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things whatsoever: “ Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord” (Ezra vii. 10). To do it, needeth such a fixed purpose.
2. Let us offer ourselves to God's trial : " Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me" (Psalmr cxxxix. 23, 24). We must not only rest upon the testimony of our own consciences, but desire our hearts may be searched by God over and over. Besides, there are many ill humours mixed with our best affections, which we see not; and a secret approbation and indulgence we give to them. We are apt ever to deal favourably with ourselves ; and therefore desire God to pry into your most retired and reserved thoughts.
3. Let us walk still as in God's eye: “I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies ; for all my ways are before thee" (Psalm cxix. 168). Whatever praise we have with men, we must see that our hearts be right with God, who is witness, approver, and judge, and searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins, and will not be put off with shadows: God's all-seeing eye is a special means to make a man upright.
4. Observe how often we step awry (Jer. xvii. 9) in those actions we perform. How careless are we of the spiritual part! We regard the outside of the duty, but slightly pass over that affection that should accompany it. In resistance of our corruption, we rather deal with the fruit of it, lest it break out to our disgrace, than the root of it that secretly lurketh in our hearts. There is a great deal of guile of spirit in the best, and therefore we had need to “ make straight paths for our feet” (Heb. xii. 13). There is some defect in matter, manner, or aim, We are many times set awork by others, yet expect wages of God.
5. Let us be often and earnestly dealing with God for this sincere heart; it is called godly sincerity (2 Cor. i. 12); why? because it comes from God, and carries the soul to God again. “ The new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. iv. 24), and hath a tendency in it to draw us to God again.
SERMON LXXXIX. VERSE 81.-My soul fainteth for thy salvation ; but I hope in thy
word. This verse is wholly narrative, and consists of two branches :-1. The first clause showeth how he stood affected to God's salvation, “My soul fainteth for thy salvation." 2. His support till that affection was satisfied, “ but I hope in thy word.”
Before we can make any further progress, in explaining and applying this Scripture, we must first see what is this salvation which is here spoken of. Salvation, in Scripture, hath divers acceptations : it is put,
1. For that temporal deliverance which God yiveth, or hath promised to give, to his people. So it is taken Exod. xiv. 13,“ Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you to-day;" that is, the wonderful deliverance which he will work for you. So, “ It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam. iii. 26); meaning by salvation, their recovery out of captivity. It was their duty to wait for this deliverance; and, though it were long first, yet, having a promise, they were to keep up their hope.
2. For the exhibition of Christ in the flesh: “ The Lord hath made known his salvation : his righteousness hath he openly showed in the sight of the Heathen. He hath remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel : all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (Psalm xcviii. 2, 3). Clearly that psalm containeth a prediction of the setting up of Christ's kingdom, and a bringing of the Gentile world into subjection to it; which was first to be offered to the people of the Jews, and from thence to be carried on throughout all the regions of the world. So old Simeon expresseth himself : “ Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation” (Luke ii. 29, 30); meaning thereby Christ actually exhi. bited or born in the flesh, which was the beginning of the kingdom of the Messiah.
3. For the benefits which we have by Christ on this side Heaven; as the pardon of sin, and the renovation of our natures. These are called salvation; as, “He shall save his people from their sins" (Matt. i. 21); and, “He hath saved us by the washing of regeneration” (Titus üi, 5). And in the Old Testament, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation" (Psalm li. 12): that is, the joy which we have because God hath freed us from our sins.
4. For everlasting life: “ He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. v. 9); and, “Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter i. 9); meaning thereby our final reward.
The text is applicable to all these; but, (1.) most siniply we must expound it of salvation in the first sense, because the drift of the man of God in this octonary, is to show how he was affected; since God heard him not at the first cry, or as soon as he prayed for deliverance. Though he prayed for deliverence, yet the help promised, and hoped for, was delayed so long, till he was ready to faint, and had fainted altogether, but that the promise revived and kept up his hopes. (2.) If these words be supposed to be spoken by the church, and in her name, they fitly represent the longings of the Old Testament fathers after Christ's coming in the flesh; for, as David expresseth himself here, so doth old Jacob: “I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord" (Gen. xlix. 18). That speech cometh in there by way of interruption; for, as he was blessing his children, he turneth to the Lord, desiring his salvation by Christ, of which Samson, belonging to the tribe of Dan (the tribe which he was then blessing), was a special type. So it is said of Abraham, “ Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad ” (John viii. 56). Abraham, knowing him to be the true Messiah, did earnestly desire to see that day, and, to his great contentment, got a sight of it by faith, it was a sweet and blessed sight to him. So, “ Many prophets and kings have desired to see these things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them” (Luke x. 24); that is, David a king, and other prophets, longed for this day. So, “Having seen them (the promises afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them ” (Heb. xi. 13). Oh! they hugged the promises, saying, “These will one day yield a Saviour to the world.' So it is said of all the serious believers of the Old Testament, that they waited “ for the consolation of Israel” (Luke ii. 25); that is, for the redemption of the world by the blood of Christ, and the pouring out of the Holy Ghost, upon which followed the calling of the Gentiles, and the setting up of the kingdom of God in the world. These things the saints longed for, waited for; and, because the Lord suspended the exhibition of them till the fulness of time, and did not presently satisfy their desires, they might be said to faint; but the promise kept up their faith in waiting and confidence. I cannot wholly exclude this sense, because the salvation promised at the coming of the Messiah was the greatest, and common to all the faithful. They had many discouragements in expecting it, from the wickedness and calamities of that people from whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ was to descend. But, though they were ready to faint, they did not give over the hope of that salvation, having God's word for it, and the remembrance of it kept afoot by the sacrifices and types of the law. (3.) Since Christ hath appeared in the flesh, and hath wrought salvation for us, we must wait, and long, and look for that part of salvation which is yet to be performed; as the deliverance of the church from divers troubles, the freedom of particular believers from their doubts and fears, and, finally, our eternal salvation, which shall be completed at Christ's second coming. All that have the first-fruits of the Spirit are groaning for this, and hoping for this (Rom. viii. 23–25). We are to desire Heaven, yet patiently to stay God's time; for here is fainting and hoping, or, as the Apostle saith, hastening to, and yet waiting for, the coming of the Lord (2 Peter iii. 12): one is the effect of desire, the other of hope ; desire hastening, and hope waiting.
These things being cleared, let us first apply the words to temporal deliverance. Observe,
DOCTRINE I. — The afflictions of God's people may be long and grievous, before any comfort and deliverance cometh.
For the affliction continued so long upon David, that his soul even fainted. There are three agents in the afflictions of the saints .-1. God; 2. Satan; 3. wicked men.
Ist, God hath many wise reasons why he doth not give audience, or a gracious answer, at the first call.
]. Because he will try our faith, to see if we can depend upon him when it cometh to an extremity. Thus by silence and rebukes Christ tried the woman of Canaan, that her faith might appear the more gloriously : “ Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith” (Matt. xv. 28). And by extremities he still trieth his children : our graces are never exercised to the life, till we are near the point of death; that is faith which can then depend upon God: “ Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job xiii. 15); and, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm xxiii. 4). Many of his children are reduced to great straits ; there may be no meal in the barrel, nor oil in the cruse, before God helpeth them. There may be many mouths to eat little food. When there was a great deal of company and little provision, Christ asketh one of his disciples, “ Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him; for he himself knew what he would do" (John vi. 5, 6). So many a poor believer is put to it. Children increase, trading groweth dead, supplies fail, what shall they do? They pray, and God giveth no answer. This he doth to prove them. It is a strong faith which can hold out in such straits and difficulties.
2. To awaken our importunity: “And he spake a parable to them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke xviii. 1):
compare with Luke xi. 8, with the parable ensuing. So, again, an instance in the woman of Canaan, she turneth discouragements into arguments. When Christ said, “It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs ;” she said, “ Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table” (Matt. xv. 26, 27). So the blind men, the more they were rebuked, cried the more (Matt. xx. 31). Rather than his people shall neglect prayer, or grow formal in it, God will cast them into great afflictions; as Christ suffered the storm to continue till the ship was almost overwhelmed, that his disciples might awaken him (Matt. viii. 25).
3. To make us sensible of our weakness; as Paul, “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God, which raiseth the dead ” (2 Cor. i. 9). We are much given to self-confidence; therefore God will break it, and, ere he hath done with us, make us trust in him alone. There is a twofold strength, natural and spiritual.
(1.) Natural, which ariseth from that courage that is in man as he is a reasonable creature. This will hold out till all probabilities be spent : “ The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity ; but a wounded spirit who can bear?" (Prov. xviii. 14.) Till a man be struck at the heart, his reason will support him.
(2.) Spiritual ; faith, hope, patience. These may be spent, when the affliction is deep and pressing, and God's help is long delayed. Faith is the strength of the soul; as faith decayeth, or is tired, the soul faints. Faith may be damped, and give up our case for gone (Psalm cxvi. 11; Psalm xxxi. 22). They throw up all, and think it is in vain to wait any longer. Thus will God discover our weakness to ourselves; the weakness of our reason, the weakness of our faith. I remember Solomon saith, “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small” (Prov. xxiv. 10). Grievous or long afflictions discover our strength or weakness. Some are of a poor spirit, give up at tirst assault, before their strength faileth them; before the probabilities which sense and reason offereth, are spent. They are lazy, and love their ease. Some are negligent, do not make use of the helps of faith ; but, when evils continue long and sit close, the strongest faith is seen to be too weak; God by this will humble us.
4. God doth this for his own glory, and that his work may be the more remarkable and conspicuous: Jesus loved Lazarus; ard, when he heard that he was sick, “he abode two days still in the same place where he was ” (John xi. 5, 6). Little love in that, you will say; a man would hasten to his dying friend. Christ may dearly love his own, and yet delay to help them even in their extremity, till the fit time come, wherein the mercy may be the more conspicuous. It is said, “He (God) hath made everything beautiful in his time” (Eccl. ii. 11). Before its time, God's work seemeth harsh and rough, as a statue when it is first hewn out; but, in its time, it is a curious piece of workmanship. God, in his own time and way, knoweth best how to comfort his people.
2ndly, It is the Devil's design to tire and weary out the people of God, and therefore stirreth up all his malice against us : “ Simon, Simon, behold, Satan bath desired to have you, that he may sist you as wheat ; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke xxii. 31, 32). The Devil, if he might have the shaking of us, and liberty to do his worst, he would drive us from the faith of Christ, and all hopes by him.
3rdly, Men are unreasonable in their oppositions, and will not relent, nor abate anything of their rigour: “I was but a litttle displeased, and they helped forward the affliction” (Zech. i. 15). They are still adding to the church's trouble, and would destroy those whom God would only correct and purge; as the slave layeth on unmercifully. Till God restrain it, their wrath never ceaseth. Well then,
Use I.-Let it not seem strange to us, that godly men in their afflic. tions, though they fly to God and implore his mercy, are not presently delivered, nor always at the first instance. God hath many discoveries to make, much work to do. Would you have faith rewarded before it be tried ? or the beautiful frame and link of causes disturbed for your sakes? Faith is not tried to purpose, till the thing we believe is not seen, nor have any probability that ever we shall see it; yea, till we see nothing but the contrary, and hope against hope. We must stay till the mercy be ready for us, and we ready for it: a hungry stomach would have the meat ere it be roasted ; our times are always present with us, when God's time is not come.
2. Let us prepare for grievous and tedious sufferings. We would turn over our hard lesson, before we have sufficiently learned it; we love the ease of the flesh, would have no cross, or a very short one. Things will not be so soon or so suddenly effected as we imagine. We make greater provision for a long voyage. We should be strengthened to long-suffering (Col. i. 11); as for all sort of crosses, so for long and tedious crosses.
3. If our affliction be long, observe your carriage under it. Do faith and hope keep you alive still? “ Be not slothful, but followers of them who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises” (Heb. vi. 12). Do you keep up your prayerful affections? “Continuing instant in prayer” (Rom. xii. 12). We pray as men out of heart, for fashion's sake, and with little life; rather satisfying our consciences, than expressing our hope and confi. dence. A damp on the spirit of prayer, is an ill presage. Can you love God, though you be not feasted with self-comforts and present benefits? “Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee," &c. (Isa. xxvi. 8.) Our affections are bribed, when desired comforts are presently obtained; God will see if we purely love him.
4. For a close to this point. Our sufferings are like to be long; I speak not as determining, but to awaken a spirit of prayer, that they may be shortened: when Christ made as if he would go farther, they constrained him to tarry (Luke xxiv. 28, 29). These are sad symptoms of it,
(1.) When reformation is rejected, and corruptions are settling again upon their own base: “When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was discovered," &c. (Hos. vii. 1); “In thy filthiness is lewdness; because I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged, thou shalt not be purged from thy filthiness any more, till I have caused my fury to rest upon thee" (Ezek. xxiv. 13). This crime is not only chargeable on them who opposed the Reformation, but on those who, by multiplied scandals, dishonoured the cause of God. Instance in Papists in Queen Mary's time, who got in by fraud and violence, not by miscarriage of the Protestants. Then it was sharp and short, ours is like to be tedious and long.
(2.) When our deliverance is likely to prove a mischief and a misery, when we are not prepared to receive it. God will not give us things for our hurt: and we may fear as much from our brethren, our mutual bickerings, as from enemies; when God promises restoration, he promiseth