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SERMON CXXIII.

I have inclined my heart to perform thy statutes always to the end.—Ver. 112.

DAVID did not only feast his soul with comforts, but also minded duty and service. In the former verse he had professed his comfort and joy, resulting from an interest in the promise; now he expresses the bent of his heart to God’s statutes. Ephraim is represented as an heifer that is taught, that would tread out the corn, but not break the clods. It is a fault in Christians when they only delight to hear of privileges, but entertain coldly enforcements of duty and obedience. David was of another temper; first he said, ‘I have taken thy testimonies for an heritage,’ and then, ‘I have inclined my heart to perform thy statutes always to the end.’

In which words you have all the requisites of God’s service.

1. The principle of obedience, I have inclined my heart.

2. The matter of obedience, thy statutes.

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3. The manner of doing—(1.) Accurately to perform; (2.) The universality and uniformity, always; (3.) Constantly, to the end.

First, That which the Psalmist bringeth in evidence for himself is the frame of his heart; he beginneth there, not with eyes or hands or feet, but my heart. Secondly, This heart is spoken of as inclined, poised, and set, to show his proneness and readiness to serve God; not compelled but inclined. The heart of man is set between two objects; corruption inclineth it one way and grace another; the law of sin on the one side and the law of grace on the other; when the scales are cast on grace’s side, then the heart, is inclined to God’s statutes. Now he saith, ‘I have inclined.’ It is the work of God’s Spirit to incline and bend our hearts, as David expresseth himself, ver. 36. But it is not unusual in scripture to ascribe to us what God worketh in us, because of our subservient endeavours to grace as we pursue the work of God. Certum est nos facere quod facimus, sed Deus facit ut faciamus, saith Augustine. It is our duty to incline our hearts to God’s law, which naturally hang sin ward, but it is God’s work. God beginneth by his preventing grace, and the soul obeyeth the impression left upon it: ‘Turn me and I shall be turned,’ Jer. xxxi. 18. Yea, he still followeth us with his subsequent and co-operating grace; we do but act under him: I inclined my heart after thou hadst filled it with thy Spirit; when I felt the motions of thy grace, my consent followed; preventing grace made me willing, and subsequent grace that I should not will in vain. Now, what was his heart inclined to? To ‘perform thy statutes;’ not to understand them only, or to talk of them, but inclined to perform them, to go through with the work; that is the notion of performing: Rom. vii. 18, ‘How to perform.’ We render κατεργάζεσθαι by it; to be complete in God’s will, to do his utmost therein; this not by fits and starts, but always, a continual care and conscience to walk in God’s law, not suffering ourselves for any respect to be turned out of the way. Many have good motions by starts, temporise a little; their goodness is like the morning dew; it is thus not for a time, but to the end. A holy inclination while the fit lasteth is no such great matter; this was to the last. Some stop in the middle of the journey, or faint before they come to the goal, but David held out to the last. Or this is brought as an evidence of his sincerity (the sum is a bent of heart carrying him out to perform whatsoever God doth command all the days of his life). I shall speak of what is most material, and observe this point—

Doct. They that would sincerely and thoroughly obey God must have a heart inclined to his statutes.

Here I shall show—

1. What is this heart inclined.

2. The necessity of it.

First, What is this heart inclined. God expects the heart in all the service that we do him: Prov. xxiii. 26, ‘My son, give me thy heart;’ not the ear or the eyes or the tongue, but the heart. The most considerable thing in man is his heart; it is terminus actionum ad intra, and fons actionum ad extra—it is the bound of those actions that look inward. The senses report to the fancy, that to the mind, and the mind counsels the heart: Prov. ii. 10, ‘If wisdom enter upon 150thy heart.’ It is also the well-spring of those actions that look out ward to the life, Prov. iv. 23; Mat. xv. 19. You have both these in one place: ‘Let thy heart keep my precepts, let thine heart receive my words,’ Prov. iv. 4. In taking in we end with the heart; the statutes of God they are never well lodged till they are laid up in the heart. In giving out duty and service, we begin with the heart; we must go so deep, or else all that we do is of no worth. The heart is the spring of motion, that sets all the wheels a-working: Ps. xlv. 1, ‘My heart inditeth a good matter, my tongue is as the pen of a ready writer,’ ready to praise God and serve him. When the prophet would cure the brackishness of the water, he cast salt into the spring. Our heart is blind: 1 Chron. xxii. 19, ‘Now set your heart to seek the Lord.’ There is a setting and fixing the heart which is the fruit of grace and ground of obedience.

1. It is the fruit of grace. By nature the heart is averse from God, desireth not to serve or enjoy him. See what the scripture saith of man’s heart: Prov. x. 20, ‘The heart of the wicked is nothing worth,’ a sty and nest of unclean birds; Gen. vi. 5, ‘Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart are only evil continually.’ The scripture doth much set out the heart of man; it is foolish, vain, deceitful, Jer. xvii. 9, vain, earthly, unclean, proud. There is a strange bead-roll: Mark vii. 21-23, ‘Out of the heart of man proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.’ It was in, or else it would never come out. If a man should vomit nothing but knives, daggers, pistols, and other instruments of destruction, of what a monstrous complexion would you judge that man to be! Oh, no such monster in the world as man’s heart! If let alone to its own bent, it would grow worse every day, as putrid flesh grows more noisome every day. But now God by his grace giveth ‘a new heart,’ that hath other dispositions and inclinations, a heart that loveth God, and delights in God, tends to God. A new heart is the great blessing of the covenant, Ezek. xxxvi. 26; a new heart is a new placing of our desires and delights, for by these the heart is known.

2. It is the ground of obedience; for the heart is the main wheel of the soul, that moveth other things: a bowl is made round before it runneth round: Deut. v. 2, ‘Oh, that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me!’ There must be somewhat to bear up our resolutions. But more particularly, what is this bent and inclination of heart?

And first negatively.

1. It is not a simple approbation of the ways of God. Many go so far as to approve what is good, to condemn themselves for not doing it, to praise others that are holy, can be content that those that are under their power should take to the ways of God, as dissolute parents would have their children soberly brought up, video meliora proboque: Acts v. 13, ‘The people magnified them,’ yet durst not join themselves with the disciples of Christ. Saul said unto David, 1 Sam. xxiv. 17, ‘Thou art more righteous than I;’ yet David was fain to go to his hold; as the woman, in Luke xi. 27, 28, cried out, ‘Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps that gave thee suck;’ but 151Christ said, ‘Rather blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.’

2. It is not a bare desire or wish. Many that live ill could wish to live well. Balaam had his wishes, but went on in his course, Num. xxiii. 10. Some flashes they have; a spark is not enough to set the heart on fire in holy things; in carnal things it is enough. Many such languid motions carnal men have, yea, many cold prayers, that God would make them better, but ‘the soul of the sluggard desireth and hath nothing, for his hands refuse to labour;’ they do not set themselves in good earnest to get that grace they wish for. Would I were at such a place! but never stir a foot. Would I had written such a task! and never put pen to paper.

3. It is not a hypocritical will; or, as one called it, a copulative will. We would, but with such or such a condition. I would, if it did not cost me so dear; if I were not to mortify lusts, to deny friends, interests, relations. They would come to the supper, Mat. xxii., but one had married a wife, another had a yoke of oxen to prove, another had found merchandise; this is no full and perfect will. No doubt but the chapman would have the wares, but he will not come to the price; a Christian should say, I will whatever it cost me, I will what ever come of it: Ps. xxvii. 4, ‘One thing I have desired of the Lord, and this I will seek after.’

Secondly, Positively. Then is the heart inclined:—

1. When the judgment determineth for God, and comes to a full decree about obedience to him. Acts xi. 23, Paul exhorted them, ‘That with full purpose of heart they would cleave to the Lord;’ that is the fruit of conversion; not a little liking or hovering or faint resolution, but a full purpose, an absolute positive decree in the will, to own God and his ways whatever it cost us, a full consent to the duty of the covenant.

2. When the will is poised and swayed with love and delight, and the heart is made suitable to obedience: ‘Thy law is in my heart, and I delight to do thy will, O God,’ Ps. xl. 8. Many times the law of God is written in the mind; many have good apprehensions, but the will is not swayed, bent this way. Amor meus est pondus meum, eo feror quocunque feror; when there is a natural inclination.

3. When this bent of the will is seconded with constant endeavours to attain what we resolve upon, and there is a continual striving to make good the articles of our perfect resignation or first surrender of ourselves to God: Phil. iii. 12, ‘I follow after that I may apprehend that for which I am apprehended of Christ.’ God taketh hold of us by his grace, and we carry on this grace in the way of diligent pursuit or constant obedience. It is not one endeavour or two, but such as hath its constant force; hath not its pangs of devotion, but τὸ θέλειν παράκειται, ‘to will is present with me,’ Rom. vii. 18. It is a daily habitual constant will; not a volatile devotion, that cometh upon us now and then, but such a will as is present as constant as evil is, Rom. vii. 21: κακὸν παράκειται. Wherever you go, or whatever you are about, you carry a sinning nature about with you; it is urging the heart to vanity, folly, and lust. So this will is present, urging the heart to good, and stirring up to holy motions.

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Secondly, Let me now show you the necessity of this inclined heart, that we may yield to God cheerful, uniform, and constant obedience.

1. That we may yield to God cheerful obedience in all our services. God looketh for a ready mind. God, that accepts the will for the deed, never accepts the deed without the will. The dregs of things come out with squeezing and wringing; duty is best done when, like live honey, it droppeth of its own accord; cheerful and hearty service only pleaseth the Lord. Now, that is cheerful service which cometh not from the influence of by-ends and foreign motives, or the compulsion of a natural conscience or legal fears, but from the native inclination and bent of the heart: 1 John v. 3, ‘This is love, to keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous.’ The work is not grievous, but pleasant, because suitable to the principles that are in us; it is not done against the hair: Cain offered sacrifice, but with a grudging mind. It is somewhere said, ‘They offered to the Lord whose hearts made them willing.’ When the heart is in it, it is not constrained, forced service, but natural and genuine; not like water out of a still, but like water out of a fountain.

2. For uniform obedience, to serve God in the whole tenor of our lives, that needs a heart inclined, that may be as a constant spring of holiness. A man may force himself now and then to actions displeasing to himself, but his constant course is according to his natural tent and inclination. Haman could refrain himself from murder, but his heart still boiled with rancour and malice. When men look only to the refraining of outward actions, or the restraining the outward man, it will never hold; the bent of the heart will discover itself, and so they will be off and on with God. The compulsion of conscience will sometimes urge them to God, but the inclination of the heart will draw them to evil; therefore God wisheth that his people had ‘a heart to serve him,’ Deut. v. 29.

3. Constant obedience; that can never be till the heart be inclined. Judas was a disciple for a while, but ‘Satan entered into ‘his heart, Luke xxii. 3. Ananias joined himself to the people of God, but ‘Satan filled his heart.’ Simon Magus was baptized, but ‘his heart was not right with God,’ Acts viii. 22. Here is the great defect. But now, when God gets possession of the heart, there he dwelleth, Eph. iii. 17, there he abideth, as in his strong citadel, and from thence commandeth all the faculties of the soul and the members of the body.

Use 1. To press you to get this bent of heart, otherwise all your labour in religion will be in vain, every difficulty will put you out of the way, and make you think of a revolt from God; till this the work of grace is not begun. God’s first gift is a new heart: Ezek. xxxvi. 26, ‘A new heart also will I give unto you, and a new spirit will I put within you.’ Without this you can never hold out, but you will be uncertain and mutable in the profession of godliness; whatever restraints are upon you for a time, sin will be breaking out ever and anon with violence; and at length men will ‘return with the dog to the vomit, and with the sow to her wallowing in the mire,’ 2 Peter ii. 20. Oh! then, go to God for it: Jer. xvii. 10, say, ‘Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved.’ Carry forth the work of God so far as you receive it; follow after 153to ‘apprehend that for which we are apprehended of Christ,’ Phil. iii. 12.

Use 2. Have we such a heart, a heart inclined to do the will of God?

1. Though there be such a bent and inclination, there will be failings, yea, reluctances and oppositions: Rom. vii. 18, ‘To will is present with me, yet how to perform that which is good I find not.’ There is a ready will asserted, and a weak discharge complained of. Observe, it is a will, not a wish; a weak discharge; not that nothing is done, but not all that good that is required, nor in that purity; the work doth not perfectly answer the will, nor the motions of the spirit by which it is excited; and mark, this weakness is not rested in, but complained of; and not only complained of, but resisted: ‘I find not,’ that implieth he sought it; for the word ‘finding’ implieth a diligent search; he laid about him on every side, he did not expect it should come by chance or a lazy inquiry.

2. If wrought:—

[1.] How was it wrought in you? Did God turn thee, and thou wast turned? Were you ever brought to self-resignation? By what steps was this work carried on? Thy heart was naturally wedded to thy lusts and to carnal vanity; did ever God make you see the odiousness of sin, the vanity of the creature, the insufficiency of self? Evil men seek contentment in the world as long as conscience will let them hold out in that way. You cannot cleave to God till you are rent off from the world and self. Was there ever such a separation? such a rending work? Conversion, or the altering the bent of the heart, lieth in three things—in turning from the creature to God, from self to Christ, from sin to holiness. How to God? By making us a willing people, to yield up ourselves to his service. How drawn from self to Christ? To seek all this good in him. How from sin to holiness? By seeing the beauty of God’s ways. Paul found it a sensible work before he was brought to this self-resignation: Acts ix. 6, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ How did God draw you or drive you to this?

[2.] How is this bent of heart kept up towards God? Nature is apt to recoil, and the heart to return to its own bent and bias again. David beggeth, ver. 36, ‘Incline my heart to thy testimonies.’ It is a hard matter to keep up a bent of heart towards God; it will cost us much watching, striving, praying, to keep it fixed. The frame of man’s heart is changeable and various, doth not always continue at the same pass; and lust will waken, and be pressing and importunate; deadness will creep upon us. The great business of the spiritual life is to keep the bent of the heart steady: neglected grace will suffer decay, and worldly vanities and listlessness and deadness to holy things will incroach upon the soul, and a gracious heart is much discomposed. As a needle that bendeth towards the pole may be jogged and put aside, though it cannot rest there, but turneth thither again, so the bent of the soul towards God may be much disordered, and we may lose much of our free spirit and ready mind, and grow uncomfortable and uncheerful in God’s service, and it may cost us much sorrow and deep humiliation to get in frame again. A cold profession is easily 154maintained, but to keep up a spiritual inclination is the work of labour and cost.

[3.] How doth it work in you? This bent of heart is seen in two things:—

(1.) In pulling back the heart from those sins to which corrupt nature doth incline us. Nature carrieth us to carnal things. There is something within that puts you on, and something without to draw you forward. Nature thrusteth, occasion inviteth, but grace interposeth and checketh the motion: Gal. v. 17, ‘The spirit lusteth against the flesh;; it is against the bent and inclination of the new nature; there is a back bias. Joseph had a temptation; we read of occasion inviting, but not of nature inclining; but presently his heart recoiled. The heart of man is seldom without these counterbuffs. It is an ad vantage to have the new nature as ready to check as the old nature to urge and solicit: 1 John iii. 9, ‘He cannot sin, for his seed remaineth in him.’

(2.) In putting on the heart upon duties that are against the hair and bent of corruption. Such acts of obedience as are most troublesome and burdensome to the flesh, as are laborious, costly, dangerous. Laborious, as private worship, wrestling with God in prayer, holding the heart to meditation and self-examination; sluggish nature is apt to shrink, but ‘love constraineth,’ 2 Cor. v. 14. Spiritual worship, and such as is altogether without secular encouragement, that is tedious; to work truth into the heart, to commune with God, to ransack conscience, it is troublesome, but thy striving will overcome it. So there is costly and chargeable work, as alms, contributions to public good; there must be a striving to bring the heart to it. Then for actions dangerous, as public contests for God’s glory, or keeping a good conscience, though with cost to ourselves. Our great work is to keep the will afoot, nature is slow to what is good. A coachman in his journey is always quickening his horses, and stirring them up; so must we quicken a sluggish will, do what we can, though we cannot do all that we should; the will must hold up still. A prisoner escaped would go as far as he can, but his bolts will not suffer to make long journeys, but yet he thinketh he can never get far enough; so this will is a disposition that puts us upon striving to do our utmost for God.

Secondly, The matter resolved on, to ‘perform thy statutes always unto the end.’ Uniform obedience, always, or all his days. As long as life lasteth we must be always ready to observe all God’s commands, which notes the continuity of our obedience, sincerity, and perpetuity of it. We are to engage our hearts by a serious resolution to serve him, and that not by fits and starts, but always; not for a time, but to the end. Resolve to cleave to him, to hold him fast that he may not go, to keep our hold fast that we may not go. Take notice of the first decays, and let us keep our hold fast, and bewail often the inconstancy of our hearts, that we are so inconstant in that which is good. Every hour our hearts are changed in a duty. What a Proteus would man be, if his thoughts were visible, in the best duty that ever he performed! Rom. vii. 18, ‘Evil is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not.’ Our devotion comes by pangs and fits, 155now humble, anon proud; now meek, anon passionate; not the same men in a duty and act of a duty, unstable as water. Compare it with God’s constancy, his unchangeable nature, his love to us, that we may be ashamed of our levity. From everlasting to everlasting, God is where he was, the same; the same to those that believe in him. Secondly, This ‘to the end.’ God’s grace holdeth out to the end; so should our obedience: ‘He that hath begun a good work will perfect it,’ &c. Consider how unreasonable it is to desire God to be ours unto the end, if we are not his: Ps. xlviii. 14, ‘He is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide till death.’ He doth not lay down the conduct of his providence. So Ps. lxxiii. 24, ‘Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory.’ We can give nothing to God, our obedience is but a profession of homage. If God be always in our eye, we shall be always in his. We receive life, breath, and motion from him every moment; he sustaineth us, every day and hour yieldeth new mercy. God watcheth over us when we are asleep, yet how much of our time passeth away when we do not perform one act of love to God! The devil is awake when we sleep, to do us a mischief, but the God of Israel never slumbereth nor sleepeth. How can we offend him? Let us then take up this serious resolution, to perform God’s statutes always to the end.

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