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I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me.—Ver. 93.
IN these words observe two things:—
1. David’s thankful resolution, I will never forget thy precepts.
2. The reason of it, for with them thou hast quickened me.
First, In his thankful resolution, take notice:—
1. Of the object, thy precepts.
2. The duty promised, and negatively expressed, I will never forget.
1. For the object, ‘Thy precepts:’ thereby may be meant the word in general; he had found benefit by it, and the word of God should ever be dear and precious to him, especially the gospel part of it. Surely that is the great means of quickening; that may be comprised in the term, thy precepts, if not principally intended; or else most especially some particular truth which God had blessed to the use and comfort of his soul: I shall never forget that truth, those precepts of thine.
2. The duty promised, ‘I will never forget.’ Forgetting or remembering is sometimes taken in scripture for a notional remembrance or notional forgetting, when we retain the notions of such a truth, or the notions of it vanish out of our minds. And sometimes it is taken practically, when we are suitably affected, as the thing or truth remembered deserves. Both may be intended; I remember, retain, feel the fruit of thy word. That which hath done us good, the very notions of it will stick in our minds. Or else it may be for the practical remembrance; so it signifies, I will prize, I will cleave fast to it as long as I live. To remember is to esteem, and to forget is to neglect; as Heb. xiii. 16, ‘To do good, and to communicate, forget not;’ that is, neglect not. I may remember to communicate, yet not perform; but forget not, that is, neglect not. In this sense we usually say, You forget me, that is, you neglect to do that which I desired of you. So David saith, ‘1 will never forget thy precepts.’ The remembrance of his promises 429is effectual and perpetual. It is effectual; for I will remember it, prize it, and lay it up in my heart with thankfulness. And it is perpetual; ‘I will never;’ the Hebrew is, ‘not to all eternity;’ ‘I will not forget thy precepts for ever,’ as we render it fitly.
Secondly, The reason, ‘For with them thou hast quickened me.’ The reason is taken from his experience of the benefit of this word; and there we have the benefit received, quickening; the author, thou hast quickened; the means, with them. God by this means had quickened his soul.
1. The benefit, quickened. There is a double quickening, when from dead we are made living, or when from cold and sad and heavy we are made lively. One sort of quickening the word speaks of is when from dead we are made living, Eph. ii. 1. Another when from cold, sad, heavy, we are made lively, and so not only have life, but enjoy it more abundantly, according to Christ’s gracious promise, John x. 10, that they may be living, lively, kept still in vigour. Now this second quickening may be taken either more largely for the vitality of grace, or strictly for actual comfort. Largely taken; so God quickens by increasing the life of grace, either internally by promising the life of grace, or morally and externally by promising the life of glory. More strictly; his quickening may be taken for comfort and support in his affliction; so it is likely to be taken here: he had said before, ver. 92, immediately before the text, ‘Unless thy law had been my delight, I should then have perished in mine affliction:’ and now, ‘I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me.’ It was great comfort and support to him, and therefore he should prize the word as long as he lived. This is the benefit received, thou hast quickened me.
2. Here is the author, thou. God put him, by the inspiration of grace, upon the meditation of his word, and then he blessed that meditation; his assistance and grace doth all. We receive all degrees of life from the fountain of life. The word was the means, but thou hast quickened me.
3. The means, by them; that is, by his precepts; the word was spirit and life to him. By the Spirit God makes his word lively in operation, and conduceth very much to quickening, comforting, and supporting of the saints.
Doct. Those that have received comfort, life, and quickening by the word of God, find themselves obliged to remember it for ever.
I shall illustrate this proposition by these considerations:—
1. That God’s children are sometimes under deadness.
2. That in such deadness the word of God is the only means to quicken them.
3. Though the word be quick and lively and powerful, yet it is God that must bless it, that must make it a support to the soul.
4. That whenever we have received these comforts, quickenings, and supports from him, they should ever be recorded and treasured up in the registers of a thankful memory, for the great uses of Christianity.
First, God’s children are under deadness sometimes, which happeneth to them for many causes.
1. By reason of some sin committed, and not repented of, or not 430fully repented of. God smites them with deadness and hardness of heart, and the spiritual life for awhile is greatly obstructed and impaired, that it cannot discover itself, and they have not those lively influences of grace as formerly. Thus it was with David when he had strayed so greatly from God, and begs God not to cast him off: Ps. li. 11, ‘Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.’ As a wound in the body lets out the life, blood, and spirits, so these grievous sins are as a wound in the soul. Sin against the conscience of a renewed man defaceth the work of the Holy Spirit, so that for a while he seems to be shut out from God’s favour, and his gracious abilities are lessened and impaired; he is like a wounded man, till he be cured and made whole again. The Spirit being grieved and resisted, withdraws, and the strength of the soul is wasted; and therefore be very tender, stand in awe not only of greater, but smaller sins.
2. By reason of some good omitted, especially neglect of the means whereby we may be kept alive, fresh and lively in God’s service. Lazy fits of indisposition and omissions of duty do more frequently steal in upon believers than positive outbreakings and commissions of sin, and they are more ready to please themselves in them, and lie still under them, and so by this means contract much deadness of heart. As a lute that is not played upon, but hangs by the wall, and not used, it soon grows out of keller for want of use; so if we do not diligently and constantly exercise ourselves in godliness, our hearts grow dead and vain. It is the complaint of the church, Isa. lxiv. 7, ‘There is none that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee.’ If we do not stir up ourselves to keep on a constant commerce with God and respect to God, alas! deadness creeps upon the heart unawares; and we are commanded, ἀναζωπυρεῖν, 2 Tim. i. 6, ‘To stir up the gift of God which is in us.’ Surely a slothful servant will soon become an evil servant: Mat. xxv. 26, ‘Thou evil and slothful servant.’ Therefore our sinful sluggishness is one cause of our deadness; for he that doth not trade with his talents will necessarily become poor: and if we do not continue this holy attendance upon God, the heart suffers loss: 1 Thes. v. 19, 20, ‘Despise not prophecy; quench not the Spirit.’ The coupling of these two things together shows, that if we despise prophecy, we quench the Spirit; as fire goes out not only by pouring on water, but by not stirring and blowing it up. To expect help from God when we are sluggish is to tempt Christ, and put him still upon a miraculous way to heal and cure our distempers. Who will bring bread and meat to a sluggard’s bed, who will not arise to labour for it, or will not rise at least to fetch it? Therefore, if we will not attend upon God in the means of grace, he will not bring us that help, comfort, and supply that otherwise we might have. God worketh, but so that we work also: Phil. ii. 12, 13, ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God that worketh,’ &c. God’s working is not a ground of laziness, but for more strict observance. Since all depends upon God, therefore take heed you do not offend God, and provoke him to suspend his grace. We must not lie upon a bed of ease, and cry, Christ must do all; for this is to abuse the power of grace to laziness. It is notable that God bids his people do that which he promiseth to give them, Ps. xxxi. 24; Ps. xxvii. 14, ‘Be of 431good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart.’ As if he had said, Strengthen thine heart, and he will strengthen thy heart. The courage of faith is both commanded and promised. Why? God by this would show how we should shake ourselves out of our laziness and idleness; that though God gives us grace and power, yet he will have us to work; as a father that lifts up his child’s arm to a burden, and bids him lift it up. Usually we complain of deadness with a reflection upon God; he quickens the dead, and therefore I am dead. Ay! but what hast thou done to quicken thyself? for grace was never intended that we might be idle. You must complain of yourselves as the moral faulty cause; God is the efficient cause. You do not meditate, pray, draw life out of the precious promises. When the spouse sleeps and keeps her bed, then Christ withdraws, Cant. v. 6.
3. Another cause is unthankfulness for benefits received, especially spiritual benefits; for God loves to have his grace acknowledged. He stops his hand, and suspends the influences of his grace, when the creature doth not acknowledge his bounty: Col. ii. 7, ‘Be established and rooted in the faith, abounding therein with thanksgiving.’ The way to grow in faith, and get by faith, is to be thankful for what we have received; that is an effectual means both to keep it and to get more. Therefore if we be always querulous, and do not give thanks for the goodness of God to us for what he hath already vouchsafed to us in Christ, no wonder that deadness and discouragement creep upon our hearts.
4. Pride in gifts; for we are told, James iv. 6, ‘God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.’ The garland we put on our own heads soon withers, and those gifts which we are puffed up with are presently blasted, and have deadness upon them; for he will teach us to ascribe all to himself.
5. Some great and heavy troubles. We read, ver. 107 of this psalm, ‘I am afflicted very much: quicken me, O Lord, according unto thy word.’ Oh! when we are afflicted sore, there is a deadness upon the heart, the spiritual life clogged. With what alacrity did they go about good things before! But then there is a damp; worldly sorrow deadens the spirit, as godly sorrow quickens it, and is a means to keep us alive to God.
6. Another cause is carnal liberty, or intermeddling with worldly vanities. So much we may learn from that prayer, Ps. cxix. 37, ‘Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken thou me in thy way.’ Oh! when the children of God let loose their minds to vanity, and take immoderate liberty in the delights of the flesh, there is a deadness comes upon them, for therefore he goes to the cause: ‘Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity.’ Immoderate liberty in earthly things, or in gratifying the flesh, brings on a deadness upon the heart. The Spirit withdraws when the soul is taken off from other comforts, and is more addicted to vain pleasures: Jude 19, ‘Sensual, not having the Spirit.’ As we are enlarged to the flesh, we are straitened to the spirit. As sensuality increaseth, so the life and vitality of grace decays.
Secondly, In such cases, the word of God is the only means to quicken us. Why the word? For two reasons:—432
1. Because the word contains the most quickening considerations, and the affections are wrought upon by serious and ponderous thoughts; for there God interposeth in the way of the highest authority, straitly charging and commanding us, under pain of his displeasure: and there he reasons with us again in the most potent and strong way of argumentation, from the excellency of his commands, their suitableness to us as we are reasonable creatures; from his great love to us in Christ, whom he hath given to die for us; from the danger if we refuse him, which is no less than everlasting torment; from the benefit and happiness in complying with his motions, which is no less than eternal and complete blessedness both for our bodies and souls; and all this is bound upon us by a strict day of impartial accounts. Oh, what a company of quickening considerations are there, to set us awork with life, vigor, and seriousness, when we are to answer for our neglects, or else to receive the reward of our diligence! Now what will quicken us if this will not? If the high and glorious authority of the supreme lawgiver awe us not, if the reasonableness of God’s commands invite us not, if the wonderful love of God in Christ constrain us not, if the joys of heaven do not allure us, and the horrors of ever lasting darkness do not preserve upon us a lively sense of our duty, what will work upon us if this do not, and gain us to a constant diligent care and serious preparation for our own happiness and salvation? Out of what rock was the heart of man hewn, that all this shall be brought to him in the most persuasive way, as it is in the word of God, and will not work upon him? Again, if the deadness should arise from our negligence in our duty, the word of God how powerfully doth it quicken us! But if the deadness should arise from sorrow and discomfort, is not the word as powerful to raise and quicken the soul to a delight in God as to inforce our duty? What puts a damp upon us? Is it fury of men? We have a living God to trust to, who will remain when they are gone, who will pardon our sins, help us in all our straits, who will lay upon us no more than we are able to bear, who will never leave us utterly destitute, but will sanctify all, and make all work together for the best, for our everlasting salvation, and finally bring us into his glorious presence, that we may live for ever with him. Here is comfort enough, whatever our heaviness be; such a powerful God to stand by us in all our troubles, and make all work for good, that at length we may be brought home to God. If this word did but dwell richly in our souls, it would keep us fresh and lively, and we need not fear man or devil, Col. iii. 16. Again, 1 John ii. 14, ‘The word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.’ We need fear nothing, for whoever trouble us, they are something under God. Whatever is our misery, and whatever befalls us, it is something less than hell, which we have escaped by Christ, and will all be made up in heaven. The first sight of God and the first glimpse of everlasting glory will recompense all the sorrows of the present life, and as soon as we step into heaven, all shall be forgotten. In short, God’s particular providence, fatherly love and care, the example of Christ, the promise of the comforting Spirit, the hopes of glory, should revive us in all our languishings. So that if deadness comes from backwardness and slowness in our duty, 433in the word there are most quickening considerations; or if from troubles, we have enough in God, Christ, the covenant, the promise of eternal life to support us. This is the first reason; the word of God is the only means to comfort us, because it contains proper quickening considerations, that may keep life and vigour in us, if either carnal distemper invade the heart, or worldly sorrow and fear, which is apt to perplex us.
2. The quickening Spirit delights to work by this means. The ordinary chariot, that carrieth the influences of grace, is the word of grace. The Spirit that speaks in the word speaks his own lively comforts to us. Alas! they are but cold comforts we can find else where. The Spirit of God rides most triumphantly in his own chariot. The word and the Spirit are often associated, to show they go together. The word goes with the Spirit: Isa. lix. 21, ‘My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart,’ &c. Isa. xxx. 20, when God promiseth, ‘Their eyes shall see their teachers;’ it is promised also, ‘They should hear a voice behind them, saying, This is the way;’ God would afford the word and Spirit in times of their affliction. The Spirit works still in concomitancy with the word, that it may the better be known to be a revelation from God. If God will set up a word and revelation of his mind distinct from the light of nature, it is fit it should be owned; and that is done by a concomitancy of his grace, and powerful operations of his Spirit, that goes along with his word: John xvii. 17, ‘Sanctify them by thy truth; thy word is truth.’ We find the word to be truth, because it is associated and accompanied with the operations of the Spirit: 1 Peter i. 22, ‘Ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit.’ The Spirit still goes along with the truth of the gospel, and with God’s word. His word is the sword of the Spirit. God will not bless any other doctrine so much as the word to quicken, revive, and comfort the soul; and therefore here we should busy ourselves, for it contains the surest grounds of comfort, and the Spirit is associated with it, and goes along with it, to bless it to our souls.
Thirdly, Though the word be the means, yet the benefit comes from God, ‘for with them thou hast quickened me.’ Life comes from the fountain of life. The gospel is a sovereign plaster, but it is God’s hand that must apply it and make it stick, make it to be peace, comfort, and quickening to our souls. It is said, 1 Tim. vi. 13, ‘That he that quickeneth all things is God.’ The quickening of life natural or life spiritual is to be ascribed to God alone. Let me evidence this by three considerations:—
1. The life of grace is begun and carried on in a constant way of dependence upon God; he will not trust us with a stock of grace in our own hands, but our life is in Christ’s hands: 1 John v. 12, ‘He that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son, hath not life.’ He hath it in his own hands, and he gives and conveys it to us. And Gal. ii. 20, ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ Christ made the purchase, and therefore it pleased the Father that the purchased treasure should be put into his hands, and not immediately into ours. We have so foully miscarried already, that God will trust his honour in our hands no more, as at first he did. We have nothing 434but what we have daily from Christ and in Christ: he must influence us, and without him we can do nothing: John xv. 5, χωρὶς ἐμοῦ. Apart from him we can do nothing, therefore we cannot quicken our selves; for God hath reserved this life of grace, and kept it in his own hands, that we may have our daily supplies from Christ.
2. The vitality or liveliness of grace is not dispensed by a certain law, but according to the sovereign will and good pleasure of God. God gives life to his people, but the activity of it is only from his good pleasure: Phil. ii. 13, ‘For it is God that worketh in you to will and to do of (or according to) his good pleasure.’ He gives out comfort, and he gives degrees of quickening as he pleaseth, to some more, to some less, and not always in the same degree to the same persons; therefore we must look up unto God if we would have this life and quickening; it is very necessary to our well-being, but it is a favour, ‘he worketh in us according to his good pleasure.’
3. The means cannot work without the principal agent. As the word could not convert us at first but by the power of God, or as his grace works by it, quickening a dead soul, purifying a defiled heart, humbling a proud mind; so when the conscience grows sleepy, you need quickening excitations to duty. The same grace which caused a spiritual life doth give us spiritual strength, and maintain that life, by inclining the mind and will, by stirring up the affections by longing desires after Christ and glory; so the soul is still kept alive in the same way as it was begotten by God at first: 1 Cor. iii. 7, ‘Paul may plant, and Apollos may water, but it is God that giveth the increase.’ All is of God, who only hath the supreme power over men’s hearts, to enlighten the mind, incline the will, and enlarge the affections. Though we use the means (and we sin if we do not), yet it is God that quickeneth us; he hath the supreme power over the heart of man.
Fourthly, These powerful experiences in this kind will be and should be recorded and remembered by us; for, saith David, ‘I will never forget thy precepts.’
1. They will be remembered if we have met with any powerful experiences of the Lord’s quickening and awakening the heart. (1.) We will remember what most concerns us. (2.) We will remember all those things which make notable impressions upon our souls.
[1.] Things that concern us will be remembered by us. Every one’s memory is as his affections are. Let a child read the scripture, that chapter wherein mention is made of Joseph’s parti-coloured coat, that will stick in his mind more than better things, because it suits with his childish fancy, and his desires that his parents should make such a garment for himself. And it is usually observed that youth is most taken with the histories of the Bible, because of their desire to know things past. And if once they come to manly age, they are more taken with the doctrines of the Bible, because when they grow men they begin to form their opinions of religion. And elder persons are taken with psalms, and holy devotional strains in scripture, because then, as they grow in age, it is time to address themselves to God. Persons in doubts and fears by reason of sin will be most affected with tenders of grace, as suiting best with their condition; persons in affliction, with the consolations appointed for the afflicted; persons in 435conflict with any sin, with those passages which afford most direct help against them. Still that which more especially concerns us should and will be most observed and remembered by us, for there it speaks to our very hearts. Now, saith the soul, in such a point, in such extremity, the word of God did my heart good; I shall remember it as long as I live; when a seasonable word is spoken to their case; their judgment was not passed over by the Lord: I was dead, and it revived me; disconsolate, and it comforted me; ready to stray, and it reduced me; under such a temptation, and it relieved me. I should transcribe the whole scripture, especially the psalms, if I should tell you how often David takes notice what the word of God did to him in such and such a condition; for still things that nearly concern us, they will affect us, and be remembered by us.
[2.] Those things will be remembered that make any notable impression, that leave a lively sense upon the heart; they impress a notice of themselves, and will not be forgotten: Luke xxiv. 32, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?’ If opening of the scriptures causeth any burning of heart, or any strange workings of soul, when the heat is gone and past yet the burning cannot be forgotten; they remembered Christ still, and can speak of the actings of the Spirit, not only when they are on, but when they are over and past Christ was vanished out of sight and gone, yet they cannot forget the warmness of heart they felt while he opened the scriptures to them: Cant. v. 4, ‘He put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him;’ and ver. 6, ‘My soul failed when he spake.’ Oh! if we be soundly humbled or soundly comforted, or be effectually moved and stirred to the remembrance of God, then heavenly things that occasion this will not be forgotten.
2. These things should be remembered to confirm our faith, to increase our love.
[1.] To confirm our faith. Faith is taken either for a general assent to the word, or for a dependence upon God for some blessing that we want or stand in need of.
(1.) If we take it for a general assent to the word, why, these notable quickenings and experiences of the convincing or comforting or converting power of the word, they are a secondary confirmation of the truth of the word to us. I tell you why I put in that word, a secondary confirmation; they are not a primary, for we must believe the word before we can feel its efficacy and find it to be effectual to us; and therefore the primary grounds of faith are the impressions of God upon the word, the secondary are the impressions of God upon the heart. Now I have felt the virtue and power of the truth upon my soul, and all the world shall not draw me from it. I must have a primary confirmation of the truth of the word before I can believe, and before it can work in me. The apostle saith, 1 Thes. ii. 13, ‘Ye received the word, not as the word of man, but as the word of God, which effectually worketh in you that believe.’ First I receive it as the word of God by some marks, and notes, and characters, some impress of God upon his word; some what God hath left of himself in the word, and that awes my heart to reverence it, there I receive it upon my heart; but when it works in me 436mightily, I have a secondary confirmation. When I have eyes to see the impress of God upon the word, then I feel the power of it; and when I have felt the power of it, it is confirmed in my soul, 1 Cor. i. 6. When we feel the blessed effects, the quickenings and comforts of the word, it is a mighty help to faith. So 1 John v. 10, ‘He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.’ What is that witness in himself? Why, the witness of the Spirit, applying the blood of Christ to the conscience, sanctifying and quickening the heart; then he hath the witness in himself, and is more confirmed that Jesus is the Christ, and the word of God is true, and cannot easily be divorced from it; he hath felt the effects of it in his own heart: Col. i. 5, 6, ‘For the hope that is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, and knew the grace of God in truth.’ We guess at things before, and have but a wavering faith, such as may let in some work upon the soul; then we know it in truth, then it is more fully made good to us, by the convincing, comforting, and sanctifying Spirit, that evidenceth it to our souls, and this can be no other but the truth of God; this makes our faith more strong and rooted, and we may be confirmed in the hope and belief of the gospel, and may not easily be removed therefrom.
(2.) Take faith in the other notion, for a dependence upon God, for something that we stand in need of. Every manifestation of his grace should be kept as an experience by us for afterwards, when that frame may be away, when God may hide his face, and all dead in the soul; as David in his infirmity ‘remembered the years of the right hand of the most high,’ and former experiences of God, Ps. lxxvii. 10. As he, in an outward case, for outward deliverances, remembered the former help and succours he had from God, so we may remember former grace and former quickening. There are many ups and downs in the spiritual life, for even the new creature is changeable, both in point of duty and in point of comfort. Now it is a mighty confirmation when we remember what God hath done:—
(1st.) In point of duty. Sometimes you shall find you are dull and heartless under the ordinances of God; in reading and hearing you find little life, lazy, and almost indifferent, whether you call upon God in secret, or hear the word, or join in the communion of saints; no relish in any duty, do it almost for custom’s sake, or at best but to please your consciences: you must do it, and you drive on heavily, not for any great need you feel of them, or good you find by them, or hope you expect from them. Now it is of great use to remember how I have waited upon God formerly, and he hath quickened, refreshed, and comforted me; and therefore it is good to try again, to keep up our dependence upon his ordinances, when this dulness seizeth upon the soul, and this listlessness; when conscience is sleepy, and the heart hangs off from God, remember I have been quickened.
(2d.) If it be in point of comfort, fears and sorrows, why! is there no balm in Gilead? no physician there? Hath not God relieved in like straits before, and given in fresh consolations, when you have bemoaned yourselves and opened your case before him? There are none acquainted with the spiritual life but have many experiences both of deadness and comfort. Now one is a great help against the 137other, that our hands may not wax faint and feeble. God, that hath comforted, may comfort again, and why should I neglect his appointed means? No; I will continue there, and lie at the pool where the waters have been stirred.
[2.] They are of use, again, to stir up our affections to God and his word.
(1.) To increase our love to God. Oh! we should keep the impression of his kind manifestation still upon the heart, that the mercy may be continually acknowledged. Surely it is a favour that God will manifest himself to us, and own us in our attendance upon his word and other duties. The Lord Jesus promiseth it as a great blessing: John xiv. 21, ‘He that loveth me, and keepeth my commandment, shall be loved of my father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.’ Now, then, when any such sensible favour is vouchsafed to us, we should not forget it, but lay it up as a continual ground of thankfulness and love to God: Cant. i. 4, ‘We will be glad, and rejoice in thee; we will remember thy love more than wine.’ When God hath treated us most magnificently in his ordinances, either at his table or word, and hath refreshed and revived our souls, oh I we will remember this, and lay it up for the honour of God, and knit our hearts in a greater love to God.
(2.) It is of great use to increase our love to the word, for the excellency and worth of the word is found experimentally by believers, HO that their love and estimation of it is more fixed and settled upon their hearts, so that they purpose to make use of it always for their comfort and direction; it is a great encouragement when formerly they have found comfort and life thereby. The apostle, to settle the Galatians that began to waver, that were apt to be overcome by their Judaizing brethren, to settle them in love to the gospel, he puts them to the question, Gal. iii. 2, ‘This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?’ The Spirit of regeneration, with all his comforts and graces, is not conveyed to you by the doctrine of the law, but the doctrine of the gospel. As if he had said, Stick to that doctrine where you have been quickened, comforted, revived, and your hearts settled, for God hath owned that doctrine. He appeals to their own conscience, and to their own known experience, that they should not quit the doctrine of faith, but prize and keep close to it; for surely that which hath been a means of be getting grace in our souls should be highly prized by us. If God hath wrought grace, and any comfort and peace, stick there, and own God there, and be not easily moved from thence. Another apostle reasons, James i. 18, 19, ‘God hath begotten us by the word of truth, where fore be swift to hear;’ that is, Oh! do not neglect hearing; take heed of forsaking or neglecting the word, for then you go against your own known experience. You know here you had your life, quickening, comfort, strength, and will you be turned off from this?—for many times a seducer may turn off a believer from the word which hath given him his first knowledge of Christ.
There are three causes which carry saints to the word and other ordinances—viz., necessity, natural appetite and inward inclination, and experience. Necessity; they cannot live without the word. Natural 438appetite and inward inclination; they have hearts suited to this work; the Spirit, which wrought in the heart, hath put a nature in them suitable to the work. And experience; they have found benefit by it. These are the three grand causes of respect to the word, and they are all implied or expressed in that, 1 Peter ii. 2, ‘As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word,’ there is natural appetite for the word; we have them come as new-born babes. And there is necessity; you cannot live, nor keep, nor increase what you have, unless you keep to the word. And there is experience; if so be you have tasted, you have had powerful impressions and quickenings by this word. We should engage our hearts upon experience, the comfort, life and light that we have had by the word of God.
Our own spiritual estate will sooner be discerned by these experiences, the comfort and quickening received from the word, in the way of duty; for ‘experience worketh hope,’ Rom. v. 4. If your experiences be observed and regarded, this works a hopeful dependence upon God for everlasting glory; your evidences will be more ready, and sooner come to hand. The motions of our souls are various, and, through corruption, very confused and dark; and this is that which makes it so difficult upon actual search to discern how it stands between us and God; it is for want of observation. But now, if there be constant observation of what passeth between us and God, how he hath quickened, comforted, and owned us in our attendance upon him, and what he hath done to bring on our souls in the way of life, these will make up an evidence, and will abundantly conduce to the quickening and comforting of our hearts.
Use 1. For information. It shows us—
1. The reason why so many neglect and contemn God’s word; because they never got benefit by it, they find no life in it, therefore no delight in it. Those that are quickened acknowledge the mercy and improve it; they esteem the word, and have a greater conscience of their duty. It is not enough to find truth in truth, not to be able to contradict it, but you must find life; then we will prize and esteem it, when it hath been lively in its operations to our souls.
2. It shows the reason why so many forget the word, because they are not quickened. You would remember it by a good token if there were a powerful impression left upon your souls; and the reason is, because you do not meditate upon it, that you may receive this lively influence of the Spirit: for a sermon would not be forgotten, if it had left any lively impression upon your souls.
3. If we want quickening we must go to God for it; and God works powerfully by the influence of his grace, and so he quickens us by his Spirit; and he works morally by the word, both by the promises and threatenings thereof: and so, if you would be quickened, you must use the means, attend upon reading and preaching, and meditating upon the word. As he works powerfully with respect to himself, so morally by reasonings.
Use 2. By way of reflection upon ourselves.
Have we had any of these experiences? David found life in God’s word, therefore resolves never to forego it or forget it. Therefore, what experience have you had of the word of God? s Surely at least at first 439conversion there was the work of faith and repentance, at first you will have this experience. How were you brought home to God? What I have you had no quickening from the word of God?
Case. But here is a case of conscience: Doth every one know their conversion, or way of their own conversion? Christians are usually sensible of this first work. There is so much bitter sorrow, and afterwards so much rejoicing of hope which doth accompany, that surely this should not be strange. But though you have not been so wary to mark God’s dealings with you, and the particular quickenings of your souls, yet at least when the Lord raised you out of your security, and brought you home to himself, you should have remembered it: 1 Thes. i. 9, ‘They themselves show of us what manner of entering we had unto you.’ The entrance usually is known, though afterward the work be carried on with less observation. Growth is not so sensible as the first change. God’s first work is most powerful, meets with greater opposition, and so leaves a greater feeling upon us; and therefore it were strange if we were brought home to Christ, and no way privy and conscious to the way of it, as if all were done in our sleep. I say, to think so were to give security a soft pillow to rest on. And therefore, what quickenings had you then? Can you say, Well, I shall never forget this happy season and occasion, when God first awakened me to look after himself? Many of God’s children cannot trace the particular footsteps of their conversion, and mark out all the stages of Christ’s journey and approach to their souls, for all are not alike thus troubled. But yet, that men may not please themselves with the supposition of imaginary grace wrought in them without their privity and knowledge, let me speak to this grand case, this manner of entrance of Christ into our souls, how we are quickened from the dead and made living.
1. None are converted but are first convinced of their danger and evil estate; God’s first -work is upon their understandings: Jer. xxxi. 19, ‘After I was instructed I smote upon the thigh,’ &c. There is some light breaks in upon the soul which sets them seriously a considering, What am I? whither am I going? what will become of me? And Rom. vii. 9, ‘When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.’ The commandment, the law of God, breaks in with all its terrors and curse upon the soul by strong conviction, and the man is given for gone, lost and dead. You know the way to the bowels is by the mouth and the stomach, and so by other passages. There is no way to the affections but by the ear, then to the understanding, and then passeth to the apprehension, the judgment, and conscience, and heart; from the apprehension to the grammatical knowledge, then they come to the judgment, then to the conscience; and when conscience is set awork, usually there is some feeling.
2. Conviction, where it is strong and serious, where it is not levis et niollis, it cannot be without some compunction. The eye affects the heart. Can a man be sensible of a lost condition, and of the necessity of a change, without being troubled at it, without making a serious weighty business of it? Are heaven and hell such slight matters that a man can think of the one or the other without any commotion of heart?—(pray do but bethink yourselves; I shall solve the particular 440cases, but I must establish the general one) especially if he be convinced of his being obnoxious to one, and doth not know whether he shall have the other, yea or nay? Certainly whoever is instructed or convinced will smite upon his thigh and bemoan himself as Ephraim, Jer. xxxi. There is none ever came to Christ, the spiritual physician, but they were in some degree heart-sick; none ever came for ease but they felt a load upon their back. If there be conviction and compunction, this will be felt.
3. But then the degrees are various, some are more, some less, some earnestly solicitous, or deeply in horror. Some are brought to God by the horrors of despair, and are convinced with a higher and more smart degree of sorrow, before ever they come to settle; but all are serious and anxious. There is certainly a difference; some men’s conversion is more gentle, others more violent. To some, Christ comes like an armed man, and doth powerfully vanquish Satan in their hearts; to others, there is a great deal of difficulty and conflict, which must needs impress a notice of itself. Some are sweetly drawn, others are snatched out of the fire. To some the Spirit comes with a mighty rushing wind, to others by a gentle blast, sweetly and softly blows open the door. God opened the heart of Lydia; we read of no more, Acts xvi. 14. But when he comes to the jailer, he had more horror of conscience, and more sorrow and desperation, and was ready to kill himself, saying, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’ ver. 31. The Lord bids us to put a difference, to have compassion of some, and to pluck others more violently out of the fire, Jude 23. So here, the Lord’s work is various, it is to some more gentle, but to others it is with a greater horror.
4. I answer—That no certain rule can be given as to this different dispensation, why some are so gently used, and others so violently brought home to God. Sometimes they which have had good education, and less errors of life, have less terrors of heart, as being restrained from gross sins; at other times they have had most terrors, because they have withstood so many means, and because they do not know when God works upon them. Sometimes those which are called to greatest services have had most terrors, that they may speak more of the evil of sin, having felt the bitterness of it: 2 Cor. v. 11, ‘Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.’ Sometimes it is quite otherwise; they which have been called to some eminent public service for God may not drink so deeply of this cup, but are spared, that they may be kept more entire for their public work, which serves instead of sorrow and trouble of conscience. Again, sometimes men and women of most excellent and acute understandings are most humble, as having clearest apprehensions of the heinousness of sin and terror of wrath. At other times, on the contrary, these horrors and fears come from ignorance, as fears arise in the dark, and weak spirits are apt to be terrified, and have a knowledge of the remedy as soon as they know their disease; the work may be more gentle. Sometimes these terrors fall on a strong body, as being best able to bear them; sometimes on a weak, the devil taking advantage of their weaknesses and manifold infirmities. Many times in hot and fiery natures their changes are sudden, carried on with extremities; but sometimes soft natures, 441whose motions are slow and gentle, by degrees are surprised, and impressions of grace are made insensibly. Thus God acts as he will, but in the general all are serious and solicitous.
5. Because no certain rule can be given, the measure must not be looked after, but the effects; we are not so much to look to the deepness of the wound, as the soundness of the cure. The means only respect the end, therefore the end must be considered; and many times the effects are visible and more evident in fruit and feeling. Now, if we give sound proof that we are converted, I am contented. If the work be done, that sufficeth, which way soever it be done, though usually it is done by some notable and powerful impression upon the heart. Look, as the blind man said, John ix. 25, ‘Which way my eyes were opened I know not; but this I know, that whereas I was blind, I now see.’ So if the renewed soul can say, How the work was done, I cannot tell; I have been waiting upon God, and have felt the fruits of his grace upon my heart.
6. The effects of this first work are these:—
[1.] A hearty welcoming of Christ Jesus into the soul; they do not take up with comfort on this side Christ. Men’s troubles are known by their satisfaction. If honour satisfied men, then disesteem and disrespect were their trouble, however they did palliate it with religious pretences. If riches satisfied men, then poverty pinched them. If the prosperity of the world satisfied men, it was worldly adversity was their trouble, though it crept under religious pretences. But if we see the necessity of a saviour, receive him into our hearts, and believe in him with all our heart’s desire, and delight, and all is carried after Christ and after the refreshings of his grace, and are satisfied with none but Christ, and our hearts pant for him ‘as the hart panteth after the water-brooks,’ you ought to bless God that he hath left the impression of the effect, though he hath not left the impression of the way, Ps. xlii. 1. But now, when desires after Christ are either none at all, or cold and faint, and easily put out of the humour, and only provoke you now and then to put up a cold prayer, or express a few faint wishes or heartless sighs; that though you have a desire after Christ, yet it is easily diverted, and controlled by other and higher desires, and you can be satisfied, and take up with something beneath Christ, and Christ is not the precious and only one of your souls, you have not that impression which amounts to a hearty work.
[2.] Another impression is a thorough hatred of sin, and serious watchfulness and striving against it; when you seek to cast it out of your soul with indignation, Hosea xiv. 8; to ‘hate every false way,’ Ps. cxix. 104; when you are continually groaning under it, Rom. vii. 24, and seek to weaken it more and more; for ‘they that are Christ’s, have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts thereof,’ Gal. v. 24. This is a sensible impression left upon the soul.
[3.] A lively diligence in the spiritual life. Though you cannot tell how God brought you in, yet if you keep up a lively diligence in serving God, and with ‘the twelve tribes instantly serving God day and night,’ Acts xxvi. 7, and you are always ‘working out your own salvation with fear and trembling,’ Phil. ii. 12, and you are hard at 442work for God; if this holy care be the constant business and drift of your lives, you have the effect of this conversion, though the first impression of it not so sensible.
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