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They continue this day according to thine ordinances: for all are thy servants.—Ver. 91.
THE prophet is proving the immutability of God’s promises from the conservation and continuance of the whole course of nature. He had spoken of it by parts, now conjunctly; apart, first of the heavens, ver. 89; of the earth, ver. 90; now both together, they continue, &c.
In the words we have two things:—
1. An observation concerning the continuance of the courses of nature; they, that is, the heaven and the earth. Heaven doth continue in its motion, and earth in its station, according to the ordinance of God, that is, by virtue of that order wherein he placed things at first: Ps. cxlviii. 6, ‘He hath established them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass.’ As he ordained at first by his powerful decree, so heaven and earth is still continued. God’s laws are fixed for the government of all creatures, and in the manner and to the end for which God appointeth them they stand and continue.
2. The reason, for all are thy servants. The reason saith more than the assertion, and therefore doth over and above prove it; not 414only the heavens and the earth, but all things which are contained therein, from the angel to the worm, they all serve God; they attend upon him as their supreme Lord and master every moment.
Doct. That it is a great help to faith to consider God as the omni potent creator, preserver, and absolute governor of the world, disposing of all things as he pleaseth.
This is the meditation which the Psalmist produceth and exposeth to our view in this verse.
His creation is implied in that, thine ordinances; when God first settled the course of nature by a wise and powerful decree.
His preservation, in those words, they continue this day. The course of nature is so settled that it doth not fail to go on according to God’s decree; everything standeth or falleth according to God’s command, and the order first settled by God still obtaineth; his decree is not yet out of date.
His being the absolute governor of the world, in these words, for all are thy servants, which implieth his sovereign dominion and empire over all the creatures as his servants, who are at the beck of his will. To evidence this to you more fully, consider there are in God two things—power and authority, might and right.
First, By power we mean a liberty and sufficiency in God to do whatever he will: ‘With God all things are possible,’ Mat. xix. 26. Or take the negative, which bindeth it the stronger: Luke i. 37, ‘With God nothing shall be impossible.’
Secondly, Authority or dominion, or a right over all things to dispose of them at his own pleasure. In this right there are three branches:—
1. A right of making or framing anything as he willeth, in any manner as it pleaseth him, as the potter hath power over his own clay to form what vessel he pleaseth of it. This right God exercised in his creation: Rev. iv. 11 , ‘Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.’ This was his absolute freedom and sovereignty, to create all things according to his own pleasure.
2. A right of having or possessing all things so made and framed by him, for God is owner and possessor of whatever he made, since he made it out of nothing. Heaven is his, earth is his; so angels, man, beasts, gold, silver; all things he challengeth as his right: Ps. cxv. 16, ‘The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s.’ It is the Lord’s to dispose of, not only the lower, but the highest heavens, which he hath provided for his own palace and court of residence. So ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness therefore,’ Ps. xxiv. 1. This whole lower world is his by right of creation and providential preservation, and so are all the sorts of creatures with which he hath replenished it: it was by him produced at first, and every moment continued and preserved. And so the angels are his; they are called his ministers or servants: Ps. civ. 4, ‘He maketh his angels spirits, his ministers a flame of fire.’ Though he is able to do all things by himself, or administer the whole world as he at first created by a word, by saying, and it was done; yet he pleaseth to make use of the ministry of angels, who some of them in subtle bodies of air, others of fire, come down to execute his commands upon earth. Men are his creatures and his possession; we are 415not lords of anything we have, neither life, nor limb, nor anything; our bodies and our souls are his, 1 Cor. vi. 20. Christ had power to lay down his life and take it up again, but no mere man hath; he is accountable to a higher Lord, who hath an absolute, uncontrollable right to dispose of us according to his own pleasure: ‘He killeth and maketh alive, bringeth low and lifteth up; for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,’ 1 Sam. ii. 6-8; meaning that God is the Lord of the dwellers upon earth, from the one pole to the other: Dan. iv. 35, ‘None can stay his hand, and say unto him, What doest thou?’ None can call him to an account, for his will is absolute. So for the beasts: Ps. l. 10, ‘Every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.’ He hath a plenary dominion over all the cattle on earth, wild and tame, and the fowls of the air, and a certain knowledge where every one of them resideth, that he can readily command any or all of them whensoever he pleaseth; all is the Lord’s by primitive right. So for gold and silver, and those precious things which are most valued by men: Hag. ii. 8, ‘The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts.’ The absolute dominion of the riches or the splendour of the world belongeth to the Lord of hosts, to dispose of them as he pleaseth; and therefore is to be owned, acknowledged, and submitted unto by every man in his lot and portion. All that we want he hath at his command, and would not withhold it, if it were not for our good.
3. He hath a right of using and disposing, and governing all things thus in his possession, according to his own pleasure. Certainly the use and benefit and utility of anything belongeth to him whose it is. Now God, who is the disposer of all things, made them for himself; he governeth them ultimately and terminatively for himself, immediately for man: Prov. xvi. 4, ‘God hath made all things for himself.’ But he considereth man’s good subordinately in all sublunary things; for ‘the earth he hath given to the children of men,’ Ps. cxv. 16, chiefly to his people, Rom. viii. 28. But this government of God is twofold—either natural or moral.
[1.] I begin with the last. His moral government is by laws; so he governeth angels and men, who are rational and free agents, but in the relation of subjects to God, and therefore are under his command; which if they decline, they are rebels, yet cease not to be under God, H3 the devils and wicked men, who have disturbed the order of the creation, and withdrawn themselves from God’s government, yet they cease not to be under his power. Of the devils, we read they sinned, 2 Peter ii. 4, and therefore ‘were thrown down into chains of darkness:’ meaning thereby, their unappeasable horrors, and the ‘restraints of God’s invisible providence’. Of men, that they withdrew their allegiance, and would not be subject to his laws: Ps. xii. 4, ‘Our tongues are our own: who is lord over us?’ Rom. viii. 7, ‘The carnal mind is not subject to the law of God.’ But yet they are under the restraints of his providence, and he governeth all their actions to his glory: Ps. lxxvi. 10, ‘Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee;’ and serveth himself and the designs of his providence of their sins.
[2.] His natural government is that order into which by his positive decree God hath necessitated and disposed all creatures for the benefit 416of the world. Rational creatures he ruleth by moral means, as subjects, requiring duty from them, under the sanction of penalties and rewards, where the law is the rule of our duty, the sanction of his process; but other creatures he ruleth by natural motions and inclinations or tendency, according to the decree and order which he hath settled in their creation. Surely such a kind of empire he hath over all his creatures, for if he had made creatures which he cannot rule, he could not carry on his providence, for there would be something beneath him which might resist his will, and that will not suit with the perfection of God. Now this natural government is twofold—ordinary or extra ordinary.
(1.) Ordinary is that which is according to the course of second causes, or that order of nature which God hath established in the world, which is nothing else but his preserving the creatures, and working by them according to their natural motions. So it is said in the text. ‘’ They continue this day according to thine ordinance;’ and is confirmed by the apostle, Heb. i. 3, ‘He upholdeth all things by the word of his power;’ that is, in that course wherein he hath set them. The being and motion of every creature is ordered by the will of God; they move as he hath set them, and can move no further nor longer than he supplieth them with power.
(2.) Extraordinary is when God doth things above or beside nature; as when he made the sun stand still upon Gibeon, and the moon in the valley Ajalon, Josh. x. 12, 13; or made the sun to go back ten degrees in Ahaz’s dial, Isa. xxxviii. 8; his interdicting the Red Sea that it should not flow, Exod. xiv. 22; causing iron, which is a heavy body, that it should swim upon the top of the water at the prayer of Elisha, 2 Kings vi. 5; the fiery furnace not to burn, Dan. iii. 22; shutting the mouths of hungry lions, Dan. vi. 22; making ravens, which are by nature birds of prey, to be caterers for Elijah, 1 Kings xvii. 6; the cleaving of the earth and swallowing up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, Num. xvi. 32, 33. Often in the New Testament we find the creatures acting contrary to their common nature, as the star that directed the wise men to Christ, Mat. ii. 2; the opening of the heavens at Christ’s baptism, Mat. iii. 16; the eclipse of the sun at his death, Mat. xxvii. 45; the fishes that came to net, Luke v. 5; and furnishing money, Mat. xvii. 26; the sea to be as firm ground to Peter, Mat. xiv. 24-29; Christ stilling the tempest of a sudden, Mat. viii. 26; the earth quake at Christ’s death, Mat. xxvii. 51; the tree suddenly withered, Mat. xxi. 14. When the will of God is so that the creatures shall depart from their own private nature for a common good, we see how readily they obey him.
Now I shall prove to you that no creature can decline or avoid this dominion. The text saith, ‘They are all his servants;’ that is, all at the beck and will of God.
1. The celestial bodies are his servants: Isa. xlviii. 13, ‘Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together;’ where they are compared to. servants that stand attending on great persons, ready at a word or beck to obey their Lord and master, and go instantly about whatever he doth enjoin them.417
2. The angels, the inhabitants of heaven, are said to be his ministers and hosts; and therefore he is called ‘the Lord of hosts;’ and it is said, ‘They fulfil his pleasure, hearkening to the voice of his word,’ Ps. ciii. 21.
3. The winds and seas, and storms: Ps. cxxxv. 6, ‘Whatsoever the Lord pleased that did he in heaven, and in earth, and in the seas, and all deep places;’ again, Ps. cxlviii. 8, ‘Fire and hail, snow and vapour, stormy wind fulfilling his word.’ So Job xxxvii. 12, ‘The clouds are turned about by his counsels.’ The changes in the air by storms and tempests are not by chance, but are all directed by God for some intent of his; and in what work he doth employ them they fail not to execute his will, and by these things many times God hath executed great matters in the world: Judges v. 20, ‘The stars in their course fought against Sisera.’ By their influence, Josephus saith, caused a great storm of hail and rain, that they could not hold up their targets.
4. Sickness and disease: Mat viii. 9, ‘Speak but the word, and my servant shall be healed.’ Christ wondered at his faith. So that all things contained in heaven and earth are at God’s beck, and do whatsoever he hath ordained.
Use 1. To teach us to increase our faith by this meditation. There are two things by which we glorify God—by subjection and dependence; or, the two bonds by which we adhere to him are faith and obedience: faith, by which we trust ourselves in his hands; obedience, by which we submit to his will; to his commanding will by holiness, to his disposing will by patience. Now the one increaseth the other. Faith doth mightily befriend obedience; if we can depend upon God, we will subject ourselves, and be faithful to him. The first cause of man’s warping was that he would be at his own finding. God taunted him with it: Gen. iii. 22, ‘And the Lord said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil.’ While man contented his mind in the wisdom, goodness, and all-sufficiency of God, he kept innocent; but when he grew distrustful of God, and desired, as the prodigal, to have the stock and portion in his own hands, he presently fell from God, and would preserve himself by his own shifts and skill. The reason why we are not faithful to God is want of faith and trust in his fatherly care, and will be at our own finding Heb. iii. 12. Trust him, and you will adhere to him; distrust him, and you will depart from him. Man would have his safety and comfort in his own hand rather than God’s; and this is a deadly blow to our obedience.
2. There is one consideration feedeth and encourageth both our dependence upon God and our subjection to him, and that is a sound and thorough persuasion of God’s all-sufficiency: Gen xvii. 1, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be thou perfect.’ We will trust God in the way of our duty, and not fly to our own carnal shifts. Now that which doth assure us of God’s power and all-sufficiency to effect his promises and do us good is that which is here represented.
p.] His power is implied, which made the world out of nothing. Other artificers must have matter to work upon, or else their art will fail. The mason must have timber and stones prepared to his hand, or he cannot build a house. The goldsmith must have gold and silver, or he cannot make so much as a cup or a ring. But God made 418the world out of things that did not appear, Heb. xi. 4, yet it standeth fast. Now this power is engaged to us in the promises.
[2.] Here is a power which placeth and maintaineth all things in their order, both in heaven and earth, and causeth every part of nature to do its office; and therefore, why should not we live in a total dependence upon God for life and being every moment? What God hath once settled, it doth and shall continue in the order that he hath appointed; the same power that created them upholdeth them; the same wisdom directeth and ordereth them still. Therefore, when he hath settled grace in the established order of a covenant with his people, the word of God is a foundation that cannot fail; for God needeth no other means to effect anything but his own word and will. The word of God is as powerful in the work of grace as in the works of nature, to renew, convince, subdue, and comfort the heart: Heb. iv. 12, ‘For the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow; and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart:’ 2 Cor. x. 4, 5, ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations, and everything that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.’ Depend upon that word, Ps. cxxx. 5, ‘I wait for the Lord; my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.’ It is as unchangeable as powerful: Isa. xlv. 23, ‘The word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return;’ Ps. lxxxix. 34, ‘I will not alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.’
[3.] Here is a power to which they are subject, ‘For they are his servants;’ and be they never so averse and opposite to God, they cannot hinder his work, for he performeth what he will, and who can let? Certainly what God hath engaged himself to do he will not fail to bring it to pass, to give grace at present and glory hereafter, Ps. lxxxiv. 11. Look neither upon the weakness of the means, nor the greatness of the work, but the truth and power of him that promised.
3. Here is something offered to each apart, both to feed trust and dependence, and to engage to subjection and obedience.
First, For trust and dependence.
[1.] We see here that God is a great God, who taketh the care and charge upon him of the sustentation and government of all things to their proper ends and uses. How soon would the world fall into confusion and nothing without his power and care! Now this should recommend him to our esteem and love. Oh, what a blessed thing is it to have an interest in this powerful and almighty God! All his strength and power is engaged for the meanest and weakest of his children: 1 Peter i. 5, ‘We are kept by the power of God to salvation:’ and therefore we are bidden to be ‘strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.’ Surely they are blessed that have such a mighty God on their side, and engaged with them against their enemies: 1 John iv. 4, ‘Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.’ He can enable them to do their work, satisfy their desires, maintain them in the midst of opposition: John x. 29, ‘My father, which gave them me, is greater than all.’ Such is the efficacy of his 419providence, that he can subject ail things to himself, make them servants, to do what he would have them. Oh, how safe is a Christian in the love and covenant and arms of an almighty God, whom he hath made his refuge! Our trials are many, and grace received is small in the best; but our God is great; he that made all things, and sustaineth things and governeth all things, and possesseth all things, is our trod; surely his grace is sufficient for us,’ 2 Cor. xii. 9, and his ever lasting arms can bear us up: Deut. xxxiii. 27, ‘The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.’ He can recover us from our falls, and lift us over all our difficulties. If we could but rest upon his word and lean upon his power, why should we be discouraged? Oh, let us rejoice, then, not only in the goodness but greatness of that God whom we have chosen for our portion!
[2.] We see here that God is an unchangeable God in goodness ‘They continue this day according to thine ordinance.’ The stability of his works showeth how stable the workman is. Heaven and earth continue by virtue of his word, that man may have the use and benefit of it from generation to generation, that the continual vicissitudes of day and night may be continued, that man may have light to his labour and darkness drawn about him as a covering for his rest, and also that there might be a constant succession of summer and winter to prepare and ripen the fruits of the earth. Now, if God forsake not the world will he forsake his people? For the benefit of mankind he preserveth the courses of nature, and keepeth all things in their proper place for their roper end and use; and will he not keep one way with his children? there be a failure in the covenant, when there is not a failure in common providence? as if he would satisfy the expectation of heathens that look for a constant succession of day and night and summer and winter, and would not satisfy the expectation of his children, when they look for a blessed morning after a dark night of trouble and conflict, and the light of his countenance after the storms of temptation
Secondly, For subjection, which I made to be double.
[1.] Submission to his disposing will. God’s appointment giveth laws to all; there is not the least thing done among us without his prescience, providence, and wise disposal, to which all things in the world are subjected. The Lord’s will and pleasure is the only rule of his extending his omnipotency, and is the sovereign and absolute cause of all his working, for all is done in heaven or in earth according to his ordinance and no creature can resist his will; therefore let us submit to this will of God. If God take anything from us, let us bless the name of the Lord; he doth but make use of his own: ‘It is the Lord let him do what seemeth him good,’ 1 Sam. iii. 18; it is none of ours, but God’s, and let him do with his own as it pleaseth him. God is the disposer of man as well as other creatures, and must choose their condition, and determine of all events wherein they are concerned. We usually dislike God’s disposal of us, though it be so wise and gracious lit consider his sovereignty; you cannot deliver yourselves from the will of God, and get the reins into your own hands. And alas! we are unfit to be disposers either of the world or ourselves, as an idiot is to be the pilot of a ship: therefore let God govern all according to his own pleasure. Say, ‘Lord, not my will, but thine be done.’ We are safer by far in God’s hands than our own.420
[2.] Obedience to his commanding will. All creatures do serve God as his word hath ordained; so should we do. We have law and ordinances too. Shall man only be eccentric and exorbitant and transgress his bounds? Winds and sea serve him, only man, made after his image, disobeyeth him: they serve God for our benefit; the heavens continue their motion to convey light, heat, and influence to us, and the air to give us breath and motion, and the earth to be a sure fixed dwelling-place. When all things are created and continued for our use, shall not we serve our bountiful creator? We are sensible of the disturbance of the course of nature when these confederances are dissolved, when the floods increase, or rains fall in abundance. Oh, be moan rather thy own irregular actions, which are a greater deformation of the beauty of the universe!
In short, no creatures are sui juris; they are subject to God, by whose word and commandment they must rule their actions. Surely none of us are too great or too good to submit to God. Angels enjoy immunities, yet are not exempted from service. The creatures have acted contrary to their common nature for God’s honour; let us obey God, though contrary to our own wills and inclinations.
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