 1 John v. 3, for by this means they come to enjoy God, and walk to their happiness, and attain to the end for which they were made. A poor heart goes home cheerfully.
[2.] In loving, fearing, praising, serving God, the noblest faculties are exercised in the noblest and most regular way of operation. The soul is in the right temper and constitution; they are the highest actions of the highest faculties, elevated by the highest principles, about the highest objects. The objects are God, Christ, heaven, the great things of eternity. The principles are the love and fear of God, the faculties, understanding, and will, not sensitive appetite; these exercised in thinking of God, and choosing of God.
Secondly, The second part of the demonstration is that there is liberty given to walk in that way. Ever since Adam’s fall every man is a spiritual slave, under the dominion and power of sin and Satan, 483and the curse of the law; but now, ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty,’ 2 Cor. iii. 17; true Christian liberty, or a power given us to walk familiarly with God, and cheerfully and comfortably in his service. By grace a man is freed—
1. From the yoke of oppressing fears.
2. The tyranny of commanding lusts.
1. We are freed from the bondage of sin: Rom. viii. 2, ‘The law of the spirit of life, which is in Christ Jesus, hath made us free from the law of sin and death;’ John viii. 36, ‘If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.’ There is a liberty in that which is good: Ps. cxix. 32, ‘I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart.’
2. We are freed from those doubts and fears and terrors which accompanied the state of sin: Job xxxvi. 8, ‘If they be bound in fetters, and be holden in the cords of affliction;’ Job xiii. 27, ‘Thou puttest my feet also in the stocks;’ Lam. iii. 7, ‘He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out; he hath made my chain heavy.’ So that the meaning is, I shall walk at liberty, be cheerful and enlarged in heart; for I seek thy precepts.
Thirdly, There is liberty in that walking: it is the fruit of strictness. There is a twofold liberty:—
1. Outward deliverances out of straits and afflictions: Ps. cxviii. 5, ‘I called upon the Lord in distress; the Lord answered me, and set me in a large place;’ and Ps. xviii. 19, ‘He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me because he delighted in me.’ So Ps. iv. 1, ‘Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress.’ Affliction is compared to a prison, where the poor afflicted creature is as it were confined, committed by God, and must not break prison, come out by the window, but the door. When we are let put by God upon submission and supplication, urging the satisfaction of Christ, as we are sent thither by God’s authority, so we come out by God’s love. Now, God doth this for those that obey him, as all those places manifest.
2. Inward confidence. Ἔννομος ζωὴ τῆς παῤῥησίας δημιοῦργος, saith Chrysostom on the text—A holy life is the ground of liberty, and holy boldness: 1 John iii. 21, ‘If our hearts condemn us not, then have we liberty towards God;’ we have delight, and pleasure, and contentment. Till we defile conscience, we have a great deal of boldness and courage against opposition, yea, a boldness to go to God himself, who otherwise is a consuming fire.
Use 1. Is to take off that prejudice that we have against the ways of God, as if they were strait and hard, and not to be endured. Oh, no! all God’s ways are for our good: Deut. vi. 24, ‘The Lord commanded us to do all these statutes,’ to fear the Lord our God for our good always. And the duties that he requireth of us are honourable and comfortable; we never walk more at large than when we have a conscience of them. Man acteth like himself when he is holy, just, temperate, sober, humble. Grace puts all things in the right frame and posture again: it puts reason in dominion, and maketh us kings in governing our own hearts; and this breedeth sweetness and peace. Pax est tranquillitas ordinis—when all things keep their place, then is there peace. As when the humours of the body are in order, and the 484spirits move tuneably, there is a cheerfulness ensueth; so the fruit of righteousness is peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. If a man had no rule to guide him, and God had left him without a law, yet, if he were well in his wits, he would prefer the duties which he hath enjoined before liberty, and of his own accord choose to live according to such an institution; there is such a suitableness in all those things to the reasonable nature. What do men aim at—pleasure, honour, or profit? For pleasure: Prov. iii. 17, ‘Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.’ None have such a sweet life as they that live virtuously and as God hath commanded. All the sensualists in the world have not such a dainty dish to feed on as they that have a good conscience: they have a continual feast, that never cloyeth. You never come away from your sports with such a merry heart as they come away from the throne of grace. If men would consider their experiences after the discharge of their duties and when straggling to carnal delights; after saddest duties, there is a serenity in the conscience. Who ever repented of his repentance? 1 Sam. i. 18, ‘Hannah went her way, and did eat, and her spirit was no more sad.’ Prayer giveth ease, but sensual pleasures leave remorse and a sting. If you count liberty to consist in hunting after honours and great places, can there be a greater honour than to serve God? Who hath the better service, he that attendeth on the uncertain will of men, yea, of the greatest princes, or he that waiteth on the Lord? Your work is more noble: Prov. xii. 26, ‘The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour.’ What an unprofitable drudgery is the service of the greatest prince in the world, in comparison of the work of a poor Christian, that liveth in communion with God? We serve a greater prince, and on surer terms. Then for profit: Where is there more gain, as to our vails and wages, than in God’s service? Well, then, he that liveth holily hath much the sweeter and happier life than they that serve covetousness, ambition, or any other lust. Certainly this should persuade us to put our neck under Christ’s yoke; it is ζύγος χρηστὸς—Mat. 11. 29, ‘His yoke is easy, and his burden is light.’ If it be grievous, it is to the flesh, and we have no reason to indulge the flesh: Rom. viii. 7, ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.’ The command to an unsound conscience is as a light burden laid on a sore back. Men that are soaked in pleasures are incompetent judges of the sweetness of the heavenly life. On the other side, what a miserable servitude is there in sin! how disabled for their great end for which they were created! Corruption is an imperious master; it will not suffer us to hear good things, to be there where good things are spoken, to accompany them that are good; it hath them in so strait a custody, they hate the means of their recovery. They have many masters. Quot habet dominos qui unum habere non vult! Titus iii. 3, ‘For we ourselves were sometimes foolish, disobedient, serving divers lusts and pleasures;’ and James iv. i, ‘Whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts, that war in your members?’ One lust draweth one way, another another way; covetousness, voluptuousness, ambition, uncleanness; as when two seas meet. We have little reason to envy them for their free life; pity them rather. How do their 485brutish affections hurry them! What pains, aches in the body, wounds in the conscience! How many secret gripes and scourges! No such subjection, no slave so subject to the will of his lord, as a man to his lusts and sinful desires,—will speak, think nothing but what sin commands. It is a besotting slavery. Wicked men remain in this bondage with a kind of pleasure. Galley-slaves would fain be free, wish for liberty. Israel was in bondage in Egypt, but they groaned under it: ‘The cry of the children of Israel is come up to me.’ Here men loathe to come out of their slavery, and are enemies to those that would help them out. Their work is hard and oppressive, loss of name, health, estate. They tire their spirits, rack their brains, and after all their drudging are cast into hell.
Use 2. Do we walk at liberty?
1. There was a time when we served sin; but being converted, we change masters: Rom. vi. 18, ‘Being made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.’ If there be such a change, it will discover itself. (1.) You will do as little service for sin as formerly for righteousness: Rom. vi. 20, ‘When ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness;’ righteousness had no share in your time, thoughts, cares; you made no conscience of doing good, took no care of it: so now you do as little for sin. (2.) Positively do as much for grace as formerly for sin: ver. 19, ‘As you yielded your members servants unto uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity, so now yield your members servants unto righteousness unto holiness;’ as watchful, as earnest, as industrious to perfect holiness, as formerly to commit sin: it is but equal. He that hath been servant unto a hard and cruel master is thereby fitted to be diligent and faithful in the service of a loving, gentle, and bountiful master. You can judge what a tyrant sin was. Shall not grace have as much power over you now, and will you not do as much for God as for your lusts?
2. What do you complain of as the task and yoke—the strictness of the law, or the relics of corruption? Rom. viii. 7, ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be;’ compared with 1 John v. 3, ‘This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous.’ What is a bondage—sin or duty? Is the commandment grievous, or indwelling sin? The apostle was complaining, but of what? The purity of the law? No; but the power of indwelling corruption, the body of death: Rom. vii. 24, ‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?’ Which do your hearts rise against?
3. What freedom? Luke i. 74, 75, ‘That you, being delivered out of the hands of your enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of your lives.’ If you are enslaved to any one lust, you cannot walk at large. Are your gyves and fetters knocked off? Have you that free spirit? Ps. li. 11, 12, ‘Cast me not away from thy presence, take not thy Holy Spirit from me; restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me by thy free spirit.’486
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