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Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word.—Ver. 17.

IN the former part we heard of the virtue and excellency of the word, and therefore how much the saints desire to understand it, meditate of it, speak of it, and transfer it into their practice. Now, whosoever will resolve upon such a course, will necessarily be put upon prayer; for 155mark how David’s purposes and prayers are intermingled, I will, and I will; and then presently prayeth again, ‘Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word.’

In this request observe—

1. It is generally expressed, together with his own relation to God, deal bountifully with thy servant.

2. It is particularly explained wherein he would have this bounty expressed:—

[1.] In the prorogation of his life, that I may live.

[2.] In the continuance of his grace, and keep thy word; the one in order to the other. David doth not simply pray for life, but in order to such an end; and the general request concerneth both parts, yea, rather the latter than the former, that whilst I live I may keep thy word, as counting that to be the greatest benefit or argument of God’s bounty, to have a heart framed to the obedience of his will.

I might observe many things; as (1.) What a great honour it is to be God’s servant. David, a great king, giveth himself this title, ‘thy servant;’ and Constantine counted it a greater honour to be a Christian than to be head of the empire. (2.) That all we have or expect cometh from God’s bounty to us. So doth David express himself, ‘Deal bountifully with thy servant;’ as intimating not only the measure, but the rise and source of what he expected from God. (3.) That among all the benefits which we expect from the bounty of God, this is one of the greatest, to have an heart to ‘keep his word.’ (4.) God’s word must not only be understood, but obeyed; for this is the meaning of keeping the word: John xiv. 21, ‘He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them,’ &c. Hath implieth knowledge. We must have them before we can keep them; but when we have them, we must keep them, and do what we know. But omitting all these points, which will be more fitly discussed elsewhere, I shall only point out two lessons:—

1. The cause of life, and that is God’s bounty.

2. The end and scope of life; God’s service.

First, The cause of life, deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live. Observe

Doct. The prorogation of our lives is not the fruit of our merits, but the free grace of God.

1. Long life is in itself a blessing, and so promised, though more in the Old Testament than in the New, when eternity was more sparingly revealed. That it is promised as a blessing is evident: Prov. xxviii. 16, ‘He that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days.’ And in the fifth commandment: Exod. xx. 12, ‘That thy days may be long in the land of the living.’ So Ps. xci. 16, ‘With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation;’ not only Leaven hereafter, but long life here. It is in itself a benefit, a mercy to the godly and the wicked. To the godly, that they may not be gathered till ripe; for God hath set a mark upon it: Prov. xvi. 31, ‘The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in a way of righteousness.’ It is some kind of resemblance of God, who is the Ancient of days. It was a title of honour, ‘Paul the aged.’ It giveth many advantages of glorifying God, and doing good to others. It is no small benefit to those that 156employ it well. To those that are in a state of sin, the continuance of life is a mercy, as it affords them time to repent and reconcile themselves to God. And the contrary is threatened as a curse: Eccles. viii. 13, ‘He shall not prolong his days, because he feareth not God.’ For wicked men to have the sun go down at noon-day, and to be cut off before their preparations or expectations, and so thrown headlong into hell by a speedy death, is a great misery.

2. It is such a mercy as we have by God’s gift. He is interested in it upon a double account.

[1.] There is a constant providential influence and supportation, by which we are maintained in life, and without which all creatures vanish into nothing; as the beams of the sun are no longer continued in the air than the sun shineth, or as the impress is retained no longer upon the waters than the seal is kept on. When God suspendeth his providential influence and supportation, all doth vanish and disappear: Heb. i. 3, ‘He upholdeth all things by the word of his power;’ as a weighty thing is held up in the air by the hand that sustaineth it, or the vessels of the house hang upon ‘a nail in a sure place.’ God, that made all things by his word, upholdeth all things by the same word. A word made the world, and can undo the world. So Acts xvii. 28, ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’ We cannot draw breath without him for a moment; as the pipe hath no breath but what the musician puts into it. We can neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor drink, without this intimate support and influence from him. The scripture sets it out by a man’s holding a thing in his hand: Job xii. 10, ‘In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.’ Now, if God do but loosen his hand, his almighty grasp, all cometh to nothing: Job vi. 9. ‘Let him loose his hand, and cut me off.’ Life, and the comforts of life, depend upon God in every kind.

[2.] There is a watchful eye and care of his providence over his people, whereby their life is preserved against all the dangers where with it is assaulted. God taketh care of all his creatures: Ps. xxxvi. 6,. ‘He preserveth man and beast;’ but man much more: 1 Cor. ix. 9, ‘Doth God take care of oxen?’ He dealeth bountifully with his enemies, but much more doth he ‘preserve the feet of his saints,’ 1 Sam. ii. 9. The care of his providence hath its degrees; it is more intensively exercised about things of worth and value, and most of all about the life of his saints. When Satan had a commission to exercise Job, first his person was exempted: Job i. 12, ‘Upon himself put not forth thy hand;’ next his life: Job ii. 6, ‘Behold he is in thy hand, but save his life.’ A godly man hath an invisible guard and hedge round about him. We are not sensible of it; but Satan, who is our enemy, he is sensible of it: when he would make his assault, he cannot find a gap and breach, till God open it to him. Both these notions are sufficient to possess us how much God is interested in prolonging our lives.

3. The next thing is, that we have it by the mere bounty and free grace of God. It is not from his strict remunerative justice, but his kind love and tender mercy. The air we breathe in, we have it not by merit, but by grace: Lam. iii. 22, ‘It is of the Lord’s mercies that 157we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.’ The reasons are two:—

[1.] We deserve nothing at his hand.

[2.] We deserve the contrary.

(1.) We cannot merit of God: Job. xxii. 2, ‘Can a man be profitable to God, as he that is wise is profitable to himself?’ Job xxxv. 7, ‘If thou be righteous, what givest thou him? or what receiveth he at thy hand?’ Whatever God doth for creatures, he doth it freely, because he cannot be obliged or pre-engaged by us. In innocency Adam could impetrare, but not mereri—obtain it by covenant, not challenge by desert. Therefore God conferreth as freely as he createth.

(2.) If God would deal with us upon terms of merit, we cannot give him a valuable compensation for temporal life—Gen. xxxii. 10, ‘I am less than the least of all thy mercies.’ None of God’s mercies can simply be said to be little; whatever cometh from the great God should be great in our value and esteem; as a small remembrance from a great king. Yet in comparison between the blessings, one may be said to be least, the other greatest. Temporal life with its appendages, compared with spiritual and eternal, is in the rank of his least mercies. God giveth life to the plants, to the trees, to the beasts of the field; and yet, when we and our deservings come into the balance, we are found wanting: ‘I am not worthy,’ &c. All our righteousness doth not deserve the air we breathe in. It is so defective, if a man were to pay for his life, it could not merit the continuance of it.

[2.] We have deserved the contrary; we have put ourselves out of God’s protection by sin. Death waylaid us when we were in our mother’s womb; and as soon as we were born, there was a sentence in force against us: ‘Death came upon all, for that all have sinned.’ Rom. v. 12; and still we continue the forfeiture, and every day provoke God to cut us off; so that it is a kind of pardoning mercy that continueth us every moment. Of this we are most sensible in case of danger and sickness, when there is but a step between us and death; for then the old bond beginneth to be put in suit, and God cometh to execute the sentence of the law; and deliverance in such a case is called forgiveness and remission, and that even to the wicked and impenitent. As Ps. lxxviii. 38, ‘And he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not.’ It is called a remission improperly, because it was a reprieve for the time from the temporal judgment; it was not an executing the sentence, or a destroying the sinner presently; and that not from anything in the sinner, but from God’s pity over him as his creature. But now a godly man hath a true pardon renewed at such time, and he is ‘loved from the grave;’ for so it is in the Hebrew: Isa. xxxviii. 17, ‘Thou hast loved my soul from the pit of destruction.’ To be loved out of a danger, and loved out of a sickness, oh! that is a blessed thing.

Use 1. To acknowledge the Lord’s goodness in these common mercies. We did not give life to ourselves, and we cannot keep it in ourselves. God made us, and God keepeth us. It was not our parents that fashioned us in the womb; they could not tell what the child would prove, male or female, beautiful or deformed. They 158could not tell the number or posture of the veins, or bones, or muscles; it was all the curious workmanship of a wise God; and it is the same God that hath kept us hitherto: Isa. xlvi. 3, 4, ‘By me ye are borne from the belly, and carried from the womb; even to old age I am he, and even to hoar hairs will I carry you,’ &c. We have been supported and tenderly handled by God, as parents and nurses carry their younglings in their arms. Many times wanton children are ready to scratch the faces of those that carry them; so have we put many affronts upon him, yet to the very last doth he carry us in the arms of his providence. In infancy we were not in a capacity to know the God of our mercies, and to look after him; but nevertheless he looked after us. Afterwards we knew how to grieve him and offend him, long before how to love and serve him. Oh, how early did our naughty hearts appear! and all along how little have we done for God, ‘in whom we live and move and have our being!’ ‘He is not far from us,’ in the effects of his care and providence; but we are far from him by the distance of our thoughts and affections, by the carnal bent of our hearts. It is a good morning exercise for us humbly and thankfully to consider of his continual mercies. For God’s ‘compassions are new every morning,’ Lam. iii. 22—as fresh as if never tired with former acts of grace, nor wearied with former offences. It is some recompense for the time of sleep; half our time passeth away, and we do not show one act of love and kindness unto God; therefore, as soon as we are awakened we should be with God, Ps. cxxxix. 18. How many are gone down to the chambers of death since the last night!

2. It quickeneth us to love and serve God, who is ‘the strength of our lives, and the length of our days,’ Deut. xxx. 20. Thy life is wholly in God’s hands. Man cannot add a cubic to his stature, nor make one hair white or black at his own pleasure. It is the Lord’s providential influence that keepeth thee alive; in point of gratitude, thou shouldst serve him: ‘Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live.’ But I may urge also, in point of hope, God’s servants can best recommend themselves to his care and keeping by prayer, and expect to walk continually under divine protection. Those that provoke God continually, they may be continued by the bounty and indulgence of his providence; but yet they can look for no such thing, and in the issue it proveth to be in wrath, for their sins are more and judgments greater: it is but to ‘treasure up wrath to the day of wrath.’

3. If life temporal be the fruit of God’s bounty, much more life eternal: Rom. vi. 23, ‘The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.’ One is wages, the other a gift.

4. It informeth us that we may lawfully pray for life, with submission to the will of God, and that death may not come upon us suddenly, contrary to the ordinary course of nature. I was loath to make a distinct doctrine of it, yet I could not decline the giving out of this truth.

How will this stand with our desires of dissolution, and willingness to depart and to be with Christ, which certainly all Christians that believe eternity should cherish in their hearts?

To this I answer—1. By concession; that we are to train up ourselves 159in an expectation of our dissolution, that we may be willing when the time is come, and God hath no more work for us to do in the world; we are to awaken our desires after the presence of Christ in heaven, to show both our faith in him and love to him. Since Christ was willing to come down to us, though it were to meet with shame and pain, why should we be loath to return to him? Jacob’s spirit revived when he saw the waggons which Joseph sent to carry him. Death is the chariot to carry you to Christ, and therefore it should not be unwelcome to us.

2. By correction; though it be lawful and expedient to desire death, yet we are not anxiously to long after it till the time come; there may be sin in desiring death, as when we grow weary of life out of desperation, and the tiresomeness of the cross; and there may be grace in desiring life, that we may keep his word, longer express our gratitude to him here in the world, to mourn for sin, to promote his glory. More fully to make this evident to you, I shall show how we may desire death, how not. To answer in several propositions:—

[1.] There is a great deal of difference between serious desires and passionate expressions. The desires of the children of God are deliberate and resolved, conceived upon good grounds, after much struggling with flesh and blood to bring their hearts to it. Carnal men are loath that God should take them at their word; as he in the fable that called for death, and when he came, desired him to help him up with his burden. Alas! they do not consider what it is to be in the state of the dead, and to come unprovided and unfurnished into God’s presence. We often wish ourselves in our graves; but if God should take us at our word, we would make many pauses and exceptions. Men that in their miseries call for death, when sickness cometh will run to the physician, and promise many things if they may be recovered. None more unwilling to die than those that in a passion wish for death.

[2.] We must carefully look to the grounds of these wishes and desires. First, Carnal wishes for death arise either—(1.) Out of violent anger and a pet against providence; as Jonah iv. 8, ‘The sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than live.’ The children of Israel murmured when they felt the famine of the wilderness: Exod. xvi. 3, ‘And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt,’ &c. When men are vexed with the world, they look upon death as a relief, to take vengeance upon God, to deprive him of a servant. (2.) In deep sorrow; as Job iii. 3; Elijah, 1 Kings xix. 4: ‘He requested for himself that he might die; and he said, It is enough: now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers.’ (3.) From the peevishness of fond and doting love: 2 Sam. xviii. 33, ‘And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O Absalom, my son, would God I had died for thee! O Absalom, my son, my son!’ like the wives of the East Indians, that burn themselves to follow their dead husbands. (4.) From distrust and despair, when the evil 160is too hard to be resisted or endured: Job vii. 15, ‘My soul chooseth strangling and death rather than my life.’ In all these cases it is but a shameful retreat from the conflict and burden of the present life, from carnal irksomeness under the calamity, or a distrust of God’s help. There may be murder in a rash wish, if it proceed from a vexed heart. These are but froward thoughts, not a sanctified resolution. Secondly, Such desires of death and dissolution as are lawful, and must be cherished, come from a good ground, from a heart crucified and deadened to the world, and set on things above: Col. iii. 1, ‘If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.’ From a competent assurance of grace: Rom. viii. 23, ‘Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.’ From some blessed experience of heavenly comforts, having tasted the fruits, clusters of Canaan, they desire to be there. So Simeon: Luke ii. 29, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation;’ the eyes of his faith, as well as the eyes of his body. Now, Lord, I do but wait, as a merchantman richly laden desireth to be at his port. A great love to Christ excites desires to be with him: Phil. i. 23, ‘I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better;’ Phil. iii. 19, 20, ‘For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.’ They long to see and be where he is; heart and head should be together. Weariness of sin, and a great zeal for God’s glory, are powerful incentives in the saints: Rom. vii. 23, ‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ They would be in heaven, that they may sin no more.

[3.] You must look to the end; not have a blind notion of heaven, look for a Turkish paradise full of ease and plenty; a carnal heaven, as the Jews looked for a carnal Messiah; but for a state of perfect union and communion with the blessed and holy God.

[4.] The manner must be regarded; it must be done with submission, Phil. i. 24; otherwise we encroach upon God’s right, and would deprive him of a servant without his leave. A Christian will die and live as the Lord willeth; if it be the Lord’s pleasure, a believer is satisfied with long life: Ps. xci. 16, ‘With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation;’ he will ‘wait till the change come,’ when God shall give him a discharge by his own immediate hand, or by enemies. God knoweth how to choose the fittest time, otherwise we know not what we ask.

Secondly, Now let me speak of the scope of our lives. David simply doth not desire life, but in order to service. The point is—

That if we desire long life, we should desire it to glorify God by obedience to his word.

Let me give you some instances, then reasons.

1. Instances: Ps. cxviii. 17, ‘I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.’ This was David’s hope in the prolongation of life, that he should have farther opportunity to honour God; and this argument he urgeth to God when he prayeth for life: Ps. vi. 5, ‘For in death there is no remembrance of thee; in the grave who 161shall give thee thanks?’ It would be better for him to be with God; but then the life is worth the having, when the extolling of Christ is the main scope at which we aim. So Paul: Phil. i. 20, ‘According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also, Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death,’ &c. Paul was in some hesitation which he should choose, life or death; and he determineth of both as God might be magnified by either of them, and so was at a point of indifference. If God should give him his option or wish, he would give the case back again to God, to determine as it might be most for his service and glory. He was not swayed by any low and base motives of contentment in the world, or any low and creature enjoyments; these are contemptible things to come into the balance with everlasting glory. It was only his service in the gospel, and the public good of the church, that made the case doubtful.

Reas. 1. This is the perfection of our lives, and that which maketh it to be life indeed. Communion with God is the vitality of it, without which we are rather dead than alive. Life natural we have in common with the beasts and plants; but in keeping the word, we live the life of God: Eph. iv. 18, ‘Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God.’ To natural men it is a gloomy thing; but to believers this is the life of life, and that which is the joy of their hearts. To increase in stature, and to grow bulky, that is the life of plants; the greatest and biggest of the kind are most perfect. To live and enjoy pleasures without remorse, that is the perfection and life of beasts, that have no conscience, that shall not be called to an account. To gratify present interests, and to be able to turn and wind worldly affairs, that is the life of carnal men, that have no sense of eternity. But the perfection of the life of man as a reasonable creature is to measure our actions by God’s word, and to refer them to his glory.

Reas. 2. It is the end of our lives that God may be served: ‘All things are by him, and through him, and to him.’ Rom. xi. 36; angels, men, beasts, inanimate creatures. He expects more from men than from beasts, and from saints than from men; and therefore life by them is not to be desired and loved but for this end: Rom. xiv. 6-8, ‘He that regardeth a day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord eateth not, and giveth God thanks: for none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself; for whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.’

Use 1. For reproof. Every man desireth life. The whole world would all and every one of them put up this request to God, ‘Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live;’ but there is not one man in a hundred that considereth why he should live. Some would live to please the flesh, and to wallow in the delights of the present world; a brutish wish! An heathen could say, he doth not deserve the name of a man that would spend his time in pleasure one day. These would not leave their husks and their hog trough. This was 162not David’s desire, but that he might keep the law, and faithfully worship God.

Some, again, desire to see their children well bestowed, or to free their estate from incumbrance; this is distrust, as if we did not leave a God behind us, who hath promised to be a father of the fatherless, and to take care of our little ones. Can we venture ourselves in God’s hands, and can we not venture our families with him, whose goodness extendeth to all his creatures? Some are loath to leave such as are dear to them, wife and children and friends; and is not God better, and Christ better? These must be loved in God and after God. We set friends in the place of God and Christ, when we can be content to be absent longer from God merely upon this ground, because we are loath to be separated from our friends. ‘He that loveth father and mother, and husband and wife, more than me, is not worthy of me,’ saith Christ. Oh, how far are these from any Christian affection! Surely to a believer it is a piece of self-denial to be kept out of heaven longer; therefore it must be sweetened by some valuable compensation; something there must be to calm the mind contentedly to spare the enjoyment of it for a while. Now, next to the good pleasure of God, which is the reason of reasons, there is some benefit which we pitch upon. Nothing is worthy to be compared but our service, if God may have glory, if our lives may do good. A gracious heart must be satisfied with gracious reasons. Some may desire life, because they are dismayed with the terrors of death; but this is unbelief. Hath not Christ delivered us not only from the hurt of death, but the fear of death? Heb. ii. 14, ‘And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.’ Where is your faith? ‘Death is yours,’ 1 Cor. iii. 22. It is a sin simply to desire life; but look to the causes and ends of it.

Use 2. It directeth us how to dispose of our lives. For this end take a few considerations.

[1.] This life is not to be valued but by opportunities of service to God. It is not who liveth most plentifully, but most serviceably to God’s glory: Acts xiii. 36, ‘David, after he had served his generation, by the will of God he fell asleep.’ Every one was made to serve God in his generation, and hath his office and use as an instrument of divine providence, from the king to the peasant. We are undone if the creatures, made to serve us, should fail in their season. We were made to serve God in our season.

[2.] This service is determined by the course of God’s providence. He is the great master of the scenes, that appointeth us what part to act, and sets to every man his calling and state of life. John xvii. 4, our Saviour saith, ‘I have finished the work thou hast given me to do.’ We must not be our own carvers, prescribe to God at what rate we will be maintained, nor what kind of work we will perform. Those that are free may covenant with you, and make their bargain, what kind of service they will undertake; but we are at God’s absolute dispose, to be used as vessels of honour or dishonour, as fitted and disposed.

[3.] In the management of this work we must measure our actions by God’s word, and refer them to his glory. By God’s word: Ps. cxix. 105, ‘Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my paths.’ His glory: Col. iii. 17, ‘And whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.’

[4.] Death shall not prevent us, till we have ended our appointed service. As long as God hath work for us to do, he will maintain life and strength: Gal. i. 15, ‘Who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace.’ The decree taketh date from the womb. God frames parts and temper; God rocketh us in our cradles, taketh care of us in our infancy, and all the turns of our lives.

[5.] If God will use us to a great age, we must be content. You may adorn your profession, and bring forth fruit in old age. The longest life is too short to honour God: Ps. xcii. 13, ‘Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.’ We should count it our happiness to be still used, and that we are fully rewarded by being employed in further service.

[6.] Life must be willingly laid down when we cannot keep it but with forsaking the word: Luke xiv. 26, ‘If any man come unto me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.’

[7.] The life of eternity must be subordinate to this great end, the glory of God; our desire of it must be, that we may be to the praise of God.

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