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With my whole heart have I sought thee: let me not wander from thy commandments.—Ver. 10.
THE Psalmist had in the former verse directed the young man to diligence^and attention unto the word; but the word doth nothing unless we join prayer; and therefore now he gives an example in his own person. Having spoken of the power of the word to cleanse the way, now saith he, ‘With my whole heart,’ &c.
Here take notice—
1. Of David’s argument, with my whole heart have I sought thee.
2. His request, O let me not wander from thy commandments.
First, For David’s argument, ‘I have sought thee with my whole heart.’ He pleadeth his own sincerity. I showed you largely what it is to seek God, and that with the whole heart, in the second verse. I shall not repeat anything; only, that I may not dismiss this clause without some note, observe, first, that it is the duty and practice of God’s children to seek him.91
You have David’s instance in the text and elsewhere. It is their general character: Ps. xxiv. 6, ‘This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.’ God’s children are a generation of seekers. They find hereafter, but now they seek. Their great business is to be seeking after God, more ample and full communion with him.
Seeking of God implies three things:—
1. There is a more general seeking of God, for relief of our sin and misery by nature.
2. More particular, upon special occasions.
3. There is a constant seeking of God in the use of his ordinances.
1. There is a more general seeking of God, for relief of our sinful and wretched condition by nature. Adam, when a sinner, ran away from God; and therefore all our business is now to seek him, that we may find him again in Christ Jesus. The general address that is made to God for pardon and reconciliation, it is often called a seeking of God in scripture; so it is taken Isa. lv. 6, ‘Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;’ that is, get into favour with God before it be too late. So Amos v. 6, ‘Seek the Lord, and ye shall live.’ This notes our general address for pardon and reconciliation.
2. There is a more particular seeking of God; that notes our addresses to God either in our exigencies and straits, or in all our business and employment.
[1.] In our exigencies and straits. And so we are said to seek God when in doubts we seek his direction, James i. 5; when in weakness we seek strength; in sickness, health; in troubles, comfort. Asa is blamed that he ‘sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians.’ Paul’s messenger of Satan drives him to the throne of grace: 2 Cor. xii. 8, ‘For this I sought the Lord thrice.’ He would knock again and again, to see what answers he could get from God.
[2.] In all our businesses and affairs God must be sought unto, and we must ask his leave, his counsel, and his blessing. Pagans, before the awe of religion was extinguished, would begin with their gods in every weighty enterprise. A Jove principium was an honest heathen principle. Laban consults with his teraphim; Balak sends for Balaam; they had their oracles that they would resort to. So far as any nation was touched with a sense of a divine power, they would never venture upon anything without consulting with their gods. And it is enjoined as a piece of religious good manners to own God upon all occasions: Prov. iii. 5, ‘In all thy ways acknowledge him.’ It is an acknowledgment of God, an owning him as a God, that we would be asking his leave, counsel, and blessing. His leave must be asked, though the thing be never so lawful and easy. We are taught every day to ask our daily bread, though we have it by us, that we may not, like thieves and robbers, use his goods without his leave. So for his counsel; he is sure to miscarry that makes his bosom his oracle, his wit his counsellor. It is a high piece of spiritual idolatry to lean upon our own understanding, and think to carry even the ordinary affairs of any day without asking counsel from God. And then his blessing. God is not an idle spectator, he disposeth of all events, and giveth the blessing: Jer. x. 23, ‘The way 92of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps;’ that is, as to any happy issue. God doth the more stand upon his right that he may the oftener hear from us, and that we may have many occasions to bring us to the throne of grace. Now this is the constant practice of God’s children. David always ran to the oracle or the ephod when he had any business to do: 1 Sam. xxiii., Shall I do thus and thus, or shall I not? Jacob in his journey would neither go to Laban, nor come from him, without a warrant. Jehoshaphat in the business of Ramoth-Gilead would not stir a foot until he had counsel from God; he sends not only to the captain of the host, but to the prophet of the Lord: ‘Inquire, I pray thee, of the Lord to day,’ 1 Kings xxii. 2; Judges i. 1, ii. 28.
I have spoken this to show why the children of God are called the generation of them that seek him.
3. The third thing that may be called seeking of God is our observance of him in the use of his ordinances. It is one thing to serve God, another thing to seek God; one thing to make God the object, another thing the end of our worship. To seek God only in our necessity, and not to seek God in his ordinances, argueth a base spirit. Christians,. our losing God in Adam, that makes us seek him in a way of reconciliation. Our want of God in straits, and in the course of our affairs, maketh us seek him by way of supply. But now our duty to God, and love to him, should make us seek him in his ordinances by way of communion; and in this sense seeking God is often spoken of in scripture: Ps. xxii. 26, ‘They shall praise the Lord that seek him;’ that is, that wait upon him, and maintain communion with him in the means of grace.
Well, then, let us be more in seeking of God. If we would find him in heaven, we must seek him on earth: Heb. xi. 6, ‘He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.’ They that seek his favour, that often resort to him, carry on a constant communion with him; those that are waiting for his power and presence in his ordinances, these are the men God will own. We are not fit to receive so great a blessing as God’s favour if we will not look after it with diligence.
Secondly, Observe, those that seek God aright, must seek him with their whole heart.
But how is that? Besides what hath already been spoken of it in the second use, it noteth three things—
1: Sincerity of aims.
2. Integrity of parts.
3. Uniformity of endeavours.
1. Sincerity of aims. Many pretend to seek God, but indeed they do but seek themselves. As those that followed Christ for the loaves, that take up religion upon base and carnal respects: John vi. 26, ‘Verily I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.’ There was much outward diligence, but a false heart lurking under it; their belly drove them to him. Of all by-ends this is the worst and basest: Vix diligitur Jesus propter Jesum.—Jesus Christ is scarce loved for Jesus’ sake. Yet, further, those that prayed to God for corn, wine, and oil, and did not seek his favour and grace in the first place, see what the Lord 93saith of them: Hosea vii. 14, ‘They have not cried unto me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds.’ They did seek God, but yet it is counted howling. They only minded the supply of outward wants; and made prayer merely to be an act of carnal self-love. And then it is but howling, such a noise as a dog or a beast would make when he wants his food. Christians, no doubt they were instant, there was a world of earnestness, they were affected when the stroke was upon them, and seriously desired to get rid of it, but ‘they have not cried to me with their whole heart.’ It was but such a sense of pain and want as the beasts have. If there be anything sought from God more than God, or not for God, we do not seek him with the whole heart, but only for other uses.
2. It notes integrity of parts. We read in scripture of loving God, not only with the heart, but with the ‘whole heart;’ and of believing, not only with the heart, Rom. x. 10, but of believing with the ‘whole heart,’ Acts viii. 37; because seeking of God is but a metaphorical term, by which faith is expressed; therefore let us see what it is to believe with the whole heart. The doctrine of the gospel is not only true, to work upon the understanding, but it is good, so as to move and draw the will: 1 Tim. i. 15, ‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation,’ &c. Not only ‘a faithful saying’—that is, a true doctrine—‘that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners,’ but it is ‘worthy of all acceptation.’ It is an excellent doctrine to ravish the will. Now, observe what a great deal of difference there is between men in believing. Some that hear the gospel, and have only a literal knowledge of it, so as to be able to talk of it, so as to understand the words and syllables, to know what it means; they may have some clearness of understanding this way, but there is not a sound assent. There are others affected so with the gospel, as by the common influence of the Spirit they may assent to the truths delivered concerning God and Christ, and salvation by him, yet do not give it entertainment in their hearts. These may be said to seek God, but not with the whole heart. A speculative, naked, and cold assent they may have, but that is not enough. It is not enough to see food that is whole some, but you must eat it. Nor is it enough to understand the gospel, and believe that it is true, but we must embrace it; it must be accepted, else we do not believe with the whole heart. The word is propounded to man as true. Now, the truth made known may cause a speculative assent. This may draw profession after it; and this we call historical faith, because we are no more affected with the gospel than with an ordinary history which we read and believe. The word is propounded again as good, to move and excite the will. Now, there is a twofold good—the good of happiness, and the good of holiness. The good of happiness, that which is profitable and sweet. Then there is the good of holiness. Now, there are many that look upon the gospel as good and profitable, because it offereth pardon and eternal life; such comfort to the conscience, and such good to our whole souls. We may be affected with it as a good doctrine. Naturally, man hath not only a sense of religion, but he hath a hunger after immortality and everlasting blessedness. Therefore, since the gospel doth so clearly promote happiness, it may be greedily catched hold of 94by those whose hearts are affected, while they look upon it under these notions; and they may be so far affected that they may for a while not only profess it out of danger, but when some danger doth arise they may defend their opinions with some care. Yet this is not with all the heart. Why? As soon as any great danger doth arise, out of which there is no escape, as gibbets, fires, racks, ignominy, and utter loss—as soon as persecution arose, saith Christ, all this ardour and heat of spirit which they did formerly seem to have, comes to nothing. What is the reason it vanisheth? Because they receive the gospel rather upon those notions of interest and profit, than of duty and holiness; and the impression of the profitableness of the gospel, as a doctrine of happiness, was not so deeply rooted in them, not so durable, that the hope of the future good would be prevalent over the fear of present evil and danger. There may be some desires of heaven in a carnal breast, but they are easily blotted out by worldly temptations; but the true desires of holiness are lasting, and will prevail over our lusts.
3. Believing with all the heart implies uniformity of endeavours. Oftentimes the soul may be strongly moved and affected for the present, and carried out to the gospel under the notion of holiness; but it is but the lighter part of the soul that is so moved, not the whole heart, therefore it is not durable. The people meant as they spake when they were willing to come under the obedience of the word. God gives them that testimony: ‘The people have well said; but oh! that there were such a heart in them,’ Deut. v. 28, 29. They may receive it, and may seem affected with it, and have a sense of reformation; but, saith the evangelist, Luke viii. 14, ‘It brings no fruit to perfection.’ It was not so deeply rooted as to prevail strongly over their carnal distempers. And, therefore, here comes in another sort of men, that are affected with the word as a holy doctrine. They may have a liking to the holiness of it, and have some consolation thereupon; they have their beginnings, and some good offers towards sanctification; but it brings nothing to perfection. They may have such a hope of heaven as that they may be said to ‘taste the powers of the world to come,’ Heb. vi. 5, 6; yet because it is not deeply rooted in the heart, and only begets some raw motions, and moves the lighter part of the soul, and doth not show itself in a uniform course of obedience, therefore it is not with all the heart. It may be it was but for a time, or cast in upon some eminent trouble. Therefore that is only believing, and seeking God with all the heart, when the doctrine of life is so acknowledged to be true, good, and holy, as to be closed with upon that account; not only because of its suitableness to our eternal good and interest, but as it is a rule of our duty. And then it enters upon the heart when every faculty of it is subdued to God. It is not some colouring of the outside, but a deep dye when it soaks into the whole soul, and subdues the affections to God, which is manifested by a uniform course of obedience. Now David urgeth this to God as an argument, ‘I have sought thee with my whole heart.’ Hence observe—
Doct. We may mention the good which is wrought in us, and urge it to God in prayer.
It is a useful case. How may we mention our own gracious qualifications, and the good that is wrought in us?95
Negatively—1. Not by way of boasting. There is no such thing here; no presumptuous boasting of his own perfections; for it was accompanied with a deep sense of his weakness, wandering, and straggling condition; he acknowledgeth his infirmities. There is no such thing allowed as boasting. The apostle’s argument is convincing, ‘Why boastest thou? What have we that we have not received?’ If we can boast of anything, it is that we are most in debt, that we have received more: 1 Cor. i. 31, we must ‘glory in the Lord.’
2. Not pleading of merit, as if he had deserved anything of God. So the Pharisee speaks of his good works, Luke xviii. 11. It is not to such a purpose as if we could challenge a reward as a due debt upon any good that we have done.
But positively—How then may we make mention of our qualifications?
1. We may mention what is wrought in us for God’s glory. Surely, however we humble ourselves, we must not belie his bounty. To be always complaining of spiritual evils, it doth not argue a good temper of soul: Ps. cxvi. 7, ‘Return to thy rest, my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.’ We may own the Lord’s bounty, and take notice what good we have done to the glory of his grace: ‘Not I, but the grace of God which was with me,’ 1 Cor. xv. 10.
2. We may mention it to our own comfort. Thus Paul, 2 Cor. i. 12. Jesus Christ is our rejoicing, but in one sense this is also our rejoicing, the testimony of our conscience.’ Wherefore is grace given us, but for the furtherance of our comfort? To bear false witness against ourselves is naught. Though the duties of the first table neither begin nor end in us, yet the whole law of charity begins at home.
3. For our own vindication. Thus Hezekiah: Isa. xxxviii. 3, ‘Remember, O Lord, how I have walked before thee with a perfect heart.’ This was his plea; but I suppose it was not before God as a judge, but before God as a witness. He called God to witness that he had walked before him with a perfect heart. He was slandered by Rabshakeh. They thought, when he broke down the altars of Baal and cut down their groves, that he had cut down the altars of the God of Israel; therefore, saith Rabshakeh, speaking to the humour and discontent of the people—and we must look upon it as a politic insinuation—‘Is not this he whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away and demolished?’ 2 Kings xviii. 22. Now, saith Hezekiah, ‘I have walked before thee with an upright heart.’ Many a good magistrate is often put upon such pleas for God’s honour, in things distasteful to the popularity.
4. What God hath wrought in us may be urged as an argument in prayer to obtain further grace many ways. Partly because God loves to crown his own mercies, and make one to be a step to another. We are endeared to God by his own mercies; he is very tender and choice of them. In whom he hath begun a good work he will perfect it: Zech. iii. 2, ‘Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?’ What I shall all my former mercies be in vain? It is God’s own argument, and he takes it well when his people urgeth it. In many cases, Deus donando debet—by giving one mercy, he makes himself a debtor to give another. Plutarch gives us a story of the Rhodians, when they came to sue to the Romans for help, that one urged what good turns they 96had done to the Romans; but the people urged what good turns the Romans did to them, and they obtained relief. Such a plea is accept able and honourable to God, when we urge what God hath done for us. And partly because sincerity, by the consent of all, hath the full room of an evidence and gospel-plea in the court of justification. When the business is how a sinner shall be accepted with God, for a law-plea we can only plead the merits of Christ and God’s mercy; there all we have and can do is but dung and dross, Phil. iii. 8, 9, as to an acquittance from sin. But as to our acquittance from hypocrisy, as to the plea of a gospel-evidence, we may produce our sincerity and the fruits of our obedience, to show our title is good as the matter is ordered by the Lord’s grace, that we have the gospel-title. To all the other our title is by the righteousness of Christ, but the evidence of our title is sincere walking.
Secondly, Let us come to David’s request, ‘Let me not wander from thy commandments.’ It may be translated, ‘Make me not to err;’ that is, ‘by the suspending of thy grace;’ for that will necessarily follow. The Septuagint reads, ‘Do not repel from thy commandments.’ God seems to repel and cast off those that he doth not assist with his grace. Here David saith, ‘I have sought thee.’ Observe the mischief that a heart which truly seeketh God desireth to fly from—sin, or wandering from the path of obedience. There is a communion with God, but in the way of his commandments; therefore they do not desire establishment of their interest and happiness only, but of God’s glory, that they might not wander. Hence observe—
Doct. 1. The more experience men have of the ways of God, the more sensible will they be of their readiness to wander.
David, a man of so much experience, that sought God with his whole heart, ‘Lord, let me not wander.’ What is the reason?
1. Because they have a larger sense of duty.
2. A more tender sense of dangers and difficulties that do attend them.
First, They have a larger sense of duty to God. At first, while we are carnal, we take up duty by the lump, and by the visible bulk of it; we look only to ἔργον νόμου, ‘the work of the law.’ Rom. ii. 15, and to avoid gross sins, or perform outward acts of worship. Oh! if I do sin, I am no adulterer, no extortioner, Luke xviii. 11. We think then it is well. But when we begin to have grace wrought in our heart, then we begin to serve God in the spirit, Phil. iii. 3: ‘And my God, whom I serve with my spirit.’ Rom. i. 9, then we begin to look after the regulation of the inner man, and subduing of the soul to God; and we cannot be contented with the visible bulk of obedience, and with some general conformity. Ay! but at first there is only a general purpose to serve God in the spirit; but afterward, when they begin to look into the breadth of the commandment, still they are sensible of their coming short, and how apt they are to wander in this and that point; still their sense of duty is increased, because their light, their love to God, and their power is increased, and because they draw near to their everlasting hopes.
1. Because their light is increased. By communion with God they see more of his holiness. The more a man is exercised in obedience, 97the clearer is his light and understanding, both to God and the will of God: Mat. v. 8, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ All sight of God, it is, as Nazianzen speaks, according to the proportion of our purity; and therefore the more communion we have with God, the more sight into the nature of God, and the will of God, and the more they are held under the awe of God. In moral disciplines, the further we wade in them, the more we see of our defects. Those that went to Athens, first they counted themselves σοφοὶ, wise men; afterward only φιλόσοφοι, lovers of wisdom; then they were only men that could talk a little; afterward they found themselves nothing. So a Christian in communion with God, the longer he converseth with God, the more he doth see of his perfection and holiness: ‘Surely I am more brutish than any man,’ was the expression of wise Agur, Prov. xxx. 2. This holy man of God, saith Chrysostom, speaks it not only humbly, but truly, as he thinks. Sure they did not compliment with God. These holy men, in the serious actings of their souls, they speak as they think. Why? Because they have a high sense of Cod’s holiness, therefore a deeper sense of their own vileness. They think there are hardly any so bad as themselves. Now they are convinced that the holy God will not be put off with any slight matter; and they are become sensible of that precept, Mat. v. 48, ‘Be perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’
2. Their love to God is increased by acquaintance with him, and therefore their hearts are more tender and sensible of the least deflection. The more a man loves God, the more he will do for God: 1 John v. 3, ‘This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.’ That is a clear rule; the more we love God, the more chary we will be of his commandments; and therefore they cannot sin upon such easy terms as before, nor go to heaven upon such easy terms as they thought before.
3. Their power is increased. He that is grown to a man’s estate minds other work than what he did when a child; and as they have more strength, they look after more work. At first it was only to prevent excesses and breaking out of sin, but afterwards to subdue every thought to the obedience of Christ.
4. They are nearer to heaven, and therefore they look after greater suitableness to their everlasting estate. They think of that sinless and pure estate they shall enjoy there, therefore have a greater sense of duty upon them. Natural motion, saith the philosopher, is slower in the beginning, and swifter in the end and close; so spiritual motion in the end and close ariseth to a greater vigour of holiness; that which served before will not serve their turn now: Phil. iii. 14, they are ‘pressing forward toward the mark,’ &c.; they are hastening apace, and strain themselves when the prize is so near.
Secondly, As they have a larger sense of duty, so they have a greater experience of the dangers and difficulties that do attend them. Aristotle observes of young men, that they are more given to hope than the old are. They are of great and strong hopes. He renders three reasons for it—because they are eager of spirit, have little experience, and look but to a few things; and therefore they are forward to get abroad in the world, and to entangle themselves in the early cares of a family, until their rashness be confuted by their own miscarriage. So it is 98 true of young Christians; they are all on a flame, ready to run into the mouth of danger upon the confidence of their present affections; and till they have smarted often, this confidence is not abated.
But men that have been exercised and experienced are more sensible of the naughtiness and inconstancy of their own hearts: Ps. li. 6, ‘In the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom;’ and therefore are more diffident of their own strength, and desire the Lord to keep them from wandering. We see, then, a cautelous fear is necessary to the last; it is useful to us not only to begin, but to work out our salvation: Phil. ii. 12, ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;’ not only when we are novices, and so weak, and more liable to temptation, but to the close of our days: Prov. xxviii. 14, ‘Blessed is the man that feareth always.’ That fear which causeth diffidence, and doubting, and despair, is a torment, not a blessedness; yet the fear that is opposite to carnal security and presuming on our own strength, is a fruit of grace and spiritual experience. This is that which stirreth up care and diligence in our heavenly calling, and dependence upon God, and constant addresses to him; that keepeth us humble and waiting for the supplies of his grace.
Doct. 2. It is God alone that can keep us from wandering.
Reas. There is in man’s heart a mighty proneness thereto: Jer. xiv. 10, you have hearts that ‘love to wander.’ Man is a restless creature, that loveth shifts and changes. For weakness they are compared to children, Hosea xi. 3, and for wandering compared to sheep, Isa. liii. 6. There is no creature so apt to go astray as sheep, and so unable to return. This is the disposition of men by nature. And mark, much of the old nature remains still with the saints. Have they not this wandering property to the last? David acknowledgeth it, though there were some good in him: Ps. cxix. 176, ‘I have gone astray like a lost sheep.’ Consider the saints; though they have sincerity, yet not perfection; and sometimes they wander through in advertency; they are overtaken, Gal. vi. 1, as Noah was—they do not run of their own accord. And sometimes we err through the darkness that is in us. Though a child of God be ‘light in the Lord,’ yet he hath a great deal of darkness still. It may be he is wise in generals, but ignorant in particulars, as the heathen; in general they had good notions of an infinite and eternal power, but they were ‘vain in their imaginations.’ Rom. i. 21, in their practical inferences and discourses, when they came to rest upon this God. So a child of God may have a general sense of his duty, but as to particulars he is apt to miscarry; the mind may be blinded by lust and prejudice.
Sometimes they err through frowardness of their own lust: there is ‘a law in their members which wars against the law of their minds.’ Rom. vii. There are boisterous lusts, and a man hath much ado to keep his path: Ps. lxxiii., ‘My foot had well-nigh slipped.’ Therefore we had need God should keep us continually. And the Lord hath undertaken to guide us: Isa. lviii. 11, ‘The Lord shall guide thee continually;’ and Ps. xlviii. 14, He will be our guide even unto death;’ and Ps. lxxiii. 24, ‘Thou shalt guide me by thy counsel, and afterward receive me to thy glory.’ We need this constant guidance and direction from God, that he may still lead us, and keep us from wandering and turning aside.99
Use. You see, then, what need we have of a guide and shepherd, and of constant dependence upon God. Of all titles, this is the title given to the saints; they are a ‘flock, and the sheep of God’s pasture;’ and Christ is called ‘the shepherd of souls,’ 1 Peter ii. 25. There is no creature of such a dependence as sheep. Dogs and swine can roam, abroad all the day, and find their way home again at night, but sheep must have a guide to keep them in the fold, and to reduce them when gone astray, Luke xv. The good shepherd brought him home upon his shoulders. Lord, saith Austin, I can go astray of myself, but I cannot come back of myself. We need often to put up this request, ‘Oh, let me not wander from thy commandments.’
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