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Behold I have longed after thy precepts, &c.—Ver. 40.
I COME now to a second use, and that is—
Use 2. To press us to long after holiness and subjection to God.
First, You shall have these desires granted. For a man to have his will, and whatsoever he desires, what a happiness is that! If his soul be set upon holy things, he shall have what he desires, the Lord will not be wanting: Prov. x. 24, ‘The fear of the wicked, it shall come upon him; but the desire of the righteous shall be granted.’ The desires of the righteous are suitable to the constitution and frame of their heart. He will grant the desires of their souls, Ps. x. 17. A man that makes God his heart’s delight shall have his heart’s desire: Ps. xxxvii. 4, ‘Delight thyself in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desire of thy heart;’ his business is to maintain communion with God, and his desires will not miscarry.
Secondly, When they are granted it shall do you no hurt: Prov. xi. 23, ‘The desire of the righteous is only good, but the expectation of the wicked is wrath.’ It is the greatest judgment to wicked men when God gives them a heart to desire a full affluence of earthly comforts. Better to be denied in mercy, than to have our requests granted in anger. But grace will do us no hurt; it will not increase our snares and temptations, as other things do; and therefore can never be given in anger, but always in love. Well, then—(1.) Fix your desires; (2.) See they do not abate in you.
1. Fix your desires and enlarge them to the full. A carnal man may be a shame to a godly man, because he is carried out so earnestly, and with such uniform respect to earthly things: 1 Cor. xii. 31, ‘Covet earnestly the best gifts;’ this is a holy covetousness, and a good diversion from that great sin. As the covetous learn all the arts of thriving, are always ‘joining house to house, and field to field,’ Isa. v. 8, so should we add faith to faith, and obedience to obedience. Our enjoyments are better, and therefore it should not be followed with a slacker hand. The more a covetous man hath in the world, the more he desires still. Should not we ‘forget the things that are behind, and reach forth to the things that are before us’? Still here the taste increaseth the appetite, like sea-water, that wets the palate, but inflames the appetite. Now, shall not we be carried out with a holy covetousness thus to God? See what help and methods of increase they use, how their desire carrieth them on in unwearied diligence: ‘They rise early, sit up late, eat the bread of sorrows,’ Ps. cxxvii. 2; and all to heap up a little pelf to themselves; neglect no occasion of gain: and shall not we make it the business of our lives, and be projecting still how we may grow in grace, and increase in the love of God, and ripen for the heavenly state, and grow more like God every day? You know how sparing they are, and how apprehensive of their losses. Oh! should not the decays of religion go as near us? and should not we be careful that we do not waste that grace we have received, and that we increase it more and more, and that it thrive upon our hands?432
2. Watch against the abatement of your desires, for they are of great use to you in the spiritual life. If a man lose his appetite, the body pineth and languisheth, and strength decayeth. What appetite is to the body, that desire is to the soul; it fitteth us to take in our supplies, and putteth us upon action and diligence; it is the vigorous bent of the soul. Therefore see that it doth not decay. It is said, Rev. ii. 4, of the church of Ephesus, that she had ‘lost her first love,’ and then presently ‘left her first works.’ Now your desire decayeth when your prayers are less fervent, for prayer is the presenting our desires to God, or vent given to spiritual groans. Therefore keep up your desires: Ps. xxvii. 4, ‘One thing have I desired of the Lord, and that I will seek after.’ When the desires are fixed, endeavours are engaged; our desires must be pursued resolutely. But what shall we do to awaken these earnest longings in our souls, and those desires after holiness?
[1.] Go to God, for he giveth both to will and to do, Phil. ii. 13. All is from God; the will is from God, and the deed from God. The will; I bring that to show how you should beg that he would stir up those earnest desires in you, because all affections are but the vigorous motions of the will. Desire is but passionate will, or the will effectually and powerfully excited or stirred up to some absent good. Now the appetite is from God as well as the meat. Desire of grace is an affection above nature, and must be planted in us by the Spirit of God. God gives the desire, and he satisfies it. He ‘draws,’ then we ‘run after him,’ Cant. i. 4. He puts this desire in our hearts, then we are carried on with an earnest pursuit after grace.
[2.] Would you have and keep up ardent desires? Do as they do that would keep in the fire, cherish the sparks and blow them up to a flame. There is no man that lives under the means of grace, and under the discoveries of God and religion, but hath his good moods and very lively motions; the waters are stirred many times. Take hold of this advantage, ‘Strengthen the things that remain and are ready to die,’ Rev. iii. 2, and blow up these sparks into a flame. God hath left us enkindling means prayer, meditation, and the word. Observe where the bellows blows hardest, and ply that course. The more supernatural things are, there needs more diligence to preserve them. A strange plant needs more care than a native of the soil. Worldly desires, like a nettle, breed of their own accord, but spiritual desires need a great deal of cultivating.
[3.] Improve your tastes: 1 Peter ii. 3, ‘If you have tasted that the Lord is gracious;’ and Col. i. 6, ‘Since ye knew the grace of God in truth.’ When you have got any taste of the worth of these spiritual things, they do not cloy but awaken appetite. Fancy and imagination cannot awaken it so much as this taste. When you have tasted how good and sweet it is to live in a state of conformity, this will make you long for more: Ps. lxiii. 1, ‘My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee.’ David had been acquainted with the pleasures of the sanctuary, therefore longs for them more. He that hath tasted honey is more affected with it than he that hath only read of it. The Gauls, when they had tasted of the wine of Italy, nothing would keep them from pressing into the country. So when we have tasted of the 433clusters of Canaan, the first-fruits of the Spirit, this should encourage and whet our appetite.
[4.] Watch over other desires, such as would dull and blunt the edge of the spirit. As iron drives out iron, so one desire drives out another. If we are taken with other things, Christ loseth his sweetness and relish. Vain worldly desires extinguish those that are spiritual and heavenly: they lose their fervour when prostituted to base objects; your prayers are more flat and cold, for your desires are manifested by prayer and industry. Now your desires will flag and abate when you let out your hearts to the world; therefore you must watch lest the carnal savour and carnal minding increaseth upon you, for then the spiritual minding is quite hindered, impeached,1515 Qu. ‘impeded’?—ED. and interrupted: Rom. viii. 5, ‘For they that after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh, but they that are after the spirit the things of the spirit.’ When outward things would steal away your hearts and affections from God, remember your first choice: ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee?’ &c., Ps. lxxiii. 25.
[5.] Renew your desires every time you come to God. When you come to the word, come with an appetite; prepare your stomachs always for God’s food. They see more of Christ in an ordinance that come most unworthy in their own sense. John vii. 37, saith Christ, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.’ You shall have Benjamin’s portion, and more plentifully filled, when you come with a strong appetite and a holy longing after God and his grace. Christ takes it best when you come with most enlarged desires and raised expectations. Did God ever fail a thirsty soul? Luke xxii. 15, ‘With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I die.’ Christ himself hungered and thirsted for us, he longed to give us pledges of his love; and shall not we say, With desire have I desired to taste of thy feast and eat of thy supper? Christ longs to give, and shall not we long to take? Certainly where there is this earnest working of heart towards God, and this desire, the Lord will fill it. The gaping of young ravens, God satisfies it; the Psalmist concludes from thence, Ps. cxlv. 19, ‘He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him; he also will hear their cry and will save them.’ Naturalists observe the raven exposeth her young ones, and they are merely fed by providence; but when they gape, the Lord satisfieth them with that food which is convenient for them: much more will he fulfil the desires of the humble.
[6.] Consider your wants, and the fulness that is in Christ, and his readiness to impart unto you.
(1.) Your wants. I speak not now of a total want. Indeed, if those that are under a total want of soul could be brought to consider their condition, the work of conversion would not stick so long as it doth. But I speak now of such a want as remains in the saints after they have begun with God, and been put in a way of obedience. It is not enough that the soul is once come to Christ, but it is the business of our lives; we must be always coming: 1 Peter ii. 4, ‘If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious, to whom coming as unto a living stone.’ If you have tasted, then come to him for more. They 434must be frequently renewing the acts of their faith, and stirring up their desires, else there will be no growth of grace, no opposing corruption; for all our strength is in him; there is still something lacking to our faith, and all the graces of the Spirit that are in us.
(2.) Consider what a fulness there is in Christ. This encouraged the prodigal, that in his father’s house there is bread enough. So should this encourage us, and awaken our desires; there is enough in Christ if I will but go and take it, and receive from this ever-flowing fountain of grace that God hath set up in our nature: John i. 16, ‘Of his fulness have we all received.’ Christ hath not only plenitudinem vasis, the fulness of a vessel, but fontis, the fulness of a fountain. The fulness of a vessel, that may be lessened; the more we take from it the less liquor is in it; but the more we take from a fountain, still there is the same overflowing fulness. Such a fulness is in Christ; therefore it is an encouragement to us to repair to him and enlarge our desires. Look, as it is with beggars in the streets, if they see a poor man meanly clad, they let him alone, but when they see a man of quality and fashion they rouse up themselves and besiege him with importunate entreaties and clamours, and will not let him go until he hath left something with them. Thus should we do. Christ hath enough and to spare; he hath the Spirit without measure; therefore give him not over until he bestow something upon you. He containeth more than we can receive; whatever we get he is not lessened; but, as the sea, though we take never so much water out of it, it remains in the same fulness, so all the saints may have supply for their wants without any deficiency in Christ. The sun hath not less light, though it communicate it freely to the inferior world. Christ is not spent for giving; he hath enough to comfort and quicken us; he needs not our fulness, but emptiness. The prophet provided oil enough to help the widow; she only provided empty vessels. We may be too full for Christ, but cannot be too empty. We may be too full of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. Christ brings all-sufficiency to the covenant, and we bring all-necessity. Therefore, since there is such an overflowing fulness in him, we must still repair to him that we may receive more.
(3.) Consider his readiness to give it you, therefore come with hungering and thirsting after him: John vi. 27, ‘Labour for the meat that endureth for ever.’ Mind the graces of the Spirit, come to Christ for these things. He was sent into the world, and commissioned for this end and purpose. All the fulness in Christ is for our use. As the sun hath light not for itself but for the comfort of the world, and a fountain hath water riot for itself, but for the use of man; so Christ the head is the seat of sense and motion, not for himself, but for his whole body; he is our storehouse for the supply of our wants; and he is clothed, empowered, and invested with offices to do us good. Oh, therefore enlarge your desires! In other things you desire to be full, why not of grace? Hypocrites are satisfied with a taste; they may taste the good word. Temporaries are contented with a taste; a little religion they must have. Ay! but it is for the honour of Christ that we should be complete in him, and filled with all the fulness of God; and this is his grief when his grace runs waste. Look, as when breasts are full, 435there is a great pleasure in having them drawn, or children to have them sucking; and the Lord hath as great a desire to impart his holiness as we to receive it. Therefore come to him that we may have grace for grace, that is, for grace’s sake. Thus much for the first point. David’s appeal to God, ‘Lord, I have longed after thy precepts.’
Doct. 2. Those that indeed long for holiness will see a need of new quickening.
So David, ‘Quicken me in thy righteousness.’ A man would have thought he had been in a lively frame then; yet ‘Quicken me in thy righteousness;’ excite and enliven me to all acts of obedience.
Here I shall inquire—
1. What is this quickening.
2. Why they that long for God’s precepts, and a more perfect and ready subjection to God, are thus earnest for quickening.
First, What is this quickening? I shall not speak at large, for it often occurs in this psalm. It is used in scripture for two things:—
2. It is put for the vitality and the vigour of grace, when the spiritual life is in good plight. Deadness of heart is apt to creep upon us, therefore we need renewed excitations and quickenings, that we may serve our God with cheerfulness, liveliness, and zeal. Christians should not only be living but lively; 1 Peter ii. 5, ‘Ye also as lively stones are built up a spiritual house. And we read of living grace and lively grace, 1 Peter i. 3. And Christ came into the world that we might not only ‘have life,’ but ‘have it more abundantly,’ John x. 10; that is, that we might not only be living, but lively. So that quickening is the actuation of the spiritual life, either in a way of comfort or grace. There may be life where there is not this vigour and this vitality. This quickening is mainly seen in the most operative, and the two necessary graces of the soul to which the gospel is sometimes reduced, and they are faith and love. These are the graces wherein life consists; and as these are acted and excited to God, so we are lively, and when these decay we are dead. When faith is dead all spiritual activity is lost: James ii. 26, ‘For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.’ If men want faith they cannot do anything with any life. So when love is dead, or love grows cold, Mat. xxiv. 12, or when men have any abatement in their love, all languisheth and grows dead in the soul, Rev. ii. 4, 5. But on the contrary, it is said we live by faith, Gal. ii. 20. Grace is kept in good plight when faith is strong and kept up in any vigour; and Gal. v. 6, ‘Faith, which worketh by love.’
Well, this quickening (that I may most sensibly demonstrate it) depends upon these two things:—
[1.] The vitality of grace; that depends upon the degree and mea sure of our faith. For to speak nothing as to the mystical use, as it is a means of our function of life, but to speak only now as to its moral use, as it acts by the sight of invisible things, keep faith alive, and all is alive in the soul: Heb. xi. 1. ‘Faith is the evidence of 436things not seen;’ it doth make things absent and things not seen to act as if they were present, therefore it must needs be a very enlivening thing. Without faith our notions of God, Christ, heaven, and hell are never practical and lively in operation; for this is the evidence of things not seen, and this convinceth us of all spiritual and unseen things, to make them have a force and operation upon the soul. We do but hear, read, and discourse literally until faith puts life into our apprehensions and thoughts of them; for faith will affect us as if we did see the invisible God, and will put the same affections into us as if Christ were crucified before our eyes, Gal. iii. 1. What is the reason the mystery of redemption is a wild story to some, lively to others? Faith affects the heart as if he were crucified before our eyes, and his life dropped out from him by degrees. So faith makes us hug and embrace them as if we were in the midst of the glory of the blessed ones. Take it only in its moral use, it is an enlivening thing; and as faith is kept up in any vigour, so the spiritual life is kept up.
[2.] For love. When we have a fresh and warm sense of the love of God upon our souls, we are quickened to do for him answerably to such a love; and our souls reason, What, hath God done so great things for us in Christ, and we do nothing for God again? Then we see we cannot do anything too much. Love hath a law upon the soul that stirs up lively and zealous motions towards God: 2 Cor. v. 14, ‘The love of Christ constraineth us;’ 1 John v. 3, ‘His commandments are not grievous.’ Then everything goes on pleasantly, and runs upon its wheels.
Secondly, Why will they that long after God’s precepts see a need of quickening?
1. Because of the diseases incident to the renewed estate. There is a constant weakness by reason of indwelling corruption: ‘The flesh lusteth against the spirit,’ Gal. v. 17; they cannot serve God with that purity and liberty they desire. Then there are frequent indispositions of soul; sometimes they feel a slowness and loathness and dulness in their souls. Good men may yet be ‘slow of heart ‘to heavenly things, Luke xxiv. 25. Look, as the physician saith weariness that comes of its own accord is a sign of some disease upon us, laziness in duty comes from a remiss will. Sometimes too they find great deadness, that they cannot follow their work so closely, and with that life and earnestness. And sometimes they are in bonds, sometimes in straits, that they cannot enlarge and dilate themselves towards God: Ps. cxix. 32, ‘When thou shalt enlarge my heart, I will run the ways of thy commandments.’ Now they that mind their work, they will be sensible of this, and call upon God to quicken them. David complains of the dulness and deadness of his spirit; but many do not, but go on in a cold track of duties, and never regard the frame of their hearts. But now a good man observes the temper of his soul. Most observe their bodies, but few their souls. If their body be ill at ease and out of order, they complain presently; but love waxeth cold, zeal for God and delight in God abateth, men grow weary in well-doing, grow flat, have this remiss will, this deadness and slowness of soul in the love of God, they can satisfy themselves in this frame and temper.437
2. Because, too, without this supervening and quickening grace, they can never serve God cheerfully, nor do anything to purpose in the heavenly life; our general work of obedience goes on slowly: Ps. cxix. 88, ‘Quicken me, so shall I keep the testimony of thy mouth,’ then I shall do good to purpose. But religion is an irksome thing when we are dead-hearted. For particular duties, it is not enough to pray, but it must be with life: Ps. lxxx. 18, ‘Quicken us, and we will call upon thy name.’ It is not enough to hear, but to hear with life, Mat. xiii. 15. It is a judgment to be dull of hearing.
3. As it is uncomfortable to themselves to act without quickening grace, so it is a thing very hateful with God, a cold lukewarm temper: Rev. iii. 16, ‘I will spew thee out of my mouth. 1 This dull and stupid profession is contrary to God and hateful to God, and such as content themselves with this dead profession, God will spew them out of his mouth. And it is contrary to all the provision God hath made for us. Christ is set up as a fountain of grace in our nature: John x. 10, ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.’ The Lord hath justified us by his grace, sprinkled our hearts that we might serve the living God, serve him in a living manner; for titles given to God imply the qualification in hand, Heb. ix. 14; and he hath sanctified us, planted grace in our hearts on purpose to maintain the life given us, that there might be a lively hope. And all hearing is for life, Isa. lv. 3; we come to lively oracles that we may be quickened. The joys of heaven, redemption by Christ, hell’s torments, these doctrines are all quickening truths. And the Lord hath given his flesh, not only to God for a sacrifice, but to us for food that we may live, John vi. 51. Therefore to be cold is odious to God.
Use 1. For caution.
1. Let us take heed we lose not quickening through our own default, that we lose not this enlivening grace. We may lose it by any heinous sin of ours, for by grieving the Spirit we bring on deadness upon the heart, Ps. li. 10-12. When David sinned heinously, he begs the Lord to quicken him, and restore his free spirit and the joy of his salvation. The spirit is a tender thing. Every heinous sin is as a wound in the body, which lets out the life-blood, and so we contract a deadness upon ourselves.
2. Take heed of immoderate liberty, or vanities of the world, or pleasures of the flesh, if you would not lose this quickening. The apostle tells us, 1 Tim. v. 6, ‘The woman that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.’ Pleasures have a strange infatuation; they bring a brawn and deadness upon the heart, and hinder the sprightliness of spiritual and heavenly affections: Ps. cxix. 37, ‘Turn away mine eyes from be holding vanity, and quicken thou me in thy way.’ These two prayers joined together speak thus much: if you be too busy about vanity, it will bring on a brawn and deadness, and so you need to go to God for quickening. And Christ tells his disciples, Luke xxi. 34, ‘Take heed of being overcharged,’ &c. The soul is mightily distempered by too free a liberty of the delights of the flesh; for surfeiting and drunkenness must not be taken there in the gross notion.
3. Let us take heed that we do not lose it by our slothfulness and 438negligence in the spiritual life: Isa. lxiv. 7, ‘There is none that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee.’ As in a watch one wheel protrudes and thrusts forward another, so when we are diligent all is lively in the soul, but when we are not active and serious in a godly course all goes to rack. An instrument, though it be never so much in tune, yet laid by and hung up, it grows out of order. Wells are sweeter for draining; our graces, if we keep them not awork, lose their vitality; if we do not stir up the grace of God, 2 Tim. i. 6, they are quite quenched; when we grow careless, and neglectful of our souls, we lose this activity of grace.
4. Vain and dead-hearted company and converse are a very great means to damp the spirit and quench the motions of the heavenly life. We should ‘provoke one another to good works,’ Heb. x. 24. There is great provocation in good examples; but we grow lazy, formal, slight by imitation. Others profess knowledge, yet are vain, dead-hearted; so are we, we have adopted it into our manners, and leaven one another by this means. There should be a holy contention who should be most forward in the ways of godliness, and excel in our heavenly calling; this keeps Christians lively. Saul, when he was among the prophets, he prophesied; but when we converse with dead-hearted company, it breeds a great damp. You read in Isa. xli. 6, 7, how the idolaters encouraged one another—it was when the isles were to wait for the Messiah—that they should not faint, but get up their idols again, after Christ had got a little footing among them; and shall not the children of God encourage, and keep up the life of zeal one in another?
Use 2. Exhortation. It presseth you to divers duties.
1. To see a need of quickening. Though life received gives power to act, yet that power must be excited by God. No creature doth subsist and act of itself. All things live, move, and have their being in God. There is a concurrence necessary to all created things, much more to the new creature: partly because of the internal indisposition of the subject in which it is—alas! grace in the heart is but like fire in wet wood—partly by reason of external impediments; Satan is ready to cast a damp upon the soul, so that the Lord’s grace is still necessary for us.
2. Ask it of God. All life was at first in him originally, and it is an emanation from him. The apostle proves Christ’s Godhead from this, because ‘in him was life,’ John i. 4. But is this a good argument? Doth that prove therefore he was God? May we not say of the meanest worm, in it is life? But he means originally; he was the fountain of life, and still he keeps it in his own hands, and conveys it to all creatures every moment, even to the lowest worm: John v. 26, ‘For as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.’ The power of quickening and keeping of life belongs to God. He hath it originally from himself, he gives it to others, 1 Tim. vi. 13. He that quickeneth all things, worms, men, that gives life to them, is God.
3. Accept this grace in and through Jesus Christ, who hath purchased it for us, who, gave his ‘flesh to be meat indeed, and his blood drink indeed,’ John vi. 55; who rose again that we should ‘walk in newness of life.’ Rom. vi. 4; who ascended to pour out the spirit upon 439us, John vii. 38, 39, Therefore, when we find deadness spiritually, look to receive this life from Christ.
4. Rouse up yourselves. There are considerations and arguments to quicken us. Certainly a man hath power and faculty to work truths upon himself, to stir up the gift and grace that is in us, 2 Tim. i. 6. We must not think grace works necessarily as fire burns, whether we will or not that this will enliven us; but we must rouse and stir up ourselves, as Ps. xlii. 5. There are many considerations by which we may awaken our own soul; from the love of God, from the hopes of glory; by which Christians should stir and keep their spirits awake and alive to wards God and heavenly things.
Use 3. If quickening be so necessary, it presseth us to see whenever we have received anything of the vitality of grace. Sense, appetite, and activity, we may know it by these things: When there is a sense of sin indwelling as a burden—life is strong then when it would expel its enemy, Rom. vii. 24—when there is an appetite after Christ and his graces and comforts. When there is a greater activity, a bursting and breaking forth towards religious duties, it is a sign grace is strong in the heart; for the Spirit is to be a fountain of living waters always breaking out, John vii. 38. When we are more fruitful towards God, when it is ready to discover itself for the glory of God, then the heavenly life is kept in good plight. For these things we should be thankful to God, for he it is that awakeneth you.
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