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Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.—Ver. 4.
THE Psalmist having laid down the description of the blessed man by the frame of his heart, and the course of his life, and the integrity of his obedience, he comes now to another argument whereby to enforce the entire observation of God’s law. The argument in the text is taken from God’s authority enjoining this course, and he propounds it by way of address and appeal to God for the greater emphasis and force, ‘Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.’39
In the words take notice of two things—
1. The fundamental ground and reason of our obedience, which is God’s command or will declared in his word.
2. The manner of this obedience. God will not be put off with any thing, but served with the greatest diligence and exactness, ‘to keep thy precepts diligently.’ The Septuagint renders it, ‘That thy commands should be kept exceeding much.’
In the first part take notice—
1. Of the lawgiver, thou.
2. His authority interposed, or positive injunction, hast commanded us. It is not left to our arbitrament whether we will take up the course which leads to true happiness, yea or nay.
3. The thing commanded, to keep thy precepts.
Doct. To gain the heart to a full obedience, it is good to consider the authority of God in his word.
There are many courses we must use to draw the heart to an obedience of God. We may urge—
1. The reasonableness of obedience; so that if we are left at our liberty, we should take up the ways of God rather than any other: Rom. vii. 12, ‘The commandment is holy, just, and good.’ All that God hath required, it carrieth a great suitableness to the reasonable nature, so that if a man were well in his wits, and were to choose a law, he would of his own accord prefer the laws of God before liberty and any other service. Certainly there is an excellency in them which is in part discerned by carnal men; they admire those that practise the duties which God hath required, though they are loth to submit to them themselves. It is no heavy burden to live chastely, humbly, soberly, and to maintain a communion and correspondence with God; and whosoever doth so hath much the sweeter life of him that liveth sinfully. We may urge—
2. The profitableness of obedience, and how much it conduceth to our good: Deut. x. 13, ‘The statutes which I command thee for thy good.’ Our labour in the work of obedience is not lost or misspent. A godly course is refreshed with many sweet experiences for the present, and will bring in a full reward for the future.
3. The next motive is that of the text, to urge the command of God. It is a course enjoined and imposed upon us by our sovereign law giver. It is not in our choice, as if it were an indifferent thing whether we will walk in the laws of God or not, but of absolute necessity, unless we renounce the authority of God. This is the argument in the text, therefore let us see how it is laid down here.
[1.] Take notice of the lawgiver, thou. It is not our equal, or one that will be baffled, but the great God, upon whom thou dependest every moment. Men are easily carried away to please those that have power over them, even sometimes to the wrong of God and conscience: Hosea v. 11, ‘Ephraim walked willingly after the commandment;’ meaning Jeroboam’s law for the worshipping the calves in Dan and Bethel. When we depend upon men we consent to their commands, and study a compliance, though contrary to our own inclinations. And is not God’s authority to be regarded? Surely he hath the greatest right to command us, for he made us—there is none 40hath such dominion and lordship over us as God hath; and our dependence upon him is more than can be upon any created being, for ‘in him we live, and move, and have our being;’ and therefore, thou hast commanded, this should be a powerful argument. And mark, none can enforce his command with such threatenings and rewards as he can. Not with such threats: Mat. x. 28, ‘Fear not him that can kill the body, and after that hath no more,’ &c. Men can threaten us with strapados, dungeons, halters, and other instruments of persecution; but God, with a pit without a bottom, with a worm that never dies, with a fire that shall never be quenched, with torments without end, and without ease. Then for rewards. As Saul said, ‘Can the son of Jesse give you vineyards, and make you captains of fifties, of hundreds, and of thousands?’ The world takes him to have most right to command that can bid most for our obedience. Who can promise more than God, who is a plentiful ‘rewarder of them that diligently seek him’? Heb. xi. 6. Who hath told us of a kingdom prepared for us; of a body glorious like unto Christ’s body; of a soul enlarged to the greatest capacities of a creature; and yet filled up with God, and satisfied with the fruition of himself. This is the person spoken of in the text, to whom the Psalmist saith, ‘Thou hast commanded us.’ And surely if we would willingly walk after any commandment, we should after the commandment of the great God.
[2.] The second circumstance is, hast commanded; he hath interposed his authority. Besides the particular precept and rule of duty, there are general commands or significations of God’s authority to bind all the rest, ‘Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts.’ If the word of God, or rule of obedience, were. only given us as a direction, we should regard it as coming from the wisdom of God. But now it is an injunction as coming from the authority of God; therefore in his name we may charge you, as you will answer it another day, that these precepts be dear and precious to you. Unless you mean to renounce the sovereign majesty of God, and put him besides the throne, and break out into open rebellion against him, you must do what he hath commanded: 1 Tim. i. 9, ‘Charge them that be rich in the world,’ &c., not only advise but charge them. And Titus ii. 15, ‘These things exhort, and rebuke with all authority.’ God will have the creatures know that he expects this duty and homage from them.
[3.] Here is the nature of this obedience, or the thing commanded, to keep thy precepts. What is that?—to observe the whole rule of faith and manners. Believing in Christ, that falls under a command: 1 John iii. 23, ‘This is his command, that we should believe in him whom he hath sent.’ Repentance is under a command: Acts xvii. 30, ‘He hath commanded all men everywhere to repent.’ Upon your peril be it, if you refuse his grace. So gospel obedience falls under a command, the great God hath charged us to keep all his precepts; to make conscience of all duties that we owe to God and man, Acts xxiv. 6; the smaller as well as the greater, Mat. v. 19. God counts his authority to be despised and laid aside, and the command and obligatory power of his law to be made void, if a man shall either in doctrine or practice count any transgression of his laws so light and 41venial as not to be stood upon, as if it were but a trifle. Christians, if we had the awe of God’s authority upon our hearts, what kind of persons would we be at all times, in all places, and in all company? what a check would this be to a proud thought, a light word, or a passionate speech?—what exactness would we study in our conversations, had we but serious thoughts of the sovereign majesty of God, and of his authority forbidding these things in the word!
To offer some reasons of the point, why it is of so much profit to consider the authority of God in the command.
1. Because then the heart would not be so loose, off and on in point of duty; when a thing is counted arbitrary (as generally we count so of strictness), the heart hangs off more from God. When we press men to pray in secret, to be full of good works, to meditate of God, to examine conscience, to redeem time, to be watchful, they think these be counsels of perfection, not rules of duty, enforced by the positive command of God; therefore are men so slight and careless in them. But now, when a man hath learned to urge a naughty heart with the authority of God, and charge them in the name of God, he lies more under the awe of duty. Hath God said I must search and try my ways, and shall I live in a constant neglect of it? Hath God bidden me to redeem my time, and shall I make no conscience how I waste away my precious hours? Hath God bidden me keep my heart with all keepings, and shall I let it run at large without any restraint and regard? It is my debt, and I must pay it, or I shall answer it at my peril in the great day of accounts; it is not only commended but commanded: 2 Kings v. 13, ‘If the prophet had bidden thee do some great thing, wouldst thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?’
2. We cannot be so bold and venturous in sinning, when we remember how the authority of God stands in the way: Prov. xiii. 13, ‘He that fears the commandment, he shall be blessed;’ not only the penalty, but the command. The heart is never right until we be brought to fear a commandment more than any inconveniencies whatsoever. To a wicked man there seems to be nothing so light as a command, and therefore he breaks through against checks of conscience. But a man that hath the awe of God upon him, when mindful of God’s authority, he fears a command. Jude 9, it is said of Michael the archangel, ‘He durst not bring a railing accusation.’ He had not the boldness, when the commandment of God was in his way.
3. Many times we are doubtful of success, and so our hands are weakened thereby. We forbear duty, because we do not know what will come of it. Now, a sense of God’s authority and command doth fortify the heart against these discouragements: Luke v. 5, ‘Master, we have toiled all the night, howbeit at thy command we will cast down the net.’ A poor soul that hath long lain at the pool, that hath been labouring, following God from one duty to another, and nothing comes sensibly of it, yet ‘at thy command,’ &c., he will keep up his endeavours still. This is the very case in the text, ‘Blessed is the man that keeps thy precepts, and that seeks him with the whole heart.’ Then, presently, ‘Thou hast commanded;’ that is, though our obedience had no promise of reward, and our felicity were 42not proposed as the fruit of it, yet the command itself, and the authority of God, is a reason sufficient.
4. In some duties that are not evident by natural light, as believing and owning of Christ, the heart is more bound to them by the sense of a command, than by any other encouragement. It is God’s pleasure it should be so: John vi. 29, ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent;’ 1 John iii. 23, ‘This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.’ It is enough to set a servant about his work, that it is his master’s pleasure. Thou dost not stand disputing whether thou shouldst repent or not, obey or not, abstain from fleshly idols, yea or nay, or from fornication. And why should you stand aloof from the work of faith, and doubt whether you should believe or not? We have many natural prejudices, but this, his command, is a mighty relief to the soul. It is his command we should believe in his Son. It is not only a matter of comfort and privilege, but also a matter of duty and obedience; and therefore, though we have discouragements upon us—I am unworthy to be received to mercy—yet this will bend the heart to the work. God is worthy to be obeyed; it is his commandment. Thou dost not question whether thou shouldst grieve for thy sins—why should you question whether you should believe in Christ? If God had only given us leave to believe, we could not have had such an advantage, as now he hath interposed his authority, and commanded us to believe: ‘Rejoice in the Lord; and again I say, Rejoice,’ Phil. iv. If God had only given us leave to refresh ourselves in a sense of his love, it were an invaluable mercy; but we have not only leave to rejoice, but a charge. It is our duty to work up our heart to a comfortable sense of the love of God, and a fruition of his favour.
5. Obedience is never right but when it is done out of a conscience of God’s authority, intuitu voluntatis. The bare sight of God’s will should be reason enough to a gracious heart. It is the will of God; it is his command, So it is often urged: 1 Thes. iv. 3, the apostle bids them follow holiness, ‘for this is the will of God, your sanctification.’ And servants should be faithful in their burdensome and hard labours: 1 Peter ii. 15, ‘For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.’ And 1 Thes. v. 18, ‘In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ^ Jesus concerning you.’ That is argument enough to a godly Christian, that God hath signified his will and good pleasure, though the duty were never so cross to his own desires and interests. They obey simply for the commandment sake, without any other reason and inducement. There is indeed ratio formalis, and ratio motiva. There are encouragements to God’s service, but the formal reason of obedience is God’s will. And this is pure obedience, to do what he wills, because he wills it.
The uses are:—1. To exhort thee to take this course with thy naughty heart. When it hangs back from any duty, or from any course of strictness, urge it with the authority of God. These precepts are not the advices and counsels of men who wish well to us, and who would advise us to the best, but they are the commands of God, who must and will be obeyed. Or, when thou art carried out to any sin, 43it is forbidden fruit; there is a commandment in the way, and that is as terrible to a gracious heart as an angel with a flaming sword.
To back these thoughts, let me propound a few considerations. Consider—
1. God can command what he will. He is absolute. His will is the supreme reason of all things. It is notable that God backs his laws with the consideration of his sovereignty. You shall do thus and thus. Why? ‘I am the Lord.’ That is all his reason, Lev. xviii. 4, 5. It is repeated in that and many places in the next chapter. The Papists speak much of blind obedience, obeying their superiors without inquiring into the reason of it. Surely we owe God blind obedience, as ‘Abraham obeyed God, not knowing whither he went,’ Heb. xi. 8. John Cassian makes mention of one who willingly fetched water near two miles every day, for a whole year together, to pour it upon a dead dry stick, at the command of his superior, when no reason else could be given for it. And I have read of another who professed that, if he were enjoined by his superior to put forth to sea in a ship that had neither mast, tackling, nor any other furniture, he would do it; and when he was asked how he could do this without hazard of his discretion, he answered, The wisdom must be in him that hath power to command, not in him that hath power to obey. Thus do they place merit in this blind obedience, in giving up their wills absolutely to the power of their superior. Certainly, in God’s commands, his sovereignty is enough; the uttermost latitude of this blind obedience is due to him. If he hath said it is his will, how contrary soever it be to our reason, lusts, interests, it must be done. It is enough for us to know that we are commanded. To command is God’s part, and to obey that is ours, whatever shall be declared to be his will and pleasure.
2. God can most severely punish our disobedience, and therefore his commands should have a power upon us: James iv. 12, ‘There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy;’ with a destruction indeed, and salvation indeed. So there is but one lawgiver in this sense. He truly hath potestatem vitae et necis. God hath the power of life and death. Why? Because he can punish with eternal death, and bestow eternal life.
3. He is neither ignorant nor forgetful of our prevarications and disobedience. The Rechabites were tender of the commandment of their dead father, Jer. xxxv., who could not take cognisance of their actions: ‘Our father commanded us.’ Certainly we should be tender of the commands of the great God: Prov. xv. 3, ‘The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.’ He is not so shut up within the curtain of the heavens but that he takes notice how his laws are kept and observed. Saith the prophet to Gehazi, ‘Went not my spirit with thee?’ meaning his prophetical spirit. So doth God, as it were, appeal to the conscience of a sinner. Doth not my spirit go along with thee? Is not he conscious to our works, and observes all we do?
4. God stands much upon the authority of his law: Hosea viii. 12, ‘I have written to them the great things of my law,’ &c. Mark, he calls them ‘the great things of his law;’ they are not things to be slighted and contemned. They are not directions of little moment; there is no small hazard in contemning them, or not walking according 44to them. Indeed, we think it a small matter to stand upon every circumstance; but God doth not think so. Uzzah was struck dead in the place for failing in a circumstance—he would stay the ark, which shook. The Bethshemites, sinning in a circumstance, it cost them the lives of many thousands. Lot’s wife, for looking back, was turned into a pillar of salt. Let these things beget an awe upon our hearts of the great God, and of what he hath enjoined us.
Use 2. It informs us of the heinous nature of sin. Of sin in general, it is ἀνομία , ‘a transgression of the law,’ 1 John iii. 4; that is, a contempt of God’s authority. It is an unlording of him and putting him out of the throne. Every sin is an affront to God’s authority; it is a despising of the command, 2 Sam. xii. 9; you rise up in defiance to God, and cast off his sovereignty in despising his command; more particularly, sins against knowledge, or against conscience. You may see the heinousness of these sins by this—all sins, they proceed either from ignorance, or from oblivion, or from rebellion. Sins of ignorance, they are not so heinous, though they are sins. A man is bound to know the will of his creator; but then ignorance of it is not so heinous. To strike a friend in the dark is not so ill taken as in the open light. So there are sins of oblivion, which is an ignorance for the time, for a man hath not such explicit thoughts as to revive his knowledge upon himself. He is overtaken, Gal. vi. 1. This a great sin too. Why? For the awe of God should ever be fresh and great upon the heart, and we are to ‘remember his statutes to do them.’ But now, there are sins of rebellion, that are committed against light and conscience, whether they be of omission or commission. We are troubled for sins of commission against light; we should be as much for sins of omission, for they are rebellions against God, when we omit a duty of which we are convinced: James iv. 17, ‘To him that knoweth to do good, and doth it not, to him it is sin.’
Secondly, Come we to the manner of this obedience, Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. From thence note—
Doct. That we should not only do what God hath required, but we should do it diligently.
1. Because the matter of keeping God’s precepts doth not only fall under his authority, but the manner also. God hath not only required service, but service with all its circumstances: 1 Cor. ix. 24, ‘I so run that I may obtain.’ It is our duty, not only to run, but so run, not as in jest, but as in good earnest: Rom. xii. 11, ‘Fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.’ Not only serving the Lord, but seething hot in spirit, when our affections are so strong that they boil over in our lives. And James v. 16, ‘The fervent effectual prayer;’ that prayer which hath a spirit and a life in it. Not only prayer is required, but fervency, not dead and drowsy devotion. So Luke vii. 18, not only it is required that we hear, but to ‘take heed how we hear,’ with what reverence and seriousness. And Acts xxvi. 7, ‘The twelve tribes served God instantly, day and night,’ with the uttermost extension of their strength, so the word signifies. And for charity, it is not enough to give, but with readiness and freeness. Be ‘ready to communicate;’ like life-honey it must drop of its own accord.45
2. The manner is the great thing which God requires; it is very valuable upon several grounds: Prov. xvi. 2, ‘The ways of man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits.’ What doth God put into the balance of the sanctuary when he comes to make a judgment? When he would weigh an action he weighs the spirits. He considers not only the bulk, the matter of the action, but the spirit, with what heart it was done. A man may sin in doing good, but he cannot sin in doing well; therefore the manner should be looked to as well as the matter.
3. It is a good help against slightness. We are apt to put off God with anything, and therefore we had need to rouse up ourselves to serve him with diligence: Josh. xxiv. 19, ‘You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a jealous God,’ &c. It is another matter to serve the Lord than the world thinks of. Why? For he is holy and jealous; he is holy, and so hates the least failing; and very jealous, sin awakens the displeasure of his jealousy—he will punish for very little failings. Ananias and Sapphira struck dead in the place for one lie; Zacharias struck dumb for an act of unbelief; Moses, for a few rash words, never entered into the land of Canaan; David, for a proud conceit in numbering the people, lost seventy thousand men with the pestilence; the Corinthians, many of them died for unworthy receiving. God is the same God still: he hates sin as much as ever; therefore we should not be slight.
4. It is a dishonour to God to do his work negligently: Mal. i. 14, ‘Cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing, for I am a great king, saith the Lord;’ implying that it is a lessening of his majesty. It is a sign we have cheap thoughts of God, when we are slight in his service. Christians, we owe our best to God, and are to serve him with all our might: Deut. vi. 5, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might.’ It is a lessening of his excellency in our thoughts when everything serves the turn.
5. Keeping the commandment, it is a great trust. God hath left this trust with us that we should keep his precepts, therefore it is to be discharged seriously. A man is very careful that hath taken a trust upon him to preserve it. No men that have given up their names to Christ, but they have taken up this trust upon them to keep his precepts; therefore we should do it with all diligence and needfulness of soul.
6. We have no other plea to evidence our sincerity; we are guilty of many defects, and cannot do as we would,—where lies our evidence then? When we set ourselves to obey, and aim at the highest exactness to serve him with our best affections and strength. A child of God, he doth not do all that God hath required, but he doth his best, and then that is a sign the heart is upright. For what is this diligence, but our utmost study and endeavour after perfection, to avoid all known evils, and to practise all known duties, and that with as much care as we can? Now, this is an argument of our sincerity, and then our slips are but failings which God will spare, pity, pardon: Mal. iii. 17, ‘I will spare them as a man spareth his own son that serveth him,’ &c. Where a man is careless, and failings are allowed, then they are iniquities. A father, out of indulgence, may pass by a failing when 46his son waits upon him, suppose when he spills the wine and breaks the glass; but surely will not allow him to throw it down carelessly or wilfully. We have no other plea to evidence our sincerity but this.
Use. It presseth us, whatever we do for the great God, to do it with all our might, Eccles. ix. 10. There is no weighty thing can be done without diligence; much more the keeping the commandment. Satan is diligent in tempting, and we ourselves are weak and infirm; we can not do the least thing as we should. And the danger of miscarrying is so great, that surely it will require all our care. Wherein should we show this diligence and exactness? When we keep all the parts of the law, and that at all times and places, and that with the whole man.
1. When we strive to keep the law in all the points of it. This was Paul’s exercise: Acts xxiv. 16, ‘To keep a good conscience void of offence both towards God and man.’ Mark, here was his great business; this is to be diligent, when a man labours to keep a good conscience always. And saith he, Herein, or upon this do I exercise myself; that is, upon this encouragement, upon hope of a blessed resurrection, for that is spoken of there. There are wages and recompenses enough in heaven, therefore we should not grudge at a little work, that we may not be drawn willingly from the least part of our duty.
2. When we do it at all times and places, and in all company, then it is a sign we mind the work, then are we diligent: Ps. cvi. 3, ‘Blessed is he that doth righteousness at all times.’ Not only now and then, but it is his constant course. We do not judge men’s complexions by the colour they have when they sit before the fire. We cannot judge of men by a fit and pang when they are under the awe of an ordinance, or in good company; but when at all times he labours to keep up a warmth of heart towards God.
3. When he labours to do this with his whole man, not only in pretence, and with his body, or outward man, but with inward affections: Rom. i. 9, ‘My God, whom I serve in the spirit.’ And the true people of God are described: Phil iii. 3, ‘To worship God in the spirit.’ When they labour to bring their hearts under the power of God’s precepts, and do not only mind conformity of the outward man, this is to keep the precepts of God diligently. All this is to be under stood, not in exact perfection; but it is to be understood of our striving, labouring, watching; of our praying, and of our exercising ourselves hereunto, that we may with our whole man come under the full obedience of the law of God, and may manifest it upon all occasions, at all times, in all companies and places; and this is an evidence of our sincerity.
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