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My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according to thy word.—Ver. 28.
A CHRISTIAN should neither be humbled to the degree of dejection, nor confident to the degree of security; and therefore he is to have a double eye, upon God and upon himself, upon his own necessities and upon God’s all-sufficiency. You have both represented in this verse (as often in this psalm), his case and his petition.
1. His case is represented, my soul melteth for heaviness.
2. His petition and request to God, strengthen thou me according to thy word.
First, His case, ‘My soul melteth for heaviness.’ In the original the word signifies ‘droppeth away.’ The Septuagint hath it thus, ‘My soul fell asleep through weariness.’ Probably by a fault of the transcribers, one word for another. My soul droppeth. It may relate—(1.) To the plenty of his tears, as the word is used in scripture: Job xvi. 20, ‘My friends scorn me; but mine eye poureth out tears unto God,’ or droppeth to God, the same word; so it notes his deep sorrow and sense of his condition. The like allusion is in Josh. vii. 5, ‘The heart of the people melted, and became as water.’ Or, (2.) It relates to his languishing under the extremity of his sorrow; as an unctuous thing wasteth by dropping, so was his soul even dropping away. Such a like expression is used in Ps. cvii. 26, ‘Their soul is melted because of trouble;’ and of Jesus Christ, whose strength was exhausted by the greatness of his sorrows, it is said, Ps. xxii. 14, ‘I am poured out like water; all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax, it is melted in the midst of my bowels.’ Be the allusion either to the one or to the other, either to the dropping of tears or to the melting and wasting away of what is fat and unctuous, it notes a vehement sorrow and brokenness of heart, that is clear: his soul was even melting away; and unless God did help him, he could hold out no longer.
Doct. That God’s children oftentimes lie under the exercise of such deep and pressing sorrow as is not incident to other men.
David expresseth himself here as in a languishing condition which is not ordinary, ‘My soul droppeth or melteth away for heaviness.’
The reasons of the point are three:—
1. Their burdens are greater.
2. They have a greater sense than others.
3. Their exercise is greater, because their reward and comfort is so great.
1. Their burdens are greater than others, as temptation, desertion, trouble for sin. The good and evil of the spiritual life is greater than the good and evil of any other life whatsoever. As their joys are unspeakable and glorious, so their sorrows are sometimes above expression: ‘A wounded spirit who can bear?’ Prov. xviii. 14. Common natural courage will carry a man through other afflictions, oh! but when the arrows of the Almighty stick in their heart, Job. vi. 3, that is an insupportable burden. According to the excellency of any life, 266so are the annoyances and the benefits of that life. Man, that hath a higher life than the beasts, is more capable of delights and sorrows than beasts are of pain and pleasure; and so a Christian that lives the life of faith is more capable of a higher burden. Consider, they that live a spiritual life have immediately to do with the infinite and eternal God; and therefore when he creates joy in the heart, oh, what a joy is that! And when God doth but lay his hand upon them, how great is their trouble! Sin is a heavier burden than affliction, and the wrath of God than the displeasure of man—Coelestis ira quos premit miseros facit, humana nullos. Evils of an eternal influence are more than temporal, therefore must needs be greater and more burdensome.
2. They have a greater sense than others, their hearts being entendered by religion. None have so quick a feeling as the children of God. Why? Because they have a clearer understanding, and more tender and delicate affections.
[1.] Because they have a clearer understanding, and see more into the nature of things than those that are drowned in present delights and contentments. The loss of God’s favour carnal men know not how to value, but the saints prefer it above life: ‘The favour of God is better than life,’ Ps. lxiii. 3. Therefore, if the Lord do but suspend the wonted manifestations of his grace and favour, how are their hearts troubled!’ Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled,’ Ps. xxx. 7. A child of God, that lives by his favour, cannot brook his absence; therefore, when they lose the sweet sense of his favour and reconciliation with him, oh, what a trouble is this to their souls! Other men make no reckoning of it at all. And so for sin, common spirits value it only by the damage it doth to their worldly interests; when it costs them dear, they may hang the head: Jer. ii. 9, ‘Now know what an evil and bitter thing it is to forsake the Lord.’ A worldly man may know something of the evil of sin in the effects of it, but a child of God seeth into the nature of it; they value it by the wrong, by the offence that is done to God, and so are humbled more for the evil in sin, than for the evil after sin. So for the wrath of God; carnal men have gross thoughts of it, and may howl upon their beds when their pleasant things are taken from them; but God’s children are humbled because their father is angry; they observe more the displeasure of God in afflicting providences than others do; and one spark of God’s wrath lighting into their consciences, oh, what sad effects doth it work! more than all other straits whatsoever. Thus they have a clearer understanding, they see more into the dreadfulness of God’s wrath, into the evil of sin, and they know how to prize and value his favour more than others.
[2.] They have delicate and tender affections. Grace, that gives us a new heart, doth also give us a soft heart: Ezek. xxxvi. 26, ‘I will put a new heart into them.’ What kind of heart? ‘A heart of flesh,’ as the old heart that is taken out is a heart of stone. A new soft heart doth sooner receive the impression of divine terror than another heart doth. A stamp is more easily left upon wax, or a soft thing, than upon a stone. Or thus, a slave hath a thicker skin than one nobly born, tenderly brought up; therefore he is not so sensible of 267stripes. A wicked man hath more cause to be troubled than a godly man; but he is not a man of sense; he hath a heart of stone, and therefore is not so affected either with God’s dealings with him, or his dealings with God. Look, as the weight of the blows must not only be considered, but the delicateness of the constitution, so, because their hearts are of a softer and more tender constitution, being hearts of flesh, and receptive of a deeper impression, therefore their sorrows exceed the sorrows of other men.
3. The good that they expect is exceeding great, and their exercise is accordingly; for after the rate of our comforts so are our afflictions. Wicked men, that have nothing to expect in the world to come but horrors and pains, they wallow now in ease and plenty: Luke xvi. 25, ‘Son, in thy lifetime thou receivedst thy good things.’ God will be behindhand with none of his creatures; those that do him common service have common blessings in a larger measure than his own people have; they have their good things, that is, such as their hearts choose and affect. But now good men, that expect another happiness, they must be content to be harassed and exercised, that they may be fitted and prepared for the enjoyment of this happiness. As the stones that were to be set in the temple were to be hewn and squared, so are they to be hewn, squared, and exercised with bitter and sharp things, that they may be prepared for the more glory.
Use 1. Then carnal men are not fit to judge of the saints when they report their experiences, if it be with them above the rate of other men. When afflicted consciences speak of their wounds, or revived hearts of their comforts, their joys are supernatural, and so are their sorrows; and therefore a natural man thinks all to be but fancy, all those joys of the Spirit, that they are but fanatic delusions; and he doth not understand the weight of their sorrows. When a man is well to see to, and hath health, strength, and wealth, they marvel what should make such a man heavy; all their care is to eat, drink, and be merry; and therefore because they are not acquainted with the exercises of a feeling conscience, they think all this trouble is but a little mopishness and melancholy. Poor contrite sinners, who are ready to weep out their hearts at their eyes, can only understand such expressions as these, ‘My soul melteth away for heaviness.’ There is another manner of thing in trouble of conscience than the carnal world doth imagine; and many that have all well about them, great estates, much befriended and esteemed in the world, yea, for the best things, yet when God hides his face, poor souls, how are they troubled! If he do but let a spark of his wrath into their conscience, and hide his face from them, it is a greater burden to them than all the miseries of the world.
David was a man valiant, that had ‘a heart as the heart of a Son,’ 2 Sam. xvii. 10. He was a man cheerful, called ‘the sweet singer of Israel,’ 2 Sam. xxiii. 1; of a ruddy sanguine complexion, and a great master of music. He was no fool, but a man wise as the angel of God; and yet you see what a bitter sense he had of his spiritual condition. And when a man so stout and valiant, so cheerful, so wise, complains so heavily, will you count this mopishness and foolish melancholy? But alas 1 men that never knew the weight of sin cannot 268otherwise conceive of it; they were never acquainted with the infiniteness of God, nor power of his anger, and have not a due sense of eternity; therefore they think so slightly of these matters of the spiritual life.
Use 2. Be not too secure of spiritual joys. We warn you often of security, or falling asleep in temporal comforts, and we must warn you of this kind of security also in spiritual. All things change. You may find David in this psalm in a different posture of spirit; some times rejoicing in the word of God above all riches, and at other times his soul melteth away for very heaviness. God’s own people are liable to great trouble of spirit; therefore you should not be secure as to these spiritual enjoyments, which come and go according to God’s pleasure. Men that build too much upon spiritual suavities or sensible consolations occasion a snare to their own souls; partly as they are less watchful for the present (like mariners which have been at sea, when they get into the haven, take down their tackling, and make merry, and think never to see storm more), and so lose that which they are so confident of keeping; by their negligence and carelessness their spiritual comfort is gone. And there is another mischief—the loss is more heavy, because it was never thought of. And therefore in preparation of heart we should be ready to lose our inward comforts, as well as estates and outward conveniences. In heaven alone we have continual day without cloudings or night; but here there will be changes.
Use 3. Let us not judge of our condition if this should be our case, that is, if we should lie under pressing troubles, such as do even break our spirits. This was the case of the Son of God; his soul was troubled, and he knew not what to say: John xii. 27, ‘My soul is troubled; what shall I say?’ And many of his choicest servants have been sorely exercised—Heman, an heir of heaven, and yet compassed about with the pains of hell; Job not only spoiled of all his goods, but for a time shut out from the comforts of God’s Spirit. Our business in such a case is not to examine and judge, but to trust. Neither to determine of our condition one side or other, but to stay our hearts upon God, and so to make use of offers and inviting promises, when we cannot make use of conditional and assuring promises. So Isa. 1. 10, ‘He that walketh in darkness, and seeth no light,’ is directed, ‘let him trust in the name of the Lord.’ That is our business in such a case of deep distress, to make a new title rather than dispute the old one; and stay our hearts on God’s mercy.
Thus much concerning David’s case; which because it often comes under consideration in this Psalm, I would pass over more briefly.
Secondly, I come from David’s case to his petition or request to God, ‘Strengthen thou me according to thy word.’ Where you have—
1. The request itself.
2. An argument to enforce it.
First, The request itself, ‘Strengthen me;’ that is the benefit asked.
Doct. 1. Observe this in the general, he doth but now and then drop out a request for temporal safety, but all along his main desire is for grace and for support rather than deliverance.
The children of God, the main thing that their hearts run upon is 269sustentation and spiritual support rather than outward deliverance: Ps. cxxxviii. 3, ‘I called upon the Lord, and he heard me, and strengthened me with strength in my soul.’ Mark, David judgeth that to be an audience, to be a hearing of prayer; though he had not deliverance, yet he had experience of inward comfort, that was it which supported him. The children of God value themselves by the inward man, rather than the outward. What David here prays for himself, Paul prays for others: Eph. iii. 16, ‘That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.’ Yea, they are contented with the decays of the outward man, so that the inward man may increase in strength: 2 Cor. iv. 16, ‘Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.’ The outward man in Paul’s dialect is the body, with the conveniences and all the appurtenances thereof, as health, beauty, strength, wealth; all this is the outward man. Now this is not a Christian’s desire, to increase in the world, or to make a fair show in the flesh; no, but his heart is set upon this, to grow stronger in the spirit, that the soul, as furnished with the graces of the Spirit, may thrive; this is the inner man. To insist upon this a little.
1. It is the inward man that is esteemed with God, and therefore that is it the saints mainly look after. God doth not look upon men according to their outward condition, pomp, and appearances in the world, but according to the inward endowments of the heart: 1 Sam. xvi. 7, ‘Man’s eye is upon the outward appearance, but God regards the heart;’ and ‘the hidden man of the heart,’ that is said to be ‘an ornament of great price with God,’ 1 Peter iii. 4. Intellectual beauty is that which is esteemed in heaven, and spiritual wealth is only current in the other world. Poor creatures, that are led by sense, they esteem one another by these outward things; but God esteems men by grace, by the soul, how that is cherished and strengthened; and though we are otherwise never so well accomplished, we are hated if we have not his image stamped upon us.
2. The everlasting welfare of the whole person depends upon the flourishing of the inward man. When we come to put off the upper garment of the flesh, the poor soul will be destitute, naked, and harbourless, if we have made no provision for it, 2 Cor. v. 3, and then both body and soul are undone for ever. When the soul is to be thrown out of doors, whither will it go, if it hath not an eternal building in heaven to receive it? The soul is the man; the body follows the state of the soul, but the soul doth not follow the state of the body. The life of God, which he doth begin in the soul, does in time renew and perfect the body too. The apostle saith, Rom. vi. 11, ‘The Spirit that now dwelleth in us will raise up our mortal bodies.’ But now those that seek to preserve the outward man with the neglect of the inner, in time ruin both body and soul. Well, then, here is their care.
3. The loss of the outward man may be recompensed and made up by the strength of grace that is put into the inner man, but the loss of the inner man cannot be made up by the perfections of the outward man. A man that is afflicted in his outward estate, God makes it up in grace; if he makes him rich in faith, in the experiences of his favour, the loss is made up and supplied more abundantly; and the 270children of God can comfort themselves in this, that their inward man is strengthened and renewed day by day, 2 Cor. iv. 16; so that a man may be happy notwithstanding breaches made upon the outward man. But when there is a wounded spirit, and God breaks into the inward man, then what good will riches, estate, and all these things do? They are as unsavoury things as the white of an egg.
4. The outward man may fit us for converse with men, but the in ward man with God. We need bodies, and organs of speech, and reason, and present supplies, which fit us to converse with men; but we converse with God by thoughts and by grace, and by the perfections of the inward man; this fits us for communion with him.
5. The life and strength of the inward man is a more noble thing than the strength of the outward man or the bodily life, for it draws nearer to the life of God, as the life and strength of the body draws nearer to the life, pleasure, and happiness of a beast. By the bodily life we eat, drink, labour, sleep, and so do the beasts; yea, many of the beasts excel us in the perfection of that kind of life. Lions excel in strength, roes in swiftness, eagles in long age; none of their pleasures are soured with remorse of conscience. But the inward spiritual life is called the life of God, Eph. iv. 18.
6. The inward life is the beginning of our life in heaven. A glorified saint and a saint militant upon earth both live the life of God; and the life of grace is the same life for kind, though not for degree; and one that is glorified and one here upon earth differ but as a child and a man. But now the life of sense and the life of grace differ as a toad and a man, not only in degree, but also in kind.
7. Yet further, this is that great thing which God hath been at such great expense about, to raise the being of the new creature: John vi. 51, ‘This is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world.’ The supports, the strength of the inward man cost dearer than all other comforts whatsoever: it must have nobler supports, it must have the blood of Christ, daily supplies from heaven. But the other life is called the life of our hands, Isa. lvii. 10. We patch up to ourselves some conveniences for the sensible life by labour and service here in the world. Well, then, this is that which the children of God do mostly look after, that the inward life may be kept free from annoyance, and fit for the purposes of grace.
Use. The use of this is to check our carnal and preposterous care for the outward man, to the neglect of the inward. How much are we for the outward man, that it may be well fed and well clothed, well at ease for the present life! There is all our care; but not so careful to get the soul furnished with grace, and strengthened and renewed by continued influences from Christ. Certainly if men did look after soul-strength, they would be more careful to wait upon God for his blessing. You may know the disproportion of your care for outward things and for the inward man by these questions.
1. How much do you prize God’s day, the means of grace, opportunities of worship, that are for the inward man? The Sabbath-day is a feast-day for souls. Now, when men are weary of it, it is the most burdensome day of all the week round: Amos viii. 5, ‘When will the Sabbath be gone, that we may set forth wheat?’ It is a sign 271they are carnal, when men count that day the only lost day: as Seneca saith of the Jews, they lost the full seventh of their lives, speaking of the Sabbath-day. So carnal men think it is a lost day to them, they look upon the Sabbath as a melancholy interruption of their affairs and business. The apostle James saith of those that are begotten by God, chap. i. 9, that they are ‘swift to hear.’ Certainly they that have an inward man to maintain, another life than an outward and animal life, must have the supply and will look after the comforts of it.
2. Consider how differently we are concerned with bodily and soul concernments. If the body be but a little diseased, if we want an appetite to a meal, or a little sleep in the night, we complain of it presently; we inquire what is the cause, and look for a remedy. But what a wonderful disproportion is there as to the soul! It is a strange expression that, 3 John 2, ‘I wish that thy body prosper as thy soul prospers.’ Alas! we may say of the most, Oh, that their souls did prosper as their bodies, as they flourish in the conveniencies of the outward man!
3. What care have you for the inward man, to adorn the soul, to beautify it with grace, that it may be of price and esteem with God, or to fortify it with grace? Now, when all our strength and travail is laid out for that which doth not conduce to the inward life, Isaiah lv. 2, and we lay out our money for that which is not bread, it is a sign we are wholly carnal. We read in ecclesiastical story of one that wept when he saw a wanton woman decking herself with a great deal of care to please her lovers; saith he, Have I been so careful to deck my soul for Christ Jesus?
4. Do you take in spiritual refreshments, even when afflictions abound? 2 Cor. i. 5, ‘As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ;’ then you are affected as the children of God, whose heart and care runs out mainly for the in ward man. This in general.
Doct. 2. Secondly, more especially observe he goes to God for strength. Let me show—
1. What is this spiritual strength.
2. How it is given out.
3. How God is concerned in it. David goes to God, ‘Lord, strengthen me.’
First, What spiritual strength is. It is God’s perfecting of his work. Strength supposeth life, therefore in general it is God’s renewed influence; when he hath planted habits of grace, he comes and strengthens. There is gratia praeveniens, operans, et co-operans—there is preventing grace, working grace, and co-working grace. Preventing grace is when God converts us, when the Lord turns us to himself, and doth plant grace in the soul at first. Working grace is when God strengthens the habit. Co-working grace, when God stirs up the act, and helps us in the exercise of the grace we have. First he plants grace into the heart, then there is a constant influence, as the two olive-trees in Zechariah were always dropping into the lamps; and then by excitation and co-operation he stirs it up. Saith Austin, Unless God gives us the faculties, and unless he gives us the will, we can do nothing; and unless he concurs with the exercise of these 372faculties, still we cannot work in the spiritual life as we ought to do; and therefore first God infuseth grace, and then strengthens grace; first he worketh in us, then by us. First we are objects of his work, then instruments, to show wherein the strength of the soul lies.
1. There are planted in the soul habits of grace. There are not only high operations of grace, but permanent and fixed habits, the seed of God that remaineth within us, 1 John iii. 9, which cannot be the indwelling of the Spirit; for this seed of God is some created thing: Ps. li. 10, ‘Create in me a clean heart, God;’ and it is some thing that grows: 2 Peter iii. 6, ‘Grow in grace.’ And therefore it is evident there are habits of grace planted in the soul, a good stock that we have from God at first, called ‘the good treasure of the heart,’ Mat. xii. These habits of grace are called ‘armour of God,’ ‘the shield of faith,’ ‘the helmet of salvation.’ This is the strength of the soul.
2. But besides this, there is a continuance and an increase of these graces, when the Lord confirms his work, and perfects what he hath begun, Phil. i. 16. The apostle most notably sets it forth: 1 Peter v. 10, ‘The God of all grace make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.’ All these words concern the habit, or the seed of grace in the soul; and to show God’s concurrence towards our preservation in the spiritual state, he useth these words, ‘Make you perfect;’ that notes the addition of degrees that are yet wanting; ‘stablish you,’ that notes defending that grace which is already planted in the heart from temptation and dangers; and ‘strengthen you,’ that is, give you power for action or ability for working; and ‘settle you,’ that is to fasten the root more and more. All may be represented in a tree. Look, as a tree grown downward in the root is defended from the nipping of the weather, and stablished and strengthened against injuries from beasts, and being filled with sap, springs forth, and becomes fruitful; so the Lord settle you, &c.
3. There is a concurrence of God to the act. Grace in habit is not enough, but it must be actuated and directed. About the act there are two things: The Holy Spirit actuates the grace that is implanted, draws it forth into exercise; so it is said, Phil. ii. 13, ‘It is God that worketh in you both to will and to do,’ that is, he does apply that grace in our heart, set it a-work; and then there is a directing or regulation of the soul to action: 2 Thes. iii. 5, ‘The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God,’ &c. Thus God plants grace in the heart by preventing us with his mercy and loving-kindness, taking us into favour; then he doth stablish us, and perfect it, root it in the soul more and more. Then as to the act, he doth excite and strengthen us.
Secondly, The uses for which we have this strength from God. It serves for three uses—for doing, for suffering, and for conflicting, to bear us out in conflict; as our necessities are many, so must our strength be.
1. Strength to perform duties. Weariness and uncomfortableness will soon fall upon our hearts, and we shall hang off from God, if the Lord doth not put forth a new force, and a new quickening upon our hearts; therefore the spouse saith, Cant. i. 4, ‘Draw me, and we will run after thee. And here in this psalm, ‘When the Lord shall enlarge 273my heart, I will run the ways of his commandments.’ If we would be carried on with any fervour and motion towards God, we must go forth in the strength of God. The soul is a tender thing, and soon discomposed. When we think to go forth and shake ourselves as at other times, as Samson, we shall find fetters and restraints upon our soul. Therefore God’s work must ever be done in God’s strength.
2. Strength for bearing of burdens with patience, that we may not faint under them: Col. i. 11, ‘Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness.’ That we may not faint under our affliction: Prov. xxiv. 10, ‘If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.’ God’s children, before they go to heaven, will have their trials, they will have many burdens upon them: Heb. vi. 12, ‘Be ye followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.’ There needs not only faith, but patience. There will be trouble. Now a heavy burden need have good shoulders. We pray for strength, that we may break through difficulties and afflictions that we meet in our passage to heaven.
3. Strength for conflicts, that we may break through temptations. A Christian is not only to use the trowel but the sword. We cannot think to discharge duties or bear afflictions without a battle and conflict; therefore we need the strength of the Lord’s grace to carry us through. Satan is the great enemy with whom we conflict, he is the manager of the temptation. This is the course of it; the world is the bait; the flesh is the traitor that works within men, which gives advantage to Satan; the devil lieth hidden, and by worldly things seeks to draw off our hearts from God. Now we are assaulted on every side, sometimes by the pleasures of the world, sometimes by the frowns and crosses of it; so that a Christian needs to be fit for all conditions: Phil. iv. 13, ‘I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me;’ for every way will the devil be enticing us to sin. Now these conflicts are either solicitations to sin, or tend to weaken our comfort; and in both respects we must have strength from God. Satan’s first temptation is to draw us to sin; if he cannot weaken grace, then to disturb our comfort; if not to deny God, yet that we may suspect our own estate; and therefore he follows us with blasphemies and other temptations, until he hath made our lives wearisome, till we call our condition into question; and therefore, as grace is strengthened, so is comfort: Neh. viii. 10, ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength.’
Thus I have showed what is this spiritual strength, and what we beg of God when we say, ‘Strengthen me;’ and how this is given out, in what manner God conveyeth this strength to the soul, how suitable to our nature, to our temper, to our employment.
Thirdly, How God is concerned in it. David goes to God for this benefit, ‘Lord, strengthen me.’ From first to last he doth all. We do not stand by the stability of our own resolutions, nor stand by the stability of gracious habits in ourselves, unless the Lord supply new strength. Not by the stability of our own resolutions, for these will soon fail; for David was under a resolution to keep close to God; yet he saith, ‘My feet had well-nigh slipped.’ What upheld him? ‘Thy right hand upheld me.’ I was mightily shaken, all purposes of holding on of godliness were even gone; but I am continually with thee. 274Neither is it the stability of gracious habits in themselves, for of themselves they are poor vanishing things; faith, love, and fear of God of themselves will soon vanish: Rev. iii. 2, ‘Be watchful, strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die. These are ready to die, therefore are only maintained by a renewed strength from God. It is the power of God that is engaged in our preservation. I might show in what order we have this from God; we are not only kept in general ‘by the power of God through faith unto salvation,’ 1 Peter i. 5, but all the persons work. The Father, his act is judicial: Eph. iii. 14, ‘I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he would grant you to be strengthened with might in the inner man.’ He issueth the grant, that such souls coming in Christ’s name, and petitioning relief, should obtain it. And God the Son hath bought this strength for us, and he intercedes for constant supply; and therefore it is said, Phil. iv. 13, ‘I can do all things through Christ.’ Christ puts in strength, that is, he observes all our temptations, our conflicts, how weak we are; and he intercedes with God night and day; he stands at God’s right hand, to get out this strength; and the Holy Ghost applies it to our heart in the ordinances; for so it is said, Eph. iii. 16, ‘To be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.’
Use. To press us to be dealing with God for this strength. What shall we do?
1. Be weak in your own sense and feeling. The way to be strong i to be weak: 2 Cor. xii. 10, ‘When I am weak, then am I strong.’ The bucket, if we would have it filled with the ocean, must first be empty. Saith Austin, Nemo erit a Deo firmus, nisi qui seipsum sentit infirmum—God strengtheneth those that are weak in their own feeling and sense of their own nothingness: Heb. xi. 34, ‘Out of weakness they were made strong;’ out of weakness felt and apprehended.
2. There must be a full reliance upon God’s strength alone: Ps. lxxi. 16, ‘I will go forth in the strength of the Lord God;’ and Eph. vi. 10, ‘Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might;’ and 2 Tim. ii. 1, ‘Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.’ What ever is in God and in Christ is for our use; it is forthcoming for our encouragement and help. We have firm grounds for this reliance—the infinite power of God, and the merit of Christ, which is of in finite value. What cannot the power of God do? The strength of God is engaged for our relief and succour.
3. Use the power that you have, and then it will be increased upon you. The right arm is bigger than the left. Why? Because of exercise, it is fuller of spirits and strength: ‘To him that hath shall be given,’ Mat. xiii. 12, ‘and he shall have abundance.’ The more we exercise grace the more we shall have of it: Prov. x. 29, ‘The way of the Lord is strength to the upright.’ The more we walk with God the more strength.
4. Use the means, for ‘they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength,’ Isa. xl. 31. Because God doth all, oh! it is the greatest engagement that can be to wait upon God in the use of means, that we may draw out treasures of grace in God’s way: Phil. ii. 12, ‘Work out your salvation, for it is God that worketh in you,’ &c. See that you keep not off from God. Why? For he doth all.275
5. Avoid sin; that lets out your strength, as bleeding lets out the spirits of the body. When you grieve the Spirit of Christ which is to strengthen you, you cast away your strength from you. Let us then wait upon God for help, for when all things fail, God faileth not.
Secondly, I now come to the argument, ‘Strengthen me according to thy word.’ God’s word binds him to relieve his people in distress. There are two promises; one is, 1 Cor. x. 13, ‘God will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.’ A good man would not over burden his beast; certainly the gracious God will not suffer temptations to lie upon us above measure. Another promise is in Isa. lvii. 15-17, ‘To revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.’ He hath promised comfort and relief to poor broken-hearted sinners; you are called by name in the promise, it is spoken to people in your case. Again, upon such a word and promise of God is David’s prayer grounded. A prayer grounded upon a promise is like to prevail; you may put a humble challenge upon God, plead his word to him. It is strange fire else you put in the censer, when you beg that which God never undertook to grant. David often saith ‘according to thy word.’ Again, the word of God is the only cure and relief for a fainting soul. When David was languishing away under deep sorrow, then, Lord, thy word did bring strength. (1.) This is the proper cure. Natural means cannot be a remedy to a spiritual distemper, no more than a fine suit of apparel to a sick man, or a posy of flowers to a condemned man. Natural comforts carry no proportion with a spiritual disease; nothing but grace, pardon, strength, and acceptance from God can remove it. They that seek to quench their sorrows in excess and merry company take a brutish remedy for soul diseases. foolish creatures! that think to sport away or drink down their troubles! it is as foolish a course as to think that to sew up a rent in the garment will cure a wound in their body. And (2.) it is a universal cure; we have from the word life, comfort, strength. It is the word that must guide us and keep us from fainting, quicken us and keep us from dying. This is a full remedy in conjunction with the power of God, and makes the sore1111 Qu. ‘soul’?—ED. joyful in the midst of outward troubles: Ps. lvi. 10, ‘I will rejoice in God because of his word.’
Lastly, This word must be applied to the conscience by God himself, ‘Strengthen thou me according to thy word.’ He goes to God that he would apply his word, that it might be for his strength; for we can neither apprehend nor apply it further than we receive grace from God. The word is God’s instrument, and worketh not without the principal agent.
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