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I entreated thy favour with my whole heart: be merciful unto me according to thy word.—Ver. 58.
IN the former verse I took notice of two parts—David’s protestation, ‘Thou art my portion:’ and his resolution, ‘I will keep thy words.’ 119To either of the branches this verse may be supposed to have respect. To the former thus, as a second evidence: if we make God our portion, this will necessarily follow, we shall desire his favour above all things else. Our portion is that good which we choose, renouncing all things else; therefore, when our hearts are set upon it, ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee?’ Ps. lxxiii. 25. When you entreat his favour with your whole heart, that is the evidence God is your portion. Or you may refer it to the latter clause thus, ‘I said I will keep thy words,’ therefore I entreat thy favour. We cannot carry on a good purpose without God’s favour, unless he assist us therein. When we are most resolved, we must expect opposition and assaults both from within and without. The devil will seek all he can to oppose you, and to shake your resolutions, and your lusts will rage anew upon a severe restraint. Therefore those that resolve to enter into a strict course must seek relief from God’s favour and mercy, as David here, ‘I entreated thy favour with my whole heart.’ In the words we have an account of David’s practice upon a choice and resolution; he betook himself to prayer.
Here you have—
1. The object or principal thing sought, God’s favour.
2. The manner, with my whole heart, with a sincere affection. He doth not say, with his lips only, but his heart; and not with his heart only, but with his whole heart.
3. The sum of his request, or the fountain of all that he expected from God, be merciful to me.
4. The rule or ground of his expectation, according to thy word. The meaning is, that God, according to his promise, would graciously help him.
First, For the first, ‘I entreated thy favour;’ or, as it is in the Hebrew, ‘I painfully sought thy face;’ meaning that he did with importunate and humble suit beg the smile of God’s countenance. By face is meant favour: Prov. xxix. 26, ‘many seek the ruler’s favour;’ it is, the ruler’s face, that he may look cheerfully upon them: and I painfully sought, so the word signifies; it notes such importunity as is necessary for so great a blessing. The note is this—
Doct. God’s people, those that have made him their portion, they earnestly and constantly, above all things, desire his favour.
1. This God calls for: Ps. cv. 4, ‘Seek the Lord, seek his face ever more.’ None have such communion with God but they need seek more: Ps. xxvii. 8, ‘Thou saidst, Seek my face; thy face, Lord, will I seek.’ ‘Thou saidst:’ it is that which God speaks in all his ordinances; the whole drift of the word is to press us to get and keep the sense of God’s love ever fresh in our hearts.
2. The nature of the saints carries them to it. This is the difference between them and carnal men, Ps. iv. 6, 7. The light of his countenance is spoken of either with allusion to the sun, whose light displayed cheers the plants; or with allusion to the smiles of a friend. One good look from God the children of God prefer above all the world. All earthly things cannot please them so much as a smile from God, nor put such gladness in their hearts. But more especially do they seek it most painfully—120
[1.] When they have never as yet attained any sense of it, but lie under doubts, fears, and anxious uncertainty; then, if God will but look upon them, make out his love to their consciences, what a comfort will that be to them! A man may want assurance and have grace, but he cannot slight assurance and have grace. He that is without it may be one of God’s children, but he that doth not look after it, and is satisfied without it, certainly is none of that number. Therefore this is the desire and earnest prayer of all God’s people in common, that God would cause his face to shine upon them: Ps. lxxx. 1, ‘Thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth;’ that is, that sittest upon the mercy-seat. Oh, that he would be good to them in Christ! for between the cherubims there was the mercy-seat, where God sat. The meaning is, that he would a little dart in beams of comfort to their consciences.
[2.] They thus painfully entreat the favour of God when they have lost it by sin; for then they are afflicted with a double evil—want of so great a comfort, and a sense of their own folly. A sense of God’s favour may be withheld out of mere sovereignty, yet even then God’s children will be earnest; but when it is withdrawn out of justice, as a correction for our folly and careless walking, there is greater cause of earnestness, that we may redeem and recover our loss again; then we are to be more earnest: ‘Turn us again, Lord God of hosts, and cause thine anger towards us to cease,’ Ps. lxxx. 7. By their former experience they know the sweetness of God’s favour, and by their present loss the bitterness of the want of it. Basil hath a notable comparison. He saith, if an object be too bright, it must be set at a distance from the eye that we may see better; so worldly things must be set at a distance from us: therefore God seems to be at a distance, hides his face, that his people might know by the loss and want of it how to value their blessings.
How far do they discover their earnestness?
(1.) In that they seek it above all other things—above corn, wine, and oil. This is not their painful desire to be made great, rich, high, honourable, happy in the world. All the world doth them no good without the favour of God. As all the stars, though they shine together, do not dispel the darkness of the night, so no creatures can comfort us sufficiently when God hides his face from them: Ps. xxx. 1, ‘Thou didst hide thy face and I was troubled.’ They cannot find God as they were wont. As at funeral feasts, dear friends have little comfort when they miss their old friend that was wont to bid them welcome at the house; so when God is gone, what comfort can they take in their portion? Many will say, Why are you pensive and sad? you have a great many friends, a great estate! Oh! you do not know the wound of a gracious heart, and how little these things are in comparison of the favour of God!
(2.) They manifest it in this, their contentedness with him, though they are kept low and bare in outward things: Ps. xvii. 15, ‘As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.’ It is enough for them to have the face of God, though they do not flourish in worldly plenty as others do, when in the exercise of grace they can find God propitious, ‘behold his face in righteousness.’ If they have not the candle they have the sun. If 121they go to God, they are welcome upon all occasions. If the world frown upon them, God doth not so: they are beloved of him, and in favour with him, and that satisfieth them.
What may be the reasons why the children of God so prize his favour?
(1st.) The worth of the thing itself: Ps. lxiii. 3, ‘Thy favour is better than life,’ better than all comforts, better in itself, for this is that which we are never weary of. A man may be weary of all out ward comforts: ‘Days may come wherein there is no pleasure,’ Eccles. xii. 1; ‘At that time the soul abhors dainty food,’ Job xxxiii. 20. Pleasure, nay, life itself, may be a burden, but none ever was weary of the love of God, that cannot be a bur*den; this doth not satiate and cloy us. Again, the love of God cannot be supplied and recompensed by other things: when a man loseth other things it may be made up in better. If a man be poor in this world, God hath chosen him to be rich in faith; if afflicted and destitute of outward provisions, yet they have inward comforts and graces, and they will supply and make up this loss. But the loss of God’s favour cannot be supplied; when that departs from you, and a man loseth the hope he seemeth to have, what a sorry comfort is it, having forfeited the love of God, to seek our amends in the creature! Then this is more durable than the present life. Other comforts fail, but the love of God never fails. This is the original of all other comforts: Ps. xxx. 7, ‘By thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong;’ and Ps. xliv. 3, ‘Their own arm did not save them, but the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them.’ Sure it is better to drink of the fountain than of the stream: all is from the favour of God. In short, it is the vitality and the cause of life, and the cause of all comfort. This is better than life.
(2d.) They are affected with that which is their true misery, therefore they most importunately beg the favour of God. Every man prays according to the sense that he hath, according to that which he counts his misery. He that hath a sense of no other calamity but to be poor, scorned, or exposed to contempt, or the absence of the creature, prays accordingly. Sometimes he howls like a dog in pain, or beasts that want food, Hosea vii. 14. But he that hath a deeper sense of his greatest necessities, he is affected with sin. which is the cause of all trouble; therefore he must have the favour of God and the grace of God. A godly and a carnal man differ as a child and a man in their apprehensions about pain and trouble. A child that is sick and would be eased of its present smart and pain, looks to nothing but that; but an understanding man knows the cause must be taken away. A child speaks according to the sense and apprehension it hath—take away his aching head or burning heat; but the understanding man looks not only after present ease, but health, that the root of the distemper may be removed. So a worldly man would have affliction gone, and looks no further, but a godly man hath a deeper sense, he must have the favour of God; therefore his heart works painfully within him till this be obtained.
(3d.) They entreat the favour of God with all their hearts, because their business lies mainly with God. Their work is to walk closely 122with God, and keep up a strict communion with him. A carnal man’s business lies with God sometimes in his trouble; but when he licks himself whole and is at ease, he can live without it. But a godly man’s business is always with God, for God is always with him, in trouble and out of trouble. Therefore that is a notable speech, Ps. xci. 9, ‘Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation:’ a refuge, that is a place of retreat in time of war; a habitation, there is our residence in time of peace, when every one sits under his own vine and fig-tree. Now, a godly man makes God not only his refuge but his habitation; therefore it concerns him to prize the favour of God, and keep in with him, for he is otherwise at an utter loss; therefore he must study to get all clear: if God be angry with him, his business is at a stand, and he cannot walk cheer fully with him from whom he expects all.
Use 1. To reprove those that are indifferent whether they enjoy God’s favour, yea or nay; so they may enjoy the creature they are satisfied. Surely God is not these men’s portion, for their only care is what they shall eat, how they may be clothed, how to live well in the world; but were never acquainted with this kind of trouble about God’s favour: Ps. x. 4, it is said, ‘The wicked through the pride of his countenance will not seek after God; God is not in all his thoughts.’ He never troubles himself how to keep in with God; it never goes to his heart. He is such an one as can bring to pass whatever he projecteth and desireth, without troubling himself with the fetters of religion and the care of a strict duty: he can live at large, and yet obtain his heart’s desire, and thinketh them the only wise men, fit for his imitation, that can increase in worldly enjoyments without troubling themselves with such niceties as perplex others: he scorneth to trouble himself with prayer, and the observances which are necessary to waiting upon God. Again, it reproves those that lie stupid and senseless under God’s active displeasure. These are not as gross as the former, but make some profession of respect to God, but have not yet a tender sense of God’s accesses and recesses, his comings and goings. When the Lord hides himself from their prayers, and doth not give out the wonted influences of his grace and comfort, they mind it not, do not with earnestness seek to recover it again. If you did make this your business without interruption, when you have not the smiles of God, the want of this would create pain.
Use 2. Of exhortation, to press us, if we would have God for our God, then to seek his favour above all things. Wait with an affectionate earnestness in every ordinance for some new discovery, some comfortable intimation of God’s word: Ps. cxxx. 6, ‘My soul waiteth for thee.’ What? for outward deliverances? No; but ‘I wait for the Lord, and in his word do I hope.’ Again, in every enjoyment it is not enough to have the creature with God’s leave (so can all men have it, it is their portion), but you must have it with God’s love, as a token from God, wrapt up in the bowels of Christ. God gives many gifts to wicked men, but doth not give them his love. This we should look after, that we may find our comforts to be sprinkled with love, that if God deliver you out of any strait, he may love you out of it, Isa. xxxviii. 17.123
Secondly, For the manner, ‘I have sought thy favour.’ How? ‘With my whole heart.’ Note—
Doct. When we pray for the favour of God, it must be with our whole heart.
There is this intended in it—
1. The constant favour and presence of God, we must pray for it, for without prayer faith lies idle, Heb. iv. 16.
2. They that pray for it, their hearts must be set upon what they pray. It is not enough that our tongues babble out a cold form, as many learn to pray as parrots speak, by rote. They say, not pray a prayer: James v. 17, ‘Elias prayed earnestly:’ in the margin, and so in the original, he ‘prayed in prayer.’ A man may take up words of course, and say things after others, which are not indeed the real desires of his heart; so they pray as if they prayed not, slightly, without any warmth and affection.
3. It is not enough that our hearts concur, but our whole hearts must go along with this work. Many times we pray but with half a heart:—
[1.] Partly when prayer is a fruit of memory and invention, but not the fruit of conscience. Common illumination will tell us how prayer is to be formed according to the tenor of the Christian faith; so men may repeat words such as the understanding judgeth fit, without any answerable touch upon the heart. This is their sin who are more careful about notions in prayer than the affections.
[2.] A man prays but with a piece of his heart when he prays rather with his conscience than with his affections. Will you distinguish this, a dictate of conscience must be distinguished from a purpose of heart. Conscience may tell us what is to be done, yet the heart have no liking to it. Austin saith when he was a carnal man he had some kind of conscience, and prayed against his sins; but, saith he, I was afraid God would hear me. The favour of God is necessary, but the heart many times is not engaged in the pursuit of it. We oftener pray from our memories than our consciences, and oftener from our consciences than our affections; the heart is not put into the duty.
[3.] When our affections are divided to carnal things, and the comfortable part of spiritual things. No doubt there is no man but would have the favour of God, but it is with a condition that he may live as he does, and be as he is, and so the prevailing part of his soul bends him to his present course; he regards iniquity in his heart, and sin hath an interest and lies very near; he would have the favour of God abstractedly, but when he considers how his lusts must be parted with, there his heart is divided.
Use. Oh! then, look to it that you beg the Lord’s favour with all your heart. God knows the heart. Rebekah dressed up Jacob so that his father mistook him. Ay! but God cannot mistake; his eye is not dim as Isaac’s, he sees the heart; therefore let your heart, and whole heart, go out in the pursuit.
Quest. How shall we know when our hearts are thus thoroughly bent, if you seek him with all your hearts?
Ans. Then you will observe how you speed when you look after him; you will see what becomes of your requests. ‘I will hearken 124what God will speak,’ saith David, and ‘will pray and look up;’ as Elijah looked up to see the cloud a-coming. Again, if we pray with the whole heart there will be importunate arguings; desire will take no nay: Ps. lxiii. 8, ‘My soul followeth hard after thee.’ Oh! it will be a painful, grievous thing to your souls if you do not speed in your prayers. Not a slight motion, or cold wish, but such as deeply affects the heart, and not easily put off and satisfied with other things. Wicked men would have the favour of God, but they are easily put out of the humour. Again, then we pray with the whole heart when there is such a desire as not to be discouraged, but you venture again, when the Lord seems to put off and give a check to your requests: Isa. xxvi. 8, ‘The desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee.’ Still desires grow hotter and hotter, and when there is a kind of impudence not to be put off. Again, such as do excite endeavours for the obtaining of God’s love and a sense of his favour. It will cost us pain and trouble when we are hard at work, and will be diligent in this thing. But when you rest in a few cold prayers, you are never hearty with God: Ps. xxvii. 4, ‘One thing have I desired.’ What then? ‘That will I seek after,’ and use a great deal of diligence to come by it.
Thirdly, The fountain of all that we expect is mercy. All that seek God’s favour must expect it upon terms of grace: ‘Be merciful unto me.’ We cannot say, Pay me what thou owest, or, Give me for my money. All whom God accepts to his grace and favour are unworthy: Isa. lv. 1, ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat, come, buy wine and milk, without money, and without price.’ Secondly, They who are received to favour still need mercy to pardon failings, Gal. v. The best are but sanctified in part, and have the dregs of corruption always remaining, and frequently stirring in them.
Use. Let us thus deal with God: Hosea xiv. 2, ‘Take with you words, and turn to the Lord; say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously.’ The sum of all our requests is, that God would be merciful to us.
Fourthly, The rule and ground of confidence is ‘according to thy word.’ God’s word is the rule of our confidence, for therein is God’s stated course. If we would have favour from God and mercy, it must be upon his own terms. God will accept of us in Christ, if we repent, believe, and obey, and seek his favour diligently: he will not deny those who seek, ask, knock. We would have mercy, but will not observe God’s directions. We must ask according to God’s will, not without a promise, nor against a command. God is made a voluntary debtor by his promise. These are notable props of faith, when we are encouraged to seek by the offer, to apply by the promise. We thrive no more in a comfortable sense of God’s love, because we take not this course.125
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