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Behold, I have longed after thy precepts; quicken me in thy righteousness.—Ver. 40.

IN the close of the former verse David had given this commendation of the statutes of God, that they were good. Now, to show that he did indeed account them so, he allegeth his desires after them, ‘Behold I have longed,’ &c. In the words you have—(1.) A narrative; (2.) A request. The one is used as the reason of the other.

First, In the narrative he expresseth his sincere desire of conforming his heart and ways to the laws of God. Where—(1.) The matter of his plea, { I have longed after thy precepts.’ Not to know them only, but to do them; not to satisfy curiosity, but to understand and obey the will of God, and to make it the rule of his life and actions. Then (2.) The sincerity of it; that is intimated in the word behold. There is ecce admirantis, the behold of admiration, and ecce demonstrantis, the behold of demonstration. This last is here to be understood. We must look upon David as appealing to God, as offering himself unto his trial and approbation, who is the best witness and judge of the hearts of men, who knows all things, and cannot be put off with shows, O Lord, he speaks thus to God, ‘Behold I have longed after thy precepts.’ Now this is spoken here, either as a reason of his own asking, Behold, I seek it not out of custom, or to speak words of course, my soul is in this matter; or as a reason of God’s granting; he urgeth his sincere affection to obedience as an argument likely to prevail with God: Lord, I have an ardent desire to serve thee; and certainly this is a great argument with God, for he delights to crown his own work; when he hath given the affection, he will give the deed, and give the performance. Look, as Paul urgeth others to pray for him, ‘Pray for me, for I have a good conscience, willing to live honestly,’ Heb. xiii. 18, so David here speaks of himself to God, ‘Lord, I have longed after thy precepts;’ it is my desire that I may be put into the readiest, fullest way of compliance with thy will.

Secondly, Here is his request. There we have—(1.) The thing prayed for, quicken me; he prays for renewing, exciting grace. (2.) The ground of confidence, In thy righteousness. He had argued before from the disposition of the subject, now he argues from the quality of the donor, ‘In thy righteousness.’ The law of God is sometimes called righteousness, and so some expound it in that sense, ‘Quicken me in thy righteousness;’ that is, in the way wherein thou wouldest have me to walk. I think rather it is to be applied not to the righteousness he hath required, but the righteousness that is in God himself. So Ps. v. 8, ‘Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness.’ Now the righteousness of God is put for the whole perfection of the divine essence; for his justice, in rendering every one their due, according to his covenant; or for his holiness, for his requiring, approving, delighting in the obedience of the creature; and for his mercy, for giving out grace to men; and for his veracity and faithfulness, in making good his promise, which is a branch of his gospel justice or righteousness; as thou 424art faithful in making good thy promises, and never wanting to those that make use of thy word, so, Lord, quicken me.

Three points:—

1. To love and long for a holy and perfect and entire subjection to the will of God is a good frame of heart.

2. Those that do indeed long for holiness will see a need of new quickening.

3. Those that would have quickening must seek to God, who hath promised to satisfy them that desire grace to walk with him.

Doct. 1. To love and long for a holy and perfect and entire subjection to the will of God is a good frame of heart.

This may be confirmed by these considerations:—

1. All natures have a propension unto their perfect estate; as fire to go upward, where its place is; and heavy bodies to move downward, where is their seat and rest. Plants have a virtue in their seed which is ever working to produce their flower; beasts have an appetite by which their nature is nourished and preserved; and man hath a desire to prepare and fit him for that which is good and proper for him. The Psalmist tells us that God ‘openeth his hand, and satisfieth the desire of every living thing,’ Ps. cxlv. 16. There is an instinct in every living thing which leads them towards the sustaining and perfecting of that nature which they have. That which is called inclination in the creatures without life, attraction of nourishment in plants, and appetite in the beasts, is in man desire. And so now proportionably the new creature, the saints, they have an appetite suitable to their nature: 1 Peter ii. 2, ‘As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow thereby.’ Appetite still followeth life, and prepares men for receiving things good for them: Ps. x. 17, ‘Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble; thou hast prepared their heart; thou wilt cause thine ear to hear.’ A desire of relief vented in prayer prepares and fits us to receive those blessings which are good for us. And therefore, as all natures have a propension to their perfect estate, so those that are new creatures long and vehemently tend towards holiness.

2. Desires set upon holiness are an affection properly exercised, and upon its due object. Desire it is an earnest reaching forth of the soul after good absent and not yet attained. The object of it is something good, and the more truly good it is the more is our desire justified. There are certain bastard goods of a base and transitory nature, a pleasure, profit: we may easily overlash and exceed in these things. But on holiness, which is more high and noble, and is truly good, and of greater vicinity and nearness to our chiefest good than those other things are, we cannot exceed; there the faculty is rightly placed. When we are hasty and passionate for these other things, the heart is corrupted, it is hard to escape sin: Prov. xxviii. 20, ‘He that makes haste to be rich cannot be innocent;’ and he that loves pleasure is in. danger of not loving God, or loving it more than God, 2 Tim. iii. 4. But now in holiness there is no such snare: a man cannot be holy enough, nor like enough to God; and therefore here we may freely let out our affections to the full. When our desires are freely let out to other things, they are like a member out of joint, as when the arms 425hang backward; but here they are in their proper place; this is that which cannot be loved beyond what it doth deserve. A Christian should set no manner of bounds to himself in holiness, for he is to be ‘holy in all manner of conversation,’ 1 Peter i. 15, and to be ‘perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect,’ Mat. v. 48. And then desire is not only after that which is good, but after a good absent. Desire ariseth from a sense of vacuity and emptiness. Emptiness is the cause of appetite, and therefore it is compared to hunger and thirst: Mat. v. 6, ‘Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness.’ So it is in desiring holiness we have not yet attained, Phil. iii. 13 There is an indigence and emptiness; we are not already perfect; we want more than we have, and our enjoyments are little in comparison of our expectations; and therefore we should make a swifter progress towards the mark, and with more earnestness of soul should press after that sinless estate we expect. That little we have doth but quicken us to inquire after more, not cloy but provoke the appetite. As a man hath a better stomach sometimes when he doth begin to eat, so when we begin with God, and have tasted of holiness, and tasted of comfort, being brought into a sense of obedience and subjection to God, we should desire more; for certainly he is not good that doth not desire to be better. So that David might well say, ‘I have longed after thy precepts.’

3. Consider the nature of these desires; they are the genuine birth and offspring of the soul, motions of the heart, freest from constraint, and so do best discover the temper of it, and show that it is not tainted and biassed with secular and worldly delights. No man can be constrained to will that which he doth not love. Practices may be over ruled. Ill men dare not act so much evil as they desire, for fear of shame, punishment, and other by-ends; and good men do not act so much good as they do desire, because of that weak and imperfect state wherein they are. Paul was better at willing than at doing: Rom. vii. 18, ‘To will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not.’ And other of the saints of God, though they could not plead their exact performance, and their full and effectual compliance with the will of God, yet have pleaded their desires: Isa. xxvi. 8, ‘The desire of our soul is to thy name;’ Neh. i. 11, ‘We desire to fear thy name.’ And Peter appeals to Christ’s omnisciency,. ‘Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,’ John xxi. 17. The temper and constitution of their hearts, and the strength of grace, is seen more in desiring many times than in doing. These are the pulses by which you may feel the state of your souls, when there are longing and vehement desires of your souls after God’s precepts.

4. Consider the use and necessity of these desires, still the point will be justified. The natural use of desire is to engage us to act, and to keep us up in an earnest prosecution of that which is good for us, not withstanding the oppositions and discouragements which come between desire and fruition. For all good being hard to come by, unless desires be strongly fixed, men are soon put out of the humour, and so nothing would be done to any purpose in the world. Surely holiness, that is so difficult and distasteful to flesh and blood, would be but little looked after, if there were not strength of desires to keep it up. Therefore is this affection, that we may encounter difficulties and 426oppositions. As Neh. iv. 6, when there were difficulties and straits, it is said, ‘They built the wall, for the people had a mind to work;’ that is, their hearts were set upon it. So if we had a mind to any excellent thing, it is this mind that keeps us up in the midst of all difficulties and labours. All excellent things are hard to come by; it is so in earthly matters, much more in spiritual. The Lord will have it so, to make us prize them more, for things soon got are little esteemed; as riotous heirs, which know not how to get an estate, lavishly spend it. A man is chary of what is hardly gotten. Jacob prized Rachel the more because he was forced to serve for her so long. So we shall prize heavenly things the more when they cost us a great deal of diligence and labour to get them. Now, sluggish desires soon fail, but vehement longings keep the heart awork.

5. Consider the issue of these desires. As they come from a good cause, which is the new nature and a new life, for appetite follows life, so they tend to a good effect, are sure of a good accomplishment and satisfaction. God is wont to give spiritual things to those that desire them; there the rule is, ‘Ask and have.’ It is not so in carnal things: many that seek and hunt after them with all the strength and labour of their souls, at length are miserably disappointed; but all the promises run for satisfaction to a hungry, thirsty, earnest and longing soul, Mat. v. 6. Those that are hungry, and have a strong desire upon them, he will fill, Luke i. 51; and ‘open thy mouth wide and I will fill it,’ Ps. lxxxi. 10; they that open unto him as the thirsty land for the rain. God, that gives velle, to will, will give posse, to do; first the desire, and then the satisfaction; and therefore, where there is this strength of desire, though there may be some failing in other things in our endeavours and performances, yet the Lord will accept it.

6. It argues some nearness to complete fruition, or to full satisfaction in heaven, when we begin to be more earnest after holiness than we were before, and after more of God and his grace and image to be set up in our souls. The more we desire holiness, the more ripe for heaven. This is a rule. The nearer we are to any good thing our hearts are set upon, the more impatient in the want of it; as natural motions are swifter in the end than in the beginning, though violent motions are swifter in the beginning; while the impression of the stone lasts it is swift, but afterwards it abates. So when the soul beats so strongly after God and holiness and larger measures of grace, it is a sign we are ripening apace for heaven. Paul, when he was grown aged in Christianity, then he saith, Rom. vii. 24, ‘Who shall deliver me from this body of death?’ As what we translate in the Psalms, ‘Oh that salvation were come out of Sion!’ It is in the Hebrew, ‘Who shall give salvation?’ So here; it is an Hebraism, Who shall? that is, Oh, that I were delivered! He had many afflictions; he was in perils often, scourged, whipped, persecuted; but he doth not say, Oh, that I could get rid of this troublesome life of affliction! but it was the body of death, the remainders of corruption, was most burdensome to him. The children of God their pulses beat strongly when they are upon the confines of eternity and their full and final consummation. These men begin to ripen for their heavenly state into which God will translate them.


Use 1. For conviction of several sorts of persons that are far from this temper and frame of heart. To begin with the most notorious.

1. Some desire sin with a passionate earnestness: Job xv. 16, ‘He drinketh iniquity like water.’ As a thirsty beast in those hot countries would drink in water, so did they drink in sin. Most wicked men are mad when their lusts are set a-working; and there are some whose constant frame of heart it is, who make haste, who march furiously, as if they were afraid of coming to hell too late; bear down conscience, word, and all before them; that set themselves to do evil with both hands earnestly; that have a strong desire after sin, and are carried out with as impatient longing after sin as the children of God, such eminent ones of God, after holiness.

2. Some have no desire to the ways of God at all: Job xxi. 14, ‘They say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.’ The hearts of many say so, though their tongues do not. They are those which shut out the light, that cannot endure a searching ministry, lest it should trouble their lusts, disturb the devil’s kingdom; that banish the thoughts of God out of their hearts, lest it revive the sense of their obligation to duty; that set conscience a-challenging God’s right in their souls; that keep off from the light.

3. There are some that are insatiable in worldly things, but have no savour of these heavenly and holy things; they are thirsty for the earth, but ‘God is not in all their thoughts,’ Ps. x. 4; a little grace will serve their turn, and think there is more ado than needs about heaven and heavenly things. Alas! the very contrary is true; a little of the world will serve their turn here below. If men had not a mind to increase their temptations and snares about a frail and temporal life, why do they make so much ado, when many times they are taken away before they have roasted what they have got in hunting? God takes them away, but their eternal estate is little looked after. Riches qualify us not, but holiness doth qualify us for heaven, and it is our ornament before God and his holy angels. And woe be to us if our poor souls be thrust out naked and unclothed in the other world! Can we hunger and hanker after these lying vanities, and have no hungering and thirsting after grace? A little time will wear out the distinction of rich and poor, high and low; but the distinction of holy and good will continue to eternity. Think of that time when not only the world, but the lust, will pass away. The lust of the world may be gone before we are out of the world, as in sickness and pains; but he that doth the will of God abideth for ever. When we are sick and dying we have some kind of notions and apprehensions of these things; then we can long and wish we had served God more strictly, loved him more strongly, obeyed him more faithfully. We must have these thoughts while we are living.

4. Many desire happiness, but not holiness; comfort, without grace; they would be eased of their present smart, and freed from sin, but not subdued to God. David saith, ‘Behold I have longed after thy precepts;’ not merely after the comfort of the promises, without regard to duty. The prophet tells us, Hosea x. 11, that ‘Ephraim was like a heifer that was taught, that would tread out the corn, but would not endure the yoke, and break the clods.’ In ploughing and 428harrowing there was very hard work, but no profit; but in treading out the corn (for as we thresh out our corn, so they trode it out by the feet of oxen), the mouth of the ox was not to be muzzled, that there might be a great deal of privilege and profit with it. So Ephraim is like a heifer that is taught. They taught the oxen to tread out the corn; but we will not endure the yoke; that is, we are all for privileges, but neglect obedience. There is so such great difficulty about the end; indeed, we are careless about it; all the business is, we stick at the means: Mat. vi. 33, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.’ By ‘the kingdom of God’ is meant, the royal privileges and immunities of the gospel state; and by his ‘righteousness’ is meant the subjection, the service God requires of us. Now it is good when we seek both, but we must not seek one without the other; God and the world would sooner agree. If God would bestow the privileges of his kingdom, and dispense with the duties, God might have customers enough for comfort, pardon, heaven, happiness. No man is so senseless as not to desire these things in some measure; but they will not come to God’s price, they do not desire these things upon God’s terms. The hearts of the saints are as earnestly after sanctification when they are acquainted with God, and brought under the power of grace, that holiness may be increased in them; as Rom. vii. 24, Oh, that I were delivered from sin! Ps. cxix. 5, ‘Oh, that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!’ Not only for the happy part of religion, but they are longing how they may please God, and comply with their manifold obligations to God, and brought to a more perfect conformity to God. Thus the hearts of the saints work.

5. There are many pretenders to a fair respect to God’s precepts; they are as much for holiness as for pardon and grace, when it is nothing so.

[1.] They say they desire to obey God in all things; but can they seriously and sincerely appeal to God for the sincerity and truth of what they say; for so doth David here when he comes to God, ‘Behold, I have longed for thy precepts;’ or as Peter appeals to Christ, John xxi. 17, ‘Lord, thou knowest that I love thee;’ that is to say, when they have revived the sense of the nature of God, and of his all-seeing eye upon their hearts, when they have a due sense of God upon their souls; otherwise they deal deceitfully. Alas! an evil conscience is afraid; it cannot offer itself thus to God when they are serious and think of what they say; they cannot endure to think of his trial, as an eye hurt seeks for a cover to hide it from the light. So when a sense of God is lessened; they may talk presumptuous expressions of their own sincerity; but when they are most serious, and have revived the sense of God upon their hearts, and look upon him as an all-seeing God that searcheth the heart, they cannot say then, ‘I have longed after thy precepts.’

[2.] They not only say so, but they think so, that they desire holiness as much as others, when indeed it is no such matter. The deceit lies in this, because they take a wish for a desire, a velleity for a volition.

Quest. What is the difference between a wish and a desire?

Ans. Very great.


1. They that have only a wish for holiness, they love holiness in the abstract and in the general notion, which they hate in the effect; they do not know what is included in holiness and close-walking with God; as John vi. 34, ‘Evermore give us of this bread of life.’ But when Christ told them what it was to have this bread of life, then they were offended. So the Israelites, when they considered holiness and the service of God in the abstract, Oh! we will serve the Lord, say they, saith Joshua, ‘You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a jealous God,’ Josh. xxiv. 18, 19. Holiness in the abstract and notion is amiable, and is apprehended as a necessary thing; but now, when it comes to the point of entering in at the strait gate, walking in the narrow way of watching and striving against sin, of rowing against the stream of flesh and blood, of constant communion with God, and diligent attendance upon his holy worship, then they will do nothing. When they take up their duty by the lump, they are well pleased with it, and it is easy to give up to God in the general, but particulars we stick at. Therefore here is the fault in these wishes and velleities, that they do not sufficiently poise their duty.

2. These wishes are hasty and not serious. The commendation of spiritual things, and the representation of their absolute necessity, may produce strange motions for the present; but there is a ground of suspicion, because people all of a sudden become so vehement. The seed that fell into the stony ground forthwith sprang up, Mat. xiii. 5. Oh! but it needs much wrestling and care to cherish and raise up these serious and fixed desires, and this constant bent of heart towards God. Free-will pangs of natural devotion are soon spent; they are like the morning dew, it suddenly falls, and suddenly dries up. Deut. v. 29, when the people were frightened into a sense of religion, say they, ‘All that the Lord hath spoken will we do.’ ‘They have well said,’ saith God, it is a good resolution;’ But oh! that there were such a heart in them that they would fear me always.’ Many times there are certain desires and resolutions that have a mortal sincerity in them—that is, we do not dissemble for the present—but they have not a, bottom of grace, supernatural sincerity to bear them up.

3. They are not constant desires, but as they are soon up, so soon down. Our Lord Jesus saith, Mat. v. 6, ‘Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness;’ not only shall be, but are blessed for the present. Mark, it is in the Greek, They that ‘are hungering and thirsting;’ these participles, as all grammarians know, note a continued act. The fire on the altar was never to go out, Lev. vi. 12. There are certain unfixed desires and inconstant motions which for a time are very passionate; as water, seething hot over the fire; take it off, it returns to its natural temper, and it is colder afterwards; so the soul returns to its bias and old bent again towards worldly things. Therefore there must be a constant desire kept up. Such as enjoy the grace of God will still need and desire more. This is the constant temper of their souls; they are always desiring and longing after God’s precepts, and more grace to keep his will.

4. In those desires which they seem to have after holiness, here is the defect, they are not laborious. He that longs for God’s precepts 430will do his utmost endeavour that he may yield uniform obedience to God. The scripture placeth much upon the will. Macarius, an ancient practical writer, puts this question, Who are those that have a will to God and heavenly things, and a will to the waters of life? What demonstrations can there be of a will? Nothing but constant labour. If there be such a will as to set you awork, and a desire which makes you diligent. Lazy prayers and feeble endeavours, they do not argue any great strength of desire. Alas! when a man asketh grace indifferently and coldly, and is almost at an even point whether God hears him or no, and doth not seek after that grace, and excite his soul, this man hath not a desire, because it is not laborious. If it be not an operative desire, it is but a velleity; a will it is not. All their prayers are but the ejaculations of speculative fancy, not the products of true affection, for that would be industrious: Prov. xxi. 25, ‘The desire of the slothful killeth, for his hands refuse to labour.’ They do not manifest the life and strength of love in their endeavours that they seem to have in their prayers. Cold prayer they may put up for grace that God may make them better; and they wish it were better with them, and that the Lord would bring them to a greater conformity; but these are not laborious desires. Volens sed nolens, they would, but they will not; that is to say, Oh, that I were at such a place! and never travel the way to get there. So, Would I had learned such a lesson I yet like a lazy boy they set not themselves in good earnest to do it. They seem to will or wish; therefore they are but wouldings, not willings. They do not in good earnest set themselves to get that grace. There is not such an invincible resolution to get through, and a serious industry that they may attain those things they seem to long for.

5. These wishes and desires which are in carnal men are not permanent, that overcome the desire of other things; they will not absolutely set about it to be done whatever it cost them: but such desires as are sincere overcome all earthly desires and delights whatever. They would have grace, but yet would live as they do. It is not such a desire as to control other things, but is controlled by them. The desire of grace is an underling, and mastered by the desire of pleasures or profits of the world, and other delights. Many have a desire, but it is easily subdued, it is not prevalent. Alas! there may a faint desire be stirred up by enlightened conscience, and not by a fruit of a renewed will. A dictate of conscience must be distinguished from a desire of the heart. Illuminated conscience tells them they must grow more holy and heavenly, and wish they were so; but the heart is not perfectly subdued to God. They are directed by their interest; they make not this the main and great interest of their lives. David, when he expresseth his desires, mentions it thus: Ps. xxvii. 4, ‘One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;’ that is, 1 will make this my business, the chiefest matter of my care. But now, they that care not whether they have it, yea or nay, this cannot be a desire: Phil. ii. 12, we are bid to ‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling.’ We must carry on the business of godliness with a great deal of solicitude; but their affections sway them more to other things.

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