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Stablish thy word unto thy servant, who is devoted to thy fear.—Ver. 38.
IN these words observe—
1. A request, stablish thy word unto thy servant.
2. A motive to enforce it, who is devoted to thy fear. The motive is taken from the qualifications and disposition of the person who makes the request.
In the request you have—
1. The matter prayed for, stablish thy word.
2. The person for whom, unto thy servant, that is, unto me who am so.
I shall begin with the first of these, the benefit asked, ‘Stablish thy word.’ David, that had prayed before, ‘Stablish me according to thy word,’ ver. 28, now saith, ‘Stablish thy word unto me.’
By the word is meant the word of promise. Now the promise of God is established when it is confirmed and made good: 2 Cor. xiii. 1, ‘In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established,’ that is, accounted valid and firm; and 2 Sam. vii. 25, when he speaks of God’s promises he prays, ‘Stablish it for ever, and do as thou hast said.’ Look, as on the one side we are said to establish the law of God when we observe it; for so it runs, Deut. xxvii. 26, ‘Cursed be he that confirmeth,’ or ‘establisheth not all the words of this law to do them.’ The law is then confirmed when it hath its force and effect upon us; whereas otherwise, when they observe it not, it is said to be void. That sentence is repeated by the apostle thus: Gal. iii. 10, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are 399written in the book of the law to do them.’ Well, then, the promise is established when it is made good.
Quest. But why doth David pray thus, ‘Stablish thy word to me,’ since God’s word is most certain and stable in itself, so as it cannot be more? 2 Peter i. 19, ‘We have a more sure,’ or ‘a more stable word of prophecy,’ as the word signifies. How can the word be more stable than it is?
Ans. I answer—It is sure in regard of God, from whom it comes, and in itself. In regard of the things propounded, it cannot be more or less stable, it cannot be fast and loose; but in regard of us, it may be more or less established. And that two ways—
1. By the inward assurance of the Spirit increasing our faith.
2. By the outward performance of what is promised.
1. By the inward assurance of the Spirit, by which our faith is increased. Great is the weakness of our faith, as appears by our fears, doubts, distrusts; so that we need to be assured more and more. We need say with tears, as he doth in the Gospel, Mark ix. 24, ‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief,’ and to cry out with the apostles, ‘Lord, increase our faith,’ Luke xvii. 5. There is none believeth so but he may yet believe more. And in this sense the word is more established when we are confirmed in the belief of it, and look upon it as a sure ground for faith to rest upon.
2. By actual performance, when the promise is made good to us. Every event which falls out according to the word is a notable testimony of the truth of it, and a seal to confirm and strengthen our faith. Three ways may this be made good:
[1.] The making good of some promises at one time strengthens our faith in expecting the like favour at another. Christ was angry with his disciples for not remembering the miracle of the loaves, when they fell into a like strait again: Mat. xvi. 9, ‘Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves?’ &c. We are to seek upon every difficulty; whereas former experience in the same kind should be a means of establishment to us: 2 Cor. i. 10, ‘He hath delivered, and doth deliver; in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.’ In teaching a child to spell, we are angry if, when we have showed him a letter once, twice, and a third time, yet when he meets with it again still he misseth; so God is angry with us when we have had experience of his word in this, that, and the other providence, yet still our doubts return upon us.
[2.] The accomplishment of one promise confirms another; for God, that keepeth touch at one time, will do so at another: 2 Tim. iv. 17, ‘I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion; and the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and preserve me blameless unto his heavenly kingdom.’ In such a strait God failed not, and surely he that hath been true hitherto will not fail at last.
[3.] When the word is performed in part, it assureth us of the performance of the whole; it is an earnest given us of all the rest: 2 Cor. i. 10, ‘For all the promises of God in him are Yea, and in him Amen.’ A Christian hath a great many promises, and they are a-performing daily. God is delivering, comforting, protecting him, speaking peace to his conscience; but the greater part are yet to be 400performed. Present experiences do assure us of what is to come. Thus, ‘stablish thy word,’ that is, make it good by the event, that I may learn to trust another time, either for the same or other promises, or accomplishment of thy whole word.
Doct. That it is a matter of great consequence to have the word of God established to us, or to be confirmed in a certain belief of his promises.
David asketh it here as a very necessary thing, ‘Stablish thy word unto thy servant.’ Give me, Lord, to look upon it as a stable and firm thing. This will appear if you consider the conveniency, necessity, utility, and profit of this establishment.
1. The conveniency and suitableness of it. It is very convenient that we should build strongly upon a strong foundation, that sure truths shall be entertained with a certain faith, and things taken as they are uttered. There is certitudo objecti, a certainty of the object itself; and certitudo subjecti, the certainty of the subject, our being persuaded of the certainty of it. The one warrants the other, and both are necessary to our comfort; that is, as the word is certain in itself, so it should be certain to us. No matter how strong the foundation be, if the building upon that foundation be weak, down it falleth. The word of God is stable in itself, but if we are not persuaded it is so, we are soon shaken with temptations. To stay a ship from being tossed upon the rocks, it is necessary the anchor-hold be good itself, and be fastened upon somewhat that is firm; therefore, Heb. vi. 18-20, the apostle speaks first of the stability of the ground, and then of the strength of the anchor. There is a firm rocky ground to build upon, the immutable promises of God; and a solid strong anchor, which is our faith and affiance. As faith without the promises is nothing but groundless and fruitless conceit, so the promises yield us no comfort without faith. ‘The promises are Yea and Amen in Christ,’ 2 Cor. i. 20; and then presently, ‘Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ is God.’ It is not sufficient that the promises be established, but we must be established upon them. They are Yea and Amen in Christ; but what is that to us? God may lose the glory of his truth, and we the comfort, if we be not established.
2. The necessity of it will appear if we consider—(1.) How natural unbelief is to us all; and (2.) How weak the faith of most is.
[1.] If we consider how natural unbelief is to us; it is a sin we suck in with our milk. When our first parents sinned against God, his word was not believed, and thereupon the sin was committed, Gen. iii. 4. The devil contradicted that which God delivered with his own mouth; his Nay prevails above God’s Yea. ‘Ye shall not surely die,’ that was that which let in the first sin, and ever since it is very natural to us: Heb. iii. 12, ‘Take heed lest there be an evil heart of unbelief in you, in departing from the living God.’ Unbelief is the special part of the heart’s wickedness; partly because we have wronged God, therefore are apt to suspect him; for men are always jealous of those whom they have wronged, and that they cannot mean well to them from whom they have received ill. We have wronged God, and therefore are suspicious of him and of his good-will to sinners. And partly because the truths of God lie cross to our lusts and carnal interest, 401which maketh us so ready to pick quarrels with him. Ahab would not hear Micaiah, not because he prophesied false, but evil: John iii. 20, ‘They will not come to the light, lest their deeds should be reproved.’ I say, such strict rules, such close and quickening truths, as God hath published in the gospel, men could wish they were not true; that there were no heaven, nor hell, nor world to come; and therefore, because it lies so cross to our lusts, our wishes gain upon our understanding and blind us, and we are not apt to believe these things. Who will close with that which makes against him? Men, that are loath the word of God should prove true, are therefore slow of heart to believe it, Luke xxiv. And partly, because ever since we were born we have been trained up to live by sense; and are affected only with the things we see, hear, and feel; and therefore are little skilled in faith, which is ‘the evidence of things not seen,’ Heb. xi. 1, which carrieth us to things above sense to the concernments of another world. In short, then, for these reasons, because it is natural to us to live by sense, to indulge our own lusts, and to suspect those whom we have wronged, therefore unbelief of God is so rife in the world.
[2.] The necessity of establishment in the word of God will appear if we consider how weak the faith of most is. There are few that entertain the word as a sure and certain truth. There are several degrees of assent; there is conjecture, opinion, weak faith, and faith that is stronger, and that which comes up to an assurance of understanding, as the apostle calls it. There is conjecture, or a lighter inclination of the mind to the word of God, as possibly or probably true; a suspicious knowledge of things, or bare guess at them, when we go no higher than It may be so, that all this is true which God hath spoken concerning Christ and salvation. There is beyond this opinion, when the mind is more inclined to think it true, when we are so convinced of the truth of it that we are not able reasonably to contradict it; we think it true; but there is still a fear of the contrary, that it is not true, which prevails over us, and taints our practice, and weakens our affections, and withdraws them from things to come. Then beyond this there is faith, or a firm and undoubted persuasion of the truth of God’s word, which also hath its latitude. There is weak faith, which hath its incident doubts. And there is beyond this, ‘receiving the word in much assurance,’ as the expression is, 1 Thes. i. 5. Still we may increase higher in the degree of our assent; for in this life there is never so much but there may be more, there is not so much faith but there may be more. There is something lacking to our faith, and it is not easy to grow up to the riches of the full assurance of understanding. The best have but a fluctuating doubting knowledge of spiritual truths, not a full assurance and persuasion of them. Therefore we need to ask establishment.
3. Consider the utility and profit of it. When once the word is established to us, we shall know how to live and how to die, and upon what terms to maintain comfort and holiness; whereas otherwise men live loosely and carelessly: Heb. iv. 2, ‘The word profited not, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.’ Until the word of God be owned as a divine and infallible truth, it hath no efficacy upon us. When it is received merely by conjecture, as a possible truth, it works 402but weakly. Ay! but then it profits when we receive the word of God as the word of God, as a certain truth; when the soul comes to determine, Surely these are truths in which I am deeply concerned, upon which my eternal life or death doth depend. Without this God can have no service, and we no comfort, but are at a great uncertainty of spirit. On the other side, let me tell you that all our coldness in duty, and ail our boldness in sinning, it comes from unbelief.
[1.] Our coldness in duty. What is the reason, when God offereth such great things to us as the eternal enjoyment of himself, glory, comfort, and happiness as much as heart can wish, that men are so dead-hearted, lifeless, and careless in the ways of God? when our work is so good, our ways so excellent, what is the reason of all our coldness and carelessness in the profession of religion? We have not a lively sense of eternity; we do not believe God upon his word. If we did, it would put life into us. Saith the apostle, Phil. iii. 14, ‘This one thing I mind, and I press towards the mark.’ Why? ‘For the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ.’ When we mind our work, seriously and above all other things, not superficially and by the by, when we can see the prize of our high calling, as to run and hold the eye upon the mark, then he presseth onward that he may not lose the garland. So when we feel the rewards of grace, when we are persuaded of them, this puts spirit into us, and encourageth us against all deadness and faintness. Ay! press onward then with a great deal of vehemency and earnestly. So 1 Cor. xv. 58, ‘Be ye steadfast and unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.’ Here is the description of a godly man. How shall we do to keep the heart in such an earnest frame? By a sound belief of the promises; for so it follows, ‘Forasmuch as you know that your labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.’ If holiness doth not flourish, there is a worm at the root, atheism and unbelief lies at the heart, and the want of such an assent to those great and glorious promises which God hath made known to us in Christ.
[2.] Our boldness in sinning. Why do men go on securely in ways of disobedience against God? Because they do not know whether the word be true, yea or nay. If a man had heaven and hell in his eye, if he were soundly persuaded of these things, certainly he would not venture the loss of heaven for a trifle; and would not upon such small temptations run the hazard of everlasting torments. You cannot drive an ass, the most stupid creature, into the fire which is burning before his eyes. So if these things were before our eyes we would not be so bold with God and so daring as we are. Temptation to sin must needs prevail with us when we have not faith; for when the temptation is strong and faith weak, where are we? A man will yield to his base lusts; for there is present profit, present pleasure, and we have no undoubted certainty of the rewards of obedience, and of the promises which are to be set against the temptation. But now, when we consider we have so great and precious promises, this will make us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit; we will not easily sin against God, kick against the pricks, and run upon danger laid before our eyes: ‘In vain is the snare laid in the sight of a bird.’403
Use 1. To reprove us for looking so little after the establishment of the word. There are many that content themselves with a loose profession of the name of Christ, but are not established in a sound belief of the scriptures. Ask them why they are of this and that religion. They have been taught so, been brought up in it; and so they might have been Mahometans upon the same account that they are Christians, if they had been bred there where the name of Mahomet is of more request than the name of Christ. But then there are others that live by guess, and carry on some natural devotion; but their souls were never acquainted with the mystery of grace, never soundly established in it; they have a conjecture. There are others that can dispute for their religion, that see a reasonableness in the Christian faith, and why they should be of this opinion rather than that. Ay! but their hearts were never subdued to God. Hath the Spirit established divine truths upon thy soul, and wrought these things upon thy heart? hath it convinced thy judgment, awakened thy conscience, changed thy heart, given thee any taste of God’s love in Christ, drawn thee out of the world into near and sweet communion with God? Truths are by him established to us, and represented with evidence and power, 1 Cor. ii. 4. Alas! all else we can attain to is but cold and fruitless notion, which will not warm the heart; some cursory opinions, that will not hold thy heart under the awe of God, and guide thee in the paths of holiness to eternal life; and therefore rest not in this, that you have some knowledge concerning Christ and privileges by him. But are your hearts established? have you a sense of these truths wrought in you by the Holy Ghost?
Use 2. It exhorteth us to use the means whereby the word may be established.
1. Chiefly observe experiences, how it is accomplished in the course of God’s providence, and inward feeling of thy own heart. What answers of prayer have you when you have been wrestling with God and putting his promises in suit at the throne of grace? Every day God is fulfilling one promise or another, to train us up-to look for more at his hands. That we may trust him for our inheritance and our final blessing, he first giveth us a proof of his truth in lesser matters. The more you observe the dealings of God with your own souls, and the fulfilling his word to you, the more will your heart be confirmed against atheism, and established in the belief of the divine authority of the scripture. It concerns us much to look to this, that our hearts be firmly settled against atheism, especially when such errors are abroad, and divisions in the church, and the name of God is blasphemed. Now, by these daily mercies doth God stablish his word, make it good to your souls: Ps. xviii. 30, ‘The word of the Lord is a tried word.’ There is more than letters and syllables; God standeth to it, it is ‘a tried word.’ When you have challenged him you have found the scripture fulfilled upon appeals to God and applications to the throne of grace. When you have been pleading with God; Lord, is not this thy handwriting, the promises thou hast made to thy people? the Lord hath answered this from heaven, and said, Yea, this is my promise. He hath given in an answerable promise.
2. It engageth you to dependence and assurance of faith: Ps. ix. 10, ‘They that know thy name will put their trust in thee; for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.’ Whosoever hath observed God’s dealings will see God is to be trusted, he may be depended upon if he hath said anything in his word—‘they that know thy name,’ they that have acquainted themselves with God and the course of his dispensations. The promises will not lie by as a dead stock: Ps. cxvi. 1, 2, ‘God hath heard my voice and my supplications, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.’ This is that which will quicken you to rejoice in God and to a holy thankfulness, when you compare his word with the effects of it, when you see how it is made good: Ps. lvi. 10, ‘In God will I praise his word; in the Lord will I praise his word.’ A single mercy is not so much, nor so engaging upon our hearts to thankfulness, as when observing the mercy hath been the fruit of a promise. This hath been the practice of God’s saints; Joshua takes notice of it: Josh. xxiii. 14, ‘Not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning yon;’ 1 Kings viii. 56, ‘There hath not failed one word of all his good promises, which he hath promised by the hand of Moses his servant.’ You will often find the very letter of the promise made good in the course of God’s dealings, and if you would but observe his daily providence, you would be trained up in more waiting upon God for your final blessings.
Secondly, Let us come to the person for whom he prays, ‘Stablish thy word;’ but to whom? ‘To thy servant.’ Here note
Doct. That particular application of general promises is necessary.
This word which he would have to be established was most likely to be a promise of sanctification; for in the former verse he had prayed for mortification and vivification, and now for sanctification. But be it any other promise, certainly that word which was made to others was likewise made to me, as if he had been specified therein by name. Thus must general truths be taken home by particular application, that they may lie the closer to our hearts. Ps. xxvii. 8, the offer of God’s favour is general, ‘Seek ye my face;’ but the application is particular to himself, ‘Lord, I will seek thy face;’ David takes it as spoken to him in particular. So Ps. cxvi. 15, f Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints;’ and then, ‘Truly, Lord, I am thy servant, and the son of thy handmaid.’ The comfort concerned all God’s children. The life and death of the saints is very precious in the eyes of God; he hath a particular care over them, and tells all their bones. Now, Lord, saith David, let me have the comfort of this promise; I am thy servant. So 1 Tim. i. 15, ‘This is a faithful saying,’ &c., ‘whereof I am chief.’ This holy art should we learn of creeping under the covert of a promise, and working ourselves by faith into the comfort of it.
But rather, secondly, you may observe the character that he puts upon himself, Thy servant. David was a king, but at the throne of grace he styles himself God’s servant, the fittest title that he could use when he prays for grace.’ Hence note—
Doct. He that is a servant of God may seek and expect grace from him.
Here I shall show—405
1. Who is God’s servant.
2. Why we must use this plea when we come to have promises accomplished.
1. Who is God’s servant? I answer—He that dedicates himself to God’s use, and he that lives under a sense and conscience of his dedication.
[1.] He that dedicates himself to God’s use. We are God’s servants by covenant and voluntary contract. It is true our service is due to him upon other accounts, but we enter into it by contract. It is due by virtue of creation, for he made us out of nothing; therefore we owe him all that we have, and thus all creatures were made for God’s service: Ps. cxix. 91, ‘They continue this day according to thine ordinances; for all are thy servants.’ Heaven and earth, and sun and moon, and stars, and beasts, and every creeping thing, and every plant and herb, they all serve God according to the ends for which they were made. But especially men and angels; they were made for God’s use immediately. Other things were made ultimately and terminately for God; man immediately for God, Ps. ciii. 21. The angels are his ministers, and so is man God’s servant. And then by the right of redemption; we are bound to serve him as the captive was to serve the buyer; he that bought another out of slavery, all his time and strength belonged to him: 1 Cor. vi. 20, ‘Ye are bought with a price, therefore glorify God with your souls and bodies.’ But this shows only de jure what we ought to be; we ought all to be God’s servants, as he created us, and redeemed us by the blood of Christ. But de facto none are his servants but those who resign and yield up themselves to his use: Rom. vi. 13, ‘Yield up yourselves to the Lord.’ God will have his right and title confirmed by our consent, and therefore he that is a servant of God one time or other hath entered into covenant with God, he hath consented to yield up himself to walk with God in a strict obedience. All that thus yield up themselves to be God’s servants they do it with shame; they are ashamed they did no sooner think of their creator, in their youth, at their first coming to the use of reason, and think of him that bought them by his blood: 1 Peter iv. 3, ‘For the time past of our lives may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles,’ &c. They have too long dishonoured God, destroyed their own souls, and kept their creator out of his right. And they do it too with a sense of God’s love, in the new title he hath by redemption: 2 Cor. v. 14, 15, ‘For the love of Christ constrains us,’ &c.
[2.] He is one liveth under a sense and conscience of his dedication, not as his own, but God’s. When you have given up yourselves to God’s service, you must not walk as you list, but as your master pleaseth. Aristotle makes it the property of a servant to be one that can not live as he would, that hath no will of his own, but hath given up himself to be commanded and directed by another, and sometimes contrary to his own inclination. They are rebels and not servants that said ‘Our tongues are our own,’ Ps. xii. 3. Your tongues are not your own to speak what you please, nor your hearts your own to think what you please, nor your hands your own to do what you please. You are God’s servants, therefore must be wholly at his will. The angels, that 406are God’s ministers, when they are described, they ‘do his pleasure,’ Ps. ciii. 21. So your business is to do the will of God; not to please yourself, men or the flesh, but to please God, to do the will of God, without any respect to your own inclinations and worldly interests; and therefore your hearts will rise against sin upon this account, when you are tempted to do anything that is contrary to the will of God: Oh! I am not my own; these members are Christ’s. You look upon every thing as God’s, to be employed to his service.
2. Those that would have the word to be established, why must they be servants of the Lord?
[1.] God doth not look to the work, but to the qualification of the person. God will not accept a man for one good work, one prayer; but he looks to the qualification of his person. ‘The prayer of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,’ Prov. xxviii. 9. How is that? Not only when it is managed in a careless fashion, when a wicked man prays wickedly. No; let him do his best; for it is said, Prov. xxi. 27, ‘The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he bringeth it with a wicked mind?’ At best it is an abomination; God will not accept of a sacrifice at his hands; and therefore the qualification of the person is to be regarded when we pray for a blessing promised, James v. 16. There is the qualification of the prayer; it must be ‘fervent, effectual;’ a prayer driven with life and motion, that hath spirit and life. Ay! but it must be of ‘a righteous person.’ As naturalists speak of a jewel which, if put into a dead man’s mouth, loseth all its virtue and efficacy, so prayer in the mouth of a wicked carnal man loseth its efficacy with God. When one that had revolted from the Romans sent gifts to the Roman general, he made him this answer, He should first return to his obedience to the state of Rome. So God saith to wicked men, first let them be God’s servants, and then they shall have the blessing of his promises.
 It is agreeable to the covenant, for the covenant is mutual: ‘I will be your God, and you shall be my people.’ All promises relate to a covenant. Now, in every covenant there is ratio dati et accepti—something required as well as something given, for it binds mutually; therefore if we would have God give us grace, we must yield obedience. Precepts and promises go hand in hand; and therefore they that would have promises performed, they must observe precepts, and mingle resolutions of duty with expectations of mercy. That is the covenant way of dealing with God; there must be a sincere purpose and endeavour to serve God. I am thy servant, therefore stablish thy word to me.
Use. To press you to become God’s servants. I might bring motives both from the time past, present, and to come. (1.) From the time past. You are obliged to be so. You are his creatures; you have life, being, and all things from him. We cannot receive a small kindness from man but it doth produce respect; I am your servant. Shall a kindness from God less effect us, who made us, and gives us life, breath, and all things? We take no notice of w r hat comes from an invisible hand. Here is the wonder, that the great God, who hath no need of us, so often provoked by us, that is of such excellent majesty, so far above us, should take notice of us. Therefore, if God made us, keeps us, and maintains us from day to day, and abaseth himself 407to behold us, to look after us, this should engage us. (2.) And then from what is present. The honour that is put upon you; it is a great advancement to be God’s servant. The meanest offices about princes are accounted honourable. Jesus Christ himself as mediator he hath this title put upon him, ‘My righteous servant,’ Isa. liii. 11; and the angels they are your fellow-servants, Ps. ciii. 21; they are called ‘ministers of God.’ Likewise for the present you have free access to God: God’s servants may stand in his presence, and they have liberty to ask anything they need of. The Queen of Sheba said concerning Solomon in 1 Kings x. 8, ‘Happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee and hear thy wisdom.’ Much more may it be said concerning God’s servants, blessed are those that stand in. his presence, that have such free leave to hold communion with God; to come, and have assurance of welcome whenever they come. (3.) And for the time to come. God’s service will issue itself into everlasting blessedness; God’s servants have excellent wages: John xii. 26, ‘If any man serve me, he shall be there where I am, and my Father will honour him.’ Christ and his Father will study what honour they can put upon him. Therefore be God’s servants that you may please him for the present, and comfortably wait for his everlasting blessing. Thus I have gone over the first thing, namely the request, ‘Stablish thy word unto thy servant.’
Secondly, The motive and argument, ‘Who is devoted to thy fear.’ The word may be rendered either which, or who, as relating either to thy word or thy servant.
1. Thy word; for in the original Hebrew the posture of the verse is thus, ‘Stablish to thy servant thy word, which is to the fearing of thee;’ that is, given that thou mayest be feared, there being in the word of God the greatest arguments and inducements to fear and reverence and obey him. The word of God was appointed to this use, to plant the fear of God in our hearts, and to increase our reverence of God. Not that we may play the wanton with promises, and feed our lusts with them. I rather take our own translation as more accommodate, and it hath such a sense as that, Ps. cix. 4, ‘But I give myself unto prayer.’ In the original it is, ‘But I prayer;’ and ‘Stablish thy word to thy servant, who is to thy fear.’ Our translators add, to make the sense more full, ‘addicted,’ ‘devoted to thy fear,’ that is, that makes it his business, care, and desire to stand in the fear of God.
2. Now this is added as a true note and description of God’s servants, as being a main thing in religion: Ps. cxi. 10, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,’ the first in point of order, and it is the first thing when we begin to be wise, to think of God, to have awful thoughts of God; it is a chief point of wisdom, the great thing that makes us wise to salvation. And it is added as an argument of prayer: Neh. i. 11, ‘O Lord, let thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name.’ The more any is given to the fear of God, the more assurance they have of God’s love, and readiness to hear them at the throne of grace. The point is this—
Doct. That man is indeed God’s servant who is devoted to his fear. There may be weaknesses and failings, but for the main he is swayed by the fear of God.408
1. What it is to fear God.
2. Why this is a sure note of God’s servant, because it removes all the lets of obedience.
1. What it is to fear God. There is a servile and a filial fear; a fear of wrath, which the worst may have: James ii. 19, ‘The devils believe and tremble;’ and a fear of offending, which the best must have: Prov. xxviii. 14, ‘Blessed is he that feareth alway;’ a reverent disposition of heart towards God as our sovereign lord and master, yea, as our father in Jesus Christ.
For the first of these:—
[1.] A fear of wrath. Every fear of wrath is not sinful; it is a duty rather than a sin. All God’s children are bound to have a tender sense of God’s wrath or displeasure against sin, to make them awful and serious in the spiritual life; as in Heb. xii. 27, ‘Let us serve God with reverence and godly fear.’ Mark, upon that account and consideration, as he is ‘a consuming fire;’ that should have an influence upon our godly fear; and Mat. x. 28, ‘Fear not them that can but kill the body, but rather fear him which is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.’ The words do not only contain a description of the person who ought to be feared, but the ground and reason why he is to be feared; and therefore it is not simply the fear of wrath that is sinful, but it is the servility and slavishness of it. Now, what is the servility and slavishness of the fear of wrath? Partly when our own smart and terror is feared more than the displeasing of God; and they have a mind to sin but are afraid of hell; and it is fear accompanied with hatred. Servile fear, though it keep us from some sins, as a wolf may be scared from the prey, yet keeps its devouring nature. It is accompanied with hatred of God: all that fear God they hate him; and indeed they could wish there were no God, none to call them to account; they could wish he were not so just and holy as he is. And so here lies the evil of it, not so much fear of wrath, for that is a grace rightly conversant about its object, but as it tends to this hatred of God. And partly too servility lies in this, as it makes us shy of God, and run away from him rather than draw near to him, as Adam ran into the bushes to hide himself. Holy fear is an awe of God upon the soul, but that keeps us in a holy communion with him: ‘I will put my fear into their hearts, and they shall not depart from me;’ but that fear which makes us fly from God is slavish. And partly as it hath torment and perplexity in it, and so hindereth us in God’s service: ‘Fear hath torment in it.’ The fear of wrath, that is a duty; but slavish fear is such a fear of wrath which makes us hate God and shun his presence, and afraid more of wronging ourselves than wronging of God; and such a fear that hath torment and perplexity in it, that cannot serve God so cheerfully.
[2.] There is a filial fear, a fear of reverence. This fear of God was in Christ as mediator, Isa. xi. 1, 2. Among other graces there reckoned up which do belong to ‘Jehovah the branch,’ to Christ Jesus, this is one, ‘The fear of the Lord.’ Christ as man had a reverent affection to his Father whom he served, and this fear it continueth to all eternity in the blessed spirits that are in heaven. The saints and angels have this kind of fear, a dread of the holy God, and a reverent and awful respect 409to his majesty. It is an essential respect which passeth between the creature and the creator, and can never be abolished. Now, this fear of reverence consisteth in a high esteem of God, of his majesty, glory, power, and in the sense and continual thoughts of his presence; and then a loathness to sin against God, or to offend in his sight, to do anything that is unseemly when God is a looker-on. What! can a man sin freely that lives in the sight of the holy God, when he hath a deep sense of his excellency imprinted on his heart? This is that fear which is the note of God’s servants.
2. This must needs be the note of God’s servants, because it is the great principle that both hindereth us from sin and quickeneth us to duty. The fear of God is one of the radical and essential graces which belong to a Christian; it is a mighty restraint from sin. The beasts were made to serve man, and how are they held in subjection and obedience to man? ‘The dread of you,’ saith God, ‘shall be upon every beast of the earth,’ Gen. ix. 2. So we are made for the service of God. Now, how are we kept in subjection to God? When the fear of God is upon our heart, that will not suffer us freely to do any thing that is displeasing to God: Exod. xx. 20, ‘God is come to prove you, that his fear may be before your faces, that you sin not.’ It is a great remedy against all temptation of gain, and worldly profit, and temporal convenience. Look, as that man that had a fear of the king upon his heart: 2 Sam. xviii. 12, ‘Why didst thou not smite him to the ground?’ saith Joab; and the man answered, ‘Though I should receive a thousand shekels, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king’s son;’ just such a fear hath a child of God of his heavenly king: No; though I should have never so much offered me to tempt me from my duty; no, I dare not, the Lord hath charged me to the contrary. Or, as when the Rechabites were tempted to drink wine, pots were brought before them to inflame their appetite: No; we dare not. These passages express the workings of heart in one that fears God; though temptation be present, and never so much convenience thereby, yet how can they do this wickedness and sin against God?
Use. It informeth us who are God’s servants; those that have most of this fear of God planted in their hearts: Neh. vii. 2, ‘He was a faithful man, and feared God above many.’ And then that they express it in their conversation. God will not take it planted in our hearts, if we do not obey him in those things that are contrary to our interests and natural affections. When God tried Abraham that was to offer his Isaac, Gen. xxii., ‘Now I know that thou fearest me, since thou hast not withheld thine only son,’ &c. Why? was Abraham un known to God before that time? As Peter told Christ, ‘Lord, thou knowest all things.’ Cannot God see the inward springs and motions of our souls, and what affections are there? Could not God tell what was in Abraham? But now, I acknowledge. For God will not acknowledge it in this sense until we express it. They are the true servants of God that have his fear planted in their hearts, and express it upon all occasions.410
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