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My soul fainteth for thy salvation; but I hope in thy word.—Ver. 81.
THIS verse is wholly narrative, and consists of two branches:—
1. The first clause showeth how he stood affected to God’s salvation, my soul fainteth for thy salvation.
2. His support till that affection was satisfied, but I hope in thy word.
Before we can make any further progress in explaining and applying this scripture, we must first see what is this salvation which is here spoken of. Salvation in scripture hath divers acceptations; it is put—
1. For that temporal deliverance which God giveth, or hath promised to give, to his people. So it is taken Exod. xiv. 13, ‘Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord that he will show you to-day:’ that is, the wonderful deliverance which he will work for you. So Lam. iii. 26, ‘It is good that a man should both hope, and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord:’ meaning by salvation, their recovery out of captivity. It was their duty to wait for this deliverance; and though it were long first, yet, having a promise, they were to keep up their hope.
2. For the exhibition of Christ in the flesh: Ps. xcviii. 2, 3, ‘The Lord hath made known his salvation: his righteousness hath he openly showed in the sight of the heathen. He hath remembered his mercy and truth to the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.’ Clearly that psalm containeth a prediction of the setting up of Christ’s kingdom, and a bringing of the Gentile world into subjection to it; which was first to be offered to the people of the Jews, and from thence to be carried on throughout all the regions of the world. So old Simeon expresseth himself, Luke ii. 29, 30, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation:’ meaning thereby Christ actually exhibited or born in the flesh, which was the beginning of the kingdom of the Messiah.
3. For the benefits which we have by Christ on this side heaven; as the pardon of sin, and the renovation of our natures; these are called salvation, as Mat. i. 21, ‘He shall save his people from their sins;’ and Titus iii. 5, ‘He hath saved us by washing in the laver of regeneration:’ and in the Old Testament, Ps. li. 12, ‘Restore unto us the joy of thy salvation:’ that is, the joy which we have because God hath freed us from our sins.
4. For everlasting life: Heb. v. 9, ‘He is become the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him:’ and 1 Peter i. 9, ‘Receiving 350the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls:’ meaning thereby our final reward.
The text is applicable to all these. But (1.) Most simply we must expound it of salvation in the first sense, because the drift of the man of God in this octonary is to show how he was affected; since God heard him not at the first cry, or as soon as he prayed for deliverance: though he prayed for deliverance, yet the help promised and hoped for was delayed so long, till he was ready to faint, and had fainted altogether, but that the promise revived and kept up his hopes. (2.) If these words be supposed to be spoken by the church, and in her name, they fitly represent the longings of the Old Testament fathers after Christ’s coming in the flesh. For as David expresseth himself here, so doth old Jacob: Gen. xlix. 18. ‘I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord.’ That speech cometh in there by way of interruption, for as he was blessing his children, he turneth to the Lord, desiring his salvation by Christ, of which Samson, be longing to the tribe of Dan (the tribe which he was then blessing), was a special type. So it is said of Abraham, John viii. 56, ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad.’ Abraham knowing him to be the true Messiah, did earnestly desire to see that day, and to his great contentment got a sight of it by faith; it was a sweet and blessed sight to him. So Luke x. 24, ‘Many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them:’ that is, David, a king, and other prophets longed for this day. So Heb. xi. 13, ‘Having seen the promises afar off, they were persuaded of them, and embraced them.’ Oh! they hugged the promises, saying, These will one day yield a saviour to the world. So it is said of all the serious believers of the Old Testament, Luke ii. 25, that ‘they waited for the consolation of Israel;’ that is, for the redemption of the world by the blood of Christ, and the pouring out of the Holy Ghost, upon which followed the calling of the Gentiles and the setting up of the kingdom of God in the world. These things the saints longed for, waited for; and because the Lord suspended the exhibition of them till the fulness of time, and did not presently satisfy their desires, they might be said to faint; but the promise kept up their faith in waiting and confidence. I cannot wholly exclude this sense, because the salvation promised at the coming of the Messiah was the greatest, and common to all the faithful. They had many discouragements in expecting it from the wickedness and calamities of that people from whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ was to descend. But though they were ready to faint, they did not give over the hope of that salvation, having God’s word for it, and the remembrance of it kept afoot by the sacrifices and types of the law. (3.) Since Christ hath appeared in the flesh, and hath wrought salvation for us, we must wait, and long, and look for that part of salvation which is yet to be performed; as the deliverance of the church from divers troubles, the freedom of particular believers from their doubts and fears, and finally our eternal salvation, which shall be completed at Christ’s second coming. All that have the first-fruits of the Spirit are groaning for this and hoping for this, Rom. viii. 23-25. We are to desire heaven, yet patiently to 351 stay God’s time, for here is fainting and hoping, or, as the apostle saith, hastening to and yet waiting for the coming of the Lord, 2 Peter iii. 12. One is the effect of desire, the other of hope; desire hastening, and hope waiting.
These things being cleared, let us first apply the words to temporal deliverance. Observe—
Doct. 1. The afflictions of God’s people may be long and grievous before any comfort and deliverance cometh. For the affliction continued so long upon David that his soul even fainted.
There are three agents in the afflictions of the saints—(1.) God; (2.) Satan; (3.) Wicked men.
1. God hath many wise reasons why he doth not give audience, or a gracious answer at the first call.
[1.] Because he will try our faith, to see if we can depend upon him when it cometh to an extremity. Thus by silence and rebukes Christ tried the woman of Canaan, that her faith might appear the more gloriously: Mat. xv. 28, ‘Then Jesus answered, and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith.’ And by extremities he still trieth his children: our graces are never exercised to the life, till we are near the point of death; that is faith which can then depend upon God: Job xiii. 15, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him;’ and Ps. xxiii. 4, ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.’ Many of his children are reduced to great straits; there may be no meal in the barrel nor oil in the cruse before God helpeth them. There may be many mouths to eat little food: John vi. 5, 6, when there was a great deal of company, and little provision, Christ asketh one of his disciples, ‘Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? and this he said to prove him, for he himself knew what he would do.’ So many a poor believer is put to it. Children increase, trading groweth dead, supplies fail, what shall they do? They pray, and God giveth no answer. This he doth to prove them. It is a strong faith which can hold out in such straits and difficulties.
[2.] To awaken our importunity: Luke xviii. 1, ‘And he spake a parable to them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint:’ compared with Luke xi. 8, with the parable ensuing. So again an instance in the woman of Canaan, she turneth discouragements into arguments. When Christ said, ‘It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs,’ she said, ‘Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table,’ Mat. xv. 26, 27. So the blind men, Mat. xx. 31, the more they were rebuked, cried the more. Rather than his people shall neglect prayer, or grow formal in it, God will cast them into great afflictions; as Christ suffereth the storm to continue till the ship was almost overwhelmed, that his disciples might awaken him, Mat. viii. 25.
[3.] To make us sensible of our weakness; as Paul, 2 Cor. i. 9, ‘But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God, which raiseth the dead. We are much given to self-confidence, therefore God will break it, and ere he hath done with us, make us trust in him alone. There is a twofold strength—natural and spiritual.352
(1.) Natural; which ariseth from that courage that is in man as he is a reasonable creature. This will hold out till all probabilities be spent: Prov. xviii. 14, ‘The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit who can bear?’ Till a man be struck at the heart, his reason will support him.
(2.) Spiritual; faith, hope, patience. These may be spent when the affliction is deep and pressing, and God’s help is long delayed. Faith is the strength of the soul; as faith decayeth or is tired, the soul faints. Faith may be damped, and give up our case for gone, Ps. cxvi. 11; Ps. xxxi. 22, they throw up all, and think it is in vain to wait any longer. Thus will God discover our weakness to ourselves; the weakness of our reason, the weakness of our faith. I remember Solomon saith, Prov. xxiv. 10, ‘If thou faintest in adversity, thy strength is small.’ Grievous or long afflictions discover our strength or weakness. Some are of a poor spirit, give up at first assault, before their strength faileth them; before the probabilities which sense and reason offereth are spent. They are lazy, and love their ease. Some are negligent, do no make use of the helps of faith; but when evils continue long and sit close, the strongest faith is seen to be too weak; God by this will humble us.
[4.] God doth this for his own glory, and that his work may be the more remarkable and conspicuous: John xi. 6, 7,’ Jesus loved Lazarus, and when he heard that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.’ Little love in that, you will say; a man would hasten to his dying friend. Christ may dearly love his own, and yet delay to help them even in their extremity, till the fit time come wherein the mercy may be the more conspicuous. It is said, Eccles. iii. 11, ‘God hath made everything beautiful in his time.’ Before its time, God’s work seemeth harsh and rough; as a statue when it is first hewn out, but in its time it is a curious piece of workmanship. God in his own time and way knoweth best how to comfort his people.
2. It is the devil’s design to tire and weary out the people of God, and therefore stirreth up all his malice against us: Luke xxii. 31, 32, ‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.’ The devil, if he might have the shaking of us, and liberty to do his worst, he would drive us from the faith of Christ, and all hopes by him.
3. Men are unreasonable in their oppositions, and will not relent nor abate anything of their rigour: Zech. i. 15, ‘I was a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction.’ They are still adding to the church’s trouble, and would destroy those whom God would only correct and purge, as the slave layeth on unmercifully. Till God restrain it, their wrath never ceaseth. Well, then—
Use 1. Let it not seem strange to us that godly men, in their afflictions, though they fly to God and implore his mercy, are not presently delivered, nor always at the first instance. God hath many discoveries to make, much work to do. Would you have faith rewarded before it be tried? or the beautiful frame and link of causes disturbed for your sakes? Faith is not tried to purpose till the thing we believe is not 353seen, nor have any probability that ever we shall see it; yea, till we see nothing but the contrary, and hope against hope; we must stay till the mercy be ready for us, and we ready for it; a hungry stomach would have the meat ere it be roasted; our times are always present with us, when God’s time is not come.
Use 2. Let us prepare for grievous and tedious sufferings. We would turn over our hard lesson before we have sufficiently learned it; we love the ease of the flesh, would have no cross, or a very short one. Things will not be so soon or so suddenly effected as we imagine. We make greater provision for a long voyage. We should be strengthened to long-suffering, Col. i. 11, as for all sort of crosses, so for long and tedious crosses.
Use 3. If your affliction be long, observe your carriage under it. Doth faith and hope keep you alive still? Heb vi. 12, ‘Be not slothful, but followers of them who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises.’ Do you keep up your prayerful affections? Rom. xii. 12, ‘Continue instant in prayer.’ We pray as men out of heart, for fashion’s sake, and with little life, rather satisfying our consciences than expressing our hope and confidence. A damp on the spirit of prayer is an ill presage. Can you love God though you be not feasted with self-comforts and present benefits? Isa. xxvi. 8, ‘Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee,’ &c. Our affections are bribed when desired comforts are presently obtained; God will see if we purely love him.
Use 4. For a close to this point. Our sufferings are like to be long; I speak not as determining, but to awaken a spirit of prayer that they may be shortened. When Christ made as if he would go further, they constrained him to tarry, Luke xxiv. 28, 29. These are sad symptoms of it.
1. When reformation is rejected, and corruptions are settling again upon their own base: Hosea vii. 1, ‘When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was discovered,’ &c.; Ezek. xxiv. 13, ‘In thy filthiness is lewdness: because I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged, thou shalt not be purged from thy filthiness any more, till I have caused my fury to rest upon thee.’ This crime is not only chargeable on them who opposed the Reformation, but on those who, by multiplied scandals, dishonoured the cause of God. Instance in the Papists in Queen Mary’s time, who got in by fraud and violence, not by miscarriage of the Protestants. Then it was sharp and short, ours is like to be tedious and long.
2. When our deliverance is likely to prove a mischief and a misery, when we are not prepared to receive it. God will not give us things for our hurt. And we may fear as much from our brethren, our mutual bickerings, as from enemies; when God promises restoration he promiseth unity: Zeph. iii. 9, ‘For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent;’ Zech. xiv. 9, ‘And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one.’ The dog is let loose when the sheep scatter.
3. When there is a damp upon the spirit of prayer, and men give over seeking to God for deliverance as a hopeless thing. God is near when the spirit of prayer is revived: Ezek. xxxvi. 37, ‘Thus saith the 354Lord God, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them: I will increase them with men like a flock:’ and Jer. xxix. 12, 1.3, ‘Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you: and ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart;’ Dan. ix. 19, 20; and Ps. x. 17, ‘Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble; thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear.’ Et passim alibi.
4. When God is upon his judicial process, and there is not any course taken to reconcile ourselves to him. God hath been judging his people, judging the nation wherein they live. Judgment began at the house of God. What notable humiliation and reformation hath it produced there? There is God’s whole work to be done upon Mount Sion, Isa. x. 12. What fruit of all those terrible judgments? Incorrigibleness showeth our stripes will be many, our judgments long.
5. When dispensations tend to the removing of the candlestick, or look very like it: Rev. ii. 5, ‘Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent.’ That is done either by destroying judgments, taking away the subject-matter of the church, or by their own apostasy and spiritual fornication, or sad errors and confusions; ill treatment of God’s people, opposing his interests by his enemies, and the sinful miscarriages and apostasies of professing friends, will help to wear out an unthankful, murmuring generation.
Doct. 2. When salvation is delayed, or deliverance long a-coming, the soul fainteth.
I shall show—(1.) The nature of this fainting; (2.) The causes of fainting; (3.) The kinds of fainting; (4.) The considerations which may preserve us from fainting.
1. For the nature of this fainting. Here we must inquire what is meant by the fainting of the soul. Fainting is proper to the body, but here it is ascribed to the soul, as also in many other places. The apostle saith, Heb. xii. 3, ‘Lest ye be weary, and faint in your minds;’ where two words are used, weariness and fainting, both taken from the body. Weariness is a lesser, fainting a higher degree of deficiency. In weariness, the body requireth some rest or refreshment, when the active power is weakened, and the vital spirits and principles of motion are dulled; but in fainting, the vital power is contracted, and retireth, and leaveth the outward parts lifeless and senseless. When a man is wearied, his strength is abated; when he fainteth, he is quite spent. These things, by a metaphor, are applied to the soul or mind. A man is weary when the fortitude of his mind, his moral or spiritual strength, is broken or begins to abate, when his soul sits uneasy under sufferings; but when he sinketh under the burden of grievous, tedious, or long affliction, then he is said to faint; when all the reasons and grounds of his comfort are quite spent, and he can hold out no longer.
2. The causes of fainting. The fainting of the body may arise either from labour, sickness and travel, or else from hunger and thirst. So the fainting of the soul is either, first, from the tediousness of present pressures; or, secondly, from a fervent and strong desire.355
[1.] From the tediousness of present sorrows and pressures; as Jer. viii. 18, ‘When I would comfort myself against my sorrow, my heart fainteth within me.’ And why? Because of the length of their afflictions, ver. 20, ‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.’ Sorrow doth so invade their spirits, that they are by no means able to ease themselves: expectations of this side, and that side, are cut off; they long look for help and relief, but none appeareth. So Lam. i. 22, ‘My sighs are many, and my heart is faint.’ They are overwhelmed with grief, and cannot bear up with any courage.
[2.] It may be caused by a fervent and strong desire: Ps. lxxxiv. 2, ‘My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth, for the courts of God.’ Vehement desires cause a languor. So it is taken here: It is long, O Lord, that I have waited and attended with great desire for deliverance from thee. Those who vehemently desire anything are apt to faint. Where love is hot, desire cannot be cold. The benefit of the church, liberty to serve God, do strongly move the saints; yea, the Spirit of God increaseth the vehemency of these motions; ‘For he maketh intercession for the saints with sighs and groans that cannot be uttered,’ Rom. viii. 20. He concurreth to the vehemency of the desire; but the fainting is from ourselves, from our weakness. The soul is so earnestly fixed in the expectation of God’s salvation that it can no longer keep any equal tenour; so that this fainting is one of the love-errors of the children of God, like a disease which is incident only to the best tempers.
3. The kinds of fainting. (1.) There is a fainting which causeth great trouble and dejection of spirit. (2.) There is a fainting which causeth apostasy and defection from God and the cause of religion.
[1.] There is a fainting which causeth dejection and trouble; this is spoken of Heb. xii. 5, ‘My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, neither faint when thou art rebuked of him.’ There are the two extremes, slighting and fainting. Now this is a fault in the children of God, to be much perplexed in their troubles; but yet this may be incident to them, religion heightening their sense of evils, and their vehement desires of the comforts of God’s presence increasing their trouble.
[2.] There is a fainting which causeth defection and falling off from God, out of cowardice and carnal fear, and casting off the profession of Christianity when they find it troublesome; they grow weary, incline to apostasy: this is not incident to the children of God: Rev. ii. 3, ‘Thou hast borne, and hast patience, and hast laboured, and hast not fainted,’ not given over the cause of God. There is a fainting which is a slacking or remitting somewhat in our spiritual course, when men begin a little to relent, and to give way to coldness and lukewarmness, and do not keep up their former zeal and fervency or diligence in heavenly things. This may befall sometimes the servants of God, abate somewhat of their former forwardness, Eph. iii. 13, when either they suffer themselves, or those who are primarily instrumental in the work of the gospel are cast into a suffering condition. And there is a fainting which makes totally and finally to abandon the ways of God: Gal. vi. 9, ‘He shall reap in due time, if he faint not’ There it is not taken for some remissness, which may befall the best of God’s servants, but a total defection.
4. The considerations which may preserve us from fainting.356
[1.] It argueth that you are lazy, love the ease of the flesh, have small strength, if you faint upon every appearance of difficulty and trouble: Prov. xxiv. 10, ‘If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.’ Sinners are not discouraged with every inconvenience occasioned by their sin, but can deny themselves for their lusts’ sake; and shall we be soon discouraged in God’s service?
[2.] Others that have borne far heavier burthens, do not sink under them. The Lord Christ: Heb. xii. 3, ‘For consider him, who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied, and faint in your minds.’ Nay, many of his precious servants: Heb. xii. 4, ‘Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.’ If against sin, are we only to praise their courage, never show our own? or do we think to go to heaven without conflicts, when it doth cost them so dear?
[3.] We have given counsel to others: Job iv. 5, ‘But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled.’ It is an easier matter to instruct others than to carry it well ourselves. The well will give counsel to the sick, and those that stand on land direct those that are apt to sink in deep waters. But should not we remember these things ourselves?
[4.] God promises to moderate the afflictions of his people, and to sweeten the bitterness of them, to take off the oppressing weight of their troubles, lest their souls faint: Isa. lvii. 16, ‘For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth; for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made.’ The consideration of man’s infirmity and weakness, unable to hold out, causeth the Lord to stay his hand; he will not utterly dishearten and discourage his people that wait for him. A good man will not overburden his beast.
[5.] When reason is tired, faith should supply its place, and we should hope against hope, Rom. iv. 18; for faith can fetch one contrary out of another, and get water out of the rock, as well as out of the fountain. When probable means miscarry, then it is a time for God to work; and faith should bear us out when sense and reason cannot.
[6.] Give vent to the ardour of your desires in prayer: Luke xviii. 1, ‘He spake a parable to them, to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint:’ and Jonah ii. 7, ‘When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.’ Keep up the suit, it will come to a hearing one day; though it be long ere God ariseth to the judgment, yet then make sure work of it.
[7.] By waiting upon God we learn to wait more: Isa. xl. 31, ‘They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.’ Eternal blessings eyed and prepared for will support a fainting soul in the worst evil: 2 Cor. iv. 16, ‘For this cause we faint not; though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.’ The greatest troubles cannot make void our hope, if our spiritual state increase and our eternal hopes thrive.
Doct. 3. Though the soul be in a fainting condition, yet it will accept of nothing but God’s salvation, ‘Thy salvation:’ Ps. xciv. 18, 357 ‘When I said, My foot slippeth; thy mercy, O Lord, held me up;’ and ver. 19, ‘In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.’ Men may seek to get out of their troubles from wicked men two ways—either by carnal compliance, or by the use of indirect means.
[1.] By carnal compliance, when men violate and prostitute their consciences for their peace’s sake. It is said of some, Heb. xi. 35, that ‘They accepted not deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.’ They might upon certain conditions have been freed from those cruel pains and tortures, but those conditions were contrary to the law of God. We have God’s deliverance upon better terms than man’s, and it is better in itself
[2.] By using indirect means to get off the trouble; this is making too much haste: Isa. xxviii. 16, ‘He that believeth shall not make haste.’ Ravishing the blessing, rather than waiting for the issues of God’s providence. Those that do so, God will reckon them with the workers of iniquity: Ps. cxxv. 5, ‘As for such as turn aside to their crooked ways, the Lord shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity: but peace shall be upon Israel.’ They that shift for themselves lose the benefit of God’s protection. These are dealt with as open enemies. Now the reasons of the point are these:—
1. Because they are satisfied in God’s providential government. God never puts power in the hands of wicked men but for his own holy ends. Therefore, while God continueth them, they are observing what God will do by them: 2 Sam. xvi. 11, ‘Let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him.’ God hath work for them to do, to mortify our wantonness, to break our stubborn humours.
2. Because God’s salvation will come in the best time and in the best way: Ps. lxii. 1, ‘Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation;’ Isa. xxx. 18, ‘God is a God of judgment: blessed are they that wait for him.’ God doth all things with wisdom, and in the best manner.
Use. How afflicted soever we be, let us not seek to be delivered in a way not allowed by God, nor take any sinister courses, nor use any base shifts to rid ourselves out of danger. This is to distrust God, and to entangle ourselves the more, and to miscarry in a long voyage, after we are about to enter into the port. See the story of Saul’s sacrificing, in 1 Sam. xiii., from the 8th verse to the 15th. If he had tarried a little longer all had been well. Before the day was quite over, Saul would sacrifice, and then Samuel cometh and telleth him God had rent the kingdom from him for his distrust and disobedience. So many will forestall the blessing.
Doct. 4. Hope keepeth us alive in the midst of faintings: ‘My soul fainteth; but I hope.’
1. Observe here, that though the faith of God’s children seems to faint, yet it doth not die nor wholly fail. Some seem greedily to catch at promises at first, but their ardour is soon spent; and when it is a troublesome business to wait upon God, they give it over. This is the faith and hope of temporaries, but the good ground ‘bringeth forth fruit with patience,’ Luke viii. 15. God’s children tarry his leisure; and though now and then they are ready to faint, yet they 358recover. Their faith, hope, and patience seemeth to be almost spent, yet it is not utterly put out; as David here was not broken with long and tedious difficulties; though he saw no end of his miseries, yet he would still depend upon God. There is an abiding seed, 1 John iii. 8. Their state is secured by God’s covenant, that there shall be no total rupture nor utter deficiency. Perseverance is a condition of the new covenant, not only required, but given, as all conditions of the new covenant are. There is donum perseverantiae, not only a power to persevere, but perseverance itself.
2. That which keepeth our faith from dying, and sustaineth the soul of the faithful, and keepeth life in them, is the resuscitation of our hopes. What doth hope to the supporting of a fainting soul?
[1.] It draweth off the mind from things present to things future; and diversion is one way to cure trouble. While we pore only on our grievous troubles, they prove a temptation to us; but hope lifts up the head, and looketh above these things. That poring on the affliction and trouble causes fainting; see Lam. iii. 18-20; but remembering God’s mercies and promises reviveth us. The remembering the great depth of affliction and extremity overwhelmeth us: I have them in mind continually, and so am dejected; but when I begin to call to mind God’s infinite mercies, I conceive some hope of recovery. That which was remembered is in ver. 22-26.
[2.] Hope representeth the excellency and certainty of these future things, and so causeth earnestness and patience.
(1.) The excellency. It is a question among divines what is the difference between faith and hope, because they are much of a like nature. One difference is, faith looks to the truth of the promise, hope to the goodness of the thing promised; for faith respects the person giving his fidelity, and hope the person receiving the benefit, and exciteth them to look for it. It is something worth the looking and waiting for, and such as will recompense present troubles, 2 Cor. v. 17, 18.
(2.) The certainty; for though it mainly comforts itself with the goodness of the thing promised, yet it causeth patience in waiting, because of the sureness. It seeth things that cannot be seen and perceived by sense: Rom. viii. 25, ‘If we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.’ It is good, and it will not fail; therefore we may and must tarry God’s leisure.
(3.) The most noble and principal object of -hope is the great promise of eternal salvation. This must in chief be hoped for; partly because temporal salvation is not so surely promised, but under sundry cautions and reservations; as if it be for our good, if God’s glory will permit it, and the beauty of his work, and the many things God hath to do before the deliverance be brought about; especially if it be a common salvation, wherein others are concerned as well as we; as if their hearts be prepared, &c. Partly because Christians are to be at a point of greater indifferency about outward things than the believers of the Old Testament, now life and immortality is brought to light, 2 Tim. i. 10. They were trained up by sensible things both in their worship and promises. The cross is one of our conditions: Mat. xvi. 24, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and 359take up his cross, and follow me.’ We must look for afflictions, and those not ordinary afflictions, but the loss of all, or else we do not count the charges aright; we must refer all to God’s will. Christ may let some slip through at a cheaper and easier rate, but all must resolve on it. Partly because this is propounded as the great comfort, Luke xii. 32, ‘Fear not, little flock; it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom:’ and accordingly used by the saints. David in his disappointments: Ps. xxxix. 7, ‘And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee.’ He meaneth the hope of immortality, opposite to that vain show and false appearance which is in worldly things. This was that Job comforted himself with, that ancient believer: Job xix. 26, ‘Though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:’ and the Maccabees, Heb. xi. 35, ‘They were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.’ Partly because that which God hath promised in the world to come is only satisfactory, and able to quiet a man’s mind, and make him patiently wait upon God in all his troubles. Here is enough to countervail all difficulties, to support us under them, to recompense us for them; it is not long ere it will come to hand, it cannot enough be desired; it may be hoped for by the righteous in their greatest extremities: Prov. xiv. 32, ‘The righteous hath hope in his death.’
Use. For instruction. When your souls are apt to faint, let hope look out for better times or better things.
1. For better times. God will not always chide: Ps. ciii. 9, ‘He will not always chide, neither will he keep his anger for ever.’ Nor shall the rod of the wicked always rest on the back of the righteous, Ps. cxxv. 3. Therefore rouse up yourselves, and say, as David, Ps. xlii. 5, ‘Why art thou cast down, my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him,’ &c. Let us not always pore on our grievous miseries. Observe the season, when apt to be corrupted with ease and prosperity, and to carry it negligently to God, and proudly and oppressingly to men. There may come a change. So when apt to faint, seek out arguments of encouragement, and hope that God will be good to us: Ps. lvi. 3, ‘At what tune I am afraid, I will trust in thee.’ That is our business at such a time, to strengthen our dependence, for still we must oppose the prevailing corruption.
2. Better things. That is the true Christian spirit that mainly looks after the world to come; that hope is freest from snares. An earthly hope maketh men carnal, often enticeth them to use ill means to get it accomplished. Desires and hopes of temporal happiness, that the world may smile upon us, doth not breed so good a spirit. This hope goeth upon* surer grounds, meeteth with fewer disappointments.
Well, then, hope for these things. We shall hear of few in whom the former part of the text is verified, if understood of eternal salvation, ‘My soul fainteth for thy salvation.’ This temper is very rare, and few have such a spirit as Paul had: Phil. i. 23, ‘I desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ,’ &c. But all Christians should hope for eternal life, and prepare for it, and make this the great cordial and solace of their souls. God’s people do too much please themselves 360with thoughts of temporal happiness; this is no good spirit. The ap petite of temporal honour, wealth and peace, is natural to us; we should be at a greater indifferency about these things, so as not to be very solicitous about them.
Doct. 5. This hope is bred or nourished in us by the word of God.
1. Because that is the law of commerce between us and God. In the promissory part it showeth what salvation and deliverance we may expect from him; and in the mandatory part, upon what terms, and who are the persons qualified to receive this deliverance: and without heeding of these things, hope is a groundless presumption, as if we expect things not promised, or not in the way wherein they are promised. We must have an eye both on the promises and the precepts—the one to encourage us, the other to direct us. It showeth our hope is of the right constitution; Ps. cxix. 166, ‘I have hoped for thy salvation, and done thy commandments;’ Ps. cxlvii. 11, ‘The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy;’ and Ps. xxxiii. 18, ‘Behold the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy:’ as a man that consulteth with his charter and conveyance is more assured of his right and title. The scripture is cast into the nature of a covenant or mutual indenture drawn up between us and God. There we find God hath deeply and strongly engaged himself to us, and we to him. This we have to show under his hand.
2. We should give such credit to the word of God as to believe it, when to sense there is no likelihood of the performance of it; for what is impossible to appearance, is not impossible to God, and the certainty of the promises doth not depend upon the probabilities of sense, but upon the all-sufficiency of God. Firmia66 Qu. ‘omnia’?—ED.dicta tanti existimantur, quantus est ipse qui diceret. If God promise anything, who is almighty and who is faithful, it will be accomplished, and we may rest upon it in the greatest extremities, perplexities, and seeming impossibilities. We must not confine God within the bounds of created power.
3. God’s word should be as good as deed, for his word and the beck of his will doth all things: ‘Do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?’ Micah ii. 7. Not say good, but do good; when it is said, it may be accounted done, the performance is so certain.
4. The best holdfast we can have upon God is by his word. What ever his dispensations be, though he withhold comfort and deliverance from us. yet it will do well in time. Therefore, whether he smileth or frowneth, his word should be our support. His dispensations vary, but his word is firm.
Use. Let the promises of God strengthen and revive our hearts.
If God hath said anything, his people should believe him. His word is a word of truth, Heb. xi. 11. Sarah’s faith was built upon this; ‘She judged him faithful who had promised.’ His word is a word of power, for he is a God of all power and might: Heb. xi. 17-19. So Abraham’s faith: ‘By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac; and he that had received the promises offered up his only-begotten son, of whom it was said that in Isaac shall thy seed 361be called; accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead.’ His power, as is his being, is infinite. Therefore, having his word, this should give us rest and contentment of soul, though there be no appearance of performance; the promise is yea and amen, and continueth in one invariable tenour. Let not faith die.
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