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I will keep thy statutes. forsake me not utterly.—Ver. 8.
THIS verse, being the last of this portion, is the result of his meditation concerning the utility and necessity of keeping the law of God. Here take notice—
1. Of his resolution, I will keep thy statutes.
2. His prayer, O forsake me not utterly.71
It is his purpose to keep the law; yet because he is conscious to himself of many infirmities, he prays against desertion. In the prayer there is a litotes, more is intended than is expressed. O forsake me not. He means, strengthen me in this work. And if thou shouldest desert me, yet but for a while, Lord, not for ever; if in part, not in whole. Four points we may observe from hence—
1. That it is a great advantage to come to a resolution in a course of godliness.
2. Those that resolve upon a course of obedience had need to fly to God’s help.
3. Though we fly to God’s help, yet sometimes God may withdraw, and seem to forsake us.
4. Though God seem to forsake us, and really doth so in part, yet we should pray that it may not be a total and utter desertion.
The notion of statutes I have opened, and also what it is to keep them in mind, heart, and life. That which we are now to take notice of is David’s resolution. Hence observe—
Doct. 1. That it is a great advantage to come to a resolution in a course of godliness.
Negatively, let me speak to this point.
1. This is not to be understood as if our resolutions had any strength in themselves to bear us out. Peter is a sad instance how little our confidence and purposes will come to: and therefore David here, when he was most upright in his own resolution, is most diffident of his own strength; ‘O forsake me not:’ implying, if God should forsake him, all would come to nothing. God must enable us to do what we resolve.
2. Nor is it to be understood that it is in a man’s power to resolve; this would put grace under the dominion of our will; it is by preventing grace that we are brought to a serious purpose: Phil. ii. 13, ‘He giveth to will and to do.’ Man’s will is the toughest sinew in the whole creation. The very purpose and bent of the heart is the fruit of regeneration. Free-will hath its pangs, its velleities, which are like a little morning-dew, that is soon dried up: Hosea vi. 4, ‘Our righteousness is as the morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.’ But the will and resolution that we are to understand here is the fruit of grace.
3. Not as if the obligation to obedience did arise from our own purpose and promise, rather than from God’s command; this were to set man’s authority above God’s, and to lay aside the precept, which is the surer bond and obligation, and to bind the soul with the slender thread of our own resolutions. When we purpose and promise obedience, we do but make the old bond and engagement of duty the more active and sensible upon the soul, so that it is not to jostle out God’s authority, but to yield our consent. However, the obligation is the greater; for to disobey after we have acknowledged an authority, among men it is counted a more heinous crime than standing out against the authority itself. A thing that is not due before, yet when we have promised or dedicated it to God, then it is not in our power; as in the case of Ananias, Acts v. But now we are not free before the contract, we have bonds upon us; and the business of our promise and resolution is only to make our obligation more powerful upon the conscience.72
4. Not as if it were an arbitrary thing thus to do, and practised by the saints only for the more convenience of the spiritual life. No; but it is a thing required: Acts xi. 23, He ‘exhorteth them that, with full purpose of heart, they would cleave to the Lord,’
Positively: 1. It is a course which God will bless; he hath ap pointed ordinances for this end and purpose that we might come to this resolution. The promise is first implicitly made in baptism; therefore is it called, 1 Peter iii. 21, ‘the answer of a good conscience towards God.’ How so? Why, the covenant binds mutually on God’s part and on ours, and so do the seals which belong to the covenant. It doth not only seal pardon and sanctification on God’s part, but there is a promise and answer on our part. An answer to what? To the demands of the covenant. In the covenant of grace God saith, I will be your God; baptism seals that, and we promise to be his people. Now our answer to this demand of God, and to this interrogatory he puts^to us in the covenant, it is sealed by us in baptism, and it is renewed in the Lord’s Supper. Look, as in the old sacrifices, they were all a renewing of the oath of allegiance to God, or confirming their purposes and resolutions, you have the same notion to the sacrifice that is given to the Lord’s Supper, for it is called ‘the blood of the covenant,’ Exod. xxiv. 7, 8. In the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper there we come to take an obligation upon us; half of the blood is sprinkled upon us. And this purpose and resolution to it is still continued and kept afoot in our daily exercise, invocation, and prayer, wherein either we explicitly or implicitly renew our obedience; for every prayer is an implicit vow, wherewith we bind ourselves to seek those things we ask, or else we do not engage God to bestow them. Thus it is a course that God will bless.
2. It is of great necessity to prevent uncertainty of spirit. Until we come to resolution we shall be liable to temptation; until we fully set our faces towards God, and have a bent and serious purpose of heart, we shall never be free from temptation from the devil, and from evil men, or from ourselves. From the devil: James i. 8, ‘A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.’ As long as we are wavering, and suspensive, we can never carry on uniformity of obedience. While we halt between God and Baal, Satan hath an advantage against us So from evil men: David doth express himself as coming to a resolution in this psalm, ver. 115, ‘Depart from me, ye evil-doers, for I will keep the commandments of my God.’ There is no way to shake off those evil companions and associates till there be a bent seriously to wards heaven. So from ourselves: we have changeable hearts, that ‘love to wander,’ Jer. xiv. 10. We have many revoltings and reluctancies; therefore, until a sanctified judgment and will concur to make up a resolution and holy purpose, we shall still be up and down. The saints, being sensible of their weakness, often bind this upon themselves: Ps. cxix. 57, ‘I have said that I would keep thy words;’ there was a practical decree past upon the conscience. And ver. 106, ‘I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments.’ An oath is the highest assurance among men, and most solemn engagement, and all little enough to hold a backsliding heart under a sense and care of our duty. As long as the Israelites had a will to Canaan, 73so long they digested the inconveniences of the wilderness. Every difficulty and trouble will put us out of the way, and we cannot be secured against an unsteady heart, but by taking up such a course, a serious resolve of maintaining communion with God. And as it is useful to prevent temptation, so to excite and quicken our dulness: we forget our vow and purpose, and therefore we relapse into sin. The apostle saith, 2 Peter i. 9, ‘He hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins;’ that he did renounce these things in baptism. And Paul puts us in mind of our engagement: Rom. viii. 12, ‘We are not debtors to the flesh, to live after the flesh.’ You make vows and promises to God, to renounce the flesh and vanities of the world, and to give up yourselves to God’s service; and these things are forgotten, and therefore we grow slight, cold, careless in the profession of godliness;
Use. The first use is to press us to come to a declared resolution to serve and please God, and to direct us in what manner.
First, Make it with a full bent of heart. Rest not upon a Shall I? shall I? but ‘I will keep thy statutes.’ As Agrippa was almost persuaded to be a Christian, but not altogether, so men stand hovering and debating. You should resolve, Ps. cxix. 112, ‘I have inclined my heart to perform thy statutes alway to the end.’ It is God’s work to incline the heart; but when the work of grace is passed upon us, then the believer doth voluntarily incline himself; his will is bent to serve God, not by fits and starts, but alway to the end: 1 Chron. xxii. 19, ‘Now set your hearts to seek the Lord;’ that is, resolve, be not off and on.
But, secondly, In what manner shall we make it?
1. Seriously and advisedly, not in a rash humour. The people, when they heard the law, and were startled with the majesty of God, Deut. v. 28, 29, answered, ‘All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.’ It was well done to come to a purpose and resolution; but ‘Oh, that there were such a heart within them,’ saith God, ‘that they would fear me,’ &c.: Josh. xxiv. 19, ‘We will serve the Lord,’ say the people;’ You cannot serve the Lord,’ saith Joshua. Do you know what it is? Rash undertakings will necessarily be accompanied with a feeble prosecution; and therefore count the charges, lest you repent of the bargain, Luke xiv. 23.
2. Make Christ a liberal allowance, if you would come to a resolution: Mat. xvi. 24, ‘He that will come after me,’ he that hath a heart set upon this business, let him know what he must do;’ let him deny himself,’ &c. When we engage for God, he would have us reckon for the worst, to be provided for all difficulties. A man that builds, when he hath set apart such a sum of money to compass it, while he keeps within allowance, all is well; but when that is exceeded, every penny is disbursed with grudging. So if you do anything in this holy business, make Christ a liberal allowance at first, lest we think of returning into Egypt afterward, when we meet with fiery flying serpents, and difficulties and hardships in our passage to heaven. Let it be a thorough resolution, that, come what will come, we will be the Lord’s. There should be a holy wilfulness. Paul was resolved to go to Jerusalem, because he was bound in spirit; and though they did even break his heart, yet they could not break his purpose.74
3. Resolve as trusting upon the Lord’s grace. You are poor weak creatures; how changeable in an hour! not a feather so tossed to and fro in the air; therefore we shall fail, falter, and break promise every day, if we go forth in the strength of our own resolutions. Resolve as trusting in the direction and assistance of God’s Holy Spirit: if God undertake for us, then, under God, we may undertake. To resolve is more easy than to perform, as articles are sooner consented to than made good; a castle is more easily built in time of peace than maintained and kept in a time of war; and therefore still wait, and depend upon God for his grace.
4. You cannot promise absolute and thorough obedience, though you should strive after it, for this you will never be able to perform; and your own promises, purposes, and resolutions will but increase your trouble, though you are still to be aiming after it.
Doct. 2. Those that will keep God’s statutes must fly to God’s help.
As David doth here, ‘Oh, forsake me not utterly;’ that is, Oh, strengthen me in this work. Three reasons for this—
1. We are weak and mutable creatures.
2. Our strength lies in God’s hands.
3. God gives out his strength according to his own pleasure.
1. We are weak and mutable creatures. When we were at our best we were so. Adam in innocency was not able to stand without confirming grace, but gave out at the first assault. And still we are mu table, though we have a strong inclination for the present. When the precepts of God are propounded with evidence, and backed with promises and threatenings, and a resolution follows thereupon, the fruit of rational conviction and moral suasion, which is not for the present false and hypocritical, yet it will not hold without the bottom of grace. It hath not supernatural, yet it may have moral sincerity. Such a resolution was that of the Israelites after the terrible delivery of God’s law. They promised universal obedience, and did not lie in it; for God saith, They have done well in their promise; there was a moral sincerity, but there wanted a renewed sanctified heart. And those captains which came to Jeremiah, chap. xlii. 5, intended not to deceive for the present, when they called God to witness that they ‘would do according to all things for the which the Lord thy God shall send thee to us.’ And Hazael, ‘Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?’ Certainly he had abomination of it, when the prophet mentioned that cruelty of ripping up women with child. But suppose the resolution to be a fruit of grace and regeneration, yet we have not full power to stand of ourselves: still we are very changeable creatures in matters that do not absolutely and immediately concern life and death. Lot, that was chaste in Sodom, in the midst of so many temptations, you will find him committing incest in the mountains, where were none but his two daughters. What a change was here! David, that was so tender, that his heart smote him for cutting off the lap of Saul’s garment, one would wonder that he should plot lust, be guilty of murder, and lie in that stupid condition for a long time. Peter, which had such courage to venture upon a band of men, and to cut off Malchus’s ear, should be so faint-hearted at a damsel’s question! So, while the strength of the present impulse and the grace of God is 75warm upon the heart, we may keep close to our work while the influence continues; but afterward, how cold and dead do men grow! as vapours drawn up by the sun, at night fall down again in a dew. The people were upon a high point of willingness, mighty forward, and ready to offer whole cart-loads of gold and silver, 1 Chron. xxix. 18. What saith David? ‘O Lord God, keep this for ever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of thy people, and stablish their heart unto thee.’ We are not always in a like frame.
2. Our strength lies in God, and not in ourselves. When the apostle had exhorted his Ephesians to all Christian duties, he concludes it thus: Eph. vi. 10, ‘Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.’ This might is in God, he is our strength. And 2 Tim. ii. 1, ‘Be strong in the grace that is in Jesus Christ.’ God would not trust us with the stock in our own hands, now we have spent our portion, and played the prodigals, but would have us wait upon him from morning to morning: Ps. xxv. 4, ‘Show me thy ways, O Lord, teach me thy paths; lead me in thy truth, and teach me.’ We are apt to embezzle it, or forget God, both which are very mischievous. When the prodigal got his stock in his own hands, he went into a far country, out of his father’s house. God would not hear from us, there would not be such a constant communion and correspondence between him and us, if our daily necessities did not force us to him. Therefore, that the throne of grace might not lie unfrequented, God keeps the strength in his own hands. We need to consult with him on all occasions.
3. God gives out his strength according to his own pleasure. God many times gives the will, when he suspendeth the strength that is necessary for the performance. Sometimes God gives scire, a sense and conscience of duty; at other times he gives velle, to will, to have a purpose; and when he gives to will, he doth not always give posse, to be able—not such a lively performance. It is possible he may give the will where he doth not give the deed; for it is said, Phil. ii. 13, ‘He worketh both to will and to do of his good pleasure.’ And Paul certainly doth not speak as a convinced, but as a renewed man, when he saith, ‘To will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good, I find not.’ He had received the will, and not the deed—finding presupposeth searching. When we have done all we can, yet how to bring our purposes into actions, we cannot tell. Peter had his resolutions (and no doubt they were hearty and real), yet when he comes to make them good, what a poor weakling was Peter! Putabat se posse, quod se velle sentiebat—he thought he could do that which he could will, saith Austin: John xiii. 37, ‘Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thee.’ We look upon the willing spirit, and not upon the weak flesh. It is possible we may lean upon recent dispositions and affections, as if they would carry us out, without dependence upon God. Therefore, for all the parts of spiritual strength he must be sought to.
The use is—
Use. To press you to beware of presumption and self-confidence, when your resolutions are at the highest for God, and your hearts in the best frame. Resolution is needful, as was said before; but all our confidences must arise from God’s promises, not our own, if we mean 76not to be left in the dirt. This self-confidence in spiritual things I shall show—
1. How it discovereth itself.
2. How to cure it.
1. It discovereth itself—
[1.] Partly thus, by venturing upon temptations without a call and warrant. When men will lay their heads in the lap of a temptation, and run into the mouth of danger, they tempt God, but trust to themselves. Peter would be venturing into the devil’s quarters; but what is the issue? He denies his master. Dependence upon God is ever accompanied with a holy solicitude and cautelous fear, Phil. ii. 12, 13. When we go out of God’s way it is a presuming upon our own strength; for he will keep us in viis, in his ways; not in praecipitiis, when we run headlong into danger.
[2.] When men neglect those means whereby their graces or comforts may be fed and supplied. A man that is kept humble and depending will be always waiting for his dole at wisdom’s gates, Prov. viii. 34. We cannot regularly expect anything from God but in God’s way. They who depend upon God will be much in prayer, hearing, and taking all opportunities. But when men begin to think they need not pray so much, need not make such conscience of hearing; when we are more arbitrary and negligent in the use of means, then we be gin to live upon ourselves and our own stock, and do not depend upon the free grace of God to carry us out in our work.
[3.] When you go forth to any work or conflict, without an actual renewing of your dependence upon God. It is a sign you lean upon the strength of your own resolutions, or present frame of your heart. The Ephraimites took it ill that Gideon would go to war, and not call them into the field when they went out against the enemy, Judges viii. 1. Oh, may not God much more take it ill that we will go forth to grapple with the devil and temptations, and go about any business in our own strength? Therefore, still a sense of our weakness must be upon us, that we may ‘do all in the name of the Lord Jesus;’ that is, by help and assistance from him, Col. iii. 17.
[4.] When we boast of our courage before we are called to a trial. They that crack in their quarters do not always do most valiantly in the field. Peter’s boast, ‘Though all men should leave thee, yet will not I,’ came to very little; and you know the story of Mr Saunders in the Book of Martyrs. ‘Let not him that puts on his harness boast as he that puts it off.’ A temptation will show us how little service that grace will do us which we are proud of, and boast of.
2. To cure carnal confidence, remember your work and your impediments. (1.) Consider your work. A full view of duty will check our rash presumptions. Can you deny yourselves, take up your cross, maintain and carry on a holy course to your life’s end? And (2.) Remember your impediments. Partly from a naughty heart. You are to row against the stream of flesh and blood. Satan will be sure to trouble you, and will assault you again and again. Though he be never so fully foiled, he will not give over the combat: Luke iv. 13, he departed from Christ ‘for a season.’ He had a mind to try the other bout. And the world will be your let—many discouragements and 77snares from the love and fear of it: 1 John v. 3, 4, ‘He that loves God keeps his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous’; and presently he saith, ‘And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith;’ implying there is no keeping the commandments without victory over the world. Now, can you do all these things in your own strength? The young man was forward in resolving to keep the commandments, but he went away sad, for he had great possessions, Mat. xix. 22. Therefore consider these things, that you may fly to the Lord Jesus.
Doct. 3. Though we fly to God’s help, yet sometimes God may withdraw and forsake us.
Here I shall speak of the kinds of desertion, and then of the reasons.
First, For the kinds, take these distinctions:—
1. There is a real desertion and a seeming. Christ may be out of sight, and yet you not out of mind. When the dam is abroad for meat, the young brood in the nest are not forgotten nor forsaken. The child cries as if the mother was gone, but she is but hidden, or about other business: Isa. xlix. 14, 15, ‘Sion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my God hath forgotten me.’ In the misgivings of our hearts, we think God hath cast off all care and all thought of us. But God’s affectionate answer showeth that all this was but a fond surmise: ‘Can a woman forget her sucking-child?’ &c. So Ps. xxxi. 22, ‘I said in my haste, I am cut off before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee.’ We are never more in God’s heart many times than when we think he hath quite cast us off. Surely when the heart is drawn after him he is not wholly gone. We often mistake God’s dispensations. When he is preparing for us more ample relief, and emptying us of all carnal dependence, we judge that that is a forsaking; as Ps. xciv. 18, ‘When I said, My foot slippeth, thy mercy, O Lord, held me up.’ Sometimes in point of comfort we are at a loss, and filled with distractions and troubles, and all is that God may come in for our relief. So in point of grace: 2 Cor. xii. 10, ‘When I am weak, then I am strong.’ There is also a real desertion; for God grants his people are forsaken some times: ‘Though I have forsaken you for a little moment,’ Isa. liv. 7, 8, And Christ, that could not be mistaken, complaineth of it; and the saints feel it to their bitter cost.
2. There is internal and external desertion. Internal is with respect to the withdrawings of the Spirit: Ps. li. 11, ‘Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.’ Now external desertion is in point of affliction, when God leaves us under sharp crosses in his wise providence. These must be distinguished; sometimes they are asunder, some times together. And when they are together, God may return as to our inward comfort and support, yet not for our deliverance: Ps. cxxxviii. 3, ‘In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.’ David was in great straits, and God affords him soul-relief; that was all the answer he could get then; support and strength to bear the troubles, but not deliverance from the affliction. Sometimes the ebb of outward comfort doth make way for a greater tide and influx of inward comfort: 782 Cor. i. 5, ‘As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.’ Cordials are for a fainting time. When children are sick and weakly, we treat them with the more indulgence. God may return, and may never less forsake us inwardly than when he doth forsake us outwardly: 2 Cor. iv. 16, ‘Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.’ God makes sickly bodies make way for the health of the soul, and an aching head for a better heart. When he seems to cast us off in point of our external condition, it is to draw us into a more inward communion with himself, that we might receive greater supplies of his grace.
3. There is a desertion as to comfort, and a desertion as to grace. The children of God may sometimes lose the feelings of God’s love: Ps. lxxvii. 1-3, ‘My soul refused to be comforted; I remembered God, and was troubled; my spirit was overwhelmed.’ Oh, what a word was that! Remembering of God revives the heart; but to think of God, and to think of his loss, that was his great trouble. Yet all this while God may hold communion in point of grace: Ps. lxxiii. 23, ‘Nevertheless, I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.’ He had been under a conflict, lost his comfort, yet he acknowledgeth support; God held him in his right hand. Trouble and discomfort hath its use; want of comfort makes way many times for increase of grace; and therefore, though a man may be deserted as to comfort, yet he may have a greater influence of grace from God. How often doth it fall put thus with God’s children, that their right is more confirmed to spiritual blessings when their sense is lost! Then they are more industrious and diligent to get a sense of God’s love again. A summer’s sun that is clouded yields more comfort and warmth to the earth than a winter’s sun that shines brightest. These cloudy times have their use and their fruit; and Christians have the less of a happy part of communion with God, that they may have more holiness; and less of sweetness and sensible consolation, that they may have more grace.
4. There is desertio correctiva et eruditiva—a desertion for correction, and a desertion for instruction. Sometimes the aim of it is merely for correction for former sin; it is a penal overclouding for our unkind and ungracious dealing with him. God may do it for sins; nay, many times for old sins long ago committed; he may charge them anew upon the conscience: Job xiii. 24, compared with ver. 26, ‘Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and holdest me for thine enemy?’ ‘Thou makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth.’ An old bruise may trouble us long after, upon every change of weather. Many that have grieved God’s Spirit in their youth, after they have been converted, God will reckon with them about it in their age. A man will smart for his ungracious courses first or last. Sometimes it is merely for instruction; it instructs us chiefly to show us God’s sovereignty, with the changeableness of the best comfort on this side heaven; to show us his sovereignty, that he will be free to go and come at his own pleasure. He will have his people know he is lord, and may do with his own as pleaseth him. The heavenly eradiations and outshinings of his love are not at our beck; God will dispense them according to his pleasure. A mariner hath no cause to murmur and quarrel with God 79because the wind bloweth out of the east when he desireth a westerly gale. Why? Because it is his wind, and he will dispose these things according to his pleasure. So the comfort and outshinings of his love are his, and he will take them and give them as he thinks good. Again, to show us the changeableness of the best comforts on this side heaven. When Christ hath been in the soul with a full and high influx of comfort, this doth not remain long with us; God may withdraw. Observe it, often after the highest enlargements there may be some forsaking. Cant. v. 1, there we read of a feast between Christ and his beloved: 1 Come eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.’ Here they are feasted with love; presently we read of desertion, the spouse waxeth lazy and drowsy, and Christ is gone; then she is forced to go up and down to find him. Paul had his raptures; then a messenger of Satan to buffet him. The same disciples that were conscious to Christ’s transfiguration—Peter, James, and John, Mat. xvii.—the same disciples are chosen also to be conscious to his agonies: Mat. xxvi. 37, ‘He took with him Peter, James, and John.’ First they had a glimpse of his glory, then a sight of his bitter agonies and sufferings, Jeremiah in one line singing of praise, and in the next cursing the day of his birth, Jer. xx. 13, 14. After the most ravishing comforts may be a sad suspension. Jacob saw the face of God, and wrestled with him, but his thigh halted. There needs something to humble the creature after these experiences.
5. Desertion is either felt or not felt. Not felt, and then it is more dangerous, and usually ends in some notable fall; as Hezekiah, 2 Chron. xxxii. 31. God left him, and he was not sensible, and then he runs into pride and vainglory, and draweth wrath upon him and his people. God’s children, when they do not observe his comings and goings, they fall into mischief, it begins their woe. We do not observe what experiences we have of God, then we faint: we do not observe his goings, then that makes way for some scandal and imprudent and un seemly action, and that makes way for some bitter and sharp affliction. But if it be felt, it is the better provided against. If we do not murmur, but seek to God in Christ to get the loss made up, then it is better. Meek acknowledgments are better than complaining expostulations. It is a sign it works kindly.
6. There is a total and a partial desertion. Those who are bent to obey God may for a while and in some degree be left to themselves. We cannot promise ourselves an utter immunity from desertion, but it is not total. We shall find, for his great name’s sake ‘The Lord will not forsake his people,’ 1 Sam. xii. 22; and Heb. xiii. 5, ‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’ Not utterly, yet in part they may be forsaken. Elijah was forsaken, but not as Ahab; Peter was forsaken in part, but not as Judas, that was utterly forsaken, until he was made a prey to the devil. So carnal professors are forsaken utterly until they are made a prey fit for the devil’s tooth. David was forsaken to be humbled and bettered; but Saul was forsaken utterly to be destroyed. Saith Theophylact, God may forsake his people so as to shut out their prayers, Ps. lxxx. 4, so as to interrupt the peace and joy of their heart, to abate their strength; the spiritual life may be much at a stand, and so as sin may break 80out, and they fall foully; but not utterly forsaken. But one way or other God is present; present in light sometimes when he is not present in strength, when he manifests the evil of their present condition, so as to mourn under it; and present in awakening desires, though not in giving enjoyment. As long as there is any esteem of God, he is not yet gone; there is some light and love yet left, manifested by our desires of communion with him.
7. There is a temporary desertion and an eternal desertion. One is spoken of, Isa. liv. 7, 8, ‘For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee.’ God may for sake his servants for a little while: indeed they may have a long winter of it sometimes; as David lay for many months under his sin, until Nathan roused him; but this is but a moment to the eternity wherein God loves them. But the eternal forsaking is of the final impenitent, when God saith, Never see my face more, ‘go ye cursed,’ &c. Thus for the kinds.
Secondly, The reasons of desertion.
1. To correct us for our wantonness, and our unkind dealing with Christ. If we neglect him upon frivolous pretences, certainly he will be gone: Cant. v. 3, ‘I have put off my coat, how shall I put it on?’ See ver. 6, ‘My beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone.’ When we are not at God’s call, he will not be at our beck. She that would not open to Christ, when she opened, Christ was gone.
2. To acquaint us with our weakness. What feathers are we when the blast of a temptation is let loose upon us! God will show what we are by his withdrawing. God left Hezekiah, ‘That he might try him, that he might know all that was in his heart,’ 2 Chron. xxxii. 31. When Christ was asleep, the storm arose, and the ship was in danger. If God be gone but a little, or suspend his influence, we can not stand our ground.
3. To subdue our carnal confidence: Ps. xxx. 6, 7, ‘In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved.’ We fall asleep upon a carnal pillow, then God draws it away: ‘Thou didst hide thy face and I was troubled.’ The nurse lets the child get a knock, to make it more cautious. God withdraws, that we may learn more to depend upon him.
4. To heighten our esteem of Christ, that love may be sharpened by absence. When once we feel the loss of it to our bitter cost, we will not part with him again upon easy terms. The spouse when she caught him would not let him go. Cant. iii. 2, 3, 4; then are we more tender to observe him in his motions.
5. That by our own bitter experience we may learn how to value the sufferings of Christ, when we taste of the bitter cup of which he drank for us. Christians, you do not know what it was for Christ to cry out, ‘My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Mat. xxvii. 46, until we are sensible in our measure and degree of the like. He tasted of the hell of being forsaken, and we must pledge him in that cup first or last, that we may know what our Saviour endured for us; and what it is for a holy man to want the light of God’s countenance, and those sensible consolations that he formerly had.
6. To prevent evil to come, especially pride, that we might not be lifted up; and to entender our hearts to others: 2 Cor. i. 4, ‘That we 81might comfort others with the comforts wherewith we were comforted of God.’
Use 1. This informs us that we are not therefore cast out of the love of God because there may be some forsaking. Desertion is incident to the most heavenly spirits. Christ hath legitimated this condition, and made it consistent with grace. It is a disease this which follows the royal seed; David, Heman, Hezekiah, these were forsaken, yet were children of God. It is more incident to the godly than the wicked and carnal. The carnal may be under bondage; sometimes their peace may be troubled and disturbed; but this desertion properly is a disease incident to the godly, and none are so affected with it as they: they have a tender heart; when God is gone how are they troubled! They are very observant, and therefore we cannot say they are not godly because they are forsaken. But those that never felt the love of Christ, never knew what communion with God means, were never troubled with sin, have none of this affliction; bat this is incident to the richest and most heavenly spirit whom God hath taken into communion with himself.
Use 2. For direction to the children of God.
1. Observe God’s comings and goings; see whether you be forsaken. When God hides himself from your prayers, when means have not such a lively influence, when you have a strong affection to obey, but not such help to bring it into act, and you begin to stumble, observe it; God is withdrawn, and many times seems to withdraw, to observe whether you will take notice of it. Christ made as if he would go further, but they constrained him to stay; so he makes as if he would be gone, to see if you will constrain him to tarry.
2. Inquire after the reason: Ps. lxxvii. 6, ‘I communed with mine own heart.’ What then? ‘My spirit made diligent search.’ Ay! this is the time to make diligent search what it is divides between God and you. Though God doth it out of sovereignty and instruction sometimes, yet there is ever cause for creatures to humble themselves, and make diligent search what is the matter.
3. Submit to the dispensation: murmuring doth but entangle you more; God will have us stoop to his sovereignty and wisdom before he hath done. A husband must be absent for necessary occasions; a frown is as necessary for a child as a smile. David refuseth not to be tried, only he prays, ‘Lord, forsake me not utterly.’ It is a fond child that will not let its parent go out of sight.
4. Learn to trust in a withdrawing God, and depend upon him; to stay ourselves upon his name when we see no light, Isa. l. 10. Never leave until you find him. Look, as Esther would go into the king’s presence when there was no golden sceptre held forth, so venture into God’s presence when you have no smile and countenance from heaven; trust in a withdrawing God; nay, when wrath breaks out, when God killeth you: Job xiii. 15, ‘Though he kill me, yet will I trust in him.’ With such a holy obstinacy of faith should we follow God in this case.
Doct. 4. When God seemeth to forsake us, and really doth so in part, yet we should pray that it be not an utter and total desertion.
Isa. lxiv. 9, ‘Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember 82iniquity for ever. Behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people,’ (1.) Do not despond; we are very apt to do so: Ps. lxxvii. 7-9, ‘Will the Lord cast off for ever? will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.’ The worst kind of despondency is to lie in sin. To lie in the dirt, because we are fallen, is foolish obstinacy. (2.) Pray to God—(1st.) Acknowledging that we have deserved it; (2d.) By supplication. There is nothing which God hath promised to perform but we may ask it in prayer: Heb. xiii. 5, ‘He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’ If thou provest me, let me not miscarry; if thou exercisest me, let me not be cut off. Beg his returns. (3.) Give thanks that God is not wholly gone, as certainly he is not, as long as you are sensible of your loss, and have a tender heart left. Though he hath withdrawn the light of his countenance, yet he hath left the esteem of it, a thirst after God, and a desire of communion with himself. As long as there is any attraction left, you may find him by the smell of his ointments.
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