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Make me to go in the path of thy commandments, for therein do I delight.—Ver. 35.
DAVID in the former verses had begged for light, and now for strength to walk according to this light. We need not only light to know our way, but a heart to walk in it. Direction is necessary because of the blindness of our minds, and the effectual impulsions of grace are necessary because of the weakness of our hearts. It will not answer our duty to have a naked notion of truths, unless we embrace and pursue them. So accordingly we need a double assistance from God; the mind must be enlightened, the will moved and inclined. The work of a 361Christian lies not in depth of speculation, but in the height of practice. The excellency of divine grace consisteth in this, that God doth first teach what is to be done, and then make us to do what is taught, ‘Make me to go in the path,’ &c.
Here you have David’s prayer, and an argument to enforce it.
1. His prayer, make me to go in the path of thy commandments.
2. His argument, for therein do I delight.
The argument is taken from his delight in the ways of God. This argument may be looked upon as the reason of making the request, or the reason of granting the request.
1. As the reason of asking. Those whose hearts are set upon obedience, they will be earnest for grace to perform it acceptably. Now, saith David, I would not be denied this request, for this is all my delight, to do thy will.
2. As the reason of granting. And there he may be supposed to lay forth his necessity and his hope. His necessity; though God had done much for him, yet he needed more still. God had given him scire, knowledge to know his duty; velle, to delight; now he begs perficere, to practise, to bring it to an issue. Though he had grace in some measure, yet he still needed an increase; God must work in us both to will and to do, Phil. ii. 12. Sometimes God gives one where he gives not the other: Rom. vii. 18, ‘To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not.’ Or else you may sup pose him here to lay forth his hope. The granting of one grace makes way for another; for God will perfect what he hath begun, and where he hath given a disposition to delight in his ways, he will give grace to walk in his precepts: John i. 16, χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος, ‘Grace upon grace,’ or ‘grace after grace;’ his giving grace to them is an argument why he will give more grace to them. Two things will be here discussed:—
[1.] The necessity of the efficacious assistance of grace, that we may walk worthy of God in all well-pleasing.
[2.] How acceptable a frame of heart it is when we are once brought to delight in the ways of God.
Doct. 1. For the first, that God from first to last doth make us to go in the path of his commandments.
David was a renewed man, a man that had gotten his heart into a good frame; for he owneth his delight in the paths of God’s commandments, yet he begs for new strength and quickening, ‘Make me to go;’ ‘Lead or walk me’—Sept.
First, That at first conversion God maketh us go in the path of his commandments; that is clear by scripture; for it is said, Eph. ii. 10, that ‘we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.’ When we are renewed, we are as it were created over again; there is a power given us that we had not before to do this work. Clearly the apostle doth not speak there of the first creation—the end of our first creation was to serve God—but he speaks of supernatural renovation; for he saith, ‘We are created in Christ Jesus.’ There was a twofold creation at first: Ex nihilo and ex inhabili materia; either that which God created out of nothing, or if out of pre-existent matter, yet such 362as was wholly unfit and indisposed for those things that were to be made of it. Now, this latter suits with us: ‘We are created in Christ Jesus to good works;’ that is, we were altogether indisposed before to that which is good. We have our natural powers, but they are wholly viciously inclined till the Lord worketh on us, and infuseth a principle of new life. Till then we cannot do anything that is spiritually good. But when the Lord createth us anew, he furnisheth us with an inward power and ability to do good. What David prays for, ‘Make me to go in the way of thy commandments.’ God promiseth, Ezek. xxxvi. 27, ‘I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes.’ God puts his spirit, a new principle of grace. When the gospel is proposed to a man, his will must be determined by something, either by an object or a quality, not by the proposal merely of the object without; for the scripture shows there must be some work upon the heart, some divine quality infused within to incline and bend us to what is good. Well, then, first there must be an infusion of the principles of grace. In sinning, there the mischief began with an act. Adam sinned, and that infected his nature. But in grace the method is contrary; the principle must be before the action, God first sanctifieth our natures, and then we act holily; and this difference there is between acquired and infused habits: acquired habits follow action, for frequent acts beget a habit, as often swimming makes us expert in swimming, and much writing expert in writing; but gracious habits are infused, and so precede the act, as a wheel runs round, not to make itself round, but because it is round. Indeed there is a further radiation of grace by frequent acts as the means which God blesseth. Now, by this first work of grace we have three advantages:—
1. An inclination and tendency towards what is good. As all natures imply a propensity to those things which agree to such a nature, as sparks fly upward, and a stone moves downward—it is their natural propensity—so in the new nature there is a new bent and tendency of heart, which is to live unto God, Gal. ii. 19; there is an inclination towards God and holy things; and therefore the apostle presseth them by virtue of this grace received to act according to the tendency of the new nature: Rom. vi. 13, ‘Yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead;’ that is his argument. As soon as the life of grace is infused, the soul bends towards God.
2. A preparation of heart for holy actions. There is a principle that will carry them to it. These ‘vessels are fitted and prepared for their master’s use,’ and are ‘prepared unto every good work,’ 2 Tim. ii. 21; they are fitted and rigged for all holy actions and employments: Eph. ii. 10, ‘Created unto good works, which God hath prepared that we should walk in them.’ He hath prepared them for us, and us to them. There is a suitableness in the new nature to what God requireth. As every creature is furnished with power and faculties suitable to those operations that belong to them, so when the Lord infuseth the principles of grace, and works upon the heart, we are suited to every good work, so that we need not new faculties, but new operations of grace to excite and move us. A ship that is rigged and fitted with sails ready for a voyage needs a pilot to guide and steer it; so we need 363influences of grace. Therefore, when the Spirit is shed upon us after wards, it is in another manner than upon the unregenerate. The unregenerate are objects of grace, but the renewed are instruments of grace; he works upon the one, but he works by the other.
3. There is a power and an ability to do good works when we are renewed; if otherwise, one of God’s most precious gifts would be in vain, if we were altogether without strength. That is the description of carnal nature, Rom. v. 6, ‘We were without strength;’ therefore there is a power which must be improved, not rested in: Gal. v. 25, ‘If ye live in the spirit, walk in the spirit.’ There is an operation that accompanieth every life, and if there be a life of grace there will be a walking; and Col. ii. 6, ‘As ye have received Christ, so walk in him.’ Grace received must not lie idle, but be put forth into act. Thus God creates and infuseth such divine qualities as may give us a tendency and preparation of heart, and strength to do that which may be pleasing to him.
Secondly, He vouchsafeth his quickening, actuating, assisting grace, for the improving these principles infused, that their operations may be carried forth with more success: Ezek. xxxvi. 27, ‘I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes.’ God gives not only life, but the constant motion of that life. Natural things do not act without his daily providential influence; and therefore it is said, Prov. xx. 12, God gives ‘the hearing ear and the seeing eye;’ not only doth give the eye and ear, the faculty, but the act of hearing and the act of seeing; he concurs to that: and therefore God concurs by his actual assistance, sometimes in a more liberal and plentiful manner, by the freer aids and assistances of his grace, and sometimes more sparingly, according to his own pleasure. He doth not only give us the habits of grace, ‘He worketh all our works for us,’ Isa. xxvi. 12.
Now this actual help is necessary—
1. Partly to direct us: Ps. lxxiii. 24, ‘Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.’ We need not only a principle within and a rule without, but need also a guide. Though we have grace in our hearts, though we have the law of God to direct us, yet we need also a guide upon all occasions. The rule is the scripture, and the guide is the Spirit of God.
2. Partly to quicken and excite us by effectual motions. The heart of man is very changeable, and it is like the eye, easily discomposed and put out of frame. Deadness creeps upon us, and we drive on heavily in the work of God: Ps. cxix. 37, ‘Quicken thou me in thy way.’ God doth renew the vigour of the life of grace upon all occasions.
3. Partly to corroborate and strengthen that which we have received, and make it increase and grow in the soul, and more firmly rooted there, Eph. iii. 16. The apostle prays that God would ‘strengthen you with might by his Spirit in the inner man.’ The inward man, the frame of grace that we have received, needs to be strengthened, increased, and be more deeply rooted in the soul. So 1 Peter v. 10, ‘The God of all grace make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.’ Many words are used, to show how God is interested in maintaining and keeping afoot the grace he hath planted in the soul.364
4. Partly in protecting and defending them against the incursion* and assaults of the devil. The regenerate are not only escaped out of his clutches, but appointed to be his judges, which an envious and proud spirit cannot endure; therefore he maligneth, assaulteth, and besiegeth them with temptations daily; therefore Christ prays, John xvii. 11, ‘Keep through thy own name those whom thou hast given me.’ When a city is besieged, fresh supplies are sent in; they are not kept to their standing provision: so it is not the ordinary power of God that doth preserve and keep us from danger; there is new relief and fresh strength: ‘We are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation,’ 2 Peter i. 5. Now we experience the help we have from God, partly by the change and frame of our heart, when we are acted by him, and when we are not. When God by the impulsions of his grace doth quicken and awaken our hearts, we are carried on with a great deal of earnestness and strength; but at other times we seem to be much bound, and have not those breathings from the Spirit of God to fill our sails, and carry us on with the same life and strength. Yea, in the same duty how is a Christian up and down! carried out sometimes with a great deal of zeal and warmth; but if God withdraw that assistance before the duty be over, how do the affections flag! So that we are like the wards of a lock, kept up while the key is turned, but fall again when the key is turned the other way. While the work of grace is powerful, we are kept in a warm and heavenly plight. Thus as to duties we need spiritual relief.
Likewise in temptations, when we are ready to fall into such a sin. with great proneness of heart, and the Lord quickens and excites us by his grace. It is often with a Christian as with David: Ps. lxxiii. 2, ‘My feet were almost gone; my steps had well-nigh slipt;’ even carried away by the violence of Satan, and importunate motions of our own lusts; then the Lord gives ‘grace to help in a time of need,’ Heb. iv. 16. In the original it is no more but this, Seasonable relief God vouchsafeth.
Object. Ay! but are we to do nothing when we are indisposed?
This case is often traversed in this psalm.
1. The precept of God falls upon us as reasonable creatures, and doth not consider whether we are disposed or indisposed; and God’s influence is not our rule, but our help. We are to stir up ourselves; the Lord complains, Isa. lxiv. 7, ‘There is none that stirreth up himself to take hold of me;’ and Timothy is bid to ‘stir up the gift of God which is in him,’ 2 Tim. i. 6. God’s assistance will be best expected in a way of doing; up and be doing, and the Lord will be with thee. When we stir up ourselves, and set ourselves to the work in the conscience of our duty, we can better expect God’s help and assistance.
2. In great distempers there may be some pause. Elisha would not prophesy when he was under a passion of anger; therefore he calls for a minstrel to sing a psalm, 2 Kings iii. 13-15, and as he played upon an instrument, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. He was under a passion, offended with the king of Israel, therefore he would not prophesy until his spirit was composed. Certainly we are not to run headlong upon duties in the midst of these distempers. Sailing is more safely delayed in tune of an extreme storm. When the heart 365is put into some great disorder, in a great storm of spirit, the distemper should first be mourned for and prayed against.
The reasons why from first to last he must make us go in the way of his commandments.
1. God keeps this power in his own hands, that his grace might be all in all, and it is the glory of his actions always to set the crown upon grace’s head. Not only those permanent and fixed habits which constitute the new man, but those daily supplies, without which the motions and operations of the spiritual life would be at a stand, are of grace. When the Lord reckons with his servants about the improvement of their talents, he doth not say, My industry, but, ‘Lord, thy pound,’ Luke xix. 18; he puts all the honour upon grace. So 1 Cor. xvi. 10, ‘Not I, but the grace of God;’ so Gal. ii. 20, ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ So that still they are giving the glory to grace. Acts are more perfect than habits; therefore if we had only the power from God, and acts from ourselves, we should not give all to God. That acts are more perfect than the power is clear; it is more perfect to understand than to have a power to understand; power is in order to the act, and the end is more noble than the means.
2. This is a very great encouragement to us to set upon the exercise of grace in the midst of weaknesses, and several difficulties and temptations wherewith we are encompassed. Because God will enable and assist us, he will not leave us to our standing strength, but he concurs: Phil. ii. 12, 13, ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.’ Why? ‘For it is God that worketh in you to will and to do of his good pleasure.’ When God will concur to the will and to the deed, to both, when we have wind and tide, he is very lazy that will not take his advantage and ply the oar then. And the apostle was not disheartened with the several conditions he was to run through in his passage to heaven: Phil. iv. 13, ‘I can do all things through Christ that strengthened me.’ When we have such an able second—‘God is at our right hand,’ Ps. xvi. 8—we need not be so dismayed with temptations and difficulties we meet with in the progress of our duty; though we have many lets and hindrances, yet God will cause us to walk in his ways.
3. This keeps us humble and lowly in our own conceit, and that is very necessary for us; for pride is that sin which cleaves to us all our life, and is called ‘pride of life,’ and lasts as long as life lasts. How doth this keep us humble and lowly? Partly thus: because we have all by gift; ‘What hast thou that thou hast not received?’ 1 Cor. iv. 7. All the strength that we have is but borrowed; and who will be proud that is more in debt than others? We would laugh at a groom that is proud of his master’s horse. All grace comes from God. Shall we usurp the honour due to God? And partly because we have but from hand to mouth. Though we have all from God, yet we should soon grow proud if God did not diet us, and give out renewed evidences of his love and care over us by degrees, some now, some then, by fresh influences and acts of grace. Look, as David prays, Ps. lix. 11, of his outward enemies, ‘Destroy them not, O Lord, lest my people forget: scatter them by thy power, and bring them down.’ Oh! if all enemies were destroyed at once, the people would forget thee, the 366deliverance would be past, antiquated, and out of date, and would not be so freshly thought of, nor produce such warm affections in the hearts of his people. So it is true in the spiritual world, God doth not destroy all at once, but brings down our spiritual enemies, that we may acknowledge whence we have it. And partly because this is a means to make us sensible of the mutability of our nature; for when all depends upon God, his coming and going, it will make us see what poor creatures we are of ourselves. When he comes, we are able to do something; when he goes, what poor creatures are we! 2 Chron. xxxii. 31, ‘God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.’ When we are renewed yet are not fully recovered, there is a great deal of tang and taste of the old leaven, and if God leave us we shall soon sin; whereas if we were carried on with an even constant tenor of grace that is in our own keeping, we should be proud.
4. It endears the heart to God, and God to the heart, by acts of friend ship and familiarity, as it extracts from us acts of prayer and dependence, and as we receive new supplies and daily influences of grace from him. God is more endeared to the soul by his multiplied free gifts. Look, as at every lifting up of the foot there are new influences of life go to that stirring and motion, so all in the spiritual life are his acts of grace. If so much rain fell in one day as would suffice for seven years, there would be no notice taken of God’s acts of providence; God would not have such witness to keep up his memory to the sons of men. So here; if we had all graces in our souls, and needed not new excitement, but he dispensed all at once, God and we should grow strangers. When the prodigal has his portion in his own hands, he leaves his father: and therefore there must be continual acts of kindness to maintain a holy friendship between God and us.
Use 1. Look after renewing grace; see whether there be a principle of life in you or no, whether you be his workmanship in Christ Jesus. Better never be his creature if not a new creature; a dog is in a better condition. You can do nothing in the spiritual life until there be a principle; in vain to expect new operation before a new creation be passed upon you. The stream cannot be maintained without the spring.
2. Let us^pray for strength upon all occasions, and beg the renewings of God’s efficacious grace, that we may avoid sin, and be ready to every good work. Alas! there are many discouragements from without, and sundry baits which tickle the flesh, and would seduce us from our duty. Unless the Lord stand by us, and protect and strengthen us within, deadness will soon creep upon us, and our heart run out of order. Look after new influences of grace; this will make you ready to every good work; not only the remote preparation, but the furniture of the faculties and abilities: ‘Lo I come to do thy will;’ and this will make you fruitful, otherwise you will be as dry trees in God’s garden; and this will make you lively and constant, not off and on, but fixed with God.
3. If all depends upon God, then let us not by any negligence of ours, or by presumptuous sins, provoke God to withdraw his assisting grace from us. This is the apostle’s meaning when he saith, Phil. ii. 12, 13, ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,’ &c. Oh! 367take heed; go about the business of religion with holy caution and jealousy over yourselves, and fear the Lord’s displeasure, for all depends upon him. Dependence among men begets observance; where men have their meat, drink, clothing, they will be careful to please there. So ‘work out your salvation, &c., for it is God that worketh in you,’ &c. You have all from God; the business of the spiritual life will be interrupted and be at a stand if God withhold his grace. Every sin weakens that you have already, and provokes God to withhold his hand that he will not give more. That which is the greatest ground of comfort and confidence is always the greatest ground of fear and trembling. It is a ground of great comfort and confidence in the spiritual life that he will help us in every action of ours; and it is a ground also of the greatest fear and trembling, that we should be careful not to offend him upon whom all depends.
The second point:—
Doct. 2. That they which delight in God’s commandments will beg his gracious assistance, and are most likely to speed in their requests.
I make it to be both the reason of asking and the reason of granting.
First, The reason of asking.
1. What is this ‘delight in God?’ What is necessary to it?
2. What are the fruits and effects of it? First, What is necessary to it?
1. A new nature, for what we do naturally we do with complacency and delight. That which is forced and done against the grain and bent of our hearts can never be delightful, and therefore there needs a principle of grace within: Ps. cxii. 1, ‘Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in his commandments.’ Where there is true grace and the fear of God, there we will delight greatly. So Rom. vii. 22, ‘I delight in the law of God after the inward man.’ Where there is an inner man, a frame of grace in the heart, that will bring delight. See the character of a blessed man: Ps. i. 2, ‘His delight is in the law of the Lord.’ Quite contrary to the hypocrite. He may act from compulsions and urgings of conscience, from legal bondage: it may be a sin-offering, but it is not a thank-offering; he cannot do it with that delight and complacency that God hath required. Job. xxvii. 10 it is said, ‘Will he always call upon God? will he delight himself in the Almighty?’ In his pang, in his distress, when his conscience pincheth him sore, he will be calling upon God. Ay! but hath he any delight in God? He wants sincere grace. Some time he may come with his flocks and herds to seek the Lord: Hosea v. 6, ‘And cry, Arise, Lord save us,’ Jer. ii. 27. Some unwilling services he may perform upon foreign reasons, from constraint, from his affliction and anguish of soul; but these things are never done with delight; there needs then a principle of grace.
2. Peace of conscience, or a sense of our reconciliation with God, is very necessary to this delight in the ways of God: Rom. v. 11, ‘We joy in God as those that have received the atonement.’ Christ hath made the atonement. Now, when we receive the atonement, that is, are possessed of it, and look upon ourselves as involved in the reconciliation Christ hath made for us, then we joy in God. The joy of a good conscience is necessary to this delight in the ways of God.368
3. A good frame of heart must be kept up, for the joy of a Christian may be impaired by his own folly and prevalency of carnal distempers. There is dullness and a damp that is apt to creep upon us; either by carnal pleasure, or worldly lusts and cares, we may abate of our cheer fulness. Christ tells us, Luke xxi. 34, that both of them overcharge the heart. Or some presumptuous sin lately committed, when the weight of it lieth upon the conscience, we lose this free spirit: Ps. li. 12, ‘Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free spirit;’ our delight is quenched, and we lose that free spirit which otherwise we should have. And therefore we must watch against carnal distempers, and also presumptuous sins, that we may not lose our liberty and our comfortableness in God’s service; for when a Christian hath a good frame of heart, he is filled as with gladness, and the joy of the Lord is as oil to the wheels, and it strengthens his affections, and he is carried on with a great deal of cheerfulness.
4. There is needful, too, some experience; for besides the joy of God, there is the inward pleasure of a good conversation. The ways of God are all ways of pleasantness to them that walk in them, Prov. iii. 17. They which will make trial will find Christ’s yoke easy; yea, they will find a sweetness in God’s ways beyond whatever they could think or expect. Some experience of the pleasantness in the paths of wisdom breeds great delight.
Secondly, What are the effects of this delight?
1. A cheerfulness of spirit, a ready obedience: Ps. xl. 8, ‘I delight to do thy will, my God.’ They find more solid joy in living holily than in all the pleasure of sin and vanity of the world; therefore they cheerfully practise that which God requireth of them.
2. They are full of joy and gladness in all their approaches to God: Ps. cxxii. 1, ‘I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.’ Oh! then they can go to God, and draw off from the distractions of this world, that they may unbosom themselves, that they may be in God’s company, either in public or private.
3. They are weaned from earthly pleasures. When they have tasted of this hidden manna, the garlic and onions of Egypt lose their relish; and they find more sweetness, more rejoicing, in the testimony of their consciences, than ever they could find in the world. It is their meat and drink to do the will of God, to be just, holy, temperate, strict, to walk closely with God; here is their pleasure and delight of their souls: John iv. 34, ‘My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.’
Now the reasons of this. They which have their hearts set upon holiness must have delight. A man whose heart is set upon earthly things will come and howl for corn, wine, and oil, outward enjoyments, Hosea vii.; and a man that makes a loose profession of religion would fain be feasted with comforts, and eased of the smart of his conscience; he loves to hear of the privilege part of Christianity; but they come not to God with a true heart, whatever profession they make, Heb. x. 27. They embrace Christ as Judas kissed him, to betray him, or as Joab embraced Amasa, that he might smite him under the fifth rib; so these are so earnest for pardon of sin, and the privilege part of Christianity, but mind not the higher part, which is 369sanctification. But now a man that is fallen in love with holiness, and whose heart is sincerely bent to God, desires grace to incline his heart to God and the ways of God, and keep exactly with him.
Secondly, As this is the reason of asking, so likewise of granting, ‘Make me to go in the path of thy commandments, for therein do I delight.’ Take four considerations for this:—
1. God will add grace to grace. When God hath given the will, he will give the deed, further grace, to add new influences to his own seed. We tell God of the dispositions that are in our hearts, that he may perfect them, and ripen his own seed: John i. 16, ‘Of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace;’ grace upon grace, or grace after grace. God’s giving one grace is an argument why he will give more grace.
2. God looks after affection rather than action. Sometimes he takes the will for the deed, but never the deed for the will. Where there is a will and delight in his ways, that is it which is most acceptable to him. Look, as to love sin is more than to commit it—a man may commit it out of frailty, but he that loves and cherisheth it is exceeding bad—so where there is delight in the ways of God, and the soul is gained to them. This is that God looks after, the affection.
3. Of all our affections delight and complacency is most acceptable. The promise is made to such: Ps. xxxvii. 4, ‘Delight thyself in the Lord, and he will give thee the desire of thine heart.’ It is a slander that the hypocrite brings upon God: Job xxxiv. 9, ‘He hath said, It profiteth a man nothing that he should delight himself with God.’ There is a great deal of profit, for God looks to the affection, and of all affections to the delight.
4. When this delight is not set upon privileges, but upon grace and obedience, this is more acceptable to God, ‘I delight in thy ways.’ When we set upon obedience it is a sign we mind God’s interest more than our own comfort; that is our own interest, but subjection to God and holiness, that is for his glory; therefore, when the heart is set upon obedience, then he will give in supplies of grace.
Use. Oh! that we could say that we take joy and pleasure in the way of his commandments: Thou hast given me delight in thy ways, give me strength to keep them. To corrupt nature the ways of God are burdensome, but to his children ‘the commandments of God are not grievous;’ we shall not then want influences of grace.
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