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souls. A fool will make a foolish choice, as children prefer their rattles and toys before a solid benefit: “For they that are after the flesh, do mind the things of the flesh; and they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” (Rom. viii. 5); the desire showeth what is delightful and comfortable ; but now the renewed heart, it is their all to be in favour with God, they have not “ the spirit of the world" (1 Cor. ii. 12): many have affections for anything but God.
USE I.-The use is, reproof to those that care not for this sense of God's mercy. David could not think himself alive, till he was reconciled to God. Profane men are not much troubled with this care ; though God be angry, they can seek their delight elsewhere, they can rejoice in the creature apart from God; so they may have outward things, they are at ease, and can sing lullabies to their souls as that wretch in the parable, “Eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke xii. 10). If they be in trouble, they seek to put away their troubles by carnal means. Let these consider first, God can make the stoutest-hearted sinner who standeth aloof from him, to see he is undone without him : it is no hard thing to put a sinner in the stocks of conscience, so that one favourable look would be valued more than all the world. Secondly, it may be, when punishment hath opened their eyes, God may hide his face and withhold the blessing from them when they seek it with bitter tears : “ They shall call upon me; but I will not answer: they shall seek me early; but they shall not find me" (Prov. i. 28).
2. To shame the people of God that have such cold and careless thoughts about that which true believers count as dear as their lives.
(1.) This slightness cometh from carnal complacency, or inordinate delight in the creature, or letting out ourselves to worldly delights. Now, this is vile ingratitude, when God's gifts, and those of the worser sort, draw us from himself. Will you be of a Gadarene spirit, or as one of the vain fellows, as Michal told David scoffingly?
(2.) Consider how dangerous this is to our temporal and eternal felicity. Temporal felicity : the creature is blasted when our life is bound up with it; the world is eclipsed, that the favour of God may be more prized, and the loss of the creature should more awaken us to seek after God. We most prize the evidences of God's favour and reconciliation with him, when we are in trouble ; and God taketh away our worldly comforts, that the consolations of his Spirit may not seem as small things. Many hare sinarted for carnal complacency. Eternal felicity : when any carnal thing is valued more than God, it puts our eternal comforts upon a hazard, it is a selling the birthright for a mess of pottage (Heb. xii. 16). Well then, let us be weaned from the world; for, while we take too much delight in the creature, God is the less esteemed.
USE II.—Is instruction, to teach us how to carry ourselves with respect to this privilege, a sense of the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, in the fruits and effects thereof.
1. Let us make it our chiefest care to get and preserve the fresh sense of God's love upon our hearts, grudging at no labour: “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure,” &c. (2 Pet. i. 10); no cost: “ When he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matt. xii. 46); denying lusts and interests (Phil. iii. 8, 9).
2. Not to hazard it on cheap terms. God forbid that I should sell my inheritance. Will you sell away Christ and Heaven for such cheap rates, hazard your souls for carnal satisfaction ?
3. Let us be sensible of the want of it as the greatest misery (Matt. ix. 15).
4. Rejoice in it above all things (Psalm iv. 6, 7); be glad if this be promoted, though by sharp afflictions.
Doctrine II.-All such as would have the comfortable effects and sense of God's mercy, must delight in his law.
1. Delight in the law implieth obedience; for it is not a delight that ariseth from speculation or the contemplation of the truth revealed therein. “I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart” (Psalm xl. 8); and, “Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in his commandments” (Psalm cxii. 1); not in the knowledge of their duty, but in the practice of it. It is in the law as the rule of duty, and all tendeth to practice. They that delight in the speculation, grudge at the practice: one that is observant of God's will, delighteth to believe and obey, as well as to know, God's word. . 2. A ready and cheerful obedience must be willingly and heartily undertaken ; love to the work for the work's sake. A man is never truly converted to God till God hath his love, and his law hath his love; for the constitution of the heart is not seen in our opinions so much as in our affections, love, desire, and delight. Many men's judgment is for God; that is, conscience is for God; but their hearts are for other things. When obedience is practically and cheerfully undertaken, and the delight of our souls is in God's laws, then may we be said to be truly converted. Men have a little compulsory religiousness; it is most when frightened into it. Men do something, but had rather leave it undone ; and do not choose rather to walk holily, if they had their own choice. A man is slavish, when fear of being damned doth only sway him : the godly love holiness as holiness, they are constant with God.
But why do they that have a comfortable sense of his mercy delight in his law ?
1. These only are fit to ask mercy.
Ist, These only are fit to ask mercy. 1. Because they are likely to ask it most feelingly. None prize the mercy of God, nor will ask it in such an earnest and broken-hearted manner, as those that delight in his law. These see their want of it, they are sensible of more defects than others are: “Oh! wretched man that I am!” (Rom. vii. 24.) They mind their work, which others that exercise themselves not unto godliness, mind not ; they have greater light and greater discoveries, more love. Much work driveth them oftener to the throne of grace. None rest in duties so much as they that have least cause: “What a weariness is it!” (Mal. i. 13.)
2. These ask more regularly; therefore it is said, “ Delight thyself also in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Psalm xxxvii. 4). Why so unlimitedly? Because delight in the Lord retrencheth carnal desires, and moderateth earthly desires: their hearts are not so set upon outward things as the hearts of other men are : “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you" (John xv. 7). Why doth God make so large an offer? he trusteth such as keep communion with Christ. There is a conformity between their wills and God's in the matter of their desire, so far as we are renewed and hold communion with him : their unruly lusts will be subdued, and their unlawful desires, for matter, manner, and end, be laid aside ; and they will acquiesce in the good pleasure of God, and the most excellent things. Therefore, God maketh them this offer, 'Ask what ye will ;' not that men are warranted to pray for what they will, or to expect an answer in whatsoever they desire ; but, as their delight in his law is prevalent, their wills are limited by his word and will, and the Spirit in them maketh intercession according to the will of God (Rom. viii. 26, 27).
3. These may with most confidence ask mercy: others are excluded : “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination” (Prov. xxviii. 9). These are included; and, “Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 John ïïi. 22). If we refuse God speaking to us in infinite wisdom, as he does in the word, no wonder if God refuse us stammering foolishly in prayer. Men that purpose to continue in their sins, shall not be heard in other things; otherwise, the grossest sinners may come to God to have their sins pardoned and removed, and expect to be accepted and heard through Christ; but the perpetual assistance and favour of God is not given to them. Such as would be heard and accepted, and come with assurance of welcome and audience, ought to be devoted to him, to worship him, to call on him.
2ndly, These are qualified to receive mercy, according to the tenour of that covenant in which mercy is dispensed and magnified in the covenant of grace; or the covenant of God's mercy in Christ (Heb. v. 9, and Heb. x. 14). This being apt to be abused, let us explain how obedience is a condition of the covenant. A condition meriting and purchasing the blessings of the covenant, it cannot be; for God giveth the ability to obey wholly and solely of his own grace: it is short of the rule, and infinitely inferior to the reward. A condition applicatory whereby we apply ourselves to the covenant on our part it is, and therefore necessary. It is a secondary condition, disposing us to communion with God, in and by the covenant. At first, we must be turned by repentance towards God through faith in the Redeemer, before we receive remission of sins. Faith and repentance are conditions of pardon, and sincere obedience a condition of salvation. The first condition containeth a resolution of obedience for the future, though we have not actually so obeyed; the secondary condition, that we should make good our resolution. We must keep covenant as well as make covenant. Faith is an entering into covenant; for it is a consent to take Christ as Lord and Saviour; and constant and delightful obedience is a constant keeping covenant (Psalm xxv. 10, and Psalm ciii. 17, 18). The making covenant was necessary for our entrance ; the keeping covenant, for our continuance. Consent to take any for king, husband, master, draweth another condition after it, that we carry ourselves in these relations dutifully : besides promising, there must be performing ; he that is my sovereign, must be obeyed. There must be conjugal fidelity to the husband, and faithful service to the chosen master; so in the covenant between us and God, us and Christ.
OBJECTION.—But you will say, how then shall we take comfort in the new covenant who are so many ways faulty?
ANSWER.- We must consider, 1. What it exacts. 2. What it accepteth.
1. What it exacts. To quicken us to more earnest endeavours, and humble confession of failings, (1.) It exacteth perfect obedience, admits of no imperfection either of parts or degrees. (2.) It accepteth a perfection of parts: there being truth of godliness, and a single-hearted inclination to observe the whole will of God, then our defects and weaknesses are covered by Christ's perfect righteousness. The unregenerate lie under the rule of exaction, but, being out of Christ, are denied the benefit of acceptation.
USE I.—The use is, to inform us that petitions of mercy, and the plea for new obedience, are very consistent: “Let thy tender mercies come unto me;" and his argument is, “ for thy law is my delight.” Mercy is, nevertheless, free, though the creature mind his duty; for, when we have done all, we are but “unprofitable servants" (Luke xvii. 10), and grace helpeth us to do what we do: “ Thy pound," not my industry (Luke xix. 18). And, “By the grace of God I am what I am; and his grace, which was bestowed upon me, was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Cor. xv. 10). It was grace to appoint such reasonable terms; to accept of them, though done in that sorry fashion which our frailty permitteth us to tender them to God.
USE II.—To quicken us to a delightful course of obedience, if we would have the sense of mercy. The same spirit that urgeth us to obey a sense of God's love, urgeth us also to delight in his law. The same spirit that urgeth us to sue out the promise, urgeth us also to obey the precept.
1. Consider how God hath twisted his honour with our interest, and ordered both for his own glory.
God's interest and honour are to be considered as well as our salvation. We must never look for such mercy and grace from God as shall discharge us from our duty and subjection to God, or give you liberty to dishonour and disobey him. No; Christ “redeemed us to God” (Rev, v. 9, and Luke i. 74, 75). Salvation is our benefit, obedience is God's right and interest. Happiness man is not averse from, but he sticketh at the terms. Some part of this happiness suiteth well enough with our natural desires, as pardon and life; but we care not for his law and the obedience we owe by virtue of it. We are naturally more willing of what maketh for ourselves, for our comfort, than what maketh for the honour of God.
2. Consider, a great part of God's first mercy is expressed in healing our natures, and preparing us for this delightful course of holiness (Heb. x. 16, 17; 1 Cor. i. 30; Titus iii. 4, 5).
3. This comfortable sense of God's mercy should induce us to this by way of argument: “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John iv. 19); “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that, if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they which live, should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again" (1 Cor. v. 14, 15); and, “In Christ Jesus, neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love" (Gal. v. 6). And then, by way of gratitude, we ought to bend all the powers of our souls to holiness and obedience, and lay out our care and labour upon it.
4. Consider, the more holiness and obedience any one hath, the more acceptable to God. A holy soul is an object capable of God's love; the holy God delighteth in holiness, as well as the merciful God pitieth misery. The more holy we are, the more God loves us. Let us not make wounds for God to cure. As we increase in holiness, we increase in favour with God. This is true of Christ, who never had any defect of holiness, but only was to increase in the exercise of it.
5. Consider, how just it is with God to refuse our cries for mercy, when we despised his precepts for duty: besiege your hearts with these considerations, and press them daily upon you. We are marvellously apt to please ourselves with some loose apprehensions of mercy without bending ourselves to our duty.
6. Consider, how reasonable it is, that, when mercy hath taken us with all our faults at our first entrance into covenant with God, we should afterwards study to please and make it our delight so to do.
7. Consider, how impossible it is to cherish a sense of his mercy and love to us, while we neglect duty. The soul hath two sentiments of religion which can never be defaced, a desire of happiness, and subjection to God; ut anima sit subjecta Deo et pacata in se; as we love our own comfort, so we shall be troubled about out duty, the soul will not sit easy. Comfort follows holiness, as light doth fire; and sin will cause trouble, as the prick of a needle doth pain. The soul cannot be serious and mind things, but it will be so. Indeed, at some times by carelessness, our sense of the necessity of obedience is extinguished, and then a little serveth turn to keep the conscience quiet or stupid ; but it will return again. Never leave till holiness and obedience be your delight as well as your care.
USE III.-Is to press us to be earnestly dealing with this merciful God for comfort. We need it now in a time of judgment, when delivered over to judgments (Hos. xi. 8); as sometimes to sins, so to plagues; when God opens the floodgates, lets out judgments upon a people without restraint: “ I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be” (Deut. xxxi. 20). So also the 30th, “Their rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up.” Mercy can put a stop, but that will interpose no more. Again, when the people of God are much hated and maligned : “ We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair” (2 Cor. iv. 8).
1. If it be God's nature to be merciful and kind, why should we be discouraged ? Mercy is free, favour is showed to a miserable person. Mercy can recall the punishments due to us, and mitigate corrections, and sweeten our comforts.
2. But then, you must be content that mercy should issue out in its own way and order; first giving us principal mercies, then necessary ; first sanctifying, and then comforting; saving us, by washing us in the later of regeneration.
3. Reckon your comfort more by a sense of God's care than by removing temporal trouble. Spiritual comfort is more excellent than bodily.
4. You must sue it out by prayer, wherein, first, it must be with bro. kenness of heart. Let true spiritual misery be discerned and complained of. Let us lay our sins and sores before his pity. Secondly, with faith; for here is the word mentioned. Why are we so disconsolate? “Is there no balm in Gilead ?" It is our usual fault; we pore too much upon our troubles. There is a God of comfort, who answereth his name every way, and will keep his word with his people. Let us come to him in all our wants. Thirdly, with resolution of more faithful obedience; for God's servants only are capable ; renew your covenant of serving God.
5. The godly have common comforts. What will serve one's turn, will