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Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.—Ver. 11.
IN this verse you have David’s practice, and the aim and end of it.
1. His practice, I have hid thy word in my heart.
2. The aim and end of it, that I might not sin against thee.
In the first, his practice, observe these circumstances—
1. The object or matter, the word.
2. The act of duty, I have hid.
3. The subject, the heart.
I shall open these circumstances.
1. The object, the word. The revelation of God’s mind to his people is called his law, his testimonies, his ways, his precepts, his statutes, his commandments, his judgments, and now his word; whereby is meant God’s expounding his mind as if he himself did speak to us. The expression is general, and compriseth promises, threatenings, doctrines, counsels, precepts. All these must be hid in the heart.
2. The act of duty, I have hid. A thing may be hidden two ways, either to conceal it, or else to cherish and keep it.
[1.] To conceal it; hid so as the unprofitable servant did hide his talent in a napkin, Mat. xxv. So David, typifying Christ, saith, ‘I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation; I have not concealed thy loving-kindness and truth from the great congregation.’
[2.] To be kept as things of price, as jewels and treasures are hid den in chests and secret places, that they may not be embezzled or purloined. And herein there may be an allusion to the law, which was kept in a chest or ark, Exod. xxv. 21. Thus the word is hidden, not in order to concealment, but safety. As to the conceit of hiding our knowledge, that we may not lose it by vainglory, which Chrysostom and Theodoret mention on the place, it is a conceit so foreign, that it need not to be mentioned. What we value most preciously we save most carefully.
3. The subject or place where the word is hidden, in the heart. Not the brain, or mind and memory only, but the heart, the seat of affections. 100To hide the word in our hearts is to understand and remember it, and to be affected to it and with it. Christ saith, John xiv. 21, ‘He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.’ First we must have them, and then keep them. First we know them, then assent to them, and then approve them, because of the authority of the lawgiver, and the excellency of the thing commanded; and then respect them as a treasure that we are chary of; and having them still in our eye, do thereby regulate our practice and conversation. In short, by holding it in our hearts is meant not only a knowledge of the word, but an assent to it; not only an assent to it, but a serious and sound digestion of it by meditation; not only a digestion, but a constant respect to it, that we may not transgress it as it is a rule, nor lose it as it is a treasure, but may have it ready and forthcoming upon all occasions.
The points are these:—
Doct. 1. One duty and necessary practice of God’s children is to hide the word in their hearts.
Doct. 2. That in hiding the word in our hearts, there must be a right end; our knowledge of it and delight in it must be directed to practice.
1. That one duty and necessary practice of God’s children is to hide the word in their hearts. See it confirmed by a scripture or two: Josh. i. 8, ‘This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night;’ Job xxii. 22, ‘Receive, I pray thee, the law from his mouth, and lay up his words in thy heart.’ By the law is meant the whole word of God. ‘Lay up his words,’ as we would do choice things, that they may not be lost or embezzled; and lay them up as treasure to be used upon all occasions. ‘In the heart;’ let them not swim in the brain or memory only, but let the heart be affected with it: Col. iii. 16, ‘Let the word of God dwell in you richly;’ be so diligent in the study of the scripture, that it may become familiar with us, by frequent hearing, reading, meditating, conferring about it. As a stranger, let it not stand at the door, but receive it into an inner room; be as familiar as those that dwell with you. God complaineth of his people: Hosea viii. 12, ‘I have written to them the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing.’ To be strangers to the word of God, and little conversant in it, is a great evil. What is it to hide the word in our hearts? (1.) To understand it, to get a competent knowledge of it; we take in things into the soul by the understanding: Prov. ii. 10, ‘When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul.’ There is first an entrance by knowledge. (2.) When it is assented unto by faith. The word is settled in the heart by faith, otherwise it soon vanisheth: Heb. iv. 2, ‘The word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it,’ (3.) When it is kindly entertained: John viii. 37, Christ complains, ‘Ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you,’ οὐ χωρεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν. Men are so possessed with lust and prejudice, that there is no room for Christ’s word. Though it break in upon the heart with evidence and power, yet it is not entertained there, but cast out again as an unwelcome guest. (4.) When it is deeply rooted. Many men have flashes 101for a time; their affections may be much aloft, and they may have great fits and elevations of joy and delight, but no sound grace: John v. 35, ‘Ye rejoiced in his light for a season.’ But now the word must be settled into a standing affection, if we would have comfort and profit by it. We read of ‘the ingrafted word,’ James i. 21. There is a word bearing fruit, and a word ingrafted. Till there be the root of the matter in us, in vain do we expect fruit.
The reasons why this is one duty and practice of the saints, to hide the word in their hearts, are two:—
Reas. 1. First, that we may have it ready for our use. We lay up principles, that we may lay them out upon all occasions. Man hath an ingestive and an egestive faculty; when it is hid in the heart, it will be ready to break out in the tongue and practice, and be forthcoming to direct us in every duty and exigency. When persons run to the market for every pennyworth, it doth not become good housekeepers. To be to seek of comforts when we should use them, or to run to a book, is not so comfortable as to hide it in the heart. As Christ saith, ‘A good scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old,’ Mat. xiii. 52. He hath not only this year’s growth, but the last year’s gathering (for so is the allusion made); he hath not only from hand to mouth, but a good stock by him. So should a Christian have not only knowledge from hand to mouth, but a good stock and treasure in his heart, which is a very great advantage in these seven things.
1. It will prevent vain thoughts. What is the reason evil is so ready and present with us? Because our stock of knowledge is so small. A man that hath a pocket fuller of brass farthings than pieces of silver, will more readily draw out farthings than shillings; his stock is greater. So vain thoughts will be more ready with us, unless the word dwell richly in our hearts: Mat. xii. 35, ‘A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things; and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.’ The workings of our spirits are as our treasure and stock. The mind works upon what it finds in itself, as a mill grinds whatsoever is put into it, chaff or corn. Therefore, if we would prevent wicked thoughts, and musings of vanity all the day long, we must hide the word in our heart.
2. When you are alone and without outward helps, your hearts will furnish you with matter of counsel, or comfort, or reproof: Ps. xvi. 7, ‘My reins instruct me in the night season.’ When we are alone, and there is a veil of darkness drawn upon the world, and we have not the benefit of a bible, a minister, or Christian friends, our reins will instruct us; we may draw out of our heart that which will be for our comfort and refreshing. A Christian is to be a walking bible, to have a good stock and treasure in himself.
3. It will supply us in prayer. Barrenness and leanness of soul is a very great defect, which God’s children often complain of. One great reason is, because the word of God doth not dwell plenteously in them, so that in every prayer we are to seek. If the heart were often exercised in the word, the promises would hold up our hearts in prayer, enlarge our affections, and we should be better able to pour out our spirits before him: Ps. xlv. 1, ‘My heart is inditing a good 102matter.’ What then? ‘My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.’ When the heart is full, the tongue will be loosed and speak freely. What is the reason we are so dumb and tongue-tied in prayer? Be cause our heart is so barren. When the spring is dry, there will be little water in the stream: Eph. vi. 17, ‘Take the sword of the Spirit, that is the word of God;’ then presently, ‘praying with all manner of supplication.’ When we have a good store of the word of God it will burst out in prayer.
4. It will be a great help to us in all businesses and affairs. Prov. vi. 21, 22, speaking of the precepts of God, ‘Bind them upon thy heart; when thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee.’ Upon all occasions the word will be ready to cast in seasonable thoughts. When we awake, our most early thoughts in the morning will begin with God, to season the heart all the day; and as we are about our business, the word will hold our hearts in the fear of God; and when we sleep, it will guard thee from vain dreams and light imaginations. In a wicked man sin engrosseth all the thoughts; it employs him all the day, plays in his fancy all the night; it solicits him first in the morning, because he is a stranger to the word of God. But a man that is a bible to himself, the word will be ever upon him, urging him to duty, restraining him from sin, directing him in his ways, seasoning his work and employment. Therefore we should hide the word in our hearts.
5. It is a great relief against temptations to have the word ready. The word is called ‘The sword of the Spirit,’ Eph. vi. 17. In spiritual conflicts there is none to that. Those that ride abroad in time of danger will not be without a sword. We are in danger, and had need handle the sword of the Spirit. The more ready the scripture is with us, the greater advantage in our conflicts and temptations. When the devil came to assault Christ, he had scripture ready for him, whereby he overcame the tempter. The door is barred upon Satan, and he cannot find such easy entrance, when the word is hid in our hearts, and made use of pertinently: 1 John ii. 14, ‘I write to you, young men, because ye are strong.’ Where lies their strength? ‘And the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.’ Oh, it is a great advantage when we have the word not only by us, but in us, ingrafted in the heart! When it is present with us, we are more able to resist the assaults of Satan. Either a man for gets the word or hath lost his affection to it, before he can be drawn to sin. The word of God, when it hath gotten into the heart, it will furnish us with seasonable thoughts.
6. It is a great relief in troubles and afflictions. Our faintings come from ignorance, or our forgetfulness: Heb. xii. 5, ‘Ye have for gotten the consolation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him.’ If we had a herb growing in our gardens that would ease our smart, what are we the better if we know it not? There is no malady but what hath its remedy in the word. To have a comfort ready is a great relief.
7. It makes our conference and conversation with others more gracious: Mat. xii. 34, ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth 103speaketh.’ When we have a great deal of hidden treasure in the soul it will get out at the tongue; for there is a quick intercourse between the heart and the tongue. The tap runs according to the liquor where with the vessel is filled. Come to men of an unsavoury spirit, pierce them, broach them, give them occasion again and again for discourse, and you get nothing but frothy communication from them and vain talk. But now a man that hath stored his heart with the word is ever and anon interposing for God. Like a bottle filled with wine, he must have vent. As the spouse’s lips are said to ‘drop as honey combs,’ they are ever putting forth savoury expressions in their converse with others: Col. iii. 16, ‘Let the word of God dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.’ It will burst out presently if the word of God dwell in your hearts.
Before I go to the second reason, let me answer an objection: But is not this to take from the Spirit, and to give it to the word? and that to the word, not as written in God’s book, but as it is in our hearts? Will not this be to ascribe all to created grace? I answer—
1. Questionless it is the office of the Spirit to bring things to our remembrance, and the great help of the Spirit of God is by suggesting such passages as may be of most seasonable relief to the soul in temptations, in prayer, and in business, John xiv. 16. But what is given to the scriptures and grace is not to the wrong of the Spirit, for the scripture is of his inditing, and grace is of his working; yea, we still reserve the chief honour to the Holy Ghost, for he not only worketh grace, but worketh by grace. He not only indites the scripture, but works by it; it is he that quickeneth prayer; and therefore it is ill trusting to our own understanding and memory, for it is the Spirit that is the great remembrancer, and impresseth upon the mind savoury and seasonable thoughts.
2. I grant further, the children of God are subject to much forgetfulness of the truth that is impressed upon their hearts. Partly through the present cloud and mist which the temptation raiseth. The Psalmist had truths enough to support him, Ps. lxxiii. 17; yet he saith, ‘Until I went into the sanctuary of God, I was foolish and ignorant; I was as a beast before thee.’ There is so much dulness upon the children of God that they cannot remember seasonable thoughts; as Hagar had a fountain by her, yet she did not see it till God opened her eyes, Gen. xxi. So under the temptation all are benighted, and the light that is in the understanding is obscured. And partly through the little sense they have for the present of the need of the comforts which the word propoundeth; few so wise as to lay up for a dear year. And partly through sloth and negligence, being taken up with other things. It is possible sometimes that we may be guided by the Spirit, and act right merely by the guidance of the Holy Ghost, without any interposing and concurrence of our own understandings; as John xii. 13, compared with ver. 16, ‘They took branches of palm-trees, and went forth to meet him; and cried, Hosanna, blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.’ ‘These things understood not his disciples at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him.’ Mark, they were guided by the 104Spirit to do that they knew not for the present; they had only a back-look, not a foresight; they were ignorant of what they were doing until afterward; thoughts came not in their mind but only in the review: John ii. 22, ‘When he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them.’ They did not take up the meaning of them, yet they were guided aright. They did not carp against Christ, as the Jews did. They were guided by the Spirit in a case they were wholly ignorant.
3. The Holy Ghost makes use of a sanctified memory, bringing scriptures to our remembrance as we have need. It is made their act, because the Holy Ghost made use of their memories: ‘They remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up,’ John ii. 17. They that neglect to search and hide the word in their hearts, they have not such seasonable refreshment; for God works more strongly with the strongest graces; there where there is the greater receptivity, there is the greater influence; those that are ignorant cannot expect such help as those that have the word dwell richly in their hearts.
The second reason is, therefore should we hide the word in our hearts, because God doth so in the work of conversion: Heb. viii. 10, ‘I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.’ The mind is compared to tables of stone, and the heart to the ark; and so this is required of us to ‘write them upon the table of our heart,’ Prov. vii. 3; and here, ‘I have hidden thy word in my heart.’ How doth this follow? because God doth so in conversion, therefore it is our duty?
I answer—(1.) God requires what he works, to show the creature’s duty, as well as the power of his own grace. God is to convert and turn; yet do you turn, circumcise your heart, and I will circumcise; mortify your members, &c.; and yet, ‘If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.’ He gives and requires; to engage the subserviency of our endeavours, and to make us sensible of our duty and obligation. (2.) This followeth because this work must be gone over again and again that it may be more explicit. We must revive the work, and put a fresh copy of the law into our heart, to keep the old work a-foot
Use 1. To persuade you to study the scripture, that you may get understanding, and hide the word in your hearts for gracious purposes. This is the book of books; let it not lie idle and unemployed. The world can as well be without the sun as the bible. Ps. xix., first he speaks of the sun, then of the law of God. This is to the Christian and gracious world as the sun is to the outward world. The use and profit of it should make us look after more acquaintance with it. Consider the great use of the word for informing the understanding and reforming the will. For informing the understanding: 2 Tim. iii. 17, the word of God is ‘able to make the man of God perfect, and thoroughly furnished.’ Who should have more knowledge than the man of God, that is to stand in God’s stead, and teach the people? Then for reforming the will: ver. 9 of this psalm, ‘Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.’ A young man that is so heedless and headstrong, and in the very ruff and heat of his lusts, yet there is enough in the word to cleanse and tame him, and subdue him to God. Oh! therefore, let us 105get it into our hearts; let it not only move the lighter part of the soul, but get rooting, that it may have its full power and force, that we may not only have a little knowledge to talk of it; but we are to hide it deeply, that it may take root, and spring up again in our lives and conversations. To this end meditate often of it, and receive it in the love of it.
1. Meditate often of it: Luke ii. 19, ‘Mary kept all these sayings.’ How did she keep them? She ‘pondered them in her heart.’ Musing makes the fire to burn, and deep and constant thoughts are operative; not a glance or a slight view. The hen which straggleth from her nest when she sits a-brooding produceth nothing; it is a constant incubation which hatcheth the young. So when we have only a few straggling thoughts, and do not sit a-brooding upon a truth; when we have flashes only, like a little glance of a sunbeam upon a wall, it doth nothing; but serious and inculcative thoughts, through the Lord’s blessing, will do the work. Urge the heart again and again; as the apostle, when he had laid down the doctrine of justification and the privileges thereof: Rom. viii. 31, ‘Now what shall we say to these things?’ Is this a truth?—then what will become of me if I disregard it? Thus to return upon our heart when any light begins to shine in our minds from the scripture: is this the word of God, and doth it find no more entertainment in my heart?
2. Receive it in the love of it. The apostle makes that to be the ground of apostasy: 2 Thes. ii. 10, ‘Because they received not the truth in the love of it,’ &c. Oh! let it soak into the affections. If it lie only in the tongue or in the mind, only to make it a matter of talk and speculation, it will be soon gone. The seed which lies upon the surface, the fowls of the air will pick it up. Therefore hide it deeply; let it get from the ear into the mind, from the mind into the heart; let it soak further and further. First men have a naked apprehension of truth, then it gets into the conscience, and then it lies in the heart, then it is laid up; but when we suffer it only to be made matter of speculation, it is soon lost. Know this, a man may receive a thing in the evidence and light of it, when he doth not receive it in the love of it. When it rests in naked speculation, then he receives a thing in the evidence and light of it; but when it hath a prevailing sovereignty in the heart, then we receive it in the love of it. When it is dearer than our dearest lust, then it will stick by us; when we are willing to sell all for the pearl of price, Mat. xiii. 46. We are often put to it what we will part with—our lusts or the truth. When it breaks in upon the heart with evidence and power, you cannot keep both. Therefore let it soak into the affections, and hide the word in your hearts, that you may not sin against God.
Use 2. To direct you what to do in reading, hearing, meditating.
1. In reading. Hide the word in your hearts. The word may be reduced to doctrines, promises, threatenings. (1.) For doctrines, lay up knowledge, Prov. x. 14. It is a notable preservative against sin, and an antidote against the infection of the world, when we have a good stock of principles: Ps. xxxvii. 31, ‘The law of God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.’ As long as truth is kept lively and active, and in view of conscience, we shall not slide, or not so 106often slide. We have many temptations to divert us from the truth and obedience; but here we are in safety, when the law of God is in our heart. How often was the word of God in Joseph’s heart: ‘How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?’ Against God, that is of such a sovereign majesty!—against God, of such infinite goodness and mighty power, so able to save and to destroy! Every time you read the scriptures you should lay up something. The best way to destroy ill weeds is by planting the ground with right seed. Everywhere we shall meet with notable passages. Therefore, stock yourselves with good principles. (2.) Then for promises, that part of the word. What have you hidden in your heart for comfort against temptations, desertions, afflictions? What have you laid up against a dear year? Job xxii. 22, ‘Lay up his word in thine heart.’ In a time of trial you will find one promise will give you more comfort and support than all the arguments that can be produced by reason: Ps. cxix. 50, ‘This is my comfort in my affliction; thy word hath quickened me.’ He had a word to support him. Therefore let us treasure up all the promises; all will be little enough when we need comforts. That we may not have them to seek in a time of distress, it is good they should be familiar. As you read the word, collect for your comfort and profit; happy is the man that hath his garner full of them. (3.) And so for threatenings, especially against the sins we are most inclinable to: ‘Who among you will give ear, and hear for the time to come?’ Isa. xlii. 23. You should think of what will come afterward. It is well with you for the present, but matters to come are put off, little cared for, Amos vi. 3.
2. In hearing. Do not hear slightly, but hide the word in your heart, that it be not embezzled by thy own negligence, forgetfulness, running into carnal distractions; that it be not purloined by Satan, that he may not snatch away the good seed out of thy soul. When the word is preached, there is more company present than is visible; there are angels and devils in the assembly. Whenever the sons of God meet together, Satan is present with them. The devil is present to divert the mind by wandering thoughts, by raising prejudices, that we may cast out the word; or by excuses, delays, evasions, putting it off to others when we begin to have some sensibleness of our sin and danger. The devil is loath to let us go too far, lest Christ get a subject into his kingdom. Oh! therefore, labour to get something into thy heart by every sermon; some fresh notion or consideration is given out to set you a-work in the spiritual life. A conscientious waiting upon God will find something every time. It is sad to consider^how many have heard much, and laid up little or nothing at all; it may be they have laid it up in their note-books, but not laid up the word in their hearts.
3. For meditation. Meditate upon the word; do not study the word in a cursory manner, or content yourselves with a slight taste, or a little volatile affection; but ponder it seriously, that it may enter into your very heart. Hasty and perfunctory thoughts work nothing. Meat must be well chewed and digested, if you would have it turn into good blood and spirits. You must follow it close till it settle into some affection.107
So much for David’s practice, I have hid thy word in my heart.
The second thing is the aim and end of it, that I may not sin against thee.
Doct. 2. In hiding the word in our hearts there must be a right end; our knowledge of it and delight in it must be directed to practice.
1. We must not study the word merely out of curiosity, that we may know what is said there, as men will pry into civil art and discipline. So the Athenians flocked about Paul, Acts xvii. 18-21; so for novelty’s sake men may have an affection and a delight in the word: John v. 35, ‘Ye rejoiced in his light for a season.’ There are certain adulterous affections we have to the word when it is new and fresh, but when it grows stale we loathe it. This affection to the word is soon spent.
2. We must not hide the word in our heart merely that we may be able to teach others, that we may make a gainful trade of it. Alas! a man may teach others and be himself a castaway. Look, as in coining of money, an iron stamp may impress the character and print upon a piece of gold and silver, so God may use the gifts and know ledge of some men to beget faith in others, and perish themselves: Mat. vii. 21, ‘We have prophesied in thy name;’ yet ‘Depart from me; I know you not.’
3. This must not be our end neither, not merely for delight. Largeness of knowledge brings a content with it, as it is an addition to our perfection. Truth is the object of our understanding, and may please an unsanctified mind. Not merely out of subserviency to some base and inferior ends, that we may get esteem in the world, or the repute of knowing persons, but as it is an elevation of the understanding. Every delight in truth is not a delight in God. There is a natural oblectation we have in the contemplation of any sublime truth; this is merely a delight in the work of our own faculties, when the affections are terminated in bare knowledge; as it is a high and mysterious truth, as it is a delectation to the understanding.
4. We are not merely to study the word for the comfortableness of it, and the suitableness to the conscience. As man is a reasonable creature, he will delight in knowledge; and as he hath a conscience presageous of death and judgment to come, he may delight in the comfort of it. Many search out promises that do not affect precepts. The stony ground seemed to have a joy; they may delight in the comfortable part of religion; but this joy comes to nothing this glad some forward spring is no sure prognostication of a plentiful harvest. Then do we receive the word aright when we look to the holy part, and mortify our natural desires and affections. Many deal with the word as great men do with fleshly companions—are willing to entertain them at their tables to hear their discourse, because of the pleasantness of their mirth; but to enter into bonds for them, and discharge them from debt, or better their fortunes, that they will not do. So many will give Christ and the word, and the comfortable part of it, entertainment; but they are loath to take the duty of the gospel upon themselves. Therefore, it is not enough to study the word merely that we may cherish our own persons with the comfortable 108part of it; but we must also study the holy part of it, and that which doth require our duty. Let us labour to hide the word in our hearts, as David did: ‘I have hid thy word in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.’
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