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Deal with thy servant according to thy mercy, and teach me thy statutes.—Ver. 124.
IN this verse we have two requests—the one general, the other particular; wherein he would have the Lord exercise his mercy to him. Show thy mercy to me in teaching me thy law. The one respects the privilege part of religion, the other the duty part; the one concerns time past, or the pardon of sin already committed, ‘Deal with thy servant according to thy mercy;’ the other prevention of sin for the time to come, that I may perform my duty for the future, ‘Teach me thy statutes.’ Mercy is the ground of his request; teaching God’s law the matter of it. He would have this gift bestowed on him freely.
First branch, ‘Deal with thy servant,’ &c. Where we have—
3. His relation to God, thy servant.
2. The terms upon which lie would have God deal with him: Not according to my works, but according to thy mercy.
First, His relation is mentioned either—(1.) As a part of his plea, as if he had said, Lord, thou art merciful to all, for ‘thy tender mercy is over all thy works,’ Ps. cxlv. 9; much more to thy servants: now I am thy servant. God’s servants have a special claim and interest in God; besides his general bounty, they expect his special mercy and 274favour: Ps. cxvi. 16, ‘O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid.’ Clear that, that you are some of God’s servants once, and then you may the better expect your master’s bounty. Or, (2.) To show his need of mercy though God’s servant. Such an emphasis it seemeth to have: Ps. cxliii. 2, ‘Enter not into judgment with thy servant;’ non dicit cum hostibus tuis. He doth not say, Enter not into judgment with thine enemy, but with thy servant So here David, that was God’s servant, a man of singular holiness, desireth that God would deal with him in mercy. From first to last, the saints have no other plea. Theodoret, on the text, observeth. ὁ τοσαύτης ἀρετῆς ἐργάτης ἐλέους τυχεῖν, &c.—so great a worker of righteousness beggeth to receive mercy, and looketh for all his salvation by mercy. And again, οὐκ ἀπαιτεῖ μίσθον ἀλλὰ φιλανθρωπίαν αἰτεῖ—he doth not challenge a reward, but asketh favour and kindness.
Doct. That God’s best servants have no other and no better plea than that God would deal with them in mercy.
1. Because there is and can be no merit on the creature’s part towards God, according to the rule of justice. Adam in innocency could impetrare, not mereri; it was his grace to covenant with the creature, when innocency and purity did adorn our nature; how much more since the fall, and the distance between God and us hath been so widened by sin! What merits must be indebitum and utile. It must be indebitum: when our righteousness was perfect, yet still due by virtue of our relation to God as creatures; and paying of debts deserveth no reward. The lawyers tell us, Nemo consequitur praemium, quod facit ex officio debitum. We are bound, and do but our duty; but God is not bound to us. All that the creature hath and is, and can do, it oweth to God, and hath received it from him; and God is in such a degree of excellency above us that he cannot be obliged. Where there is so great a disparity of nature and being, there is no common right to make him obnoxious, to make it justice to any action of ours to reward us. Aristotle denied children could requite their parents, and merit from them, and that the obligation of merit is only between equals; certainly not between God and men. There was nothing which bound him necessarily to reward his creature but his free covenant. Again, that which merits must be utile, profitable to him from whom we challenge reward. If we be never so righteous, the benefit is ours, not God’s. He is not beholden to us, useth us not out of indigence, but indulgence; not as if he needed anything, but we need his blessing: Luke xix. 10, ‘When we have done all, we are unprofitable servants;’ and Ps. xvi. 2, ‘Our goodness extendeth not to thee.’ God giveth all, receiveth nothing from us. The beam oweth all to the sun, the sun nothing to the beam.
2. Because since the fall there is no claiming but by the covenant of grace and mere mercy. A sinner cannot expect anything but upon terms of mercy. The covenant of works supposed us innocent and holy, and bound us so to continue, Gal. iii. 20; so that the law knoweth not how to do good to a sinner. Once a sinner, and for ever miserable; it leaveth no room for repentance. So that now there is no hope for the best, according to the rule of strict justice, but only 275according to the law of mercy. In the new covenant there are these special differences from the law of works. That there is not only grace, but mercy and grace too. In the first covenant there was grace, but no mercy. Grace doth all things gratis, freely; but mercy pitieth the miserable: therefore, till sin and misery entered there could be no room for mercy. There was grace in that covenant, for it was of grace that God did enter into covenant with man at all, and of grace that he did accept man’s perfect obedience, so as upon performance of it to make him sure of eternal life. But now in the new covenant God doth show mercy and grace too, and grace in the most rich and glorious manner. Mercy and grace too in this way of salvation, in that there is hope for a sinner, a plank cast out after shipwreck; and grace in the richest and most glorious manner; partly for the design, and end that was driven at; it was the glory of grace: Eph. i. 6, ‘To the praise of the glory of his grace;’ and partly the ground of it was founded upon the infinite mercy of God and the infinite merit of Christ. The infinite mercy of God: Mercy is the infinite goodness of God, flowing out freely to the creature, without any moving cause or worth on the creature’s part to expect it: Rom. ix. 16, ‘It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth; but of God that showeth mercy.’ And the infinite merit of Christ: Isa. lv. 3, ‘I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David;’ Isa. xlii. 6, ‘And give thee for a covenant to the people;’ and Isa. xlix. 8, ‘I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant to the people.’ David, that is Christ, the seed of David; all the mercies of the covenant are exhibited in and by him, in whom the covenant is made with us, and made good to us, 2 Cor. i. 20. And he is given for a foundation; that is, the foundation of a new and better covenant. And partly because of the terms wherein it is dispensed, which is not unsinning obedience, but a sincere owning of Christ, unto the ends for which God hath appointed him. So that in effect a thankful acceptance of a free discharge is all that we do for paying the debt, or to make way for our acceptance with God: Rom. iv. 16, ‘Therefore it is of faith, that it might be of grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed;’ and Eph. ii. 8, ‘Ye are saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God.’ By the grace of faith we lay hold upon or apply to ourselves Christ and all his benefits; and that faith God giveth us by his mere grace, not exhibited by any work of others. The whole work of salvation, from its first step in regeneration to its last step in glorification, doth entirely flow from God’s free grace, and not from any worth in us. So that this being the end, grounds, terms of the new covenant from first to last, mercy doth all on which our hope dependeth. We must claim by mercy.
3. As there is no merit in the best saints, so there is much demerit; and as there is nothing to induce God to be good to us, so there is much to hinder him, much that standeth in his way; yet God will do us good: Isa. lvii. 17, 18, ‘I have seen his ways, and will heal him; I will lead him also and restore comforts to him.’ He taketh motives from himself to pity when he might take occasion to punish. There are many sins to be forgiven both before and after conversion. Wo are not only undeserving, but ill-deserving. It was much that God 276would take us with all our faults, when he first drew us into acquaintance with himself, and intrust us with a stock of grace; but after he hath done that, we still are faulting and sinning: Rom. viii. 1, ‘Yet now there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ;’ notwithstanding the relics of corruption, and its breaking out.
4. From the temper of the saints, their humility. None have such a sight and sense of sin as they have, because their eyes are anointed with spiritual eyesalve. They have a clearer insight into the law: Jer. xxxi. 19, ‘After I was instructed I smote upon my thigh.’ They are enlightened by God’s Spirit; the least mote is espied in a glass of clear water. None are so acquainted with their own hearts and ways as they who often commune with their own hearts, and use self-reflection. Others, that live carelessly, do not mind their offences; but they that set themselves do more consider their ways; none have a more tender sense of the heinousness of sin. She loved much, wept much, because much was forgiven her, Luke vii. Some are of a more delicate constitution; the back of a slave is not so sensible of stripes as they that have been more tenderly brought up. The beams of the sun shining into a house, we see the dust and motes in the sunbeams, which we saw not before. They profess as Jacob, I am net worthy of all the mercy and truth thou hast showed me. They groan as St Paul, ‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’
Use 1. Information. We learn hence that we should not be discouraged, when our hearts are touched with a deep remorse and sense of our failings, and are desirous to break off our sins by repentance; that mercy which is freely vouchsafed in the covenant, which all God’s servants have so often experienced, which the best make their only plea and ground of hope, will find out a remedy for us. If you have a heart to give up yourselves to God’s service, and so to get an interest in the promises and blessings of the covenant, you may come and sue out this mercy, for God desireth to exalt his grace. God saith, ‘Return to the Lord your God, and I will heal your backslidings, and love you freely,’ Hosea xiv. It is the delight of grace to do good, not withstanding unworthiness. The worst of sins do not hinder God’s help, are not above his cure. There is hope for such as are convinced, and see no worth in themselves why God should do them any good. God needs not, will not be hired by the creatures to do it.
Use 2. How inexcusable those are that reject the offers of grace. If they have any liking to the blessings of the covenant, they have no ground to quarrel and differ with God about the price: Isa. lv. i, ‘Ho every one that thirsteth, let him come to the waters and drink freely, without money and without price.’ You have no cloak for your sin if you will not deal with God upon these terms. Nothing keepeth you from him but your own perverse will.
Use 3. What reason there is the best of God’s servants should carry it thankfully all their days. From first to last the mercy of God is your only plea and claim. No flesh hath cause to glory in his presence, there being no meritorious cause in the covenant of grace, no moving and inducing cause, no co-ordinate working cause: ‘Not for your sakes do I this,’ Ezek. xxxvi. 32; and in 1 Cor. vii. 4, it is 277said, ‘Who maketh thee to differ?’ We paid nothing for God’s love, nothing for Christ, the Son of his love, nothing for his Spirit, the fruit of his love, nothing for sanctifying grace and faith, the effects of his Spirit dwelling and working in our hearts, nothing for pardon; we have all freely; nothing for daily bread, protection, maintenance; and shall pay nothing for glory, when we come to receive it: Jude 21, ‘Looking for the mercy of God unto eternal life.’ It is all without our merit, and against merit. We should regard this especially when we are apt to say in our hearts, This is for our righteousness; as Haman thought none so fit for honour and preferment as himself, Esther vi. 6; Haman thought so in his heart. So proud-hearted, self-conceited sinners say in their hearts, God seeth more in them than in others. Alas! you are not only unworthy of Christ, the Spirit, grace, and glory, but the air you breathe in, and the ground you tread upon. What did the Lord see in you to judge you meet for such an estate? Gen. xxxii. 10, ‘I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies, and all thy truth.’ Did not you slight grace, neglect Christ, as well as others? and doth not sin break out, and make a forfeiture every day?
Use 4. That we should carry it humbly as well as thankfully. The best of God’s children should most admire grace and glorify mercy, set the crown on mercy’s head. Consider—
1. What was the first rise of all God’s love, what set all a-stirring in God’s bosom, John iii. 16. There was no cause beyond this. In other things we may rise higher, from his power and wisdom to his love. But why did he love us? There is no other cause to be given—he loved us because he loved us. It was love first moved the business in the ancient counsel of God’s will. God’s love is the measure of itself.
2. When he came to apply it, he found us in our blood. It was a great mercy that God would take us into his service with all our faults. We were his creatures, but quite marred, not as he made us. We are not what we were when first his; as we came out of his hands we were pure and holy, but since the fall quite spoiled: Jer. ii. 21, ‘I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed; how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?’ Strangely changed and altered! If a servant run from his master, and is become altogether blind, deformed, and diseased, will his master look after him, or care for him, or take him again? This was our case.
3. What is spoken already is common to others; you yourselves knew what you were, Titus iii. 3. Every man is soundly affected, more sensible of his own case, seeth particular reasons why God should refuse him; yet you are as brands plucked out of the burning, who did resist such powerful means, such fair advantages; you dallied with God. You know the case of others by guess, your own by feeling. You lay not only in the common polluted mass, but had your particular offences.
4. When taken in a fault, that God will pity our weakness and infirmities in his service: Mal. iii. 17, ‘I will spare them as a man spareth his son that serveth him;’ that is, he will continue his favour 278and good-will to them that serve him. So surely they that have a conscience, and are privy to their manifold infirmities and failings, will admire this.
5. Though for the main we give up ourselves to live according to the will of God, yet consider, notwithstanding our sins, what constant humbling considerations there are to keep us sensible of our defects. (1.) All that you do is not worthy of God. Who can serve so great a majesty as the Lord is, according as he should be served? Josh, xiv. 29, ‘You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy and a jealous God.’ Alas! such is the poverty of human condition, that they can never perform service becoming his majesty. Have you a due sense of his purity and holiness? Nay, how jealous he is of the respects of his people! (2.) Not worthy of such a pure law, which requireth such perfect service at our hands: Ps. xix. 6-8, ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul,’ &c. What doth that speculation produce, that a short exposition of the law begetteth a large opinion of our own righteousness? (3.) Not worthy such great hopes: 1 Thes. ii. 12, ‘That ye walk worthy of God, who hath called you to his kingdom and glory.’ Since we have such great wages we should do more work. Is this for heaven? Is this for eternity? (4.) Not such as will answer our obligations. We are indebted to all the persons of the Trinity; God himself for our portion, Christ our Redeemer, the Spirit for our guide and comforter. The Gentiles were greatly obliged to God for fruitful seasons. The Jews, though acquainted only with God’s patience and forbearance, the ceremonial law was a testification of guilt, or a bond that showed the creature’s debt; this bond was not cancelled. (5.) Not answerable to the new nature in God’s children; they would be in a state of perfect conformity and subjection to God. A seed worketh through the clods; so they groan under the relics of corruption and sin, Rom. vii. 24, longing for the time when they shall be more like God, when they shall serve him without spot or blemish; therefore are unsatisfied with their present imperfections. These things considered, we should ever keep humble and thankful, praising God’s grace: Isa. lxiii. 7, ‘I will mention the loving-kindness of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord hath bestowed upon us; and the great goodness towards the house of Israel which he hath bestowed on them, according to his mercies, and the multitude of his loving-kindnesses.’
Use 5. Directeth us how to pray. Cast yourselves at God’s feet, pleading his mercy. We have heard the kings of Israel are merciful lungs, 1 Kings xx. 31. You have heard so of the God of Israel; try what mercy will do for you. Say, as David here, ‘Deal with thy servant according to thy mercy.’ My prayers have no other foundation of hope but thy mercy; I am nothing, and would be nothing, but what I have from thee; I have no merits, but thou hast mercy; all that I have, and expect to have, floweth and must flow from this fountain. Take heed of challenging duty as a debt. No, Lord; thy mercy is all my plea; as all thy servants before have done: Lord, remember me in thy mercy; if any have other things to plead, let them plead; I am resolved to use no other plea: Ps. xiii. 5, ‘But I have trusted in thy mercy.’279
Second branch, teach me thy statutes. This may be considered apart by itself, or with respect to the context.
First, Apart, as an entire prayer in itself. So the doctrine is,—
Doct. It is God must teach us his statutes.
This will appear if we consider—
1. What it is to be taught of God. There is a difference between grammatical knowledge and spiritual illumination, or a literal instruction and a spiritual instruction; a greater difference than there is between teaching a child to spell and read the words, and a man to understand the sense. Literal instruction is when we learn the truths contained in the word by rote, and talk one after another of divine things. But spiritual illumination is when these things are revealed to us by the Spirit of’ God; as we read of the evidence and demonstration of the Spirit, 1 Cor. ii. 4. Others have a form of knowledge, Rom. ii. 20. Some have only the report of Christ, have but a human credulity, or the recommendation of others, that reveal the doctrine of God to them. Others receive a revelation made to their souls; their eyes are opened by the Spirit, Isa. liii. 1. Once more, there is a difference between the Spirit’s enlightening in a way of gifts and common grace, and his enlightening in a way of special and saving grace. Some that are enlightened by the Spirit fall away, Heb. vi. 4. Others are taught of God, so as to come to him by Christ, John vi. 45. This latter sort, that are savingly enlightened, have not only their minds opened, but their hearts inclined. So to be taught as to be drawn to faith and practice, this is proper to God, who is the sovereign dispenser of grace.
2. This will appear if we consider the heart of man, which is naturally full of darkness, and oppressed by the prejudices of customs and evil habits: 1 Cor. ii. 14, ‘But the natural man receiveth not the things of God;’ 2 Cor. iv. 4, ‘The god of this world hath blinded their eyes.’ This veil can only be removed by the Spirit of God. After grace received we know but in part, 1 Cor. xiii. 9, and much of the matter which beclouded the mind still remaineth with us; and when our lusts are awakened by temptations, our old blindness returneth upon us, and we strangely forget ourselves and our duty for the present. Therefore we have need to go to God to be taught: 2 Peter i. 9, ‘He that wanteth these things is blind, and cannot see afar off.’
3. If we consider the matter to be taught, it is the mysterious doc trine that came out of the bosom of God. Every art hath its mystery, which strangers cannot judge of: 1 Tim. iii. 16, ‘All scripture is given by inspiration.’ This was a secret which had not been known without a revelation. God hath his mysteries which no man knoweth, but by the Spirit of God: Mat. xiii. 11, ‘To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; but to them it is not given.’ Those that have scriptures, yet have scales on their eyes, 1 Cor. ii. 14, they have not saving knowledge. How sharp-sighted soever graceless souls may be in things that concern the present world, yet they are blind in spiritual things, so as to be affected and engaged thereby seriously to turn to God. Yea, how accurately soever they can discourse in the theory, and preach of Christ and his ways, yet they have no transforming light. God’s mysteries must be seen in his own light, 280or they make no impression upon us: Ps. xxxvi. 9, ‘In thy light we shall see light.’ The scriptures containing the sum of the Lord’s mind, none can of themselves attain to the meaning of them; it was not the device of man’s brain. So none understand by their proper skill and invention. There are such knots as cannot be untied and loosed, but by imploring the help of the Spirit.
Use 1. To press us to be often with God for this teaching, and make it our great request to him. A gracious heart would fain learn the right way to heaven: Ps. xliii. 3, ‘O send out thy light and thy truth.’ Direction how to carry ourselves is a great blessing.
2. The blindness of our understandings should make us more earnest with God. We are apt to mistake our way, through the natural weakness of our understandings, especially when lusts and interests interpose: Jer. x. 23, ‘Lord, the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.’ As man understandeth not events, so easily mistaketh present duties.
3. Our present estate. The world is a dark place, 2 Peter i. 19; compared with the light of glory, it is but like a light that shineth out of a room where a candle is, and a room where a candle is not seen, the glimmerings of the antichamber of eternity. Our own reason, the counsel and example of others, will easily misguide us. So the more we depend upon God, the more he will undertake to teach us, Prov. v. 6. Those that make their own bosoms their oracle, God is disengaged from being their guide: they need him not; but the snares they run into will soon show them how much they need him.
4. How unapt we are to see conclusions in the promises, and to apply general rules to particular cases and times; which most Christians cannot do, ἐν διαλογισμοῖς αὐτῶν, in their inferences: Rom. i. 21, ‘Are vain in their imaginations, have their foolish hearts darkened.’
5. To bind all upon the heart, and to lie under the conscience of our duty, maketh the difficulty the greater; many imprison the truth in unrighteousness. Well, then, beg the constant direction and illumination of God’s Holy Spirit; cast yourselves upon him in the sense of your weakness, and see if he will refuse you; say, I am blind and ignorant; Lord, guide me. It is dangerous to be left in any part of our duty to ourselves.
Secondly, If we consider the words with respect to the context. And first the remoter context, where David speaketh like a man under trouble and oppression, ver. 121. 122, ‘Let not the proud oppress me,’ &c. Lord, show me what to do in this time of my oppression.
Doct. Direction how to carry ourselves in trouble, till the deliverance cometh, is a great mercy, and should be earnestly sought of God.
Reason 1. From the parties oppressing. They that oppress watch for our halting, as Jeremiah complained, Jer. xx. 10. They accused the prophet unto the ruler, and so to work his ruin, if they could find him tripping in anything. Now when we are watched we need special direction, that God would teach us to walk warily and safely: Ps. xxvii. 11, ‘Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies; or, those which observe me, they watch to get some advantage: therefore that they may have no advantage against us, we should not trust to our own single wisdom.281
Reason 2. Because the danger of sin is a greater inconvenience than the danger of trouble. In times of trials and troubles we are in danger of soul-losing and sinning, as well as bodily danger; therefore we have need to beg wisdom of God to carry it well under trouble, because we are so apt to miscarry, unless God guide us continually in our dark condition, and take us by the hand, and help us over our stumbling-blocks. There are many sins incident to our condition.
1. Uncomely passion and unadvised speeches; therefore David prayeth in his trouble, Ps. cxli. 3, ‘Set a watch before my mouth, keep the door of my lips.’ In our oppression, we are under a temptation to hurt our own cause by unadvised and passionate speeches. When we have too great a sense of the temptation, something or other breaketh out to God’s dishonour.
2. Some indirect course to come out of trouble, Ps. cxxv. 3. Men that make haste out of trouble carve for themselves, break prison before they are brought out. Necessity is an ill counsellor, and will soon tempt us to some evil way for our own ease, some sinful compliance or confederacy. The devil tempted Christ when he was an hungry. Mat. iv. 3, hoping to work upon his necessity.
3. Private revenge, or meeting injury with injuries. We are apt to retaliate: 2 Sam. xvi. 9, ‘Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head.’ Revenge is soon up. No man is troubled if a shower of rain falleth upon us; but if any cast a bucket or bason of water upon us, we are in a rage presently. We can better bear any trouble from God than injuries from men: ‘Oppression maketh a wise man mad.’ A revengeful spirit is contrary to our heavenly calling.
4. Waxing weary of our duty, and quite tired and discouraged in God’s service: Heb. xii. 3, ‘Consider him that endured such contra diction of sinners, lest you be weary and faint in your minds.’ Weariness and fainting belong properly to the body, and they differ gradually. Weariness is a lesser, and tainting a higher degree of deficiency; as when a man laboureth, hungers, or travelleth, it abateth his strength, and abateth the active powers, or toileth the spirits, the principle of motion. And from the body it is translated to the mind, to a less or higher degree of defection; and it is thus, when troubles are many and long continued, we begin to grow faint, and wax weary of the faith and service of Christ, and sink under the burden. It is the Devil’s design to make us weary, and tire us out in the service of God.
5. Another evil is despairing and distrustful thoughts of God. David, after all his experiences of God, though he had conducted him up and down: 1 Sam. xxvii. 1, ‘I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul.’ He had a particular promise and assurance of the kingdom, and had seen much of God’s care over him; yet, after all this, David doubteth of the word of God: Ps. xxxi. 22, ‘I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes; nevertheless thou heardest me.’ As if he should say, God hath no care of me, nor thoughts of me; and at that instant deliverance was coming.
6. Questioning our interest in God by reason of the cross. Our Lord hath taught us to say, ‘My God, my God,’ in the bitterest agonies when he was upon the cross; but few learn this lesson: Judges vi. 23, ‘If God be with us, why hath all this evil befallen us?’ Some times we question the love of God because we have no affliction, and anon because we have nothing but affliction; as if God were not the God of the valleys as well as of the mountains. Well, then, seeing all these distempers are incident to an afflicted estate, we should the more carefully watch against them.
Reason 3. Because our enemies make a great advantage of our failings, and harden themselves in their prejudices if we carry not a holy good cause in a holy religious way, and will take the least occasion given from a questionable practice to slander the truth: Neh. v. 9, ‘Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God, because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies?’ If you should trip in anything, you shall soon hear of it, to the reproach of religion A holy and wise carriage in afflictions is very honourable to the gospel, otherwise your testimony is rejected and blasted.
Use. Well, then, desire the Lord to guide thee in all thy troubles; yea, if God doth guide you. let this satisfy you before the deliverance cometh about. It is a mercy if you have direction, though you have not deliverance; for a godly man should not so much regard the ease of the flesh as the performance of his duty to God. If you carry your cross regularly with faith and patience, God may have more honour and you more profit by your affliction than your deliverance. Yea, to be instructed in the word, and be taught your duty, is in itself a greater mercy than a deliverance: Ps. xciv. 12, ‘Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, and teachest him out of thy law.’ It is a blessed thing, yea, it is a deliverance itself; for it delivereth you from, the spiritual evil of the rod, which is the curse. Suffering doth not come as a curse when instruction goeth along with it; yea, it is the means of our great deliverance from the present evil world, 1 Cor. xi. 32, as it is a pledge of our future deliverance in due time; for God is not unmindful of us, and will not leave us without the conduct of his Spirit,
Secondly, To handle the words with respect to the nearer context in ver. 123, ‘Mine eyes fail for thy salvation.’ This teaching is begged after he had complained of the delay of the promises, and so implicitly he complaineth not of the falsity of the word, or the non-performance of the promise, but of the weakness of his own faith.
Doct. When the Lord suspends the promised deliverance, the godly suspect not the truth of his word, but the darkness of their own unbelieving hearts.
They think this failing is because they are no more enlightened; they are dull in conceiving, and misty and cloudy in their apprehensions, and therefore would have a clearer understanding of the promise and a more quick-sighted faith; or have failed in the performance of the condition required, therefore desire that God would teach them and show them their errors, and cause them to profit in sanctification. Thus should we do in like cases when there is a seeming contradiction between the word and the works of God, betwixt his promises and his providence about us. His voice is sweet, like Jacob’s, but his hands rough, like Esau’s. Do not suspect the promise, but your understanding; go into the sanctuary, Ps. lxxiii. 16, 17. God will help you to 283reconcile things; otherwise the difficulty will be too hard for you. The saints that have suspected or distrusted God have found themselves in an error, Isa. xlix. 14, 15 and Ps. lxxvii. 8-10. (1.) You must not interpret God’s promise by his providence, but his providence by his promise; and the promise is the light side, and providence the dark side of the cloud: Isa. xlv. 15, ‘Thou hidest thyself, God of Israel, the Saviour;’ Ps. lxxvii. 19, ‘Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known.’ We cannot trace him; a man cannot find out the reason of everything that God doth. (2.) You must distinguish between a part of God’s work and the end of it. We cannot understand God’s providence till he hath done his work. In the last act of the comedy all the errors are reconciled. Tarry till then: Zech. xiv. 7, ‘At evening it shall be light.’ We view providence by pieces, and we know not what God is a-doing, rending and tearing all in pieces. But view God’s work in its whole frame and contexture, and it will appear beautiful. (3.) We must distinguish between what is best for us and what we judge is best for us: Deut. viii. 15, 16, ‘Who led thee through the great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock; who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not; that he might humble thee, and prove thee, to do thee good at the latter end.’ Other diet is more wholesome for our souls than our sick appetite craveth. It is best with us many times when we are weakest: 2 Cor. xii. 10, ‘When I am weak, then am I strong;’ worst, when strongest: 2 Chron. xxvi. 16, ‘When he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his own destruction.’ Many times the buffetings of Satan are better for us than a condition free from temptations; so is poverty and emptiness better than fulness. (4.) We must distinguish between what things are in themselves, and what in their reduction, use, and tendency. All things are for a believer in their use, though they may be against him in their nature, 1 Cor. iii. 18-20, and Rom. viii. 28. ‘All things shall work together for good to them that love God.’ All their crosses, yea, sometimes their sins and snares, God will overrule them for good, and the work of grace sometimes goeth back that it may go forward. Many such cases there are which look like a contradiction, which we shall not know what to make of them, unless we bring it to Christ, an interpreter, one of a thousand. But take heed in these confusions and tossings of thy soul how thou reflectest on God; a little experience will confute thy prejudices.
Thirdly, With respect to the nearest context, the former clause of this verse. After an appeal to the covenant of grace, or a petition for mercy, he asketh direction to keep the law.
Doct. They that would have mercy by the covenant must be earnest to be taught God’s statutes.
Mercy and teaching are David’s two great requests throughout this and other psalms.
Reason 1. The moral obligation of the law still lieth on God’s servants, that are taken into the covenant of grace. There is an eternal obligation upon the creature to love and serve the creator, which cannot be dissolved. We are not redeemed from the service of 284the law by Christ, hut the curse of the law: Luke i. 74, 75, ‘Being; delivered from the hands of our enemies, that we might serve God in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.’ The end of our redemption was not to destroy our service according to the law, but to fit and enable us to perform it according to the image of God restored in us, Eph. iv. 24. The new man is created to restore in some measure those abilities we lost in Adam. God never yet gave man a, liberty to be free from the obligation of the moral law. He would not pardon any sin against it without satisfaction made by Christ, and believed and pleaded by sinful man. Christ merited, and God restored the spirit of sanctification, that men might keep it. He will not spare his own children, when they transgress against it by heinous and scandalous sins, as to temporal punishments: Prov. xi. 31, ‘The righteous man shall be recompensed upon earth; much more the wicked and the sinner;’ Ps. xxx. 31, David and Eli both smarted for their sins. No man hath interest in Christ unless he return to the obedience of this law: 1 Cor. ix. 21, ‘To them that are without law, as without law (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ), that I might gain them that are without law;’ Rom. viii. 1, 2, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit: for the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.’ No interest in mercy else: Gal. vi. 16, ‘As many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them.’ We cannot have full communion with God till we perfectly obey it: Eph. v. 27, ‘That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but it should be holy and without blemish.’
Reason 2. The great privilege of the covenant of grace is to be taught God’s statutes, or to have a real impress of them upon the heart and mind, which is the way of divine teaching: Heb. viii. 10, ‘For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel in those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.’ He will cure us of our wickedness, weakness, and carelessness, and enable us to keep his law; it is God’s undertaking to do so, and that out of free grace and favour, for he is not indebted to us; it is to give us knowledge of them, and power to keep them. Much of the law natural cannot be severed from it, and that is the reason why the heathens have the law written upon their hearts, Rom. ii. 15; but the writing is very imperfect, both as to knowledge and power to keep it. God will imprint them more perfectly; this is the true notion of the law. By the mind is meant understanding, by the heart the rational appetite. In the mind is the directive counsel; in the will the imperial and commanding power. There is the prime mover of all human actions; he giveth an apprehensive and perceptive power, whereby we apprehend things more clearly, and effectually desire and affect spiritual delights.
Use 1. To refute the claim of them that would plead mercy, but would still go on in their own ways, blessing themselves in their sins. Till our hearts and minds are suited to God’s law by a permanent 285tincture of holiness, we are not fit subjects to ask mercy and the promises of the covenant.
Use 2. If we would have this effect, we must go to God, who alone can work upon the immortal soul, to reform, mould, or alter it. A new man or angel cannot do it; they may by sense and fancy teach him many things; but to make these lively impressions must be the work of the Spirit.
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