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SERMON CXVIII.

Accept, I beseech thee, the free-will-offerings of my mouth, O Lord, and teach me thy judgments.—Ver. 108.

IN this verse two things are asked of God—God’s acceptance; then, secondly, instruction.

First, He begs acceptation. Therein take notice—(1.) Of the matter, object, or thing that he would have to be accepted, the free-will-offerings of my mouth. (2.) The manner of asking this acceptation, accept, I beseech thee, O Lord. In the former, you may observe the general nature of the thing, and then the particular kind; they were free will-offerings; and yet more express, they were free-will-offerings of his hands; not legal sacrifices, but spiritual services, free-will offerings of his mouth, implying praises. Our praises of God are called ‘the calves of our lips,’ Hosea xiv. 2, rendered there by the Septuagint, ‘the fruit of our lips,’ and accordingly translated by the apostle, Heb. xiii. 15, ‘The fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name.’ He was in deep affliction, wandering up and down the desert; he was disabled to offer up to God any other sacrifice, therefore he desires God would accept the free-will-offerings of his mouth; he had nothing else to bring him.

Secondly, He begs of God instruction in his way, teach me thy judgments. By misphalim, ‘judgments,’ are meant both God’s statutes and God’s providences. If you take them in the former sense, for God’s statutes, so he begs grace to excite, direct, and assist him in a course of sincere obedience to God, practically to walk according to God’s will. If you understand it in the latter sense, only for the accomplishment of what God had spoken in his word, for God’s providence, for his corrective dispensation, ‘Teach me,’ he begs understanding and profiting by them.

108

I shall begin with his first request, which offereth four observations:—

1. That God’s people have their spiritual offerings.

2. That these spiritual offerings must be free-will-offerings.

3. That these free-will-offerings are graciously accepted by God.

4. That this gracious acceptance must be earnestly sought and valued as a great blessing, ‘I beseech thee accept,’ &c.

Doct. 1. First, That God’s people have their spiritual offerings. I shall give the sense of this point in five propositions.

1. That all God’s people are made priests to God, for every offering supposeth a priest; so it is said, Rev. i. 6, that Christ Jesus ‘hath made us kings and priests.’ All Christians, they have a communion with Christ in all his offices; whatever Christ was, that certainly they are in some measure and degree. Now, Christ was king, priest, and prophet; and so is every Christian, in a spiritual sense, a king, priest, and prophet; for they have their anointing, their unction from the Holy One, and he communicates with them in his offices. So also do they resemble the priesthood under the law. In 1 Peter ii. 5, they are called ‘a holy priesthood to offer sacrifices to God;’ and 1 Peter ii. 9, they are called ‘a royal priesthood.’ They are a holy priesthood, like the sons of Aaron, who were separated from the people, to minister before the Lord; and they are a royal priesthood, in conformity to the priesthood of Melchisedec, who was ‘king of Salem, and also priest of the most high God.’ There is a mighty conformity between what is done by every Christian and the solemnities and rites used by the priests under the law. The priests of the law were separated from the rest of the people: so are all God’s people from the rest of the world. The priests of the law were to be anointed with holy oil, Exod. xxviii. 41; so all Christians they receive ‘an unction from the Holy One,’ 1 John ii. 20. By the holy oil was figured the Holy Spirit, which was the unction of the Holy One, by which they are made fit and ready to perform those duties which are acceptable to God. After the priest was thus generally prepared by the anointing to their services, before they went to offer, they were to wash in the great laver which stood in the sanctuary door, Exod. xxix. 4; Lev. viii. 4, 5. So every Christian is to be washed in the great laver of regeneration, Titus iii. 5. And when they are regenerated, born again, purged and cleansed from their sins, then they are priests to offer sacrifices to God; for till this be done, none of their offerings are acceptable to him: for ‘they that are in the flesh cannot please God,’ Rom. viii. 8; and ‘the sacrifices of the wicked are an abomination unto the Lord,’ Prov. xv. 8. Thus you see in all these correspondences, and in many more, Christians they are priests. What the priests of the law were to God, that is every Christian now to God, to offer spiritual sacrifices by Christ Jesus our Lord.

2. They have their offerings. The great work of the priest was to offer sacrifice, and this is our employment, to offer sacrifices to God. What sacrifices do we offer now in the time of the gospel? Not sin-offerings, but thank-offerings. A sin-offering can be offered but once: Heb. x. 14, ‘By one offering Jesus Christ hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.’ And there needs no more of that kind; that was but to be once offered, Heb. vii. 27; and therefore there remains 108nothing more to be done by us but the offering of thank-offerings, and this is to be done continually: Heb. xiii. 15, ‘By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name.’

3. These offerings must be spiritual thank-offerings. Under the law the thank-offering was that of a beast, but now under the gospel we offer spiritual sacrifices; therefore the apostle saith. 1 Peter ii. 5, ‘Ye are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.’ The sacrifice must suit with the nature of the priesthood. The priesthood is spiritual, and not after the law of a carnal commandment, and not by an external consecration, but the inward anointing of the Holy Ghost. And herein we differ from the priests of the law, because the very nature and substance of our worship is more pleasing to God than the nature of theirs; for moral worship is better and more suited to the nature of God than ceremonial: ‘God is a spirit, and will be worshipped in spirit,’ John iv. 24. And therefore, when ceremonial worship was in force, they that rested in external ceremonies, and did not look to the spiritual intent and signification of them, were not accepted by God; though the ceremony was performed with never so much pomp, though they came with their flocks and herds, yet praying to God, and praising God with a willing mind, which was the soul of their offering, was that alone which was acceptable to God; therefore it is said, Ps. lxix. 30, 31, ‘I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving: this also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs;’ that is, which is perfect and exact according to the institutions of the law, for there was to be no blemish in the sacrifice of the law; yet calling upon the name of God, and praising him, is better than the service performed with the exactest conformity to legal rites: Ps. l. 13-15, ‘Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay thy vows unto the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble, I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.’ The Lord draws them off from ceremonies to the spiritual service; it is more becoming the nature of God, and it is more reasonable service. The offering of a beast hath not so much of God’s nature, nor of man’s nature in it, only God would keep it up for a while; therefore now these are the great offerings.

4. The two great sacrifices required of us, prayer and praise; there are many others, but they are implied in these. To instance, under the gospel there is this thank-offering, presenting ourselves to the Lord, dedicating ourselves to the Lord’s use and service: Rom. xii. 1, ‘I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service’ 2 Cor. viii. 5, ‘They first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.’ And then there is alms: Heb. xiii. 16, ‘To do good and communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.’ And when the Philippians had made contribution to Paul’s necessities, he saith it was ‘a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour unto God,’ Phil. iv. 18. Ay! but now both these are included in the other two, namely, as they are evidences of our thankfulness 109to God, and the sense of his love and favour which we have received by Christ. The great and usual offerings are ‘the fruit of our lips.’ ‘the calves of our lips,’ here called ‘the free-will-offerings of our mouth,’ prayer and praise. That prayer is a sacrifice, see Ps. cxli. 2, ‘Let my prayer be set before thee as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.’ The daily offering was accompanied with incense, and he mentions the evening sacrifice, because then was a more perfect atonement for the day, therefore when the evening sacrifice came, it was to be understood they were perfectly reconciled to God. And then that praise is a sacrifice, see Ps. liv. 6, ‘I will freely sacrifice unto thee; I will praise thy name, O Lord, for it is good.’ And in that other place where the Lord rejects the flesh of bulls and blood of goats, praise is substituted, ‘Will I eat the flesh of bulls and blood of goats?’ No: Ps. l. 14, ‘Offer to me thanksgiving, and pay thy vows unto the Most High.’ So Ps. cxvi. 17, 18. So that prayers and praises are the oblations which we offer unto God under the gospel, either acknowledgments for former mercies, or petitions for future deliverances. These are the two duties which contain the substance of the ceremonies under the law, and are daily and constantly to be performed by us.

5. Whatever was figured in the old sacrifices, it must be spiritually performed in the duty of prayer and praise. In those legal rites, there was an evangelical equity, or something that was moral and spiritual for us still to observe.

As, first, in prayer, truth was the inward part of the sacrifice, for the mere external oblation was of no significancy with God. There were three things wherein it symbolizeth with prayer; in prayer there is required brokenness of heart, owning of Christ, renewing covenant with God.

[1.] One thing that was required in sacrifices was brokenness of heart; for when a man came to present his beast before the Lord, he was to consider this beast was to be slain and burnt with fire; and to consider, All this was my case; I might have been consumed with his wrath, and be burnt with fire; and so come with a compunctionate spirit, with brokenness of heart, to bemoan his case before the Lord; therefore it is said, Ps. li. 17, ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.’ This is required in every one that comes to prayer, brokenness of heart; that is, a sensibleness of his want of those good things for which he comes, and his inability to supply himself with anything without God; nay, his ill-deservings, how justly he might be denied of God, and cursed by all manner of plagues; how he hath forfeited all manner of blessings; this must be at the bottom.

[2.] The sacrifices implied an eying of the Redeemer, by virtue of whose oblation and intercession we are accepted with God; for every one that came with his sacrifice was to lay his hand upon the head of the beast, to put his sins there, to show Christ bore the iniquity of us all; and in every prayer we make, there is this evangelical equity, by virtue of the old sacrifice remaining upon us, that we should eye the Redeemer, even Christ Jesus, our Lord, ‘Who hath given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour,’ Eph. v. 2. He is the expiatory sacrifice, and therefore in all our supplicatory or gratulatory offerings to God we must still look to him. The word, an offering, relates to things destitute of life that were dedicated to God, as flour, oil, frankincense; that which was signified thereby was accomplished in Christ. And for the other word, sacrifice, gave him self as an offering and sacrifice; the beasts whose blood was shed, those things which had life in them, were called a real sacrifice offered to God to appease his justice. Thus Christ Jesus was given as a sacrifice, to obtain all manner of blessings for us. ‘We should look upon God as an all-sufficient fountain of grace, and the author of every good gift, depending upon him for his goodness and bounty for Christ’s

[3.] In sacrifices there was implied a renewing of covenant; so the Lord saith, Ps. l. 5, ‘Gather my saints together, that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.’ As they did dedicate the beast offered to God, so was the worshipper to dedicate himself to God. Now we must renew this dedication of ourselves to the Lord’s service; all this was morally in the sacrifices, and is to be done every day in our future prayers, with brokenness of heart, eying our Redeemer, casting our whole dependence upon him, and in a sense of his love dedicating and devoting ourselves to God.

Secondly, For the other duty, of thanksgiving and praise for mercies received. Every point and passage of his undeserved favour to be owned, and praise thereof to be given to God, and still to look on all done not for our sakes, but for the sake of Christ Jesus. You read under the law, Lev. iii. 3, when the thank-offering was brought to God, it was to be laid upon the top of the burnt-offering. First they were to bring the burnt-offering, and offer that to God, then to lay upon it the peace or thank-offering, to show that first we must be reconciled to God, and by virtue of that all mercies descend and come down upon us; and then upon this solemn occasion they were to give up themselves anew to the Lord. So the apostle presseth this, Rom. xii. 1, ‘I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.’ And this is one part of the offering of our lips, namely, when we come solemnly by virtue of every mercy received, and promise obedience anew and afresh to God. To apply this—(1.) Are you priests? (2.) Do you offer sacrifices of prayer and praise to God continually?

[1.] Are you priests unto God? Are you priests by separation? Hath God called you out from amongst men? Ps. iv. 3, ‘The Lord hath set apart the man that is godly for himself.’ Hath God called you off from sin to holiness, from self to Christ, from the creature to God? for these are the three things wherein conversion consists. From the creature to God, as our last end; from self to Christ, as the only means to come to God; and from sin to holiness, as the only way to get an interest in Christ. Are you called off from the common course of living, wherein most men are involved, that you may live and act for God? Are you priests by unction? Are you anointed by the Spirit as to gifts and graces, and qualified and made meet for this holy ministration unto God? Christ hath purchased gifts in some measure 111for his people; for as we were maimed in Adam, not only as to graces but also as to gifts, so is our restitution by Christ, that the plaster may be as broad as the sore. We have necessary gifts given us by virtue of his ascension, whereby we may lay open our state and case to God. Indeed, all God’s people have not a like measure of gifts, and carnal men may come behind in no gift, therefore have you the grace of prayer: Zech. xii. 10, ‘I will pour upon them the Spirit of grace and supplication.’ Have you a heart qualified by grace, made meet to converse with God? the tendency and disposition of your souls that carrieth you to God? grace that seeks a vent and utterance in prayer and holy converses with God? and are you priests by purgation? Every priest was to be washed in the great laver; are you washed and purged from sin, that you may serve God acceptably? Mal. iii. 3, first they must be purified, then offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. God will not take a gift out of a carnal man’s hand; and therefore you should look to this, that you be purified and purged.

[2.] Do you offer spiritual sacrifices to God, of prayer and praise?

(1.) Prayer, a duty very kindly to the saints. It is natural to them; it is, as it were, the sphere of their activity, the Spirit discovers himself to men in prayer. As soon as they are converted to God they will fall a-praying, and be dealing with God often in this kind; therefore the children of God are described by this, as a duty wherein they are most exercised: Zeph. iii. 10, ‘My suppliants;’ and Ps. xxiv. 6, ‘This is a generation of them that seek thee;’ to show this is a vital act, a usual and constant expressing of the new nature that is put into them. Surely they that love God will be always seeking him, and a broken heart, sensible of its condition, can never want an errand to the throne of grace. You are to offer sacrifices as they did under the law. Now under the law there was a daily sacrifice, every morning they were to offer a lamb without spot, Num. xxviii. 3, to show that every morning they should come and sue out their pardon by Christ, and every evening to look to the Messiah, the lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world; that was the intent of the type. Now I reason thus: certainly we have as much need as they; we are sinners as well as that people which lived under that dispensation; therefore every morning we must look to the lamb of God. Nay, we have more reason, for they could not clearly discern the meaning of that type; but now all things are open, we can behold the lamb of God, therefore must be often with God, suing out our pardon’ in the name of Christ.

(2.) The sacrifice of praise. It is notable when the apostle had spoken of Christ as a sin-offering he mentions this as the main thing in the gospel: Heb. xiii. 15, ‘By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.’ Praise, it ought continually, frequently, and upon all occasions to be offered to God, for this is a more noble duty than prayer. Self-love may put us upon prayer, but love to God puts us upon praise and thanksgiving; we pray because we need God, and we praise because we love him. In prayer we become beggars, that God would bestow something upon us; but in praise we come, according to poor creatures, to bestow something upon God, even to give him the glory due to his name, and tell him what he 112hath done for our poor souls. This is the most noble among all the parts of Christian worship. We have more cause to give thanks than to pray, for we have many things more to praise God for than to pray to him for. There are many favours which go before all thought of desert, and many favours still bestowed upon us beyond what we can either ask or think.

Doct. 2. Secondly, These spiritual offerings must be free-will-offerings to God. This expression is often spoken of in the law, Lev. xxii. 18; Num. xxix. 39; 2 Chron. xxxi. 14; Amos iv. 5. What are these free-will-offerings? They are distinguished from God’s stated worship, and distinguished from that service which fell under a vow. Besides the stated peace-offerings there were certain sacrifices performed upon certain occasions to testify God’s general goodness, and upon receipts of some special mercy; and you will find these sacrifices to be expressly distinguished from such services as men bound themselves to by vow, Lev. vii. 16. What is there that answers now to these free-will-offerings? Certainly this is not spoken to this use, that a man should devise any part of worship of his own head, whatever pretence of zeal he hath; but they serve to teach us two things:—

1. They are to teach us how ready we should be to take all occasions of thankfulness and spiritual worship; for besides their vowed services and instituted services they had daily sacrifices and set feasts commanded by God; they had their free- will-offerings offered to God in thankfulness for some special blessing received or deliverance from danger.

2. It shows with what voluntariness and cheerfulness we should go about God’s worship in the gospel, and what a free disposition of heart there should be, and edge upon our affections in all things that we offer to God. And in this latter sense I shall speak, that our offerings to God, prayer and praise, should be free-will-offerings, come from us not like water out of a still forced by the fire, but like water out of a fountain, with native freeness, readily and freely.

[1.] God loves a cheerful giver; constrained service is of no value and respect with him. Under the law, when sacrifice of beasts was in fashion, wherefore did God choose the purest and fattest of everything offered to him, but as a testimony of a willing mind? And still he looks to the affections rather than the action. God weighs the spirit, Prov. xvi. 2. When God comes to put them into the balance of the sanctuary, what doth he weigh? External circumstances of duty, or the pomp and appearance wherein men go? No; but he considers with what kind of heart it is done; and the love of sin, God takes notice of that, as well as the practice of sin. So in our duties, God takes notice of the love, the inclination of our souls, as well as the outward service; therefore our offerings must be free and voluntary.

[2.] God deserves it, he doth us good with all his heart, and all his givings come to us from his love. Why did he give Christ for us and to us? ‘He loved us.’ Why gave he him for us?’ God so loved the world,’ John iii. 16. Why doth he give Christ to us? Eph. ii. 4, 5, ‘God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ.’ That which moved God to bestow his saving grace upon us 113was his great love, and all the good we receive from him. Why, mercy pleaseth him: ‘I will rejoice over them to do them good.’ If he deliver us out of any danger, he hath ‘loved us from the grave,’ Isa. xxxviii. 7. Now love should season all our services to God.

[3.] Where a day of grace hath passed upon our hearts, so it will be; the soul will come off readily and freely to the duties God hath required of us: Ps. ex. 3, ‘Thy people shall be a willing people in the day of thy power.’ We are naturally backward, slow of heart to do anything that is good, hang off from God, will not be subject to him; but when the day of his power passeth upon us, then we are a willing people, we are more delighted in communion with God, less averse from him, the bent of our hearts is altered, and the stream of our affections is turned another way. and our converses with God are more delightful, and we are as earnest in serving God as before we were in serving sin.

Use. To press us to serve God with a perfect heart and with a willing mind, 1 Chron. xxix. 9. Thus when we give God any spiritual sacrifice, when we pray to or praise him, we should do it willingly, not customarily, or by constraint, or for by-ends, nor by the compulsion of a natural conscience; and when we feel, as we shall now and then, any tediousness and irksomeness in prayer, we should quicken ourselves by this motive: Christ Jesus, who was our sin-offering, he willingly offered up himself upon the service of our salvation. I might urge other arguments, as the nobleness of our service, the greatness of our reward, the many sweet experiences we shall gain in our converse with God; but this should be as the reason of reasons, and instead of all. Christ Jesus did not grudgingly go about the work of our salvation, but willingly offered himself: Ps. xl. 8, ‘I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart.’ When God would have no more legal sin-offerings, but the great sin-offering of the gospel was to be produced and brought forth in the view of the world, ‘Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of me.’ Now our thank-offering should be carried on with the same willingness. Christ will be served now out of gratitude, and therefore his love should constrain us. Surely if we believe this great mystery of Christ, that he did willingly offer himself upon the service of our souls, and if we have any faith in him, ‘faith will work by love,’ Gal. v. 6. The soul may reason and discourse thus with itself, Do I believe Christ Jesus did thus willingly give himself for my soul? how can I be backward in God’s service and hang off from him? Oh! let me live to Christ, ‘who loved me, and gave himself for me,’ Gal. ii. 20. What! shall I be more backward to do for God than Christ was to die for me, to go to the throne of grace than Christ Jesus was to go to the cross? Can I hang him off from such pleasing noble service, when Jesus Christ my Lord refused not the hard work of my redemption? If his will was in it, certainly so should be yours.

Doct. 3. The third point, that these free- will-offerings are accepted with God. ‘They shall come with rams,’ speaking of the conversion of the Gentiles in terms proper to the old legal dispensation, ‘and they shall come with acceptance,’ Isa. lx. 7; and Mal. iii. 4, ‘Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord.’ Upon what grounds, and what way our acceptance with God is brought 114about? Our works in themselves cannot please God, they are accepted not as merits, but as testimonies of thankfulness.

1. Our persons are by Christ reconciled to God, and in worship he delights. This is the proper importance of laying the peace-offering upon the top of the burnt-offering, Lev. iii. 10.

2. Our infirmities are covered with his righteousness; for Christ is the propitiation, the mercy-seat that interposeth between the law and God’s gracious audience. We come to the throne of grace when we come to God in and by him, Heb. iv. 16.

3. By his intercession our duties are commended to God; as Aaron was to stand before the Lord with his plate upon his forehead, where in was writ, ‘Holiness to the Lord.’ Why? ‘That he might bear the iniquity of the people, that they might be accepted of the Lord.’ All our acceptance comes from Christ’s intercession; and alas! our prayers and praises are unsavoury eructations, belches of the flesh, as they come from us; a great deal of infirmity we mingle with them, we mingle brimstone with our incense and sweet spices, therefore provoke the Lord to abhor and despise us; but there is an angel stands by the altar that perfumes all our prayers and praises. How should this encourage us against the slightings of the world and discouragements of our own hearts, and to look after the testimony of our acceptance with God!

Doct. 4. The fourth point, that this gracious acceptance must be sought and valued as a great blessing: Ps. xix. 14, ‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord.’ And it must be valued as a great blessing, if we consider either who the Lord is, or what we are, or what it is we go to him for. If we consider who the Lord is, God all-sufficient, that standeth in no need of what we can do, that cannot be profited by us; he is of so great a majesty, that his honour is rather lessened than greatened by any thing we can do; the great author of all blessings, all our offerings come from himself first: ‘Of thine own have we given thee.’ And if we consider what we are, poor, impotent, sinful creatures, will God take, an offering at our hands? And if we consider what we do, nothing but imperfection; there is more of us in it, of our fleshly part, in anything we do, yet that these things should be accepted with God.

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